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Archive for the ‘Digital Culture’ Category

Pics or It Didn’t Happen – The Primacy of the Visual

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Here’s a fascinating article on the rising dominance of totally visual culture by CNN’s Todd Leopold.

As Leopold notes, “the blur of communications has progressed from letters and e-mails to texts, tweets and Instagram pictures. Long, detailed speeches have turned into clips, then sound bites, then Vines, Snapchat and animated GIFs. Yes, we’re adjusting to an image-intensive, brevity-favoring world, a world as close and available as our smartphone. It’s a fast-growing, hugely popular world that rewards short attention spans.

Instagram was born in 2010; as of June, it has 130 million monthly active users and 45 million photos posted per day. Vine, the six-second video app introduced by the Twitter folks in January, became the iTunes app store’s most popular free download within three months. It had 13 million users as of June, and its most active users post more than 14 Vines per day. Not to be outdone, Instagram launched its own short-video feature in June.

Users of Snapchat, a messaging platform popular with teens, exchange 200 million pictures a day. President Obama’s campaign used a Twitter photo to express thanks after his 2012 re-election; it became the most popular tweet in Twitter’s history. Danny DeVito sends out photo- bombing pictures of his ‘troll foot’ at every opportunity. Creative types have used Vine and Instagram to create memes, jokes and art. All this gives new meaning to the Internet rule, ‘Pics or it didn’t happen.’”

My thanks to Gwendolyn Audrey Foster for sharing this with me; fascinating reading.

Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access on “Inquiry” with Mark Lynch

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

I just did an interview with host Mark Lynch on the radio program Inquiry, from NPR affiliate WICN in Worcester, MA, on my new book, Streaming.

As it says on the website for the podcast of the show, “Tonight on Inquiry we welcome back Wheeler Winston Dixon. He is the James Ryan Endowed Professor of Film Studies and professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His new book is Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access. Professor Dixon declares that we are now in the “postfilmic era”, a time when movie film will no longer exist and all movies will be shot digitally. DVDs will also cease to exist as all films will be “streamed” and movie houses, those that are still extant, will only show digital copies of movies. But what are the implications of all of this for the art of film, the preservation of old films and how we watch movies? The answers are disheartening and  a little bit frightening. Tune in and find out why.”

And you can tune in by clicking here, or on the image above.

Inside The Asylum: The Outlaw Studio That Changed Hollywood

Friday, July 26th, 2013

I have a new article on The Asylum Studio in Los Angeles in the latest issue of Film International.

As I write, “Some people get into the movie business because they have a passion for film. Some have dreams of creating the ‘great American movie,’ or rising to the top of the Hollywood Dream Factory. But as mainstream films become ever more expensive, routinely costing $100,000,000 or more simply to produce, and then under-performing at the box office – Pacific Rim and The Lone Ranger are two prime examples – it seems that the old system of making movies is broken.

The risks are simply too great – a few bad bets can sink a studio. Low budget films like The Purge and The Conjuring, both made for a pittance, rule the multiplexes. Spectacle and special effects just don’t bring in audiences anymore; people want something new, and outrageous, for their entertainment dollar. And a relatively new studio in Hollywood, The Asylum, is dedicated to doing just that; giving the viewer something the majors won’t. Something like Sharknado (2013).

The Asylum is following in a long line of low budget Hollywood production companies. Independent film studios, like American International Pictures in the 1950s and 60s, and Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and Concorde/New Horizons in the 1970s and 80s, offered viewers something the mainstream studios couldn’t; films aimed directly at their target audience – outlaw movies that made up their own rules as they went along.”

You can read the rest of the article on this fascinating studio here, or by clicking on the image above.

Sharknado / The Asylum Studio

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Everyone is talking about Sharknado, which is both preposterous and quite entertaining.

Most of the chatter on this film centers on the sheer implausibility of its premise, and that’s certainly a factor here. But it seems to me that in the end, Sharknado is no better or worse than 2012, War of the Worlds, White House Down, Olympus Has Fallen, Paranormal Activity, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or any number of big budget multiplex movies that have been flooding theaters in recent years. The studio behind this cheerfully insane project, aptly named The Asylum, has been cranking out “mockbusters” (or cheap copies of major studio films) for quite some time — most recently Asylum released Atlantic Rim as a response to Pacific Rim, and in the past has created such films as Snakes on a Train (yes, Train), The Day The Earth Stopped (or Stood Still), and numerous other unorthodox projects.

But for films that are made for a pittance — anywhere from $500,000 to $1,000,000 all in, and then released either through the SyFy Channel, or as On Demand streaming video, or even on DVDs and Blu-Rays, The Asylum’s projects are the essence of action movies; fast moving, shamelessly designed to appeal to audiences, utterly poker-faced no matter how outrageous the concept, and most of all economical – they move along at a rapid clip, and thanks to the legions of interns working for little or no money, have surprisingly high production values. Add a few stars on the way down, some recognizable faces from the soaps or reality shows, and a whole lot of CGI effects, and you have the Asylum formula.

In the end, it seems to me that Sharknado is altogether a better dumb genre action movie than many films currently in release – think of The Lone Ranger, for example – and that film cost $225,000,000 (!!) just to shoot, before promotion and DCP print costs. It’s staggering to think that a film can still be made these days for as little as $500,000, and at that price, The Asylum could make a stunning 450 full-length features – amazing when you think about it even for a moment. There’s so much wastage in Hollywood now, in both above and below the line costs — critics and the majors deride The Asylum’s films, but they’re the essence of crowd-engineered responsive genre filmmaking.

All in all, The Asylum’s films are often better, I think, than their big-screen genre counterparts.

Streaming Directly from the Cloud to Your Brain

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

I have a new interview in Moving Image Archive News on my recent book, Streaming.

As I note in the interview, “I’ve watched film change and morph for more than half a century. As I grew up, everything was being shown in theaters in 35mm, and at colleges, universities and libraries in 16mm, and there was, of course, no such thing as home video, VHS or DVD. Films screened on television were really ’streaming’ – they were broadcast at a certain date and time, and you had to be present at that time to see them.

I remember vividly setting my alarm clock for 1 a.m. or later to see films on WCBS TV’s The Late Show, and then The Late, Late Show, and even The Late, Late, Late Show, which is how I saw most of the classics growing up. I would also haunt revival theaters in New York City, such as the Thalia and the New Yorker, to see the classics projected in their proper format.

Video, of course, has been around since the early 1950s, but I don’t think anyone, even professional archivists, ever thought it would completely replace film, but it has. 16mm is completely defunct as a production medium, except in the case of Super 16mm which is used sometimes in features (such as The Hurt Locker) to save costs, but then blown up to 35mm, or now, skipping that step entirely and moving straight to a DCP.

Film is finished. It’s simply a fact. 35mm and 16mm projection are now a completely rarity, and screenings on actual film are becoming ‘events,’ rather than the norm. This is simply a platform shift, and it comes with various problems, mainly archiving the digital image, which is much more unstable than film.

But with the image quality of RED cameras for production, and digital projection taking over, it’s an inescapable fact that shooting on film is now the moving image equivalent of stone lithography. So now, my own viewing habits have moved to DVD and Blu-Ray, and I have a ridiculously large collection of DVDs in my home library, some 10,000 or more.

I have to have them in this format, because I can’t count on the quality of streaming videos from Netflix, Amazon, or other online sources. Blu-Ray, in particular, yields a truly remarkable image. So that’s how I watch films now, and in any event, the revival houses, even in major cities, are all now pretty much a thing of the past.”

You can read the entire interview by clicking here, or on the image above.

The $50 Movie Ticket?

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

World War Z is offering a $50 Mega Ticket in some theatres, to see if it works. I hope not.

As Hillary Busis noted in PopWatch on June 14th, under the tags “boatloads of money, head scratcher, to care or not to care” among other designations, “Paramount and Regal Entertainment have partnered for what they’re calling the ‘ultimate fan event’ — a World War Z package offered at just five theaters nationwide, including screens in Orange County, Houston, San Diego, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Its price tag? A hefty $50.

To be fair, those who purchase these ‘mega tickets’ will get more than just a pass to see Brad Pitt fight zombies. The bundle includes a ticket to see World War Z in RealD 3-D two days before its official release, a pair of custom RealD 3D glasses, a small popcorn, a limited-edition movie poster, and an HD digital copy of the film once it’s released for home viewing.

Knowing this, let’s break down the mega ticket’s cost.  An adult evening ticket for a movie comparable to World War ZMan of Steel — in RealD 3D at the five theaters listed as mega ticket partners costs $16.30 on average before tax, according to prices listed online. A small popcorn at a theater was $4.75 on average in 2009, and that number has certainly gone up in the past four years; let’s estimate it conservatively at $5. An HD digital download of a newly-released film — Oz the Great and Powerful, for example — costs $19.99 on iTunes and $14.99 on Amazon, so let’s average them to get $17.49

Add those together, and you get $38.79 (plus tax) — meaning that Paramount and Regal are charging around a $11.21 premium for a poster, the custom glasses, and the privilege of seeing the movie in advance.
Is that fair? Considering that $50 can buy you eight $6 beers at a reasonably-priced bar, or six months (plus one week) of unlimited streaming titles on Netflix, or 50 McDoubles at McDonald’s, it doesn’t really seem to be.”

I agree; I can’t imagine paying this, and I’ll add one other fact to Ms. Busis’s summary; today I went to see The Purge at the 12:20PM show in a theater that seated more than 500 people, and I was the only one – the absolute only person – in the theater, and that cost me $6.75 for a 2-D matinee. If you can’t fill theaters at $6.75 a pop in summer with The Purge, a film that’s already demonstrated that it’s a solid hit, how on earth are you going to get away with charging $50 for a souped up ticket for World War Z?

Not going to happen, no matter what Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Lucas say.

Roger Corman’s You Tube Channel

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Legendary producer/director Roger Corman is launching a pay YouTube channel on June 13th; click here, or on the image above, to listen to Corman introduce the new venture.

Always a few steps ahead of the game when it comes to distribution and exploitation of his product, Roger Corman has cut a deal with YouTube to stream his library of more than 400 films on his own YouTube channel, films that he either produced or directed, with the initial emphasis on the more “mainstream” fare, but who knows what will happen as the channel evolves?

Let’s not forget that when no one else would strike a deal with Ingmar Bergman for the American rights to his masterpiece Cries and Whispers, Corman stepped in with a telephone offer to distribute the film in the US based solely on two conditions; one, that it be a “representative Bergman film,” and two, that it was shot in color. This was no problem for Bergman, who readily agreed, and the film went on to become Bergman’s biggest American hit, which Corman booked in not only legitimate theaters, so to speak, but also in drive-ins.

Roger Corman has inspired dozens of filmmakers, actors, writers, and marches very much to his own drum; he was finally recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a special Academy Award© for his lifetime contribution to the cinema. Corman has directed and produced, or served as the co-producer or distributor, for a lot of excellent films, and he’s constantly, even in his 80s, reinventing himself to keep up with the times.

Streaming is the way to go these days, and Roger is one of the first to jump on the bandwagon with a pay channel in this area; judging by the enthusiastic comments from his many fans, the channel should be a solid hit, and hopefully he’ll run some of the more interesting arthouse films he championed in the 1970s and 80s along with the solidly commercial work; this could be a very interesting undertaking.

Click here for a more detailed article on Corman’s Drive In Theater.

Gutai Art Exhibition at The Guggenheim Museum

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

I recently saw a stunning show of Gutai Art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

As Ming Tiampo, Associate Professor, Art History, Carleton University, Ottawa, and Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York wrote of the exhibition, “Gutai: Splendid Playground presents the creative spectrum of Japan’s most influential avant-garde collective of the postwar era. Founded by the visionary artist Yoshihara Jirō in 1954, the Gutai group was legendary in its own time. Its young members explored new art forms combining performance, painting, and interactive environments, and realized an ‘international common ground’ of experimental art through the worldwide reach of their exhibition and publication activities. Against the backdrop of wartime totalitarianism, Gutai forged an ethics of creative freedom, breaking through myriad boundaries to create some of the most exuberant works and events in the history of Japanese and international avant-garde art. Yoshihara’s Please Draw Freely (1956/2013), a collective drawing on a freestanding signboard reconceived for the Guggenheim’s rotunda and created by visitors, invites adults and children to collaborate, think, and imagine for themselves.

The Gutai Art Association (active 1954–72) originated in the cosmopolitan town of Ashiya, near Osaka, in western Japan. Spanning two generations, the group totaled 59 Japanese artists over its 18-year history. The name Gutai literally means ‘concreteness’ and captures the direct engagement with materials its members were experimenting with around the time of its founding in 1954. From its earliest festival-like events, Gutai artists sought to break down the barriers between art, the ordinary public, and everyday life, and continuously took on new artistic challenges using the body in direct action with materials, time and space, and nature and technology. Charting Gutai’s creation of visual, conceptual, and theoretical terrains, this exhibition is organized throughout the museum in chronological and thematic sections: Play, Network, Concept, the Concrete, Performance Painting, and Environment Art.

The outdoor exhibitions of 1955 and 1956 literally set the stage for the group’s artistic strategies. Held in a pine grove park in Ashiya, these events brought art outside and released it from its confines, like Motonaga Sadamasa’s magisterial Work (Water). The Guggenheim commissioned the artist to recreate this work for the rotunda, where he hangs common, polyethylene tubes of varying widths filled with brightly-colored water between the rotunda levels, making giant brushstrokes out of catenaries in the open air that catch the sunlight (Work [Water], 1956/2011).

Moving from what Yoshihara decried as ‘fraudulent . . . appearances’ to lived reality, Gutai artists invented ways to go beyond contemporary styles of abstract painting into concrete pictures, blurring representational significance by incorporating raw matter, as well as time and space, as the stuff of art. Tanaka Atsuko’s Work (Bell) (1955/1993), reimagines painting as an acoustic composition of living sound through a sequential ringing of electric alarm bells wired along the entire expanse of Rotunda Level 2. Her interests in schematic and technical representation, wiring systems, lights, and the human form reached a pinnacle in her best-known work, Electric Dress (1956). The artist wore this spectacular costume made of flashing incandescent light bulbs painted in bright yellow, green, red, and blue for her performance during Gutai Art on the Stage (1957), whose documentary film is projected on Rotunda Level 5.

Like Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism, Gutai rejected psychic automatism for acts of corporeal materiality in the real world. Yoshihara’s involvement with the revitalization of Japanese traditional arts, specifically Japanese calligraphy, also informed his idea of art making as an unmediated experiential encounter between artist, gesture, and material. Shiraga Kazuo’s Untitled (1957), made by the artist painting on the floor with his bare feet, or Murakami Saburō’s Passage (1956), a performance painting made by the artist flinging himself through taut paper screens, both demonstrate Gutai’s call to release the ’scream of matter itself.’ In the context of live events, Gutai artists extended their objectives to theater, music, and film. The Gutai Card Box (1962) transformed the act of viewing paintings into an interaction, with the viewer purchasing a work from the artist hidden inside a vending machine.

As the global pioneers of environmental art, Gutai’s participatory environments take the form of organic or geometric abstract sculptures incorporating kinetic, light, and sound art, turning exhibition spaces into chaotic dens of screeching, pulsing, machine-like organisms. Yoshida Minoru’s erotic machine-sculpture Bisexual Flower (1969) mines the psychedelic effects of this approach. Gutai environments drew from contemporary architecture, technology, and urban design to promote a futuristic, space-age aesthetic. This can be seen in Nasaka Senkichirō’s giant armature composed of aluminum plumbing pipes punctured with holes, broadcasting a music composition as it zigzags its way up the exhibition space. This site of creativity is what Shiraga called ‘a splendid playground’ and what Yoshihara sought as a ‘free site that can contribute to the progress of humanity.’”

I was lucky enough to see the show — which ran from February 15–May 8, 2013 — on its last day of exhibition; I was unaware at the time that the show would soon be dismantled, but I was stunned by the originality, lack of commercialism, and genuine sense of wonder that the show displayed, which was also documented in numerous short films and videos projected throughout the museum. The Gutai movement was clearly very much ahead of the curve in terms of art in the United States, and in the happenings and performance pieces of the late 1950s and early 1960s done in the US, you can more than a little of Gutai’s influence.

However, due to the fact the international boundaries were more defined during the pre-web era than they are now, very little of Gutai’s output made it to the United States, except for those artists who visited Japan during the period when the group was active, and obviously took home notes. The other aspect of the Gutai movement that’s fascinating is that they knew when they had accomplished ewhat they wanted to do, and having worked continuously on creating boundary-breaking art since 1954, called a halt to the group’s activities in 1972, rather than just continuing on as a commercial entity. This is art at it’s purest, most genuine, and most affecting.

Click here, or on the image above, for a video on this exceptional show.

Film Convert – People Still Want The Film “Look”

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Despite the “breakneck shift” to digital cinema, it seems people still want the film “look.”

So here’s a fascinating video tutorial — which loads immediately when you click the image above — on some new software that takes the rather hard looking digital images put out by conventional HD cameras and softens then up into something approximating what film looks like, with artificial grain, color balance, and other artifacts of the filmic image. It’s all an illusion, of course; this is still HD. But it’s interesting to me that the more people use digital, the more they seem to long for the “look” of film, and the warmth, depth, and tactile feel that film brings to the image being captured.

As tech writer Joe Marine notes on the No Film School website, “we’ve said a lot about the digital versus film debate, and a lot of people have a lot of different opinions. Film still had a technological advantage over digital until really the last few years or so, and now we have digital sensors which can match or exceed film stocks with dynamic range. Either way, with digital sensors being ‘too clean’ for some people who have loved the look of film, there is a program called FilmConvert that takes the color information of specific cameras and actually uses that to determine how a specific film stock could best be represented using that sensor.”

So, click here, or the image above, and see for yourself how it works.

The End of Film is Really Here

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

I’ve been banging the drum on this for a long time, but now, it seems the end is really here.

As Carolyn Giardina and Adrian Pennington report in today’s Hollywood Reporter, “by the end of this year, distributors may no longer deliver film prints to theaters in North America. Cans full of reels of celluloid will be a thing of the analog past. When it comes to movies, and how they are distributed, the digital revolution will be complete. The signs are all there — and there have been plenty of warnings.

At Showest, the predecessor to CinemaCon, in 2011, National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian predicted that the domestic distribution of movies on celluloid could cease before the end of 2013. Fithian reported that Fox had already notified exhibitors of its intent to end film distribution in the U.S. within two years. He predicted, ‘No one should rely on the distribution of film prints much longer.’

By the end of 2012, 90,000, or 75 percent, of the world’s cinema screens had gone digital, according to Michael Karagosian, president of MKPE Consulting. He reports that 85 percent of the screens in North America had already made the digital switch, as have 67 percent in Europe. Studios welcomed the change, since it will ultimately be less expensive for them to distribute films digitally rather than have to ship cans of film around the country. Exhibitors, initially wary because of concerns about the expense of converting their auditoriums, ultimately came aboard once the studios agreed to virtual print fees that have helped subsidize the costs of the transition.

As a result, when a studio now releases a title wide in North America — sending it out to 2,000-2,500 theaters — they typically make just a small number of prints, maybe 300, according to Claude Gagnon, president of Technicolor Creative Services. But for those who still rely on film, from production companies to distributors to theater owners, the future is now uncertain. In fact, studios and filmmakers might not be in control of their own destiny.”

By the end of 2013, it seems, film will be gone; like it or not, it’s a digital world.

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 numerous books and more than 70 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. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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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/