Digital Stories

Dana Atchley Performing "Next Exit"
at the Kitchen, NYC, June 3, 1999.

Reviewed by Flash Light

I've never seen digital media so effectively used in story telling. Sitting next to a small video monitor displaying an endless burning campfire, Mr.Atchley used a wireless mouse to manipulated icons on a large computer projection behind him. Clicking on an image would start the audio-visuals for the story the image depicted. He asked the audience which stories they wanted to hear, then arranged the icons chronologically along a road at the bottom of the screen, which became a metaphor for the course of his life. Above the icons was the representation of a drive-in-movie screen on which the drama of Mr. Atchley's life played out.

Clicking on a wedding dress icon caused the drive-in screen to show clips from home movies taken by his grandfather. The clips paraded three generations of Atchleys before the viewer.Clicking on a moosehead brought pictures of Camp Moosehead with the campers in Native American regalia, and an explaination of how he was cheated out of becoming a tribal chief even though he'd won the most feathers. One could only marvel at the effect such a skillful mixing of technology and technique would produce if only the life it was revealing were interesting.

Yet the problem is not that Mr. Atchley's life is not interesting, rather that what we see has been packaged into sound bytes and sanitized for digital consumption. It seems no coincidence that his artistic resume prominently lists "emotional branding (TM) for. . . Hallmark Cards."

As presented, it is a life recorded in detail, but barely examined. We learn the date of his parents marriage, and the date of their divorce. We learn the date of his first marriage and the date of his divorce. But we have less insight into the the rituals of his marriage than the rituals of his summer camp. Only an off hand remark about his second marriage, "My wife told me to tell less stories of the 50's tonight, I don't know whether that means I should tell less, or more," gives us a hint of what the problems may have been.

Clicking on a large pair of lips launches a clip wherein a friend giddily describes the effect a particularly red lipped woman had on him. Through a series of broad gestures and inarticulate expressions he conveys that it was wild but worth it. Mr. Atchley will only add that her effect on Mr Atchley was so severe, he burned all pictures of her. Those are the pictures I'd like to see. Mr. Atchley has an undeniable talent for telling stories and a genius for embellishing them with digital media. One could only wish the unseen images in this life had been used to take the author and the audience closer to the edge.