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