Overview. Josh Harris, ever hear of him? Me neither… not until I heard of this movie. The “Wharhol of the Web” came up with the ideas of Internet TV (Pseudo.com), statistic gathering, and the basis for many of today’s social networking sites. So why isn’t he mentioned as often as Gates or Jobs? Timing; The Internet wasn’t able to handle the bandwidth needed for his visions. Not until broadband became commonplace for net access. But by then, it was too little, too latte for Harris who left the high-tech scene and expatriated to Africa to avoid creditors.
Indie filmmaker Ondi Timoner spent 10 years with Harris documenting his rise as an Internet entrepreneur, to the Quiet experiment, and his eventual downfall.
Rise of a dot-com kid. Harris arrives in New York City with only a few hundred dollars in his pocket, an a couple of ideas for the Internet in his head. His first venture is JupiterResearch, an Internet research company. In 1993, he envisioned television on the Internet and founded Pseudo.com. Pseudo not only had television (more like early vlogging before anyone heard of vlogging), but associated chat rooms for the shows. When he sold Pseudo, Harris’ net worth was now $80 Billion US. Luckily for him, he got out before the big bubble burst, but he decided to use that money for a “little” experiment…
The experiment: In December 1999, under some buildings in Manhattan, Harris constructed a “bunker” where he would gather 100 people. The people would be living in a commune-type setting with “pod” beds while under constant surveillance, and be subject to “interrogations,” though they would have free meals and a shooting range. The experiment’s aim was simple; To see how these people would behave living in an Orwellian setting. Things start smoothly enough, then went downhill fast. Eventually, after the new millennium, the NY Police and Fire departments shut the experiment down believing the experiment was actually a doomsday cult.
Though that experiment was over, he wanted to test his theory further by moving in with his girlfriend and installing net-cameras in their apartment. An incident that nearly leads to rape causes her to leave, and soon Harris has a mental breakdown. While Harris is considered an artist by some, there are some signs that he may have been insane in the mainframe before the breakdown.
Afraid of clowns? You will be!
The Point of the experiments? It should be obvious now that the technology has caught up to Harris’ ideas what the point is: How much of our privacy will we sacrifice for connecting to others, or for fame itself?
“Everything is free… except the video that we capture of you. THAT we own.”
If you’ve ever encountered targeted ads, you already have seen the tip of the iceberg. Worse yet, the information they gain from what you willingly surrender they can now sell to others. Harris’ “Quiet” experiment was a not-so-quiet warning about where we were headed… rather, where we are now.
Conclusion. Call Josh Harris what you want… visionary, entrepreneur, voyeur, prophet, ca-ca-cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs… the message he sent with his experiments is only now being realized by a small handful of people. For the rest, they may not realize or even care about how much “exposure” they’re really getting for their 15 minutes. Looking for a treatise on the negative effect of technology? We Live In Public answers that question in no uncertain terms.
Suppose it were possible to transfer, from one mind to another, the experience of another person; Any person, any experience. (From the trailer.)
Overview. Released fourteen months after Tron, Brainstorm continues the theme of virtual reality’s effect on humanity. Ever since Tron there have been movies about virtual reality, even though it never really panned out the way many envisioned… with the head-mounted displays being the primary reason why. But that didn’t stop Hollywood from envisioning VR. Brainstorm does it a bit better than more recent efforts, even though Natalie Wood died while filming was on Thanksgiving break in 1981. Trumbull was able to complete the movie for 1983 by using body doubles and stand-ins, and offers a dedication “To Natalie” in the credits.
The Story. Doctors Lillian Reynolds (Fletcher) and estranged couple Michael and Karen (Walken and Woods) have created a helmet-like device called “the hat,” which can record the experiences… not just sight and sound, but smells, tastes, etc… of a person wearing it. The recording can then be played back on the hat by anyone else who gets to experience the same sensations the recorder experienced. Word of the hat’s breakthrough allows the group to have a larger budget and access to advanced technologies to make the hat more compact and easier to wear. It soon becomes something like a headband or Walkman-style headphones without the earpieces.
That looks like fun to wear… for a couple of hours.
Soon, the US Military wants access to the technology for yet-to-be-specified reasons (Missile guidance? Remote drone piloting?), but Reynolds refuses. She soon suffers a heart-attack while working alone and make a recording. Michael discovers the tape and replays the experience… and nearly dies from it. Despite that, he wants to see what the rest of the tape is about, but he is denied access to the tape and the labs.
Military using VR. What could possibly go wrong? Apart from the possible military applications of the hat, the obvious problem of addiction arises as a colleague has to retire when he experiences sensory overload on a “sex tape” another made and shared. Later on, Michael experiences a past argument with his estranged wife from her point of view. This shows that not only physical sensations can be recorded and transferred, but feelings as well.
This aspect seems to be what the military is most interested in, as Michael discovers the system has been hijacked for “Project Brainstorm” as a torture and brainwashing system. Unfortunately, his son tries the interface while the torture program is running and suffers a psychotic episode.
In theory, a person’s entire personality and psyche could be permanently altered by using the hat to expose them to another person’s past traumas and subconscious nightmares.
But Michael is more interested in finishing Lillian’s final tape to “have a scientific look at the scariest thing a person ever has to face.” This is where Brainstorm departs from sci-fi to metaphysics; Whether there is an afterlife, Heaven and Hell, and all that. That may not be the most cyberpunk thing to deal with, but then dealing with our mortality is part of our humanity whether it’s our own or someone we know.
Conclusion. Somehow, Brainstorm got lost in the shuffle of 80s cyberpunk movies, even though it could have stood up to much of today’s “cyberpunk” fare. The theme of life-after-death captured by technology is eerily in sync with Natalie Wood’s death during a break in shooting. While the visuals do seem dated, they are effective enough to carry us through Lillian Reynold’s final moments.
If you haven’t seen Brainstorm before, or haven’t seen it since it was first released, you should give it a(nother) view. You might be surprised by this little known classic.