The contemporary began on 11 February 2005, when the TV series Nathan Barley first aired on Channel 4. It ended just 5 weeks later, on the same station, with the finale.
Less a television show than a 3 hour film, Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker’s masterpiece presided over the temperature of the cutting edge with the same insight and predictive pierce as Orwell’s 1984, or Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In it, the social order is depicted through the microcosm of early 2000s Shoreditch. Depicted as a promenade of absurd grifters, the culture-vulture mentality of the characters, an assortment of oddly behatted media figures, bandmates, and proto-viral influencers, shows a break not only with history, but a hermetic milieu that is unimpacted by geopolitical issues or even local social unrest. ‘The rise of the idiots,’ as Dan Ashcroft (Julian Barratt) hubristically tries to term it in the edgy magazine SUGARAPE.
But it wasn’t mere satire that positioned Nathan Barley as the be-all-and-end-all. Morris and Brooker present a formal strictness that pulled dot com aesthetic onto the street, through garish over-saturated lighting, and downgraded broadcast standard cameras. The acid-wash visual glare is matched in digital terms by the extremities of Pedro Costa and Eduardo Williams. At the recent 73rd edition of the Berlinale, I experienced Williams’ Un gif larguísimo (A Very Long Gif), which the programme notes described as the longest GIF you’ve ever seen. Consisting of three channels – two interchanging bubbles of city landscape and youthful revelry, one, a blown-up journey through someone’s digestive system. As with so much of what feels genuinely avant, it could easily become a Barley background gag. And yet, its power is undeniable.
Until this publication is bought out by some American firm (DMs open, venture capitalists), we will continue to run in the vein of TrashBat, rather than SUGARAPE. Cinema Year Zero’s MO has always been to resist hot takes and discourse culture, and an easy way to do so has been to largely avoid pieces on recent films. Which makes this issue an intriguing challenge. We are compelled by the collision of past and present, and in that spirit, this issue is an effort to survey the scene as it presents itself. We asked our 6 contributors to choose a piece of work they have experienced as an encounter with the contemporary. From site-specific cinema, to online arguments, to gallery exhibits that reform our notions of political discourse, these essays are a compendium of the present: frisson, friction, and non-linear expressions of selfhood.
Kirsty Asher strolls through the programming collaboration between Deeper Into Movies and Weird Walk, and its quest to revive sight-specific Weird Britain on film.
Blaise Radley examines the aged but still open wound of Vulgar Auteurism, to ask why this specific notion continues to fuel online film chatter.
Miranda Mungai posits a notion of Online Realism, to pull together strands connecting films as disparate as The Menu and We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.
Sarah Cleary braves the Barley setting of Shoreditch to visit People Make Television at Raven Row Gallery, and finds that some of Britain’s most radical televisual communication occurred over 35 years ago.
Across the Atlantic, international correspondent Marty Millman dials in from New York City to dispatch on Alex Prager’s latest box of sweet treats from Lehmann Maupin.
Finally, Cathy Brennan uses a 30-second street interview clip on Twitter and uses it to opine on trans women’s relationship to the camera.