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Generating Art From Action: When Fight Club Becomes Art Club

<p>Providing a cultural link between Roland Emmerich and abstract expressionism.</p>

Kevin Holmes

The Hollywood action sequence—seemingly taken to its high-octane, exploding conclusion in films by Michael Bay—is something that isn’t exactly considered to be the highest form of artistic expression. After all, Bay’s never won an Oscar and he’s often ridiculed for his debasing of film, where louder explosions and higher definitions seem to be the only cinematic envelopes he thinks are worth pushing. But who doesn’t love a well executed action sequence, like the beginning of The Dark Knight or the bank heist scene in Heat? It’s arguably as engaging as cinema gets.

But for those that prefer their action sequences to reference expressionistic 20th century painters rather than Bad Boys 2, you might be interested in this ongoing project from artist Jeremy Rotsztain. In his Action Painting series he uses data from Hollywood action sequences, run through some custom software written in openFrameworks, to generate stills and animations that have a splatter-style Jackson Pollack aesthetic.

You may be thinking: what in John Rambo’s name have these things got in common? Well, their machismo for one. Rotsztain says it “brings together the adrenalin-filled culture of action cinema and the formalist canon of modernist painting. It is a line of inquiry into spontaneity and self-expression that contrasts user-generated web 2.0 culture against the work of the genius craftsman—and action as a form of expression versus pure spectacle.”

So the standard fare for action sequences—car chases, explosions, and fight scenes—are translated into abstract patterns with the sounds from the appropriated scenes played over the top, giving a commentary to the shifting shapes as they erupt and burst across the screen. The scenes themselves are chosen for their inclusion in top ten “whatever” lists.

The series falls into four types, each exploring the various thrills inherent in any decent action movie. Firstly is Monochromatic Bursts of Color, made from various explosions from Armageddon and Independence Day—the fiery colors complementing the rumbling noises.
Then there’s the quite hilarious Unrelenting Physical Aggression, with Fight Club and Rocky—you’ll instantly recognize the fist-whipping sounds of someone taking a beating.
You bring a fist, they bring a gun. Pitter Patter Splatter features gun fights from Rambo and Terminator 2, and even a Wilhelm scream.

And lastly is Revving Motors, Spinning Wheels which uses car chases from Bullit, Bourne Identity, French Connection, Ronin, The Seven Ups, and The Rock but there sadly doesn’t seem to be a video of it yet. So make do with the below image instead.

Update: Jeremy contacted us to let us know the final part is out, you can watch it below. He says it’s “by far the most sonic and textural of the bunch”. Enjoy.

The videos are projected onto large screens to imitate the mega-canvasses used by the expressionistic painters (and, likely, the cinematic experience as well). You can find out more info about the series on Jeremy Rotsztain’s website. Or if you’re in New York, they’ll be screening his work at the Millennium Film Workshop on 27th August as part of Index Festival.