Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Man with a Movie Camera

Wednesday’s Times reported on a WSJ article about an NYU professor, Wafaa Bilal, who is having a camera “surgically implanted in the back of his head for several months as part of an art project commissioned by the Qatar government” (“Art that Looks Backward,” NYT, 11/17/10). Bilal is accomplishing many things with his act, amongst them changing the definition of the hand-held camera (usually the wobbly, live-action effect is created by holding a camera; now it comes from placing it in the head). He is also changing the association we make when we see the title Man with the Movie Camera (usually we think of the Dziga Vertov classic of post-revolutionary Russia; now we will think of a medical procedure) and producing a new camera technique, which, for want of a better term, we might call the Orpheus effect—remember that bad things happen to Orpheus when he looks back at his beloved Eurydice. Apparently, NYU is all up in arms about the privacy implications. But how is it an invasion of privacy to discover someone talking behind your back? First of all, look at Linda Blair’s famed 360-degree head turn in The Exorcist. Willian Friedkin made cinematic history with that iconic image, but he also distilled the essence of a unique contortion that had been going on at New York literary parties for decades. It’s clear that NYU needs to protect its students, but Bilal’s “art project” is just a form of backhanded realism. It simply points to a phenomenon (like marijuana smoking) that, while not condoned by law, has become so commonplace as to defy jurisprudence. 


  1. I love that he can now see people talking behind his back--literally.

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  3. yes he has an advantage over most attendees at NY social/arts events in that he can turn away from eager supplicants while still being able to note the downcast,even retributive expression on the person he has snubbed


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