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This project has been funded with support
from the European Commision.
Wizard People, Dear Reader
Brad Neely, 2004
140 min, 69 MB
Sonntag, 31. Juli 2005, 21:00 Uhr
Pirate Cinema Berlin, Ziegelstrasse 20
S Oranienburger Strasse, U Oranienburger Tor
bring a blank CD
## ## Zeichenbreite eingestellt - sind unsere Zuschauerzahlen in den
## ## vergangenen vier Wochen (piratecinema.org/screenings/statistics).
## ## ## Sommerloch sieht anders aus. Und da wir, wenn nicht Pirate Cinema,
## ## ## ## dann am liebsten Popular Cinema hiessen, zeigen wir am Sonntag ein
## ## ## ## Werk, das sowohl ein Instant Classic des urheberrechtsverletzenden
Harry Potter: The digital remix
How one artist turned a kids movie into a poetic masterpiece J.K. Rowling never
By Daniel Radosh
On the day "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" <1> opened, as they say,
at theaters everywhere, some 50 people gathered in a concrete-walled screening
room in Brooklyn, N.Y., that was the only theater anywhere showing the other new
Harry Potter movie, "Wizard People, Dear Reader."
Actually, "Wizard People" isn't a movie, exactly. It was conceived as an
audiobook that tells the story -- or rather, a story -- of Harry Potter's first
year at Hogwarts Academy. Creator Brad Neely, 27, recorded narration to be
played while watching the first Potter movie, 2001's "Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone," <2> on mute. In the projection booth, Myles Kane of the
Brooklyn Underground Film Festival, which sponsored the screening along with
Stay Free <3> magazine, tried frantically to get the sound and picture in sync
using an iPod and DVD player. But the DVD kept starting at the wrong point, or
not starting at all. An error message flashed on the screen: "Operation
currently prohibited by disc." Stay Free publisher Carrie McLaren chuckled. The
screening itself was quite possibly prohibited by law.
"If they wanted to take a hard line on protecting their copyright, they could,"
said McLaren. "Wizard People" belongs to a small but growing movement -- in the
loosest, most accidental sense of the word -- of what she calls "illegal art."
D.J. Dangermouse's "Grey Album," which reinvents Jay-Z's "Black Album" through
the filter of the Beatles' "White Album," is the most notorious example. "Art
that appropriates other work is one of the few taboos that are left," said
McLaren. "The more people see something like [Wizard People], though, the more
they're going to be inspired to do it themselves."
"That wasn't a consideration," swore Neely, an Austin, Texas, writer/actor/
cartoonist/toy store employee. "I hadn't ever thought, Is this wrong? or, Am I
championing some sort of idea? I was just like, I'm going to make something
In Brooklyn, the audience was laughing. The DVD had been scrapped for a more
reliable VHS tape from Blockbuster, and "Wizard People" was in progress.
[Listen to an excerpt here. <4>]
Neely explained the genesis of this fractured yet oddly literary retelling of
"I was out at a bar with some friends," he recalled. "There was this guy playing
pool all by himself with headphones and sunglasses on, and we were just having a
really fun time postulating, What could he possibly be listening to? And just
out of the blue, I started doing that voice talking like he was listening to a
book on tape of 'Harry Potter,' and ad-libbing 'Harry Potter' scenes from what I
remembered of the movie."
That voice, as it happened, was a dead-on impersonation of gravel-mouthed,
pre-slam poet Steven Jesse Bernstein. Neely doesn't expect many people to get
that obscure joke, but doing an impression allowed him to make the narrator of
"Wizard People" a character in his own right. "If it was just me taking shots at
the movie," he explained, "there's no story there. But now there's this mystery
element of, Who is this guy?"
Neely's "naive and sometimes overexcited" narrator tells a story that very
closely follows J.K. Rowling's original one. His main departure is in subtly
altering the personalities of the main characters and the natures of their
relationships. Also, he keeps getting some of the names wrong. You begin to
wonder if maybe he's just not paying attention.
The result is very different from the gag-fests of precursors such as "Mystery
Science Theater 3000" or Woody Allen's "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" "I didn't want
to do 'Mystery Science Theater,'" said Neely. "Anybody can make fun of a shitty
movie or get a few good lines in. What I wanted to do was not make fun of the
movie" -- which he actually likes -- "but build something around that
"It seems almost an homage to oral tradition," said McLaren. "Before we had mass
media and electronic media, how people entertained themselves was telling
stories. And people would tell the same story, but every person would tell it a
different way. You'd add certain things, subtract other things, blend in
something else, and that in itself is an art form."
In fact, one of Neely's inspirations was a less radical version of this
tradition that is still prevalent in the theater world. "Every play has an
intended tone," he observed. "But whenever anybody does a production of that,
it's fair game" to turn tragedy into farce or slapstick into melancholy, simply
by devising new line readings or stage directions. Neely's friends have told him
that his remix of "Harry Potter" is more true to the whimsical spirit of the
novel than the literal-minded original film. That wasn't his intent, though.
He's never read the book. (And at least one serious "Harry" fan disagrees: a
10-year-old boy who wandered into the Brooklyn screening left after five
minutes, finding it no less tedious than the art exhibit his mother was looking
at upstairs. Neely dissuades children from watching "Wizard People" anyway, rife
as it is with "fuck words").
After recording his narration -- improvising each scene a few times until he was
happy with it -- Neely began dropping CDs off at Austin video stores. "I said, I
want to give this to you guys and you can rent it as a free supplement if
anybody comes to rent 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.'" Meanwhile, a
friend of a friend got it into the New York Underground Film Festival last
March, and word began to spread. McLaren got in touch and posted the audio
tracks for free downloading on her Web site, Illegal-art.org, <5> where it keeps
company with dozens of more famous copyright-dicey works -- the "Grey Album,"
Todd Haynes' "Superstar," the 1967 poster "Disneyland Memorial Orgy."
"One thing everybody likes to ask is, Are you afraid that Warner Bros. is gonna
come and get you? You know, those guys in black suits?" Neely said. But Stay
Free's lawyer assured him that any challenge could be fended off, and Neely is
fairly comfortable with the ethics of his art. "I haven't really done a gigantic
amount of thinking about it," he admitted, "but I don't think what I did is any
kind of wrong. Especially seeing as how I'm not making any flow from it."
That Neely isn't trying to profit from his work is the main reason he's probably
safe, though as McLaren pointed out, corporations sometimes do sic their lawyers
on people who are just trying to have a little fun. The derivative artworks may
not technically be illegal, but most individuals realize that it's much easier
to give in than to devote months or years -- and plenty of money -- to a court
battle. And the law has impeded "Wizard People" at least a little. The Brooklyn
Underground Film Festival could easily have avoided its audio troubles by
burning a pre-synced DVD in advance -- and McLaren was eager to give out these
goodies at the door. But that would have violated the 1998 Digital Millennium
Copyright Act, something corporations always take seriously. Designed to fight
piracy, the DMCA has become infamous for just such unintended consequences. <6>
There is another way around the syncing problem, of course. At the next public
showings of "Wizard People, Dear Reader" -- in Austin next month, followed by a
few screenings in the Pacific Northwest -- Neely will be performing live, having
just finished transcribing his voice-over. After that, he'll begin working on
his next adaptation, a retelling of "Jurassic Park" (doing the second Harry
Potter movie, he said, "would be pretty boring"). He thinks it will pan out,
though he's had a few false starts with other projects, including an attempt to
turn Mel Gibson's "The Patriot" <7> into a biography of George Washington.
"There's a very slim margin of movies that this sort of thing works with," he
has come to realize. "It's kind of weird I just luckily picked one the first
time that was the best choice."
pirate cinema berlin