Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Wilderness Downtown: Cool or Creepy?

Chris Milk's just released experimental film "The Wilderness Downtown" combines Google mapping software with the Arcade Fire's "We Used to Wait" to create a kind of multi-media (and customizable) music video. Viewers are invited to plug in the address where they grew up and watch as their childhood neighborhood is brought to life via Google's street view.

The project seems to be something of a promotional effort for Google Chrome, though it functioned well enough in Firefox for me to get the gist.

Michelle Castillo at Techland provides a few more details and hints a bit at the creep factor, but doesn't go quite far enough with it. I'm less concerned that the program can find/harvest where I grew up (I expect that's been done thousands of times already in much less explicit ways). I'm slightly more distressed at having my childhood memories reinterpreted through an Arcade Fire song. I get that Win, Regine, and the rest of the crew have a nostalgic streak in them, but I'm not sure I want it foisted on me in such a literal way.

If "We Used to Wait" was indeed written as a paean to our collective vulnerable youths (or whatever it was written as), I'd hope my own intellect, imagination, and ability to infer meaning would have figured that out eventually. Being lead there by the nose in such a personal way (i.e. by street viewing my childhood home and incorporating it into a film) comes off as kind of manipulative. Besides, my childhood had a soundtrack, and I don't recall it involved the Arcade Fire.

That said, Milk's film is a technical breakthrough to be sure. I'm glad he did it and I'm glad he shared it. I'm also excited about the possibilities for other similarly creative endeavors. It really is exciting stuff.

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