Tim Guthrie’s 10:01 – Art Imitating Life (Second Longer Blog Essay)

10:01 began as an ambitious print text by Lance Olsen that explored the thoughts and inner demons of a variety of characters attending a movie in an AMC theater in the Mall of America one afternoon. An excerpt provided by Olsen’s website delivers much of the novel’s intentions: a cataloging of external and internal reactions to various stimuli and memories unfolding ten minutes and one second before the feature presentation begins.

I assume 10:01 conjures up high degrees of visual content even without its hypermedia version. The descriptions embedded carefully in Olsen’s meticulous prose beg to be dissected and supplemented by the reader’s imagination. In the linked excerpt (which serves as the novel’s start), moviegoer Kate Frazey enters the theater with the same attitude as the words that introduce her, remaining in control of her physical being (seated comfortably in “row three, seat nine”) and surveying emotional and mental states as astutely as the narrator (with her employment of a “crane shot” that scans her fellow moviegoers for neuroses and nuances).

Tim Guthrie’s hypermedia version of 10:01 allows those that interact with it to assume the roles played by both Kate and the narrator. The hypermedia experience relies on an all-encompassing, highly malleable experience that complements the sense of narrative omniscience quite well. Once the e-literature finishing cycling through its introduction, a substantial epigraph that collects quotes that marry intimate human experience with the detached nature of film, an experience begins that attempts to write human interaction and thought processes with as much tension and explosion as characters in a screenplay, with the user as the all-knowing “audience” from above.

This isn’t a novel technique by any means, but that speaks more about the text itself than the technology that encapsulates it, which offers a more unique, customizable experience.

10:01, unlike the text version that serves as its point of origin and the movie (or the anticipation thereof) that functions as a near-invisible plot device, offers the ability for users to experiment with narrative linearity. (I realize I don’t know how the book presents the ordering of certain parts in the narrative, but since there are many ways to access textual elements with this hypermedia, I assume it’s more linear than its digital cousin.)

A timeline at the bottom, constructed from a series of hyperactive dots, might encourage the traditional, one-way progression through a work of fiction found in film or physical media. However, because all points in the temporal arc (even the simulation’s close at 10:01:00) are accessible from the beginning, traditional notions of a timeline are subverted in favor of an experience more akin to the sporadic, decentralized nature of a DVD’s “scene selection” feature.

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So what happens when a “scene” is accessed? Whether or not the user follows the aforementioned timeline or instead clicks on a random silhouette somewhere in the theater, they’re still offered the same experience. A dialog box populates with the character that’s either been selected from the audience or that occupies a dot on the timeline. If one clicks exclusively from the silhouettes, each character’s narrative starts at its beginning and can then be continued chronologically through the numbered dots directly below the moviegoer’s name. To the right side of the dialog box, a variety of images flicker and fade from view that complement the presented text. Their sudden apparition and extinguishing varies with the narrator’s treatment of each character, but it’s obvious that this gimmick was in play to mirror the relative transience of what appears on a theater screen before a movie.

The only downfall to this interactive experience might have been a result of its obsolescence. Because the program was developed in 2005, many of the links that appear in cool blue text amid Olsen’s prose redirect to pages riddled with “404 Not Found” messages. When they do work, links lead to websites with ugly interfaces, aged designs, and outdated information. Whether this was intentional or not, it detracts from the timelessness of the moviegoing experience and the associations – whether soaked in psychological tension or existential memories – that can be gleaned from it.

It’s not to say that 10:01, despite these technological hiccups, doesn’t work as an insular hypermedia experience. Sound bites filter in with certain passages that either accompany the drama presented in the movie theater or the personal “theaters” that deliver more exciting content than the film that’s never revealed in the text. While characters do give their hypotheses about what the movie’s content is going to be, what’s more revealing is the film-grade motivations and motions they go through themselves. Whether it’s the awkward sexual tension experienced by two fourteen-year olds in the back row (interjected by sharp stabs of heavy breathing) or the painful nostalgia encircling a crumbling marriage possessing more tang than the Mountain Dew the divorcee passively swigs, each character delivers a movie of their own.

The epigraphs that scroll up the screen in the hypermedia’s opening credits underscore and introduce this phenomenon: art imitates life. No matter what ends up whirring in the projection room, the inner struggles and dialogues that bubble and boil in each audience member definitely prove to be more interesting and engrossing.

The same can be said for this hypermedia text. As much as it offers opportunities to tinker with time and space in a narrative that spans short quantities of both, it is merely a condensation of wider human emotion, feeling and experience, be it in a movie theater or otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Tim Guthrie’s 10:01 – Art Imitating Life (Second Longer Blog Essay)”

  1. 10:01 sounds like a very interesting way to read literature outside of the conventional book bound reading. It is interesting that you noticed how the outside links are outdated or gone completely. I think that that would detract from the overall reading experience as well. Without those links the story would have been less dated because the characters’ stories are more timeless. Would you say that the story would have been better off without the external links?

    1. I don’t think the creators had the foresight to determine if 10:01 was going to be as timeless as one could hope. Therefore, I think the external links’ statuses as dead ends exist as a remnant of that. The links that did work weren’t exactly supplementary to the text itself and I found them to be major detractors to the experience driven by Olsen’s novel, rather than sources from the Web. I would definitely say that the external links were more of a way to keep in line with other transmedia projects — a formality, if you will — than anything helpful or necessary.

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