Interviews and confessionals

Posted in caught by juliobesq on June 11, 2009

Many years ago a good friend told me that he considered everyone to be capable of telling you a great tale, that everyone had lived through something astounding, something moving. That there lurked in everyone amazing stories.

I was once again reminded of this conversation on seeing David Lynch’s new project – Interview. A camera crew take an odyssey across the flat lands of America interviewing whomever they met on the way. As a project it draws on classic Lynchian road movie motifs and is perhaps also provoked by his film The Straight Story, based on a true tale of Alvin Straight’s journey on a tractor across the States to visit his estranged brother before he dies.

Interview has a new episodes every three days, not all contain exceptional tales, some a trifle sombre, I think the adage that everyone contains a great story also relies upon timing. You must catch a person at the right moment to hear an intimate confession.

Alex Chadwick used not a road trip but a trestle table and 50 cents to lure passer-bys into giving a brief interview. Lynch’s candidates so far seem akin to supporting characters in one of his films whilst Chadwick’s urban locations seems to give a wider spectrum of the population, but it is early days yet for the Interview outing, and there’s no detraction even if it were to concentrate on outsiders. Stories straight from the heart.

I find hearing ordinary people talking about what they hold dear to be endlessly engaging, vox populi suddenly turning poignant or uplifting. A fine example is Fifty People One Question, a beautifully simple idea: “Go to a place. Ask fifty people the same question. Film their responses”. Within the brevity of the responses a great deal of the orator’s character and aspirations are revealed.

These are all confrontational projects in respect of having an interviewer cast direction, the flip side is creating a space for people to leave their thoughts, and more intriguingly those that can only be uttered aloud confidentially. Fragments of a life story that have a confessional aspect to them.

The internet is of course an ideal medium for confession booth and listening post. The first use of technology that I’m aware of for secular confession must be Allan Bridge‘s ‘The Apology Project’, a 1980 conceptual art project where callers could leave their confessions on his answer phone. Just before his accidental death in 1995 he was considering moving the project to the internet, having amassed over 1000 hours of recordings.

Not Proud launched in 2000 as a confessional web site, allowing participants to get their secret of their chest. In itself a valuable resource and saves one from drunken misgivings with a bartender. Adding a form of recompense is Group Hug allowing readers to give a confessors a hug, secular forgiveness or a show of understanding. They can shrug as well; which throws up questions about the voyeuristic nature of reading these sites.

I see nothing wrong in the voyeurism, the confessions have been left to be read, to share, a been-there-too, know-how-you-feel, actually-my-life-aint so-bad-after-all pool. And the hug system offers support for those who are still perturbed by their past, but a like/dislike system forces these personal moments into the realm of entertainment. Potentially becoming a ‘did I like this one’ rather than did it bring a sense of release or relief to someone. That said Group Hug is a wonderful site and service, a window into our psyche, and the work of a single person – Gabriel Jeffery – hats off Gabriel.

Allan Bridge’s original community art aesthetic is alive and flourishing under Post Secret, a blog accepting postcards where the image and message disclose a secret.

SecretTweet updates the medium for the social web generation, authenticity forsaken for immediacy; Group Hug has a long validation process before publishing. One Sentence publishes true stories in, yes, one sentence via Twitter, here humour and the mundane nestle with the confessional.

Social media with it’s soundbyte ethos has brought a wealth of sites dealing with real people aspirations and fears, I particularly like Someone once told me and Before I die I want to. The micro-blogging approach has reduced Interview’s remit to 400 words and even Six Word Memoirs.

All this guilt is good business or at least one start-up thinks so, Truu Confessions attempts to seize advertising revenue from the voyeuristic. If you find the stock photography disengaging your empathy, you could remind yourself that ordinary people can tell extraordinary stories, as Leo Rosten said ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, become fiction has to make sense’, by reading Paul Auster’s ‘True tales of American life’.

Glad I’ve got all that off my chest.

(The image is from Bill Drummond’s The 17 project, used to symbolise ordinary people, and because I like The 17. They are 17 book lovers from Derby)

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