RiP: A Remix Manifesto (2009)
|Year Of Production||2009|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Brett Gaylor|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.78:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The mark of a great documentary is the ability to take the viewer into a world they didn't even know existed, carefully explain it and advance their case. RiP: A Remix Manifesto is an enthralling, brilliant documentary that makes the world of copyright law an interesting place - no easy task. Director/creator/facilitator Brett Gaylor has lavished time and intelligence over this effort in order to explain why he and others believe that the rules of copyright have simply gone too far and actually restrict the transformative power of art. He was not alone - this is an "open source" documentary which has been added to and edited "remixed" as it were by on-line participants. The film comes from EyeSteelFilms who brought us the equally fascinating Up The Yangtze reviewed here.
The film starts with a performance by mash-up artist Girl Talk and poses the simplest of questions - who is the author of this song? That simple question is also the most complex as Girl Talk creates his music by mashing up songs, putting the incongruous alongside each other to create often revelatory results. His instrument is the computer on which he remixes and mashes up the tunes. After the mild disappointment of learning that he was speaking figuratively when he referred to his musical desire being that of "putting Elton John in a headlock and pouring beer over his head", the film makes it easy to see how Girl Talk and similar mash-up artists can be said to be creating the folk art of the future.
With that simple question of authorship comes the most complex question. What right should Girl Talk and other mash-up artists have to take other music and transform it? Should they be required to pay royalties to the original songwriters? To do so would mean that Girl Talk’s last CD would owe an astonishing $4.2 million to the record companies! In answering the key question over the course of a brisk 86 minutes, Gaylor outlines the arguments for and against appropriating others work.
At the outset it should be said that this documentary isn't a celebration of illegal downloading of music and other media. For much of the film that remains the elephant in the room. Instead, Gaylor argues, the last 30 years has seen such a tightening of copyright laws that artists at the forefront of our culture cannot create fresh work.
So what is the Remix Manifesto? Copyright lawyer and free speech advocate Larry Lessig and others got together to write a simple set of statements justifying their view that what Girl Talk does is not theft but rather extending the culture of the nation and the world. The four tenets of the manifesto are:
Putting the manifesto in typeface above suggests a dry, analytical argument suited only for copyright theorists. Nothing could be further from the truth. Using a collage of styles and adding a narration that is both earnest and at times cheeky, Gaylor strives at all turns to entertain his audience rather than beat them around the ears. He takes us through each of the points using clear arguments and interviewing some interested parties. Copyright infringement is nothing new. As he points out, Charles Dickens had no copyright protection in the developing American nation. He even travelled to America to plead that others not take his work.
Things get even more complex when the film gets to the recent past. Gaylor shows how Walt Disney drew from a legion of public domain stories for his animated works only for Disney Corporation, after his death, to preserve its copyrights with the help of the US Government, using an iron fist. Suddenly Mickey Mouse, who emerged from the deep south became Disney property no.1 and day care centres carrying Mickey Mouse iconography were threatened with litigation. So too were the MLF - the Mouse Liberation Front who used the image of the mouse as social comment at risk of their financial livelihood. Gaylor also carefully shows how a folk song became a blues song, became a Rolling Stones song, became The Verve song, and finally became a law suit by the Rolling Stones against The Verve. Somehow in this crazy world the Rolling Stones came to own a property that they themselves took from a cultural tradition. The result was The Verve had to pay all their royalties to the Rolling Stones and watch while their song was sold to Nike for a packet.
But the documentary does not just focus on US copyright laws. It also looks to some of the remix and mash-up work being done in the favelas in Brazil. New trends and new styles of music that could not exist under the strong gaze of the world's 6 mega companies that control the music we hear and play.
So back to Girl Talk and the first question - whose music is it? Using bits of music created by other artists is always a risk of appropriation. Just look at the trend of hip hop artists and R&B stars like Rihanna who have legally sampled existing themes to add to their music. However, anyone who has seen Girl Talk constructing his music using microseconds of samples, sometimes adding 15-20 songs into one piece would have no doubt that he is an artist of exceptional talent. So too the mash-up trailers we have been seeing proliferating on the net. Some are crude and basic but others, like the Inception/Toy Story 3 mash-up are a work of art.
Gaylor is no hypocrite. Although this DVD is for sale and I would recommend a purchase, it is also open source for others to play with and develop further. Throughout the film are some examples of developments in the documentary through user contributions. RiP: A Remix Manifesto is a perfect example of how a documentary can be engrossing and important without being about the worst sides of human nature.
RiP: A Remix Manifesto is composed of a variety of sources all bundled into a 1.78:1 transfer. It is 16 x 9 enhanced. This film uses a variety of sources and aspect ratios however it was principally constructed in the (home) editing suite. Rather than stretch or crop 4:3 sources he integrates them into a whole.
It looks great with flashy visuals and bright colours. There is an absence of artefacts except on the older material where it is appropriate, such as in the Steamboat Willie extracts. The flesh tones are accurate and the film, not surprisingly, does not suffer from any compression problems. Some of the live material suffers from digital noise but in general the image quality is pleasing. There are no selectable subtitles.
RiP: A Remix Manifesto comes with a Dolby digital 2.0 soundtrack running at 224 Kb/s. For a documentary which features slabs of music (but just enough to justify "fair use") this is a pity however the show is really more about the idea of Girl Talk than a promotion for his live shows. One of the starkest moments comes when, during a live show, Gaylor fades to silence, pointing out that he has taken his right of fair use to the limit.
The dialogue can all be heard clearly. Whilst there are no subtitles per se, there are some moments where participants speaking in other languages are subtitled.
I have rated the individual elements highly but for the lack of surround sound I have dropped half a star.
|Surround Channel Use|
This DVD comes without extras.
The Region 1 release from last year had a bundle of extra material including:
RiP: A Remix Manifesto won’t convince any corporate copyright holder to give up their rights for the greater good but it is a persuasive thesis that without free interchange and extensive use of the materials of the past we are unable to further develop new forms of art. Perhaps it is working - despite the actions of the major corporations against individual file sharers Girl Talk continues to tour the World bringing his mash-ups to the masses.
For those with the hankering to build on his work, and the work of others, go to http://www.opensourcecinema.org/ and have a tinker.
|DVD||Cambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output|
|Display||Sony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Pioneer SC-LX 81 7.1|
|Speakers||Aaron ATS-5 7.1|