Sunday, June 23, 2013

Connected: An Autobiography About Love Death & Technology

by Drew Martin
Last week I watched Connected: An Autobiography About Love Death & Technology, written and directed by Tiffany Shlain.  I was curiously hooked from the beginning because the night prior a friend and I discussed a book he had just finished reading about John Muir, the turn-of-the-20th Century naturalist who was an early advocate for the preservation of the wilderness in the United States. Shlain starts the movie with a text plate and a “can’t stop thinking about this” quote from Muir:

"When you tug at a single thing in the universe, you find it's attached to everything else."

I also loved her choice of Janelle Monáe’s Tightrope for the opening credits.

Connected is a highly edited film with a lot of personal footage, custom animations, and a ton of stock clips. Sometimes the movie seems too personal/too centered on Slain, but it is after all (in her words) an autobiography. The strength of the film is her grasping of and extrapolating  her father’s ideas.  Leonard Shlain was a surgeon who also wrote four books: Art and Physics, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, Sex, Time and Power, and Leonardo's Brain: The Left/Right Roots of Creativity.

There are a lot of profound concepts under the layers of B-roll including father Shlain’s idea that the analytics of alphabets and literacy favored left-brain thinking and therefore shifted society towards male-dominated hierarchies, and that the turn from literacy towards image-saturated media is shifting us back to a more female-appreciated culture. The Shlains continue the thought that the balance of text-based articles and graphic-user interface with image searches that commingle online are actually changing the way our brains work, and synthesizing our minds in the manner of Leonardo da Vinci, with all of his great insights. Shlain repeats the idea that our independence is transforming into interdependence.

The fault of the film lies somewhere in the concept of show don’t tell. Shlain synthesizes this advice with a constant narrative and enough graphics to keep five-year-old glued to movie but graphics (in general) are often too stark and obvious and cannot get under your skin and into your soul the way that art can. I also wish Shlain would have included more about her husband (Ken Goldberg), who has a mere cameo role in the film. He seems like an interesting guy. In her narration Shlain says, "Then I met Ken at one of my dad’s talks on Art and Physics. Ken was a robotics professor who also did art installations that connected robots to the Internet, to gardens, to make commentary on society."

Click here to watch a trailer for Connected.

Click here to watch Janelle Monáe’s Tightrope.