Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Tech

I read an interesting blog post recently about the ability of technology to enhance the performance of an performer. It started me on a line of thinking about wether or not we really take the time to consider if the technology most of us now take for granted is actually doing anything to improve the story in which we are participating. You can read Larry Jordan's post here.

I pondered two examples of technology being used to tell a story. The first is 3D. I have seen a few movies in 3D now and personally it just doesn't do anything for me. The glasses are distracting, my brain is constantly telling me that what I'm seeing is synthesized, blah blah blah. Yes, it's personal opinion but that's how I feel when I'm watching it. Anyway, it seems to me that perhaps 3D is doing something more than just trying to visually stun us. It seems that perhaps it is trying to make up for something that is missing. What do magicians do in order to pull off slight-of-hand? They use a distraction at just the right moment to pull our attention away from the fact that they're not actually making something disappear. They're confusing you to make it appear that it has magically vanished. Is it possible (I think it's not only possible but just 'is') that things like 3D are simply just digital slight-of-hand? "Don't pay attention to the fact that we didn't take the time to develop these characters." "Just look past the acting. The eye-candy makes up for it!" "We don't need authentic relationships. Give'em more digital adrenaline." This is how I felt about a movie like Avatar for example.

Example number two comes from a movie that I've only seen previews for but am very interested in actually seeing when it comes out. The movie is Like Crazy. It's a stripped-down indie film about a boy and a girl who fall in love... I know, some of you are sighing right now going, "Hasn't that been done a thousand times already?" The answer is yes. However, aside from the fact that it's being extremely well reviewed, this feature film was shot on an $1,700 digital camera. The camera is called the Canon 7D. It's actually a still camera that shoots HD video. Now, this advance in technology is something I feel much more like I can get behind. The reason? Because an ambitious group of individuals with no money said, "I want to tell a good story." So, they invested about 1/100th the cost of a motion picture camera and with their little investment are managing to tell a story that will stick with us far longer and have a much, much greater personal and emotional impact on us than Avatar or Fast5 or any number of other generic, digitally overblown films ever will. This is not to belittle what digital artists do. The men and women who've developed the ability to give us the creatures and events that we now see in the average movie are,without a doubt, artists. It's not their fault if what they're given to create doesn't say much.

In the end I believe all of us have the capacity to enjoy a summer blockbuster for the thrills and spectacle that it is. But let us also consider what it would look like if the storytelling landscape was only covered with towering skyscrapers and there were no homes. Life happens for us where we live, not where we'd like to live. Technology gives us the ability to tell stories on a grander scale, but when it comes to storytelling the technology should always serve the story being told. If the technology exists for it's own sake then we won't care if a story's being told or not. That eventually leads us to the place of leaving the story altogether and simply ingesting the magicians slight-of-hand. Because in that world the object he was going to make disappear wasn't even there in the first place.

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