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of clockwork men

Film, Text and Cut-Ups

Here’s a thing. After spending four days (and most of four nights) shooting digital video sequences that were integral to understanding aspects of the story (you need to see Daniel move and talk, for example, or the nature of who he is, which is never really addressed in the text, is completely missing), editing them with a really-very-good editor (the film crew were terrific too) and then adding sound, enhancing tone and colour, what do I do with the final footage?

Cut it up and throw it around three websites.

I mean, was that really a good use of all that time and effort?

For example, you’d never get to see this:

There’s the full version, reconstituted, of the creation sequence we shot for Daniel. He’s just been born, and is finding out what his hands are for (he has a memory of having hands), and things that are important later on are becoming, well, real.

Why cut it up?

Partly, because of William S. Burroughs.

Not that I’m a huge fan, but I knew about the cut-up technique, and it fitted into the overall theme of the book – Burroughs suggests that “When you cut into the present the future leaks out”, which worked perfectly into the tone and structure of the story I’m telling. Burroughs was playing with linearity (Jeff Noon’s ‘Cobralingus’ was another reference point for this project, although not as clearly), and, along with BS Johnson, Robert Coover et al, laid down a great deal of the ground rules for how we play with interactive structures. Most of the time though, it seems that we’ve forgotten what those ground rules are.

When I wrote the whole piece – all 60,000+ words of it, I only printed it once. I ran a full version out about a week before the websites were put together, to see how the overall shape worked, and to try throwing elements against each other. I can’t ever be a neutral, third party participant in the process unless I impose artificial barriers and rules that the reader didn’t have, but when I moved sections of the text around, ran them against each other and looked for patterns in the writing, themes that ran across locations and into characters, the experiment did, largely, work. In that instance, the video pieces anchored the narrative. They’re real, more solid than writing – writing is manipulable, and can lie. In this pattern, film is the only real thing we can rely on. If it was there and it was put on camera, then it happened. The recollections of a first person narrator, whomever he or she might turn out to be, are unreliable, are discordant and cannot be held up as firm evidence. Moving pictures, on the other hand, exist. Our eyes generate evidence, sift truth from lies, and whereas the fragments of written text ask us to imagine a world, to picture it in our heads, the short, fleeting moments of motion on film actually act to deny us imagination.

I hoped, when I saw the first website stats, and the volume of video downloads, that it might work. You never know.


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