Distributor:  Icarus Films
Length:  58 minutes
Date:  2013
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English
Grade level: 8-12, College, Adult
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available
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Electric Signs

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Explores the effects of new screen-based advertising sign systems on urban environments and public space.

Electric Signs

New screen-based sign systems are putting TV-style advertising into the public domain in cities around the globe. These electronic signs are re-shaping urban environments and re-defining areas of public space by intensifying the commercialization of the public sphere.

In addition to the explosion of screens in public spaces, screens are ubiquitous in work spaces and in people's daily life activities. These seamless, illuminated electronic surfaces are becoming the devices through which we frame our experiences. ELECTRIC SIGNS explores this new screen culture as it unfolds in the global city.

The film's narrator, a city observer modeled on the critic Walter Benjamin, takes us on a journey through a variety of urban landscapes, examining public spaces and making connections between light, perception and the culture of attractions in today's consumer society.

The film is structured as a documentary essay in the spirit of city symphony films, and features footage in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York, and other cities around the world. Also featured are interviews with prominent lighting designers; advertising and marketing professionals; urban sociologists and visual culture experts; and community activists.

The filmmakers traveled around the world to collect footage of electronic signs and media facades from cities on four continents. The film captures the beauty and excitement of these illuminated signs while examining their messages, and looks at city life from many perspectives, so as to capture the intensification of urban life amidst the vast spaces beneath the skyscrapers.

'Electric Signs provides an incisive guide to the seductive blight of the increasingly ubiquitous intrusions of public space by blinding private media. This hallucinatory landscape is at once a terrible sublime and a numbingly coercive condition that affects us all in ways we only begin to understand. The film lucidly unpacks the transformation of the city by this synesthetic tsumami and points to grave dangers ahead.' -Michael Sorkin, Director of the Graduate Urban Design Program at the City College of New York

'Alice Arnold take us on a fascinating journey to urban screens around the world and asks us to see this dynamic electronic landscape through new eyes. The film mixes striking footage of screens large and small with the voices of diverse stakeholders - advertisers, artists, designers, citizens, consumers, activists - and invites us to rethink how we manage public space in contemporary media cities.' -Scott McQuire, Associate Professor, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne and author of 'The Media City: Media, Architecture and Urban Space' (2008).

'The documentary is an ideal introduction for understanding the complexities for contemporary media architecture and media facades in global cities. Through showcasing various examples from cities around the world the viewer understands that large screens in the public domain are perceived by the public in very different ways. Age, cultural background play an important role here. Further the documentary also outlines the risks and challenges for cities, governance and citizens when transforming cities from the pre- and post-industrial age into 21st century cities through digital technology. Arnold captures all these aspects in the documentary and make this film a must for critics and campaigners for large screens in cities.' -Dr. M. Hank Haeusler, Media Architecture Institute


** World Premiere, 2013 Media Architecture Biennale
** 2012 Aarhus Film Festival (Denmark)
** 2013 American Library Association Annual Conference
** 2013 National Conference of Teachers of English Film Festival


Main credits

Arnold, Alice (Director)
Arnold, Alice (Producer)
Arnold, Alice (Film editor)

Other credits

Camera: Alice Arnold, Gary Griffin; composer, Genji Siraisi.

Distributor credits

A film by Alice Arnold

Docuseek2 subjects

Urban Studies
Communication and Media Studies

Distributor subjects

Advertising and Marketing
Cultural Studies
Environmental Film Festivals
Science and Technology
Urban Planning and Design
Urban Studies


Electric Signs; LED; Alice Arnold; Walter Benjamin; city symphony; New York; Hong Kong; Prague; billboards; advertising; built environment; public space; Seoul ; essay film; ,"Electric Signs",Icarus Films

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