Cut me some slack, gentle readers.
I have about six unfinished blog posts just hanging around but they all sound a bit ranty and that's getting old, even for me. So here's something that's part observation, but with some ranty bits in the middle. Because you can't completely do away with it, right? I'll get to comments next time as well.
A few months ago (which is how long this post has been percolating), Kodak announced that it would no longer be producing Kodachrome film, thus relegating the Paul Simon song to the dustbin of history. I mean, can they just DO that? Since everything's digital, sure. Because digital is the wave of the present and the future. Look at television -- no more analog. All digital. Soon, they'll stop making videotape. There are little attempts to reclaim the warmth and individuality and singleness of the pre-digital age. Records, for one. But the fucking things are twice as expensive as the iTunes downloads.
People have become digital, too. Technology is good, progress is necessary, and while none of it may benefit actual people, it will benefit something. Eventually. I don't know what yet. More technology? The ultimate leap to transhumanism? That looked silly fifteen years ago, but now it just seems like something Apple would present -- iHuman. And I'd be first in fucking line. Trust me, I'm not proud of it.
Faster and higher-quality delivery systems aren't making the world any better, however. The Internet invites us to see the World of Warcraft freak-out kid, where our reactions have primarily to do with our sense of superiority superiority (if that were my kid, he'd NEVER behave that way), or the whole "fact or fiction" debate that drives YouTube -- that can't possibly be real, can it? It gives us Facebook and Twitter and MySpace, where we can see, unfiltered, what every other person on the planet is doing. Back in the pre-digital age, you had to actually TALK to people to find out what they were up to. And people had filters, too. Remember when we actually had to be attentive and connect with someone to know what they were feeling or thinking? The world didn't used to be one big advertisement for success or plea for sympathy. There are no natural barriers anymore. It all comes at you instantaneously. Rather than pick and choose what to pay attention to, everybody tries to pay minimal attention to everything. We're fragmented. The way we watch movies and TeeVee and listen to music is fragmented, too. Remember buying an album (a vinyl record, children), bringing it home, taking it out, putting it on and then sitting on the floor and reading the liner notes while you listened to the album?
You don't? Then you must love the present.
I've been watching the Larry Sutherland videos, which is a little weird because I'm watching them on my computer, having downloaded them from archive.org. So the films are digital, but the film grain and quirky sound is analog. They are absolutely charming films. Clever, beautifully animated, and full of life and imagination. The opposite of Transformers, which every being on the planet has now seen. And Transformers, with its apparent groundbreaking technology (auteurbot Michael Bay goes on at great length about how many more pixels are in each frame of this film than there were in the first, which automatically makes it a better film), should be the best movie ever made. However, its story and characters appear to be digital, too. Not an analog moment anywhere in the film. Beautifully made, I'm sure. The CG must be remarkable. But the part that the audience can really identify with, the part that makes them appreciate the technology? Gone baby gone.
Of course the distressing question that can't be answered with any certainty is whether or not an audience even wants characters or a story anymore. Maybe being raised on the fragmented dementia of the Internet, an incoherent mess of a film with wall-to-wall explosions and pretty, gormless robots -- oh, and there are the transformers, too -- constitutes a good movie to the now-public. They certainly saw the shit out of it. And they seemed to enjoy themselves. But is that because they're just used to letting pretty CG forms slide past their eyeballs?
I didn't see Transformers. I saw Moon. If you actually like science fiction, that's the movie for you. Going by an estimate of a $200 million dollar budget for Transformers, you could make Moon forty times over. Yes, FORTY. Moon cost five million. The optical difference between Moon and Transformers is staggering. Moon has an analog look to it while Transformers, ostensibly set on Earth, actually makes Earth look expensively digital. Not that I've seen more than the trailers, because there is no fucking way that digital bint Megan Fox is going to pass my eyeballs. Ever. Anyway, Moon has a story. A tight, perfect, human story. Genre works best when it's illuminating the human condition, which makes Moon science fiction and Transformers CG action. It's funny how digital films like Transformers work so hard to look three-dimensional that they come back around again and just look fake. The set design behind Moon, on the other hand, gives it a 70s NASA look. And everything in Moon feels three-dimensional and real. There's actual real dirt and dust and grime. Moon is a tactile movie in the way that Transformers is not. And that extends to the story. It exists first. It isn't created to fit some CG robot fight.
But digital success is the new black, and analog success doesn't reach the ears of the corporate overlords. As successful as Moon is, it will be deemed successful at an industry level. But does it need to? Does its success mean that others with modest amounts of money make films because they were so taken with the story, and not necessarily with the monetary compensation? I hope so.
At least District 9 opened well this weekend. District 9 is the marriage of technology to story. But unfortunately, the wrong lessons will be learned. Because they always ARE, aren't they? District 9 opens, and they announce a Lego movie. Then Hasbro is starting a film studio. And we're back to where we started.
With the revelation that the present isn't doing us the shiny favors it tells us it's doing, I'm beginning to miss the analog creaks and flickers. I want to hear a cassette tape warble. A record popping. The audiophiles are right. There's a warmth there that doesn't exist in today's digital world.
There was an article awhile back in TV Week, which is apparently a broadcaster's wet dream of a magazine, where the following appeared:
From NBC's point of view, CBS wouldn't talk so loud if it had a different set of media properties -- such as basic cable networks -- to play with. Meanwhile, NBC feels it's taking proactive steps and keeping costs in line as consumer habits shift with technology. "We absolutely believe in the future of broadcast TV," NBC Universal said in a statement. "But to be truly successful we need to take into account the contemporary media environment and all the different ways viewers today are watching TV."
From CBS's perspective, NBC's recent maneuvers result partly from its inability to muster the kind of ratings it did when it ran fare such as "E.R.," "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "Frasier." Meanwhile, CBS sees a solid business in producing, promoting and distributing programs that bring broad crowds under a single media tent. "CBS's programming strategy is based in the assumption that ratings and popularity with our many audiences ultimately produces the best revenue and profit," the network said in a statement. "We believe that the future of any business is dependent on its popularity with the various customers it serves, along with a fundamental belief in the business itself. Both in the short term and the long term, we think that operating strategy will prevail."
The two companies' reactions to current market forces are partly driven by their mixes of assets and by the personalities of their chief executives. NBC is less dependent on broadcast and can enjoy the dual revenue stream -- advertising and subscriptions -- that comes with owning cable outlets such as USA and Bravo. And Mr. Zucker has developed a reputation over the years for tweaking established models. This is the man, after all, who in 2001 talked up a decision to extend "Friends" to 40 minutes in an effort to combat CBS's "Survivor" on Thursday nights.
CBS depends on its broad-reaching TV network not only to generate revenue from advertising but also to garner enough attention for its shows so they move on to reap rewards in domestic and international syndication. Mr. Moonves is renowned as one of the most talented programmers in the TV business. Not only did he help launch "E.R." while at Warner Bros., he has helped take CBS from shows for the Metamucil set ("Murder, She Wrote," anyone?) to reliably performing procedurals.
It took me three tries to make it through without falling asleep or glazing over (although I did giggle at "dayparts," which they REALLY need to rethink). If you read that and you still don't understand what's wrong with TeeVee, read it again. See the disconnect between the broadcasters/ratings wonks, and the people actually making the content. Not to say that the wonks are idiots or anything. There's just a fucking chasm that seems larger and wider than it ever has before. Number are more accurate, apparently, because there are more of them. You know. Like pixels. And more numbers means more consistency in the product.
More numbers, sadly, never tell us if something actually connects with people. Because that's an analog way of thinking, and this bitch is going digital.