Friday, 24 February 2012

GFF 2012: The Ecstasy of Order (interview with director Adam Cornelius)

The Ecstasy of Order screened at the GFF yesterday, and it was excellent - here's a wee feature written for the cineskinny.

From the earliest PCs to the latest smart-phones, Tetris extends further than most computer games. Its appeal is intuitive and addictive – and, as with any skill-based past-time, some take to it more seriously than others. The Ecstasy of Order focuses on the game’s most ardent players, as they vie for glory in the Tetris World Championships. “I’m not entirely sure this film would appeal to someone who literally has never played video games” reckons director Adam Cornelius. “Luckily for us, there aren’t many people who fit that description anymore. When I started in 2009, I was a little na├»ve about the massive popularity of Tetris – unbeknownst to me, it’s had a huge comeback as a cell phone game, selling over 100 million downloads worldwide. So it’s arguably the most played game ever at this point. This presented us with a rare opportunity to really explain the game in-depth; how the Tetris Masters perceive the game and play on an elite level.”

Cornelius’s previous documentary People Who Do Noise focused on Portland, Oregon’s experimental music scene, but despite obvious superficial dissimilarities, the director detects parallels between the two subjects. “In both cases you have a situation where human beings have developed almost an emotional or spiritual connection with modern technology,” he suggests. “In the case of Tetris, you hear people talk about the Tetris God, and that sense that it’s always withholding the piece you need. So it takes on a talismanic property; like a way of processing all the bad luck in real life. The masters have found ways to defy bad luck, which must be a very empowering feeling.”

As, er, ‘research’ for this article, we decide to chase that “empowering feeling”, and gauge our pro-player potential against the high scores featured in The Ecstasy of Order – a rather dispiriting comparison. We ask Cornelius how best to boost our relatively puny totals. “The best way to learn is to watch the games of the masters,” he counsels. “Take note of when they place a piece differently than you would have. Their move is almost always the far superior one. Try to figure out why. Repeat.” We heed his advice and, after several hours training, learn that: a) clearing four lines together maximises points; b) planning ahead is crucial; and c) we are never, ever going to make it to Level 14. Sigh.

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