Dawn of the Dead, take 3

Finally, the last and mashed installation of my Dawn of the Dead (1978) series which took far more technical and creative energy than I originally imagined. The idea behind this experiment was simple: create three commentaries upon the social/political sub-themes dealing with consumer culture embedded within Dawn of the Dead using  video-based approaches. Oh yeah, one more thing, all of this was to be completed in three days.

The first take was a simple, edited argument in which I juxtaposed clips from Romero’s classic horror film. The second take simply added my own running audio commentary on these selected clips from the movie. Two days, two clips, no problem.

This take, the third take, the mashup, threw a bit of a wrench in my work flow (that’s for you, Andy 😉 ). I labored over this version far longer than I anticipated, which in the end says something to me about some of the formal elements and challenges of video more generally, but the demands of imagining and executing a mashup more specifically. For the other two takes I had the argument in my head from having seen the film so many times, and analyzed it in my usual way, i.e., informally, idiosyncratically and questionably.

Yet, the mashup was far more demanding. I wanted to take the mall footage from Dawn of the Dead and mash it up with some of the public domain resources available on the Internet Archive. I found two good marketing films for shopping centers (Shopping Can be Fun (1957) and In the Suburbs (1957)) and was planning on using both, but here is where the difficulties began. After watching all three movies a number of times to find moments that might work, deciding on clips, and then editing them down, I found that the most important element for framing my own commentary in this mashup was going to be a consistent narrator and background music. This ultimately led to me to limit the “straight” narrator and documentary footage to just Shopping Can be Fun. A choice which meant I had to abandon some amazing commentary and narration from In the Suburbs.

I think this is illustrative of the mashup process, it is all about framing a narrative, making editorial choices, and, in my case, working creatively within the very specific limitations of new media. I’m not so sure limitations necessarily lead to interesting, creative side effects, yet the technical skills, time commitment, and found material necessary meant that I wouldn’t be able to do all that I had imagined. I was forced to recognize the restraints, compromise, and produce.

For example, my limited understanding of editing and manipulating audio led me to simplify the sources, and helped me recognize what I need to do to create a better mashup next time (and there will be a next time!). I am fully aware that the version as it stands now is mediocre at best—this is a “b” blog after all—but I really enjoyed the creative stimulation, despite the fact that I need to work a lot harder to hone my technical and formal approaches to what should be understood as yet another way of framing an argument using the archives of our culture as the creative canvas.

More than that, however, the idea that I might be able to galvanize an idea or reaction by re-working these cultural artifacts is pretty cool. Mashups might be understood as the imaginative re-orchestration of culture through sounds, text, and images that depends upon, as much as it diverges from, the history of narrative. A medium that is by no means new, yet promises to become ever more prevalent in the future given the multi-modal web of connections we inhabit on an increasingly regular basis.

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4 Responses to Dawn of the Dead, take 3

  1. This ultimately led to me to limit the “straight” narrator and documentary footage to just Shopping Can be Fun. A choice which meant I had to abandon some amazing commentary and narration from In the Suburbs.

    You might be interested in this article, which deals with related issues from a structuralist point of view, using MAD magazines parodies as an example. I read it over 10 years ago, but I remember it being quite good.

  2. Martin says:

    I love it! The food section is fantastic.
    In my laboured, ponderous way I have been arguing that the ability to take existing content and rework it into something entirely new is a key skill for the digital scholar. Martin Scorcese argued that editing is the skill that is unique to film (I have a feeling I’ve mentioned this before, apologies if so). Other elements had come from elsewhere: acting from the theatre, narrative from literature, scene composition from art, etc. But editing was unique to cinema and so should not be undervalued.
    Similarly, the ability to edit and remix other people’s content in unintended ways, may be what is unique to the digital world.
    And what is really exciting is that anyone (well almost anyone) can do it.
    But instead of making pompous arguments I will just show them this clip now. Wonder if my Vice Chancellor will buy it as the basis for investing in staff development?

  3. Pingback: The ds106 99: #34 David Attenborough narrates Dawn of The Dead | bavatuesdays

  4. Pingback: YouTube and the Erosion of Fair Use | evmaiden

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