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.

  • A firefighter’s plan to save lives and employ brothers
    A firefighter’s plan to save lives and employ brothers

    Being named Ohio’s “entrepreneur of the year” in April was enough to confirm for Zach Green that quitting his job as an Eli Lilly brand manager to start his own business was the right move. But seeing the announcement of his award in the paper alongside the news that his former employer would lay off 30 percent of its sales force “was the ultimate validation,” he says.

  • Apple expands buybacks by $30 billion, OKs seven-for-one stock split
    Apple expands buybacks by $30 billion, OKs seven-for-one stock split

    By Edwin Chan SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple Inc has approved another $30 billion in share buybacks till the end of 2015 and authorized a rarely seen seven-for-one stock split, addressing calls to share more of its cash hoard while broadening the stock's appeal to individual investors. Activist investor Carl Icahn, who had famously called on the iPhone maker to boost its buyback program, tweeted his approval of the move on Wednesday. On Wednesday, Apple reported sales of 43.7 million iPhones in the quarter ended March, far outpacing the roughly 38 million that Wall Street had predicted. But whether Apple can again produce a revolutionary new product remains the central question in investors' and Silicon Valley executives' minds.

  • Valeant CEO 'disappointed' in Allergan poison pill: CNBC
    Valeant CEO 'disappointed' in Allergan poison pill: CNBC

    (Reuters) - The chief executive officer of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which made a $47 billion unsolicited offer for competitor Allergan Inc on Tuesday, said during an interview on CNBC that he was "disappointed" with Allergan's so-called poison pill. Allergan on Tuesday night said its board of directors had adopted a one-year stockholder rights plan to give it more time to consider takeover proposals. The Valeant offer was made with Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund, which built up a stake in the company. ...

  • Buffett says abstained from voting on Coca-Cola's compensation plan: CNBC
    Buffett says abstained from voting on Coca-Cola's compensation plan: CNBC

    (Reuters) - Warren Buffett, chairman of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway , said on Wednesday he thinks Coca-Cola's controversial equity compensation plan was excessive, but that Berkshire Hathaway abstained in the shareholders vote. Earlier on Wednesday, Coca-Cola said 83 percent of shareholders approved the plan. Critics, most notably activist investor David Winters, said the plan would dilute the holdings of current shareholders too much. As of December 31, Berkshire owned 400 million shares of the company, just over 9 percent of the shares outstanding.

  • Apple slice: Share split makes joining the Dow more likely

    Who says Apple does not want to be in the Dow Jones industrial average? The iPhone maker's market value has stood high above most U.S. corporations' for a few years, yet Apple still isn't a component of that blue-chip stock benchmark. That is because the Dow weighs its 30 components by price, so a $500 stock would overwhelm the index. A seven-for-one stock split that will chop the price to about $75 changes the picture.

  • U.S., euro zone activity up; China decline slows
    U.S., euro zone activity up; China decline slows

    By Rodrigo Campos and Jonathan Cable NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in April and the euro zone private sector started the second quarter on its strongest footing since 2011, while the pace of decline in Chinese factory activity slowed, surveys showed on Wednesday. Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary or "flash" U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index dipped to 55.4 in April from 55.5 in March. Economists polled by Reuters expected a reading of 56.0. Earlier on Wednesday, data showed China's HSBC/Markit flash PMI for April rose to 48.3 from March's final reading of 48.0, but was still below the 50 line separating expansion from contraction.

  • Teck Resources to cut five percent of its workforce as profit drops
    Teck Resources to cut five percent of its workforce as profit drops

    (Reuters) - Diversified Canadian miner Teck Resources Ltd said it would cut about 600 jobs, or 5 percent of its global workforce, after a sharp fall in earnings and revenue in the first quarter. Teck's net profit fell 78.4 percent to C$69 million ($62.62 million), or 12 Canadian cents per share, in the three months to March 31, from C$319 million, or 55 Canadian cents per share, a year earlier, mainly due to weak coal and copper prices. However, Teck said the outlook for zinc had brightened and it would restart its Pend Oreille zinc mine in Washington state. Teck said it would continue to delay the reopening of its Quintette coal mine in British Columbia, which was expected to produce 3-4 million metric tons of steelmaking coal annually, until market conditions improve.

  • Ahead of earnings, Caterpillar dealer data paints mixed picture
    Ahead of earnings, Caterpillar dealer data paints mixed picture

    (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc released unaudited dealer sales data on Wednesday that showed a deepening deterioration in global demand for its mining equipment but a continued, albeit modest, rebound in sales of construction equipment as well as reciprocating and turbine engines. The world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment said global dealer sales of its yellow earth-moving machines fell 12 percent year-over-year in March, after falling 8 percent in both January and February. Equipment demand from mining customers was especially weak, Caterpillar said, with global dealer sales of those high-margin products tumbling 46 percent in March after falling 37 percent in both January and February. The downturn in demand for mining equipment was especially dramatic in the Asia-Pacific region, where dealer sales slumped 65 percent in March after falling 55 percent in February and 53 percent in January.

Follow Yahoo! News