Thursday, September 1, 2011

"The New Yorker: Tabloid of Record"

This is honestly the most visually interesting thing I've seen all week. It's the Church of Scientology's response to the exposé of the Church that recently ran in The New Yorker, and it's like a perfectly concise catalog of contemporary propaganda visuals.

In the first few seconds, you get an artificial aged film effect, a smug and angry voice-over that sounds like the South Park parody of a smug and angry voice over, harshly lit and hastily assembled 3-D animation. Then it suddenly takes a turn into 1950s newsreel style actors mugging disinterest and a Zhdanovite spiel insisting that the multi-Oscar winner is an unknown nobody.

The fact that it's incredibly clumsy just makes it all the more interesting. As Stephen King noted in Danse Macabre, less artful productions are often more useful as historical documents than good films. The hackish filmmakes lack an artist's individual voice, which means you get a much clearer sense of what was considered proper visual technique at the moment. This clumsy thing is unlikely to convince anyone---it's not a creative visual masterpiece of innovative propaganda techniques, like Triumph of the Will. It's more like an evening watching Fox: defamiliarize for a second, and you'll see all kinds of genuinely odd and obvious visual tropes that the blinkered filmmakers and audience regard as perfectly normal. And how weird is that?