Sunday, 14 February 2010

ваш фильм (YOURFILM), (Alex Mikhailichenko, 1922)

'Bearing witness to the proud travelogues of others is one thing, but when one can self-document a unique passage in light and colour, does one not hum contentedly? A billion subjective versions, a billion truths, surely ring louder than one.' Gilles Deleuze

What are we viewers if we are not frustrated artists who would love nothing more than to bend the onscreen action to our will? To save a hero from a low-flying blade of a masked villain (or condemn her, should her passions/face/haircut demand it), or step up and throw a piece of small jewellery into a pit so as to better help our half-pint fictional brethren (and so end a painful, long, painfully long journey)?

Such was the conviction of Alex Mikhailichenko, a Ukranian who invented the YOURFILM technology in 1922. His visionary future included the 'destruction of the passive feature film worldwide by 1930', which to his Soviet paymasters meant of course only one thing, the disrobing and slaying of Hollywood demigods. The staggering failure of the technology may disprove something, but certainly not the potency of the idea. If anything it was too good, like Houdini's disappearing elephant trick in 1918, which was received underwhelmingly by an audience who did not understand its potency of the conjurer's greatest illusion.

Utilising 'brain pads' which were attached to the heads of the audience, the action in YOURFILM was changed by the emotional reactions of the punters. What happened on screen, after the initial image of two lovers on a battlefield ('Love and War being a solid beginning for all stories', according to Mikhailichenko), depended entirely on how the assembled react. Mikhailichenko himself described the effects upon his arrival in France in 1962, in an interview with Francois Truffaut for Cahiers du Cinema:
'Always, the screen was bubbling, Dali-like in its concept but more like Monet in its colouring and blurring of fantasies. Like melting clouds... one minute our hero was running through a field, before the swaying wheat was sea. The amazing thing was that what I saw and what my neighbour saw was different... we agreed on the principles... or did we? One time a group of drunken sailors turned the story into a tawdry strip show through their bustling brainwaves, and another time, the same story reached a fetid nirvana of absurdities with one crowd of minor geniuses. I wish I could see that version again and again. But it is gone.'

While Mikhailichenko was more interested in the psychedelic uniqueness of each experience, the Soviets saw otherwise. The filmmaker suggested that the technology was the ultimate socialist art, involving as many authors as possible; but they disagreed. When Maxim Gorky returned from Italy to the USSR in the early 1930s, it was such a coup for the Soviets (a rejection of fascism and (re)embrace of communism being the ultimate propaganda boon) that the writer was given the Order of Lenin. When Gorky compared YOURFILM to the 'distracting trinkets of Coney Island', and called it 'another time destroyer, a waste,' YOURFILM's days were numbered. It was seen as an indulgence, with one prominent critic too many.
The sadness, of course, comes in the corruption. Mikhailichenko claims his technology was stolen. Eyewitnesses claim it was distorted by the Soviets and turned into a weapon, with huge disorientating projections thrown across the invading Nazis in Stalingrad. Others suggest it was stolen by the SS, co-opted after 1945 by American agencies, and subsequently seen in Nicaragua and Afghanistan. Rumours among US squadrons in Vietnam were that the North Vietnamese were being tooled with brain-pads to convince themselves that they were seeing huge ten-headed hydras behind them, on the side of Communism.

Mikhailichenko despaired, and fled the USSR in 1961. 'The fact that it had no measurable purpose frightened everybody. They would rather it had a destructive existence than the vague pleasurable one I conceived.'

Subsequent nuanceless audience-decides interfaces have met with narrow success, but they are on-rails narratives that bear little relation to YOURFILM's freewheeling possibilities: The on-running Choose Your Own... series (in which each film stops at various points to allow audience members to vote for whichever pre-recorded scenario they desire) has been resurrected many times since its 1954 debut. It has survived repeated critical barragings to threaten to come back into fashion following kitschbait features by Robert Rodriguez. His Naked, Naked Sex (2004) and Six-Gun Pizza (2005) were internet-only experiments in the hilariously outdated mode, and only highlight how far ahead of his time Mikhailichenko actually was. We still haven't come near his vision, and next to YOURFILM, all simplistic technologies must cower.1

ваш фильм YOURFILM Directed by Alex Mikhailichenko Produced by Alex Mikhailichenko, Written by Alex Mikhailichenko/ The Assembled Debuted in Moscow in November 1922

1. The rather peurile Top Or Bottom? adult spin-offs quickly lost their novelty in the seventies, however, with audience members frequently taking the most savagely deviant option at every opportunity, causing the films to be little more than the same sequence of events each time (like any normal film), only with a dozen intervals of frustrated clicking on keypads. And worse, surely, is the Cliche Program, rumoured to have been used by major Hollywood studios in various films in the 21st Century. This leaves the suggestion, ever lingering, that certain Hollywood stars can no longer perform to the standard required, and that through variations of YOURFILM technologies, audiences are convinced that, say, Mr de Niro still has his chops; because, after all, we still want him to be good; that perhaps what we are seeing is an assisted performance, with our collective memories of his younger danger twisting his infertile present day efforts, changing them like an empathetic autotune. The possibility also hovers that some stars may not be real, but hazy dreams of suicides, eternally out of focus. For who can really say that they have seen Ms Sandra Bullock and truly understand her; and who can identify what genus one Mr Vincent Jones really is?

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