Subject The ubiquitous split-screen effect — dividing a TV frame into two separate, simultaneous images in order to cram in extra visual info.
Synopsis The technique was the highlight of the recent ”Triangle” episode of The X-Files and is currently on display in several music videos, including Lauryn Hill’s ”Doo Wop (That Thing),” Semisonic’s ”Closing Time,” Fastball’s ”The Way,” and Barenaked Ladies’ ”One Week.”
Back Story Split images are hardly new — remember those Doris Day-Rock Hudson phone scenes in 1959’s Pillow Talk? — and the technique has been associated with music since the 1970 Woodstock movie. But the new splitters are far more elaborate and ambitious, often involving meticulously choreographed actor movements and camera setups. Witness the seminal 1996 video for trip-hop band Cibo Matto’s ”Sugar Water,” a brain-numbingly complex video, directed by Michele Gondry, in which people on opposite screens interact and even swap places. (The effect was later echoed in the Semisonic clip.) And once it started, there was no stopping the double vision. X-Files creator Chris Carter says the episode was inspired by ”a couple of videos out right now, like Semisonic’s ‘Closing Time,’ which has little narratives that end up interrelating and people crossing from split screen to split screen. I really liked that a lot.”
Cultural Significance Why all the split personalities? Opinions are divided. Semisonic singer Dan Murphy thinks the craze ”might come from how cool it looks when you’re editing a video. You’re constantly looking at a split screen on a computer.” Andy Delaney, who directed ”Doo Wop” with partner Monty Whitebloom (collectively known as Big TV), offers a different theory, suggesting that some clips may be trying to invoke the retro cachet of famous split flicks such as 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair. ”It has become an instant shorthand for ’60s kitsch,” says Delaney. Filmmakers take heed: If kitsch is on your list, you might want to make like a banana — and split.
Additional reporting by Tom Russo