Jennifer Steinkamp, whose video installations are reminiscent of the work of Pipilotti Rist, has created a first class video installation piece with this homage to Marie Curie, who in her spare time was an avid gardener. As Steinkamp notes of this endlessly looping video, which has been screened at numerous venues, and just finished up a three month run at The Sheldon Museum of Art here at UNL (it closed September 9th, 2012), the work “is inspired by [my] recent research into atomic energy, atomic explosions, and the effects of these forces on nature. Marie Curie was the recipient of two Nobel Prizes for creating the theory of radioactivity, and discovering radium and polonium. She was also an avid gardener and lover of flowers. An enveloping panoramic work, the new piece activates a field of moving flowers and flowering trees [. . .] Flowers rendered realistically for this new work include marsh marigolds, may flower, chestnut blooms, and hop plants, among many others drawn from a list of over 40 plants mentioned in Marie Curie’s biography written by her daughter, Eve Curie.”
Archive for the ‘New Technology’ Category
Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new essay in the latest issue of Film International, “Embracing the Apocalypse: A World Without People,” examining visions of the future as imagined by various Dystopian films and television programs.
As she writes, “Human-centered popular folktales of Apocalypse and Doomsday narratives of every imaginable scenario are undeniably as powerful and plentiful as they have been from the beginnings of human narrative tradition. Indeed, apocalyptic events permeate a plethora of grand narratives from myriad cultures and textual sources that prominently, almost ecstatically, feature and carefully describe the gory details of our violent end times. They are set in the future, and almost all revolve around human-centered stories complete with often similarly violent narratives, inevitable tropes of conflict, judgment, drama, and resolution, the stops we require of any genre or tradition in human narrative form.
At the center of apocalyptic vision we find, perhaps predictably, a human-dominant form of speciesism, revealing a widespread, almost universally held belief in the dominance of human beings as a species. Human beings are placed at the center of events and narratives, even narratives that don’t involve human beings. This is something that often goes unnoticed, but it is especially notable in apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and depeopled futuristic visions.
The plethora of doomsday scenarios and apocalyptic narratives are far too numerous to list, from religious scripture and Revelations, to secular visions of end times, to the myriad, often bizarre and insane sounding predictions of the end by various individuals and groups. All are narratives of human-centered destruction; some invoke the end of the earth, and some portray the end of people and human civilization; but all embrace, and seem to enjoy visions of the end. We cannot agree on much, but people agree that the end is near, the end is coming, and the end is usually defined as the end of people and human civilization.”
Here’s an interesting item that was suggested by my student Jeff Bragg; I’m probably going to include this in the final draft of my book Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access, which is at the publisher’s now, but which will certainly be edited right up to the publication date.
As media critic Alexandra Alter notes in The Wall Street Journal, “in the past, publishers and authors had no way of knowing what happens when a reader sits down with a book. Does the reader quit after three pages, or finish it in a single sitting? Do most readers skip over the introduction, or read it closely, underlining passages and scrawling notes in the margins? Now, e-books are providing a glimpse into the story behind the sales figures, revealing not only how many people buy particular books, but how intensely they read them.
For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page. But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.
The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.”
As Jeff Bragg pointed out to me, “as someone who uses a Kindle every day, I had never thought much about the data they were collecting and how they might put it to use. It looks like publishers will be making similar ‘focus group’ type moves in the future in order to maximize profits. We can only hope that authors don’t end up letting general audiences influence their work too much. One particular example that struck me was an author who reconsidered writing out one character simply because 30% of the audience ‘liked’ him.”
“A team of U.S. researchers say they have discovered a process by which to transmit upwards of 2.56 terabits of data per second using twisted beams of light.
Twisting light to send data at dramatically increased speeds may be used to build high-speed satellite communication links or be adapted for use in the fiber optic cables that are used by some Internet service providers. It may one day be commonplace to download data packages the equivalent of 70 DVDs in one second, say scientists, citing research that shows a new high-speed data transfer breaking records.
The technology has potential applications for high-speed satellite communication links, short free-space terrestrial links or could be adapted for use in the fiber optic cables used by some Internet service providers. Researchers noted that the test conducted resulted in data transfer speeds 85,000 times faster than broadband internet speeds, some of the fastest ever recorded.
The test was conducted by harnessing the power of light, which scientists manipulated in order to better facilitate the transfer of data. The present study saw a single beam of light carry 2.5 terabits per second carried over a distance of 1 meter, but the method could be adapted for long distance, say scientists.”
I’ve blogged on this before, and I’m also right now working on my book Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access; in the process, I came across this promotional video for Google glasses, the new softwear device that produces overlays of information over the real world, providing constant access to the web, and at the same time flooding the user with promotional materials and advertisements.
More than 16,000,000 people have viewed this video thus far, which means two things; one, it will be widely adopted; two, that the introduction of Google glasses is not that far off. This folksy, low-key point-of-view video shows someone literally waking up with the glasses on, eating breakfast, walking over to the Strand Bookstore in New York, meeting with a friend, snapping digital photos of his surroundings, listening to music through the glasses’ audio system, and generally existing in an utterly plugged in world.
He seems to be entire comfortable with all of this, and guess what? If you have prescription glasses, you can get Google glasses made to order to fit your needs. I’m deeply ambivalent about Google glasses, but there seems to be little doubt that they’ll soon become “must have” items for the technically minded; a host of concerns, chief among them privacy issues, seem of most importance to me.
But soon you’ll be able to see for yourself what the world looks like, laid out in a grid — a grid where Google knows your location all the time, 24/7, and can sell you anything it wants to, all in the name of convenience, of course.
As has been widely reported, most notably by Marc Graser in Variety, Amazon has just launched a new “never before on DVD” movie service, featuring some 2,000 titles that studios don’t feel have enough traction for commercial release, but which have enough interest for cineastes and collectors to purchase on a made-to-order basis, much like the titles offered through the successful Warner Archive service.
In this case, a consortium of studios have decided that it’s more cost-effective to let Amazon do the retailing, rather than opening their own divisions, a la Warner Archive’s service; the studios involved include Disney, Sony, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, Universal, 20th Century Fox and MGM. The real surprise here for me is Disney, who are notoriously protective with their back catalogue.
Many of these titles will be of no interest to readers of this blog, as you can see from the image above; TV shows, mainstream commercial fare and the like dominate the offerings. But hidden in the stacks are some films of real merit, so readers should check it out for themselves and see what’s of interest. Most of these titles were previously available, and still are available, as streaming video on Amazon, but now you can get them in a more stable format. So take a look, and see what’s on offer.
Of course, with only 2,000 films or so for sale, that means the vast majority of these studios’ films are still locked away in a vault somewhere, and this is just a drop in the bucket. Between them, the studios mentioned above could easily put some 20,000 or even 200,000 films up for potential buyers, and why don’t they? Since the discs are made-to-order, what have they got to lose? I guess that’s the only downside to this announcement; while it’s nice that 2,000 titles never before on DVD will now see the light of day, one should never forget that there are literally hundreds of thousands of films yet-to-be-released, still waiting in the wings.
“A few days ago, I was watching Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent film The Hurt Locker (2008) – on DVD of course – and I was suddenly struck by the fact that it may be one of the last movies to be actually shot on film; in the case of The Hurt Locker, Super 16mm film, with 4 handheld crews working at once, piling up roughly 200 hours of footage to be eventually edited down into a 130 minute film. With its rough, raw look, its smash zooms and its hectic intercutting, mirroring battlefield news photography from the Vietnam war, The Hurt Locker has a visceral reality, especially in its nighttime sequences, that seems to me to be intrinsically tied to the filmic process. You could have the same images in video, of course, but I somehow don’t think the same level of textures and contrasts would be available to you; you’d get a perfect, pristine, scratch free image, but a certain richness to the images would be missing. Digital technology simply doesn’t have the same spectrum of tonal possibilities, and even though it can mimic millions of different shades of color, the end result is cold, artificial, distant. There’s something unreal about it.
When you’re making a film, so to speak, it would be nice to have a choice as to whether or not to use film, or to go with digital. But it seems that the choice has been made for you. Aesthetic issues aside, film is being swept into the dustbin of history. As Richard Verrier reported in the Los Angeles Times, Birns and Sawyer, the oldest film equipment rental house in Hollywood, has thrown in the towel on film — everything’s gone digital. Responding in the shift to all-digital production, the company auctioned off all its film camera equipment, both 35mm and 16mm, though 16mm has been a dinosaur for some time. But now 35mm film is going out the door, too. It’s just like The Jazz Singer in 1927, when films converted to sound; digital is now the only way to go. And it’s happening fast.”
As Barnes reports, “Movie attendance hit a 16-year low in 2011. Star wattage continues to dim. DVD sales keep plunging. Almost none of the films being honored at Sunday’s Academy Awards have struck a mainstream nerve.
Yet Hollywood has a noticeable spring in its step. After all, it’s not the music business.
Instead of Hollywood suffering its own Napster moment — the kind of digital death trap that decimated music labels first through the illegal downloading of files and then by a migration to legal downloads almost solely through iTunes — several deals announced this month have it feeling more in control.
While studios still consider piracy a huge problem and feel stymied by Silicon Valley (and Washington politics), they nevertheless control their content. And now the Web is coming to them.
Google is developing a home entertainment device and several media companies have announced plans for new online streaming services. Taken together, the moves mean no supplier will have a monopoly over the distribution of films and television on the Internet. With more buyers comes leverage, and higher prices for content
‘The mood has shifted from,”Oh, my God, our business models are broken and we’re going to be cannibalized” to something resembling euphoria,’ said Peter Guber, a former chairman of Columbia Pictures who is now chief executive of the Mandalay Entertainment Group, which has interests in movies, TV and sports. ‘Studios see a robust, accelerating online market.’”
It makes sense; with admissions at a 16 year low, the viewers have to be somewhere, and unlike the music business, it seems that Hollywood has figured this out in time for a variety of reasons.
Everyone seems to be talking about this piece in Indiewire today, and with good reason.
It’s written by Michael Hurley, who owns the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, Maine as well as the Temple Theatre in Houlton, Maine, and knows precisely whereof he speaks. As he notes, “‘Convert or die.’ This is how John Fithian, CEO and president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, has repeatedly set the terms. It’s crude, but at least we knew where we stood. The conversion stampede was on.
Many theaters that never thought they’d go digital are now adopting at a fast pace. One of my theaters, The Colonial Theatre, will be 100 years old in April. We’re in the midst of conversion; I accept and embrace that day. Every time I see platter scratches, or receive a scratched and dirty print, or deal with a particularly odd projectionist, I look forward to it more and more.
But it hasn’t happened fast enough. At the end of 2011, Fox announced they’d no longer release product in 35mm “sometime in the next year or two.” Also ending soon: The VPF, or virtual print fee. Since 2009, film distributors have paid VPFs to exhibitors. Based on the difference between the cost of a celluloid print and digital delivery, it’s designed to help theater owners offset the cost of a digital cinema retrofit, which costs about $65,000 at the low end. (A new projector, by comparison, was about $20,000 — but that was before you’d pay people to take them away.)
The VPF has helped some, but not all. As a result, NATO recently estimated that up to 20% of theaters in North America, representing up to 10,000 screens, would not convert and would probably close. ‘Convert or die,’ indeed. And that’s from someone representing theater owners.”
But there really is no choice. 35mm prints, as Hurley notes, are simply going to cease to exist. 35mm raw film stock is also increasingly hard to come by; nearly everything today is shot in digital format. Theaters that don’t convert will simply have no product to run, except for older, archival films, which would be great, but most people simply stream these classic titles, or buy or rent the DVD.
I’ve seen this coming for more than a decade, and I predicted in a lecture in Stockholm, Sweden in 2000 or so that this would happen within ten years, and also in an NPR interview in the late 1990s. In Stockholm, one of the members of the audience, a young woman, looked at me with great concern, and said “what you’re talking about is happening only in one small theater in New York, while there are literally millions of 35mm prints of films in existence, and tens of thousands of theaters all over the world equipped for 35mm projection. The technology has been with us for nearly a century. It can’t possibly go away.”
“Well,” I responded, “The Jazz Singer originally opened in just one theater in New York . . .” — and now the same thing is happening with digital cinema. There simply will be no 35mm prints, outside of museums and archives, to project. More than that, parts and supplies for 35mm projection equipment are already becoming difficult to get, as well as service for the machines. 35mm is done; digital is the new standard. As brutal as John Fithian’s statement is, it’s just the simple truth. There is no 35mm anymore. It’s digital, all the way.
In today’s Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen has a fascinating piece on the differences between digital cinematography and working with conventional 35mm film, as discussed by some people who really know what they’re talking about; the 2012 Oscar nominees for cinematography.
As Olsen writes, “This year’s Oscar nominees for cinematography present a particularly varied cross-section of contemporary filmmaking at a time when the very infrastructure of how movies are made and seen is in transition. Consider: 35-millimeter film prints are being phased out in favor of digital projection. Consumer still cameras can be used to shoot high-definition digital video. Video on demand is becoming a popular viewing option. Even the venerable Eastman Kodak, which produces the film stock on which many movies are made, recently filed for bankruptcy protection.
The Scandinavian-modern The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was shot with digital cameras; the World War I-set War Horse was shot on film. Hugo was shot in digital 3-D to portray 1931 Paris, while The Artist was shot on color film, then transferred to black-and-white to evoke the end of the silent film era in Hollywood. The Tree of Life used footage shot both on film and digital and integrates nature photography into its storytelling. (That three-on-film, two-on-digital split is likely an approximation of Hollywood production overall, though changes are evolving rapidly.) As this moment of transition challenges distributors, exhibitors and even audiences, cinematographers are on the front lines of those responding to the changes. Many of them recognize just what a unique window this particular time presents.”
You can read the entire article here; a remarkable meeting of the minds. And as cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, the DP on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, notes, “In all fairness, we’re at the infancy stage of digital cinema.”
About the Author
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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