In our time, we have fully heard new music but not fully seen new cinema. So far we have seen hints, suggestions, signs, glimmers of the new cinema, but it has yet to come into being itself. The new cinema is emerging. We've seen it in the movies Timecode (2000) and Russian Ark (2002), and, in the art world, in Paul Miller's Rebirth of a Nation, Stephanie Syjuco's Body Double, and Christian Marclay's Video Quartet (2002). Marclay, a visual and sound artist based in New York City since the late '70s, has two peaks in his long career: One is Tape Fall, a composition that spewed audio tape of running water from a height, as in a waterfall (it first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1989); and Video Quartet, a 14-minute visuo-musical projected from four DVD players onto a 40-foot-long screen with each section playing clips from music videos, concert footage, TV performances, and Hollywood movies (the work was commissioned by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).
Musically, Video Quartet is an old concept (dating back to Grandmaster Flash's groundbreaking, seven-minute "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" in 1981); visually, it is still fresh (dating back to experiments by DJ Q-Bert, DJ Spooky, and others around the middle of the last decade). But where it's different from previous efforts to link turntablism and cinema is in its nearness to a fully realized revolution in seeing and narrating film—the new cinema.
A good part of this nearness has to do with the recent affordability of editing software. Without this technology, such a project—fusing the images and sounds of 600 film clips into one mix—would have taken too long and cost too much. At around the year 2000, the studio editing power offered by Final Cut Pro came down to what SFMOMA's former media arts curator Benjamin Weil called the "consumer level." The combination of the technology and the abundance of recorded images is now in a position to raise cinema up to the condition that new music achieved in the mid- and late '80s, with albums like It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 3 Feet High and Rising, and Paul's Boutique—three early masterpieces of hiphop.
But what is this new cinema we are dying to see? It is not, to begin with, cinema as such. It is metacinema. One movie made from other movies. The material for the new cinema has already been directed, photographed, edited, color corrected, and sold on the market, broadcast on TV, downloaded from the web. We have already seen the images elsewhere; we have a shared memory of them. And now the director dies, and on the shores of his ruins arrive the fragments of the new cinema.
In the future land of new cinema, the editor will become the king. But not just the editor in the limited movie (postproduction) sense, but also in the sense of someone who programs the shows for a TV channel, the one who selects what is to the be shown over a week—the programmer combined with the editor produces the man behind Video Quartet. On four screens, programmer/editor Marclay mixes these and other images: Now we see Dustin Hoffman playing xylophone in Midnight Cowboy; now we see a watery scene from The Piano; now we only see Rita Hayworth. On another screen, a slender woman sings in a movie we can't recall; on another, Audrey Hepburn breathes "Moon River." A car drops into a lake, a trumpet drops into a lake, a trumpet is smashed.
Sonically, Video Quartet is structured by four movements, each separated by the frenzied pitch of smashed instruments, or banged drums, or women screaming for their lives. After the fourth frenzy, Elvis is shot and falls to his death in a movie we do not want to remember. This final section is the best part of the mix. It's mysterious, atmospheric, and erotic. A man opens the case for a standup bass, and inside it is a young, naked, and beautiful woman; Lori Singer's knees lock a curvy cello between her legs; the space queen Jane Fonda hums as a feather fucks her cheek. All of this ends with the slam of a door.
The only reason Video Quartet is on its way to the new cinema, instead of being in that condition now, is because it still relies on the ideas of new music. It is, in essence, imitating "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash." The substance of new cinema will not depend on other art forms, but on the art that is dead to it: moviemaking.