By Jude Warne.
“What is the good of all this progress? By overcoming distance we overcome difference.” True – it seems likely that the only route to world peace is the route that points straight ahead – or if not straight, then at least ahead. Because it is most definitely not back there in the past, other than in the residue of faint glimpses of societal enlightenment – the counterculture of the 1960s comes to mind – that seemed to spark for mere moments before flickering out. Progress, here to be considered in terms of technology and its effects upon the evolution of society, is up for contemplation in the recently released essay film Dreams Rewired. Directed jointly by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, and Thomas Tode, this essay picture utilizes clips from a plethora of films mainly from the silent era – over two hundred rare films directly from archival stock, to be exact – to tell the story of modernization. Academy-award winning actress Tilda Swinton is on hand to provide ample narration that laces together the filmmakers’ thesis statement over the would-be disjointed string of clips. While this storytelling method is necessary here, Swinton’s narration at times includes imagined dialogue for the various characters that arise in the archival footage – a tactic that is, more often than not, straining to say the least. The filmmakers rely too heavily on Swinton’s actress appeal to convey their written argument – which is relatively clear and uncomplicated but ultimately familiar and removed of earth-shattering revelations. One wonders whether the aesthetic appeal of Dreams Rewired, which is ample, would have been even more intense if Luksch, Reinhart, and Tode took the Bill Morrison approach, nixed all of the spoken word and goofy fill-in dialogue and scored their archival film with a gorgeous and atmospheric Bill Frisell-ish score.
The advancement of technology has increased the speed and the interconnectedness of the world. It has removed “the lure of the voice,” particularly with the introductions of social networking and online dating sites. The long-taken-for-granted invention of sound recording has given us the ability to experience our own voices as those around us do. These logical points are made well enough in this essay film, and the narrative does attempt to be objective, but sometimes its statements become too abstract and assume an underlying subjectivity that is limiting. Here, for example, is one of the film’s series of lines of narration, spoken over the compiled film clips: “No more blind dates. No more longing for a face. Just imagine every home linked to every other. Having everything on demand? Never missing a magic moment? Being everywhere at once? The globe shrunk to the size of a village. Neighbors united in electric dreams.” It reads fine, and is creatively poetic, but its argument strings together too many disparate comments to render any one very weighty.
The visual presentation, though, and the utilization of a myriad of clips to construct a new story is quite impressive. It is interesting to consider the state of modern technology in terms of technology from the past; for example, archival footage of typewriters is juxtaposed with a narrated bit on the increasing speed of the present. This exemplifies how technology has progressed and improved, but that the issues at hand and the debate on the best way in which to live, is still constant.
Here, all of this advancement-talk is mainly concerned with the invention of cinema and the role that it has played in modernization. The communicative aspect of movies and audiences has allowed for a sort of ongoing self-reflexive discourse that otherwise might not exist. As in most art production, films bridge the gap between the past, present, and future, and across the seven continents of the globe. Life on screen, Dreams Rewired insists, is more, and bigger, than real life. The image-based nature of the medium, and its potential for seamless transitions between any conceivable space and time, a one-second edit between scenes, is in part the basis of cinema’s easy comparison to dreams and the subconscious mind. Our unacknowledged desires were realized more intensely with the invention of moving pictures. The decision to use the mode of essay film for this particular project perhaps has added to its dreaminess. The ghostly Theremin that heavily colors the score, the smooth and soft aural quality of Swinton’s voice, and the various odd sound effects thrown in over the visual clips, are all contributors to this fact. Over the closing credits, there is even footage of a pair of spookily disembodied hands.
Dreams Rewired brings up a fascinating idea in its suggestion of the “human zoo” element of cinema. As soon as people are put up on the big screen, they are immediately declared “the other,” separate from the rest of society, though serving as stand-in reps of its members. When do these circus-like individuals get a chance to be in the audience and reflect too? With all of its positives, the popularization of moving pictures also put forth some negatives, such as its voyeuristic quality, which seemed to assist in creating a culture of watchers and surveillance, which in turn creates undertones of paranoia and suspicion.
Overall, Luksch, Reinhart, and Tode’s film celebrates the unifying effects of cinema, its antidote for loneliness in modern times, and its virtual-realistic method of community building. Akin to a profoundly moving and culturally timely work of literature, say J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), or a stellar album, say Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? (1971), a good film can be a wonderful confidence builder for its audience. A good film can say, I too, have been lonely and afraid and confused. I too may have been deemed ‘weird’ by my peers, I too may in fact be a bit weird. Hang in there. This world is a wacky place, some crazy stuff is indeed going down. But you’re not alone.
Dreams Rewired will have a nine-day engagement at New York’s Film Forum beginning Wednesday, December 16.
Jude Warne is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.