Director: Ewan Creed
Running time: 15mins
Lockdown has highlighted our ever-growing dependence on communications technology and connectivity. That is for us fortunate ones on the right side of the global divide who have access to good bandwidth and reliable hardware. With dependence has come fear of losing that access. A parallel dread seeps into the consciousness of many of us of losing our autonomy to the machines that we spend so much time conversing with. In a similar way to the guide dog becoming part of the mind of the blind person, is the machine that connects us to the expanding universe of electronic information now shaping its user’s consciousness? These fears form the main theme of Ewan Creed’s well-crafted short, Technolost.
Creed opens with a shot of an intricate set of pipework, and we swoop down to an aerial shot of a bedroom/workspace. An alarm clock rings, we see a coffee percolator set up to brew and coffee made. A huge mug of coffee is set to rest by a PC workstation. The opening shots are realised entirely through Stop Motion, 3D, and UFX and they are stunning. The actions are disembodied, there is no human in view. The consciousness that we are magically observing moves to the PC and clicks on the reassuring familiarity of the Google homepage.
We see the cursor find its way to a YouTube video of a budgerigar on a skateboard which the consciousness ‘likes’ and then messages the generator of the image the words: ‘ha ha’. We then see a plethora of expanding images from the internet that become a simulacrum of a human figure sitting at the PC. The director cuts back to the pipes above the room, which we assume are the Connection to the Universe, the pipes begin to shake presumably because too much information is being uploaded. And, every computer user’s intimation of mortality, we see on the screen multiple error messages. Ptoof! The computer crashes and the images are sucked up into the pipes and presumably lost to the expanding information universe.
The scene moves to a room lined with aluminium foil and the carcasses of dead laptops; bizarrely, the floor is made of what appears to be garden mulch. We meet the protagonist of the film, a non-gendered human figure. The Human’s outfit is a triumph. (Costume design is credited to Sharon Greene and the director) They have a green all in one fitness suit – their face is entirely covered by a green mesh mask – think electronic fencer, lockdown chic. They wear a harness with packs on the chest and back which have electrical input sockets. I particularly liked their gloves – these are embellished with the individual keys from a computer keyboard.
The Human becomes embroiled in a struggle with the machines which are out to get them, an input at the head of a cable sprouts like a seed from the earth floor and attempts to entrap the Human. During the struggle, Creed gives us a series of picaresque machine images. A knife and fork pushing a cell phone around on a plate. A computer mouse being caught in a mouse trap. A Caps Lock computer key being morphed into a baseball cap with a padlock attached to its fastener. No doubt dear to every cell phone user we see an input cable vainly trying to mate with an array of incompatible phones. A selection of fruits presumably representing the ‘real’ organic world have electronic inputs inserted into them and the camera shows us the resulting scars in their flesh. Creed rounds this all off with an electronic pieta though missing the Madonna.
Technolost is one of the best edited and realised short films that I have watched in a long time. Creed employs the ambient electronic music of Blank Banshee, Ivy Sly, and Adeodat Warfield sensitively to enhance the mood of the piece – particularly in the adversarial sequence between human and machine. The quality of the animation is, in a word of our times, awesome and its usage, generally, well judged. There are two exceptions. I think, when the alarm clock sounded at the beginning, we did not need to see a sound bubble to show us it was ringing. The backdrop for the end credits features malevolent input cables waving around nastily. As they are divorced from the context of posing a threat to the human, they became merely bits of cable waving around and the effect was simply ludicrous. But these are minor hitches and do not seriously detract from an impressive production.
Ultimately, watching Technolost reminded me of my experience of another art form from another era. The 18th century Rococo painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, provided us with exquisitely executed portrayals of charming bourgeois scenes, usually young women in gardens, which look beautiful, are perfect in every detail, but which are essentially meaningless and leave you thinking – so what. And so, with the beautiful craft and artisanship of Technolost. The sheer banality of the excellently presented images took my breath away. Tired cliché followed on from another. A pet doing tricks on a social media video. A cable and input that is either a serpent or a giant bean stalk. The puerile attempts at humour: the mouse and the mousetrap and, for heaven’s sake, the baseball cap with padlock.
Two thoughts occurred. Possibly, Creed might have been using the most shop worn of images and the most commonplace of our imaginings as to connectivity ironically in a ludic commentary on the futility of making any meaningful statement about our experience in cyberspace. However, given the lack of any signposting, I think this unlikely. Alternatively, Creed might be aiming for a pre-adolescent audience in the process of forming its own feelings and fears as to connectivity and would be unconscious of the gruesome banality of the images whilst being wowed by the film’s technical wizardry. I could imagine, when we are finally back in cinemas, Technolost being well-received as an opener for a kids’ blockbuster. Sadly, Indy Film Library’s budget does not run to providing its reviewers with a home cinema, so I watched Technolost on a laptop, but I would certainly look forward to seeing it on a big screen.
Creed has shown in the making of Technolost an impressive ability as an editor and animator. My advice for future projects would be to work with a script writer or to think harder about any meanings their work might attempt to communicate. I am personally grateful to the director for one thing. My laptop has been making odd noises lately – seeing the hulks of dead computers on display in Technolost made me download my stuff to an external, apocalypse-proof hard drive. Connectivity in action.