Tag Archives: distribution

jonas mekas has a plan

Jonas Mekas was mentioned in passing on this blog last week, which seems fortuitous timing. Mekas has just announced (by video, of course) a plan to release a short film every day next year. All will be formatted for the video iPod; however, video formatted this way doesn’t need a video iPod for playback.

jonas mekas playing the accordianSome background: Jonas Mekas is primarily an experimental film maker, having used film to document his life for the past fifty years. Along with Michael Apted’s 7 Up series, Mekas’s As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty is one of the twentieth century’s great works of biography. He’s one of the most respected Lithuanian poets of the last century. And he’s also been a central force for avant-garde film culture in New York. Anthology Film Archives, his current cinema, presents an incredibly wide range of historical and contemporary film. It’s one of the great things about living in New York: the vast majority of what’s shown there simply isn’t distributed, and is inaccessible any other way.

Mekas has been taken in by the Maya Stendhal Gallery, which is currently hosting an exhibit of forty of his recent films (“recent” defined rather loosely). I spent an hour or so at the gallery yesterday; in the darkened space, flat-screen monitors present Mekas’s films on repeat. The selection of films at Maya Stendhal is tilted to the celebrity: there’s Andy Warhol at work, Salvador Dalí and Gala clowning about with broken-down cars somewhere in Chelsea, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in in Montréal, Jackie Onassis at home, the elderly Carl Jung carving stones.

velvet underground dancingIt’s a nice experience, but it’s difficult to actually watch the films there: the monitors are installed in series, so while watching one you can’t help but be distracted by what’s going on to the left and right. Mekas’s private epiphanies (Stan Brakhage making an enormous pile of pancakes for his children, for example) are interrupted by famous faces. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this exhibit isn’t actually going on in the gallery itself: the Maya Stendhal gallery is presenting the forty films online for public downloading. Currently, they’re available in iPod format – 320 x 240 pixel QuickTime files – but a few are available in high resolution: I downloaded a 665Mb file of the Velvet Underground’s first public appearance, at a psychiatrist’s convention in 1965. This is DVD quality: 720 x 576 pixels.

george maciunas, yoko ono, and john lennon on a fluxus cruise up the hudsonMekas’s films aren’t free, but they’re relatively cheap: $3.99 for iPod quality, $6.99 for high resolution. The money isn’t going straight to Mekas: it’s going through the gallery. But there’s something that feels exciting about this: an artist taking over the reigns of distribution. This isn’t work that the general public is interested in; neither the artist nor the audience would be well-served by a regular distributor. Here there’s a more direct connection. Mekas curates an enormous library of film at Anthology Film Archives; it would be a tremendous achievement if that could be made available online.

Mekas’s upcoming project to make a film a day and present it online is also interesting as an experiment in networked culture. Working online will create a much faster feedback loop for Mekas: there will almost certainly be a much greater role for the audience, not dissimilar to what we’ve been examining with our Thinking Out Loud series.

how people read online

There’s a series of recent posts (1, 2, 3, 4) up at Ron Silliman’s blog where he analyzes a recent study (by Simmons B. Buntin of terrain.org) of how people read and write poetry online. This is of interest even to those uninterested in poetry: Silliman is doing some very careful work in scrutinizing how and why people read online. In doing so, he’s touching on a number of things we’re interested in here, not least the roles of reputation, legitimization, and distribution in electronic reading and writing.

The study Silliman’s looking at was mostly answered by those who write as well as read poetry, so there’s a certain amount of bias in the responses he’s looking at. But this selective skew provides a useful look at cutting edge attitudes. While respondents read a wide variety on online poetry and criticism, word of mouth remains a primary method of finding new things to read: social interaction seems to be critical. Of particular interest is the different roles he sees assigned to print and online publication: most respondents found no difference in quality between print and online work, although there was the perception that online work took more risks and was generally more experimental (there seem to be broader extremes in online publication).

What do people like about publishing online? First (by a wide margin) the accessibility that it affords; second, the possibility of real-time interaction. Cost comes in third: it’s interesting that again the perception of the need for social interaction shows itself. It’s also interesting (and not tremendously surprising) that the efforts on which the most money has been spent (Poetry, which recently received an enormous bequest, has sunk $100 million into their website) don’t seem to be the most influential – blogs and forums, which are more interaction-based, come out ahead.

What doesn’t work about online publishing? The look & feel of online work, as well as poorly-designed websites, was the most frequent complaint. The ephemerality of the web is another issue: many websites seem to disappear as soon as they spring up, and Silliman suggests the need for archiving online work is a problem that needs to be resolved. A number of respondents complained about devices, arguing that it’s not as pleasant to read on a screen than on a page – which Silliman, who’s done a fair amount of reading on a Palm Pilot, qualifies by arguing that this seems to be more a software problem than a hardware problem.