Cinema of Exultation (In which I over-analyze Tim & Eric)

Feast your eyes on the spectacular visual explosion that is MGMT’s video for Time to Pretend, directed by Ray Tintori:

[High-Resolution QuickTime] (yes, it’s also on YouTube, but I’m not even going to link to it there because you HAVE to see it in high resolution to get even the slightest idea what is going on in the video)

See also Eric Wareheim’s video for MGMT’s The Youth:

[YouTube Link] [High-Resolution Quicktime]

And if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and go check out Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! on Adult Swim.

I’ve always been big on polish, but here’s the deal: Tim and Eric (and Ray Tintori, and MGMT) are way smarter than I am, and what you are seeing here is the birth of a cinematic revolution. It’s something entirely new and untested and sometimes it doesn’t work, but I’d argue that this is the most important film movement since Dogme, and far more joyous than anything Lars von Trier could ever dream up.

I’m not a film scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but I called it first so I guess I’m entitled to name this thing. Unless someone can come up with a better phrase, I’m going to call it Cinema of Exultation, for its apparent ecstatic wonderment at the seemingly infinite posibilities of the medium. Here are some key defining features I’d associate with this style (not to be considered an exclusive list, nor all prerequisites for something to be Exultant Cinema):

  • Low-fidelity digital visual effects, especially chroma keying and rudimentary 3D animation
  • Freeze-frames, video glitches, artifacting
    • Just because I can find no examples of Exultant Cinema that were shot on film doesn’t mean it’s not possible, so I’ll stop short of saying that Exultant Cinema is video-only.
  • Vivid colors, often digitally processed for increased saturation
  • Use of analog video for stylistic effect
  • Psychedelic editing
  • Unrehearsed dialogue, awkward pacing; dwelling on small moments
  • Stylistic references to infomercials, reality television, action films and anything else part of the pop-cultural zeitgeist
  • Cartoonish sound effects
  • Cheaply-constructed props and costumes

I’d argue that Exultant Cinema draws heavily from Japanese television and anime, but I have no direct evidence to support that claim (other than the Adult Swim connection).

Since Tim & Eric are the most productive sources of this style, it has so far been used to mostly comedic effect. However, I would say the MGMT videos prove that it is also possible for work of this type to move its audience on a deeper level. Drama is on its way.

Finally: this may be wishful thinking on my part, but it appears to me that Exultant Cinema heralds a newfound honesty in image acquisition—no more fiddling with lens adapters and post-processing to fake a film look—film is film, video is video, they look different from each other, and pretending anything else is foolhardy and pointless. (For the record, it annoys me just as much when a big-budget movie shoots a TV news program on film and expects me to buy it as a genuine news broadcast.)

So here’s the question: who’s going to be the first person to make a feature film that looks like this? It’s something that I think Richard Kelly was beginning to get at with Southland Tales, but there’s no filmic prototype to work from. There are, however, people adopting the aesthetic. Ken Abdo and Ben Johnson are two filmmakers at MCAD who have been producing a lot of fantastic work in the canon of Tim & Eric—including a documentary, believe it or not. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any of their work online, so I can’t link it here.

And yes, you’ll notice that I created a new post category for Exultant Cinema. It’s that important. I am here and now willing to stake my career on that fact, and I plan to be writing about this a great deal in the future. FOR INSTANCE: How does this relate to my own work? How can Exultant Cinema maintain some of the tenets of realism set forth by Vérité in order to maintain that always-tenuous suspension of disbelief? Is it possible for Exultant Cinema to be sedate, quiet or inwardly reflective? Perhaps some experimental films are in order.

BONUS: This student film by Tim & Eric, on lobsters in film and the many advantages of VHS over film predates the particular style I’m talking about here, but it’s still fantastic. (timanderic.com for other amazingness)

One thought on “Cinema of Exultation (In which I over-analyze Tim & Eric)

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