RiP: A Remix Manifesto (2009) dir. Brett Gaylor
We’ve all seen on youtube, the multiple videos of that “Star Wars Kid” twirling his lightsabre remixed with different music and effects, or the dance version of the Christian Bale rant, even that kid in the backseat of the car who just came back from the dentist has been remixed with Christian Bale. All are part of a new form of creative expression called the “mash-up” or "remix", the act of taking pieces of existing art, cutting them up and rearranging them to create a wholly different piece of art. It's not restricted to video, DJs have been doing it for years in music, and most recently with the purchase of a $1500 computer anyone can make professional quality remix art.
Out of this has emerged a new type of artist that has increasing been legitimized and, 'aghast', people have been paying money to see and hear their works. Of course using someone else's work, no matter how it's cut up, is still considered stealing and subject to the lawsuits and sometimes criminal prosecution by the deep pocketed corporations.
With the same leftwing idealistic fervour of Michael Moore and Naomi Klein new media junkie Brett Gaylor examines the culture around this new form of art and artist and the shrinking of the public domain in his new documentary. Gaylor's intellectual themes are made accessible and entertaining with an elegant mix of classical documentary polish and the new media techniques of his subject.
After travelling the world, consulting those on what he calls 'the copyright' and 'the copyleft', Gaylor came up with his own call for action, or Manifesto:
1) Culture always builds on the past
2) The past always tries to control the future
3) Our future is becoming less free
4) To build free societies you must limit the control of the past
Driving us through the history and current state of the nebulous world of copyright is the ultrahip remix musician named “Girltalk”, who, instead of two turntables and a microphone, only presents himself and a Mac notebook on stage, gyrating violently with aggression to his heavy beats of mixed music. He's the ideal guide for this journey, the Generation Z artist, self-aware and adaptable to the changes in his environment.
For historical context, Gaylor shows us that copyright and public domain infringement battles have been going on longer than the internet age. A number of hilarious absurdities emerge from Gaylor’s research, the idea of Warner-Chappell earning millions of dollars each year for the publishing rights to “Happy Birthday”, the numerous lawsuits resulting from MP3 downloading, the Rolling Stones/the Verve "Bittersweet Symphony” debacle, the ridiculous public campaign by Arnold Schwarzenegger against infringement as well his gloriously awkward meeting with Canadian PM Stephen Harper.
The Disney corporation gets some well-deserved attention for its heinous lobbying to change the copyright laws and the hypocrisies of Uncle Walt himself who ‘borrowed’ likenesses and ideas from other artists work to create his great characters. Aging hippie Dan O’Neill offers a hilarious anecdote about his subversive Mickey Mouse cartoons he gained a following for in the 60’s. But the most ridiculous act of counterfeitism is the fake Disney World in Japan which expertly replicated the California theme park with gleefully grandiose audaciousness.
Gaylor’s metaphors go beyond art. We learn by day, Girltalk is Gregg Gillis, a biomedical engineer who finds commonalities with his scientiftic job of culling the research, work, and data used by other scientists to create his own work in the lab. The state of patent laws is similar to that of copyrights. We learn about how unethical selfishishness has meant AIDS medicine is still not widely available to those who need it, but can’t afford it.
Hypocrisies run both ways though. With the technology available and the youtube phenomenon, clearly the Remixers are still able to create their works of art and have them shown. So why the desperate fight? Perhaps it's just the need to create in freedom without fear of prosecution. Perhaps its to make money? Perhaps it’s the principal of it all, to get mainstream 'recognition', a word though which would seem to contradict the value system of the artists.
After being bombarded with mounds of legal and techno-geeky information, the film takes a fun detour to Brazil to explore one of the only countries that has defied the American copyright bully tactics. Brazil has created a vibrant public domain haven where sharing is encouraged, a value brought down from the Portuguese missionaries centuries ago.
RiP succeeds because Gaylor finds a place where form meets content, and we expect nothing less than a technologically creative form. Gaylor's visual aesthetic is a mesmerizing mélange of new media imagery and information, complimenting each other like a tandem bike.
RiP: A Remix Manifesto is in theatres in select cities in Canada starting Friday, but in the spirit of sharing, "RiP' is an 'open source' film, available for download and remixing to anyone at Open Source Cinema.
The screening I saw was hosted by The First Weekend Club, for my Canadian Film Dose coverage of this event CLICK HERE