Infinite Monkey Syndrome

Date: 2012
Posted by: James R. Ford
Cast: Not given
Credits: Produced by James R. Ford
Duration: 1.30

A few months ago it was reported that US programmer Jesse Anderson had set up a virtual set of some millions of monkeys (using Hadoop), all of them tying at random on virtual typewriters, and had managed produce something that was 99.99% Shakespeare – the first text to be achieved in this way being ‘A Lover’s Complaint’. Anderson had cut corners however, because every time the random typing came up with words that roughly matched something from the Shakespeare canon then they would be retained, if not then discarded. With this and other constraints, Anderson could achieve his goal. The purely random production of Shakespeare by an infinite number of monkeys remains something for the philosophers and theoretical mathematicians.

Or for a videomaker. This droll piece, made by British artist James R. Ford, is an extract from a 9 minutes 8 second loop (therefore designed in principle to run forever). It shows us a woman in a monkey suit, typing Shakespeare, as the tags to the video tell us, because otherwise we would not know (a photograph of the typewriter on the artist’s website indicates that only gibberish has been produced – so far). Is is a Shakespeare video? I say that it is – and so it is (and just to make the point this post has been tagged with all of the plays and poems). A video to watch, infinitely.

Jesse Anderson explains more about his project on this video:

YouTube page
BBC online news item on Jesse Anderson’s project
Jesse Anderson’s Million Monkeys Project
James R. Ford’s personal website

Troy Burns

Date: 2009
Posted by: ozzetteebo
Cast: Not given
Credits: Filmed by Joanna Smith and Elizabeth Osborne
Duration: 4.40

I really like this. It’s different. The filmmakers call it a “documentary I made for my documentary film class about a rehearsal of Troilus and Cressida”. What we see are four images: one taking up two-thirds of the screen, and three smaller ones on top of one another occupying the rgiht-hand side third. What we see in the main picture is some young people (American) waiting in a corridor to take their entrances for the rehearsal of Troilus and Cressida. The smaller screens provide closer shots of those waiting. Each shot was taken at a different time. Throughout we hear the sound of the rehearsal but do not see it (except for occasional glimpses in the top small screen).

That describes what we see, but there is more to the video than just a striking composition. There’s something in the mixture of anticipation and casualness shown by the performers that captures something rather special. There’s an intimation of the performances we all make in life, the masks we must put on (they each carry face masks with them), our exits and our entrances. In showing us an unusual glimpse of drama behind the scenes the filmmakers reveal something of why we play these parts, and why we continue to perform Shakespeare. Incidentally or otherwise, it is a rather insightful piece of actuality.

YouTube page

The Passenger

Date: 2006
Posted by: johnrobinhartel
Credits: Directed and photographed by John Robin Hartel, written by Trevor Emmett and Kyle Farrell, edited by John Robin Hartel and Kyle Farrell, produced by Kyle Farrell and Trevor Emmett, for the Filme Company
Cast: Camron Crooks (Ulysses), Trevor Emmett (Thersites), James Warmles (Paris), Brandon Smith (himself), Rich Ward (Troilus), Adi Beged-Dov (Cressida), Travis (Pandera), Kyle Farrell (Diomedes), Jamen Lee (Hector), Mike Johnson (Achilles), The Clerk (The Clerk)
Duration: 5.55

This is a truly odd interpretation of of Shakespeare’s oddest play. Set among American small town slacker youth, it start with two young men in a car, one silent, the other smoking heavily while complaining of the damage cigarette smoke can do to children. They stop outside a store where two more young men are standing. The man smoking gets out of the car and berates the two for smoking themselves (“babykillers”). A young man and woman come out of the store as he goes in. The couple speak lovingly to each other, then she leave him to get in a car, where a young man takes some money from her. Another man joins them in the car, and she pats him on the leg, while the man she has left looks on ruefully. Elsewhere a man is trying to read a map, and another one offers to help him. The latter then talks to one of the men standing outside the store, whom he criticises for upsetting their mother. A thief runs out of the store and the man who helped the map-reader gives chase. He stops the thief and berates him, only to be struck down by the thief when he turns his back.

What has all this to do with Troilus and Cressida? The filmmaker has this to say on the YouTube comments:

Trevor explained the plot of the play to me, then we worked out a script in about an hour. When he handed it in though (it was a final for his Shakespeare class, I believe) everyone in the class was quickly pointing out which characters in the film represented which characters in the play, so it worked for its purpose.

Since there is no way anyone (outside of that English class, perhaps) would recognise this drama as being derived from Shakespeare’s play without prompting, our only clues are the cast list, which we are informed shows the players in order of appearance. So, the two men in the car are Ulysses and Thersites, with Ulysses the one with the smoking obsession. The two outside the store are Paris (in a green shirt) and the unquestionably unShakespearean Brandon Smith. The couple who come out of the store are Troilus and Cressida. The man in the car is Pandera (i.e. Pandarus), and they are joined in the car by Diomedes. The map reader is probably unidentified, as it must be Hector who helps him and Achilles whom Hector chases and who then turns on him at the end. Obvious, really.

Is it any good? That depends on what you are looking for. Viewed without prior knowledge of intentions, it’s a rough, puzzling short film that doesn’t go anywhere. But the puzzle’s the thing. It’s being able – or not being able – to see Shakespeare’s own odd work encoded in the film’s off-hand conceit that challenges the viewer and makes us look again. So, is Thersites the passenger?

YouTube page