Review of Everything is a Remix

Everything is a Remix is a documentary that explores the source of creativity by looking at examples from our past: music, movies, computers, and more. It takes the stand that everything (even down to our biology) is the result of remix, a metaphor taken from music sampling that the documentary defines as an amalgamation of copying, transforming, and combining.

Who: Kirby Ferguson, a New York based film-maker

What: A 4-part documentary that clocks in at just over half an hour.

Where: There are lots of places to watch this on the web (along with a bunch of remixes), but this is a link to the full film on youtube.

When: First part was released in 2010, last part was released in 2012.

The Good

  • While the film definitely has a thesis it argues for, when necessary it shows the other side of the story. I’m thinking especially in the case of the history of patents, instead of setting up a straw man to burn down, he makes the best case for patents I’ve heard in a while, showing the historical reasoning behind them and then shows how the situation today has strayed from those original goals. This makes the film stronger as a whole.

  • The film emphasizes attribution, especially Zeppelin’s lack of it in a lot of their music, even in straight up covers. This parallels with what Remy is always talking about, “attribution is the coin of FOSS”. Like it said in the film at least they didn’t try to sue everyone else who did the same to them, something that is not always the case, he mentions especially Paul Allen and Steve Jobs, people who openly admit to copying other people’s work, but also viciously went after every law suit possible when the shoe was on the other foot.

  • The parallels between Darwinian and social evolution, along with the mantra of ‘copy, combine, transform” were the strongest part of the film, at least in terms of presenting his argument.

The Bad

  • Well, at least when taken literally everything isn’t a remix, because remix is a technical term. Whenever something “new” is recorded it is not a remix, even if new just means webcam footage of a bedroom rendition of Smoke on the Water. A remix without samples is not a remix no matter how unoriginal it may be. Led Zeppelin and Girl Talk are fundamentally different in that respect. I get that he is really using remix as a metaphor, but I think it weakens the argument, because he never really makes that explicit.

  • I think a stronger thesis statement would look like the following bold text (which is a quote from Gilberto Gill, from RiP: A Remix Manifesto:

    Sharing is the nature of creation, it doesn’t happen in isolation. No one creates in a vacuum, everything comes from something else. It’s a chain reaction.

    This idea of chain reaction covers situations with new work as well, because “no one creates in a vacuum”, what we create is shaped by where we’re from, our culture, the people we know, and the media we consume. Even is someone is not directly sampling a track, it’s not possible to create something without influences. I think the film would have been stronger if it explored the differences and similarities between influences, covers, and remixes. I think there is no fundamental ethical distinction, but there is a technical one, and the film fails to notice this, which I think makes it weaker as a whole.

  • I wish it explored some topics more in depth, I realize this is a short/episodic documentary format and he wanted to cover a lot of ground, but in order to cover music, movies, technology, and biology all in 30 minutes is a tough task and the ending left me wanting more.


  • Is some form of patent law (or intellectual property) fundamental to funding R&D?

  • How does the rest of the class feel about copyright and patent laws? Are they necessary for progress? Personally I feel like they are unnecessary, but I’d like to hear more arguments.

  • Are the Zeppelin and Tarantino examples fundamentally different? And do you think they are positive or negative examples of “remix”? Basically how important is attribution in creative contexts?

Final Thoughts

Well put together, makes a point without making a preach to the choir type presentation. I would have changed some of the basic rhetoric and moved it a little different direction (see The Bad), but really I’m being quite nit-picky and it is certainly worth a half hour of your time to sit down and watch it.