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[Nettime-nl] NYT review: Necrocam : Webcam in a coffin (full text fwdfy
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 26 Nov 2002 07:57:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-nl] NYT review: Necrocam : Webcam in a coffin (full text fwdfyi)

Hier is de text van het NYT artikel, als het niet of moeilijk toegankelijk 
bleek op de NYT site (verplichte abo/lidmaatschap)
Met dank aan de Sarai-Reader list.

----- Forwarded message from Harsh Kapoor <aiindex {AT} mnet.fr> -----

To: reader-list {AT} sarai.net
From: Harsh Kapoor <aiindex {AT} mnet.fr>
Subject: [Reader-list] Necrocam : Webcam in a coffin
Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2002 02:36:26 +0100

The New York Times
November 25, 2002


Mourning Becomes Electronic: A Final Webcast Place

Toward the end of "This Is Our Youth," Kenneth Lonergan's play about 
disaffected New Yorkers set in 1982, the characters learn of an 
acquaintance's death. The news spooks the motor-mouthed Dennis into 
pondering the benefits of religion when confronting the afterlife. 
"How much better would it be," he asks, "to think you're gonna be 
somewhere, you know? Instead of absolutely nowhere. Like gone, 

Fast forward to 2001, when the Internet has given the youths in 
"Necrocam," a 50-minute film made for Dutch television, a less 
conventional way to cope with death's mysteries. Christine, a 
teenager with cancer, tells her friends that upon her death she wants 
a digital camera with an Internet connection installed in her coffin. 
Images of her decaying remains will then be transmitted to a Web page 
for all to see, making her virtually immortal. The friends pledge to 
install a Webcam in the coffin of the first one to die, and they seal 
their pact with an oath to the computing world's highest power: "This 
we swear on Bill Gates's grave."

"Necrocam" was shown in September by VARA, a public-broadcasting 
network in the Netherlands. Now, the entertaining and  given its 
grotesque premise  unexpectedly moving film will have an opportunity 
to find its natural audience of online viewers. Last week the network 
put a version of the film with English subtitles on its Web site, at 

When one of the teenagers dies, the survivors must decide whether to 
fulfill their high-tech pledge and if so, how. One stipulation moves 
the story into the gothic realm of Edgar Allan Poe. The coffin is to 
contain a heating element that will speed or reduce the body's rate 
of decomposition. The temperature will then be controlled by online 
visitors, who can adjust an interactive thermostat on the tell-tale 
Web site.

Yet the film's central and rather macabre conceit may be its least 
interesting element. Suffused with grief, "Necrocam" is closer to an 
Ingmar Bergman psychodrama than a Wes Craven fright flick. Dana 
Nechustan, the film's director, bathes her actors in a pale blue 
light that deepens the sad tone. Jan Rutger Achterberg, a VARA 
executive who produced the film, said it was "about people who 
remember their loved ones in new times, in a new era, with new media."

The movie's accomplishment is to capture the way technology, 
including the Internet, has permeated contemporary culture. This is 
our youth's daily existence. The film's young people communicate 
through online messages, play computer games and record their pledge 
with a video camera instead of a quill dipped in blood. For them 
technology is an extension of life. So it is only logical that 
cyberspace would play a role in death.

This comfort with the Internet stands in contrast to how technology 
is typically depicted in Hollywood films, where it is glorified or, 
more often, demonized. Thus for every "You've Got Mail," in which Tom 
Hanks cutely woos Meg Ryan over the Internet, there are a dozen 
clones of "Birthday Girl," in which Nicole Kidman is a devious 
Net-order bride. The James Bond films take both approaches, so that a 
technological threat endangers the world until it can be defeated by 
007 and his gadgetry.

Although "Necrocam" may seem futuristic, it is grounded in the 
present. The Internet has become the home of countless memorials to 
the dead. A few funeral homes have started to transmit memorial 
services over the Internet so that those who are unable to attend can 
participate from afar. And Webcams that have been perpetually focused 
on everything from a tarantula to artists' studios dot the Net.

The notion of a Webcam in a coffin still sounds implausible, but 
nonetheless it almost came to pass. At the birth of the idea in 1998, 
Ine Poppe, an Amsterdam artist, was reading when Zoro, her 
tech-obsessed 15-year-old son, sat down next her and said, "Mom, when 
I die, I want a Webcam in my coffin, and I'm serious about it."

A week later Ms. Poppe saw a newspaper ad soliciting screenplay 
ideas. With Zoro's approval she drafted a two-page proposal for 
"Necrocam," a word coined by her son. Mr. Achterberg was on the jury 
and liked her idea enough to want to produce the film for VARA.
As part of her research process for the script, Ms. Poppe received a 
grant from the Amsterdam Art Foundation to study the feasibility of 
installing a Webcam in a coffin. After talking to a technical expert 
and an undertaker, she concluded that it would be possible, as well 
as legal in the Netherlands. She finished the script, and the film 
went into production in late 2000.

During that time Ms. Poppe learned that Zoro's father, her 
ex-husband, the Austrian artist Franz Feigl, had received a diagnosis 
of cancer and was given less than two years to live. Death imitates 
art. Ms. Poppe said, "Franz said to me, `If you want to do a real 
Webcam, you can use my body.' '` Ms. Poppe seriously considered the 
idea but resisted, she said, "because it would put such a strain on 
the family emotionally."

But the final decision was not made until Mr. Achterberg invited them 
to a private screening of the completed film, which ends with a 
vivid, horrendous shot of a decomposing face. Mr. Feigl continued to 
volunteer his services, even though there were tears all around him 
as the lights came up. Ultimately, his family declined his offer. Mr. 
Achterberg said, "Ine told me, `With this film, I have shown what I 
want to show, so why should I do it in reality?' " (Mr. Feigl died 
last year.)

For the record, installing a Webcam in a coffin in the United States 
is not likely to occur. Robert Fells, general counsel for the 
International Cemetery and Funeral Association in Reston, Va., said 
that next of kin, not the deceased, are responsible for the final 
disposition of a family member's remains and that most people would 
probably balk at such a scheme.

Mr. Fells added: "People have always had strange ideas  either for 
laughs, or morbid humor or just bizarre thinking  of how they would 
like the ultimate final disposition of their remains, only to be 
overruled either by family members or legal authorities. This just 
sounds like a high-tech version of that."

Still, there are people untroubled by total exposure of their lives, 
and one would think they'd be fair game for such a morbid experiment. 
But that is not true for Jennifer K. Ringley, a 26-year-old in Citrus 
Heights, Calif. Ms. Ringley has spent almost seven years broadcasting 
her life over the Internet, at JenniCam.com, through a series of 
Webcams installed in her home. Ms. Ringley isn't interested in 
allowing viewers into her coffin. "I find that watching a person 
who's not performing to have a low enough threshold of interest," she 
said. "Watching a person who's not even moving might be pushing it a 
bit too far."

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