Tag: Quiet

Hanging with the new flesh


“Your reality is already half video hallucination. If you’re not careful, it will become total hallucination. You’ll have to learn to live in a very strange new world.” – Media philosopher Brian O’Blivion in David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983)

So far, the bulk of gifted documentarian Ondi Timoner’s work has dealt with the forces that persuade human beings to give up some part of themselves, whether it be in pursuit of creative growth, God, or fame. Her latest film, takes that as far as it can possibly go. Unlike her remarkable “DiG!,” about the cultish neo-psychedelic rock band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, or “Join Us,” about an actual religious cult, this time the cult is not just a few fanatics, it’s you and me.

I first praised the Sundance Grand Jury prize-winning “We Live in Public,” opening Friday at L.A.’s Nuart Theater (with special Q&As Friday and Saturday nights), back in June when I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The screening was capped off with the then somewhat surprising appearance by the documentary’s antihero, Internet entrepreneur and self-styled conceptual artist Josh Harris. Having returned from an idyll in Ethiopia, he said that his next project was something he called “the Wired City” and that, in his view, a typical human’s life in the future is going to be something like the present day existence of “a Purdue chicken.” He also said he hadn’t seen the movie and wasn’t sure when he would.

Back in the 1990’s, Harris made a large fortune largely by being one of the first to see the full communications potential of the web and was a dot-com era sensation via his groundbreaking web entertainment company, Pseudo. Leaving that when his eccentric and creative side grew to be too artsy and weird for the corporate room, he then spent a good chunk of that fortune on two highly provocative experiments/art projects.

We Live in PublicFirst came “Quiet” – basically a month-long party/community in an underground compound on the west side of New York with overt fascistic overtones. Harris recruited roughly 100 artists and creative types to live there 24/7 for an indefinite period (it turned out to be a month). He would provide all the food, (legal) party favors, a firing range and plenty of weaponry (blanks only, I’m told), as well as a fake church and real interrogation tactics borrowed from the Cold War-era East German secret police.

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“We Live in Public” and the arrival of the new flesh

First of all, my apologies for subjecting you to the picture above of “Luvvy,” the frightening Mrs. Thurston Howell III-inspired clown alter ego of dot-com millionaire turned visionary self-described artiste Josh Harris. However, it’s arguably one of the less disturbing images available from what is probably going to be the most newsworthy film I’ll see at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and maybe anywhere else for a while.

It seemed even more that way when I learned while writing this post that Michael Jackson, an early experiment in living in public, had passed away at UCLA Medical Center — less than a quarter mile from the coffee house I’m writing this from. There’s a weirdness floating over L.A. right at the moment (as well as what sounds like a thousand helicopters).

Ondi Timoner’s “We Live in Public” scored the grand jury prize at Sundance this year, and not for no reason. If there’s any doubt that, despite the lack of flying cars or commercial space travel, we live in a science-fiction world, this film’s look at Harris’s ethically questionable but fascinating experiments in weirder-living through ‘net-driven intrusion does the trick. Philip Dick would be quite comfortable here and the Marshall McLuhanesque nightmare envisioned by David Cronenberg 1986 science-fiction classic, “Videodrome,” with its talk of media-generated “new flesh” seems closer than ever. (Naturally, a remake is in the offing.)

After making a bundle by arriving very early at the commercial and entertainment possibilities of the webtubes, Harris spent a huge chunk of his earnings in 1999 and 2000 on “Quiet.” It was an ultra-“Big Brother” type experiment in which hoardes of NYC hipsters and artists were sequestered in a high-tech bunker and placed under constant Internet surveillance, subjected to Stasi-style interrogations, and otherwise robbed of their humanity with their full cooperation. People who heard about it were able to see everything, and that includes all the stuff you’re thinking of (though judging from the film, a few people at least resorted to the old PG-13 movie trick of making love underneath blankets). Since there was also quite a few guns around, for some reason, it’s no surprise that the NYPD finally broke the thing up, though the situation had already turned a bit ugly, though not gun-ugly.

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