Lizzie Oxby's "Extn. 21"

>> Monday, July 18, 2011

Do y'know, it's been a long time since I've embedded any short films here. Used to do that all the time, but I hadn't seen anything that particularly caught my eye lately, at least not until I ran into this piece over at Laughing Squid: "Extn. 21" (2003) by Lizzie Oxby/a>.

Combining live-action film with stop-motion and CGI in a very disconcerting way, there's something about the sentiments of "Extn. 21" that reminds me of Patrick McGoohan's
The Prisoner, this sense of modern angst and dread that ironically expresses what appears to be a fundamental disconnection between individuals in terms of the ubiquitous connectivity of the modern surveillance state: i.e., the notion that we're all isolated by being forced together under constant exposure, that everybody is listening to us but nobody's hearing us.

I understand the sentiment and probably sympathized with it a bit when I was young--mostly because I felt isolated as a kid, anyway, and any hypothesis proffering a reason for the isolation beyond my own existential defectiveness was welcome. Of course, that sense of isolation existed well before the information age and affected people who were practically Luddites as much as anybody (see also). At some point, anyway, I outgrew most of my adolescent sense of isolation (enough to sometimes miss it, just a little) as I expect most people do sooner or later, whether it's in their twenties or their sixties; besides that, I tend to be a technological optimist, for the most part. Sure, new technologies bring new problems, but on the whole we can thank the steady progress of human tool-making for the fact that the number of human beings who die shitting blood in their early thirties in mud hovels is mostly on a steady decline (though, sadly, the number isn't zero); nobody I know has had polio recently, I can find absolutely tons of completely out-of-print books and read them on my telephone, if I wanted to cross to the far side of the planet it would take me hours instead of months and my biggest problem would be choosing between healthy kibble washed down by ginger ale and cheese-flavored-junkey-bits washed down with a Jack-And-Coke (I lie: that's no choice at all; a long flight without a cocktail, I might as well walk).

The net effect (no pun intended) of Facebook and Twitter et al. is that I now communicate (at least sporadically) with friends and family members who I used to routinely forget to call and could never make the time to write letters to. This hasn't isolated me, it's made me accessible and vice-versa. And, meanwhile, it seems to me that much of the surveillance state has (again with the irony) been effectively defanged by its public outsourcing: I mean, these days poor Winston Smith's abduction would be posted to YouTube and there would be an ongoing Twitter campaign for his release the whole time he was cooped up in Room 101. (Okay, or it would be until it got swamped by a hashtag of people replacing words in movie titles with the phrase "adorable kitten": The Adorable Kitten Strikes Back, The Maltese Adorable Kitten, The Big Adorable Kitten, Adorable Kitten: A Space Odyssey; I was saying that technology has made us more free, not that it's made us smart or extended our collective attention span.)

Still, the sense of entrapment and doom works on an artistic level in something like "Extn. 21"; that grey-on-grey industrial palette is something we've all seen a bit much of in films of the last decade, but it works here, and the dissonance between the fluid motions of the actor's head and the herkiness of the stop-motion animation (very fluid and well done animation, but a certain herkiness is inherent to the process, y'know) is, as I may have mentioned above, wonderfully disturbing and disconcerting. And it probably ought to be pointed out that the retro technological trappings of the film may not be there as a statement about technology so much as they're there as the fixtures of the protagonist's headspace; who's to say this film is anything other than a nightmarish representation of the main figure's internal, psychologically-distressed state? At any rate, it's a pretty brilliantly-done rendering of a pretty awful hallucination.


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