Five Little Movies (A Single Pixel Movie)
In 1994 lev manovich created a number of “little movies” – the very first film project for the web. The movies draw parallels between the early web medium in the 1890s and the new medium of cinema in the 1990s. One of these videos is the iconic “one pixel movie”, where a vintage film clip gradually gets reduced to a single pixel. It was included in 1996 postmasters’ exhibition “can you digit?”
Before there were GIFs there were Lev Manovich’s “Little Movies.”
Before there was Vine and TikTok there were Lev Manovich’s “Little Movies.”
“Little Movies” is a project about the aesthetics of digital cinema, and a eulogy to its earliest form – QuickTime. The project began when the World Wide Web was just beginning to gain mass exposure. It these short animated loops Manovich’s intention was to employ the network’s limitations as a new aesthetic. Is it possible to create films with the resolution of one pixel? Is it possible to have a meaningful and an emotional experience under 1 Mb in size?
by Lev Manovich
Exactly one hundred years after its birth, cinema is being reborn on a computer screen. CD-ROM technology has progressed from a slide show format, to the superimposition of small moving elements over static backgrounds, and finally to full-frame moving images.
This evolution repeats a similar nineteenth century progression: from sequences of still images (magic lantern slides presentations), to moving characters over static backgrounds (for instance, in Reynaud’s Praxinoscope Theater), to full motion (the Lumieres’ cinematograph).
Moreover, the introduction of QuickTime in 1991 can be compared to the introduction of the Kinetoscope in 1892: both were used to present short loops, both featured the images approximately two by three inches in size, both called for private viewing rather than collective exhibition.
The Lumieres’ first film screenings of 1895, which shocked their audiences with huge moving images, eventually found their parallel in 1995 CD-ROM titles where the moving image finally fills the entire computer screen. Thus, during cinema’s centennial, it was reinvented on a computer screen.
“Little Movies” is a lyrical and theoretical project about the aesthetics of digital cinema, and a eulogy to its earliest form of QuickTime. Beginning with the supposition that every new medium relies on the content of previous media, “Little Movies” features key moments in the history of cinema as its logical subject.
As time passes, the medium becomes the message, that is, the “look,” more than the content of any media technology of the past is what lingers on. “Little Movies” reads digital media of the 1990’s from a hypothetical future, foregrounding its basic properties: the pixel, the computer screen, the scan lines.
In the early 1890’s the public patronized Kinescope parlors where peep-hole machines presented them with the latest marvel of tiny moving photographs arranged in short loops. Exactly a hundred years later, we are equally fascinated with tiny QuickTime movies of the precursor of digital cinema still to come. Drawing a parallel between these two historical moments, the “Little Movies” are explicitly modeled after Kinetoscope films: they are also short loops.
The project was begun in 1994 when the World Wide Web was just beginning to gain mass exposure. From the beginning, my intention was to create cinema for the Web. I wanted to turn the network limitations into a new aesthetic. Is it possible to create films with the resolution of 1 pixel? Is it possible to have a meaningful and an emotional experience under 1 MG in size?
I grew up in the U.S.S.R. where the material resources were quite scarce and I often had to travel from one end of Moscow to another because every art supply store would only carry a few colors at a time. So I would buy black paint in one store, get on the metro to travel to another end of the city, buy white and blue paints at another store, get on the metro again, and so on.
Faced with the abundance of material and computation resources of the U.S., my reaction is to work against it. I don’t need faster networks, more storage, more multimedia, more processing power. I want to figure out first what can be done with just a few pixels.
You can call this approach digital minimalism. Or perhaps digital materialism, DIAMAT for short. Ironically, the official Marxist philosophy in the U.S.S.R was also called DIAMAT to which was an abbreviation for “dialectical materialism.”
An aesthetic analogy can also be made with the structural filmmaking movement of the 1960’s which defined the material elements of film media as their subject matter. In “Little Movies,” I thematize the material elements of digital media such as pixels, scan lines, compression artifacts, computer screen.
I also feel an affinity with Moscow conceptualism of the 1970’s and 1980’s (Komar and Melamid, Kabakov and others). In contrast to Western conceptualism these artists did not want to deny the materiality of an art object; they combined an emphasis on ideas with the traditional form of easel painting.
Similarly, I investigate the historical, social, and economic specificity of digital media as well as its unique perceptual and experiential effects. “Little Movies” is an attempt to approach all of these aspects simultaneously.