A capital clip-job, this brain-tickling cine-essay examines how last century's mass-media technology -- telephones, radio, moving pictures -- altered our minds, our expectations, and our understanding of the world. The film is assembled mostly from early films, so its lens is that of a new medium's examination of new media: Here's the telephone operator, in a silent, overhearing some terrible plot; here's a film of a man telephoning in to an early television broadcast to prove that the broadcast is in fact live.
That last clip is endlessly rich. Tilda Swinton, our narrator, speaks about how the new technology must always convince the public of its legitimacy through the use of the old technology, and the chillingest thing in Dreams Rewired is the way that the TV announcer, a sprightly young beauty, cheerily proclaims to be broadcasting from the heart of the Reich.
But Dreams Rewired is no polemic, and it never mocks the past. Swinton's narration makes common cause with it. She'll speak over the silent-film actors, at times, giving us an of-our-moment gloss on what their characters seem to be feeling. One sequence, a silent gag in which a stout phone operator agrees to meet up with a gent who likes her voice, suggests our contemporary anxieties about online anonymity. Later, there's a French animated short about a sexually adventurous flapper harnessing the power of radio to (somehow) spy on a romantic rival and then shove her out of a contested man's lap -- well, there's Facebook-stalking and proto-doxxing right there. Its clips come from some 200 films dating up to the 1930s, but Dreams Rewired shows us becoming ourselves.