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Video on social media: the return of the silent film

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2017

At the first movie studio in the US, Thomas Edison filmed cat videos, which are also popular on social media now.

In the NY Times, Amanda Hess writes about the parallels between the type of video that works well on social media these days and silent films from the first part of the last century.

All of that has given rise to a particular kind of video spectacle on social media, one that is able to convey its charms without dialogue, narrative or much additional context. To entertain soundlessly, viral video makers are reanimating some of the same techniques that ruled silent film over 100 years ago. “For coincidental reasons as much as knowing reasons, we’ve seen a rebirth of a very image-forward mode of communication,” said James Leo Cahill, a professor of cinema studies at the University of Toronto. Among its hallmarks: a focus on spectacle, shocking images and tricks; the capture of unexpected moments in instantly recognizable scenarios; an interplay between text and image; and a spotlight on baby and animal stars.

The very first short-form cinematic experiments — silent clips that arose even before film evolved into a feature-length narrative form in the early 20th century — have become known as what film scholar Tom Gunning calls the “cinema of attraction,” films that worked by achieving a kind of sensual or physiological effect instead of telling a story.

Created by early filmmakers like the French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière and the American inventor Thomas Edison, these early movies took cues from the circus and the vaudeville circuit, featuring performers from that world, and were then played at vaudeville shows. Taken together, they formed what Gunning has called an “illogical succession of performances.”

Social media has created a new kind of variety show, where short, unrelated videos cascade down our feeds one after another. If early films were short by necessity — the earliest reels allowed for just seconds of film - modern videos are pared down to suit our attention spans and data plans.

First online handles

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2011

From Good, an article by Amanda Hess on The Eternal Shame of Your First Online Handle.

So how did I choose to define myself in this new world? I booted up my parents’ modem and launched head-first into online forums with an alias inspired by my cat’s name. Later, I spent hours negotiating with AOL’s log-in field, testing out various combinations of Nine Inch Nails lyrics until I found one that hadn’t already been snagged by an equally tortured soul (I was later forced to explain to a college admissions counselor why my e-mail address was ImDrowningIn@aol.com).

My first handle was “derbis”, which is how I thought “debris” was spelled until far later in my schooling than one might expect of a native English speaker. It actually started as a self-imposed nickname IRL…these guys I knew in college DJ’d parties and they all had their DJ names and not wanting to be left out, I picked one for myself. To date, I still have not DJ’d a single event, but the first thing I ever designed was a flyer for a friend’s rave party; I signed it “cybergraphics by derbis” (all lowercase, naturally). It had a lot of fractals on it.

And if you thought that wasn’t sufficiently embarrassing, my AIM name is still “damptrousers”. IIRC, Greg remarked that the phrase “damp pants” was hilarious right around the time I signed up for AIM but “damppants” was taken (?!!) so yeah. (via ★natalie)