J Armitage on Mon, 25 Nov 2002 11:09:01 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] Necrocam

[From the 'whatever will they think of next?' department ... John.]
November 25, 2002
Mourning Becomes Electronic: A Final Webcast Place
Toward the end of "This Is Our Youth," Kenneth Lonergan's play about
disaffected New Yorkers set in 1982, the characters learn of an
acquaintance's death. The news spooks the motor-mouthed Dennis into
pondering the benefits of religion when confronting the afterlife. "How much
better would it be," he asks, "to think you're gonna be somewhere, you know?
Instead of absolutely nowhere. Like gone, forever."
Fast forward to 2001, when the Internet has given the youths in "Necrocam,"
a 50-minute film made for Dutch television, a less conventional way to cope
with death's mysteries. Christine, a teenager with cancer, tells her friends
that upon her death she wants a digital camera with an Internet connection
installed in her coffin. Images of her decaying remains will then be
transmitted to a Web page for all to see, making her virtually immortal. The
friends pledge to install a Webcam in the coffin of the first one to die,
and they seal their pact with an oath to the computing world's highest
power: "This we swear on Bill Gates's grave."
"Necrocam" was shown in September by VARA, a public-broadcasting network in
the Netherlands. Now, the entertaining and - given its grotesque premise -
unexpectedly moving film will have an opportunity to find its natural
audience of online viewers. Last week the network put a version of the film
with English subtitles on its Web site, at vara.nl/necrocam.
When one of the teenagers dies, the survivors must decide whether to fulfill
their high-tech pledge and if so, how. One stipulation moves the story into
the gothic realm of Edgar Allan Poe. The coffin is to contain a heating
element that will speed or reduce the body's rate of decomposition. The
temperature will then be controlled by online visitors, who can adjust an
interactive thermostat on the tell-tale Web site.
Yet the film's central and rather macabre conceit may be its least
interesting element. Suffused with grief, "Necrocam" is closer to an Ingmar
Bergman psychodrama than a Wes Craven fright flick. Dana Nechustan, the
film's director, bathes her actors in a pale blue light that deepens the sad
tone. Jan Rutger Achterberg, a VARA executive who produced the film, said it
was "about people who remember their loved ones in new times, in a new era,
with new media."
The movie's accomplishment is to capture the way technology, including the
Internet, has permeated contemporary culture. This is our youth's daily
existence. The film's young people communicate through online messages, play
computer games and record their pledge with a video camera instead of a
quill dipped in blood. For them technology is an extension of life. So it is
only logical that cyberspace would play a role in death.
This comfort with the Internet stands in contrast to how technology is
typically depicted in Hollywood films, where it is glorified or, more often,
demonized. Thus for every "You've Got Mail," in which Tom Hanks cutely woos
Meg Ryan over the Internet, there are a dozen clones of "Birthday Girl," in
which Nicole Kidman is a devious Net-order bride. The James Bond films take
both approaches, so that a technological threat endangers the world until it
can be defeated by 007 and his gadgetry.
Although "Necrocam" may seem futuristic, it is grounded in the present. The
Internet has become the home of countless memorials to the dead. A few
funeral homes have started to transmit memorial services over the Internet
so that those who are unable to attend can participate from afar. And
Webcams that have been perpetually focused on everything from a tarantula to
artists' studios dot the Net.
The notion of a Webcam in a coffin still sounds implausible, but nonetheless
it almost came to pass. At the birth of the idea in 1998, Ine Poppe, an
Amsterdam artist, was reading when Zoro, her tech-obsessed 15-year-old son,
sat down next her and said, "Mom, when I die, I want a Webcam in my coffin,
and I'm serious about it."
A week later Ms. Poppe saw a newspaper ad soliciting screenplay ideas. With
Zoro's approval she drafted a two-page proposal for "Necrocam," a word
coined by her son. Mr. Achterberg was on the jury and liked her idea enough
to want to produce the film for VARA.
As part of her research process for the script, Ms. Poppe received a grant
from the Amsterdam Art Foundation to study the feasibility of installing a
Webcam in a coffin. After talking to a technical expert and an undertaker,
she concluded that it would be possible, as well as legal in the
Netherlands. She finished the script, and the film went into production in
late 2000.
During that time Ms. Poppe learned that Zoro's father, her ex-husband, the
Austrian artist Franz Feigl, had received a diagnosis of cancer and was
given less than two years to live. Death imitates art. Ms. Poppe said,
"Franz said to me, `If you want to do a real Webcam, you can use my body.'
'` Ms. Poppe seriously considered the idea but resisted, she said, "because
it would put such a strain on the family emotionally."
But the final decision was not made until Mr. Achterberg invited them to a
private screening of the completed film, which ends with a vivid, horrendous
shot of a decomposing face. Mr. Feigl continued to volunteer his services,
even though there were tears all around him as the lights came up.
Ultimately, his family declined his offer. Mr. Achterberg said, "Ine told
me, `With this film, I have shown what I want to show, so why should I do it
in reality?' " (Mr. Feigl died last year.)
For the record, installing a Webcam in a coffin in the United States is not
likely to occur. Robert Fells, general counsel for the International
Cemetery and Funeral Association in Reston, Va., said that next of kin, not
the deceased, are responsible for the final disposition of a family member's
remains and that most people would probably balk at such a scheme.
Mr. Fells added: "People have always had strange ideas - either for laughs,
or morbid humor or just bizarre thinking - of how they would like the
ultimate final disposition of their remains, only to be overruled either by
family members or legal authorities. This just sounds like a high-tech
version of that."
Still, there are people untroubled by total exposure of their lives, and one
would think they'd be fair game for such a morbid experiment. But that is
not true for Jennifer K. Ringley, a 26-year-old in Citrus Heights, Calif.
Ms. Ringley has spent almost seven years broadcasting her life over the
Internet, at JenniCam.com, through a series of Webcams installed in her
home. Ms. Ringley isn't interested in allowing viewers into her coffin. "I
find that watching a person who's not performing to have a low enough
threshold of interest," she said. "Watching a person who's not even moving
might be pushing it a bit too far."

Nettime-bold mailing list