The Art of Seduction: Film Spectatorship in the Age of the Cell Phone

Curator's Note

The video clip contains nudity. It is most likely not safe for work.    Coproduced by both the Sundance Channel and the National Film Board of Canada, The Art of Seduction is a series of nine short films originally produced for viewing on cell phones. This is the Sundance Channel’s first programming bought specifically for viewing on the web.   By including programming for the third screen (computers and the internet) and the fourth screen (cell phones and iPods) with acquisitions like The Art of Seduction, the Sundance Channel is attempting to compete in an ever-changing media market. First distributed by the Sundance Channel for 2 minutes on Monday nights, The Art of Seduction is now available for download at sundancechannel/seduction. Adding films like The Art of Seduction to its programming makes Sundance even more accessible, especially for audiences who may no longer watch movies in theatres or on cable television. But, at the same time, the fourth screen also complicates the context in which these films are produced, exhibited and distributed. With the advent of digital filmmaking, these films are relatively cheap to make. In the director’s commentary for "Nude Caboose", Guy Maddin discusses his excitement about experimenting in the new delivery medium of the cell phone.   The cell phone medium encourages not only the creation of shorter films (1-2 minutes), but also simpler storylines, less dialogue and more colorful art direction. From a "Nude Caboose" to a "Dirty Dog," an animated stick figure in love to a pole-dancing fireman, these shorts focus on the ways in which love, sex, and desire can be represented on the small screen. At the same time, the medium of the fourth screen also impacts the changing nature of cinema itself. Will short films become the preferred cinematic form in a culture in which audiences are leaning towards downloading films to their phones and computers instead of seeing them in theatres or on televisions? How will cinematic narrative, performance, and direction change when they are designed primarily for the fourth screen? Does the seduction of the cell phone as a new means of viewing cinema require a reimagining of cinematic style itself?

Comments

Ian Peters's picture

Spectatorship in the Cellphone Age

This is a really interesting post, Sarah, and I am fascinated by the object of study you have selected.  I had not previously seen any of these films prior to reading your post, and I am intrigued (from an experiential standpoint) by what seems to have some comparisons to the short silent films of the early 20th century. Those films also incorporated shorter narratives or abstract visuals, and I am wondering if you have any thoughts regarding any possible correlation between the films that were shown on the Kinetiscope (and similar individual screening devices) and the role that the cell phone plays in this example? It is fascinating to think that mobile technology has potentially allowed filmmakers to return to an earlier time with cheaper alternatives that also allow them to distribute a film to a wider audience.

Sarah Sinwell's picture

Cell phone spectatorship and early cinema

Thanks for posting such an intriguing question Ian. I think that this particular film, "Nude Caboose" certainly refers back to the "cinema of attractions" of early cinema and the kinetiscope. Though some of the other films of the series are more modern in their representations (see the short titled "Strip Tease"), many of the shorts try to catch the audience’s attention by using short narratives and more colorful art direction. I think "Nude Caboose" and "Electric Chair" are especially notable in this context. Certainly, the reference to the train in "Nude Caboose" also references early cinema’s interest in capturing movement (as in Lumiere’s and Muybridge’s work). It would be an intriguing project to investigate these connections even further, especially in relation to the cell phone medium itself.

Ian Peters's picture

Those are some really great

Those are some really great comparisons, Sarah.  I think you are right in saying that an investigation of these connections could provide even more intriguing links between the past and the present. Do you have any idea how these short films have been received?

Sarah Hamblin's picture

TV versus cellphone

Hi Sarah - thanks for a really compelling post. I was wondering if there were any changes to the formatting of this films as they moved from their original TV release on Mondays to the cellphone format. You mentioned that one of the directors was specifically interested in exploring the fourth screen but I wonder if he was influenced by the film’s second screen debut. It seems to me that the fourth screen is more of a temporary screen (rather than a primary means of consumption for films) and I’m wondering how this played into Sundance’s decision to air the films on TV first - was this to get the audience who would then share them via cellphone? There might be something going on here in terms of distribution through the cellphone medium alongside its role as a viewing screen.

Sarah Sinwell's picture

Cell Phone Viewing

Thanks so much for your replies. The Art of Seduction has not gotten nearly as much press as Green Porno and Seduce Me on Sundance (the short films produced, directed and written by Isabella Rossellini in which she performs the roles of various animals reproducing and having sex). But, I think Sundance was attempting to introduce its cable audiences and film festival audiences to these films as a means of creating more and more buzz about the films before they were released for cell phone viewing. In fact, for Sundance, the cell phone format is seen as an experiment. Whereas the cable TV and film festival exhibition settings are seen as already estabilshed, Sundance is trying to tap into a new audience with these films on computers and cell phones. In terms of the formatting, I think the directors understood that these films were intended for cell phone viewing, thus creating images for the small screen (even if they might also be viewed on computers, television and theatrical screens as well).

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