English, General Culture, Ruminations

Life in a Day

I don’t generally get to watch movies, and to say the least, my media intake is
wanting, eclectic and uneven: An occasional Israeli drama about Orthodox Jewish singles living in the Jerusalem ‘swamp’, minimalist Iranian art-house flics, and a film about the Hebrew University Talmud department – that pretty much sums it up. But on a recent trip, after grading some papers and reading a bunch of articles, the illuminated edges of a humming, nocturnal transatlantic flight seemed like the right setting to get myself ‘up to date’ – cinematically speaking. Contagion struck a bit too close to home, given the coughing passenger sitting directly behind me. And so it would have to be Life in a Day , the Youtube movie formed from thousands of hours of amateur video sent in from all over the world that filmed life on July 24, 2010. The movie is about 90 minutes long and is a work of art – that is to say, a cultural creation that asks to be assessed primarily for its aesthetic value.  Instead of 90+ minutes of typical Youtube fare (inane banter, insane children, deranged dogs), some of the cinematography is quite skilled, and beautiful too.  Far more important is the texture of the finished work. It is redaction at its best, with allusive juxtapositions and mournful pairings. A most suggestive craft.

Ultimately, Life in a Day asks its readers to consider the relationship between the finished film and the global human society it depicts, as well as the chain of producers and consumers that brought it to life. How does this cultural artifact reflect, represent, and interact with the humans who produced it and who appear within it. And how do other intricately redacted works, like the Bavli, intersect with its numerous communities of reciters, listeners, editors, scribes, and readers? If the Stam sent out video cameras to capture intellectual, ritual, and ethnographic life in Jewish Babylonia, what would the final product look like? I suppose the answer is that it would look like the Bavli as we have it.