The Reconstruction of Time

©2001 Larry Lytle

[This essay was written in the summer of 2001.]

A few days ago I sat in a movie theater watching the latest of the summer’s action adventure offerings. It was titled Swordfish and was a diverting two hours of car chases, explosions, gunfire, duplicity, twist endings, and of course gratuitous nudity. I save the nudity for the end of the list because it is that subject that started me thinking. (I wanted to see the film before I read that Halle Berry was appearing topless, really I did. Evidently she was paid $500,000 to show her breasts for the first time on screen!) As I watched the highly anticipated moment take place—it was fairly brief—I thought, “Do actors and actresses think about the life of their epidermal revelations beyond the theater?”

There are of course the cases of actors and actresses attempting to buy back the films done at their career’s beginning—bodily revelations that harbor the inevitable youthful indiscretions of a starving performer. There are also the men’s magazines that relentlessly track down those obscure movies and publish those revealing pictures. But, I'm sure that celebrities think about these issues before they sign their contracts.

In the 1960’s when nudity slid its way first into foreign films and then into the domestic product, one had to go back to the theater to see Jane Fonda, sort of semi nude, in the opening credits of Barbarella. One had to be prepared to look in the right place at the right time.

Now with DVDs and High Definition televisions we can freeze frame on whatever scene we want for as long as we want. We are only hampered by the quality of the transfer (of course video tape can do this but the digital quality of DVD is far superior). There are even computer programs available that allow you to make stills from a DVD.

But, besides the issues concerning scenes of sex and nudity on the part of the actors—and more importantly—I wonder if directors also consider how this new technology will affect the way we look at and potentially appropriate their films.

As already mentioned, with ease we can now dissect movies one frame at a time. Think of creating a slide show from travels we never went on or an album of family photos from a life we never experienced—in both cases, images taken from the same motion picture. Yet those images, through the act of appropriation, are given a different context, meaning, or content. The still image that’s incarcerated in a motion picture is given its freedom, and photography reclaims its prodigal child.

We are a computer-oriented culture that scrolls through information. And, movies have always been made to be scrolled through, frame by frame, scene by scene. Home viewing technology allows us to become outlaw editors, deleting those frames or scenes that do not please us or no longer hold meaning. We can take movies in whole or in part and create a new cinema based on our own views and desires. We can become the DJ’s of a new order, sampling images instead of sounds.

We have access to the full orchestra with a ready-made symphony of visuals without the production costs. We can take someone else's visual language and subvert it to our own meaning and ends. We can pluck out a defining moment and make it our own. We can become what we have always wanted to be… Directors.

Note— This essay in no way advocates the wanton violation of another’s copyright. Perhaps it would be better to just freeze frame on her firm breasts or his amazing abs.

Larry Lytle is a native Angelino. He has an MA in Art from California State University Northridge. Larry is a fine artist whose work has been most recently seen at the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles and the Society for Contemporary Photography in Kansas City. He is also a commercial artist specializing in theatrical and video key art photography, and is an instructor at the Otis College of Art and Design continuing education. Larry contributed to "William Mortensen: a Revival," published by the Center for Creative Photography, and is currently at work on a biography of William Mortensen. See the Talent Index for his many other contributions to TheScreamOnline. He can be reached through the webmaster (replace [AT] with @ in the email).


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