Civil Ken's Burn Wars
As part of some research for the book, some nostalgia, and a lifelong general interest, I got my hands on Ken Burns' Civil War. In more ambitious moments, I even considered watching the Burns filmography in chronological order. But back to the Civil War and how I wound up with one of the more beautiful mistakes. I got the .avi files onto my computer and they were broken. They still played, but seeking didn't work and the first episode would crash VLC after 1 minute 20 seconds. The second episode would play, but at random intervals the picture would sort of melt and the time would advance to the near end of the file like a thing possessed.
So I thought about things some more and decided I'd try converting them to play on my iPod. I'd never converted a file to play on my iPod, and this way I could listen to the Civil War happen between my ears during my commute. I ran the converter, went to bed and in the morning -- presto -- iPod videos. I sampled the first episode and it passed the only test I cared about : it kept playing after 1 minute 20 seconds. I put in my headphones and headed to the bus unwittingly heading into a stranger alternative chapter of American History.
Civil Burns Ken War
Where before the second episode would skip unexpectedly to the end at random, this first episode (and possibly others) when compressed and encoded for iPod video took those random jumps and kept encoding. What emerges is sort of an organic cut-up of the original documentary. Sharp mid-sentence changes in speaker and music where sometimes Garrison Keillor's reading of a quotation is finished by Morgan Freeman. The first and still one of the most striking juxtapositions came during the description of the cotton gin's process of extracting the seeds from the cotton boll which suddenly jumped to the doctors struggling and failing to remove the bullet from Lincoln's brain. Uh, whoa. Normally, the charm of this sort of thing might wear off quickly but these cuts were so random and might dice up a sentence word by word, or run minutes without interruption. At times, sure, it was annoying, but mostly it was compelling. Like when the 14th Amendment was drafted to post armed sharpshooters on the roof of the White House. It's this sort of strange accident of technology that's only inspired more thought from me all day long and drawn strange new connections between concepts.
Anyway, it's entirely possible I have 8 more hours of this strange skipping through 1861-1865 and I am super excited to find out if Jefferson Davis' house full of concubines is able to successfully assassinate the vice president.