If you could watch only one movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo would hardly be the worst choice. Its containment and expression of such a range of cinema’s possibilities surely did its part to bring it to the top spot on Sight & Sound’s most recent critics’ poll of the greatest films of all time. But what if Vertigo was all you knew of the entire world? Such is the case with the artificial-intelligence system used by artist Chris Peters to create “Vertigo A.I.,” the short film above. As the system repeatedly “watched” Vertigo over a two-day period, says Peters’ official site, the artist “recorded the machine’s neural network forming in real time — the ‘movie experience’ — made manifest.”
This experience is a five-minute film, “not footage in the traditional sense of photographed scenes, but footage of the internal experience of a new intelligence learning about our world for the first time.” As for what we hear, “a separate A.I. was used to write a narration for the recordings. Given a few lines of dialogue from Vertigo, the machine generated sentences that went off on their own wild tangents.”
After about thirty seconds, any cinephile will recognize the visual source material. As for the “story” told over the images, one can only imagine what processes the chosen pieces of Vertigo’s screenplay went through in the mind of the machine. “In the dream, I was in a room with a figure,” begins the narrator. “He was tall and covered in white.”
Dreams make for notoriously dull subject matter, but then, the enduring appeal of cinema has long been explained through its ability to transport us into a state not at all dissimilar from dreaming. Vertigo in particular, as Sight & Sound editor Nick James puts it, is “a dream-like film about people who are not sure who they are but who are busy reconstructing themselves and each other to fit a kind of cinema ideal of the ideal soul-mate.” 27 spots below it on the magazine’s critics’ poll comes Mulholland Drive by David Lynch, a film similarly praised for its compelling but elusive story and its images seemingly pulled straight from the unconscious. Suitably, “Vertigo A.I.” has something more than a little Lynchian about it, making one wonder how the A.I. would handle Lynch’s filmography — and how we would handle the result.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.