In the March 2000 issue of "The  Independent",
a brave and rather politically incorrect article about the "hype" of the "Digital Age" caught my eye. You may not agree with all of it, but it's very good reading.

 

"THE MEDIUM IS THE MISSED AGE"

                   By ELLEN SPIRO

I'M SUFFERING FROM DIGITAL VIDEO OVERLOAD.

DV is not a revolution, it's a consumer frenzy. DV is not cinema, it's not film. It's video! It is yet another step in the evolution of small-format, low-budget video technology that began with Sony's 1/2" reel-to-reel portapak in the mid-sixties. The fact that the feature filmmaking community is drooling over DV illuminates the great divide that still exists between the worlds of film and video. As any videomaker knows, the wonders of DV that filmmakers tout—small size, low cost, portability, spontaneity—have been around for years. The only difference is between analog and digital and, in practical terms, the differences are minor. With Hi-8 you had dropouts—literally, oxide particles that would fall off the tape from friction. With DV you have digital artifacts—missing or distorted pixels. In editing with DV you have Firewire—almost no loss in image quality. With Hi-8 you have S-video—a semi-component signal that transfers an image almost indistinguishable from one digitized through Firewire.

   The pretense that digital video or digital projection is a new thing ignores the past. DV is delicious in the quality/price arena, but if we are going to worship a video format, let's talk about the real hero: regular 8mm video! The small-format pioneers are folks like George Kuchar and the activist media collectives of the '70s,  '80s,  and '90s who dared traverse the seemingly vast divide between consumer and broadcast technology to make inventive genre-bending work. Some of the best stuff was made on 8mm video, Hi-8 video, and even S-VHS video. A decade-plus before digital became the G-string of the indie scene, Kuchar and others filled up shelves with highly innovative 8mm video works edited in-camera that would cause the Blair Witch to scream with envy.

While film fests worshipped celluloid,Kuchar's incredible body of work remained on the fringe of the fringe—as did other 8mm, Hi-8,  and  pixelvision  innovators  like  Cecelia Dougherty, Kathy High, Skip Blumberg, lgor Vamos, and countless prolific activist video collectives like  DIVA TV and Buffalo's  8mm News Collective. These artists works were not shown at Sundance because Sundance did not project video in the 20th century. 

   I Heard Sundance awoke this year from its slumber and projected video with the sexy title "digital projection." Face it: it's video projection. State-of-the-art video projection has existed for almost two decades. Some festivals created video sidebars in the '80s and '90s that were ghettoized in bad locations, weird time slots, or East Berlin. Other venues took a more forward-thinking route. One that will surely be imitated is the Video Data Bank, the folks that brought you the Video Drive-In in 1986. More interactive than webcasting which beams video into our isolated chambers, the Video Drive-In brought the public together by the thousands to view radical,  groundbreaking,  and experimental works on an outdoor movie-sized screen in Chicago's Grant Park, New York's Central Park, and all over Europe. The offspring of Kate Horsfield  and Lyn Blumenthal's dynamic vision, the Video Drive-In demonstrated the radical potential of video and the scale of its reach. There were no box office figures because it was free.  

The danger of the Digi video craze is that the radical innovators will get lost in the frenzy to declare false prophets. Once the false prophet gets the podium and the frenzied followers are listening, the prophet has nothing to say.
  It is more important than ever to look at recent video history. A good start is Deidre Boyle's brilliant "Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited",  which tells the story of a band of video radicals who tried to create a more inclusive television landscape by working cheaply, inventively, and with strong content in the '70's.

So what's so revolutionary about DV? Is it the 550 lines of resolution of the VXIOOO? The interchangeable lens of the XLI? The teeny-weenieness of the PCI? Or is it that people making narratives have finally discovered what people making activist docs and video art have known since the days of TVTV, Raindance, Videofreex, and the portapak: that eye-opening content outweighs resolution, that compelling images can be composed with good lighting and a strong imagination, and that broadcast quality is really anything that gets broadcast? I would like to see this superficially hyped DV obsession turn towards the meat of the matter and look at all acquisition tools as tools and not as saviors liberating us from hard labor and critical thought. It's really about telling stories that are in danger of being swept under the carpets of conventionality. It's not about regurgitating hackneyed Hollywood ideas on the cheap.

I'm afraid the Blair Witch's broomstick is flying backwards into the future. Her dust is clouding our vision.