The Banality of Perfection

Fog shrouded field

Fog shrouded field

We're living in a golden age of media. Everything looks and sounds great. Movies are technically dazzling, television shows offer the rich and compelling psychological characterisations once the sole domain of top shelf literature, popular music is so slick you're humming along to a song before you've even heard it. So why do I find myself scouring the dregs of Amazon's library searching for low budget, cheapie horror flicks or grimy 60's art film oddities. Why do I delight in discovering obscure b-sides and scratchy recordings. It doesn't make sense.

Or does it?

I find the almost uniform level of technical and artistic excellence offered via streaming options to have a numbing effect. If everything is great, nothing is.

In the current climate of entertainment excellence, watching a black and white occult thriller like Burn, Witch, Burn from 1962 feels almost transgressive. The stripped back visual language, the measured narrative rhythm, stagey performances and dialogue all strike me as fresh. Bold. Different. The obvious seams do not detract from the experience, instead they appear to eyes and ears deadened by a deluge of perfection as canny stylistic choices. Punk rock jangly chords and missed beats designed to disrupt and subvert.

Watching Burn, Witch, Burn I'm more active and engaged than when I was binging an entire season of Stranger Things because I have to work at it. My imagination brings terrible special FX to life, I wonder at the thinking behind innovative if unsuccessful camera placements and editing choices. I'm working with the movie while I watch it rather than passively mainlining some perfectly crafted marvel that requires nothing of me but my attention.

Netflix and chill? No, thank you.

I'd rather go digging for something imperfect, a buried treasure, a dirt-covered gem that's slow to reveal its beauty but no less valuable.


Michael Hearle