For eighteen years, Jan Scheuermann has been paralyzed from the neck down. She is six feet tall, and she spends all day and all night in a sophisticated, battery-powered wheelchair that cradles her--half sitting, half reclining--from head to toe. In effect, the chair has become an extension of her body. To navigate the world in it, Scheuermann manipulates a cork-tipped joystick with her chin. She can move in this way with remarkable agility, but her height, combined with the bulk of the chair and the unrelenting nature of gravity and matter, can limit her.
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, young directors who go by the joint film credit Daniels, are known for reality-warped miniatures--short films, music videos, commercials--that are eerie yet playful in mood. In their work, people jump into other people's bodies, Teddy bears dance to hard-core dubstep, rednecks shoot clothes from rifles onto fleeing nudists. Last year, their first feature-length project, "Swiss Army Man"--starring Daniel Radcliffe, who plays a flatulent talking corpse that befriends a castaway--premièred at Sundance, and left some viewers wondering if it was the strangest thing ever to be screened at the festival. The Times, deciding that the film was impossible to categorize, called it "weird and wonderful, disgusting and demented." Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that when the Daniels were notified by their production company, several years ago, that an Israeli indie pop star living in New York wanted to hire them to experiment with technology that could alter fundamental assumptions of moviemaking, they took the call. The musician was Yoni Bloch, arguably the first Internet sensation on Israel's music scene--a wispy, bespectacled songwriter from the Negev whose wry, angst-laden music went viral in the early aughts, leading to sold-out venues and a record deal. After breaking up with his girlfriend, in 2007, Bloch had hoped to win her back by thinking big. He made a melancholy concept album about their relationship, along with a companion film in the mode of "The Wall"--only to fall in love with the actress who played his ex. He had also thought up a more ambitious idea: an interactive song that listeners could shape as it played. But by the time he got around to writing it his hurt feelings had given way to more indeterminate sentiments, and the idea grew to become an interactive music video. The result, "I Can't Be Sad Anymore," which he and his band released online in 2010, opens with Bloch at a party in a Tel Aviv apartment. Standing on a balcony, he puts on headphones, then wanders among his friends, singing about his readiness to escape melancholy. He passes the headphones to others; whoever wears them sings, too. Viewers decide, by clicking on onscreen prompts, how the headphones are passed--altering, in real time, the song's vocals, orchestration, and emotional tone, while also following different micro-dramas. If you choose the drunk, the camera follows her as she races into the bathroom, to Bloch's words "I want to drink less / but be more drunk." Choose her friend instead, and the video leads to sports fans downing shots, with the lyrics "I want to work less / but for a greater cause."
On a very warm afternoon in April, the image of a bald young white man's head floated on a gray screen at the Kitchen, in Chelsea. The man spoke in a tone that shifted worryingly between aggressive and confessional, punctuating his lines with two disembodied hands. "And I could have been your haruspex, sexy," he said at one point, snarling. "I could have read omens in your extricated liver." There were pale red marks beneath his eyes, a five-o'clock shadow on his jaw.
On a Friday night in February, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Billy Eichner, the thirty-seven-year-old star of the sui-generis pop-culture game show "Billy on the Street," was sitting in a director's chair on the set of the sitcom "Difficult People." That show, about two struggling performers, a straight woman and a gay man, who are harsh about the world and affectionate with each other, was created and is written by the comedian Julie Klausner, with whom he co-stars. Eichner has excellent posture, even when looking at his phone. "I was a'Jeopardy!' question this week," he told me. He held up a screen shot of the clue: "GAMES OF THIS COMIC'ON THE STREET' INCLUDED'WOULD DREW BARRYMORE LIKE THAT?' & 'IT'S SPOCK! On "Billy," now entering its fifth season, Eichner startles New Yorkers on the street and gets them to play games and answer questions, for weird prizes and small amounts of money. Sometimes Eichner runs around surprising people with a movie star in tow, like Zachary Quinto, of "Star Trek." ("It's Spock! He creates fanciful obstacle courses, such as "Leah Remini's Escape from Scientology," in city parks and paved lots. He has made viral videos with Madonna, Julianne Moore, and David Letterman. Joan Rivers was a friend and a fan. "I am responsible for something rare, which is three seconds of complete and utter silence on national television," Eichner said, in reference to stumping the "Jeopardy!" "You won't see that on'Fresh Off the Boat.' " You won't see that on "Billy on the Street," either. Eichner is hyperliterate in the language of pop culture, asking rapid-fire questions about Kaley Cuoco or Meryl Streep before his guests know what's happening to them.