Black Mirror (Charlie Brooker, 2011/2013)

“Beg.  Borrow.  Steal.  It doesn’t matter what you do, but find a way to watch Black Mirror.” – Andy Greenwald, GRANTLAND.

Drafthouse Films LogoCharlie Brooker’s Black Mirror gazes into the depths of our dormant device screens and finds the dark side of life and technology staring back.  A worthy heir to The Twilight Zone, Brooker’s six twisted tales of techno-paranoia, separated into two seasons, examines everything from viral videos and TV talent contests to artificial intelligence, media pervasiveness, and total memory, and, in doing so, explores how digital culture may aggravate our moral failings and human frailties.  Imagined by its creator as “the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy,” Black Mirror is sometimes funny, often unsettling, and always intelligently conceived, revealing that no smart device is smart enough to save us from ourselves.

Special Features:

No More Edition – Package Includes:

  • Black Mirror Seasons 1 and 2 on Blu-ray or Standard DVD featuring over 5 hours of bonus material
  • High Quality 720p Digital Download Available on Street Date
  • 27″ x 40″ Posters for Seasons 1 and 2
  • Digital Download of the Collected Scripts with foreword by Charlie Brooker
  • White Bear T-shirt

There is a chapter in Chris Bachelder’s Bear v. Shark that reads in its entirety, “The old Televisions had an off switch.”  This brief statement about triviality, escapism, and the hegemony of media would be a fitting epigraph for Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.  The technology never turns off now.  The appearance of screens in daily life is pervasive and even when dormant, hiding behind their shiny black surfaces, they are working, waiting to interrupt us with some latest, likely frivolous, development.  But what is more is that most of us don’t begrudge our near constant connection with digital space or our mediated interaction with the physical world.  We now rely on it and seek it out.  For Brooker, our pervasive attention to these screens appears like addict behaviour and technology is our drug.  With that in mind, Black Mirror contemplates the side-effects of our unhealthy relationship with technology.  Brooker’s criticisms are less about the technologies themselves, but rather the uses we put them to, and so Black Mirror ultimately becomes great science fiction because its imagined realities are not spectacles to passively absorb, but mechanisms designed to interrogate our compromised humanity.

We’re usually not much concerned about spoilers here at MMC! but given that Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is fairly recent and only landed in North America within the last year, we’re going to do our best not to deny the uninitiated the revelations that are in store for them.  As noted by Brooker himself and has been observed ad nauseam since the series’ debut, Black Mirror is a sci-fi anthology series in the vein of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, with each episode standing as an entirely contained work and typified by contemporary tensions and shocking twist-endings.  Its six episodes are:

  • Season 1, Episode 1: “The National Anthem” (Otto Bathurst, 2011) – The UK Prime Minister faces a serious challenge when a popular member of the Royal Family is kidnapped and the ransom video, demanding he appear on live TV having sexual intercourse with a pig, goes viral.
  • Season 1, Episode 2: “Fifteen Million Merits” (Euros Lyn, 2011) – Bing pedals an exercise bike to power a grim, impersonal dystopia, but when a generous act given to another rider goes awry, Bing’s rage is unleashed.
  • Season 1, Episode 3: “The Entire History of You” (Brian Welsh, 2011) – The Grain, a chip implanted in the brain that creates a complete record of everything observed by an individual, becomes a source of marital discord when Liam begins to question his wife Ffion’s fidelity.
  • Season 2, Episode 1: “Be Right Back” (Owen Harris, 2013) – After Martha’s partner Ash is suddenly killed in a car accident, she is signed up for a service that allows her to communicate with an artificial reproduction of Ash constructed through his past online activity.
  • Season 2, Episode 2: “White Bear” (Carl Tibbetts, 2013) – Amnesiac Victoria awakens in a suburban community where most people are silent, passive voyeurs satisfied in recording her flight from fearsome killers intent on tormenting and eventually murdering her.
  • Season 2, Episode 3: “The Waldo Moment” (Bryn Higgins, 2013) – Comedian Jamie Slater voices a blue cartoon bear named Waldo and participates in a late night talk show gag embarrassing a prominent politician.  When the gag is a success, Jamie reluctantly agrees to run Waldo as a candidate against the politician in a local by-election.

While The Twilight Zone reflected the preoccupations of its time, delving into anxieties over space travel, psychiatry, nuclear war, McCarthyism, and civil rights, Black Mirror examines current tensions over privacy, terrorism, social media, investigative journalism, and, most obviously, technology.  What makes the series fascinating is that its premises take inspiration from the menial details of present day digital life (repellant viral videos and the reaction videos that follow; reality TV show contests and practical joke programs; even the simple task of reading someone’s emails or texts) and inflates them to expose the cracks in our changing natures (the growing need for immediate gratification; the narcissism of compulsively documenting our lives; the damage done by instant information access and the denial of contemplation or not knowing).  Black Mirror strongly follows a “be careful what you wish for” format, whether it be the humiliation of public figures, the recovery of past losses, or the desire for total knowledge, exposing the unexpected consequences of our increasing ability to meet desires that perhaps ought to go unfulfilled.

A lot has been written about the individual episodes of Black Mirror and it is interesting to note how the two seasons literally mirror each other, with each triptych of episodes structured as an inversion the other.  “The National Anthem” and “The Waldo Moment” both exist in the ostensible present day and consider the interaction between politics and the media.  “Fifteen Million Merits” and “White Bear” portray future dystopias and the growing position of entertainment and popular approval as a component to bureaucratic and institutional settings.  “The Entire of History of You” and “Be Right Back” are set in recognizable futures and contemplates the significance of a single technological advance on private, interpersonal relationships.  If we might add something here to the expanding appreciation of Brooker’s series, we would note the significance of performance to each episode and the function of technology to complicate that activity.  Black Mirror is full of audiences observing activities almost always presented in mediated forms.  In “The National Anthem,” “The Entire History of You,” and “Be Right Back,” presented content is mistaken as entertainment or something benign by its mediation, only to eventually reveal its true horror, its emotional or visceral power, as it is dwelt upon and interrogated.  In other instances, like in “Fifteen Million Merits,” “White Bear,” and “The Waldo Moment,” frivolity holds sway, and content remains trivialized and the demeaning and socially eroding quality of the performed activities is allowed to persist.  In properly po-mo fashion, it is the performances that frequently hold authority in Black Mirror, the mediated transmission defining the content, thereby trapping performers in their constructed contexts and denying spectators the ability to undo the authority of their observations.  Our interconnected digital world means nothing is ever truly obliterated and characters in Black Mirror frequently find themselves unable to shake off their poor choices, their hard compromises, or their past traumas, and find themselves compelled to return and reexamine those experiences in hi-def quality reproductions.  Technology therefore becomes an engine of trauma in Black Mirror, allowing easy and repeated access to the unresolved harm through mediated observation.  The future may be here, but it is its uncompromising grip on the past that makes it so troubling.

Black MirrorBrooker’s series has only hit American shores in the last year, compliments of DirecTV, and no official hard media release has occurred.  We debated whether Black Mirror should be a Drafthouse Films title or a part of the Criterion Collection and ended up deciding that the UK series had the ineffable quality of Drafthouse’s films.  There is some precedent for Drafthouse Films’ releasing European television.  Mikkel Nørgaard’s Klown (2010) was an early entry in the Drafthouse series and the 6 season TV program on which the film was derived was released by the label as a digital subscription.  Black Mirror is far more modest that the Klown series in terms of total content, and so a hard media release by Drafthouse is not improbable.   Cover art for the UK releases of seasons 1 and 2 of Black Mirror are quite underwhelming, with rather conventional presentations of episode content through multiple, overlapping images appearing in various digital windows or revealed behind broken away sections of a shattered pane.  In the spirit of less-is-more, a Drafthouse cover should simply utilize the program’s title screen that presents a white lettered title on a cracked, black screen.

Credits:  Rumour has it that a third season of Black Mirror is in some stage of production, but no formal announcement on the series’s production has been made to our knowledge.  Accordingly, we’ve decided there’s no point waiting to hold back on hard media release in North America.  Charlie Brooker is credited in the title given that he is the creator of Black Mirror, being its primary writer, and as there are separate directors for each episode.  The UK releases of Black Mirror are quite shy on special features, and so we’ve imagined a full compliment of extras on a Drafthouse edition.  Brooker seems quite prolific in his home country, but is a largely unknown figure across the pond.  There may be a desire not to saturate the UK releases with him, but no such concern should exist in a North American presentation of his work.  Accordingly, we have proposed audio commentaries (as Brooker seems more than willing to discuss his own work and the culture around it), Making of featurettes (of which we’ve located one on “The Waldo Moment”), and Q&A sessions (as we found one for “Be Right Back”, compliments of the BFI Southbank).  Brooker’s series is sometimes criticized for its easy cynicism, of wanting to have its satirical cake and eat it too, particularly given that Brooker is an admitted technophile.  Letting Brooker provide broad, open-ended commentaries would be a delight, letting him discuss his concepts while also providing room to consider and expound on cultural issues not obviously connected to these specific episodes, all while letting him demonstrate to American audiences why he has been such a prolific TV presenter and host in the UK.  Scripts were apparently a feature on the UK releases, so we’ve included them as a separate download.  And it looks like you can find shirts sporting the White Bear logo for sale online, so why not throw in a T-shirt as well?

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