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Best of Boston 2009

Master P's Theater

Local video editor Paul Proulx has built a following by paying homage to Hollywood's coolest directors. So why is YouTube all up in his grill?
By MIKE MILIARD  |  February 20, 2009

VIDEO: Proulx’s Paul Thomas Anderson montage

Splice and dice: The making of a montage. By Mike Miliard.
"It's quite simple, really," Dr. Branom tells Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange. "We're just going to show you some films." 

It's a phrase that could be on Paul Proulx's business card. Proulx's Stanley Kubrick tribute montage — which you can watch either muted on YouTube or with sound at Proulx's blog (more anon) is a mite easier on the pried-open glazzies than the quick-cut newsreel of 20th-century atrocities to which Alex is subjected, but it's just as arresting in its surge of imagery.

It's the little things: paranoid General Ripper from Dr. Strangelove sweating out his plan to nuke the Ruskies (thus stopping the sapping of our "precious bodily fluids") as HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey intones that "this mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it," and while Handel's "Sarabande" from Barry Lyndon flits genteelly above. Or the marching of Barry Lyndon's redcoats and the grunts in Full Metal Jacket, matched to the chugging beat of Chris Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" from Eyes Wide Shut.

Proulx's montages, posted under his nom de splice, barringer82, first at YouTube and now on his blog, are cleverly crafted, eye-popping showcases for the oeuvres of his favorite directors: Kubrick, the Coen Brothers, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, David Lynch.

They've earned him legions of admirers. Since 2007, Proulx has amassed more than 1000 subscribers on YouTube, who send him comment-thread hosannas — "I am addicted to your vids," "you have been one of my biggest influences" — like an audience tossing roses at a stage.

But in recent weeks, YouTube has steadily removed many of Proulx's videos for fear of corporate lawyers screaming "copyright violation." In January, the 25-year-old Marlborough native started noticing his montages disappearing from the site "roughly one a day for several weeks."

Some, Proulx suspects, were removed thanks to their violent or sexual content. But many more were yanked thanks to copyright claims. Still others have been "castrated" of their sound, he complains. That's thanks to the cessation this past month of a paid agreement, wherein Warner Music Group had allowed its artists, such as Chris Isaak, to appear on YouTube. And it's why, as with thousands of users' clips, Proulx's Kubrick montage was left up, but with the sound disabled. (A YouTube spokesperson didn't respond to a request for comment.)

Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, guesses the clips were culled thanks to YouTube's Content ID system, an automated filter that seeks "fingerprints" encoded onto copyrighted video or audio.

But he argues that, much like street artist Shepard Fairey's work does, clips like Proulx's fit the criteria for so-called fair use. Since they're both "transformative" and "non-commercial," since Proulx uses just "small clips of much larger works," and since his videos aren't infringing on copyright holders' market — to the contrary, they've sent me scurrying to my Netflix queue — fan-driven works like these are "definitely fair use."

Last month, Proulx posted a video to the site inviting his many followers to "jump ship" and head to his blog, "where I will continue to post videos without concern."

"Wow," replied one fan, "now I have literally no reason left to visit YouTube."

VIDEO: Proulx's tribute to Stanley Kubrick

DIY or do nothing at all
The best part of the Academy Awards? Not the dude with the lockbox from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Not watching self-important celebs drowned out by swells of orchestral strings. It's those tightly edited montages, cherry picking from a century's worth of celluloid. Set to a swashbuckling score, peppered with quotable dialogue, submerging the viewer in a sweeping stream of motion, color, and sound, those distilled bursts of indelible images are object lessons in the power of film — reminders of why we go to the movies.

Proulx will watch this Sunday night's Oscar montages, comfortable knowing — as his fans across the Web will attest — that his own adroitly edited clips could hold their own against anything screening at the Kodak Theatre. Some subtly suss out recurring visual or emotional themes in a director's body of work. Some do the opposite, cutting together counterintuitive juxtapositions. Most wryly commingle scenes from a director's minor works with those from his masterpieces.

The fan base he's amassed has been bemusing, says Proulx over burgers at Leo's Place in Harvard Square. "I thought I was the only one who liked these kind of things, so I was surprised."

Just as he was surprised by the minority who call them "just a mish-mash of random clips" (as one viewer put it). "They say, 'You're not really doing anything. You didn't make these movies. You're just kind of setting 'em to music.' "

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Related: Clips ahoy, Is the RIAA inoculating itself against viral video?, Coping with Internet infamy, More more >
  Topics: Features , Adam Sandler, Alexander de Large, Barry Lyndon,  More more >
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