by Will Burdette
You know that South Park episode where the gang gets served? Well I kind of felt like that when I watched “Closer” for the third time. I was expected to respond, but, like the South Park boys, I just kind of sat there, mouth agape, in bewilderment, admiration, and a bit of fear. The video I was to respond to was carefully conceived, beautifully shot, tightly edited, and deftly acted out. I had basically three options: I could sit there and drool like an idiot; I could respond with a written shot-by-shot critique; or I could re-imagine the video as if I were going to remake it. The first option didn’t seem like it would add to the conversation. The second option was viable. It would probably take me a couple of hours. But it didn’t feel right. I’m just not sure that’s the moment–that moment of critique–that we are in anymore. The role of professional audience members, critics, is of another age. If the rise in user generated content has done one thing it is this: it has thoroughly blurred the lines between creator and audience. A talking head video response would have been fine in some ways, but it would put me back into the realm of the critic. So for all sorts of reasons, my response had to be non-critical.
So I thought, “what if I took the same amount of time as a written critique would take me to respond in kind?” This prospect was even scarier. I don’t have a Nikon D300. My video camera is kind of cheap. I didn’t have a lot of time, and I have a lot of other responsibilities pressing on me. I couldn’t see roping colleagues into helping me make anything right now. So it had to be DIY. “I got nufflin” was what I was thinking. So I had to turn “nuffin” into something. In the words of Spoon, “I got nuffin to lose but emptiness and hang ups.” As far as hang ups go, when you get served, you just have to get over those hang ups and dance. When you are being asked to respond, you have to put those hang ups aside and just say something. So I just took that empty space–you know, those couple of hours between when you get home and actually do something else–and tried to fill it up by retelling a similar story. After conceiving of the idea I gave my self tight parameters: two hours.
This story enters a conversation with the story “Closer” by mimicking the activity: chess, reading, eating, etc. It also mimics some of the formal decisions. The whole story is told in music and images. No dialog. More importantly, it riffs on the idea of loneliness. In “Closer,” the guy can save a space for someone else, he can imagine someone there, but when faced with a real person in that space, he kind of wigs out a bit. The guy in “Further” is, well, further along in terms of loneliness in that he doesn’t even open up that space for someone else to occupy. In the story I told, this guy kind of wanders around his crappy apartment and doesn’t even try to get out to a coffee shop. He doesn’t even pretend that there’s someone else there in the seat across from him. He doesn’t sit down to eat at the table. He doesn’t imagine that he’s reading literature next to someone else. When computer chess is too hard for him, he switches to tic-tac-toe and still loses. His most difficult decision is between Lone Star and PBR. (If I had a continuity editor, she probably would have told me to take off my wedding ring because this guy was most certainly between, or perhaps done with, relationships.)
The production choices, then, were an attempt to enhance the story. This guy’s perspective isn’t being told in a clean, well-lighted place. It is a dirty, pixelated, YouTube backwater. The music is kind of awesome. I wanted to go French to echo “Closer,” but I also wanted to go punk to reinforce that kind of dirty, grungy style. So French punk was just about right, but the fact that it’s amateur French punk really made it perfect. And the fact that the song referred to “Lazy Bastard Number One” really helped me write the story. (I started with the song, actually) I hate to call this kind of loneliness lazy, but I think a lot of times it looks like that.
At the end of the day, it was just a lot of fun. It also really helped me appreciate the student piece for all its technical precision. At some points in the past, in English departments anyway, we thought that appreciation was developed mainly through critique, but I’m trying to sound out a different way to appreciate and respond to work. It’s more a serve-and-get-served kind of thing.