by John Jones
It is hard to not think of the documentary form as a kind of remix. At its most basic level, the documentary takes from the material of life—a historical event, an idea—and refashions it into something new. Records are necessarily cut up and reassembled, memories are hazy and indistinct, but from all these parts, these found pieces, the documentarian creates a new record, one which is neither wholly hers nor wholly that of her sources.
‘A Golden Age’ is a remix of the friendships of its participants, making them something new by divorcing them from their normal contexts—the day-to-day activities of these lives—and re-presenting them together: spliced, cut up, re-arranged into something new. The film doesn’t reveal whether or not the different subjects know each other, but even if they are part of a wider social circle, their friendships, in aggregate, mean something different than they do individually.
We could call this an emergent property of the film or see it as a form of collective expression in which the contents of these questions, by the very fact of their being answered by different parties, is itself remixed, providing a means of comparison across individuals or merely a way of rethinking what we have heard about these relationships.
William Deresiewicz is worried that “real” friendship is being replaced by “Faux Friendship.” He argues that when relationships are mediated by social media—such as Facebook or MySpace—that those relationships are necessarily shallow. That is, they lack the “intimacy” that he says characterizes real friendships, and, in its place, they have substituted information: what I’m doing now, the products I like, the places I have been.
Yet this devolution isn’t on display in ‘The Golden Age.’ Rather, it is quite the opposite. Intimacy persists. Deresiewicz writes that “character [is] revealed through action,” and, if we hope to know who a person is, we must “hear about the things they’ve done.” The subjects of this short film all appear to have seen each other in action, to have heard about the things they have done. This intimacy becomes apparent as the subjects relate the stories of how they met, describing their first impressions of each other. Yet, despite Deresiewicz’s concerns about the dangers of new communication technologies crowding out this intimacy, their relationships seem to suffer no ill effects. Mixed in with their stories of junior high meetings and dorm life are Facebook connections and texting.
So, how does one respond to a remix of friendship? Perhaps the remix is the natural form of friendship. That is, each friendship is a refashioning of the idea of friendship, completed in iterations, each slightly different from the last. One of the more compelling aspects of Deresiewicz’s essay is his recounting of the history of friendship, from its nascent forms in collective societies, to the kind of personal connections championed by the Romantics. This history isn’t much different from the different iterations of a meme as it is passed from remix to remix. Maybe the flowering of participatory culture has shown us that the remix is the fundamental form of creativity.