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Caught up in an information culture.


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Interview with Eric Rohmer (1981)

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“It started raining as the sequence in the park was finishing.  I hadn’t predicted the weather we would get as we’d be leaving the park.  So I said to myself, ‘Why not shoot in the rain, since our equipment is light?'”

Eric Rohmer’s films are deceptively simple, and usually the result of painstaking pre-production and agile improvisation by both cast and crew on set.  I like his films for thinking about process, because there’s a certain transparency to them: his films feel stripped down to the sparest collaboration of word, image, and sound, leaving the thought process of the filmmaker quietly visible on-screen.  Here his discusses his process varying over several of his films, in an interview recorded for France Culture in 1981. Continue reading

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Night Lights: The Black Marble (NASA, 2012)

Still from NASA's Black Marble animation.

Still from NASA’s Black Marble animation.

From the NASA Earth Observatory comes this animation of city lights at night, composited from 2.5 terrabytes of images taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite during 312 orbits of the Earth during April and October of 2012.  “Nothing tells us more about the spread of humans across the Earth than city lights,” says NOAA scientist Chris Elvidge.

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Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life (1995)

Peter Capaldi's short film, "Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life", starring Richard E. Grant, won the 1995 Oscar for best live action short.

Peter Capaldi’s short film, “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life”, starring Richard E. Grant, won the Oscar for best live action short in 1995.

Peter Capaldi’s had an amazing run the past few years, playing Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, Randall Brown in The Hour, and now heading up Doctor Who.  But in 1995, he won an Oscar for a short film he wrote and directed for BBC Scotland, “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life”, a feel-good Christmas tale starring Richard E. Grant, Phyllis Logan, the crushing anxiety of the artist, and a few giant cockroaches.

At about 20 minutes, it’s a bit longer than my usual weekday videos, but what the heck, it’s Friday, and nothing says “party” like Kafka, does it?

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Around Saturn (2013)

NASA footage of Saturn's rings, used in Fabio di Donato's "Around Saturn" (2013).

NASA footage of Saturn’s rings, used in Fabio di Donato’s “Around Saturn” (2013).

Méliès-esque is precisely the word.  Fabio di Donato edited together thousands of photographs takenof Saturn by the Cassini probe, and turned them into a beautiful flickering silent movie of space, an early experimental documentary of light and pattern, a waltz between planet and spacecraft where the viewer races around the rings of Saturn and falls into the dark of space.  It’s a wonderfully compelling way to present NASA’s scientific images.

Warning: video may not be suitable for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Continue reading


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Weekend Longform Video: Night Mail (1936)

Detail of Pat Keely's poster for Basil Wright's Night Mail (1936).

Detail of Pat Keely’s poster for Basil Wright’s Night Mail (1936).

Night Mail shows both the daily operations of two of the most efficient infrastructures ever developed, mail and rail, and something that today sounds so fantastical that it could have walked out of a steam-age fantasy or magical realism novel: a rolling post office speeding down the rails all through the night, humming with postal clerks, never once stopping as it delivers and picks up mail from each station along the route.   Continue reading


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Glas (1959)

Still from Bert Haanstra's Glas (1959)

Still from Bert Haanstra’s Glas (1959)

Glas, winner of the 1959 Oscar for short subject documentary, is an improvised short doc by Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra about a glass factory.  Interesting and evocative invented sound collage midway through, and a wonderful illustration of the rhythmic, almost musical hand motions of the glass-blowers.  And, at the end, an amazing example of mid-century closing titles.

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Visualization of the Beach Boys’ Harmonies (2013)

Still from Alexander Chen's graphical visualization of the Beach Boys' Harmonies.

Still from Alexander Chen’s graphical visualization of the Beach Boys’ Harmonies.

Alexander Chen is a New-York-based designer for Google and a musician.  While experimenting with visually representing notes, he was inspired by the relationship between the diameter of a church bell and its pitch, and transcribed the harmonies of a Beach Boys tune to create a visualization that represents each pitch by a circle with related diameter.  It’s a lovely, minimalist representation of complex harmonies.

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One-Second Per Day Video Diaries, and Disobeying Editing Wisdom

A one-second-per-day video record from Seth‘s 29th to 30th birthdays:

I like the complete mundanity of Seth’s images and how they’re transformed by the way they’re edited, but I was even more impressed when I saw him agree to the statement that there was, “Something strangely familiar and banal about this. A year with the fear, anxiety, and alienation of modern life air-brushed out,” because there is something about this that’s right on the borderline of being completely relatable and real, and feeling like I’m about to see a Google Hangouts logo.  The interpretation of a video like this is incredibly dependent on the audio that ties it together, and at the same time, the audio here contributes to the sense of something being airbrushed out, in a way that, say, the ambient audio wouldn’t, or even some spoken interview audio would not.  But the audio track tying it together is unquestionably good editing, in the sense that it brings all the disparate clips together into a single document with a flow from beginning to end.  This is a complete story.

As a side note, I think that I enjoy this form of rapid-fire time-lapse documentary.  Compressing the memories of a year to one second per day, viewed all at once, brings out interesting patterns.

Kevin Kelly’s one-second-per-day trip in Asia:

This, on the other hand, does use the ambient sound, and feels more like a document – but not like a story.  There are moments, but they’re not ordered, and they transition abruptly.  There isn’t a climax and resolution of events.  But the ambient audio gives an incredible sense of place, which seems to be part of what’s missing from Seth’s.  (Gorgeous images and colors, too.  It’s much less of a day-in-the-life, but it’s still an interesting slice of real time.)

For all the editing advice to not cut together the audio in rapid montage, I suspect that when the montage is the full story, that strips away too much of the identifiable and specific elements of the story, and leaves that “air-brushed” feel that’s frequently associated with commercials and trailers.  Montage feels slightly anonymous, even in the center of a narrative.  There’s a middle ground here: tie together the footage with music, but also edit in a few moments of your ambient sound to round out the portrayals of the people and places.  In truth, I think that might be a description of virtually the entirety of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven – a long, glorious montage of images and events tied together by voiceover, and punctuated periodically by ambient sound and dialog.  (Although that is slightly glib: it’s certainly not rapid, it flows at quite a traditional narrative pace.)


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The Chandelier Tree of Los Angeles (2013)

Still image from Colin Kennedy's short doc on the chandelier tree.

Still image from Colin Kennedy’s short doc on the chandelier tree.

Filmmaker Colin Kennedy lives down the street from the chandelier tree, and had to document it.  The tree is photographer/designer Adam Tenenbaum‘s creation, and, aside from it being a lovely piece of art, Tenenbaum raises some points about the impact of lighting in public urban spaces: the tree isn’t just good art, but is also good neighborhood planning.

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