"0s & 1s" Seeks To Be A Cinematic Encyclopedia For the Web Age
Recall that feeling of frustration you get when pop-up ads for Classmates.com and free credit reports keep interrupting your browsing. Compound that with the agony of a Youtube video that, no matter how long you wait, just won't buffer. Top it off with the throbbing headache that comes from being hypnotized by a MacBook's spinning rainbow beach ball of doom. Now throw it all up on a silver screen, and you're experiencing the techno-trauma that is "0s & 1s".
"0s & 1s," which is the "comic and relentlessly energetic story" of an apoplectic, 20-something Los Angeles dweller whose laptop (and consequently, his sanity) is stolen at a "stupid yuppie party in Silverlake." It's a thin plot with an unremarkable crop of players that I don't suspect to see anywhere but Runyon Canyon anytime soon. What sets this film apart from the slew of other self-reflexive, East L.A. indie flicks, though, is the way in which the story is told.
The film, which was brought from concept to fruition over the last five years by a motley crew of (but of course) 20-something L.A. hipsters, takes place entirely in the confines of a 2006 computer operating system. The result: an explosion of chat rooms, pop-up ads, 8-bit icons and online love trysts that will throw you into overdrive suppression. Andrew Schwartz, who developed "0s & 1s" for the screen, said he wanted the operating system to be believable and nostalgic. Director Eugene Kotlyarenko said Schwartz brought a "reverence, an irreverence, and a history of technology to the table."
"There's no encyclopedia of the history of media out there," Schwartz said. "This is the forgotten media. It's a hodgepodge of antiquated technology mixed in with the newer stuff." Kotlyarenko added, "It's anthropological, in a sense."
The film is, without a doubt, incredibly novel. The closest thing out there to this style of storytelling might be A Tribe Called Quest's 1991 music video for "Scenario." As for the big screen, this one's a maverick.
And at first, the unique aesthetic is nothing short of awesome. It's accessible to a wide audience, and since no Internet woe goes untouched, even your tech-challenged grandpa could find something to relate to. (One memorable line: "Do you know what happens when you let old people use the computer? First it's innocent grandpa sending an email, then it's psychotic mom killing girl on Myspace.")
Some scenes are deftly executed, like a party scene that takes place in an AOL Instant Messenger-esque chat room. The live action plays behind the typed dialogue, drawing attention to the similarities and differences between the superficial interactions you're wont to find in either venue. The drunker the partygoers get, the slower their DSL connection is, and soon enough they don't have enough bandwidth to commit anything from the party to memory. The filmmakers would cringe at the thought, but the scene felt prophetic of the recent Katy Perry tune, "Last Friday Night."
"0s & 1s" is one big inside joke. Not only is it an inside joke among the web users of the early 21st century, but much of the content could be lost on a non-L.A. audience. This weekend, the film screened at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, where an audience filled with ponytails and horn-rimmed glasses and desert boots roared with laughter at quips about Echo Park and The Cobrasnake.
The soundtrack, which is an integral part of the film as it literally plays on the screen in a media application, is made up of Southern California bands like Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti and Wavves.
While this particular screening took place in the new oak-paneled theaters at USC that would befit an audience of Orson Welles, Roger Ebert and Francois Truffaut, the filmmakers think the film is best suited for online consumption. They're hoping to have the film up on Netflix or Hulu by year's end.
The movie ultimately reaches little resolve, a choice Kotlyarenko chalks up to his anger with the narrative sellouts of the American indie film scene.
"It's intentionally repetitive," he told the USC audience. "It's nihilistic, anti-narrative, with a lot of negative energy that can be hard to watch."
It takes a certain level of dedication to make it through "0s & 1s" and even catch three quarters of what's packed in. I imagine it'd be more successful as a short, stripped down to the bare essentials that communicate our mass addiction. Kotlyarenko says it's meant to be observational and not polemic, though I think it's nearly impossible to watch it and not reflect on your own tech-centric demons. After all, as one character (who recently emerged from jail after a Dateline-type scenario involving online rendezvous with a minor) says to our forlorn protagonist, "You ain't the first one to be fucked over by a computer."
Reach reporter Allegra Tepper here.
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