Cinema Scope

Screenlife’s What You Make It

It’s one of the most cunning ironies in Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam (2018) that just beyond the edges of the screen that dominates the protagonist’s existence is… another frame. It’s one of those chintzy, gilded affairs that an earlier generation of art enthusiasts used to spruce up velvet Elvis paintings, Margaret Keane knockoffs, and other garage-sale treasures; you’d also find them around mirrors in hotels you never visit twice. Here, it encases a super-sized monitor, thereby turning the room’s most conspicuous piece of tech (which itself is topped by the camera that sends the heroine’s own image out into the world) into another emblem of cutesy, knowing artifice. So it fits right in with the fauxfur-covered objects that fill the faux-personal space where the film’s ill-fated cam-girl Alice, a.k.a. Lola_Lola (Madeline Brewer), cheerfully caters to the requests of her pseudonymous fanbase. That is, until she’s usurped by a doppelganger who eagerly trumps both Alice’s softcore on-camera frolics and her more discomfiting sideline specialty of staging gruesome mock suicides. Given the increasing nastiness of what the screen displays—though Alice’s own eyes are usually fixed on the box next to her image, with its multi-coloured text stream of incoming encouragements, misogynistic bile, and donations—it’s understandable if she wants to prettify the boundaries a little.

The fact that we even see beyond the edges of Alice’s primary screen is another sign of ’s somewhat peripheral status within the still feels very much of a piece with more stringent efforts to transpose the tried-and-true conventions of narrative cinema onto a visual field comprised of the devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone) through which we conduct so much of our professional and personal lives. What’s more, Alice’s bit of customization prompts some speculation about what lies just out of sight in these other stories of protagonists gazing at LED and LCD displays: they too may find some comfort in decorative touches like Alice’s frame, or at least the customary smattering of Post-it notes with illegible passwords. Instead, we have to make do with other evidence of personalization, like the choice of loved one used as screensaver, or a disused Spotify window with a special song on pause.

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