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Charles Atlas, the pioneering filmmaker and video artist, is 69 and has never been busier. “I can barely keep up,” he said in a recent interview. “Unfortunately, I never leave the house.”
That’s a strange predicament for a man, long inspired by New York night life, to find himself in. Mr. Atlas, who was born in St. Louis, arrived in New York in 1969 and rented a room in the East Village. “I’d never seen street life before,” he said. “I’d never seen a cockroach. I didn’t know anyone in New York.”
He soon found work — notably with the choreographer Merce Cunningham, in whose company he was the filmmaker-in-residence — and made friends. This weekend and next, several of them will share the stage at the Kitchen with Mr. Atlas in his collaborative evening of dance and film. “The Kitchen Follies,” a variety show, is presented in conjunction with his multimedia gallery exhibition, “the past is here, the futures are coming.”
On the Kitchen’s second floor, Mr. Atlas has created two video installations: “2003,” featuring video portraits of New York artists shot that year; and “The Years,” a large-scale, multichannel video project that shows scrolling footage of his work over time.
“The Kitchen Follies,” inspired by the performance art and club scene on the Lower East Side during the ’80s, will bring some of those faces to life. For the program, Mr. Atlas is working with several artists he has chosen — including Dancenoise, the feminist performance duo of Anne Iobst and Lucy Sexton — each of whom will present 10-minute performances.
“For Charlie, the instinct to hang out with somebody is the same as the instinct to work with somebody,” Ms. Sexton said. “We had a mini tour set up in 1987 and he said, ‘I’m going to come.’ We get on the plane and he says, ‘First things first — the most important thing is that we stay friends.’ ”
She considers him one of the great collaborators in any artistic field. “He wants to work with people that he likes and then he has an incredibly strong underlying artistic vision and voice and style, but it’s not a top down,” she said; it’s “what do we want to do together?”
For “Follies,” which includes performances by the Illustrious Blacks, Laurie Berg, Jodi Melnick with the composer Julianna Barwick, and Stanley Love, Mr. Atlas will record, mix and project footage live. “I’m trying to figure out different ways of using video with each one,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Here are excerpts from a recent conversation at a studio at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Do you know why you’re so drawn to dance?
I don’t have an answer. It’s funny to say, but I think I’ve always had a dance spirit within, and it’s only actually working with Merce and seeing a lot of dance that I finally developed the kinesthetic response for something to move me.
Is your approach different for every dance?
I just respond to what I see. When I’m looking at work, I try to see where my eye goes; that’s how I decide where to put the camera, so it’s different for every situation.
Someone asked what there was between a good dancer and a good dancer for video. There’s no difference. It’s dance. You can destroy their kinesthetic energy or you can enhance it, and I try to enhance it.
Why do you like to work with artists who don’t play by the rules?
It’s a challenge, and I think the constant in my work is that I do things I haven’t done before. I’m fascinated by the unknown. Sometimes it’s risky, but I have a role model: Merce Cunningham.
Do you think you’re drawn to a particular kind of artist?
Extreme. [Laughs] I like people who push boundaries, but at a certain point after having done a lot of these projects with impossible people, I was like, well, just because you love someone’s work doesn’t mean you have to work with them. But I’ve had a lot of very long collaborations. I still work with [the choreographers] Douglas Dunn and Michael Clark.
Did you ever dance yourself?
No. When I first started working with Merce on video — I was teaching him video — I thought, well if he’s learning video, I should learn to dance. I took the fundamentals class and I made it to beginners. I have a kinesthetic sympathy for dance, but I’m not a dancer. I used to be a big club dancer, but not turning and spotting and all of that — no!
You taught Merce video?
When I started working with Merce, it was also the time that I got a Super 8 camera. I was the guy with the camera. I started to make Super 8 films while we were on tour, and that was the beginning. My goal at that time was not to work with dance.
Anyway, John Cage had this idea that Merce should do video because then he wouldn’t have to leave home: He could just send the video out. So Merce decided to do video, and he invited me to collaborate with him.
Would you describe the performance scene on the Lower East Side in the early ’80s?
It was all mixed in with fun and clubs, and I was a regular — not at all of them, but certainly the Pyramid and the Wah Wah Hut. I filmed a lot of the performances, but not in a careful way. I was having fun, too. The most embarrassing thing about a lot of those videos is you hear me laughing.
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Q. How do I find English-language content with English-language subtitles? I am hard of hearing and lots of content, principally movies, will have subtitles in every language under the sun, except English.
A. Some video providers may be putting those subtitles in the settings for closed captions, which may be why you do not see English in the list of available languages for English-language content. Even though they may be grouped together by some companies, subtitles and closed captions are technically different features.
Subtitles serve to translate dialogue from one language to another. Closed captions — designed to aid the deaf and hearing-impaired — are transcriptions of spoken dialogue, and can also include written descriptions of other sounds in the scene, like a car honking or a baby crying.
Streaming and download services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes and the Windows Store are among the many sources of video with closed captions, and caption availability is typically listed in the description of the movie or TV show. To enable the captions, start playing the video and then look for a settings or closed captions icon (CC) in the tool bar.
Credit The New York Times
If a video includes closed captions but you do not see them, check the settings of your device to make sure the closed captions option is enabled. Apple’s iOS, Mac operating system and Apple TV set-top box all have caption controls in their Accessibility preferences, as do other systems like Google’s Android software systems and Roku’s TV set-top boxes. Microsoft keeps similar settings in the Ease of Access area for its Windows 10 and Xbox One software.
“If you make a mistake, another mistake, there is a very severe possibility you’re both going to get shot,” the officer says in the video. He shouts at Mr. Shaver, “If you move, we are going to consider that a threat, and we are going to deal with it, and you may not survive it.”
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Shaver says at one point. “Please do not shoot me,” he says at another.
The officer’s commands at times seemed contradictory.
“Do not put your hands down for any reason,” he tells Mr. Shaver. “Your hands go back in the small of your back or down, we are going to shoot you, do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” a tearful Mr. Shaver responds.
But immediately after, the officer commands, “Crawl towards me,” prompting Mr. Shaver to lower his hands to the floor and begin moving toward the camera.
Credit Mesa Police Department
A few seconds after beginning to crawl, Mr. Shaver twists slightly to his right, his elbow pointing upward. As someone shouts, “Don’t!” Officer Brailsford begins firing.
During his trial, Officer Brailsford testified that he had fired five times, The Arizona Republic reported.
The police later learned that Mr. Shaver, who was from Granbury, Tex., had been in his room showing off a pellet gun, which he used for his job in pest control, before being summoned by officers into the hallway. A witness testified that Mr. Shaver had been drinking.
A police report by an officer who reviewed the footage offered two possible explanations for why Mr. Shaver had bent his arm, the movement before the gunfire. It was “a very similar motion to someone drawing a pistol from their waist band,” the officer wrote, according to The Atlantic — but it “was also consistent with attempting to pull his shorts up as they were falling off.” No weapon was found on Mr. Shaver.
The Police Department fired Officer Brailsford two months after the shooting.
The jury deliberated for less than six hours before acquitting him. The acquittal came the same day that a judge in South Carolina sentenced Michael T. Slager, a white police officer, to 20 years in prison for the 2015 shooting of an unarmed black motorist, Walter L. Scott.
The South Carolina case was one of a number of fatal police shootings, often of black men, that have set off outrage in recent years. In Arizona, both the officer and the man who was killed were white.
Reactions to the Arizona video were swift and furious. Civil rights activists, celebrities and athletes described the shooting as an execution and denounced what they called a lack of accountability. Some highlighted a threatening profanity Officer Brailsford had etched onto the weapon he used to shoot Mr. Shaver, a fact the judge did not allow to be presented at trial.
Michael Piccarreta, Officer Brailsford’s lawyer, said in an interview on Saturday that his client’s actions were consistent with his training.
“Mr. Shaver certainly didn’t deserve to die that night, but the information projected to the outside world that night was one of danger,” Mr. Piccarreta said. “I think if people knew the full story, everyone would still be sad, everyone would be upset, but the vitriolic anger might be calmed a bit.”
Mr. Piccarreta also pointed out that the voice on the video, which he said was “harsh” and “threatening,” belonged to another officer, Sgt. Charles Langley, who testified at the trial that it was his voice heard on the video.
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said Officer Brailsford’s caution when entering the hotel was justified, given the 911 call. But once officers were in the hallway, Mr. Wexler said, the footage indicated that Mr. Shaver was not a threat.
“I saw the individual doing everything he could to comply with what the officer was asking,” he said. “And so the officer’s actions then were inexplicable.”
Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the crux of the case was the impossibility of knowing what Officer Brailsford was thinking.
“What people as humans will see is someone drunk and emotionally distraught,” Mr. O’Donnell said, referring to Mr. Shaver. “The police will read that differently. In some sense it’s an argument without end: The police are just going to add this up a different way.”
And while most pro gamers have to settle for modest sponsorships with companies that make things like game controllers and headphones, Mr. Haag last year also attracted Red Bull, the energy drink, which has traditionally built its marketing around skateboarders, motocross riders and other extreme-sports athletes. Mr. Haag is one of six people on its roster of e-sports players, and it is showering them with the same attention and training it has lavished on athletes who compete in the real world.
For the trip to Los Angeles, Red Bull paid for Mr. Haag and his teammates to live in Venice Beach. During the day, the company shuttled them to its headquarters in Santa Monica for workouts and other training. At night, they lingered in a high-tech studio and played video games into the wee hours.
Mr. Haag is the face of the growing business of video games as a spectator sport. Thanks to live tournaments and online video-streaming sites like Twitch, which Amazon bought for $1 billion in August, video games have become something to watch, not just play.
But fans need someone to root for, and that is where Mr. Haag comes in. He has the requisite marks of a champion, like tournament victories and a compelling back story. And he certainly looks like a gamer: On the recent morning in Venice, his pancake-making attire consisted of a T-shirt, knee-length shorts and a backward baseball cap.
Most important, though, is his compulsion to share his life — on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. He is, more or less, the producer, director and star of his own reality show.
Mr. Haag’s YouTube channel is in the top 1 percent of the 220,000 channels tracked by the analytics tool OpenSlate. Beyond YouTube, Mr. Haag has become the No. 1 player on MLG.TV, the site where people watch him play live.
An Online Video Star
What makes him so watchable? A recent survey performed by Jeetendr Sehdev, a marketer who focuses on celebrity branding, said that teenagers found YouTube stars easier to relate to and more candid than famous people from places like Hollywood.
Mr. Haag’s fans are right in line with this thinking. They seem to regard him as an exceptionally interesting friend.
For example, Kasey Young, 21, of Cleveland has learned through social media and streaming that Mr. Haag drives a BMW, often eats at Chipotle and likes to say “wallbong,” a nonsense term he made up with friends. Mr. Young said he now finds himself saying “wallbong” at work at random times.
“If he knew me in real life, I feel like we would be really good friends,” Mr. Young said.
Mr. Haag’s videos, raw and unproduced, add to this feeling of intimacy. In addition to game video, his YouTube channel has regular updates in which he appears revealing and honest, posting, for example, travel diaries in which he sits on a hotel bed and tells fans about his day. He also put up an old home video in which his awkward younger self makes an alien face for the camera and then pulls up his T-shirt to show off his bony chest.
Fans get to see interpersonal drama, like an episode last year when one of his OpTic comrades quit the team and accused Mr. Haag of blaming him for a tough tournament loss. And although he has a mostly male audience and has made his reputation as a video game killer, he is not afraid to be vulnerable.
Fans know that Mr. Haag’s mother suffered from seizures for most of his life. When she died two years ago, he sat on a couch at home and recorded a YouTube video in which he thanked followers for their heartfelt messages on Twitter. He appeared distraught and shaken but also genuinely thankful.
Both his fans and his detractors agree that this connection with his public is what sets Mr. Haag apart and makes him “a people’s champion,” as Sundance DiGiovanni, chief executive of Major League Gaming, a gaming league, put it.
“If you’re talking about YouTube and fan outreach, he’s the No. 1 player by far,” said Mike Rufail, the owner of Team EnVyUs, OpTic’s chief rival. “But in terms of raw talent, he’s a top 15 player — I wouldn’t put him in that top three or four guys.”
Mr. Haag doesn’t care what his opponents think. He makes several times his father’s salary playing video games, and earlier this year bought a $3,000 watch. The only thing he wants is to hold onto his job.
“I think about my future probably at least 10 times a day,” he said. “I think about what if this all goes away one day? What if for some reason people just aren’t in your live stream tomorrow? What if people aren’t clicking on your YouTube videos tomorrow? What if your team doesn’t work out and you’re not performing that well and you have to quit competitively? What happens when you can’t compete anymore and you want to retire because you’re going insane?”
Alone With the Xbox
As Mr. Haag was growing up in the Chicago area, his parents did not need to worry about where he was on the weekends: He was usually upstairs playing video games. Parties made him anxious. And instead of marijuana or alcohol, the sugary rush of an energy drink was his drug of choice and still is.
Parlaying Video-Game Prowess Into Stardom
CreditMonica Almeida/The New York Times
“He was more of a loner,” said his father, Jeff Haag, 50, a carpenter. “He gamed a lot.”
Up in his bedroom, clutching an Xbox controller and surrounded by posters of the Chicago Bulls and Muhammad Ali, Mr. Haag had a place where he belonged. To friends and rivals he met through his Xbox, he was not a wallflower but a fierce competitor who could be a domineering teammate.
“Countless times I would put my head in the door and be like, ‘Shut the hell up,’ ” his father said. “He’s like yelling at people when they weren’t doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.”
Mr. Haag’s competitive career began seven years ago, when he was 15, with online tournaments organized through his Xbox, as well as small local contests held in banquet halls. Five years ago, his uncle took him to a tournament in Anaheim.
The uncle, Greg Haag, remembered that the contest hall was hot and reeked of sweat and warm semiconductors, and that Mr. Haag was disappointed with his fourth-place finish.
But the right people had already taken notice. Around the same time, Hector Rodriguez, a onetime insurance analyst who controlled a pickup team, OpTic Gaming, was trying to build it into a real business. He enticed Mr. Haag to join OpTic by offering to pay for travel and lodging at tournaments.
Two years later, Mr. Haag went back to California for the Call of Duty championships, only this time with Mr. Rodriguez instead of his uncle. The $1 million purse made it one of the world’s most prominent gaming events.
Mr. Haag led OpTic to a first-place finish and the $400,000 top prize. This brought him a wave of publicity and a $100,000 check.
Today, Mr. Rodriguez acts as Mr. Haag’s agent, mentor and chief scheduler. Unlike most agents, he doesn’t take a cut; Mr. Haag keeps all of his money from sponsors and contests. But Mr. Rodriguez owns the OpTic brand and controls the merchandise sales along with OpTic’s live stream and YouTube videos. In essence, this means he makes money from video ads and selling T-shirts.
OpTic Gaming is now a big enough business that Mr. Rodriguez rents a house in Hoffman Estates, outside Chicago, where Mr. Haag and his teammates practice Call of Duty all day. Mr. Rodriguez lives a few miles away so he can make sure everyone is working hard — that they are busy playing video games.
Mr. Haag and his teammates have become famous, which has made the house a target for pranks. Late last year, someone called 911 and claimed that armed intruders were breaking in, apparently hoping that the police would show up with guns drawn.
It worked: Local police appeared with AR-15 rifles. But instead of bad guys, they found Mr. Haag and his roommates playing video games near a stack of pizzas. The pizzas had been ordered earlier in the evening, and were also a prank. Mr. Haag said he and his roommates paid for them because they felt bad for the delivery man.
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Sharing Every Detail
The day after the pancake lessons, Mr. Haag was in Red Bull’s game studio wearing a contraption like a swimming cap that was full of wires and attached to a computer. The idea was to see how his brain functioned under the stress of video game combat. This would help Red Bull’s trainers and sports therapists design exercises to help him stay calm and shoot better.
To perform the test, a Red Bull “sports technologist” had Mr. Haag fire up Call of Duty and start shooting. Whether or not this will help his performance, it paid instant dividends for his image. The first thing Mr. Haag did after the test was post a photo of himself in the cap of wires to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Mr. Haag said, “Social media is the most important part of what I do.” Even though Mr. Haag calls himself a professional video game player, he is really an online video star. The money he wins in contests is tiny compared with the money he makes from his live stream and YouTube videos.
His command over his audience is great enough that Major League Gaming recently enticed him to leave Twitch and stream exclusively with its site. He is on track to make around $700,000 from streaming and his YouTube channel this year. Throw in his other sponsorships and contest winnings, and he is well on his way to a million-dollar year.
But Mr. Haag is paid per viewer, so he has to keep producing.
One night at Red Bull’s studios, he played Call of Duty over the Internet for his fans. When Mr. Haag competes, he sits upright in his chair and screams back and forth with his teammates in a way that is reminiscent of a Wall Street trading desk. But this night was more casual: He was jumping from game to game and playing with whoever was online right then.
He had filled the stream with hip-hop so his viewers could hear beats and rhyming lyrics over the din of digital gunfire and grenades. His face was lit up by a pair of screens, one with Call of Duty and another with a rolling list of fan questions like “How was the Brain Testing?” and “Nadeshot can you say ‘What’s up Blake?’ ”
He talked for the entire five or so hours that he played — about the game, about hip-hop, about how his desire for an In-N-Out burger was fighting with his newfound resolve to eat healthily. At times he sang rap lyrics.
It looked like a cross between social media and talk radio, if talk radio had a visual component where a bunch of digital characters shoot one another. And as a form of entertainment, it seemed perfectly suited to a world where people jump around browser windows, watching a video in one, checking Facebook in another.
The Internet, with its infinite space and insatiable demand, has turned Mr. Haag’s pastime into a drudging obligation. But it is better than McDonald’s, which is why he spends so much time worrying that his game career will end and that he will have to figure something else out.
Mr. Haag may be only one year above the legal drinking age, but his fan base is largely teenagers. Just as he and other gamers have upset the media landscape by teaching children to watch video games like TV, they live with the near-constant threat that their audience will abandon them for something or someone else.
On another evening, Mr. Haag, bags under his eyes, wanted to take a night off and go back to the house in Venice. He asked his teammates if they wanted to go with him. They declined.
Instead of letting his teammates siphon off fans who could be watching him, Mr. Haag changed his plan and stayed for yet another marathon session of streaming.
“I would love to go home and hang out, but you gotta do what you gotta do,” he said. “Can’t complain too much, playing video games for a living.”