Fine Art, Via YouTube: The Visual Poetry of 'Words'

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I’m hardly the first to take notice of this (at least 370,000 others have beat me to the punch), but I promise you I am one of the few to actually listen to the radio show before ever seeing this accompanying video. I will explain it all in a moment, but first behold: Possibly the best short film I have ever seen on YouTube. Its title: “Words:”


This was created in conjunction with an episode of the WNYC radio series Radiolab – a thoroughly brilliant populist-academic look at the world of science. One recent episode was called “Words” (listen to the full episode), and it featured stories about how the knowledge of vocabulary, and comprehension of the spoken word, can literally change the way we look at the world. There’s a tale of a man who never knew language, and upon realizing that different words (“table,” “clock”) referred to different objects, burst into tears. There are the scientists who show that it’s late in childhood, well past the age of five, when humans start to use words to decipher spaces and distances. Hence, before that age, our language, and worldview, is far inferior.

And so to accompany that hour of radio, we have this ambitious short film, largely wordless, but still featuring some key phrases like “Play Ball!” and “Light as a feather.” Directed by Will Hoffman and Daniel Mercadante, I think there are actually multiple ways you can interpret this slice of life, given the context of its making. The obvious reading, of course, is that we’re getting variations on different words – numerous ways of perceiving such terms as light, flighting, blowing, running, etc. But I’m inclined to go even further. Is this an attempt to capture the kinds of fleeting moments that transcend words? The images that are worth thousands of descriptors? Or is it a reminder of everything that is so beautiful, surprising and stunning in this world – this life – that first gave us the inkling to create a language, and the desire to share?

Or is it about finally setting our language aside to instead just bask in the glow, the color, the texture and the movement?

Maybe I’m taking things too far, but this is the kind of video that makes me want to dive off the deep end. It’s a tapestry that has lingered with me for quite some time now. And so did that episode of the radio show, actually; I listened to it twice while on vacation in northern California. Our understanding of the world is largely defined by how we are able to describe and categorize it. But to say things like “the agonizing silence of a couple who has just broken up” or “the slurpy, juicy goo of a banana split” or “the relief of sighing and falling asleep on a loved one’s shoulder” pales in comparison to actually experiencing it. To being party to the moment, rather than just “describing” it.

And so that’s why I’m enamored with this film. It puts you inside those asides – the beautiful, poignant, pedestrian, unpredictable, magical asides that punctuate our existence. It’s enigmatic and entertaining, and easily one of the most inviting and challenging things I’ve ever seen on YouTube. Here’s hoping it inspires a whole lot of other filmmakers to go beyond memes and spoofs, and to think of the mass audience now willing to give short films a try.