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Steven Soderbergh’s Theories on the History and Future of Movies

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

Soderbergh - iPhone.jpg

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh had a very interesting interview with The Atlantic’s David Sims. Here are some excerpts.

The first (and maybe the juiciest) is on how September 11 changed the genre palate of the movie industry.

Sims: Most of the studio movies you made were in the the mid-budget tier that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. What happened to it?

Soderbergh: Look, I have a lot of crackpot theories about how moviegoing has changed and why.

Sims: I would like to hear your crackpot theories.

Soderbergh: One of the most extreme is, I really feel that why people go to the movies has changed since 9/11. My feeling is that what people want when they go to a movie shifted more toward escapist fare. And as a result, most of the more “serious” adult fare, what I would pejoratively refer to as “Oscar bait,” all gets pushed into October, November, December.

Sims: And people have become conditioned, in the fall, to go and see a couple of serious movies.

Soderbergh: Put on a heavy coat and go see something serious. What that creates is what you see now, which is this weird dichotomy of fantasy spectacle; low-budget genre, whether it’s horror or comedy; and the year-end awards movies. I guess that’s a trichotomy.

Sims: From January to March, you can have some cheap fun, then in March, here we go …

Soderbergh: The big shit’s coming.

The second (and maybe the most interesting) is how partnering with distributors like Amazon and Netflix might create different markets for different kinds of movies.

Sims: You tried [a simultaneous in-theaters and home release] with Bubble in 2005, back before anyone thought that was a thing you could do. You tried it with The Girlfriend Experience in 2009. Were you just inventing the wheel before there was a car to put it on? What’s changed in the past 15 years?

Soderbergh: Well, I ran into the problem that all platforms are having, which is that the big chains don’t want to engage with this. I know [the National Association of Theatre Owners president,] John Fithian well, and have had a lot of interaction with NATO, and I am sympathetic to this issue. What I don’t understand is why everyone in this business thinks there is one template that is gonna be the unified field theory of “windowing” [or how long a movie screens in theaters]. The minute that I knew, which is usually around Friday at noon, that Logan Lucky wasn’t going to work and that Unsane was definitely not gonna work—as soon as that happens, the studio should let me drop the movie on a platform the next week. There should be a mechanism for when something dies at the box office like that.

Sims: A backup option of, You know what, if it doesn’t hit this number on opening weekend, then release it online.

Soderbergh: I think in abject failures, they should let you do whatever the hell you want. If Unsane drops and doesn’t perform, who’s harmed exactly by me 10 days later putting this thing on a platform? You can’t prove to me that that’s hurting your business.

And last, and the most concise, is on how Soderbergh would change the Oscars if he were in charge.

Sims: What do you think of the Oscars potentially excluding some categories from being televised live?

Soderbergh: There was some discussion for a minute about the Oscars doing what the Emmys do—having two ceremonies. Everybody shouted that down and said they would be creating two tiers. What I wanted to do was produce that show: We’ll go back to the Roosevelt Hotel, every nominee can bring a plus-one, and that’s it. Super intimate, food, drink, all that, you can get up there and talk all you want. It’s not televised. It’s a private event for the nominees and their significant others. Make it fun and cool. ‘Cause here’s the dirty secret: Going to the big thing is not fun. It’s more fun to watch on TV. The trick would be doing something super cool and small.

I also think it’s both interesting and cool that Soderbergh is shooting video using an iPhone now. The small size, he argues, is actually an advantage. As he tells Sims, “The more things you can eliminate that actors have to ignore, the better.”

I don’t understand Tarot really, but as an Achewood fan, I love seeing any of these panels in any order at all. So I love this Glitch app:

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have settled their collusion lawsuit against the NFL. The monetary figure is confidential, but guesses/estimates put it between $60 to $80 million.

I loved @ChanSteele’s essay on Jewishness and Russian Doll.

This @qz obsessions email on “the mixtape” confuses several different kinds of mixtapes, but maybe that’s ok; it’s a heterogeneous art form, united yet jostled together, an e pluribus unum under a single word:

Captain Jean-Luc Picard plays the flute (for complex reasons involving aliens and alternate lifetimes). Sir Patrick Stewart cannot play the flute. So when Picard plays the flute, a hands double plays the flute for him, and the music is dubbed in later.

Great interview with Meg Ryan by David Marchese. "Everyone is so happy on social media. It's depressing."

What happened with Amazon canceling its plans to build a second headquarters in New York? @tcarmody’s (that’s me) newsletter @AmazonChron has the answers (along with bonus KRS-One lyrics):

American kids are watching so much Peppa Pig that they're using British English. "Oh dadd-ay, may we go on holiday, please?"

Paul Ford shares 100 ways to say "I love you"

"The Senate on Tuesday passed the most sweeping conservation legislation in a decade, protecting millions of acres of land and hundreds of miles of wild rivers across the country and establishing four new national monuments..."

There's no quick links archive yet. If you'd like to see 'em all, follow @kottke on Twitter.

What Is It Like To Turn On A Light?

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

So I am something of a philosophy nerd, with a particular affection for late 19th/early 20th century European philosophers, who had a lamentable habit of either turning out to be Nazis or becoming victims of the Nazis. One important strand of this Nazi/Nazi-victim movement in European thought is phenomenology, which tried to describe in painful detail and using all-original categories what the experience of everyday life for both persons and things was like. As it happened, the experience of everyday life was in deep flux at this time, so a lot of their categories/arguments/distinctions turn out to actually capture that historical moment particularly well, which is not at all what they thought they were trying to do.

If you want to try out a light version of phenomenology, applied to both that historical moment and our own, you could do a lot worse than reading Dan Hill’s essay “Let There Be Light Switches: From Dark Living Rooms To Dark Ecology.” Hill takes something extremely ordinary—the experience of looking for, finding, and flipping a light switch—and finds the philosophy in it:

Pallasmaa, in his The Eyes of the Skin, noted that touch is a key part of remembering and understanding, that “tactile sense connects us with time and tradition: through impressions of touch we shake the hands of countless generations”. Is this reach for the switch merely functional, then? A light switch can stick around for decades, as with the doorhandle. When you touch the switch, you are subconsciously sensing the presence of others who have done so before you, and all those yet to do so. You are also directly touching infrastructure, the network of cables twisting out from our houses, from the writhing wires under our fingertips to the thicker fibres of cables, like limbs wrapped around each other, out into the countryside, into the National Grid.

If we always replace touch with voice activation, or simply by our presence entering a room, we are barely thinking or understanding, placing things out of mind. While data about those interactions exist, it is elsewhere, perceptible only to the eyes of the algorithm. We lose another element of our physicality, leaving no mark, literally. No sense of patina develops, except in invisible lines of code, datapoints feeding imperceptible learning systems of unknown provenance. As is often the case with unthinking smart systems, it is a highly individualising interface, revealing no trace of others.

This is… not easy to read. But there’s a lot going on here! I particularly like the invocation of Martin “I Was, Like, Extra-Nazi” Heidegger’s useful distinction between “zuhanden” (to-hand? at-hand?) and “vorhanden” (something like “present-at-hand”? Oh, German is impossible!) to describe categories of objects.

Or, hey; how about this: when it’s “zuhanden,” it’s a thing, and when it’s “vorhanden,” it’s an object.

Heidegger’s word for how light switches seem to peer out at you like minor characters in an Expressionist painting is vorhanden, which means present-at-hand. Normally things kind of disappear as you concentrate on your tasks. The light switch is just part of your daily routine, you flick it on, you want to boil the kettle for some coffee—you are stumbling around, in other words, stumbling around your kitchen in the early morning light of truthiness. (From Being Ecological, Timothy Morton)

That thing when things “disappear” is zuhanden; they just kind of melt into the environment, and so do you, just a being among beings, all working together. The ultimate expression of zuhanden is “flow,” which Heidegger and Csikszentmihalyi both ripped off from Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, with Levin mowing the hay with his peasants:

He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent-shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.

Suddenly, in the midst of his toil, without understanding what it was or whence it came, he felt a pleasant sensation of chill on his hot, moist shoulders. He glanced at the sky in the interval for whetting the scythes. A heavy, lowering storm cloud had blown up, and big raindrops were falling. Some of the peasants went to their coats and put them on; others—just like Levin himself—merely shrugged their shoulders, enjoying the pleasant coolness of it.

Another row, and yet another row, followed—long rows and short rows, with good grass and with poor grass. Levin lost all sense of time, and could not have told whether it was late or early now. A change began to come over his work, which gave him immense satisfaction. In the midst of his toil there were moments during which he forgot what he was doing, and it came all easy to him, and at those same moments his row was almost as smooth and well cut as Tit’s. But so soon as he recollected what he was doing, and began trying to do better, he was at once conscious of all the difficulty of his task, and the row was badly mown.

On finishing yet another row he would have gone back to the top of the meadow again to begin the next, but Tit stopped, and going up to the old man said something in a low voice to him. They both looked at the sun. “What are they talking about, and why doesn’t he go back?” thought Levin, not guessing that the peasants had been mowing no less than four hours without stopping, and it was time for their lunch.

“Lunch, sir,” said the old man.

So we’ve had light switches long enough that they pass into our ordinary, everyday zuhanden state (or its extraordinary flow variation), except when we stumble over them and have to think about them, like these newfangled smart lights and voice switches. This means these everyday things are becoming objects again, until we can incorporate them into a new paradigm.

The light switch when jetlagged is vorhanden — suddenly present-at-hand, “oppressively obvious” —where usually its everyday resilience means it is zuhanden, simply ready-at-hand, normalised, routine. When “stumbling around”, he notes that we don’t pay attention to the object itself — here, the irreducible thing that is the light switch —and so nor do we stand any chance of paying attention to the broader systems of living, of infrastructure, that it is connected to, and part of - and, for Morton, our understanding of mass extinction due to climate change. And given Pallasmaa’s fundamental emphasis on touch as understanding, in order to truly sense and interact, this deleterious situation is hardly likely to improve when the analogue light switch disappears, when the object becomes further detached, and so may we.

More prosaically, how dull rooms will become if they are always automatically bright upon entering, just as the over-lit streets of our towns are increasingly sanitised of their mystery. The cornerstone of most horror movies, vanished overnight. Fortunately, smart homes will not work any more effectively than smart cities do, and a different sub-genre of horror movies will emerge, domestic versions of Stephen King’s Christine or 2001’s HAL.

Maybe this is all thinking too hard about an ordinary experience that is changing, sure, but not in some fundamental way that changes our relationship to things as such. But at the same time, what if it’s not thinking too hard enough?

There isn’t much more basic to our experience of the world, in the 20th century or the 21st, than our use of artificial light to take back the night, transform our work and our play, indeed, change the fundamental nature of communication and experience itself. It’s worth marveling at the change of experience, the change in expectation that that was, precisely now when those experiences and expectations are on the verge of changing again, first by the thousands, and then by the millions.

How do we find the light? How do we see? What do we need to see? What do we know by doing? These are basic questions any philosophy of experience, and any technology of experience, has to answer. Well, our technology of experience is changing. Maybe our philosophy of experience needs to first go back before it can go forward to something new.

The Official Archive of Prince GIFs

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 15, 2019

GIPHY, in collaboration with Paisley Park and Prince’s estate, has done a truly remarkable thing. It’s created an official archive of high-quality Prince GIFs, from virtually all of his music videos. You can browse it by album and by song.

The result is a veritable gold mine for both Prince fans and meme hunters.

It’s got the early stuff:

The classic stuff:

The stuff that’s so sexy it’s a little uncomfortable:

And the self-iconographic work at (what shouldn’t have been) the end:

Please note, however, that if you want reaction GIFs from Prince interviews, live shows, and other non-music-video appearances, you still have to use the regular search function like everyone else.

Via Anil Dash (who else?)

“Star Ribbon”, a USPS Stamp by Aaron James Draplin

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2019

Draplin Stamp

It was not my intention to turn kottke.org into a stamp blog (recently: Ellsworth Kelly, Leonardo da Vinci) but you know what they say: cool postage comes in threes. My pal Aaron James Draplin recently shared on Instagram that he was asked to submit some designs for a stamp for the USPS and then, because he’s an awesome designer, one of his designs is going to become an actual stamp.

TEARS ROLLING DOWN MY CHEEKS: Last thing I want ANY post I put up to sound like some sweaty, formal press release, so I’ll just come out and say it: I GOT TO MAKE A STAMP, YOU GUYS.

I’ve had to keep my big trap shut for over a year on this one. And I when I got the call to throw some designs into the ring, I have to tell you, even that nod was enough. It was enough just to be that close to one of my FAVORITE institutions of all time: The American postage stamp.

Here’s why he’s so fond of stamps (I totally agree):

You know why I love stamps so much? Because everyone needs a stamp. Everyone gets to enjoy the art on them. Too many times, art and design is only for those who can afford it. Stamps? They are a democratization of design. And that? That’s my favorite kind of graphic design.

The design is a perfect illustration of Draplin’s throwback design style — it’s got that Spirit of ‘76 thing going on but is also solidly contemporary, just like his work for Field Notes. (via df)

Stamps Featuring Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

Da Vinci Stamps

Da Vinci Stamps

Da Vinci Stamps

The Royal Mail in the UK have released a set of stamps that feature drawings done by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Royal Collection holds the greatest collection of Leonardo’s drawings in existence, housed in the Print Room at Windsor Castle. Because they have been protected from light, fire and flood, they are in almost pristine condition and allow us to see exactly what Leonardo intended — and to observe his hand and mind at work, after a span of five centuries. These drawings are among the greatest artistic treasures of the United Kingdom.

The drawings are all taken from a collection owned by the royal family and will be featured in a distributed exhibition of Leonardo’s drawings happening around the UK this year. (via colossal)

The Secret History of Women in Coding

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

In an excerpt of his forthcoming book Coders, Clive Thompson writes about The Secret History of Women in Coding for the NY Times.

A good programmer was concise and elegant and never wasted a word. They were poets of bits. “It was like working logic puzzles — big, complicated logic puzzles,” Wilkes says. “I still have a very picky, precise mind, to a fault. I notice pictures that are crooked on the wall.”

What sort of person possesses that kind of mentality? Back then, it was assumed to be women. They had already played a foundational role in the prehistory of computing: During World War II, women operated some of the first computational machines used for code-breaking at Bletchley Park in Britain. In the United States, by 1960, according to government statistics, more than one in four programmers were women. At M.I.T.’s Lincoln Labs in the 1960s, where Wilkes worked, she recalls that most of those the government categorized as “career programmers” were female. It wasn’t high-status work — yet.

This all changed in the 80s, when computers and programming became, culturally, a mostly male pursuit.

By the ’80s, the early pioneering work done by female programmers had mostly been forgotten. In contrast, Hollywood was putting out precisely the opposite image: Computers were a male domain. In hit movies like “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Weird Science,” “Tron,” “WarGames” and others, the computer nerds were nearly always young white men. Video games, a significant gateway activity that led to an interest in computers, were pitched far more often at boys, as research in 1985 by Sara Kiesler, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, found. “In the culture, it became something that guys do and are good at,” says Kiesler, who is also a program manager at the National Science Foundation. “There were all kinds of things signaling that if you don’t have the right genes, you’re not welcome.”

See also Claire Evans’ excellent Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet.

Leaving Room for the Beautiful Flowers

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

In his newsletter Life Is So Beautiful, Hugh Hollowell shares a story of doomsday, neighbors, and goodwill.

I met a prepper the other day. You know — they store food in the basement in the event the revolution happens and we all turn to cannibalism. He was at my house, and was looking at the layout for my little vegetable garden I am planning. He shook his head, and said I could grow more food than that, and then I would have lots to store up for “hard times”.

Nah, I said. “This is enough. It’s enough for us to eat and to have enough to share with our neighbors. This way, it still leaves room for beautiful flowers, and the beautiful yard and the shared food are like insurance payments, in a way. When hard times happen, we will have a bank of goodwill with our neighbors we are counting on to see us through.”

He told me I was naïve, and that my neighbors wouldn’t care about me at all.

“Maybe you are right”, I said. “But if I believed that, then I am living in the hard times now, and I sort of refuse to do that.”

He left our house unconvinced, but I will share some of my tomatoes with him anyway.

I often think of myself as a pessimistic optimist (or an optimistic pessimist) but if pressed to choose, I believe that people work together and help each other far far more than they work against each other.

1969 in Pictures

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

1969 was quite a year that saw the founding of Sesame Street, PBS, Monty Python, and the Internet as well as Woodstock and my favorite, the crew of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

At In Focus, Alan Taylor has collected 50 photos from 1969, a visual record of that iconic year.

1969 Photos

1969 Photos

1969 Photos

From top to bottom, Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, Queen Elizabeth riding on the Tube in London, and a billboard in Times Square featuring John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s message of peace.

Goodbye Opportunity, the Little Mars Rover that Could

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2019

Yesterday, NASA declared the official end to the Opportunity rover mission on Mars.

One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

Opportunity was the longest-lived robot ever sent to another planet; it lasted longer than anyone could have imagined.

Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley.

Here’s a quick video overview of the milestones of Opportunity’s mission:

The NY Times has a great interactive feature about the rover’s activities and achievements and XKCD has a tribute.

Xkcd Oppy

Photos of the Indigenous Peoples of Siberia

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

As part of his The World in Faces project, Alexander Khimushin has been making portraits of the indigenous people of Siberia wearing native dress.

Alexander Khimushin

Alexander Khimushin

Alexander Khimushin

The photo at the top is of three-year-old Gulnara Kayarina wearing her everyday outfit:

She lives in a portable little 2x3 meter house on skis, wrapped in the reindeer skins, at the endless tundra, about 50 km away from the nearest settlement of Tukhard (pronounced Too-Hard) — one the the remotest and coldest places of Krasnoyarsk Krai. Located at the Taymyr Peninsula (Arctic part of Siberia and the Northernmost region of Eurasia) Tukhard is accessible by helicopter only. Gulnara is one of two daughters in the family of reindeer herders Prokopy and Maya Kayarin. Her sister Rimma is a bit older, she is 5. Both girls live nomadic life with their parents and their reindeer in the vast snowy expanse of the tundra, extended as far as the edge on the Arctic Ocean. Nenets People are one of five ethnic group on Indigenous People of Taymyr Peninsula. Most of Nenets People still live traditional lifestyle in this extremely remote and coldest region of the world. Right now the region experiencing a so-called polar night — 45 days long period of total darkness. Winter temperature regularly drops below -40C/-40F. With a combination of strong winds with a speed as high as 35 meters/sec the climate of Taymyr is certainly one of the most extreme ones of the world.

You can follow this project on Facebook and Instagram.

W.E.B. Du Bois’ Data Portraits of Black American Circa 1900

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the hand-drawn infographics of W.E.B. Du Bois, noting that the great African American author, sociologist, historian, and activist was also a hell of a designer. Now Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert have collected Du Bois’ data portraits of black America into a new book, W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America.

Web Du Bois Infoviz

Web Du Bois Infoviz

The colorful charts, graphs, and maps presented at the 1900 Paris Exposition by famed sociologist and black rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois offered a view into the lives of black Americans, conveying a literal and figurative representation of “the color line.” From advances in education to the lingering effects of slavery, these prophetic infographics — beautiful in design and powerful in content — make visible a wide spectrum of black experience.

W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits collects the complete set of graphics in full color for the first time, making their insights and innovations available to a contemporary imagination. As Maria Popova wrote, these data portraits shaped how “Du Bois himself thought about sociology, informing the ideas with which he set the world ablaze three years later in The Souls of Black Folk.”

Celebrity Then & Now

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

Ard Gelinck photoshops celebrities posing with their younger selves and posts the results on Instagram.

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

Celeb Then Now

The Hoover Dam’s “Hidden” 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

There’s a little-known monument located at the site of the Hoover Dam that shows the progression of “North Stars” as the Earth moves through its 25,772-year change of rotational axis. Alexander Rose of the Long Now Foundation couldn’t find much public documentation related to this celestial map, so he did some research.

I now had some historical text and photos, but I was still missing a complete diagram of the plaza that would allow me to really understand it. I contacted the historian again, and she obtained permission from her superiors to release the actual building plans. I suspect that they generally don’t like to release technical plans of the dam for security reasons, but it seems they deemed my request a low security risk as the monument is not part of the structure of the dam. The historian sent me a tube full of large blueprints and a CD of the same prints already scanned. With this in hand I was finally able to re-construct the technical intent of the plaza and how it works.

In order to understand how the plaza marks the date of the dam’s construction in the nearly 26,000-year cycle of the earth’s precession, it is worth explaining what exactly axial precession is. In the simplest terms, it is the earth “wobbling” on its tilted axis like a gyroscope — but very, very slowly. This wobbling effectively moves what we see as the center point that stars appear to revolve around each evening.

Presently, this center point lies very close to the conveniently bright star Polaris. The reason we have historically paid so much attention to this celestial center, or North Star, is because it is the star that stays put all through the course of the night. Having this one fixed point in the sky is the foundation of all celestial navigation.

Here are some explanatory notes that Rose wrote over the blueprints of the monument showing how to read the map:

Hoover Celestial Map

The Water Dancer, a Forthcoming Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2019

Having thoroughly conquered the world of nonfiction, Ta-Nehisi Coates now has his sights set on fiction. His first novel, The Water Dancer, is due out in September. Here’s the cover and a synopsis:

Water Dancer Coates

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage — and lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child — but he is also gifted with a mysterious power. Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn’t understand, a blue light that lifts him up and lands him a mile away. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram’s private rebellion. Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love, he becomes determined to escape the only home he’s ever known.

The NY Times has a bit more info here about the book.