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City of Lost Men, 2015
A public domain film un-edited into 820 individually looping segments, chronologically stitched into an immersive environment and projected by three projectors in an endless loop. Three DLP digital projectors running off of three networked Mac Minis, 180 immersive projection environment in the historic Krege Theatre of Carnegie Mellon, incorporating a custom Peppers Ghost (composed of glass, wood, lights), and a light canister with an embedded camera.
The 1950 film, City of Lost Men is a re-edited and shortened compilation of a twelve-part serial series, originally titled The Lost City. Released as a serial of 12 films starting in 1935, The Lost City is considered to
be the first science-fiction serial. The condensed version of the serial, of which this installation is based, released in the 1980s on VHS, is a chopped up and sewn together mixture of 12 original narratives, condensed into one.
The resulting 1950 version is an incoherent B-movie; exposing the colonialist, racist, and xenophobic thinking underlying the subtext of the director and era. Film critic Roy Kinnard wrote, “When a New York TV station broadcast The Lost City in the 1950s, the serial was considered so offensive and protests against it were so vocal that it was pulled in midrun. [Nonetheless] “Lost” is historically important as one of the earliest sound science fiction movies, and as one of the first science-fiction serials”, (Kinnard, Roy, Fifty years of Serial Thrills).
In this project, I argued for a critical re-reading of The Lost City serial. I was interested in deconstructing the exploitative subtexts of science fiction cinema through the lens of contemporary conversations of anti-racism and queer theory. I unedited the film, segment by segment, in order to better understand the logic of its cinematic architecture.
Each scene in the film contained in a camera cut was spliced at its edit, looped, and then merged into a grid, adjacent to its subsequent scene.
The 1950 film version, comprising 820 cuts, (originally already re-edited from 12 different serial shorts) was stitched together into an equirectangular panoramic grid. An installation in a historic theatre projected the grid as an immersive environment. There, the entire film could then be seen simultaneously, to be re-edited by visitors.
Theory of the “Cinerama” & the “Serial”
I used a hacked Final Cut plugin to distinguish between scenes in the film. The software discerned scene changes, to precisely produce clips of each of the individual 820 edits.
Each edit, when stitched in a chronological grid, allowed for a reading of the film in a linear sequence, a mode of watching more like reading.
Deconstructing and Redirecting
Inspired by the immersive technology of the “Cinerama”, a technique developed by Fred Waller in the 1950s, the projection created full ocular immersion in the spectacle of cinema.
At the center of the stage, a modified theatre light canister contained a camera, which fed a live feed through a “Peppers Ghost”- a contraption that was an early experiment in “volumetric projection”.
Re-Projecting and Interacting
This apparatus allowed a viewer to re-edit the film, isolating sections of the film in the viewfinder & reconstructing the narrative- depending on their operation of the light canister/camera.
By combining immersive projection and interactive narrative, this project converged the history of cinema with the potential of virtual reality, creating a spatial and theatrical analog for the ideas underlying VR storytelling.