While linear narrative is antithetical to HBO’s whole endeavor here, I will employ this now quaint device to tell my little story.
For just seventy-two hours there is cube at Gansevoort and Little West 12th Street, a story cube that is toying with ideas of narrative and storytelling, brought to you by HBO and the talented people at BBDO.
What’s most remarkable about this imaginative cube is that it exists at all. Let me be clear: HBO went to BBDO for a “promotional event” that doesn’t promote any of their specific product. The cube does not give promos of the upcoming HBO season. It is an entirely original piece of nonAristotelian storytelling, branded for HBO, but not of HBO.
HBO commissioned a BBDO campaign to embody “the HBO philosophy—to be the preeminent source of entertainment experiences that change perspectives, defy expectations, and challenge the status quo.”
In this day and age, that any corporate entity is thinking and creating in the abstract is astonishing.
The Cube features two films, each two minutes long and each played twice successively. The one story is The Affair, the other Heist. You move around the four sides of the cube and see different perspectives of the same story. And there is an even bigger picture, as characters from the two stories overlap. I didn't see the connections that well, but I didn't give it enough time. It's an updating and advancing of Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, which makes me a fan right away.
Like Brigadoon, the cube will shortly disappear. (It will however reappear in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.)
For those geographically challenged, the Cube microsite offers tantalizing content. It supplements the perspectives on the cube, although it is complete without that experience.
The interface is excellent. You are entering a world of fragmented story pieces that you can navigate in numerous ways, thereby changing how the story unfolds. I cheated a bit by navigating from the “check your progress” tree, rather than the more organic links within this Tholian web of scenarios and documents.
There are memorable moments: A mime drowned in a car as a little person and goon look on, while a child sleeps peacefully with his teddy bear to the strains of the less familiar parts of the Blue Danube, surrounded by oodles of bears and a woman with a counting machine . . .
All right, so I’m still trying to figure out how the Yamamoto Bank fits in with the teddy bears kid. I love the mime eulogy--Fellini meets Twin Peeks—-but I don’t see the plot point yet. It’s intriguing, and requires a lot of thought from the viewer. This is not a passive viewing experience.
I do wonder about the missing emotional connection. The fragmented story pieces make it hard to connect with a character, which is one of the underlying tenets of good storytelling.
But this is the 21st century, and it’s a brave new world for storytellers.
In these generally discouraging times, I am happy to know that the corporate entity that brought us The Sopranos, and The Wire, and my favorite, Deadwood, is willing to spend money to experiment, to let professional imaginations wander into new possibilities, like scientific R&D that does not pay off in the short term with a commercially viable deliverable but opens up the entire future.
HBO knows storytelling is that important. Huzzah.