Dreams Rewired

DREAMS REWIRED, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

“Our time is a time of to­tal con­nec­tion. Dis­tance is zero.” Th­ese some­what omi­nous words be­gin Dreams Rewired, a cin­e­matic re­flec­tion on our jour­ney to to­day’s hy­per-me­di­ated world. Aided in equal parts by Tilda Swin­ton’s posh doc­u­men­tary nar­ra­tion — which is rem­i­nis­cent of mid-20th-cen­tury in­struc­tional films — along with a trove of fas­ci­nat­ing archival footage, this ex­plo­ration of the history of mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion charts the ad­vent of ra­dio, tele­phone, film, and tele­vi­sion, and their last­ing ef­fects on global con­nec­tiv­ity and the in­di­vid­ual.

A hive of op­er­a­tors plug in tele­phone wires; city-dwellers march their way to work; un­abashed nude women dance be­fore an early 20th-cen­tury cam­era — the col­lage of vin­tage im­ages here, jux­ta­posed with an in­sis­tently po­etic voice-over, has a dis­ori­ent­ing ef­fect that be­comes the­matic. Each medium of com­mu­ni­ca­tion gets its own loosely nar­ra­tive chap­ter, so as Swin­ton de­tails the sink­ing of the Ti­tanic’s ef­fects on ra­dio reg­u­la­tion, we’re treated to some­what comic silent-film re-en­act­ments of the dis­as­ter. Ev­ery chap­ter con­tains, within its footage, a small melo­drama — on trans­lated ti­tle cards, we watch a wife leave her hus­band, in­spired to a new life by new me­dia. We see Alice Guy be­gin­ning her in­no­va­tions in French cin­ema, ex­per­i­ment­ing with in­cor­po­rat­ing fic­tional nar­ra­tive el­e­ments into film­mak­ing. Most of th­ese dis­parate el­e­ments are so deeply ab­sorb­ing that it can be dif­fi­cult to trace clear threads be­tween the tid­bits of in­for­ma­tion and the im­ages.

The re­sult is rather stoner-ific: some­times at­ten­tion-deficit, some­times dream­ily beau­ti­ful. Swin­ton’s elo­cu­tion tick­les the ear, and the script makes in­ter­est­ing but in­com­plete cor­re­la­tions be­tween the rise of con­nected so­ci­ety, utopi­anism, and fas­cism. The film can be rem­i­nis­cent of an un­der­grad­u­ate com­mu­ni­ca­tions-sem­i­nar screen­ing, with its weighty, pre­ten­tious lines: TV is “an elec­tric eye span­ning the globe,” with “de­sires en­gi­neered, switched on, trans­mit­ted.” “The net­work seeks out ev­ery­one,” Swin­ton in­tones, and the viewer is left to think in­trigu­ing thoughts about me­dia’s so­cial con­tract, or the ex­tent to which in­di­vid­u­als are able to main­tain au­ton­omy in such a plugged-in world.

It is pos­si­ble to come away from this hodge­podge a bit fright­ened by the march of progress. The film­mak­ers’ reliance on clips of the masses in all their syn­chro­nized majesty is rem­i­nis­cent of Leni Riefen­stahl’s Tri­umph of the Will, and the same to­tal­i­tar­ian over­tones are broadly hinted at here. Still, th­ese odd film scraps are ethe­re­ally cap­ti­vat­ing, and the sto­ries be­hind their in­no­va­tions are in­spir­ing. The doc­u­men­tary traces a strong con­nec­tion be­tween those me­dia pi­o­neers and us, high­light­ing our sense of tech­no­log­i­cal be­long­ing to both an­ces­tors and neigh­bors. Whether the in­ven­tion is the tele­phone or a touch­screen, we find our­selves per­pet­u­ally poised on the thresh­old of an un­cer­tain fu­ture, the world at our fin­ger­tips. — Molly Boyle

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