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CINEMA Rhythm of the hours



onstant bombardment of visual informa- tion shortens the attention span, overloads

the senses and coarsens the responses? Audiences have an opportunity to judge even as they watch a new release in cinemas, arguably the first serious film of the YouTube age, the documentary Life in a Day. On 24 July 2010, 80,000 people around the world caught moving pictures of their lives on cameras that ranged from mobile phones to professional standard. Responding to a challenge from YouTube in partnership with Ridley and Tony Scott’s company Scott Free, they uploaded to the internet their stories, expressed their fears and showed what they had in their pockets. These fragments added up to 4,500 hours of footage. What happened next is what lifts this film from a number-crunching exercise in co - ordination to something altogether more poetic. Oscar-winning documentary and fea- ture maker Kevin Macdonald supervised a team of selectors who winnowed slices of that day into 250 hours. Macdonald and editor Joe Walker then cut from that with great skill and style a film of 95 minutes. The testimo- nials and evidence range from a split second to sequences of as much as three minutes. The film itself moves in that hour and a half from midnight to midnight via full moon,


Reaping the whirlwind

Sunday Feature BBC RADIO 3

artistic responses to the Thirties-era Depression would have trouble fitting all the available material in, and so it proved. Part of Radio 3’s continuing Money Talks series, and following in the wake of a decent- sounding revival of Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, Europe: the Art of Austerity (12 June) began in Berlin, to which Mr Goldfarb had removed himself, with some reflections on Brecht: not merely the Brecht of The Threepenny Opera, but the cinematographer “Bert Brecht” who shot films about bicycling job-seekers and train-bound commuters avidly discussing the economic crisis.


It soon became clear that what we had in Depression-era Europe was both an ideo - logical fissure and an aesthetic divide: in

ou suspected that Michael Goldfarb’s expanding suitcase of a programme about

waking, eating, travelling, working, ailing and arguing. A single cut can take the viewer from Saharan Africa to Brazil, from urban Tokyo to rural Russia. Inevitably, greater access to the technology, familiarity with the medium and, yes, lack of inhibition ensured that US diarists uploaded a sizeable share of the clips but they are by no means always the most memorable.

Some of the sequences are stunning – a boat journey in India, a small Spanish girl fearlessly undertaking a vertiginous mission, a father and son in a Japanese flat starting their day with a poignant ritual – yet there is little in the way of pure landscape without emotional context.

What is striking is how quickly a narrative can be established. Perhaps decades of tele- vision advertising, that glossy series of tiny dramas, has trained us to pick up a story from

a handful of visual clues. At one point, I found myself welling up with tears for a man I had seen on-screen for no more than 15 seconds. Sometimes, the situation is striking for its particularity, at others it is all too familiar. Either way, it is hard to resist such sincere and direct expression. The film does conclude on a celebratory note: there may be sickness and even death but the whole is infused with a kind of per- sistent joy. You could argue that was a touch anodyne, like a lengthy promotion for the variety of human experience, the United Colors of YouTube. Then again, this kind of joy is in short enough supply, and as it hap- pens, the tougher elements seem to drift back into recall over the following days and weeks. Life in a Daydoes also raise questions about the future of certain kinds of film-making. We hear about ways of getting around the conventional sys- tem through crowd-funding and distribution but here is crowd content-providing. Maybe one day the auteur will be less in demand than the redacteur. Francine Stock

Life in a Day: ‘It is hard to resist such sincere and direct expression’

Germany, where a fifth of the workforce was unemployed, some serious left-wing commit- ment; in the UK, where at any rate nobody starved, a variety of responses dominated by straightforward reportage. Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, with its accounts of the citizens of blighted Northern towns “making the best of things” while sustained by “cheap luxuries”, was much invoked. At this stage of his career, it was pointed out, Orwell approached the idea of socialism with an anthropologist’s curiosity. Serious political engagement had to wait until he set off for the Spanish Civil War in the last days of 1936. For all the constraints of his 40-minute

time frame, Goldfarb managed quite a bit of nuance. Austerity was generally seen as an urban phenomenon, he deposed, and yet three-quarters of Europe’s interwar population lived on the land. The Irish novelist Anne Enright spoke of the mixture of “pride and shame” with which Ireland greeted the prospect of deprivation, and De Valera’s idea that “to be poor was to be better”. If one end of Berlin harboured the social-realist Brecht, then the other was full of decadent escapists, Sally Bowles and Herr Issyvoo: “simple pleas- ures” as the late Sir Stephen Spender rather euphemistically phrased it. The German avant-garde collapsed with

the rise of the Nazis. For a genuine “cultural mobilisation”, one had to wait until the sur- prisingly optimistic French Popular Front Government of 1936, with its slogan of “tout est possible”. Fascinating as all this was, it was trumped by Goldfarb’s coda, in which Enright and her fellow-novelist Justin Cartwright dis- cussed their reactions to the current wave of austerity unleashed by the 2008 banking meltdown. Both Enright’s novel The Forgotten Waltz and Cartwright’s Other People’s Money use the financial crisis as a backdrop. Each, on the other hand, stressed the huge

difficulty for the non-specialist in understand- ing what goes on in Wall Street or the Square Mile. Even the managing directors of firms that specialise in derivatives trading some- times had trouble in comprehending what a derivative was. The distance between the ordin ary person, or the ordinary novelist, and events in the financial stratosphere was well- nigh unbridgeable. Enright, reflecting on the taming of the Celtic Tiger, declared herself “bitter”, the inhabitant of a country con- demned to years of scrimping in which “it doesn’t matter what you say”. As Brecht could have told her, and Goldfarb’s feature demon- strated in spades, it matters very much – if only in retrospect. D.J. Taylor

18 June 2011 | THE TABLET | 27

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