James Bond is just a code name

Although I support the message behind this James Bond Supports International Women’s Day video, I’m not really a fan of the video itself.  I don’t really see how having Daniel Craig as James Bond just stand there for a bit, and then return in drag, adequately conveys the inequality between the way men and women are treated in society.  Surely having a woman (say, Naomie Harris) perform Bond’s lines, while Daniel Craig delivers the Miss Moneypenny lines, would better convey how men and women are treated differently in all walks of life?

Could there ever be a female James Bond?  This may seem like a silly question:  That James Bond is a man (a womanising man, no less) seems to be a ‘defining feature’. Continue reading “James Bond is just a code name”

Why video games will never be 'culture'

Listening to the Overthinkers over-think video game culture (last week) and films (this week), I have begun to worry that video games will never be ‘culture’. More generously, I am concerned that video games will never attain the same cultural currency as other art forms.

This is because people do not absorb the culturally significant video games of the past, as they do with significant literature, film, and music. Continue reading “Why video games will never be 'culture'”

The Return of the Square

Two is a trend.  Vine, the new social media app that allows you to post 6 sec video clips, has a square format.  The videos are in a 1:1 aspect ratio.  This follows Instagram, the popular photo sharing app that gives the user focus and colour filters to improve their images.

This trend arrives just at the time when wide-screen has become the standard, default aspect-ratio of choice for both video and TV.  The footage generated by Apple iPhones, other cutting edge phone technologies, and the latest video cameras, all seem to be on the 2:1 ratio.  Before the move to High Definition, TV and camcorder footage was all 4:3.

Why the change to 1:1 for Instagram and Vine?  Perhaps because the ratio evokes Large Format photography.  This conveys a seriousness, a permenance, and a respect for the art of photography… a useful quality to communicate in the ephermeral, digital world of online image sharing.

Grand Central Station and Hotel Manhattan, New York, 1900 (Library of Congress)
Grand Central Station and Hotel Manhattan, New York, 1900 (Library of Congress)

Image from the Library of Congress, found via the NYC Past Tumblr and Kottke.org.

Synecdoche, New York and Directing our own lives

I watched Charlie Kaufmann’s Synecdoche, New York the other day. It is at times compelling, hilarious, and mysterious.

The story follows a theatre director, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Awarded a grant to produce a expansive artwork, he recreates scenes from his own life inside a huge warehouse. But of course, after a while, his own life revolves around producing the theatre piece… So that gets recreated inside the warehouse too. He has to recruit an actor to play himself, and eventually an actor to play the actor that plays himself! Likewise with the other important people in his life and the production. The play becomes more and more recursive, in the manner of Borges’ The Circular Ruins (a dream within a dream).

Continue reading “Synecdoche, New York and Directing our own lives”

The anti-solipsism of the London Underground

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I have only just got around to reading John Lanchester’s delightful meditation on the London Underground. I missed it when it was published in the newspaper, but enough people shared it on social media that Twitter saw fit to e-mail it to me as a recommended story.

The essay deals with the rich topic of how we manage to be ‘alone’ in public places. Lanchester describes of the masques we wear and the techniques we use to create mental space to dwell within even though our physical personal space is invaded by other people at rush-hour.

Continue reading “The anti-solipsism of the London Underground”

Does Star Wars Prove That The Universe is Finite?

Star Wars Poster
Star Wars Poster

I’ve been thinking about the way languages are portrayed in the Star Wars film franchise, and what this says about the universe in which the adventures take place.

Some films portray all languages as English. This often happens in war and action films, where you’ll have German World War II officers or Russian spies speaking in accented English.

However, many English language films and television series choose to portray the other languages realistically, which involves subtitles (at least, when the dialogue is crucial).

In the Star Trek franchise, the Starfleet heroes encounter alien races every week. The problem is cleverly explained by the use of a Universal Translator (apparently built in to the little space ship emblem on the officers’ jerseys) which uses sophisticated AI to simultaneously translate the aliens’ words. There is even an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Universal Translator unexpectedly kicks in, thereby alterting the Enterprise Crew to the presence of a bizarre life-form, where they had perceived only crystals. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series solves the language problem in a similar way. Arthur Dent puts a Babel Fish in his ear, allowing him to understand all alien languages perfectly.

By contrast, Star Wars introduces no such trickery. Each alien race has its own language, and we often see subtitles when characters like Greedo or Jabba the Hut are speaking. R2D2 and Chewbacca speak languages that are unintelligible to the audience, but at least the main characters have learnt to converse with them. C3PO’s raison d’être is as a protocol droid, familiar in millions of languages.

What does this say about the English used in Star Wars? Well, since all the alien languages are rendered as one might hear them, with no concessions to the audience, then we can assume that the language we hear spoken by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo is also as we would hear them. The actors are not speaking English as a cheat for the audience. They are speaking English because that is the language that these characters actually speak. Continue reading “Does Star Wars Prove That The Universe is Finite?”

Moments

The Vimeo Awards and Festival are coming up. I’m in London and the awards are in New York, so my participation is limited to watching some of the shortlisted films on Vimeo.

I think the above ‘Moments‘ video will begin a trend in both amateur and professional production. There is always something so unsatisfactory about the way a conventional video renders, especially camera phone videos. While the scene you are beholding is panoramic, the resulting shot is boxed and restrictive. Even panning doesn’t quite capture the expanse of the view provided by the human eye. Few of us have access to IMAX projection screens.

These Hockney like clips by Ian Gamester manage to capture a little bit more detail and are a little bit more like panoramas. I know that split screen effects have been around for generations, but these renderings feel very new (part of The New Aesthetic, even?) I think this is perhaps because the constituent shots are all filmed portrait (probably off an iPhone), which is unusual for video.

Most of my public filming these days is for literary events or family gatherings. I think this technique may just work for those kinds of documentation. I hope the guys at Fifty Nine Productions, who use multiple projection surfaces in much of their work, watch this too.

Get Well Soon

‘Get Well Soon’ is a short film by BRAG Productions.  Its a quiet, visceral horror starring Gresby Nash and Laura Howard.  I saw it last year at The Exhibit in Balham and thought the combination of cinematography and sound design were particularly effective.

The film has finished its festival run and will be released online on 13th June.  Here’s a short video of the cast and crew, talking about the making of the film.

Director Ian Baigent has also created a lovely montage of all the clapper boards from the film shoot. I think all films should have one of these.

Lost Tribes and Human Nature

I found this video, of an uncontacted tribe meeting a white man for the first time, utterly compelling.

I admit that the Enigma style sound-track (actually Yeha-Noha by Sacred Spirit, a new feature on YouTube helpfully reveals) helps churn the emotions.

But there is a beauty in the images, in the actions of the startled men and women on film. Initially, they are clearly shit-fucking scared. Although they are armed, and could have let loose an arrow into the explorer’s gullet at any moment, they do not give in to their fear. Curiosity is the more powerful emotion. They dare to touch the hand of the explorer and his cameraman. And crucially, they trust him enough to shake his hand, taste the salt, and take him to their village. For his part, the white explorer (film-maker Jean-Pierre Dutilleux) appears honest and sensitive, and the moment early on where he reaches out his hand is just sublime.

Its an imperfect experiment, but these uncontacted tribes are the nearest thing we habe to a tabula rasa, a mind unpolluted by the sensibilities and preconceptions of our infinitely connected world. And, untrained and unprepared for the moment, they win it. Its a blow to the idea that humankind is essentially destructive and violent, and that politics must essentially be about protecting ourselves from others, in the pursuit of self-interest.

The video is actually from 1978, but these tribes-people are totally outside of time and only Dutilleux’s short-shorts date the piece. But I came upon it because of a more contemporary campaign to help preserve uncontacted tribes in the Amazon Rainforests. There is a lot more fascinating imagery, and a petition to sign, at UncontactedTribes.org.

Evolution of Skydiving Videos

In my youth, I would go skydiving at weekends.  My take-up of the sport was round about the time that digital video was coming onto the consumer market and into the world of freefall.  Most electronics shops sold high-end mini-DV units for four figure sums alongside VHS camcorders.  All units were relatively bulky and you required a homemade helmet with a camera-mount bracket on the front.

The films we produced then were rudimentary.  They were washed out and a bit shaky, and any that were edited were typically very basic montages set to some kind of dance-music sound-track.  Here’s an example I made earlier.

Compare that with this beautiful thing from design studio Betty Wants In, advertising a skydive centre in Melbourne. Its in a different league to what I saw being produced a decade ago, even from the professionals. Chief amongst its virtues is the focus on stillness and calm, and the relative stasis that you achieve in freefall (relative being the operative word). By contrast, when I was doing this sort of thing, the entire culture revolved around speed and the iconography was all cliched lightning bolts and flames. It shows how the practitioners of this relatively new genre have evolved, helped of course by the reduced price and size of HD video.