Connecting Past to Present: The Lumiere Brothers and the YouTube Revolution

While surfing YouTube today in search of new music to inspire me in Lumiere rehearsals, I discovered a video (see below) that seems to illustrate a less observed, yet equally important point of exploration for Bring On The Lumiere!

One year ago when I began to imagine this piece, I thought about the legacy of the Lumiere brothers and what could be relevant to the present moment.  This is a quote from my original proposal:

What interests me particularly about the Lumiere Brothers is how their films speak to the basic human desire to preserve and recreate through reproductive media.  The Brothers are by no means the only founders of modern cinema, but they are particularly well known for bringing cinema to the masses.  The working class was both the subject of many of the films as well as the intended audience, which helped to provoke a new sort of class-consciousness among the proletariat.  I believe that the current accessibility of video-sharing technology (through cell phones, camcorders, and the internet) has brought a new kind of self-awareness to the American public on a mass scale, and that a performance piece that subtly explores this basic human impulse would resonate with a wide range of contemporary audiences.

Grant-speak aside, I think part of why the Lumiere brothers’ body of work interests me has to do with how they ushered in a new era of self-representation.  Motion pictures changed our sense of time and propelled us into the future, but they also changed our self-image in profound ways.  As the Lumiere Brothers created their films, and projected them for their subjects, I assume that for some of those folks it must have been like seeing oneself for the first time, a magical and disturbing experience.  It’s hard to imagine how profound that must have been: we are now so accustomed to seeing ourselves from outside eyes, that most of us alter our behavior whenever we are conscious of being on camera.

Here is one parallel between the revolution of cinema (part of the industrial revolution), and the digital revolution we are experiencing now.  Technology and the internet has made economically accessible the tools to capture any moment of our lives and share it with the world … it has allowed for countless teenagers to not only frame their new discoveries and experience viewing themselves via playback, but also to promote these talents and themselves across the globe.  This is the age of fast food and instant gratification, when anyone can become a global phenomenon without ever leaving the couch.

Somebody posted this video on YouTube that is a montage of several clips from OTHER YouTube videos to the tune of a song by the band AU; a stated journey “around the world” through different dance styles during the span of a 4-minute song.

The creator of this video lists all of the source materials and the user names associated with these sources, as well as a description of why they chose each clipIt’s like re-purposed self-representation, the quality of the images becoming more and more pixelated with each generation of re-use.  Where else can you see old ladies “dancing” traditional Inuit dances to a pop-rock band from Portland, Oregon?  This hodgepodge of “global” culture is a contemporary You-Do-It version of the classic collection of films created by the Lumiere apprentices that were given a global mission (capturing Japanese fencing, African dance, Southeast Asian colonialism, and bringing these images of Otherness back to France for the first time.)  Is this a stretch?  Maybe… but at least it brings up all sorts of interesting questions.

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