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Caught up in an information culture.


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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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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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Video: Journalists talk about their experience with collaborative remixing

Still from "Journalists on Working with Blank on Blank".

Still from “Journalists on Working with Blank on Blank”.

Last week, in the post on the Blank on Blank interview with Maurice Sendak, I mentioned how remixing is rarely discussed in the context of collaboration between artists, most of whom would like to see the extra bits and pieces they can’t roll into their own work take on a new life.  Blank on Blank beat me to it – they’ve interviewed several of the journalists they’ve worked with to bring forgotten pieces of interview back to life, to get their take on the process. Continue reading


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Blank on Blank: Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid (2013, PBS Digital)

Still from Blank on Blank's episode, "Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid".

Still from Blank on Blank‘s episode, “Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid”.

Maurice Sendak’s discussion of unhappy childhoods and how children survive terrible things is especially poignant combined with Blank on Blank‘s stark black and white animation.  As a creative documentary technique, it’s quite effective – perhaps especially for interview, where the subject’s words are unfiltered and uninterpreted in audio form, which leaves a lot of leeway for interpretation in the visuals.  (If this were used under a filmmaker’s narration, it might feel too created, rather than being this wonderful collaboration of art and fact.)

Blank on Blank is one of the series coming out of PBS Digital Studios:  “Vintage interview tapes. New animations. Our mission is simple: curate and transform journalists’ unheard interviews with American icons. The future of journalism is remixing the past.”  Aside from the value of preserving these small, often highly personal, pieces of interview that don’t fit into the print narrative, this is one of a rarely-discussed approach to remixing – the focus on remixing so often centers around the reuse of hits and successes, and the related intellectual property rights, that it’s rarely explored as a form of voluntary collaboration.  Every project, fiction and non-fiction, leaves little bits and pieces that just don’t fit into the finished work, many of them very good, and I suspect most writers and artists would rather see them used in other projects than never see the light of day.  Continue reading