The world we live in is switched on. Globalized. Many of us (although certainly not all of us) are part of a network of nodes intertwined in a complex series of connections — television, internet, phone. This brave new world has brought us unimaginable bounties in the form of democratized education, artistic revolution, and a new way to unite and dissent.
At the same time, however, we’re dealing with a new form of digital anxiety, fearful of the unseen ramifications of such a world. Dreams Rewired is a response to and a meditation upon the philosophy of our increasingly mediated world; privacy, anxiety, and power shifts are just snippets of the film’s greater messages.
More than that, though, Dreams Rewired is about history. Is the 21st century all that new? Are our worries all that new? Through footage culled from a staggering selection of early film, ranging from the very first motion studies up to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, the filmmakers (Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart, Thomas Tode edit together a feature length video essay examining the development of photography and filmmaking with a lens trained at early representations of the issues that we are raising now.
The ultimate goal of this film, as I interpret it, is to make the case that what we consider a newfound media literacy had its genesis in a much earlier (yet still, historically quite recent) time. The early movies, the film seems to say, were very aware of the ramifications of emerging technology. Comparisons are drawn to the depiction of broadcast images pre-television and the privacy concerns that arise with a proliferation of such technology. Where will it be? In the workplace? In your home?
Three directors lent their talents to Dreams Rewired, and the extreme effort is clear. As is the case with any work involving archival footage, editing is the most important tool to express what was intended, and the treasure trove of clips used are assembled together in a fluid manner. The movie is dreamlike, flowing, but moored in a topic, circling around it, but always returning. It doesn’t hurt to have Tilda Swinton’s expressive voice providing the narration, which sometimes feels a bit overwrought but always helps to cohere the scene.
Watching the film is really the only way to understand it. No amount of distillation of its message will encompass the visual and aural totality of the hour-long experience of the film.
What I can say is that the selection of clips is fantastic. The editing, sans sound, creates an avant-garde found-footage experiment that would work well as a work of visual art. The selections range from early silent films like the 1925 Soviet film, Battleship Potemkin, to experimental film and, as mentioned earlier, the various motion studies that were created in the early days of sequential photography.
It’s stunning how closely the selections seem to mirror our own world. We consider ourselves the technological generation, speeding faster and faster towards the disintegration of the old hierarchies and the birth of a new world of infinite connection and limitless innovation. But we’re not. Our predecessors saw this coming, and in such stunning ways.
Dreams Rewired shows us our personal genesis, as well as the genesis of our period on this historical timeline. We become who we are because of what it is we have seen. This film speaks to us in our language, although not with text, but mostly with pictures, screens, criss-crossing wires and broadcast signals. There is no better way then to tackle such a subject through the medium the directors had chosen. Too many words could have constricted their message, but the Swinton’s careful narrative, and the visuals, speak volumes.
Dreams Rewired may not be presented in the most clear way — that is, the visuals are largely open to your interpretation — but what’s hard to deny is that it engages us in a way that taps as much into our emotions as it does our intellect, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons it succeeds. Spoken in the language of our time, weaved in visual poetry, and deep in its reach, Dreams Rewired is a valuable document of a world that is quickly barreling towards a technological revolution unlike any in the past.
The DVD comes with no extras and no subtitles, but the visual quality is excellent for the format.