Sunday, January 22, 2006

Murch thinks 3 is a magic number. (well, 2 1/2 anyway)

Walter Murch is more or less the only rock star editor. He's written books (In the Blink of An Eye), essays and lectures somewhat frequently. You'll remember him as the editor of Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, The English Patient, Cold Mountain, Jarhead, etc. I often wonder if he's really the smartest editor out there - not meaning that he isn't smart as hell, cause he is - but I wonder if other editors think as much about what we do as he does. I know some very considered, thoughtful editors, and I know some who work a bit more...instinctively. Thinking about Walter Murch always makes me curious about how deep you really *should* go on a given project.

I just stumbled on this essay from him about complexity in sound design. Good stuff as always.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why we fight.

Managed to snag a ticket to this basically excellent doc last night. You can say it's about why we're in Iraq; a lot of the film is, but it really does try and get to the heart of the matter, as the title suggests. When it's on, the film is as beautiful and compelling as any doc I've seen. When it wanders, it's still pretty good, but fallible.

It opens with a genuinely amazing speech by Eisenhower, as he is about to end his presidency, in which he essentially warns against the perversion of democracy that a standing army and the attendant industries will wreak. This coming from a five star general who'd served in WWII. I wish they'd run the entire speech at the start of the film. Instead, we get excerpts, and then a standard talking-heads and footage piece. It sits halfway between a normal PBS story structure with several characters interwoven and something where the talking heads advance a thesis from start to finish..

What really got me was how *close* to being astonishing it was. As I said, many sections of it are beautiful -– it has a nice soundtrack that bridges a lot sections together into bigger pieces - then it would get bogged down a little with bites that were maybe not exactly off-topic, but maybe weren't bold enough. Much of the dialog is preaching to the choir, and so what frustrates me is to see the other elements get lost within the rote '“our politicians don'’t care'” soundbites. The good stuff by my reckoning includes: a great story of a NYC cop, a Vet himself, who lost a son in 9/11; a young guy signing up for the army;an army colonel (I think) who was in the Pentagon when it was struck and felt that she had to leave the armed service because of policy differences; and a woman scientist who works on bunker-buster bombs who turns out to have fled Saigon days before the fall, and who has deeply patriotic feeling for the US.

My gut tells me that if they'’d kept this a little more trim, a little more poetic, and maybe kept the run-time to 1:15 instead of 1:38, they'd have a film that was breathless, and left the audience stunned at the end, rather than feeling like they'’d seen a really great documentary. There were quite a few sections during the film that are that good, and so major hats off to the team.

I know docs aren'’t the same as news stories, and it'’s not a rule that you have to give equal time to opposing viewpoints, but I did feel like there might have been a useful way to contextualize the argument a bit better with regard to the conservative side of the fence. Not just hearing things to debunk them, but to broaden the scope.

I hope this film is a huge success; I'’ll be very curious to see what the numbers are when it opens outside of new york/la.

Monday, January 09, 2006

There were lots of animals in PAPILLION

Papillion was this prison-break movie released in 1973, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman; it takes place sometime in the 1930s. There is a bizarre amount of wildlife on screen:

1. Little crabs when arriving in French Guiana.
2. Lizards on roof.
3. Alligator when on work detail.
4. Butterflies on work detail.
5. Snake on work detail.
6. Roach in solitary.
7. Bat in solitary.
8. Large crab in solitary.
9. Millipede in solitary.
10. Dog on leper island.
11. Turtles on boat.
12. Sharks on final island.
13. Pigs and goats on final island.
14. Grasshopper on final island.

There are probably more, but that's all I can remember. It's an interesting idea, to use animals as shorthand for different situations or conditions. Not something that would work in every film, but it worked here just fine.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

rocking the ebay for some retro gaming.

I spent the large sum of $3.99 + 3$ for shipping to get a copy of one of my favorite games ever: Mechwarrior 2 for Mac. Released 1996. Requires at LEAST System 7.5. It runs in OS 9 no problem at all (though not Classic) once you download a patch (which actually was to let it run in OS 8!), and is super super fun. I remember it had a pretty good soundtrack; kind of reminding me of the first Autechre record (Incunabula), which is one of my favorites.

Today it might be called a realtime strategy game; it requires fast reflexes but is not a twitch game like some of the first person shooters are. It's really more about planning and tactics, if not actual strategy. Unlike some of the FPS games out there, you rarely are significantly more weaponed up than your opponents; in fact at most times you can blow yourself up with about two wrong clicks or keypresses by firing weapons too close together: heat buildup = boom.

The part I didn't remember was how thorough the environment was - not the level of details in the models, which is frankly lower than I remembered - but the details of the storyline. It really is a campaign; each mission has screens and screens of background to read, and a lengthy description of the aftermath of the battle you've just completed, or not completed as things may have turned out. There is a 'reading room' where you can just peruse the history of your clan. And you can play the whole game from either of two sides, with entirely different history and missions. It's a whole world.

The game is an adaptation of something vague D&D-ish called BattleTech universe, so much of the 'lore' is lifted from that, but it's an interesting comparison to make with something like Halo. Halo's backstory is clearly grafted on by a team entirely separate from the team building the game engine itself; not a problem necessarily, but in practice the backstory is just a few pages in the instruction manual that gets left in the box. If you want to know a little more about Master Chief, may I kindly direct you to the lovely snow falling on the battlefield as that hover-buggy swings by for another sortie on your position? It's cool, right? What was that about you were asking about Master Chief? Right, never mind.

It's not the reams of copy that made MechWarrior II such an immersive experience; part of was the sheer complexity of the tasks you're asked to complete, and part of it comes from the details you CAN'T skip over, like the endless scenes of code procedure on the bomber in Doctor Strangelove. But I think the biggest part of it is the overwhelming sense that you are participating in a larger story. Not just blasting, but a real story. When you finish a mission, you feel like a hero, not a mass murderer or a kid shooting cardboard cowboys with a BB gun at a stand out at Coney Island. It was clearly a talented bunch of folks who put the game together.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

-so- underrated.

The Thomas Dolby best of caught my eye, flipping through the ipod on the way home today. The dude was completely misunderstood in his time; he's a crazy good storyteller who happened to be using new tools that freaked everyone out. If I had to pick something to remember him for, it would be the lyrics rather than his crazy synth action, though that is generally very creative as well. I ain't saying he didn't drop some real mal-mots from time to time, but there are some gems in there for sure. I think my favorite line from one of his songs is from "Urges": "I look at you and I feel half human". I don't know why, but I love that. The efficient set-ups of "airwaves" and "screen kiss" are things to admire as well.

Also, as someone who has been in recording studios both low and very hi-fi while songs were being recorded, I would like to point out that "She Blinded Me With Science" sounds absolutely crazy to me now, but for very different reasons than when I was like 13 and it was released originally. I just can't imagine someone actually systematically setting out to create that track. Wow.