Video Clips Give "Life" to YouTube Movie

The mundane and profound mix as DIY videos offer glimpses into lives around the world

By Jere Hester
|  Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010  |  Updated 10:50 AM CDT
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Rock Stars: Then and Now

YouTube is wants to make us all movie stars.

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Rolling Stone, in one of those fun gimmicks to intended to spur chatter and sales, ranks the top 100 Beatles songs in its latest issue, with "A Day in the Life" placing in the vaunted No. 1 spot.

While some no doubt will quibble with the choice, there’s good reason for the song’s lasting appeal, far beyond the melody. In "A Day in the Life," the ordinary ("Woke up, fell out of bed") is elevated to art on the wings of a soaring orchestral crescendo. Like a couple other Beatles numbers ("Penny Lane," "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”), the tune is kind of a rock mini-version of "Our Town": people live, people die and there's beauty and meaning found in the everyday.

The recently renewed discussion of the 43-year-old song offers a soundtrack of sorts to the latest step in YouTube's innovative "Life in a Day" project, which called on people around the world to submit videos, about their lives, shot on July 24. The plan is to go through the submissions and somehow stitch many into a movie in time for the Sundance Film Festival in January.

In keeping with the open nature of the project, many of the 80,000 snippets submitted already can be found on YouTube, offering fascinating glimpses into lives of people across the globe. The clips include the mundane and the compelling – and those that are compelling for their sheer ordinariness.

Clicking around at random, you might find a young Philadelphia woman chronicling her dog-sitting gig on a hot summer day, while another young woman leads a dogsled team in a far colder clime. Relief workers are seen helping slowly rebuild Haiti, while a New Jersey man painstakingly constructs a town for his model railroad. A senior citizen whose floppy hat makes it difficult to tell the person’s gender is spoon-fed mush in a Taiwanese hospital, while somewhere thousand of miles away a newborn girl named Natalie makes her video debut, topped by a cute pink bonnet.

John Lennon found lyrical fodder for his portion of “A Day in the Life” in newspaper clippings ("I read the news today, oh boy"). But in “Life in a Day,” the material comes via the Internet at a time when life is more public than ever, thanks to tools that let users instantly share personal videos, pictures and other content. Even if footage of, say, some young Indian men giddily kicking a soccer ball along a monsoon-soaked pitch doesn’t merit headlines or seems unlikely to go viral, it makes for good viewing, if only for a few seconds.

We're eager to see what noted filmmakers Ridley Scott and Kevin Macdonald pull together from videos uploaded by people in some 187 countries. Meanwhile, go here to check out some of the raw material of a day in the life of the world.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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