Judge Ike Oden is recording. Are you?
"Are we recording?"
It seems Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick) just can't be content with being one of Hollywood's most prolific and respected young actors. You'd think a guy who's starred in no less than six movies over the past two years would slow down, but his creative brainchild, the website HitRECord.org, suggests otherwise. Dedicated to producing viral video, text, music, and other media, HitRECord is an open forum for collaboration between users. The site is conducted in a production company style for contributing parties, allowing users to retain the rights to their own creation while giving HitRECord secondary exclusive rights to remix, remake, and re-animate all media uploaded. Gordon-Levitt juggles the role of CEO, media figurehead, director, actor, and musician for the project.
While Verdict mainly focuses its gaze on Blu-ray and DVD, HitRECord Recollection, Volume 1 branches out of this niche, marking an all out multi-media assault, anthologized and packaged into a very handsome coffee table book housing a grab bag of short films, music, comics, short stories, poetry, and art. All of it is created through the collaboration of the site's HitREcorders, 471 contributing artists ranging from everyday Joes like you and me to well-known media figures. Among the "name" contributors are Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), David Hyde Pierce (Hellboy), Eric Stoltz (Some Kind Of Wonderful), Carla Gugino (Watchmen), writer/director Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom), and musician Sean Lennon (Moonwalker).
The DVD features an intermingling of 36 short films and music videos. Some are the cinematic equivalent of literary short shorts—one line stories done in flash animation with narration (often provided by Gordon-Levitt himself)—which range from cute to cryptic. Then there are lengthier films, such as the Morgan M. Morgansen series, two short films—Morgan M. Morgansen's Date With Destiny and Morgan & Destiny's Eleventeeth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo—which mix digital animation, neo-silent filmmaking, and linguistically off-kilter voice over. The shorts tell of raconteur Morgan's seduction of the object of his affection, a girl named Destiny. Gordon-Levitt stars as the title character, allowing him to show off a keen set of physically comedic skills that finely grasp the acting conventions of silent movies. With a French-influenced score, sketchbook-style animation, and a visual style that captures 19th century culture while retaining a contemporary Indie rock aesthetic, these shorts are sure to engage cineastes veering toward film and art history. More importantly, the films are incredibly amusing, if not laugh-out-loud funny. Unless you're the type of viewer to dismiss intellectually-minded, cinematically contextual comedy as pretentious, it is hard to deny the charms of Mr. Morgansen.
Not all shorts are Gordon-Levitt-centric, mind you. The DVD packs in everything from experimental, montage-based filmmaking (the brief Train Now Leaving) and existential humor (the elegant A Self-Centered Conversation), to mockumentary (the blackly humorous A Fake History of 1987) and political propaganda (the preachy And A New Earth). The disc runs the gamut of content, and while not every piece is guaranteed to click, it's hard to deny the craftsmanship and artistry on display in each film. The collaboration of styles and perspectives at play never overpower the themes and ideas at work, but instead enrich them, adding texture and relentless imagination. These episodes are proof positive that filmmakers don't have to farm out millions of dollars in post production to conjure effective collaboration with animators, composers, actors, etc. HitRECord proves all that's really needed is the technology and trust of likeminded artists who want to see an idea through to its fullest iteration.
The disc drives this idea home with documentary featurettes broken up in between the short films and music videos. These more or less tell the behind-the-scenes story of HitRECord, acting as propaganda for the site, as well as documents of the creative juices at work. As hosted by Gordon-Levitt, these pieces succeed in inspiring the itch of your creative trigger finger—if not for HitRECord, then by all means for yourself. Plus, you get to see Robert Redford pontificating on the future of viral video as the future of film, a fascinating piece of film nerdiness that makes a strong case for the success of HitRECord.
HitRECord Recollection, Volume 1 is presented in a solid 1.78.1 anamorphic transfer that, beyond a brief flicker of digital noise here and there, is handsome, colorful, and sharp. The Dolby 2.0 stereo mix is quite clear, befitting the simplicity of these shorts.
Extras are a little hard to pin down, as the entire set is sort of its own extra. The coffee table book packaging is a veritable orgy of short literature accompanied by gorgeous sketches, paintings, collages, and photography with each piece of writing. It's 64 pages that complements the disc beautifully, easily garnering my vote for best-designed DVD packaging of the year.
Also included is a CD of 17 original songs, as DJ-ed by Gordon-Levitt in low-key, imaginary radio show styling. Many of the songs are infectiously catchy, some aggressively avant-garde, and others weirdly insular oddities. The music isn't going to appeal to all tastes, but the disc has something for everyone. The greatest "hit" songs (such as "Catch A Fire" and "Nebulallaby") have videos on the DVD and lyrics in the book, continuing HitRECord Recollection's cross media motif.
And there's still more! Featured on the DVD as a bonus is Sparks, an original, conventional-narrative adaptation of Elmore Leonard's short story. It stands out as the sole auteur piece, written and directed by Gordon-Levitt before the creation of HitRECord. Nevertheless, it's a slickly produced piece of work that anticipates much of the content later produced on the site. On its own, Sparks is a lush looking, immaculately acted short (by the aforementioned Stoltz and Gugino). In terms of Leonard adaptations, this is one of the better (and quirkier) ones I've seen and worth the price of the set alone.
Not guilty, HitRECorders, and keep the RECords coming.
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