So, the Arcade Fire. You probably have an opinion about them, and their new album. (Mine is: "Kids these days! Really, kids from all the days!") But even if you hate them, and their music, you should head over to thewildernessdowntown.com, which describes itself as "an interactive film." And, well, it is! But it's a lot more than that.
If you navigate over to the site, you're encouraged to "enter the address of the home where you grew up." (I got this message when I typed my parents' home address: "Your address doesn't contain enough Street-View and/or Google Maps data to 100% enjoy this experience," but I'd say I was still able to 90% enjoy the experience.)
Once you hit "enter," the "film" starts, and your browser begins to open windows—a video of a kid running in a suburb pops up, and then a window with some odd vector animations of birds. One window has a satellite shot of a suburban neighborhood—I assume if my address contained enough Street-View data that's what I would've gotten—and at some point, you're asked to write a postcard to your younger self (I know, I know. Barf). The whole time, the Arcade Fire's "We Used to Wait" is playing.
Say what you will about the indie-goth aesthetics and the irritating, aggrandizing treatment of histrionic middle-class teen angst (both Arcade Fire trademarks!), "The Wilderness Downtown" works amazingly well as an internet "piece"—part video, part interactive project, part regular old website, part irritating bauble, coded with HTML 5 and billed as a collaboration with Google. And as music videos appeared to have moved off your television permanently, with the exception of various esoteric MTV channels, it's not too hard to see a future where "interactive films" like this (but maybe better!) replace the standard clip.
Chris Milk, the director of the project (it was produced by Radical Media), is a veteran music video guy, so it's not like it's a whole new industry springing up—just eyeing the possibility of moving from one set of screens to another—and taking advantage of all the things the web can offer. And that could end up being pretty cool! I mean, it could also end up being awful. But I'm hoping for "cool."
Update/Note: The site is optimized for Chrome; it also works in Safari, though not quite as well; other browsers seem to be hit-or-miss.