Back to Black...
I recently rewatched Amy. Skillfully mastered by Asif Kapadia of Senna fame, the documentary made me WEEP upon first viewing, and on its second prompted even more tears. It’s a beautiful, tragic, and heart-wrenching humanisation of the old souled girl behind the bee-hived caricature. This time around in a more analytical headspace, I found myself in awe of the sheer volume of recorded memories of Winehouse.
As I watched, feeling overwhelmingly connected, it made me think of my own life – what would a film about me, created from footage, look like? 2006 webcam MSN moments, camcorder videos of me at eight years old singing the Spice Girls in the back garden, Snapchats with the dog filter on my face. Could that concoct me? I wondered. Would those fragments allow you to know me?
In 2016, the vast majority of us fluently film our lives more than ever before. Snapchat, Periscope, YouTube: all of these avenues we use to effectively broadcast our day-to-days to anyone interested enough to watch. Through these mediums, we can practically step into almost anyone's shoes – I mean, if you've ever wondered what it feels like to play at Wimbledon, Robert Federer can show you.
Social media's ever growing influence at oftentimes can leave me thinking of The Truman Show, the 1998 Jim Carrey comedy-drama set in a dystopian universe where an oblivious Truman Burbank is living in a reality television show. Though the idea of a baby being forcefully imprisoned within a set is still laughable, the premise of live-streaming a life can occasionally feel eerily close. Heartbreakingly in today's society people are even airing their own deaths online.
In Amy we see the eyeliner aficionado at her most vulnerable. Before the fame, and before the downfall, we view her as a wide-eyed child. She retains this innocence throughout the documentary and opens up to the camera in an intoxicating way that professes both her charisma, and also her naivety surrounding others ever witnessing the clips. We see all of Amy -- raw, unadulterated, and unabashed. This is what makes the film so enchanting.
How much of the digital footage we watch nowadays can we say is truly authentic? Alongside the rise of Instagram timelines has come the art of lifestyle curation. We choose what we want people to see; we can now easily filter out the bad bits. Our lives reduced to a careful selection of saturation-heightened photos and/or ten second videos that look amazing. But do they really paint a true picture? Moreover when it comes to celebrities, a lot of the videos we watch which are meant to be 'real' are actually sponsored, tarred with ad lingo. Snapchat is now another tool for marketing, for selling you teeth whitening kits or clothes. The corporations have caught on to the appeal and influence that these app accounts can have.
I think this is why vlogging has become so popular, for the vloggers themselves and their millions of followers. It's the mediation of sponsored, curated content intermixed with real people with real, authentic emotions. Vloggers create communities, with people from all over the world connected through the digital sphere on their self-centric channel. It's no coincidence that the YouTube videos and starlets that garner the most popularity are those that openly discuss universal issues that lots of people can relate to such as growing up, sexuality, etc, and also have real likeable personalities. The intimacy of some of these videos is undeniable. You follow them (in true Truman fashion) through their day-to-day lives. You see their relationships. You feel like you're chatting with a friend. Though, of course, it's a little one-sided.
As humans, we're naturally voyeuristic. We're naturally nosey. We like to know other people’s business. This explains the malevolent treatment of celebrities like Amy Winehouse. Yet benevolently, we like to feel akin to others. By digital filmmakers sharing their personal videos online, of their lives, we can bizarrely that we know them. In some senses, we do.
Video as a format is intrinsically intimate. We see people's quirks, their mannerisms. We hear their voices. A video is so much more of a raw representation of a person than a photo, even with the best angles and lighting. In Amy, Kapadia has crafted clips of Winehouse to fit his narrative, sure. But it's the emotional wealth of said clips derived from home movies that make us empathise with the jazz singer, not the promotional snapshots. Video, then, is one of the most powerful tools for portraying and/or remembering a person.
This is why it's a shame that these days the mindset with video seems all too commonly to be that if it’s not shareable, is it worth it? Would we still get the same satisfaction sans the likes? We've gotten so caught up in needing this 'approval'.
We used to hold camcorders in our hands, then hold the tapes containing our reels of moments. They were SO real, almost indestructible. You could pop one in an underground bunker ready for the next generation to dig out and see. Now, everything's on our laptops and iPhones and if these die/ get stolen, unless we're prepared we can lose it ALL. Whole years can disappear into a black hole. Digital has eclipsed the physical, and in some ways it feels so much less sturdy, less infinite. So much less free.
Saying that, I think social media is great. The opportunities available to Millennials as a product of cyber-connections is astonishing. But I do miss those videos we used to make as kids pre-YouTube. Back in the days where we knew nobody would see them but us. When we were our silly selves chatting away to the camera. I think we're a lot more self-conscious now when it comes to sharing, which is probably in part to do with the fact that we've gotten older and in part because we've become more sensible online after growing up alongside the Internet. The web is mindblowingly large, and people aren't always friendly on it.
But that's not to say we can't film the way we used to using digital means. We can still use Snapchat avidly and record just for ourselves. Having a personal brand is important. But preserving unfiltered, personal memories is also. If Amy can teach us anything, it's the value and beauty of recording the little things, the imperfect moments, even if we are the sole viewer. We've already seen a cultural renaissance of film photography, and vinyl. Who knows, maybe video will be next.