Margarete Jahrmann/Martin Rieser QR code clothing code reading
Film as both an art and entertainment form continues to contend with advancing technologies that make it more convenient to acquire content online and through streaming services. Physical exhibitions—screenings or performances of something easily accessed from the comfort of one’s home—become less attractive when coupled with irrationally high ticket prices for something that can be seen for (practically) free. Exhibition itself is in need of a transformation and one of the options open to film is to revert back to its roots as an art form traditionally predicated on performance, theatrical or otherwise.
Theater, as we have seen, is ripe for participatory and interactive potential, not just for an enhanced exhibition of original content. With the Third Woman, an interactive performance qua film, Martin Rieser, Pia Tikka, and Nina Yankowitz have employed mobile phones, gaming, QR codes, a multi-screen narrative and smart fabrics to deliver an immersive transmedia experience.
In an homage to the classic Carol Reed film, The Third Man, the team has adapted the original post war themes outlined in the film to explore the global threat of bio-terrorism. As it says on their website, one of these major themes is codes and in that way they have discovered a method of integrating its content into its formal elements. The story itself unfolds across a projected screen installation, but how it occurs is up to the audience.
An interventionist performance group called the Algorithmics, outfitted in scannable, interactive costumes, mingle with the audience intermittently before and after projected segments of the film. When the QR code-laden costumes are scanned, the audience is given the opportunity to direct the outcome of the film via communal voting over a shared WiFi network. Individuals are also sent back film information specifically to their phones after scanning through what is called an “ontoscope” network. The film is composed of sections with three different possibilities for how it will play out, ensuring a different experience each time.
Model: Margarete Jahrmann/ Photo: ©Martin Rieser/©Michelle Stuart/©Margarete Jahrmann
The film itself follows Holly Matins as she travels to Vienna to meet her friend Hari Line. On her journey she becomes immersed in a tale of intrigue wherein she discovers her friend has actually been smuggling hazardous materials for a terrorist group living in the city. Mirroring the film, they shot at all the original locations of The Third Man and used updated versions of its script to create the narrative. The black and white has a gauzy, noir feel, albeit with a sleek digital look.
What is important about The Third Woman‘s interactive component is that it engages its audience morally and intellectually. It goes further than asking them to guide the narrative, but to actually consider the decisions they are making in a larger context of the themes of the film. The film is not only aware of its audience as present, but also aware of them as opinionated, sentient, intelligent individuals. Many times when artists use the word ’interactive’ to describe their work they only mean it to be responsive or performative. It does not take into consideration that the complexity of human behavior offers only a very limited set of options for people to merely choose from. Although The Third Woman still only offers a limited set of choices, what sets it apart is how they seek to generate thought among their audience.
The Third Woman Interactive Performance and Film-game in New York
Since the city itself is so important to the themes of the film, performances vary from location to location. The display of the film and its performance is augmented to the space that it inhabits so the film is unique on a global level as well. For example, for the screening in U-Bahn, different rooms were dressed as police incident rooms to enhance the experience. In New York, the performance projected images into the Galapagos Art Space’s pools of water. In China they even went so far as to remove people who they deemed “infected with Miazma” from the audience.
Images of The Third Woman Film-Game and performance in Xian, China
Exhibition has typically been a distinctly separate aspect of the film itself whereas a film is already completed by the time it is shown anywhere. By incorporating performance into its exhibition it explores the possibility of a formalistic malleability the transcends a single projected screen. Transmedia is a concept gaining a lot of traction right now, but it is mostly concerned with how to expand the film experience outside of the theater. The exhibition itself should not only be seen as a generic packaging of a work but a formalistic extension of the particular film that communicates its themes as clearly as the content.