One of the themes underpinning Philip K Dick’s fiction is Authenticity. Recently, I followed a link to a film trailer called A Bigger Splash, a 1973 film by David Hockney. I am familiar with Hockney and his work, yet when I watched this trailer I had the uncanny feeling it was a mockumentary; a pastiche of the past. I had absolutely no idea whether a real film called A Bigger Splash existed at all. As I watched, I couldn’t follow the plot of the trailer because I was too busy scrutinising everything else: the quality of the picture (was it shot on film?); the settings; the editing; the actor playing Hockney, for a sign that it was (or wasn’t) authentic.
We seem to have reached a tipping point with images, both still and moving, where people are easily capable of emulating yesterday so that it is indistinguishable from today. With a little craft, our images can be placed in any era of photography that has gone before and our films include a level of imitation and subtle nuance that can make it a challenge to realise they aren’t from the time they are imitating.
Clearly it is no longer enough to look at something from the past because it simply reminds us of the past. There is an added dimension to our visual culture where we know that the image is recent and it retains an essence of the present, yet it has been manipulated to also look older than it genuinely is. In this sense our images are a mise en abyme: a dream within a dream. We’re doing this en masse with photography apps and we’re watching it on YouTube and in the cinema. And then we have this kind of stuff too.
I have been bouncing this idea around since I saw the trailer for A Bigger Splash, but the metaphor lies succinctly in PKD’s The Man In The High Castle in which the character Childan owns an antiques store selling Americana. All the items are assumed to be of historical interest, yet many are of doubtful authenticity. This means the timeline from the past to the present is corrupt and historicity is thrown into confusion.
The double-bind here is that A Bigger Splash was genuinely made in the 70s. Here is the trailer, see what you think: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2sEkXKxQs8