A.O. Scott wonders how video convergence is impacting film’s distinctiveness from TV and other video media.
Equally hard to refute is the idea that we are approaching a horizon of video convergence, in which all those screens will be equal and interchangeable and the distinctions between the stuff that’s shown on each one won’t seem as consequential as it does now. We still tend to take for granted that a cable drama, a network sitcom, a feature film, a web video and a first-person combat game are fundamentally different creatures, but they might really be diverse species within a single genus, their variations ultimately less important than what they have in common. They are all moving pictures, after all, and as our means of access to them proliferate and recombine, those old categories are likely to feel increasingly arbitrary and obsolete. The infrastructure of a multiplatform future is before us, and resistance to it can look like an especially tiresome kind of sentimentality. Cinephilia is nostalgia. We might keep going to the movies out of habit, or because it’s sometimes nice to leave the house, but we are losing the old, sustaining belief that this is a special and exalted cultural activity, the supreme mode of participation in the popular arts.
Animator / filmmaker Paul Fierlinger on why he has made the move to digital (paperless technology).
Paperless technology cuts away the accumulation of physical tasks associated with the handling of paper down to zero.
That’s a lot of saved time! When you think of all the tasks associated with the handling of paper, when you have to unwrap a bundle, punch holes into every single sheet, which you pick up first on your right and lay down on your left, carry the bundle over to your desk, pick each sheet up on your left and after drawing, erasing, flipping cussing and throwing a few sheets into a wastebasket you lay the good ones down on your right. All along you have to carefully number each sheet and record the numbers into your exposure sheet. There’s a lot of erasing and cussing involved in this task too.
You have to gather the finished drawings, carry them over to your copy machine and cuss and sigh as you slowly feed each sheet through the machine which is connected to your computer. This involves the lifting and laying down of the cover – twice per sheet no less – and after you’re done with that, you still have to empty the wastebasket, wipe the eraser crumbs off your desk and pat attention to this: you haven’t seen a single second of your work run before your eyes, connected to your brain, in real time! I mention the brain because you have learned very little from all that work.
This unproductive handling of paper surely takes up more time per drawing than it takes to put a drawing on that sheet of paper. Without the benefit of instant replay and the real time scrubbing that paperless work affords you, your acting and drawing skills improve very, very slowly. When I look back at my old films I see only small improvements from one to another but when I compare each paperlessly drawn film from one to the next I can see huge leaps of improvements. And that’s the answer to your question how to get money for a feature film – you get it only after you make a few good films. It took me fifty years before anyone would trust me with decent funds for a theatrical feature. You younger people have all this paperless technology available to you and so many of you are wasting precious years of your short lives by still drawing on paper. I don’t get it.
I recently watched my son D’s reaction to Suzie Templeton’s Peter and the Wolf as closely as I watched the animated film itself. The 30-minute film is a child’s tale, but there are scenes that might take an older person’s explanation (in the way the Lion King’s “circle of life” could be considered by some parents to be thematically mature). Mainly, though, I wanted to see if the story would help jumpstart his appreciation for classical music in the way it helped me back when I was his age.
When I myself was three years old, my parents took me to see the Philadelphia Orchestra perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I do not know if it was Eugene Ormandy himself who conducted the piece that day, or if it was one of his assistants, but I remember the narrator introducing each of the characters: Peter, his grandfather, a duck, a bird and the wolf, and the instrument that represented each one. To this day, it is the grumpy bassoon of the grandfather and the ominous French horns of the wolf that come most quickly to my mind when you mention Peter and the Wolf.
For those of us who grew up with the Prokofiev music and narration, there are probably some firm ideas on how Peter and the Wolf should look. One of Templeton’s most obvious changes is that she gets rid of the narrator. Templeton says one filmgoer complained that she had spoiled his childhood memories of the story, but many of us will instead be impressed by the meticulousness of the storytelling and the beauty of the filmmaking. The scene with the bird (a Russian crow in this case) attempting to fly with the help of a balloon is humorous and magical. The cat is elephantine. The basic plot remains the same. Peter is forbidden to leave the home of his stern grandfather, who warns him of the dangers of confronting the wolf who inhabits the area. The setting is updated to look like a part of Eastern Europe that has fallen on economic hard times. The audacious Peter is still the story’s hero.
It reportedly took Prokofiev four days back in 1936 to write the musical piece; it took Templeton and her crews, based in Lodz, Poland, five years to make this film interpretation, which they painstakingly pieced together using stop animation. (The formerly disappearing art form has recently been resurrected by filmmakers like Nick Park, who brought us Wallace and Gromit). Templeton made several research trips to places like St. Petersburg to inspire her to create what has been called a very “Russian look” to the film. The puppetmakers were meticulous in creating the details of the characters’ faces and bodies. The grandfather’s face is craggy. Peter looks longingly at the woods with the palest blue eyes. Interestingly, the puppets (which use ball and joint steel armatures) were said to be so complicated that the filmmakers heavily used changes in lighting and camera angles rather than facial manipulations to suggest changes in expression. The sets are elaborate; the filmmakers used hundreds of real trees to create a 60-foot long set for the forest. Templeton also makes some tweaks to Prokofiev’s simple plot: the hunters are bumbling and cruel, for instance. And in this more politically correct era (and film), the wolf is a wild but ambiguous figure. After Peter captures him, he allows the animal to slip away.