A K-Film By Simon Gilberg, Michael Edney, Aimee Sparkes and Lauren Burgueno
A K-film is not very good at making stories with clear direction (what Barthes’ would describe as a ‘work’) but is ideal for making videos that make visible Barthes’ idea of ‘text’.
Roland Barthes, a leading theorist of the 20th Century, argues that there are two types of texts: “work” and “the text”. Barthes (1977) describes work as a text that “renders the reader passive[ly] because the author has control of the narrative.” Therefore, according to Barthes, work is a text that is limited by conventions such as genre and linearity. Due to these limitations, it can be said that works are a closed text, with the message being easily interpreted by the audience. Barthes explains that “the text” juxtaposes “work” as it is not restricted by any conventions. Branching away from traditional text, Barthes believes that the text now allows the audience to be actively engaged, which has opened up a range of possibilities within a text, including the audience determining the content that is viewed as well as the message that they receive. Unlike ‘work’, text is content that has a message open to the viewer’s interpretation. The program, Korsakow, is ideal in making texts that comply with Barthes theory. Korsakow is an easy-to-use computer program for the creation of interactive films. Invented by Florian Thalhofer, a Berlin-based media artist, Korsakow was designed to create films with a twist. They are interactive, with the viewer having an influence on the content that is viewed within a K-Film.
Barthes explains that there can be two different forms of the new text, these texts being ‘readerly’ and ‘writerly’. Barthes describes the readerly text as “[having] pre-determined meaning and adhere to the status quo both in style and in content.”(Barthes, 1977) This type of text adheres to the qualities of ‘work’, with the content having a closed meaning that is not open for interpretation. Juxtaposing this idea of a text that is closed in nature, Barthes explains that a writerly text is “a proliferation of meaning and a disregard of narrative structure, which places the reader in an active position of control.” (Barthes, 1977) It is argued that Korsakow is ideal for creating content in the form of this text. This is due to Korsakow’s interactive nature. Because Korsakow gives the audience an option of what they want to view, it allows the creator to make a film that has multiple meanings, with each viewing experience unique to the viewer. Due to the interactive nature of the program, the creator is no longer restricted by a linear structure; therefore, they are able to create a ‘writerly’ text.
The K-Film Money and the Greeks (Florian Thalhofer, Berlin, 2013) is a prime example of a ‘writerly’ text that is created using the Korsakow program. The film creates an interactive journey for the viewer, exploring the struggles of the Greek economy and giving an interpretive insight into the current depression within the culture. Thalhofer allows the audience to determine how the course of the film plays out by having an interface that gives the viewer six different options after each video plays. These options each have a unique them, and provide a story for that theme. The viewer is then able to watch the videos that they are interested in or which strike them as something they would enjoy. This structure gives the audience full control of the structure of the film they are watching, and therefore it can be said that the meaning of the film is determined by the audiences viewing experience. The films content also strongly supports the ‘writerly’ text theory, as it is quite interpretive. Each clip depicts a scene on the streets of Greece, and it allows the audience to determine the meaning by their interaction with the text, as well as how they react to the subtitles which script the narration of that video. By combining these elements, Thalhofer has created a text that is well structured, yet interpretive in nature. It can be said that the overall construction of his film is a ‘writerly’ text as the meaning and the experience of the documentary is dependent on the viewer’s interaction with the text, therefore there is no clear narrative structure and a proliferation of meaning.
The structure of a K Film is dependent on the text that is being created. It can be said that Barthes idea of a ‘text’ is similar to communication theorist David Shields’ idea of collage. Shields (2011) argues that “the very nature of collage demands fragmented materials, or at least materials yanked out of context. Collage is, in a way, only an accentuated act of editing: picking through options and presenting a new arrangement” This idea of collage reflects that of Barthes’ idea of text as it explains how content is shown out of context to create a new meaning. This idea is the foundation of Korsakow. Korsakow allows the viewer to draw content out of its context in order for a new meaning to be created. This method ideal for creating Barthes idea of a ‘writerly’ text as it the meaning of the film is now interpreted by how the audience views it.
Our Korsakow film entitled ‘The Bucket List’ is similar to that of a ‘writerly’ text, however, elements of it are also strongly supported by the ‘readerly’ text theory. It can be argued that our film is a ‘writerly’ text as its structure gives the audience control of the content that they wish to view, however, it is the content that is present which supports the ‘readerly’ text theory. Due to the more direct, documentary style of our project, the meaning is fixed (or as fixed as it can be) in each individual clip. Each person is answering the same question, and each interview clip is enough to garner almost all of the encoded meaning. The extra clips and the use of a ‘wall’ structure adds another layer of complexity and meaning, offering a view of human individuals and the similarities and differences between them in the one screen, and is a more abstract element that adds cohesiveness to the work. However, because the core of our work is so direct and fixed, our project would normally be classified as a work – but this is not the case. As those definitions require a passive audience, we cannot claim the project as work. An active audience is an essential element of Korsakow, relying on audience interaction to read (and write) the text. Therefore, we should classify our Korsakow project as a hybrid of both readerly and writerly text forms.
The content that is present within a Korsakow also determines the type of text that is being created. What makes our project a type of hybrid between the ‘readerly’ and ‘writerly’ text is the content. The content of a ‘writerly’ text has an open meaning, with the audience creating the meaning from their previous experiences and knowledge of the issue or the visuals that are present. The content is also often seen as abstract. We feel that our project is designed in a “collage” format, however the content that is being viewed is quite closed for interpretation, and the viewer will interpret a similar meaning to another viewer. We feel that this is due to the interview basis of our footage. The 30 videos that feature on the wall of our film create the backbone of our film, and are vital for the navigation of our project. The content of this footage though is very conventional to a documentary film. Each person is framed very similarly, with the ‘rule of thirds’ taken into consideration when framing each individual. The lighting is consistent within each shot, and the audio coming from the individual is not distorted in any way. The content of each interview is also consistent throughout the film as each subject is posed the same question: “what would you like to do before you die.” As the footage is linear and quite closed in meaning, it can be argued that this element of the film makes our film a ‘readerly’ text. However, the ‘bucket list’ clips that accompany each individual interview video can be viewed as quite interpretive. These can be seen as interpretive as they rely on the audiences understanding of the content in each video and the connotations they depict from each video to create a meaning. For example, in our film one of our subjects Anthony explains that he would like to try the different cuisines of the world. The video that is used to depict this is a photomontage, which is a form of collage. The images that appear on screen rely on the audiences understanding of each country and meal to gain the intended meaning, otherwise, the clips meaning will be alter due to the knowledge that the viewer has of the cuisines.
The documentary style to our K-film has encouraged us to create a more linear text, however, we believe that the content within the text is quite interpretive to the reader, adding to our belief that the film is a type of ‘hybrid’ text. What makes our film interpretive is the theme of ‘identity’ throughout our work, and the way in which the audience reflect with the content that is presented. As previously explained, our text is shaped by the content that the viewer chooses to watch. Due to this interactive nature, we believe that the clips the viewer decides to watch will be dependent on what they like and dislike. To accommodate for the viewers preferences, we have enabled a ‘skip’ SNU for the viewer so that they are able to bypass the bucket list item if they are uninterested in what the subject wished to do before they died. Because the audience have this control over the text, we believe that the film the viewer chooses to watch will be reflective of themselves, and further enhances the films interactive nature by making them a subject within the film as their ‘identity’ is reflective of the content.
Furthermore, the theme of ‘identity’ applied to the talking heads themselves. Not only are their bucket list goals personal and subjective, viewers’ reactions are influenced by the order they watch the talking heads in. Each answer will be interpreted differently by the juxtapositions between the other answers. Similarities, links, differences, and all manner of connections will appear as the viewer makes their way through the K-film.
The software design of Korsakow makes it nearly impossible for work to be created. While it is technically possible to create one linear text within Korsakow, the action would completely negate the purpose of using the program in the first place. With that condition, it becomes impossible to create a work or readerly text using Korsakow. Malmgren C.D. (1987) quotes Barthes in describing ‘the writerly text as a “galaxy of signifiers,” without beginning, to which the reader gains access by any number of entrances; its systems of meaning are infinite, its codes indeterminable.’ Korsakow relies on active participation and interpretation (even on documentary projects such as ours) so that audiences can explore this ‘galaxy of signifiers’ and create their own meaning and experience. Korsakow is in many ways, a playground or sandbox – content and matter is there, along with rules of the world (links, interfaces etc.), but the paths are many, and it’s up to the audience to find their way.
Korsakow is evidently ideal for creating a film that presents Roland Barthes idea of ‘text’. A K-film can perfectly capture the elements of a text due to its interactive nature; therefore the audience is able to create their own meaning depending on their interaction and interpretation of the content that is present. Further adding to this notion of ‘text’, Korsakow is able to construct what Barthes describes as a “readerly” and “writerly” text. Although there are vast differences between the two, we feel that our film extracts elements from both concepts of the text, creating a type of hybrid film that is linear in structure, but interpretive in content.
Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text.” Image–Music–Text. London: Flamingo, 1977. 155–64. Print.
Malmgren, Carl D. A Forum on Fiction, “From Work to Text”: The Modernist and Postmodernist Künstlerroman, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 5-28
Shields, David. “L: Collage”. Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Vintage, 2011. Ebook, viewed on 5 June 2013. <http://vogmae.net.au/integratedmedia/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/shields.pdf>