Tuesday, December 6, 2011

American Pied Piper

At the McLuhan100 Conference in Toronto that I attended last month, there was an intriguing presentation by Rob Bliss, the media professional responsible for the Grand Rapids Lipdub Video.  This is an extraordinary video that was created this past May, and released on YouTube.

The video quickly went viral, and now has almost 4 1/2 million views. It also got a great deal of attention from the mainstream news media.

As was explained on the video's YouTube page:

This video was created as an official response to the Newsweek article calling Grand Rapids a "dying city." We disagreed strongly, and wanted to create a video that encompasses the passion and energy we all feel is growing exponentially, in this great city. We felt Don McLean's "American Pie," a song about death, was in the end, triumphant and filled to the brim with life and hope." - Rob Bliss, Director &  Executive Producer

Of course, American Pie is one of the all-time great pop songs, but it's what Rob Bliss set to that soundtrack that is truly amazing.  But here, take a look, if you haven't seen it before, you're in for a treat:

Here's some additional info from the video's YouTube page:

The debut project by STATUS CREATIVE http://statuscreative.com/

The international sensation that Roger Ebert calls "The Greatest Music Video Ever Made."

"The Grand Rapids LipDub Video was filmed May 22nd, with 5,000 people, and involved a major shutdown of downtown Grand Rapids, which was filled with marching bands, parades, weddings, motorcades, bridges on fire, and helicopter take offs. It is the largest and longest LipDub video, to date.

*Note: The "NEW WORLD RECORD" designation refers to size and scope, not duration. Storyboards and concept art by Greg Oberle.

What I find marvelous about the video is that it's all shot in one take. While that's not unheard of in the history of cinema (e.g., Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film, Rope), but I do think it is an interesting manifestation of a characteristic that Lev Manovitch associates with new media, resistance to montage.  Granted, Manovitch mainly refers to the use of spatial juxtaposition, as in the different parts of a website, with it's hypermediated format, as opposed to serial transitions, as in the cuts and dissolves used in film and television to transition from one shot to another within the same basic frame, I think this stands as a different but equally significant manifestation of that same syndrome.  YouTube videos, consisting in such large part of amateur video footage, often do not employ the sophisticated editing of more professional moving image media, and while this video is highly professional, it was created with new media, and YouTube in mind.

In some ways, this is also a throwback to silent film, with its reliance on thousands of extras and large scale scenery, rather than the contemporary trend in film to utilize digital media to create realistic simulations.  Here, take a look at this making-of-the-video video:

The coordination of all of the participants in so many locations with a constantly moving camera is the true marvel of this video, and that is also what makes it very much a product of the new media environment.  In his presentation in Toronto, Bliss explained that he was inspired by flash mobs, especially New York's ImprovEverywhere, the subject of my previous post, Musical Media and Other Acts of Coordination.  And no doubt all of this coordination was carried out with the aid of mobile communications, cell phones that is. 

Rob Bliss has a very media ecological interest in creating events, and I applaud him for it.  In the age of electronic media, that is the experience we are looking for, an event, not an encounter with an object, a thing.

As for the significance of the video,  there's a post about this video on the NPR website, The Grand Rapids Lip Dub: A Giant Street Party Set To Music, and here's an except:
But as much as it's a pure treat to watch, it's also quite moving, and very effective as a response to a list of cities that are allegedly dying. More than perhaps anything else Grand Rapids could have done, the video is a highly watchable, good-natured reminder that including "Grand Rapids, Mich." on a list of dying cities is unavoidably a comment on the futures of the people who live there: kids doing gymnastics, guys with guitars, couples getting married, women in shorts and flip-flops, men with big beards, people who love swing dancing whether they're great at it or not.

It's a little counterintuitive, but a massive crowd ballet that specifically identifies no one turns out to be a surprisingly powerful translation of a impersonal economic projection to a story about individual people.
You may recall from some of my fairly recent posts that I gave a public lecture at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids back in September, and I can tell you that my hosts were quite proud of the fact that the city was holding its first ever major art festival at that same time.  Judging from that on-the-ground result, as much as from the video's reception, I'd have to say that Rob Bliss's efforts met with great success, and I can certainly vouch for the fact that the city of Grand Rapids is alive and well.

So, hello American Pie, and kudos to the Pied Piper who led the way!

1 comment:

aaronbannasch said...

Hi Dr. Strate

Grand Rapids is a popular location for LipDub videos, including two produced by students and faculty from GVSU.


Clark Retirement Community LibDub

In related news (if YouTube videos can be considered news) I have the video that was recorded of you speaking at GVSU on September 21, 2011.

In three parts

Let me know if you'd like any changes made to it.

Take care