Site Specifics: The Johnny Cash Project
By Jesse P. Finnegan
Last issue, Site Specifics happily heaped praise upon StarWarsUncut, the crowdsourced feature film that reconstructed its original material 15 seconds at a time through fan submissions. Though interactivity and the occasional communally constituted cyber-corpus have never been strangers to Site Specifics, The Johnny Cash Project encapsulates this tendency in Web-based filmmaking with an elegance that seems to inaugurate a bona fide microgenre. Carving itself into your monitor in stark black, white, and gray tones, this ballet numérique is not so much a motion picture as a machine for generating one. Contributors to the Project (who number over 250,000 from 172 countries as of last fall) use the site’s own illustration template to draw a personal version of the Man in Black based on a single frame of extant footage.
These 1,370 possible frames compose a haunting visual accompaniment to Cash’s final studio recording “Ain’t No Grave.” The dozens of submissions for each single frame are displayed in columns below the video in an unfurling metrical scale, with the highest-rated drawing taking its place on screen as it scrolls past. Wonderfully, for every single submission, you can also watch the online session during which it was drawn.
Democratically created and curated as such, the film is subject to a mind-boggling number of potential variations, but each viewing can also be reorganized by nine separate criteria, including “Most Brushstrokes Per Frame,” “Pointillism Frames,” and of course, “Random Frames.” We’ve seen such organically evolving movie experiences made possible by the Web before. The Project’s goal, however, is not any resultant film, but a prism of possible films and of new ways of building and watching them.
Go to thejohnnycashproject.com.
© 2011 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center