twohundredfiftysixcolors, a feature-length silent film about GIFs made up entirely of GIFs, reminds me of Fantasia. Like the Disney cartoon, the film is based around stand-alone vignettes, without much in the way of traditional plot structure. From the first second to the last, images pass over the screen in waves, sometimes randomly but often grouped together in categories (treadmills, cats, “under construction,” and twerking GIFs make up just a few of those groupings). twohundredfiftysixcolors’ filmmakers and friends of AFC, Chicago-based artists Eric Fleischauer and Jason Lazarus took two years to produce the film, and their dedication shows.
“Every edit is meaningful,” Eric Fleischauer mentioned. “That’s why it took so long. We’d spend 10 minutes thinking about each category, going through desktop folders of images.”
The two spent years scouring through thousands of GIFs, many sent to them by artists and friends, and others they found on their own. In the credits, those featured in GIFs and those who made and contributed them are listed one after another (Cory Arcangel, Gerhard Richter, Bill Gates, Cookie Monster, and Absis Minas are some of the names). That’s a varied list, and it points to the sheer range of image-types seen in the film.
“The film treads ground we all know pretty well, but it explores some darker corners of culture,” Jason Lazarus told me. What that means is you’ll see fecal-themed GIFs juxtaposed with “Mom GIFs” (Fleischauer’s term describing Hallmark-style GIFs). There’s no way around confrontations like these. At times, it’s confusing, but mostly just jarring.
“In the first half you see content you already know is out there,” Lazarus remarked. “Things that feel innocent, or culturally benign at the beginning become juxtaposed with, for example a section of 9-11 GIFs, then humor without bounds. There’s a way GIFs process culture that even mainstream culture hasn’t figured out a way to wrap its head around.”
And that’s true—GIFs often mirror the world in the most uncomfortable ways.
twohundredfiftysixcolors premieres on April 18th at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. The film isn’t available online just yet, but lucky for us—and you—AFC was given an exclusive preview, a section of “landscape” GIFs. It’s beautiful.