Sunday, December 16, 2007

Four-Letter Databases

As I'm starting to read the new book on Database Aesthetics, I've been thinking a lot about Lev Manovich's argument about the end of conventional montage, as the database from which stock material is selected becomes transparent to the audience.

I would argue that there is a lot of content on YouTube that makes databases visible, which is very different from what Henry Jenkins has described as the "vaudeville" ethos of the online video-sharing site that emphasizes live performance of sequential routines. Consider the photo-a-day videos of Noah Kalina or graphic designer Ahree Lee (and their associated parodies and imitations) or the sampling videos of Lasse Gjertsen in films such as Amateur and Daydream. With post-production software each frame of a video potentially becomes a discrete item to be indexed in the larger database that is constituted by the total film.

As YouTube makes clear, not all databases are composed by processes of automation. Some editors still go through and painstakingly find each relevant item by using human discrimination. For example the not-safe-for-work "Scarface in Six" carefully catalogues all the profanity in the film and composes a single movie made up of all of the obscene utterances voiced by the protagonist and his supporting cast. A similar effort is presented in an audio format by Seven Minutes in Deadwood link and the The Number of Fucks in Deadwood website.

Indeed, one of the premises in the recent film Knocked Up is that the protagonists are assembling a database of information about all the nude scenes in movies to enable rapid fast-forwarding to the selected content.

(Thanks to my colleague Mike Heim for the book!)

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Blogger chutry said...

There's something similar going on with the "5 Second Movies" series. While these videos are often kicked off YouTube, "Guy With the Glasses" edits down movies to (approximately) 5 seconds. This version of Big Lebowski is a nice database of the film's extensive use of profanity. But this discussion of the database actually hlps to clarify something I'm working on in my book chapter on user generated videos, so thanks for recommending the Manovich stuff.


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