The Technium

Supercut Genre

Technology continues to create new genres of media. A short list of new media genres in the past few decades would have to include:

The 18 minute PowerPoint presentation (a la TED)
LOL Cats
100-Plus-Hour Serial Dramas (Lost, the Wire, Sopranos)
1-page Blog Post
Fan-Fic Novels
Remixed Movie Trailers
40-Hour Video Game
Bad Lipsyncs
3 Minute Funny Clips (You Tube)
140-Character Tweets
A Book of Tweets
Video Supercuts

The last of these, Video Supercuts, is still an embryonic art form. A supercut is a video montage cut and sequenced from existing movies and TV and commercials. It creates a rapid-fire medley of shots representing a theme of some sort. Supercuts highlight cliches in movies, or repetitions by a director, actor, or character, or in their most creative use, a supercut will reveal unseen patterns in our visual record. As an example, imagine the US President’s State of the Union speech without the speech — only the bits where no one is talking. Or image every entrance of Kramer in Seinfeld in chronological order. Or every nickname uttered by Sawyer in Lost.

Palin’s Breath from wreckandsalvage on Vimeo.

Why? Because technology makes it easy. But also because there are patterns to be found. Three technologies make supercuts possible: The large reservoir of videos and audiences on YouTube; ubiquitous easy video editing software; transcripts for searching for key words and ideas. The supercuts genre has found its curator in Andy Baio who has posted every supercut he has found on a new site There are currently 160 different supercuts.

Baio has also written up a fantastic short history of this emerging genre, or what he calls “An Anatomy of a Meme.” He says:

Brooklyn-based critic Tom McCormack wrote the definitive history of the supercut, tracing its origins back to found-footage cinema, like Bruce Conner’s A MOVIE from 1958.

But it wasn’t until the 1990s that clear descendants of the genre emerged. Matthias Müller’s Home Stories (1990) reused scenes from 1950s- and 1960s-era Hollywood melodramas, filmed directly from the TV set, to show actresses in near-identical states of distress.

He used Amazon Turk researches to help him classify and analyze attributes of the new genre. For instance he discovered the average supercut consists of 82 cuts.

Supercut charts 20111103 233109

As super cuts become more common — and become part of the cultural vocabulary — I think they will help keep cliches from getting old, and will help creators and the audience perceive recurring patterns in rapid turnaround. They will act as keen proofreaders and critics. At the same time a few super cutters will employ existing footage to create entirely new feature-length works. A few classic experimental films have already been cut from found footage, but we can expect more of these, and better ones.

  • “May ‘bleep’ bless America..”??? A less brain-dead example please.

  • Serial dramas? No, I don’t buy that.  Serial dramas, in fact, are anything but.  Unless you can seriously convince me that a season long narrative arc, interspersed with episodic arcs is somehow closer to Palin breathing meme than a Dickens’ novel then, no.  I’d say you’re trying too hard to put everything in a nice neat little tupperware container so you can snap the lid shut. Oh, and far as the Power Point presentations a la TEDs go — aren’t those more similar to early 20th century Chataquas?  I mean, I’ll give you LOL cats, Palin breathing. Twitter books, 40 hour video games and 3 minute funny clips.  You gotta differentiate between episodic drama and video supercuts, though.  Where do Nickelodeans, Muybridge, Edgerton, Radio Dramas or Thomas Jefferson’s COmmonplace book fit in?   

  • W Harrison

    So, If I set up an event that was based on 17min Prezi presentations I would have a invented a new media genre? Hmmm. Why are fan-fic films not included, as well as ‘photoshop looter’ images from the recent riots in England? Are these rather ‘forms’ rather than genres?

  • I love this one!

  • Nick Carr

    Yeah, serial drama is hardly new. Even if we limit the genre to TV, you have series like The Fugitive back in the 60s. I agree with W Harrison that “genre” probably isn’t the right term for these.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      I am not good on TV history (since I don’t have a TV) but my impression was that the “big” serial dramas today were of a different type of story than those say of the 60s and 70s. A more unified narrative with a small set of characters?

  • My current favorite “super cut” is this epic work. Guy compiled 10 second clips of every hit song (US) from the 1970s. You can play them at the Dangerous Minds site:  

  • Conan O’Brien did a scary one on uniformity in the media:

    Sickening but hilarious.

  • I agree with you about Supercuts (and would be tempted to stick those GIF ‘essay’s you find on Tumblr in there too). I think the Supercuts are performing a function roughly analogous to socially-satirical comedy like The Office or even some of the Monty Python sketches (the ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ scene seems like pure slapstick now but there really were people like that).

    I’d say the TV serials are a genre too. I can’t think of TV shows before with extended multi-series-spanning story arcs, transmedia elements, end-of-season cliffhangers, massive dramatis personae and the like. (Although I’ve never watched The Fugitive, so am happy to be wrong.) The DVD box-set is undoubtedly a new form-factor, but the new stuff it allows people to do is genre-ous. This seems no less problematic than any Polonius-like genre list. 

    But then I’m on the splitter side of the lumper/splitter gestalt shift -I think ALL classifications stick stuff in a Tupperware box, as Susanna would say.

  • AviSolomon

    I wish there was a supercut of all the movies that begin as books being opened!

  • TT

    a very good example

  • Youtube

    Here’s mine, made just before I’d read your post about the genre (something’s in the air?!)
    “Where the Buffalo Is Marfa?” It’s a promotional trailer for my podcasting series abut Marfa, Texas, made with several different videos purchased @ $5 each from Some of the “actors” are from the UK, and one is from Israel. 

  • Cash Money

    So part of the purpose of the utilization of this genre would be to highlight things that, say, a documentary producer is including in his new film that, unbeknownst to the producer, have entered into the realm of cliche? And thereby, to enliven the film with a very real sense of freshness?

    If so, that’s rad. It’s as if Supercutters could function in a consultation capacity similar to the way risk assessors, and such, market their abilities. And, because, supercutting is a genre that brides gaps between art, research (tremendous amounts, it sounds like), and vast engagement with society, it almost hearkens to the function that art and the humanities played in the European renaissances, where the state was the patron of artistic academia because they appreciated the benefit lent to the public by those intellectual endeavors. I don’t necessarily feel that America would ever actively become a patron of these pursuits, but perhaps it’ll occur beneath the noses of an American society focused more on capitalism and business pursuits.