Dreams Rewired Dir. Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, Thomas Tode

[Icarus Films; 2015]

Styles: ephemera, documentary, archival
Others: The March of Time

Dreams Rewired, a beautifully rendered if fatalistic experimental doc, muses on the invention of and perilous rise of social media, beginning with the telephone and ending with ghostly glow of the television. Like that whining persistence of the cathode ray tube long after the set’s off, Dreams Rewired closes with lingering electricity, suggesting an endpoint that is merely the beginning of fresh terrors. It warns against a future disconnectedness enabled by the very devices that have abolished loneliness. More urgently, though, it galvanizes a Kurzweilian future-shock, identifying social media more with its surveilling potential than its sick-ass ability to let me look at dogs in hats. Chronicling the advent of social media, Dreams Rewired questions, often, and with increasing fervor, what is all this progress for? It’s an apt question, in this *digital age,* when anxieties over the fallacy of the image have transmuted into fear of a reality replaced by such images. Tilda Swinton’s liltingly narrates (or narrativizes) the development of modern technology, up to a point teasingly close to the present the film allegorically condemns. It’s beautiful documentary, but one that marches at the clip of the propagandist films it implicates in the manipulation of once-free-thinking audiences.

What is all this progress for then? The film poses it as a loaded question, accruing increasing urgency as it explores ever-newer ways of knowing. From its offset, Dreams Rewired establishes an ambiguous relationship with the technology that engenders its own creation. The score’s eerie theremin glissando makes Tilda Swinton’s lilting narrative cues — “Our time is a time of total connection,” “The world has a new rhythm” — lose any hopeful connotation, especially when paired with its march-of-time syncopation and accompanying footage of urban sardines. It is a recurring theme, that comes off in both delightfully subtle audio-visual distortions and annoyingly literal voiceover. Imagined phone conversations dubbed over silent cinema intimates the invention of the telephone as both a distance-bridging miracle and a high-society trifle. This, and many other contextual and tonal estrangements, subtly and effectively enact a thesis of media that is mediated, deceptive, narrated. Echoic narrative insistence on this being the case, less so. Clumsy anachronisms, like Swinton announcing, “here’s the remix, y’all” over visuals of a phonograph suggest, or pretty directly say, whatever past modes it condemns explicitly, the real terror is now. As a chronicle of the rise of social media as a new means of communicating and a new mode of behavior, Dreams Rewired is a well-crafted and meticulous. As a cautionary tale of the accompanying existential ennui and loss of individuality, it is predictably annoying.

Culling from thousands of hours of archival footage, Dreams Rewired creates a beautiful montage of the magic and peril of communication. The editing is sharp and retro-chic, a satisfying trove for fans of rare and unusual film flotsam. Its cabinet-of-curiosity visuals are awe-inspiring, and remark impressively on the absolute mass of media. How big must the visual catalog be if we have stock footage perfectly suited for nearly every scenario? In breadth and in scale, its endless ephemera (from iconic scenes to cheap pornography to news footage to instructional texts) speaks to a [growing] visual catalog of indeterminate value. Archive-status renders each of these texts of presumably disparate cultural capital outside of any hierarchy. The new ways of knowing it explores diegetically are absorbed into the narration itself, and with each new milestone of media control chronicled, Dreams Rewired withdraws deeper into its propagandist function. Mirroring (with irony or disingenuousness?) the mobilizing montage of Battleship Potemkin, wartime newsreels, and consumerist ads for the leisure products of the future, Dreams Rewired naturalizes its role in animating the image. The ethics involved in image-making are ones hinted at in the text — that new media endangers the ability to interpret without semiotic disciplining — yet are so thoroughly ignored in its visual montage and voiceover critique. Is this active engagement or thoughtless hypocrisy? It’s hard to tell, but the indeterminacy insinuates what may be the film’s most pertinent suggestion: seeing ain’t believing, baby.

As that thing my mom posted on Facebook would have it, your cell phone’s already replaced your watch, camera, calendar and alarm clock — don’t let it replace your family. It is the danger lurking in our pockets, the unsuspecting black (or rose gold) boxes linking peoples globally in watching that dog get hit in the face by so much food or allowing us to collectively remember Whoopi Goldberg’s star-making turn in Theodore Rex . We know the wi-fi signal, metaphorically speaking, is like hella strong, a monolith of black Gigerian tubes dispersed into the innocuous header of a ‘“cloud.” But we (I) rarely confront its implications with anything more than in the same way we think of Prince as sexy without picturing his clenched butt (analogy via this 2009 Vice article I read at fifteen, and is still the only example of reification that has stuck with me). As I hurl uncensored thoughts (and unedited reviews) into the void, I only perfunctorily note how dang bonkers it is that I can live-tweet my parents’ divorce to every-eighty-five-followers-body. Is mama’s first meme, and the ideology echoed in Dreams Rewired, right? I dunno. @ me with your thoughts.

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