Joss Whedon Gets Crafty

Image from elasticcamels photostream

Image from elasticcamel's photostream

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and this summer’s web-based hit, Dr. Horrible, was just interviewed by Kim Werker of CrochetMe (transcript found here).  What does Whedon have to say about crafting?  Aside from setting us straight on whether Captain Hammer’s sweater vests are knitted or crocheted, Whedon speculates on the parallels between the DIY craft community and the DIY media community:

KW: I read a quote recently, in an article about the resurging DIY movement, that we’re “crafting to claim identity, to save the world from soulless junk.” Do you see any parallels in people’s approach to internet-based video productions versus the big-media productions for television and movies and how people are really taking those media into their own hands right now?

JW: Absolutely. I mean, let’s face it, in the media there are now eight companies. In any mall you walk into, there are now eight stores: there’s gonna be a Gap, there’s gonna be a Banana Republic. Everything is becoming consolidated, so where there used to be lots of variety, there are now, like, ten giants and tons of tiny little villagers. And yeah, the villagers are going to start making their own stuff because the materials will be available to all of them, and we can’t all just do things the way the giants want, because it does seep something out of your soul. I think it’s absolutely true on every level of art that this is the worst of times and, like some guy might have said once, the best of times.

I find this to be profoundly true.  Everywhere I turn, I see that massive consolidation.  Whether it’s NBC putting Jay Leno in a spot typically reserved for innovative dramas, or the CW potentially creating a Gossip Girl spinoff because it is less risky than shooting a pilot for a new show.  Then again, I also see people figuring out how to entertain themselves with projects like Odd Noggin Land – in which the creators actually made giant heads shaped like ketchup and fries.  DIY projects are inefficient, they are often messy, and they probably appeal to a small number of people.  But the result often has a depth of character and breadth of experimentation that’s absent from a product brought into being by a corporation.  That’s true whether you’re knitting a hat or making a movie in your backyard.

Like the man said:  “You have to remember that if the thing isn’t slightly out of control, it ain’t art.”

Xu Bing: The Future of Art and New Media

Last night I caught Xu Bing’s talk at Lesley University/The future site of the Art Institute of Boston.

Xu Bing is a Chinese artist, probably best known in the states for his unusual use of imagined calligraphy – either characters that have no meaning, or English letters morphed into psuedo-Chinese script.

Butterfly Dreams at Contemporary Museum Image from aur2899’s PhotostreamLast night, among other things, he showed a few images from his Book from the Ground project. The Book from the Ground is an attempt to use iconography to tell stories. You can read excerpts online. He talked a little about the goal of creating a book that everyone involved in modern life can read – inspired by the airport signage he saw around the world. His team is even creating software so that we can all talk to each other in icons.

This one project made me think a lot about film and the success of symbolism. If you see an old man and a young man on screen, looking at each other from afar, then running towards each other and embracing – you don’t need to know that they are a separated father and son. In fact, any other explanation would be downright subversive. Modern culture has flattened the symbolic landscape to the point where we all know the sign for “man” “alarm clock” and “airplane.” We don’t need a dictionary. Xu Bing talked about the decision that Coca-Cola made to stop printing its labels in other languages. “Coca-Cola” is now a symbol around the world, more than it is an actual word. He didn’t even mention IKEA, which uses a language of symbols and signs to give a universal set of instructions with every piece of furniture.

Much as I could type all day about symbolism, culture and iconography. . . I’d rather pose a real-world question: Are we genuinely moving toward a universal language of symbols, or are some sentiments too complicated, too culturally specific, to ever become universalized? If we are moving toward more universal forms of communication, is that always a good thing?

Musical Road

Ok, now this is cool. A road in Lancaster, CA has had grooves cut into it that cause car’s tires to play the William Tell Overture as they drive over it. CNET has the full story.

This is apparently part of a marketing campaign for the Honda Civic, and the road is tuned to play best for a Civic’s tires. The best part is that this isn’t even unique. There are other “singing roads” in Japan and South Korea. The one in Lancaster is being paved over due to complaints from neighbors. You would complain too if you had to listen, over and over, to a section of the William Tell Overture that sounded like this:

Encoding music into a road is a clever idea, despite the low fidelity. It certainly gets my attention. What other creative outlets for music have you seen?

Canon 5D Mark II Video Footage

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Image from Steve KeysCanon lent a prototype of the new 5D Mark II to New-York-based commercial and editorial photographer Vincent Laforet for 72 hours, and this short film is what he put together: beautifully shot, put to music (no sync sound), using only footage from the 5D Mark II. The footage is 1/4 size (from the original 1080P) and shot with mostly L-series glass. The 5D Mark II retails for about $2700 (body only) from B&H. The combination of excellent lenses with the full frame sensor yields some gorgeous low-light shots.

I’m certainly interested to see some of this tech make it over to the prosumer video side of Canon. After seeing this kind of result, would you consider shooting your next project on a DSLR?

Can you wear leggings with that?

So, the Producer’s post got me thinking. First of all, thanks to SXSW for the shoutout! Second of all. . .

I read this article in the NY Times a while ago. To sum up: Steve and Barry’s is setting out to be the cheapest, most fashionable chain store ever created. They’re using celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker to design fashionable outfits that sell for less than $9. Are these guys going to put Chanel and Oscar de la Renta out of business? No way. They’re doing the same thing that the big studios are doing right now: Taking the most popular trends from high fashion (or its most popular public faces) and co-opting them for the masses. Warner Brothers, Paramount and the other studios seem to be angling to be the Target and Walmart of new media: You like Steve Carrell in that arty Little Miss Sunshine movie? More Steve Carrell! Steve Carrell for everyone!

Now, the difficulty here is that everyone, absolutely everyone, needs shirts and pants. The content of those shirts and pants (color, cut, pattern) is all up for grabs. So if Target can make cheap shirts and pants that look like something out of Sex and the City, then that starts to look like a pretty good deal. However, not everyone needs movies. Not everyone enjoys movies (I know, I’m as shocked as you). So what happens when the economy is a bit shaky, and people start thinking that their $9 is better spent at Steve and Barry’s than at Landmark Cinemas?

Vaudeville. If you were around in the 1890’s, and you went to the theater, you could see a vaudeville show consisting of comedy, drama, dance, music and some seriously weird stuff (does this remind anyone of the CW’s Monday night lineup?) – it was affordable for the middle class, and acts traveled all over the country. There were people whose acts inspired the same kind of fannish devotion as any modern-day Miley Cyrus. But the advent of this cheaper form of entertainment called “film,” plus that nasty financial incident in the fall of 1929, forced theaters to turn into movie palaces. Vaudeville’s best talent headed for Hollywood. If this interests you, PBS put out a really good documentary on vaudeville for American Masters.

Film didn’t kill theater. It just changed the nature of the theater-going experience. Now it’s unlikely you’ll see variety shows trying to attract a mass audience. Theaters had to adapt to appeal to a specialized audience. Target hasn’t killed high fashion, either.

Are films going to die? No. Art doesn’t die. It gets chopped up, rehashed and made into a collage somewhere else. Just like fashion – everything comes back into vogue eventually. When technology gets ahead of the curve of theory and critique, people get all agitated. Right now, nobody is reviewing YouTube videos in the New York Times. No academics have cannonized it, no critics have turned it into a comparison-fest. In vaudeville, there were some trashy, mind-blowingly stupid acts roaming around the country. But what we remember now are the geniuses – the people who influenced generations to come.

Eventually, we’re going to see great art, really great narrative art, come out of these weird little platforms. I agree fully with the Producer: It’s a great time to experiment and make something new.