Archive for Art

Indie Movie Trope #495 — The Static Shot

Saw Rocket Science over with the weekend with Cat, about an awkward stuttering kid that joins the high school debate team. It’s funny and awesome and is probably just about the best new movie I’ve seen this summer. (Outside of, obviously, Step Up)

Though what’s interesting is how the independent movie genre has become a genre in the sense of becoming a recognizable, predictable style incorporating recurring elements.

Everyone knows, at least, the thematic tropes. (Awkwardness, personal failure, etc) But it’s interesting seeing how technically things have become standardized as well, perhaps the most prominent of which is the long static portrait shot of a single person with a color-coordinated, elaborate background.


Rocket Science

Marie Antoinette


Garden State


Video examples, after the jump.

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On Designing Interesting Tools

My brother recently introduced me to the Holga, which is a low-end Hong Kong product that emerged in the early 80s to make cameras available to working-class Chinese.

Aesthetically, what’s interesting about the Holga is that its cheap design gives rise to a host of imperfections in the structure of the camera itself. Light periodically leaks in from the outside, switches on the body of the camera are periodically nonfunctional, the camera itself often scratches the negatives as the film unwinds, among other things.

The odd, random distortions that these defects create on the film has cultivated alot of interest among photographers, and a pretty enthusiastic community of artists has developed around it. The defects are unique to each camera, and there’s alot of customization that’s done on them.

The Holga is, of course, not unique at all in this respect. In the world of film, it is cultural cousins with the LOMO, Diana, and the continuing community surrounding the instant-developing Polaroid camera (like the SX-70 and its ilk). In the video world, there’s (most famously), the PXL-2000.

Varied, imperfect tools that generate eccentric, unexpected effects lay the groundwork for nerdiness. (this is just a corollary of other nerd communities, think: wine, music nerd-dom, Magic cards, hardware, etc) They make a tool interesting in the sense that there are many subtleties to be learned, unanticipated effects that cannot be controlled, and that each tool has a unique personality.

Mastery of an interesting tool (as opposed to what you might call a streamlined tool), then, depends on more than just a well-developed technical knowledge about the tool in general. (like you would learning how to use a keyboard) There’s a need to develop a less well-defined familiarity with how your specific tool performs (as in the case of computer owners that learn how to compensate with their machine’s increasingly dysfunctional hardware).

And, unlike a streamlined tool, there is a great deal of randomness that ensures that one never really masters it. To that end, the user’s approach to the interesting device is different: not so much precision control to achieve a particular effect, but rough approximation to achieve a generally expected outcome.

In the case of the Holga, its eccentricity emerges incidentally from the need to keep costs low, but I think an interesting question is whether or not interestingness itself can be the product of intentional design. How one might go about developing tools that are interesting in this way? How do you, in a way, organize for random defect?

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In Defense of Fu Manchu

So over a hearty dinner last night, I had the distinct pleasure of watching one of those seminal touchy race classics “The Castle of Fu Manchu.”

The movie, taken to task by MST3K, is remembered mostly for its absurdly bad plot (holding the world hostage with an Opium-powered Ocean Freezer) and, of course, the character of Fu Manchu himself.

Now, it’s not suprising that the character of Fu Manchu isn’t treated with much fondness in the Asian-American cultural studies literature. But, having thought about it, I think there’s a way of reading Fu Manchu that isn’t so negative, indeed, I think there’s a reading that actually reclaims him as a positive figure.

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Von Hippel, Cultural Innovation, and Measuring Cool

In my spare time, I’ve recently been reading through the work of Eric Von Hippel, prof and all-around awesome guy at MIT. Hippel’s work centers mostly on innovation theory, and he has focused much of his research in demonstrating the suprisingly large role that at-home DIY amateur (or at least non-explicitly R&D) inventors play in technological development, what he calls lead users. He’s come up with a number of great examples to support this thesis.

Roughly, his research leads him to suggest that the path of innovation looks something like this.

At the far left of the curve are the lead users, who are defined by the fact that they –

  1. face needs that will be general in a marketplace – but face them months or years before the bulk of that marketplace encounters them, and
  2. are positioned to benefit significantly by obtaining a solution to those needs.

As time goes on and these needs are expereinced by a greater proportion of the market, the innovation gets picked up by larger manufacturers, who commercialize, standardize, and make the product widely available in a largely static way. (See Hippel Ch. 2) As these needs are satisfied, new needs arise, or other market shifts occur, the number of users perceiving a need for a particular innovation declines (the right-side of the curve)
What’s interesting I think, is that this conceptual model is applicable not only to technical innovation, but cultural innovation as well.

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From the Obscure History Department

The History of the World’s Most Important Six-Second Drum Loop

More pop-culture historical obscurata, Internet history, and Secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know, after the jump

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Excellent Mural of the Day

Photo by Ria Bacon

The only thing that makes this mural better is its location: the outside of Shaggy‘s studio.

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Two Cool Animations

This Years TSIB Great TV-Shows-That-Never-Were Award Goes To —

1) The Amazing Screw On Head

Part 2 and Part 3.

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