Thursday, October 25, 2007


I love documentaries. Give me a narrator with a well-modulated voice, thoughtful and nostalgic shots, and I'm in heaven. Of course, I realize that this Discovery Channel model isn't exactly revolutionary and even as I nod off midway through many of the shows I attempt to watch, that's not a ringing endorsement.

So, when I went to see "8 BIT," the movie about video game and video game art, I didn't really know what to expect. Its garnered accolades from around the world (which alone suggests it won't be constructed a la Discovery or A&E), and indeed, it is an interesting look into a subculture. But really, that's about all it amounted to.

The premise of the film is simple, it looks at old, outdated technology like 8 bit computers and the ways in which the code can be broken and forced to do new things. And its pretty interesting, as one artist in the film says, "graffiti for the computer nerd set."

Here's what Moca Jax had to say about the film: "By weaving together arcane histories of digital subterfuge, candid interviews with cutting edge artists and theorists, wild videogame concerts, and highlights from the best digital artwork being made today, 8 BIT exposes the cultural ramifications of video games and proposes that Generation X’s coming to grips with its digital heritage signals the beginning of a new social and artistic reality."

And its true, the art/music/performances being made by some of these artists is quite interesting with overtones of nostalgia and innocence. Perhaps the most compelling work being made are the chip tunes, musical compositions created using the audio signatures of early video games.

However, the discussion of chip tunes is also where the film becomes overly indulgent and tedious. Despite interesting and funny interviews, the segments where the audience is treated to selections of chip tune performances is intriguing at first, and then descends into annoyance. Not least because the music closely resembles trance and techno, and a little electronica goes a long way. That's not a wholesale dismissal of the form, just a warning. In fact, I had to leave early because the music triggered a migraine.

Overall, this film was worth the price of admission, just don't plan on watching it if you tend to headaches.

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