Skip Navigation

Frame by Frame

Archive for the ‘Digital Culture’ Category

Francesca Catalano – A Brilliant New Director of Cinematography

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Francesa Catalano is a new talent to watch – literally!

Yesterday, at the suggestion of Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, I viewed Luca Boni and Marco Ristori’s low budget horror film, Reich of the Dead (2015), shot in Italy on a minimal budget with English speaking actors – including Andrew Harwood Mills, Dan van Husen, Aaron Stielstra, Ally McClelland -  which would be just another program picture were it not for Francesca Catalano’s absolutely superb CinemaScope cinematography, using a RED Scarlet digital camera to achieve some really astonishingly subtle effects.

From what I can gather, this is her first film as a full-fledged DP, although she has worked in second unit and assistant capacities on a number of films. But on the evidence of her work here, she is clearly a major talent, and someone who is ready to step up to fulltime DP work on a major project. Someone smart will grab her soon – she’s got a style all her own, which uses a good deal of available light, and deeply saturated color, and makes this very minor film well worth watching – sort of like one of Val Lewton’s Gothic thrillers from the 1940s.

In particular, her style of cinematography embraces the principles of tenebrism, which as Wikipedia notes,  “is a style of painting using very pronounced chiaroscuro, where there are violent contrasts of light and dark, and where darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image. The technique was developed to add drama to an image through a spotlight effect, and was popular during the Baroque period of painting.”

I wrote her to ask for her thoughts, and she responded, in part: “Thanks so much for your note. I really love [the painter] Caravaggio, and I think everyone who wants to be a DP should know or have seen once in their life some of his great work. You’re right, the movie is done with a very low budget and just a few lights, which is the reason that I tried to use natural light as much as possible, to bring out the colors of the location itself, and enhance the costumes.”

Catalano’s work is really one of a kind – as I told her, it is reminiscent of Caravaggio, but also recalls the work of the great Italian DP Mario Bava in its atmospheric and restrained sense of mood and atmosphere – in short, the vision of a true original, who has obviously studied painting seriously, and instinctively understands how to use light and shadow to create a really remarkable series of images on a very limited budget.

American DPs often approach their work as if it’s just another assignment, and expect most of the color grading to be done in post-production, but here, working with minimal resources, Catalano shows how much can be done on the set, using the qualities of the scene itself, and taking real risks with her compositions, to achieve something really extraordinary.

All in all, Catalano has the sensibility of a true artist.

Behind The Scenes – San Andreas Without Special Effects

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Click here, or above, to see some great “raw” footage from the disaster film San Andreas, courtesy of Sploid.

The tagline on this video is how “ridiculous” San Andreas looks without the finished special effects work, but I think that’s completely off the mark. Just a casual look at this video – with intensive under water work, harnesses pulling stunt performers into the air, gigantic crowd scenes, helicopter stunts and the like, demonstrates once again that movie making is brutally hard work – something that most people simply don’t understand.

You want to experience a really tough work environment? Then crew on a feature film. Every day, day after day, you have to get up, create complex set pieces, haul tons of equipment from place to place, deal with meal penalties, overtime, safety regulations which are more than necessary, all in the service of creating a series of images that will pass by fleetingly on the screen, and then be forgotten. With the typical crew for a film such as this in the hundreds simply during physical production, and a great deal of genuine risk involved, this is nothing to fool around with.

The movie “is what it is,” in one of my least favorite phrases – it’s a big budget disaster movie directed by Brad Peyton, whose other credits include the “aggressively unambitious” Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012), which I actually suffered through on Pay Per View in a hotel in California, appropriately enough – and the whole enterprise is designed to do precisely one thing: make money.

But despite that, there’s a considerable amount of craftsmanship that went into the final film, and this video will give you a glimpse of that. Really, it’s a remake of Mark Robson’s 1974 film Earthquake, and in every way an improvement on the original. The special effects are better, and while The Rock is certainly no Sir Laurence Olivier, he doesn’t pretend to be – he’s an action star, and proud of it.

It really isn’t so easy to shoot such an ambitious spectacle – try it sometime, and see for yourself.

Simon Denny – All You Need Is Data

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Artist Simon Denny nails the darker side of the headlong rush to digital – the loss of humanity.

In his new show at MoMA PS1, which originally appeared in an earlier version Germany in 2012, artist Simon Denny critiques the culture of endless data, acquisition, and money as the ultimate value in an impressive installation entitled “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” based on the concept that “All You Need Is Data,” an obvious and ironic spin on the Beatles’ oft-repeated, if somewhat simplistic mantra, “All You Need Is Love.”

As the museum notes of the exhibition, “Denny’s work often refers to the psychology and abstract language of the new media economy, invoking ‘clouds’ of big data and the constant pressure to ‘update’ our lives. He typically finds the sources for his work within the materials, advertising, and packaging produced by technology and media companies, and often deploys graphic interfaces borrowed from commercial display to highlight connections between the utopian goals of the new media economy and those of historical modernism.”

Ken Johnson reviewed the show for The New York Times, observing that “in a recent column for The New York Times, the economist Paul Krugman argued that the benefits of the digital technology revolution of the past four decades have been greatly overestimated. The new technologies, he suggested, might be ‘more fun than fundamental.’ Worse, euphoric media chatter about how they’re changing the world for the better ‘acts as a distraction from more mundane issues,’ like putting people to work in usefully productive jobs.

In a similar vein, ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma,’ a hyperactive multimedia extravaganza by the Berlin-based artist Simon Denny at MoMA PS 1, takes down such irrational exuberance about technology and does it with sardonic verve. Along the way, it indirectly damns the high-end art market’s own inflationary mania. If Mr. Denny doesn’t get to the bottom of what’s causing the sociopathology infecting both industries, his show is certainly a rousing conversation starter . . .

To contemporary art followers, Mr. Denny’s strategies of satirical appropriation and parodic simulation might not appear particularly novel. Those who keep up with business journalism might find little of it especially newsworthy. Nevertheless, the combination of form and content makes for a persuasive protest against soulless capitalism.

In his catalog essay, Peter Eleey, PS 1’s chief curator and the show’s organizer, notes the obvious parallel of the tech industry’s drive to innovate to the contemporary art world’s hunger for the new and to today’s billionaire-inflated art market, with its proliferating fairs and private museums. It’s not an exact parallel: Old art may rise or fall in market value, but it usually doesn’t become worthless the way obsolete electronic devices do. But you get the idea.

In any case, there’s a deeper level of insight that Mr. Denny doesn’t quite crystallize, which has to do less with new technology than with money and how money disrupts and corrupts non-monetary values. As the title character of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, on discovering buried gold, put it, ‘Thus much of this will make black white, foul fair/Wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant.’

What happens in a society and culture where money becomes the measure of all things and technological innovation becomes just a way to make more money faster?”

More is less, and more wants more – I’d add another quote from Psalm 39.6 in the King James Bible, “Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.”

I’d say that this more than applies here – what’s the point of this endless acquisition, numbering of word patterns, the endless roll out of time wasting video games, the non-stop proliferation of useless apps and devices that separate us more and more from each other, plunging us into a wilderness of supposed “tech innovation?”

I’m with Simon Denny – I’ve seen the future, and it doesn’t work – for humans.

Our Attention Span is Now Shorter Than That of a Goldfish

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Yes, we’re so distracted by digital media, that we now can’t pay attention for more than 8 seconds.

As Meredith Engel writes in The New York Daily News, “Humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish — and we would write more, but you’re probably clicking somewhere else already. The new finding — by, of all companies, Microsoft — suggests that the little fish can concentrate for nine seconds compared to eight for humans.

The researchers looked at three different types of attention: Sustained attention is the ability to focus on one task continuously; selective attention is the ability to respond when distractions come up; and alternating attention is multitasking. To get a measure of focus levels, the researchers asked 2,000 Canadians to take online surveys, play games and have their brain electricity measured.

The researchers found that increased use of digital devices lessens our sustained attention, doesn’t affect our selective attention, and actually improves our alternating attention. That means we are less able to focus on one task, but are getting better at doing multiple tasks at once. The report says that the human attention span has decreased by four seconds since 2000 — and that tech innovations may be blame.” You think?

Maybe that’s why movies are so hyper-edited these days – or maybe they’re part of the cause.

Andrew Wallenstein on The New Video Ecosystem

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Our viewing habits have changed dramatically, as Andrew Wallenstein notes in Variety.

As he writes, “watching TV used to be so simple, or at least it seems that way in retrospect. First there were just a handful of networks. Then broadcast TV gave way to cable. But even as the number of channels multiplied exponentially, it was all still easy to understand, not to mention incredibly profitable: The combination of advertising and affiliate fees delivered approximately $90 billion annually to a small group of content companies.

That was then, this is now: Advertising revenues and multichannel subscriptions are endangered by significant ratings declines across the cable TV landscape as audiences — particularly younger viewers — get bombarded by a dizzying array of cheaper programming choices delivered over the Internet. Some, like Netflix, charge viewers a monthly fee; others, like many of the ventures pitching advertisers at this week’s NewFronts presentations in New York, are as free as broadcast television.

Many of these ventures are backed by the biggest companies in the tech sector. Which isn’t to say the incumbent entertainment conglomerates are simply sitting on the sidelines while the challengers eat their lunch. To the contrary, Hollywood’s participation in the likes of Sling TV and HBO Now is something akin to baby Kal-El launching out of planet Krypton in Superman: A culture facing the threat of extinction is seeking to find life for itself elsewhere in the solar system.”

A fascinating article, with superb graphics and excellent detail – click here, or above to read it all.

Frame by Frame Chosen As Blog of the Month By ProfNet

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Frame by Frame has been chosen as Blog of the Month for May, 2015 by ProfNet.

ProfNet, the academic news professional network, has chosen Frame by Frame as the Blog of the Month for May, 2015. As Melissa Ibarra, writing for ProfNet, noted when she interviewed me about the Frame by Frame blog, every month “I’ll be highlighting one successful blogger on The Blog Blog. By ’successful,’ I mean someone who has been blogging for at least three years and has seen their audience engagement grow significantly. For this month’s feature, we conducted a short interview with Wheeler Winston Dixon, creator of Frame by Frame, a film and media blog:

1. What is your name and title?

Wheeler Winston Dixon, James Ryan Professor of Film Studies, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

2. What is the name and URL of your blog?

Frame by Frameblog.unl.edu/dixon/

3. Which audience does your blog cater to?

People interested in film history, theory, and criticism; media trends; streaming; film preservation; trends in viewing; cultural studies; pop culture; and classic films.

4. What inspired you to create your blog?

It offers a daily outlet to comment on the current film and related media subjects of the day. I keep it loaded with new material on a nearly daily basis. It seemed like there was nothing quite like it out there, and still isn’t.

5. What makes your blog so unique?

I cover everything related to film, television, the Web, streaming, changing patterns of distribution, classic cinema, from an informed perspective rather than a fan based one. It’s academic, but accessible, with multiple links to related materials. And best of all, it’s ad free.

6. What is your ultimate blogging goal?

To keep blogging and writing for as long as I can.

7. If you could choose one piece of advice to give to new bloggers, what would it be? Have you made any mistakes and learned from them?

You must put up fresh material every day. Every. Single. Day. You can take a day or two off for vacation, but you should keep abreast of current media and cinema trends, and blog on them as often as possible. Also, rather than always offering my opinion on something, my real goal is to expose people to as many new and interesting films as I can.

8. How successful has your blog grown to become versus when you first started it? If you could provide simple metrics, that would be great.

I started with only a handful of viewers; now I am used as a source throughout Wikipedia; there are multiple links to my blogs in various other articles; and on good days I get up to 20,000 hits on various stories.

9. How does blogging benefit you?

It provides me with a platform to get my ideas and concepts out on a regular basis, without having to go through regular editorial schedules, in a timely and positive fashion.

10. Any other interesting stories or information you would like to provide?

I’m both surprised and pleased at the success of the blog. It’s listed on blogrolls in major newspapers throughout the world, and I regularly get requests to comment on news stories from members of the traditional media.

Dixon took his expertise in film and media and transformed it into a successful blog. Not only is he extremely knowledgeable in his field, but his passion keeps his blogging fire burning. It’s great to find inspiration through the success of others.

Thanks, Melissa, and all those at ProfNet – much appreciated!

Falling Falling – Mesmerizing Video Art

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Want to see some truly mesmeric video art? Then just click here, or on the image above.

The New Audience: Moviegoing in a Connected World

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

The Academy is also running this interesting evening on May 12, 2015, on the future of cinema in the digital era.

As the program notes explain, “The Academy looks at the past, present and especially the future of moviegoing in this discussion moderated by Krista Smith, Vanity Fair’s executive West Coast editor.  Oscar-nominated producer and Academy member Michael Shamberg conceived and helped shape the program in consultation with the Academy.

Just as the television boom of the 1950s inspired filmmakers to expand the size and shape of the movie screen, today’s filmmakers and studios want to take advantage of the wide variety of platforms on which contemporary audiences view films.

Everything from portable devices to streaming videos competes with the traditional movie theater as the preferred ways to watch films for much of the current generation. The evening will include notable media-savvy contributors who will first offer their unique perspectives on the topic and then participate in a panel discussion moderated by Smith.

Professor Henry Jenkins, the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at the University of Southern California, will discuss key historic shifts in motion picture viewing and fandom, describing how our social experiences in and around cinema have shifted over time, and what they look like in today’s networked era.

The president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and web pioneer Ze Frank will compare the way today’s digitally oriented audiences relate to content with the more traditional relationship between moviegoers and the theatrical experience.

Team Oscar winner Tayo Amos will speak about what it means to grow up as a digital native filmmaker and media consumer in the world of social media, and explain how social media and the Internet are changing storytelling for her generation.

The final speaker will be Oscar-winning filmmaker John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and principal creative advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering. The evening will also include archival footage, courtesy of the Academy Film Archive, showcasing early audiences interacting with movies and a look at past predictions of moviegoing in the 21st century.

Again, admission is just $5, and this promises to be an informative and deeply interesting evening.

Patrick Morganelli’s New Opera – Hercules vs. Vampires

Friday, April 24th, 2015

The LA Opera Company – Patrick Morganelli’s new opera Hercules vs. Vampires, from the film by Mario Bava.

There are some times I wish I had a private jet I could simply go to the airport and use at will, and this is one of those times. Patrick Morganelli’s superb new opera,  Hercules vs. Vampires, is playing at the LA Opera House tomorrow and Sunday, and that’s it. By clicking on the image above, you can go to the LA Opera’s site for the production, which features a snippet of video, and a section of the work, which sounds, as Morganelli intended, very much like something influenced by Ravel and Debussy – brilliantly performed.

Bava’s film, featuring the haunting image of a young Christopher Lee (on the screen above) is a masterwork of Italian 60s atmospheric fantasy. Morganelli’s score lifts both the narrative and the images to an entirely new level, and the reviews thus far have been raves. My good friend Dennis Coleman, who lives in Los Angeles, saw the production, and gave it very high marks – and I believe him. This is an inspired “mash-up” of cinema and classical music, performed by some of the brightest talents in the world of opera working today.

As the LA Opera’s web site notes, “buckle your seat belts for our most offbeat presentation ever! Hercules vs. Vampires combines opera and midcentury pop culture, synchronizing live music with cult fantasy film Hercules in the Haunted World, a 1961 sword-and-sandal epic starring bodybuilder Reg Park. When the actors projected on the silver screen open their mouths to speak, the audience will hear their lines sung by our cast of singers from the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, accompanied by a 26-piece orchestra.

Directed by the great Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, the film itself is fantastic in every sense of the term, swaddled in glorious early-1960s Technicolor. Action-packed and wildly operatic in scope, the film follows Hercules on a heroic journey to rescue his beloved from a fiendish mastermind of terror (played onscreen by horror legend Christopher Lee). Fresh and full of fun, an atmospheric new operatic score by L.A.-based composer Patrick Morganelli provides the perfect accompaniment to Bava’s gorgeously gaudy world.”

As composer Morganelli told Michelle Lanz in The Frame, “one of the amazing things about Mario Bava was that because he was originally a cinematographer, he had an amazing sense of how to light a scene, how to frame it…when he stepped up to become a director he was really able to bring this visual sense to it. Specifically what we see in this particular film is he shot it in anamorphic widescreen, which of course looks spectacular for a low-budget film like that. The color composition of it, and in particular roughly a third of the film takes place in Hades. The scenes in Hades are beyond belief.

I stuck as close as I could to the story of the film. I didn’t want to start doing things that were going to not really make sense with the picture. The difficulty there is that in taking film dialogue and creating an operatic libretto out of it, you have not only artistic issues of how do you condense everything into fewer words, but artistically they have to be words that are singable when you put all that together and then try and match that up with the actual mouth movements of the screen — it was technically quite difficult.” But the results, it seems, are spectacular.

I truly wish I could see this in person; it seems like a remarkable and daring achievement.

The Eternal Camera

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

This new, light-powered camera – now in development – could theoretically take pictures for all eternity.

As BBC News reports, “A camera powered by the light it uses to take pictures has been invented by American scientists. The camera generates power by converting some of the light falling on its sensor into electricity that is then used to take a snap. Theoretically the self-powered device could take a picture every second, forever.

The camera’s creators are now refining the device and are looking into ways to commercialize the technology.  ‘We are in the middle of a digital imaging revolution,’ said Professor Shree Nayar, director of the computer vision laboratory at Columbia University in New York who invented the device. ‘A camera that can function as an untethered device forever – without any external power supply – would be incredibly useful.’

Professor Nayar said the route to creating the device opened up when he realized that solar panels and digital cameras use almost the same component, known as a photodiode, to handle light. Working with engineers, Nayar managed to create a photodiode that combined the light-sensing abilities of a camera with the power-converting properties seen in solar panels.

The next step was to use lots of the combined photodiodes to form a grid that both senses the intensity of light falling on it and converts some of that illumination into power that captures an image. The prototype sensor grid is just 30 by 40 pixels in size and currently takes grainy black and white images. To demonstrate its abilities, Nayar and colleagues used their self-powered camera to shoot a short film.

Nayar told the BBC that the next step in development was to make a self-powered, solid-state image sensor with many more pixels that could then be used to produce a standalone camera that could be used anywhere. The self-powering sensor could also be used to lower the power consumption needs of smartphones and other gadgets, he said, or, when not being used to take pictures, could also function as an in-built power generator.”

I’m sure such a device could indeed be “incredibly useful,” but frankly, I’m not sure I like the idea of a camera that takes images forever, as part of a Panopticonic universe. And am I the only one who sees the blurry, early image above as a sort of replica of Edvard Munch’s The Scream?

Perpetual, self-powered surveillance. Read the whole story by clicking here, or on the image above.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at wdixon1@unl.edu or wheelerwinstondixon.com

RSS Frame By Frame Videos

  • War Movies
    UNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon at one of the earliestand most enduring film genres, the war movie. […]
  • Frame By Frame - Hollywood Composers
    UNL Film Studies professor Wheeler Winston Dixon highlights the most prolific Hollywood film composers. […]

In The National News

National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/