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Caught up in an information culture.

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The Screw-In Coffin (2013, PBS Inventors)

Still from David Friedman's Inventors series episode, "The Screw-In Coffin".

Still from David Friedman’s Inventors series episode, “The Screw-In Coffin”.

A little something to put you in the holiday mood, from the PBS web documentary series “Inventors”.


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The BBC has an incredible story about a 30-minute documentary shot in secret by French POWs in WWII, including about a minute of footage.  They had the pieces of an 8mm camera smuggled into the camp inside sausages, assembled and concealed the camera in a book in the prison library, and then smuggled reels of film out inside the soles of their shoes when they escaped.  The footage details life in the camp and their escape, the biggest successful prison camp breakout of WWII.

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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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Good Journalistic Hygiene: When Reporting on Online Abuse, Don’t Add to the Problem

Detail of the Youtube blurring interface, allowing facial anonymizing during upload.

Detail of the Youtube blurring interface, allowing facial anonymizing during upload.

Mediashift discusses the need to visually anonymize people who face violence for speaking with reporters and the victims of viral-video abuse, which is particularly important in the click-to-embed world of video journalism.  Bullying and abuse is increasingly filmed and posted online to prolong the damage done to the victim, and reporting on those events with the victim’s face identifiable adds to the danger they’re in.  For the 15-year-old Russian boy who was bullied by a homophobic gang and told he would become “an internet celebrity” via the footage they took to circulate among Russian neo-Nazi groups, the outcome of having the video circulated by LGBT activists is largely the same. 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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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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