22 September 2009

More on television and film

This was started as a comment on Admonit's post "Turn On Your Television," but I realized it was becoming long enough it deserved to be its own post, so I promoted it.

I have never owned a TV myself. I've always prided myself in that fact. I had a button (distributed by my undergraduate university's bookstore) which had a picture of a TV surrounded by a circle with a slash through it and the words "Read instead."

We did watch some TV as kids, but my parents restricted us to an hour a day, only during the time between school and dinner. And we could never eat in front of the TV. When we watched, we were concentrating on the show. (I do remember one special occasion when they let us all, as a family, eat dinner on my parents' bed -- which is where the TV viewing space was in our house -- because it was a Christmas special or something.)

I used to hate it when I'd go over to someone's house and their TV was on as background noise throughout our visit. It made me feel unappreciated. There was something else competing for my host's attention with me. Even if she had learned to tune out the TV noise and focus just on her company, the noise was distracting to me and bothered me.

I'm like you, Sorina. When I do happen to sit in front of a TV for any reason (e.g., at the health club during the first Gulf War), I can easily get sucked in. For a few years I was making a point of trying to watch one episode each of several of the shows that were big at the time: E.R., Melrose Place, Survivor (the first season), Frasier, Desperate Housewives, one of the many cop/crime ones. Can't remember what else. I wanted to stay somewhat educated about popular culture. But it appalled me how easily I was gripped by Survivor; I wanted to know what would happen in the next episode. This was after I'd been ridiculing the show based on what I'd heard of it. I mean, what a stupid concept: reality TV. Who would want to watch real people interacting with each other? That's what your own real life is for! Get a life! But surprisingly, I found the format compelling, and could easily have seen myself getting hooked for the whole season if I'd had a TV. I was disappointed with myself, but glad I had that safety valve in place.

Now several years later, I'm still adamant about never getting a TV. I watch films on my laptop computer -- now with a big projection screen and digital projector which I bought. But the creep towards a unified system of computer-Internet-TV-DVD player-recording device has meant that I get to see "TV" clips quite often, either on news websites or YouTube. I've taken to watching entire archived episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and "The Colbert Report" for an occasional dose of laughter and astute political analysis. (NB: The Daily Show just won an Emmy for best variety, music or comedy series.)

So I've relaxed on my principles a bit, I guess. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I don't sit there for hours watching TV with commercials in it, so I guess that's a benefit. But I did see this one commercial today (passed around on Facebook) which is amazing: clever, funny, poignant, and great short filmmaking:

Don't read further in my comments until you've watched it twice.


OK, you can read on now.


Did you get that this guy is the Wind? I had to watch it a second time to get it, and a third time to realize that all those things he did which alienated people were things the wind normally does. Notice how none of the people got angry at him (people don't get angry at the wind), they just ignored him and went on their way.

It's brilliant that the actor they chose is apparently someone who suffers from acromegaly. Those are people who are often not accepted in society because they are large and ungainly and ugly. Thus, the giant having a hard time making friends represents the wind, which is not appreciated for being just itself, until someone recognizes its potential. A wonderfully creative story. Advertising has come a long way since the days of "ring-around-the-collar" and Mr. Whipple!

Here's more about the piece. It's called "Power of Wind" and it "garnered a Cannes Gold Lion [in 2007] and was one of the main contenders for the Grand Prix, and [last] year again [rose] to the top of the heap to earn a 2008 Creativity Award." (this quote is from which tells more about the production). I've been trying to find out the name of the actor, because he looks familiar to me, but with no luck. Someone pointed out that the actor was very gusty to take on that role! :-)

Back to watching films at home vs. in the theatre: I prefer the latter, too, when it's possible. But so much of what's being made these days is schlock that I don't want to see. There are probably enough decent movies each year to keep me getting out to the cinema once a month if I made time for it, but I don't. However there is such an abundance of great classic films in the archives (Netflix, or the Vancouver-based Videomatica which I joined instead since Netflix doesn't operate in Canada) that it'd be a shame not to educate myself on the history of film. Most good films today owe a great deal to films of the past and pay conscious homage to great directors of yesteryear. So if you know the films they are referring to, you'll get that much more out of the current ones. It's just like with literature. In order to be a good reader, you have to know good books, and in order to enjoy and understand good books, you have to be a good reader. It takes a while to enter into this cycle. A while of stumbling and bumbling around not really knowing what you're doing. (I remember in high school being hopelessly frustrated in English class, positive I'd never be able to figure out what a book's theme was, as if it were some hidden mystery that only the author knew and he'd hidden it in there, and there was only one right answer, and I was always wrong when I tried to guess what it was for a school assignment.) But if you press on, it's well worth the time investment. So it is with film.

Since I bought my large projection screen for home, watching films in my family room has been a pleasure! I opted for an Elite ez-Cinema 72in 4:3 Portable Pull Up Screen. It's easy to use, light, excellent quality, and a good value for the money (about $250). I can have friends over now for movie night (still need to find time to start planning those regularly).

I agree with your comments on media overload. Sometimes less is more. But as long as I'm not feeling the overwhelm yet, I keep trying to absorb more because there are so many more great books I want to read and films I want to see. I've nearly stopped listening to music altogether, which makes me sad. I just don't like listening to music as background to something else, and I'm usually not willing to take time to sit and just listen to music. The one exception is doing house cleaning, which I do so seldom that it's pitiful.

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