I have returned, bearing new content. This episode isn’t based on any prior material—I had been meaning to write on Until Dawn here for ages, and just ended up making a video for this series instead of writing a blog post on it.
Work and other publications slowed down my progress on this series (remember back when I though I’d wrap it up in February—and that was my pessimistic assessment?). But I worked on ep 9 concurrently with this one, so it should be up in just a few days. I’m hoping to conclude the initial 10-episode run of this series by the end of April.
Script below the jump!
I no longer remember the exact date at which I first saw Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006). I do know that it was at a screening at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which screened all of the films made for the New Crowned Hope Festival sometime in the first week of September 2007. That means that I first saw Syndromes and a Century a decade ago … a disheartening thought.
I keenly remember an energy crackling in the MFA screening room while I was watching Syndromes and a Century, in excess of the film itself. Syndromes isn’t just a great film. It was also a personal revelation. For a moment, in that theater, I felt as if I had reached out and directly touched the beating heart of contemporary cinema. I felt privileged to be seeing a work so vital. I carried that energy with me for several years, as I moved to Chicago and immersed myself in its film culture, wearing out my CTA card traveling to the Gene Siskel Film Center, the Music Box Theatre, the Nightingale, Facets, Chicago Filmmakers, the Chicago International Film Festival (where I saw Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Onion City Film Festival, and of course the neighborhood treasure that was Doc Films. I kept up with the cutting edge of world cinema, of art cinema, of experimental cinema, riding a high that began that September in Boston.
I no longer feel as if I have my finger on the heartbeat of contemporary cinema. The movies I see these days tend to be new works by directors I already like, and have liked for a decade. Every now and then I’ll take advantage of the footwork done by stellar programmers and expose myself to something entirely new. But I have fallen off the cutting edge of cinema. True, a lot of this is because I now devote my time and energies to keeping up with the indie game scene. (And, of course, television is better these days.) But it still makes me feel out of touch. And, frankly, old.
Anyway, I decided to take this 10-year anniversary as an opportunity to do something that I tried to do for a decade and never succeeded at: actually write about Syndromes and a Century.
The first half of my “Frames, Claims, and Videogames” course is devoted to five major debates that have hovered around games over the past couple of decades. Some of these are legal, some have occurred in the art world, some have occurred in the sphere of popular discourse, and others are academic. For the first academic debate, I pitted Janet Murray‘s ideas about the storytelling potentials of new media agains the hard-core ludologists.
When prepping for this lesson, I found re-reading the ludologists in 2017 to be an unpleasant experience. Looking back at the early-2000s era writing of folks like Espen Aarseth and Markku Eskelinen, it’s pretty clear that they were the academic precursors of the game police. And not the snarky, tongue-in-cheek Game Police parody twitter account that arose in 2013. I mean the angry young men, who would later become Gamergate, but who already, in 2012–2013, were barking back at “corrupt” journalists praising games they didn’t see as games: games that told stories, rather than let you shoot things. These young men took it upon themselves to politicize the term game, to define its boundaries and beef up its border security. A “videogame” became a medium you couldn’t freely pass into until you showed your papers, and proved that everything was in order. The most vigilant among these enforcement agents, the Joe Arpaios of gamer culture, enjoyed a wide jurisdiction and acted at their own discretion, with great impunity. (Is it really any wonder that this burgeoning culture of alt-right gamer trolls would evolve into one of Donald Trump’s key blocks of support?)
As I said, it is tough re-reading, let alone teaching, the ludologists in 2017. As a consolation, though, it is a delight teaching Janet Murray. Time has proved her to be an exceptionally good predictor of the future, meaning that reading her twenty-year old Hamlet on the Holodeck is a surprisingly exciting experience.
This particular lesson came late in my “Avant-Garde Film and Video Art” course, late enough where it could act as a sort of a postscript on many of the movements we had talked about so far in the course. Thoughts on structural film, narrative, and theories of play below!
What follows is a two-part post, combining lesson plans from two separate days of my course “Comparative Media Poetics: Cinema and Videogames,” which together formed a week I referred to on the syllabus as “Point of View, Staging, and Guidance.”
There are many different entrance points for a class organized around the relationship between cinema and videogames. Contemporary popular genres are an obvious choice—and one that, in fact, formed the backbone of many weeks of the course. This week, though, I stretched past those boundaries, and crafted a lesson plan that was grounded more in a comparative look at each medium’s history.
The first of these lessons is primarily a lecture, which sets up a course screening/play session. The second lesson is a post-play-session discussion.