dir. David Dworsky and Victor Kohler
It’s rather apt that I review Press Pause Play so soon after Indie Game: The Movie: coming at the issue from slightly different angles both films document the rise of amateur art. Amateur art—I really shouldn’t use this term; it sounds disparaging, not to mention counter-intuitive. After all, haven’t most artists always been amateurs? Only a fraction has ever been successful enough to be called professional, the rest struggling in obscurity. No, when I say “the rise of amateur art” what I am describing is the recent technological progress-based trend of artists controlling the heretofore expensive means of production. Where previous aspiring musicians, filmmakers, etc. had to focus on getting discovered by large conglomerates that would bankroll their art, modern artists can now simply purchase the cheap (relatively speaking) artist tools, and make and distribute their work their own damn selves. There is no longer a need for burdensome middlemen.
Of course, Press Pause Play isn’t an entirely glowing celebration of this new trend. It wouldn’t be a proper doc if it didn’t offer some salient counterpoints. And though many valid issues are raised (more on this later), one complaint really stuck in my craw. One of the featured talking heads reasoned that a Scorsese or Fassbinder today would get lost in the din, would never get noticed competing with the mountains of dreck now available online. Where previous artists had to compete over limited resources, the best winning out, any old schmoe can make shit nowadays: the result being a glut of art, mostly dreck. The interviewee claimed that only the most banal gets the most clicks on youtube and such; only the dumb crowd-pleasing dreck gets noticed by the vast multitudes of web-surfing yahoos.
But hasn’t it always been the case that mediocrity rises to the top? Yes, Scorsese has always been much revered among cineastes, but the combined gross of his films would never come close to matching the totals for Michael Bay’s work. The consensus favorites, by definition, will never be the outliers. The most successful will always be that which is least offensive to the greatest number of people. Whether the artist is selected by studios to make his project, or whether an amateur is filming her friends with her own camera, the people will generally always favor the most banal. Means of production may change; tastes don’t.
The only difference now is people make less money for creating. And who the fuck cares. If making assloads of cash is the only reason someone gets into the game, selling his soul to Wall Street would be a more viable option. And of the other point: that great artists will go unknown now, will never be appreciated by the masses now that they have to compete with the wall of crap-noise—I, again, don’t see why this is an issue. Sure, brilliant artists might no longer get the recognition of their forbears (at least according to some in this doc), but I fail to see why that’s necessarily a bad thing. For me the joy of creating trumps all else. And no, I don’t want to sound falsely noble; random compliments on my work do thrill me, but it’s not why I do anything. I create for the simple reason that it gives me pleasure.
That being said, this film did raise one legitimate complaint: the abandonment of craft among (mostly music) artists as new technology has emerged to fix the sorts of errors that previous artists usually trained their whole lives never to commit. As a consequence, most of this digitally-scrubbed art has become clinical, devoid of the human touch. And it is also the most popular. But, to bring it back to my previous point, the most clinical, the most impersonal, the most studio-polished work has always been the most popular. The only difference now is that more and more artists know less and less what they’re doing. And, as I said, that is a legitimate issue.
But I do believe that people—well, at least a certain segment—crave craftsmanship. We tend to reward those who give a shit about what they’re doing, who have honed their craft. Take the show Louie, for example. This is a show that could never have existed even ten years ago. Wholly original, unconventional, Louie has upended expectations for what a sitcom should do. Because of the decrease in equipment costs, FX can risk funding a show with such a small audience because it’s so cheap to produce. Considering it’s small, familial cast and crew, you could call this an amateur show; but, to counter the argument raised by Press Pause Play, it is anything but devoid of craft. Indeed, Louie is one of the most beautifully shot shows on TV right now. Louis CK cares dearly about craft; he wants to make a professional show on a shoestring budget. And he’s been rewarded for it—no, not with viewers, but critical praise. The few who do love it, love it dearly. We crave expert craftsmanship, and will always reward it.