Shining

In Sunday's post on Remix Culture and Soviet Montage Theory I mentioned in passing that the BSG Sabotage video wasn't an especially great example of "Remix Culture" and that this video would be a much better example:


Like the BSG Sabotage video, all of the audio and visual components of the video come from pre-existing works of art. The "creativity" here is in the way the video is edited together. Unlike the BSG Sabotage video, which is entirely reliant on its source material for its entertainment, the Shining video is much more creative in its appropriation. It's a funny video, but there's more to it than that. It's also insightful and even a little subversive. Don't believe me? Want me to ruin the video by pointing out the obvious in an attempt to explain it? Great! Let's take a look at a few different ways a viewer can decode the meaning of the Shining video.
  • The first and most nonsensical way to interpret the video is to see it as meaningless, uninterpretable noise. Not sure why I'm even including this, except to acknowledge that, say, an alien being visiting our planet for the first time would probably not have any understanding of the video.
  • The second and most naive way to interpret the video is as an advertisement for an actual movie. This implies a recognition of the conventions and purpose of the format, if not the content of the video. People who would fit into this category simply doesn't have the exformation (apparently my new favorite word) to understand the video as anything more than a movie trailer. Interestingly, the video actually works on this level, though I doubt there are that many people who would actually fall into this category.
  • The next level up is to recognize that the video consists of pre-existing works, like the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining and the Peter Gabriel song Solsbury Hill. At this level, there's also a recognition that the video is not actually representative of Kubrick's film.
  • At the fourth level, we see recognition that the video is actually a quasi-parody. The Shining is a horror movie, and yet it's been edited to resemble a heartwarming family drama. This is where some of the humor of the video derives, and I'd wager to bet that most people who view the video get at least this far.
  • At the fifth level, we realize that it's not just the parody aspect of the video that makes it funny. We've already established that the video uses the conventions of the movie trailer in an attempt to paint a horror movie as a heartwarming family drama. There's also the fact that the song Solsbury Hill is overused to help emphasize the certain movie themes. The question now becomes: Why? The creator of this video wants to do more than just entertain you for a few minutes by showing you clips from a movie you like (which is kinda what the BSG Sabotage video is doing). In reality, this video is less a parody of The Shining than it is a critique of formulaic movie trailers. It's an acknowledgement that the practice of creating a movie trailer can be misleading. This insight requires someone to have seen a lot of movie trailers and to have been duped by at least a few of them. Indeed, it's almost a warning. It's like the creator of the video is saying: Beware what you see in the trailer, for it's probably not what you'll see in the movie. Every time I see a movie that is drastically different than its previews, I think of this Shining video. Fortunately, most people have this sort of experience, so I suspect that most people are able to make it to this category. This is probably why the video became such a popular internet meme.
Now, you could argue that this is hardly the first example of this type of video, and it most certainly was not. One earlier example was this controversial video called Kill Christ, a mashup of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ with the music and format of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1 trailer (of course, that video doesn't quite operate on as many levels as Shining, but that's beside the point). Indeed, when you look at the origins of the Shining video, you can see how common this sort of thing has been in the past.
Robert Ryang, 25, a film editor’s assistant in Manhattan, graduated from Columbia three years ago with a double major in film studies and psychology. ... A few weeks back, he said, he entered a contest for editors’ assistants sponsored by the New York chapter of the Association of Independent Creative Editors. The challenge? Take any movie and cut a new trailer for it — but in an entirely different genre. Only the sound and dialogue could be modified, not the visuals, he said.
Ryang won the contest, and posted the video to a "secret" link that he sent only to 3 of his friends. But you can't stop the signal, and even in the days before the broad adoption of internet video sites like YouTube (which had launched only 6 months or so before this video caught on), the meme spread quickly.

Indeed, the video has spawned many imitators, skewering the likes of Mary Poppins (as a horror movie) to Top Gun (as a love story between Maverick and Iceman) to countless Brokeback Mountain parodies. Most of these are cute or funny in their own way, but none seems to quite recapture the brilliance of Shining. But was that only because Shining was the first video of that kind that I'd seen?

The big difference between Shining and its predecessors was technology. I can't imagine that the contest Ryang entered was the first of its kind, but Shining was the first one posted to the internet during a time when high bandwidth connections were becoming more and more common. Personally, I think the video is a valuable addition to pop culture, and it's the sort of thing that wouldn't really have been possible 10 years ago. It's also worth noting that Ryang is a professional editor who created the video in an attempt to hone his talents, so there's value there too. I think that's a good thing, even if it has spawned lots of uninspired imitations. Is it the only thing? Or the most important thing? Probably not, but that doesn't mean it's not valuable. I'd be curious to see what Sonny thinks of the video.