Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I just left a screening of Rip: a Remix Manifesto and ultimately I liked it as an act of provication. Filmmaker Brett Gaylor's manifesto is:

1. Culture always builds on the past.
2. The past always tries to control the future.
3. Our Future is becoming less free.
4. To build free societies, you must limit control of the past.

Good stuff worth contemplating, but what was interesting (beside the complete omission of hip-hop and sampling from the discussion) was the way Gaylor's evidence seemed to undo his argument. He contends that the past exerts unprecedented control over today's art and culture, but the film is centered on Girl Talk, who has now put out two albums of music laden with uncleared samples. His career and other examples in the film show that bit business may be trying to control ideas, but it has generally been unsuccessful.

He also misses the image enhancement, cultural capital and motivational value that accompanies the transformation of the ideas from the past. Gaylor exploits the pirate image throughout the film, but he does so as if being one's a bad thing. It might be an illegal thing, but until recent events, Johnny Depp's pirate-as-rock 'n' roll-outlaw has been an attractive pose, and transforming old blues songs, old Mickey Mouse comics, old fairy tales and old top 40 hits into works of art that speak to their moment has always had an appealing, subversive dimension.

There's enough cool in Rip: a Remix Manifesto to make it worth seeing (or downloading here) (or remixing here), but he gets a number of things wrong (Is it really a crime to hear music that contains samples that haven't been cleared?). Ultimately, it's more of a love letter to Girl Talk than anything else, but there are a lot of less worthy subjects of love letters.

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