The Decline of Western Civilization has become a stock-phrase in art criticism. It is the title of Penelope Spheeris‘s cult documentary trilogy about the Los Angeles punk music scene, and been a phrase used to lament the popularity of any number of franchises the critic disapproves of, from Iggy and the Stooges to THE SIMPSONS, to TRANSFORMERS and TWILIGHT. It seems that Western Civilization is always declining, though not everyone seems to mind.
“The East is the future,” says a spunky New York actress named Sarah Seeds, “India is a major player in the future of cinema as both a producer and a market, kids are growing up with anime and Japanese video games, and the global success of the Gangnam Style music video is reflective of Asian humor and sensibility.” Much of Gangnam Style’s success comes down to PSY following the Charlie Chaplin model of universal accessibility. Its energetic beat, intentionally spastic dance moves, and broad humor of heavy camp gets everyone dancing, regardless of comprehending its lyrical content. And the Asian invasion lies behind the scenes as well. Today’s best films are not being made by Hollywood but by Fulano, Mengano, and their DSLR cameras, and this revolution was made possible with the help of two little Japanese corporations named Canon and Sony. Why this sudden rise of Eastern cultural dominance? I think it all comes down to that classic statement: Nerd is the new cool.
Sitting across the table from me at Cafe Prague, the extroverted Sarah Seeds speaks proudly about her identity as a nerd. She has grown up with a love of BATMAN, Disney, Stephen King, and video games, particularly ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME. Which is great because, as we all know, a girl who doesn’t love video games can never be a real woman. Upon graduating high school, Seeds spent some time in Japan, fascinated by this culture that exalted video games and science fiction as part of everyday activity without any nerd stigma. And over the past ten years, American pop culture has gone in the same direction. It would seem that the nerdier we get, the more prominent the Eastern market has become towards our media.
I’ve written about Seeds before. She looks like a cross between Liv Tyler and Evageline Lilly, with the comic flair of Jennifer Lawrence. Known for her roles in GIRL (dir. Peter Habbit), HEAVEN IS NOW (dir. Audrey Lorea), NIGHTWING: ESCALATION (dir. Alex Valderana), and Rachel Puchkoff‘s upcoming WILDCATS, Seeds was an avid supporter of BITE YOUR TONGUE, appearing in its official promo video. I used the Seedsian quote “What people think but don’t say is exactly what we want to hear” as the mantra of the indie film movement. And playwright Philipe Keb Blanchard has referred to her as the female Robin Williams. Within the course of our meeting, I see exactly what he means. Our conversation jumps to many places, including her fourteen years of dance training. Her favorite films range from THE SOUND OF MUSIC (dir. Robert Wise) to FEED A (dir. Clarke Mayer), and she has thoughts on every new film from THE LORAX (dir. Chris Renaud) to GREEN EYES (dir. Jack Gattanella). Throughout all this, I soon see Seeds has a wide assortment of voices she goes into during extemporaneous conversation, and her face contorts into wild expressions. Her body could be made of rubber! Seeds speaks a visual language all her own that is accessible to anyone, and I could easily see her living in a Miyazaki film or Gangnam Style music video. There are many talented actresses out there, but Seeds is the only one I can say is truly a successor to Charlie Chaplin.
Seeds left me with the following statement:
“I think cinema should be a dialog, rather than audiences staring at a wall. It’s a form of communication between actors and audiences, and they form a community together. If we can get not only audiences but other countries to think, to laugh, to experience a story, then we are contributing to communication instead of war.”
Now, more than ever before, the indie filmmaker is truly projecting to the world stage, and the dialog that he or she starts has the power to unify across cultural divides. In typical nerdy fashion, I of course have to make a connection to a fantasy story. In THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, the mouse Reepicheep is compelled his entire life to sail eastward, due to a lullaby sung to him by a dryad:
Where the sky and water meet/Where the waves grow sweet/Doubt not, Reepicheep/To find all you seek/There is the utter East
And so to all filmmakers looking to find their audiences and new markets…
…to find all you seek, look to the utter East!