Watching Russian Ark on YouTube: Were he dead, Sokurov would be spinning in his grave. As he is not, I can only assume he, like the crystal images in his film, is spinning upon himself.

Since my final paper has been on my mind for the past few days, I can think of a no more relevant topic to discuss with everyone than some related thoughts still ruminating in my mind that I would like to parse out.

For those who may not remember, I wrote my final paper on Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (a 90 minute single shot) as a crystal image. I suggest anyone with an interest in Deleuzian film theory check this film out. It’s fascinating and although it certainly deserves your full attention and more than 360p, here’s a YouTube link (!) to the whole thing, which, coincidentally, is what I will discuss!

When I realized the film was up on YouTube, my friend joked that the fact that Russian Ark is now divided into 10 segments on the internet actually creates 10 functional edits and that I should probably make mention of this somewhere in my paper. Quoting him, “something along the lines of ‘it says there are no edits but I saw like 10!’”. I thought this was hilarious because 1. this is a really funny joke and 2. he actually made a really good point without even intending to. In fact, he was totally right.  Never one to let an opportunity for wordplay to pass me by, I acknowledged the legitimacy of his claim and suggested a new working title for my paper: “Russian MalArky: It says there are no edits but I saw like 10!?”. Just to clarify, that is not, in fact, the title nor topic of my paper.

All joking aside, the point I’m trying to make is one that Sam has brought up a couple times throughout the semester—there is a very real, very affective difference between viewing a film in the (relatively) distraction-free confines of the cinema and screening it off of Netflix, let alone YouTube, on your tiny laptop in your bed. This shift in medium has the power to remove part of the affective response you might otherwise experience were you to sit down for two solid hours and watch it in a dark cinema– a place where you can honor a film by giving it your undivided attention. This shift also has the power to add new affections as your attention is undoubtedly fragmented by the regular distractions you sustain in your home environment.

This discussion is all the more relevant to Russian Ark as its auteur’s intention was surely never to have it massacred into 10 sections replete with pop-up ads. To make matters worse, when one clip ends, you are offered a variety of related and unrelated clips to watch next. If you’re lucky, one of those might be the continuation to the clip you just finished. This inevitably ruptures the rhythmic and affective momentum Sokurov worked so hard to create. What I find unfortunate and what I can only imagine is either heartbreaking or enraging for Sokurov is that in arbitrarily cutting (and disrupting) the flow of Russian Ark, a film constructed out of its filmmaker’s revelry towards the long take, part of its essence is lost.

As the practice of screening films on computers becomes evermore popular, I can’t help but consider the fact that the internet is indeed democratizing and provides artists with a new audience who would otherwise never view their work. On the other hand, if this work is being viewed in a format in which it was never intended, one that severly degrades its aesthetic quality and essentially alters the auteur’s intention, is more being lost than gained? Or is watching a film on the internet not as pure as screening it in a cinema, but better than never seeing it at all? I think I subscribe to the latter– only due to my own awareness that watching a film in this format will elicit a different affective response than if I were to watch it on the big screen. Either way, this is something for everyone to rack their brains with over the summer holidays.

And now, contradicting most of what I’ve just written, in celebration of the end of the semester, I will  watch a film off of Netflix on the tiny laptop in my bed.

Have a great summer everyone.

– Aïcha


One Response to “Watching Russian Ark on YouTube: Were he dead, Sokurov would be spinning in his grave. As he is not, I can only assume he, like the crystal images in his film, is spinning upon himself.”

  1. Saishigo Says:

    The other way to look at this phenomena – if we wanted to see the glass as half-full – would be to think about what new affective relations might be generated out of viewing films on laptops, on You Tube, and so on. Having said this, it does seem much easier to imagine certain kinds of cinema (involving quick cuts and surfeit of actions) working best in this “interactive” environment (e.g., INCEPTION). This is why, for me, films that deploy the long take are at the forefront of any attempt, in the contemporary context, to define an ontology of cinema.


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