UC Berkeley scientists have recorded the first images ever generated by a human brain. Amazing. They exposed subjects to video images while recording visual activity in their brains. When they played the recorded data back they got images corresponding closely to what the subjects had just seen. What I notice about the images in the video is that faces seem to work the best. That is interesting on many levels. Perhaps facial recognition is so hard-wired into humans that we are able to generate those images more clearly than all others. This work opens the door to the ability to reconstruct imagery from dreams and memories. It’s a staggering achievement. Magnificent. I simply cannot wait to try this sometime.
Fabio Scacchioli is an Italian filmmaker who turns ordinary shots on Super 8 film and video into magical and mystical pieces about memory and all that it does for us. I am always impressed by his work and how he finds the perfect moments to let glimmer through the haze to catch us unaware. I maintain that as we move further into the 21st century, we are developing a new cinema completely removed from the theatrical aspects of the last century’s cinema. It is filmmakers who do not try to make films that look like American features who will make the new cinema. Filmmakers making films that look like American features are looking at forms as outmoded as 19th century theatrical works were during the age of the early silents. The new cinema is as natural and immediate a form of expression as writing or painting.
Adam Curtis makes fascinating documentary films for the British Broadcasting Corporation. This one is about the manipulation of memory, or the attempt to manipulate it, by governments during the Cold War era. It features several scientists and psychology experts who worked for either the U.S. or Soviet governments trying to figure out how to control minds.
I post the work of Curtis because his filmmaking is actually quite a lot like my own in several ways. This film bears a relationship to my latest film, Yellow Plastic Raygun, which is also about memory and how it influences the future. Curtis dwells in the domain of documentary, a form that I have serious misgivings about, while I dwell in the domain of art – or direct mind control if you will! I like Curtis’ use of corporate, military, instructional, and entertainment films as his raw visual material. He mixes it up with what is actually a rather simplistic script relating information that is not especially insightful. The film seems to suggest something more under the surface because of its imagery which often bears no relationship whatsoever to the information being related by the voice-over. This is a tricky area for documentary that brings it perilously close to the realm of art. You don’t quite know what it is that you are actually watching. I like that but I also distrust it. But Curtis appears to me to be making a documentary about his own feelings and artistic interpretations of the factual material. He is not trying to teach or inform at all. He is simply trying to create an impression. The words of the documentary could be replaced with gibberish. In fact, it would probably be a slightly better film if they were!
The Living Dead – Part 1 (watch the next 5 parts after the jump)
Memory is perhaps the single most important quality of existence. We are simply memory machines walking around and recording. All of our activities point toward an ever-increasing ability to record and remember. We are building memory. The idea, pursued in the first half of this documentary, of wiping out unpleasant memories that are assumed to be destroying the health of an individual, seems to me to be misguided and foolish. I have always viewed it as the job of every human to be able to stare straight into the most horrific scene, remember it, and not allow it to take control. Very simple. You must be able to look at anything… and continue to eat your ice cream.
Open Letters Monthly has an article called In Defense of the Memory Theater, by Nathan Schneider in which he argues that books on shelves perform the function of reflecting memories back at us. They are a constant reminder of the various events, stages, and emotional states of our lives. We look at our shelves and can instantly catapult ourselves back in time to events surrounding our reading of various volumes.
Schneider mentions a 16th-century memory theater that used images and symbols of the cosmos to inspire observers and enhance their intellectual powers. Books, for Schneider, do something similar when they are visible on our shelves. I agree up to a point. I am often taken back in time by my own books upon their shelves. But so am I transported by nearly every object in my home. Objects all have this power. Books are not exceptional in this regard.
From an Italian master of short film memory, Fabio Scacchioli, comes this beautiful 23-minute work that expresses the illusion of solid permanence and the heroic attempt to build a reality based on fragments of memory. Even found memories and images can become part of one’s own person. This fleeting and subtle idea becomes more discernible as the film progresses. The impressive imagery revolves around the recent earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy and compares the desolation of a town reduced to rubble with the lives that once literally danced through home movies. It is a film about looking for ghosts.