Just back from the screening of 8 BIT Movie, a documentary about art and video games, directed by Marcin Ramocki. It was presented at the art+game event this afternoon in Brussels and introduced by Isabelle Arvers, a French art curator now based in Switzerland. In 2002, she curated Playtime at La Vilette in Paris. The exhibition featured artefacts from the history of video games, hyper violent contemporary video games and games by artists. She curated two other exhibitions last year. Both showed a more critical and subversive approach: one in Australia and the other one in Norway, called No Fun! In 2004 she also curated Mind Bending in Italy.
Now back to the 8 bit Movie. Its website says: A mélange of a rocumentary, art expose and a culture-critical investigation, 8 BIT ties together seemingly disconnected phenomena like the 80’s demo scene, chiptune music and contemporary artists using machinima and modified games.
You don’t have to be a specialist in game culture to have a great time watching it, but some basic knowledge about it doesn’t hurt either.
The movie kicks off with a history of video games, starting with the role of the Department of Defense and giving a large place to the art of game “cracking”; second chapter of the documentary is focusing on Chiptunes, there’s a nice moment there when Cory Arcangel comments the different sounds made by Atari and Nintendo. A few minutes later, the movie goes back to him and have him explain how he hacked the Nintendo cartridge to create works such as the iconic Super Mario Clouds (which removes everything from the games except the clouds), the amusing Totally Fucked, and the adorable Naptime.
Naptime, Cory Arcangel
The chapter dedicated the “Retro” trend was quite short. Christine Paul made an interesting comment when she explained that the craze for retro consoles and gadgets might be a good thing. In her view some of the game forms didn’t receive much attention when they appreared for the first time so the fact they they are re-visited gives them a second existence.
The part about people making music with Game boys (and girls!) was the core of the documentary, the artists explained how they started, what makes the medium so interesting (its limits are included in the list), where to find old gameboys, etc. I’m not an expert and some of the names that appeared on the screen were rather new to me. From today two of my favourites musicians are Bubblyfish (not because she was one of the very few girls to grace the movie with her smile but because her music made so much sense that i totally forgot it was performed by using gaming objects) and Bodenstandig 2000 (never thought german language and 8bit music would make such a perfect cocktail.)
Some space was also given to Machinima “a piece of pop culture being mixed into another form of pop culture.”
Snippets from the movie: “The player doesn’t control the game. He’s part of it. He’s played as much as he plays and doesn’t realize it.”
“Cheating is very much part of the game.” (this one by John Klima.)
The film is a lot of fun, it’s branded as rather rock’n roll and indeed it is. But there’s some serious research behind it, and there are comments from the likes of Tom Moody, Ed Halter and Christiane Paul that add some more depth. The bits of interview with Eddo Stern were by far my favourite moments. His research on the realism of FPS games, his comments on the game culture and some insights on works he worked on were really inspiring.
I wonder what a similar documentary done by a European director would have be like though…
The 8 BIT movie cast is of course rather impressive: Cory Arcangel, Bit Shifter, Bodenstandig 2000, Bubblyfish, Mary Flanagan, Alex Galloway, Glomag, Paul Johnson, John Klima, Johan Kotlinski, Nullsleep, Joe McKay, Tom Moody, Akiko Sakaizumi, Eddo Stern, TEAMTENDO, Treewave and Carlo Zanni.
I don’t know when and where the next screening of the movie will be but if you hear that it’s coming to your neighbourhood, don’t miss it.