HitRecord on TV: Sundance Review

An endearing hodgepodge of crowd-created music and video.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt recruits a world full of aspiring creatives in a scrappy new TV show.

PARK CITY -- A variety show for the age of social media, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's HitRecord on TV reaches out to a vast network of enthusiastic everyday people and says, "Hey, let's put on a show!" Curated and assembled by the actor into half-hour TV episodes, three of which make their debut in this program, the short films, songs and other outbursts of crowd-hatched creativity are diverse and entertaining; with hundreds of thousands of people already involved, Participant Media's Pivot TV can expect a built-in audience, provided viewers can be made aware of the six-month-old cabler's existence and find a place to watch it.

Operating through the website Hitrecord.org, Gordon-Levitt's "community collaboration" group has invited anyone who's willing to submit illustrations, writing, music and so on for others to edit or build on; finished products, which have often seen the input of hundreds of people, stream online or wind up in one of the books, records and T-shirts (lots of the latter) for sale at the site since 2010.

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Such a strategy may be anathema to those looking for purity of artistic vision, and it's hard to deny that the work sometimes evinces its pile-on creation. A cartoon called "One Song," which imagines an origin myth for music in which everyone from scientists to goths and a bubblegum-pop band team up to defeat the great monster Silence, would have it no other way. Group creation may have mixed results in short films in which pro actors (Gordon-Levitt, Carla Gugino, Elle Fanning) are greenscreened into wholly illustrated worlds whose props fit awkwardly in their hands and on their bodies. But it takes the documentary short "One Living Organism" in fascinating directions: Starting out to look at the Pando forest, where what seem to be thousands of trees are all connected by a single root system and share identical genetic markers, the filmmakers heard from contributors who knew of similar, arguably stranger mega-organisms.

Serving as host of the program and general cheerleader for picking up a camera and starting to make something, Gordon-Levitt addresses a live audience with an always-on camera in his hand. He's filming the audience, which is filming him, with that feed projecting behind him, in an endless loop that could easily have served as a nightmarish portrait of the cameraphone age. (Some self-shot walk-and-talk intros will try the patience of many viewers.) But the show is celebrating anything but the kind of narcissism and indiscriminate documentation to which critics of selfies object: More often than not, these projects find people directing their full attention to another person's ideas, asking what they can add that would help make the core ingredient shine.

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The sense of joy participants take from these projects is evident throughout, as Gordon-Levitt shows snippets of webcam footage in which they offer their two cents, rap a verse over someone else's beat or dance to a song a stranger wrote based on yet another person's fragmentary lyrics. (The surplus of creativity also means that HitRecord on TV will never need to use the same station-break bumper twice.) That utopian enthusiasm may be the main reason to watch the show -- animated shorts illustrating a young kid's rambling ostrich-versus-dinosaur bedtime stories are just a bonus.

Production Company: Pivot

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Executive producers: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Geller, Brian Graden, Gaurav Misra, Lois Curren, Jeff Skoll, Belisa Balaban

No rating, 66 minutes

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