Nothing in a Rectangle Is True is a fast-paced, entertaining romp through life in digitized culture, inspired equally by Sesame Street and Jean-Luc Godard. It is a unique blend of documentary and fiction that attempts to change society by challenging the increasingly fictional center of it.
Rectangle explores the rapid digitization of our lives, with characters who ask the questions we should all be asking: What are we giving up when we view our lives and each other increasingly through media? Does knowing more about each other foster world citizenship and increase the peace? Are we more or less free when we live in a mediated world?
Viewers will not fail to miss the irony that Nothing In A Rectangle Is True is itself a movie, however, and is therefore not true. This leaves the viewer holding the bag, responsible for his or her own ideas and questions about media, truth, culture and, to some extent, life itself.
Don Starnes has a deep practical knowledge of the media after more than thirty years behind and beside the camera. He has been backstage at the culture carnival and knows how media is used to manipulate and construct reality. An inveterate observer of culture, Don has discussed mediated culture with people around the world for more than a dozen years. He found a growing awareness and concern, particularly among young people, who suspect that the digital life they’ve inherited isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Don needs to make this movie to atone for his sins: he has photographed media training as politicians and CEOs learn to spin messages in order to exercise power over people. He has constructed “reality” while filming reality shows and “news” while making video news releases. Watching gifted practitioners such as Karl Rove or Barack Obama, Don sees the craft behind the art, as they lead millions of people by telling stories, for better and for worse.
Viewing all of this through the lens of humanism and social justice, Don would like to help people understand how media works, how it assimilates them and uses them to gain corporate power and capital. Don would like to help people to be less at the affect of media and thus more free.
Approach, Structure and Style
Rectangle gives its characters a job to do: understanding how media works and proving or disproving the problem of mediated life — from inside a movie. This forces Peter and Talley to focus on their conflict about media and reality, when what they want is get to know each other better. This awkward love story itself positions essential human frailty and desire against the modern pursuit of digitally-augmented reality.
Rectangle resembles Sesame Street in structure; it is episodic, ostensibly didactic and its story is told simply — smooth dolly movements or static camera, plain lighting, long takes, little cutting.
Much of the story takes place in three types of segments:
- A green-screen special effects stage: Rectangle’s characters mess around with film making equipment on a well-stocked fx stage, making this film and being made by it.
- Tutorials: The characters give imaginative and concise tutorials in media methods and secrets that are normally hidden by professionals. These are heavily stylized and say as much about the characters as they do about the media.
- Documentary clips: To support their beliefs about mediated life, the characters go on location to film classic documentary clips with noted experts and scholars.
The movie is mischievous: it frequently provides the characters and audience with a reality and then, with a stroke of movie magic, pulls the rug out from under everyone. This causes the audience, as well as Talley, to experience the falseness of media constructions.
Initially a believer in media and its connectivity, Talley comes to find that these connections aren’t necessarily authentic and that media stories, while potentially moving, can’t be true. Her journey will lead the audience to doubt the mediation of their own lives.
Every social issue is understood or misunderstood, resolved or perpetuated through media.
We believes the structure of life itself is changing, with virtualized life slowly replacing real life. This tends to benefit the few, who control the media, to the detriment of everyone else. Witness, say, the abstracted, low turnout 2012 presidential election or the divides between [red state/blue state, urban/rural, lower class/middle class, etc.] people.
Rectangle attempts to teach people how the media works on them so they can be more free of it.