Monday, September 17, 2007

Shaky camcorder

Like most music DVDs, the one I'm editing right now involves a whole lot of amateur camcorder footage from the tour. It's of about the quality you'd expect from a bunch of drunk heavy-metal guys running around truck stops---shaky, blurry, weirdly framed and generally crappy.

But of course, as an editor, it's my job to make that look good. Fortunately for me, there's a whole lot of editors dealing with the problem, and has been for years---the market for DVDs about bands is pretty immense, and the style has seeped into a lot of television programming, especially in reality shows.

As a result, there's a pretty well-established cinematic language for amateur camcorder footage, one that draws on the verite tradition and music videos in about equal measure: an alternation of very fast-cuts to music (making each shot very short conceals a multitude of sins), and grace notes that happen in the moment when a shot stops or starts wobbling.

This has become a style that I really enjoy working in, and enjoy watching---done right, its authenticity can create a lovely sense of everyday epiphanies. But it is a style that's come about in large part in reaction to bad camerawork.

I still haven't seen The Bourne Identity, but it seems to have incited a whole lot of hate for its constantly cutting camera and its shaky camerawork. The battle over "music-video style editing" has gone on for a long time, and I think part of the ire is just the ongoing losing battle of the partisans of classical shot length.

But I think the recent shakycamcorder style---done first and best, in this generation, by The Blair Witch Project, and distinguished from earlier handheld camerawork by its emphasis on the shooter's subjectivity---triggers a very particular response based on different generations' experience, not with movies, but with cameras.

For a generation that grew up seeing filmed images done by professionals, the whole thing seems ugly and clumsy (and, as David Bordwell rightly notes, much simpler than it might seem), like a style that's merely there to cover bad camerawork, bad shot selection, and lazy storyboarding. But for people who grew up playing with home video cameras, it looks like how we see life---when we're looking through a camcorder. The camera isn't imitating our eye looking, it's imitating our eye videotaping, but that's an experience many---even most---America kids grow up with, and a context they're very comfortable with.

Of course, this is assuming people want movies to look "real"---it's always possible that we'll someday see a return to the celebratory artificiality of '50's Technicolor epics. But in the meantime, shakycam seems here to stay. I can't think of another example where a style went from amateurs to professionals (instead of the other way around)---it seems symptomatic of the general seizing of the means of media production that's happened in our current media-heavy moment. Can you think of anything similar?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Phillip Glass on SNL

An odd piece of cultural history, which gets much odder at 2:38.

I'm not sure what strikes me more: that SNL was once so committed to NY hipster culture that they had Phillip Glass as their musical guest, the sight of George Wendt introducing Phillip Glass on SNL (thus creating an 80s-TV hat trick), or that, when paired with the video, Phillip Glass actually does seem to have nailed the feeling of television culture better than anyone since.

And I don't even much *like* Phillip Glass!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Guitar Hero Encore: Rock The 80s

My most recent gaming purchase has been (deep breath) GuitarHeroEncoreRockTheEightiesWHEW!---an appropriately silly name for a profoundly silly era in popular music. I've always loved the way that rhythm games give the player a perspective from which to examine the music (interactivity may be a dubious storytelling tool, but it's a fantastic teaching device), and there's all kinds of insights to be gleaned about 80s music in the course of playing. For one, it's a potent reminder of what a cocaine-driven decade the 80s were---all the new wave songs are obsessively downstroke-downstroke-downstroke-dwnstrk-dwnstrk-dnstk-dnstk-
dnstk-dskdskdskdskfasterfasterfasterfasterfastertightertighter. Eighties pop, like eighties interior design, is all about shiny, perfect, impenetrable surfaces executed with gleamy-eyed obsessiveness.

Along with the hits ("I Ran" is surpassingly fun to play guitar on), there's also a lot of the lesser-known punk rock and new wave that's way more exciting to me than the hair metal (and for which they seem to be catching some flack). When I saw the song list, I was simultaneously psyched to play Guitar Hero to the Dead Kennedys and X (Husker Du is too much to hope for, I know), and wracked with sorrow for smash-the-system music turned into a level in a video game.

So I am happy to report that the in-house cover band has censored the punk lyrics heavily---"Los Angeles" has lost a few lines, and the Dead Kennedys "Police Truck" has been more or less altered into incoherence. If I were 15, I might bitch about the System being afraid to let people really hear what the Kennedys were saying; now I'm strangely comforted that there's still something about the music that is, if not terrifying, then at least Not Allowed.

Critical Thoughts on 'First Post'

Thanks Fuzzy, and I'm delighted to finally get this underway. I'd start off my first post with an explanation of what this blog is about, but anything more specific than movie, video game, television and media culture in general would be too ambitious. Maybe a sprinkle of urbanist political perspective you'll hear from me from time to time, too.

Most of my media intake these days is via DVD, my main shows these days being 'Tanner '88', 'Battlestar Galactica', and I'm starting to get into 'Freaks and Geeks'- which Fuzzy Bastard has generously made available to me, but since it's summer- I've been trying to get out more, see the museum exhibitions, and avail myself of the great outdoors. I might also mention a Joss Whedon-centric three year media enrichment in some ways influencing my pop-cultural perspective.

In time, expect to hear my thoughts on the just-closed musical Grey Gardens based on the legendary Maysle's Brothers documentary of the same name, which I caught two weeks ago just in the nick of time.

Until then, yours in chocolate, Tintin, and jewlery,

the belge

Monday, July 30, 2007

First post!

From: That Fuzzy Bastard

Testing... testing... Is this thing on?

First post on our blog... the very day Bergman dies. I feel somehow responsible. Bergman is one of the many holes to be plugged someday in my cinematic knowledge----I've only seen two of his films, The Seventh Seal (which I found pompous) and Cries and Whispers (which floored me). So I'll leave Bergman blogging to those who know better.

Just saw Godard's Masculine/Feminine and John Landis' Slasher today---I'll try to get a post together about that this week. In the meantime---oh Belgian, wanna try adding to this to see if it all works?