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Infinite Loop

Infinite Loop (photo)

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What is cinema? André Bazin published a book of essays that tried to answer that question. But if somebody asked me for the short answer, I’d advise them to visit Seriously.

On first glance, the site seems little more than a poignant goof: a tribute to the late Michael Jackson that draws its inspiration from the John F. Kennedy memorial in Washington, D.C., with its eternal flame — but instead of a flame that never goes out, it’s a video loop featuring variations on the Gloved One’s signature move.

But it’s more than that. In addition to being diabolically mesmerizing — between the array of clips and the faintly “Billie Jean”-like backbeat, one tends to lose track of time staring at the damned thing — Eternal Moonwalk is also an incidental tutorial in the basic properties of cinema. It returns motion pictures to their origin point, when the medium’s core appeal was the chance to watch strangers performing, their bodies moving from Point A to Point B, their familiar or amusing actions serving as an emotional connection point, a reminder that we’re members of the same species inhabiting the same small world.

The format is ingeniously simple. The page shows a horizontal row of images that move from screen left to screen right, like a strip of film being manually threaded through projector gears. All the clips share certain core characteristics: they start out devoid of people, then a person or object enters frame right and exits frame left. Most of the clips are live-action — simple profile shots of people dancing, their motion framed head-to-toe, but there are some wild card images as well. When the snippets are butted up against each other — sliding along the horizontal strip from frame right to frame left — the moonwalking people, animals or objects seamlessly join at the edges of the frame. The process creates the illusion of continuous motion — continuous metamorphosis. One thing becomes another, one person becomes another. It’s not just diverting. It’s lovely.

But how is it cinematic? Let me count the ways. For one thing, it illustrates the democratizing potential of movies better than any number of earnest, micro-budget indie dramas. Anyone with a video camera can contribute, and dance talent isn’t just optional, it’s beside the point. Context is everything here. As you watch the strip of images flicker across your computer screen (and I repeat, don’t visit this site unless you’re ready to give up way more time than you anticipated), you come across some fine, even superb dancers. But their skill truly pops (in a way that it wouldn’t if you were seeing stand-alone clips on YouTube) when it’s juxtaposed with the other people who are just shuffling or loping or hopping through the frame. Conversely, the amateurs’ efforts seem more touching, even beautiful, when they’re joined (via editing) to more graceful performers.

07222009_eternalmoonwalk5.jpgThe sum total reminds us that dancing (as practiced in life) isn’t a contest, that there are no prizes for awesomeness; it’s just a means of self-expression that reveals one’s personality and life history as plainly as clothes or accents. All the performers are united by unselfconscious joy. If you’re a person who doesn’t dance for fear of being laughed at, this site might (temporarily) cure you of it.

The site also demonstrates how malleable raw footage can be. If one designs shots carefully enough — choosing the contents of the frame, the camera’s distance from the subject and the screen direction for certain aesthetic reasons — one can combine the resulting shots in any order and still express a film’s central idea. Eternal Moonwalk shuffles the shots at random, yet they always fit together perfectly, in a harmonious parade of motion.

Just as strikingly, Eternal Moonwalk affirms the infinite expressive possibilities of art. No, seriously, hear me out. Every contributor must satisfy the same criteria: the frame starts and finishes “empty”; objects or people “moonwalk” from screen right to screen left; the clip can’t last longer than ten seconds; the file size can’t exceed three megabytes. Beyond that, anything goes. And the sheer diversity of submissions is stunning. The non-live performances include shots of stuffed animals, dolls, action figures, simple household objects and toys (including a Mr. Potato Head R2-D2), all of which appear to moonwalk via stop-motion photography. There are cartoons (3-D and 2-D computer animation, and seemingly hand-drawn stuff); cannily chosen images from video games (including a bit showing the Incredible Hulk tromping across a landscape, his movements reversed so that he seems to be busting Michael’s move) and images of animals (also reversed) including a mounted horse, a stag beetle and a housecat.

07222009_eternalmoonwalk2.jpgThe live action performances (some by people dressed like Michael, most by folks in street clothes, each clip stamped with an ID number and the city and country of origin) include moonwalks by a clown, a chef and a motorcycle cop; a dad dragging a baby through the frame, followed by a toddler walking; conga lines of students, families and retail employees; a woman gliding across a beach; a teenage girl shimmying through a dimly lit, cluttered suburban house, and so forth. The participants hail from every conceivable nation, race and ethnicity, both genders and many age groups. The seamless fusion of people, situations and ideas evokes the 1991 video for Jackson’s “Black or White,” which used lateral screen movements, clever transitions and then-revolutionary “morphing” effects to affirm commonality. In its splendid, bare-bones way, Eternal Moonwalk accomplishes the same feat. The full spectrum of humanity is arrayed before you, and it’s dancing.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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