And the award for Best Vine goes to … Adam Goldberg

How the ‘Saving Private Ryan’ actor became obsessed with Twitter videos

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

By Virginia Heffernan

This week the Academy Awards were officially renamed The Oscars. The rebranding suggests that Hollywood has, finally, lost some of the crippling status anxiety suggested by the creation of the pompously named “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” The Oscars are at last like a J.D. who finally stops calling himself an attorney. He’s self-assured enough to be known as a lawyer.

It’s high time. The movie business is the granddaddy of American popular entertainment: It not only has a grown son—television—inflicted with status panic, but there’s also a teenage grandson—Internet video—to play enfant terrible.

That’s why I’m drawn, this Oscar season, to Vine. Vine is Twitter’s spellbinding new video app. We have no idea if it will convulse pop culture as the daguerreotype did in 1837, or the cinematograph in the 1890s. Or YouTube in 2005. Or Twitter in 2006. But the art Vine has engendered doesn’t look like pomp or bids for authority. It looks like actual art.

At the same time, Vine is only 4 weeks old. So we don’t know anything. But if, through chance, it does turn out to be a cultural convulsant, we know exactly who will be its Lumière brother and it's Ashton Kutcher, the early freestyler and medium-embracer who somehow instantly knows how to make hay of a new technology.

He’s Adam Goldberg. Recognize his name? If you are one of the ragtag few who currently Vine, you do—and maybe you have even noticed the hashtag #vinelikegoldberg. Goldberg is the maestro of the six-second looping Vine video; it is Goldberg’s dexterity and arid humor and trippy frisson to which we who use Vine aspire.

As Greg Boose put it in BlackBook magazine, “Adam Goldberg somehow already owns Vine.”

But if you are not on Vine, meaning you’re every single person reading this except maybe seven, you may not remember Goldberg. Don’t bother with Wikipedia. All you need to know is that he played—with great skill—the Jewish dude in “Saving Private Ryan,” a different dude in “Dazed and Confused” and still another dude in “Entourage.”

Goldberg’s father is Jewish, and his mother is a lapsed Catholic. He doesn’t cotton to either faith, but that religious abstinence doesn’t protect him from what he told me is “garden-variety anti-Semitism,” which haunts the popular response to his online work. He takes that, and most other things, in stride.

What Goldberg is is an artist. It’s serious. He’s normal about it and doesn’t act Austrian or entitled, but he’s not giving up, either. As an actor, he turns in well-reviewed performances in movies and TV nearly all the time, dutifully collecting a union paycheck, but on the side he spins out music, films, videos. He does various weird be-in projects, like someone in Berlin, or Yoko Ono.

When it comes to getting digitized, Goldberg, at 42, has an invaluable asset: a digital-native girlfriend. The highly pregnant Roxanne Daner, who appears often in Goldberg’s work, is a distinguished illustrator and keen digital designer. Like others in her adventurous, coastal cohort, Daner divides her time between apps barely out of beta and Victorian-era crafting. Her design-firm bio reads, “I am a Waldorfian. I spend my free time felting, doing eurythmy and going to the dog park.”

Ten years younger than her boyfriend, Daner turned Goldberg on to the digital. “My friends were curmudgeonly about the Web,” Goldberg told me. “I was just not of the generation. It’s not as though I was the first person to jump on MySpace.”

Five years ago, Daner persuaded Goldberg to try Facebook, where he experimented in conceptual art. He put up a three-minute Warholian video of his legs on a rowing machine. All of his status updates were Dada. But he couldn’t get any traction.

“We kept trying to create this narrative,” Goldberg told me. He opened a Tumblr to this end, and it became his artist’s notebook. The narrative he and Daner were making came to involve surrealism, deadpan satire, dream sequences, groovy design, left-wing politics, and the ingenuous and quirky romance that defines Goldberg’s and Daner’s sweet interaction with each other.

Goldberg, who plays guitar and whose resonant, spiky way of talking has won him voice parts in animated movies, then put out two records. One was with a band he called The Goldberg Sisters. He used what he called “a draggy voice” and sometimes screamed. The Goldberg Sisters were featured on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”

This might have been a big break, except that Goldberg was told he couldn’t mention a website—his Tumblr—on the show; he could only promote movies and CDs. Goldberg resigned himself, again, to producing Tumblr art for Tumblr art’s sake. 

Tumblr eventually “became an exercise in OCD,” said Goldberg. “I put an imposition on myself where I had to post a photo every other day and a recording every other day. That’s how I wrote my last record.”

So that’s where Goldberg was —“toiling in the nether regions of social networking, creating all sorts of stuff that nobody paid attention to”—when someone his girlfriend knew told them about Vine, the app with a cool cutting feature that lets you make six-second repeating videos and share them on Twitter.

Something in Vine’s runic brevity, its looping broken-record feature and its temptation to jump cuts and stop motion, encouraged artsy projects from the start. And you couldn’t fuss too much or get too perfectionist. The Vines are posted to Vine—and Twitter and Facebook, if you choose—almost the second they’re done. I mean, they don’t have to be and you can delete them, but the technology, like Twitter itself, biases you toward publication and discourages video-hoarding.

The performance art Goldberg and Daner had been doing—singing, playing guitar and violin, acting, taking pictures, felting—perfectly suited the Vine. The first set of videos they made shows Goldberg as a speedy, addled Goldberg, developing a Vine obsession, but also cross-dressing and ventriloquizing and freaking out, while a concerned Daner and her friend Merritt look on.

Though Goldberg has said he saw horror potential in the app from the start, his early videos had comedy in them. More recently, he’s titrated out the humor entirely and put a conceptual acid-head kaleidoscope in its place. He’s hit his stride.

“I skipped my funny phase as a filmmaker,” he told me, explaining in part why he hasn’t gone the route of the Hollywood goofballs who like to chip off chuckly videos for "Funny or Die."

With the sheepishness known to anyone between 40 and 50 who unironically admits to liking art, Goldberg sighed. “At the end of the day the things that turn me on are kind of aural-visual dream sequences,” he said.

Goldberg pioneered for Vine what he called a “thumb-tapping technique” that makes the video stutter, where the audio seems to have a mind of its own. He also makes Vines that use other Vines and puts glass over his iPhone’s lens, and otherwise distorts the film so much that its looping and shortness start to seem like the least weird part of it.

Now that he’s put Polaroids of things reflected in mirrors in his Vines—the ancient mirror, the 20th-century Polaroid and the weeks-old Vine—Goldberg has developed new awe about the iPhone.

“The iPhone has a lens and a recording device and an input,” he told me by phone. “You can do anything with a lens, a recording device and an input. I can’t believe we’re talking on the same device that I used to make the Vines.”

I looked at my iPhone. I put Goldberg on speakerphone for a little bit and listened to his rapid, happy voice.

“This is where things get exciting for me,” Goldberg said. And then he went to make another Vine.

  • Hyundai Motor unveils small SUV concept for China, to launch this year

    By Hyunjoo Jin SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's Hyundai Motor on Sunday unveiled its small sport utility vehicle (SUV) concept targeted at the Chinese market, planning to join a flurry of rivals in tapping the growing segment in the world's biggest market. Hyundai said it had picked popular Korean actor Kim Soo-hyun to promote the subcompact SUV ix25, to capitalize on the Korean pop culture boom in wooing Chinese customers aged between 25 and 35. Small SUVs are a bright spot in key markets from China and India to the United States and Europe, offering the functionality and space of SUVs in an affordable small vehicle. In China, General Motors and Ford Motor are offering small SUVs Trax and EcoSport, respectively, among other carmakers.

  • In the driving seat: China's yuppies are new market force for global automakers

    By Samuel Shen and Norihiko Shirouzu SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Global automakers are scrambling to meet the demands of China's young urban professionals, who want a car that makes them stand out, yet don't always have the money to splurge on a top-end model. After nearly two decades of frenzied growth driven mainly by the very wealthy, China's auto market is maturing, yet remains ferociously competitive with manufacturers having to react quickly to shifting consumer trends. People like Zhou Wenxi, a 32-year-old Shanghai cram-school owner, and Guo Yetao, 23, a software salesman from Hangzhou, are fuelling two trends: hot demand for smaller crossover sport utility vehicles like Ford Motor Co's EcoSport; There is a potential "seismic shift" in the influence these young urban professionals will have on China's auto market, says Yale Zhang, head of Automotive Foresight, a Shanghai-based consultant.

  • VW has agreed budget car concept, design: manager

    Volkswagen has agreed the basic concept and design of a budget car for emerging markets, a VW manager told Reuters, nearing the project's completion after a long struggle to meet cost targets for the vehicle. "The concept and design are now in place," Hans Demant, responsible for the so-called budget car project at VW, told Reuters on the eve of the Beijing auto show. "We will produce all components in China." Demant's comments are more upbeat than those of VW brand development chief Heinz-Jakob Neusser who said at last month's Geneva auto show that it was becoming more difficult to hit cost goals for the budget car, adding it made no sense to approve a vehicle that was not meeting in-house targets. VW lacks a strong presence in markets such as India and southeast Asia which are dominated by no-frills models, and without a successful budget car, analysts have questioned whether the group will be able to meet its goal of becoming the world's biggest carmaker by 2018.

  • BMW in final stages of decision on potential new factory

    Germany's BMW is getting closer to deciding whether it will build a new factory, its board member Ian Robertson said on Sunday, as the luxury carmaker expands capacity to meet demand in key markets. "We are in the final stages of deciding where the plant will be," Robertson told reporters at the Auto China show in Beijing on Sunday. Robertson said several locations were under consideration, though he declined to elaborate. Earlier this year, BMW said it planned to expand capacity at its plant in Spartanburg in the United States to boost production levels of its sports utility vehicles.

  • Pfizer considers $100 billion bid for AstraZeneca: report
    Pfizer considers $100 billion bid for AstraZeneca: report

    U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has approached British rival AstraZeneca to propose a 60 billion pound ($101 billion) takeover, Britain's Sunday Times reported. The paper cited senior investment bankers and industry sources saying that informal conversations about a deal had taken place between the two but that no talks were currently under way after AstraZeneca resisted the approach. Pfizer and AstraZeneca both declined to comment on the report to Reuters. AstraZeneca, Britain's second-biggest pharmaceuticals group, has been frequently touted as a potential takeover target as it wrestles with patents expiring on a number of best-selling drugs, leaving future growth uncertain.

  • Telus in new agreement to buy Canadian startup Mobilicity

    (Reuters) - Telus Corp , one of Canada's dominant telecom providers, has reached a new agreement to acquire struggling wireless startup Mobilicity, in a renewed bid to overcome government objections on competition grounds. Mobilicity said late Thursday that it agreed to be acquired by Telus for C$350 million and that a court-appointed monitor has recommended the transaction. The government last year twice blocked attempts by Telus to buy Mobilicity on grounds the acquisition would create undue concentration of ownership of wireless spectrum. Under a deal blocked in June, Telus would have paid C$380 million.

  • SEC weighs requiring brokers to identify where trades made: Bloomberg

    (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is weighing a proposal that would require brokers to tell investors exactly where their stock trades are executed, Bloomberg reported on Saturday. The proposed requirement would give investors more clarity on whether they were getting the best prices for the buy and sell orders they entrust to brokers, who can choose from dozens of stock exchanges and private venues, the report said, citing three people familiar with the matter. The SEC, which is the regulator in charge of analyzing the stock market's structure, is reviewing all aspects of how stocks are traded and seeking to identify changes that could quickly be implemented, the report said. An SEC spokesman could not be reached on Saturday.

  • Rajaratnam's brother loses bid to dismiss insider trading charges

    By Nate Raymond NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rengan Rajaratnam, the younger brother of imprisoned hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, on Friday lost a bid to dismiss some of the insider trading charges leveled against him last year. U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled that the indictment adequately alleged the essential elements of the crimes charged. A lawyer for Rajaratnam did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment.

Follow Yahoo! News

Loading...