At the very moment I write this, Peter Brinson’s online biopic of inventor Alan Turing is 33 percent its proper length. That’s because since early January, when the site with the video was launched, there have been 17,044 viewers, each one unlocking and revealing a single frame in the video’s 5,000 frames. As the number of viewers grows closer to multiples of 5,000, the video images slow down, allowing the voice-over to complete the story and reveal the tragic conclusion of the inventor’s life. And at the magic point of completion, the video, titled No Animals Were Hurt, screens in its entirety for 24 hours before resetting to its shorter self.*
Brinson, who studied new media at CalArts and now teaches in USC’s Interactive Media Division, says the idea for the video’s dynamic form plays on the difference between what’s generally known about Turing, a genius mathematician who made key advances in the development of computer technology and helped break Nazi codes during World War II, and what’s not known, including the fact that he was gay.
“The incomplete film is disorienting to people because the Internet is supposedly all about providing information instantly,” says Brinson. “Hopefully that tension makes people curious about Turing.”
Part of an emerging form known as computational or database cinema, in which the computer makes film viewing dynamic and mutable, Brinson’s project deftly shows us our own role as viewers in completing, and supporting, the media.