25 February 02006

Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates

The title of this article is one of film-maker Werner Herzog's quotes. He rails against the "worn out" images that are served up by TV, and his advice to budding film-makers is, "You will learn more by walking from Canada to Guatemala than you will ever learn in film school," and "Work as a taxi driver, work as bouncer in a sex club, work as a warden in a lunatic asylum: do something which is really into pura vida as the Mexicans would say, into the very pure essence of life" (source).

I thought about Herzog's attitude when reading the following passage from J.D.Lasica's Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation:

Lots of people will experiment with creating visual media. Much of the new video verité will be bad. But some will be watchable, perhaps even addictive. Where big media will continue to offer polished, mass market shows with linear narrative, high production values, and orchestrated story lines, the video of participatory culture will be marked by the quirky, personal, edgy, raw, unpolished, unscripted, unconventional, hyper-realistic, and genuinely surprising. (page 95)

The footage of grizzly bears, and of himself, that Timothy Treadwell shot in Alaska seems to live up to all of Lasica's adjectives.

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1 February 02006

Publishing your perspective and expertise with Squidoo

Here's another Web-2.0-style tool for aggregating information and links. It's the idea of Seth Godin, who has made his name from a series of books on innovative approaches to marketing in the age of the web. He sees this service, called Squidoo as a means for others to make their names in their areas of expertise — as captured in Squidoo's tagline, "a co-op of everyday experts".

I've created my own Squidoo 'lens', reviewed some other people's, and read Seth's free ebook about the concept behind squidoo. What follows are my reflections on these.

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9 November 02005

Event: digital film/cinema

The informal network Cass Creatives is hosting a second event on the future of filmmaking on 30th November at City University (London, less than 200m from where I'm writing!).

The last time they covered this topic the presentations and discussion were fascinating — see the official report and mine.

The event is free. Here are details and booking (also here).

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30 October 02005

Recording the Lea Valley: sound and vision

The new film by Saint Etienne and Paul Kelly, What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?, is billed as an homage to the Lea Valley. Seeing it led me first to dig out Peter Cusack's 02000 album The Horse was Alive, The Cow was Dead — which is an audio document of the same area — and then to consider the different ways in which the two pieces work.

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21 August 02005

Werner Herzog film season and conference

Coming up in London this September is a season of all Werner Herzog's feature films, around a third of his documentaries, plus the two Les Blank documentaries about Herzog. The latter form part of a weekend conference on Herzog's work, which also includes the UK premiere of the director's most recent film The Wild Blue Yonder. Herzog has been invited to be interviewed before this screening.

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31 October 02004

Of Walking in Ice, in Hertfordshire

"Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue," said Werner Herzog, in one of his famous dictums. So would he see 1st Framework's Of Walking in Ice day-long event, themed round his book of the same name, as a mixed blessing?

Our group of around twenty met at 8.30 at Kings Cross station on a Sunday morning — grateful at least for the extra hour in bed granted by the end of British Summertime — and the first leg of the day was a train journey to Welwyn Garden City. But the Herzog-themed 'happening' got under way properly when we set out on a seven-mile walk from Welwyn to Kimpton. This was a rather modest correlate of Herzog's own three-week walk from Munich to Paris in 1974. After soup and cheese on arrival, there was a screening of Herzog's film The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, a documentary about a Swiss ski-flyer (a more dangerous version of ski-jumping), followed by a performance-reading of extracts from Herzog's book.

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20 August 02004

Rise of digital intermediates in D-cinema

Hollywood Reporter has a useful article on the latest trends in the impact of digital technologies in independent film-making, covering shooting, post-production, and exhibition.

Some might be surprised to hear that digital mastering is leading to an increase in the use of Super 16mm film for shooting, as well as digital formats. One post-production agency reports seeing 50% 35mm film, 30% High Definition video (digital), and 20% Super 16mm film. One factor in the return of 16mm, is the increased use of digital intermediate (DI) mastering. A digital intermediate digitises an entire film with a scanner, creating digital image files that can be manipulated with color grading and special effects, and then 'output' in a variety of forms.

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27 June 02004

Is digital cinema fixated with wide shots?

In an earlier posting I quoted George Lucas playing down the impact of digital technologies on film-making: "a camera is a camera is a camera so it doesn't really make any difference... You frame the film the same... the aesthetics are exactly the same."

But critic Mark Cousins suggests in the June issue of Prospect Magazine that Lucas may be blind to the way he has changed his practice since he started shooting digitally. Cousins' article notes a trend towards wide shots that he says is part explained by changes in technology. A similar trend emerged and then retreated when CinemaScope was first introduced.

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2 June 02004

Puttnam on digital impact: my notes

David Puttnam's lecture this evening focused on skills (he spends a fair bit of his time advising the Department for Education and Skills these days) and on intervention to stimulate digital distribution and exhibition of films in the UK (he's a Labour peer).

He addressed the potential impact of digital technologies on production of films/motion pictures, on distribution and exhibition, and briefly on aesthetics.

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10 May 02004

Lord Puttnam lecture on digital technology and film

Following on from their very useful digital film event last November, Cass Business School is hosting a lecture by David Puttnam on The Impact of Digital Technology on the Film Industry: Opportunity or Threat? on 2 June.

Here's the link for more details and registration. It's free (including the drinks) and less than 200m from my front door, so I'll be there for sure...

6 May 02004

Alain Resnais film season

As a prelude to a season of Alain Resnais films that will get under way in earnest next week, Michel Ciment (editor of the French film journal Positif) gave an introduction to Resnais' fifty year career, followed by a screening of Providence.

Ciment's overview of Resnais' work and practice was erudite in nailing his unique gifts, while correcting what he sees as common misconceptions.

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31 March 02004

Impact of DVDs on film aesthetics

There's a very interesting article by Mark Cousins about the implications of the 'DVD revolution' on the film industry in the March issue of Prospect.

DVDs are apparently the "fastest growing entertainment technology of all time," and Cousins suggests some reasons why this technology has been embraced when the introduction of CDs took much longer. For what it's worth, I would add to his reasons the different habits of (a) collecting and (b) repeat viewing/listening that have applied to films and albums respectively in the past.

But the interesting bit is in Cousins' identification of two impacts of the revolution: that weekend box office figures have become an "ancillary revenue stream" rather than the be-all-and-end-all; and "the very idea of what [kind of film] is makeable changes." "Isn't it inevitable that filmmaking aesthetics in the future will be more widely influenced by DVD's appetite for context and rearrangement?" he asks.

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29 March 02004

More Werner Herzog Quotes

I recently read Paul Cronin's Herzog on Herzog and collected a few choice quotes about filmmaking and the perspectives that inform it. I've added these to my page of Herzog quotes — which seems to meet some kind of demand, if the number of Google searches it attracts is anything to go on. The page has roughly doubled in length. I've also added a postscript to my Herzog essay.

The book shows up some of the legends about Herzog as false or at least questionable. I started to wonder if my selective quotes were an example of irresponsible myth-making. But let us print the legend, lest we fall into another trap: that of dealing in what Herzog calls "the truth of accountants."

10 March 02004

George Lucas on aesthetics of digital film making

At the end of an extremely hagiographic article about George Lucas, which casts him as the originator of just about every technological innovation in cinema in the last 30 years, and even compares his role to David Bowie's Thomas Newton character in The Man Who Fell to Earth, there are some very sanguine comments from Lucas himself:

Digital imaging is a tool of cinema, just like the camera is a tool and the projector is a tool... They aren't new tools, they're simply improvements on the tools that already exist and have always existed... And a camera is a camera is a camera so it doesn't really make any difference on a practical level. You frame the film the same and you light the film the same — the aesthetics are exactly the same.

Which I take as further support for my instinct that, if 'D-cinema' is going to have cultural and aesthetic impacts, these will be come about from the increased range of material that it will be possible to project to significant numbers of people, using networks and low-cost production facilities — not from new kinds of big budget films. And because some of these changes might require changes to the 'darkened hall' physical architecture of cinemas themselves, it will be decades rather than years before the impacts are fully felt.

More background in this old posting. And thanks again to E-cinema Alert for the original link.

15 February 02004

Digital versus analogue

This article reports how the American Society of Cinematographers is responding to digital cinema (with thanks to the E-cinema Alert for this link). While they seem to be embracing digital cinema, it's interesting to read the comment that 'major' movies are expected to be shot on film for many years yet: "The studios are not, as a rule, going to spend 60, 80, 100 million dollars on movies shot digitally, and it actually benefits the intermediate process because film provides more information to extract."

Compare this with the debates about audio recording formats, including this choice quote from Neil Young about digital recording throwing the baby out with the bathwater: "along with the hiss went depth of sound and the myriad possibilities of the high end where everything is like the cosmos, exploding stars, echo. From the 80s on, no records contain that kind of quality any more and those are the very things that stimulate the human body into reacting, feeling, and enjoying music."

29 January 02004

Notes and resources on digital cinema

Here are some extended notes and links on digital cinema (aka D-cinema, aka E-cinema). I'm not an expert in this field, but I dip into it occasionally, and what follows is principally an exercise for my own benefit in collecting my notes and thoughts — if anyone else finds this of interest, so much the better. Such commentary as there is is not deeply considered: just my usual prejudices.

Firstly, should it be D-cinema or E-cinema? I quote from this authoritative Canadian source on the subject: "E-cinema or electronic cinema is both a generic term incorporating both D-cinema or digital cinema and E-cinema when it is specifically used to describe a less expensive form of digital cinema with lower levels of illumination and definition." In the latter context, E-cinema is about half the resolution of D-cinema (measured in thousands of lines), and less than half the price. D-cinema is claimed to have the same quality as 35mm film projection, as currently used in most cinemas.

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15 January 02004

Web resources for Theo Angelopoulos films

Still from Angelopoulos's film Ulysses' Gaze, copyrighted materialI've added some more web links to the he Showroom Cinema's web links directory. The BFI tour of Theo Angelopoulos films hits the Showroom with six films at the end of this month and during February. Here are the new links, and here are some more sublime images.

3 January 02004

Gloria Grahame's Eyebrows

Lucy and I went to see A Woman's Secret yesterday, which was better for its sharply scripted dialogue than its plot.

I've always liked Gloria Grahame in the past (especially in In a Lonely Place, The Big Heat and Human Desire), but I've never seen her use her eyebrows quite so egregiously as she does in her main singing scene in this film. Titters spread round the cinema as she out-did Roger Moore and that bloke who plays Bones in Star Trek. Here's a short profile of the actress that covers her stormy presence on screen and off, and makes reference to those remarkable brows.

1 December 02003

Digital cinema and changing film aesthetics

Thanks to planning my move of home/office, it's taken me over a week to collect my thoughts on a debate on the impact of digital technologies on the film industry, which was organised by Cass Creatives. Happily this delay has saved me time, since Interactive KnowHow has now posted a comprehensive eight page report on the event. Together with their background paper on the issues involved, these make very useful resources.

I've complained in the past about discussions of music and technology ignoring aesthetics, but happily this debate did address how digital techniques and formats are tied together with changes in the process and product of film-making, and in consumption. My notes concentrate only on these topics in the debate, and a few points not covered in the report.

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28 October 02003

Korean Cinema and Carl Dreyer Web Resources

Falconetti in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, copyrighted materialI've added two more groups of links to the Showroom Cinema's web links directory, which tie in with their film programme. The new links are for Korean Cinema and the work of Carl Theodor Dreyer, the acclaimed Danish director of early silent masterpieces and a few later 'talkies.'

The intention behind the web links is to enrich the experience of people who come to see the more left-field films at the Showroom, and thereby to encourage them back for repeat visits, thus creating a virtuous circle of audience development. By far the most popular links so far have been those for David Lynch — and the No.1 most requested resource is the hints that may (or may not) help you follow the plot of Lynch's Mulholland Drive!

17 October 02003

Life After Fire: Werner Herzog

I've made a couple of additions to the Werner Herzog weblinks that I originally collected and curated a couple of years ago for the Showroom cinema. [Update, 02005: I'm no longer maintaining the Showroom weblinks site, but have transferred and updated all the links in my Werner Herzog Archive on Furl.]

You might not want to live in Herzog's world all the time, but you shouldn't forget it's there, and you should visit regularly. I've also added minor postscripts to the notes I wrote about Herzog in 2001, as well as a few new entries to my list of favourite Herzog quotes.

6 September 02003

Digital Film Distribution: mitigated success

BBC News tells the story of the first official launch of a feature film on the internet which apparently was a victim of its own success — or more precisely the success of its promotion — on its opening yesterday evening. "Overwhelming demand from the public to see the movie caused the site's streaming facility to crash."

The film is This is Not a Love Song, but whether or not it is working again now, I can't tell you because the site tells me "This is not Windows". Damn right. You have to have an operating system and application software from Microsoft, so the multiplex mentality is still present in essence if not in the practical details.

16 August 02003

The Draughtsman's Contract

Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract is re-released at the ICA this month. As a big fan at the time, I was curious to see how this standard-bearer for British art cinema in the '80s (and for FilmFour) looks in hindsight. In short, it's easier to see why people loved it — in particular the bravura confidence of the compositions — and why people hated it. I find myself less impressed now than I was: hindsight robs the obsessive schemes of their promise of enlightenment. We know it all goes round and round in post-structuralist circles, leading nowhere much, which was the intended 'lesson' all along. And without the tease of that promise, why bother even to try to unravel the clues?

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28 May 02003

Visconti weblinks

I've curated a set of weblinks for the Luchino Visconti season at the Showroom Cinema - reviews, essays and historical background to the major films.