Creative Destruction

June 13, 2017

Assault by AMC Dolby Cinema

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Media Analysis,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 11:18 pm

For a variety of reasons, I go to see movies in the theater only a handful of times any given year. The reasons are unimportant (and obvious) and I recognize that, by eschewing the theater, I’m giving up the crowd experience. Still, I relented recently and went to see a movie at a new AMC Dolby Cinema, which I didn’t even know exists. The first thing to appreciate was that is was a pretty big room, which used to be standard when cinema was first getting established in the 1920s but gave way sometime in the 1970s to multiplex theaters able to show more than one title at a time in little shoebox compartments with limited seating. Spaciousness was a welcome throwback. The theater also had oversized, powered, leather recliners rather than cloth, fold-down seats with shared armrests. The recliners were quite comfortable but also quite unnecessary (except for now typical Americans unable to fit their fat asses in what used to be a standard seat). These characteristics are shared with AMC Prime theaters that dress up the movie-going experience and charge accordingly. Indeed, AMC now offers several types of premium cinema, including RealD 3D, Imax, Dine-In, and BigD.

Aside I: A friend only just reported on her recent trip to the drive-in theater, a dated cinema experience that is somewhat degraded unenhanced yet retains its nostalgic charm for those of us old enough to remember as kids the shabby chic of bringing one’s own pillows, blankets, popcorn, and drinks to a double feature and sprawling out on the hood and/or roof of the car (e.g., the family station wagon). My friend actually brought her dog to the drive-in and said she remembered and sorta missed the last call on dollar hot dogs at 11 PM that used to find all the kids madly, gleefully rushing the concession stand before food ran out.

What really surprised me, however, was how the Dolby Cinema experience turned into a visual, auditory, and kinesthetic assault. True, I was watching Wonder Woman (sorry, no review), which is set in WWI and features lots of gunfire and munitions explosions in addition to the usual invincible superhero punchfest, so I suppose the point is partly to be immersed in the environment, a cinematic stab at verisimilitude. But the immediacy of all the wham-bam, rock ’em-sock ’em action made me feel more like a participant in a theater of war than a viewer. The term shell shock (a/k/a battle fatigue a/k/a combat neurosis) refers to the traumatized disorientation one experiences in moments of high stress and overwhelming sensory input; it applies here. Even the promo before the trailers and feature, offered to demonstrate the theater’s capabilities themselves, was off-putting because of unnecessary and overweening volume and impact. Unless I’m mistaken, the seats even have built-in subwoofers to rattle theatergoers from below when loud, concussive events occur, which is often because, well, filmmakers love their spectacle as much as audiences do.

Aside II: One real-life lesson to be gleaned from WWI, or the Great War as it was called before WWII, went well beyond the simplistic truism that war is hell. It was that civility (read: civilization) had failed and human progress was a chimera. Technical progress, however, had made WWI uglier in many respects than previous warfare. It was an entirely new sort of horror. Fun fact: there are numerous districts in France, known collectively as Le Zone Rouge, where no one is allowed to live because of all the unexploded ordnance (100 years later!). Wonder Woman ends up having it both ways: acknowledging the horrific nature of war on the one hand yet valorizing and romanticizing personal sacrifice and eventual victory on the other. Worse, perhaps, it establishes that there’s always another enemy in the wings (otherwise, how could there be sequels?), so keep fighting. And for the average viewer, uniformed German antagonists are easily mistakable for Nazis of the subsequent world war, a historical gloss I’m guessing no one minds … because … Nazis.

So here’s my problem with AMC’s Dolby Cinema: why settle for routine or standard theater experience when it can be amped up to the point of offense? Similarly, why be content with the tame and fleeting though reliable beauty of a sunset when one can enjoy a widescreen, hyperreal view of cinematic worlds that don’t actually exist? Why settle for the subtle, old-timey charm of the carousel (painted horses, dizzying twirling, and calliope music) when instead one can strap in and get knocked sideways by roller coasters so extreme that riders leave wobbly and crying at the end? (Never mind the risk of being stranded on the tracks for hours, injured, or even killed by a malfunction.) Or why bother attending a quaint symphonic band concert in the park or an orchestral performance in the concert hall when instead one can go to Lollapalooza and see/hear/experience six bands in the same cacophonous space grinding it out at ear-splitting volume, along with laser light shows and flash-pot explosions for the sheer sake of goosing one’s senses? Coming soon are VR goggles that trick the wearer’s nervous system into accepting they are actually in the virtual game space, often first-person shooters depicting killing bugs or aliens or criminals without compunction. Our arts and entertainments have truly gotten out of hand.

If those criticisms don’t register, consider my post more than a decade ago on the Paradox of the Sybarite and Catatonic, which argues that our senses are so overwhelmed by modern life that we’re essentially numb from overstimulation. Similarly, let me reuse this Nietzsche quote (used before here) to suggest that on an aesthetic level, we’re not being served well in display and execution of refined taste so much as being whomped over the head and dragged willingly? through ordeals:

… our ears have become increasingly intellectual. Thus we can now endure much greater volume, much greater ‘noise’, because we are much better trained than our forefathers were to listen for the reason in it. All our senses have in fact become somewhat dulled because we always inquire after the reason, what ‘it means’, and no longer for what ‘it is’ … our ear has become coarsened. Furthermore, the ugly side of the world, originally inimical to the senses, has been won over for music … Similarly, some painters have made the eye more intellectual, and have gone far beyond what was previously called a joy in form and colour. Here, too, that side of the world originally considered ugly has been conquered by artistic understanding. What is the consequence of this? The more the eye and ear are capable of thought, the more they reach that boundary line where they become asensual. Joy is transferred to the brain; the sense organs themselves become dull and weak. More and more, the symbolic replaces that which exists … the vast majority, which each year is becoming ever more incapable of understanding meaning, even in the sensual form of ugliness … is therefore learning to reach out with increasing pleasure for that which is intrinsically ugly and repulsive, that is, the basely sensual. [italics not in original]

April 17, 2013

The Nature of Man (or Mankind)

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Environment,Ethics — Brutus @ 2:20 pm

Long time no blog posts. I’ve been fairly active at The Spiral Staircase but not at all here. However, I got hipped to an animator, Steve Cutts, whose style and content fits my thinking. Gotta share it. In a recent video, he shows humanity to be pretty hideous in the way we treat the world (ours to kill, consume, and trash at will) yet blithely ignorant about it right up to the end, when we deserve to get stomped ourselves (like the bug at the beginning):

There are other animations at his website with similar themes. The mixture of truly baleful criticism and jokey tone, with mildly distorted drawings and silly though evocative music, makes them simultaneously entertaining and hard to watch. But we have a vicarious, rubbernecking streak in us, so it’s doubtful anyone will look away to preserve their innocence (if anyone can be said to have any).

BTW, to categorize this as content-lite is undoubtedly a mischaracterization, but since the content comes from elsewhere and requires little analysis, I’ve got nothing much to add.

December 20, 2011

Burnt Impressions

Filed under: Art,Business,Geekery,Humor,Religion — Brutus @ 4:02 pm

This latest just makes me laugh: a company called Burnt Impressions Inc. in Danville, Vermont, is selling a line of toasters that burn images of one’s choosing into toast.

It’s usually a T-shirt maker that jumps on a trend first, but I suppose if the trend to be coopted is spectral images appearing on grilled cheese sandwiches, then it makes perfect sense to make a toaster than does it for you. Current options include Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Nativity, the peace sign, and the pot leaf.

I also saw a couple puns worth repeating: Cheesus Christ and Jesus Crust.

July 28, 2011

Upskirt Marilyn

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Geekery,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 7:12 pm

Been absent for a while. Nothing short and sweet to blog about until now, which is a 26-ft. sculpture of Marilyn Monroe’s famous pose from The Seven Year Itch.

I used to work in that building at 401 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago. The plaza in front has been rebuilt almost continuously in the last decade and has frequently been the site of large, outdoor sculptures. I happened by there today, but the unveiling apparently took place July 15, 2011.

Far be it from me to impose my aesthetic on anyone else, but I can’t not observe how trashy this is, offering passersby the most garish upskirt photographic opportunity ever. And naturally, tacky Americans are only too happy to oblige.

April 14, 2011

Bach on Wood

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Geekery — Brutus @ 2:44 pm

Something simple and fun, no explanation necessary:

September 7, 2007

Madeleine L’Engle, RIP

Filed under: Art,Popular Culture — Robert @ 3:18 pm

Madeleine L’Engle, dead at 89. I loved “A Wrinkle in Time” and its followup books. Time to dig them out of the dusty boxes and give them another read. There’s a very brief obituary here; for more, see Wikipedia.

H/T John Scalzi.

June 28, 2007

It’s Not Easy Being Queen Anne

Filed under: Art — Off Colfax @ 11:07 pm

There are times when words escape me.

This one was caused by hilarious laughter.

June 23, 2007

Toddler Photography Saturday

Filed under: Art — Robert @ 12:46 pm

Yes, it’s time for everyone’s favorite Saturday posting tradition (which I just started) – snapshots taken by toddlers, for toddlers! Stephanie has a digital camera designed for little children (point and shoot, two-hand grips, bifocal viewfinder, invulnerable to minor falls) and loves to take pictures. And I love to inflict my daughter’s cuteness on the world, so it’s really a win-win.

This rather daring set of pieces, entitled Self-Composition Nos. 1 and 2, plays with the boundary between observer and observed, between artist and art. She is taking a picture – but of herself, taking a picture. The protruding tongue speaks to a lighthearted, even whimsical sensibility, while the more formal portrait depicts the constraints that all artists must suffer under. Where does art end and life begin? We may never know, but the avant-garde work presented here today may open a new and exciting chapter in the visual arts.

February 14, 2007

This is Cool

Filed under: Art,Content-lite — Gled @ 3:07 am

Human Clock

January 15, 2007

What he did over the break.

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Humor — Gled @ 3:14 pm

What did you do over the break?

Haha, I really don’t care because there is NO way it was even close to as cool as this.

December 28, 2006

Film Review: The Remains of the Day

Filed under: Art — Gled @ 3:30 pm

Warning: Spoilers.

I don’t have television, so I don’t get to see films except when visiting others, or on the rare occasion I visit the cinema. This Christmas I went home to my parents, and was able to watch some of the films that were part of the seasonal offering.

“The Remains of the Day”, (IMDB, Wikipedia), a 1993 film based upon the 1989 Booker Prize winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, depicts the life of an emotionally repressed Butler, Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), who worked for an English Lord in the run-up to the Second World War. The story is told in flashback, in parallel with a journey he took 20 years later to visit the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), in the hope of persuading her to return to service in the house.

December 20, 2006

Bechdel’s “Fun Home” Is Time Magazine’s Book Of The Year

Filed under: Art,LGBT Issues,Popular Culture — Ampersand @ 4:30 pm

The top spot on Time Magazine’s “books of the year” list:

The unlikeliest literary success of 2006 is a stunning memoir about a girl growing up in a small town with her cryptic, perfectionist dad and slowly realizing that a) she is gay and b) he is too. Oh, and it’s a comic book: Bechdel’s breathtakingly smart commentary duets with eloquent line drawings. Forget genre and sexual orientation: this is a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other.

I’m thrilled that Fun Home has been a huge success; not only is it a great book, but Alison Bechdel has been an obscure great cartoonist for too many years. I highly, highly recommend buying this book.

Two panels from Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home."

Above: a couple of panels from Fun Home. Picking out a sample of art from Fun Home isn’t easy, because Bechdel isn’t a show-offy cartoonist; she’s all about communicating the story and the moment, and usually she does it in the least obtrusive way possible. I love the two-panel sequence above for how well it communicates the emotional undercurrents; the body language and expressions of two people trying not to have any reaction to what they’re saying are perfect.

In 1999, when The Comics Journal put out a list of the “Top 100 English-Language Comics of the 20th Century,” based on voting by a group of critics, I argued on their message boards that two cartoonists whose works belonged on the list were missing. One was Dave Sim, whose omission was objected to by many, and who was left off the list because voters were split among several different works.

The other was Alison Bechdel, and as far as I know I was the only person to object to her omission. With Fun House, it has hopefully become more obvious to people that Bechdel is a major comics creator.

One reason Bechdel wasn’t on the top 100 list, in my opinion, is sexism. Not sexism as in “the Comics Journal critics hate women.” Rather, I think the critical culture in comics tends to dismiss female-dominated genres as fluff, while male-dominated genres — even extremely fluffy ones, like adventure comic strip and superhero comics — are taken more seriously (and were well-represented on the top 100 list). Before Fun Home, Bechdel’s major work was a soap opera comic strip; the fact that it was soap opera meant that few critics read it seriously (or at all). ((There are a few comic strips with soap elements on the top 100 list – Little Orphan Annie, Thimble Theatre (aka Popeye) and Lil’ Abner. All three are certified classics with male creators and a lot of “adventure” elements.))

I’ve spent today rereading the short stories that Bechdel publishes at the end of each “Dykes To Watch Out For” collection. Pre- Fun Home, these short stories were where Bechdel experimented with long-form comics, and she did a lot of great work with characterization, pacing, and tying together multiple narratives. I hope Bechdel is considering publishing a collection of her “Dykes” short stories; they stand on their own quite well, and publishing them as a group could help make more visible some of Bechdel’s best and least-read works.

Curtsy: Quirkybird.

December 12, 2006

The Definition of Superhero

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Popular Culture — Ampersand @ 12:58 pm

This post is a total geek-out; non-geeky readers will want to scroll on past this one. Later today, I’ll also post this week’s baby blogging (sorry for being late on it!).


June 12, 2006

Dean Hubbard Is NOT BITTER

Filed under: Art,Economics,Humor — Robert @ 9:19 pm

Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard (who was recently passed over for the chairmanship of the Fed in favor of Ben Bernancke) has a pretty darn good sense of humor about the whole thing.

It might be a little bit too inside-baseball for some, but the video he made is freaking hilarious.

(H/T Mary Schweitzer of the Obielist for the link.)

(Also, God, the Police were great.) 

June 9, 2006

Weaponizing Barry Manilow

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 3:00 pm

I'm late getting to this, as it's already all over the blogosphere. Oh, well.

Reuters reports that Barry Manilow's music is being used in Sydney, Australia, to drive "hoons" out of car parks and off streets where they apparently intimidate others and impede commerce. Using music as a means of coercing behaviors is a familiar idea, e.g., heavy metal music blasted at Noriega and the scene in Apocolypse Now with "The Ride of the Valkyries" used to terrify villagers. Apparently, though, Barry Manilow songs are especially "daggy" in Australia and work to drive away undesireable elements.

Sure, it's funny enough, and Barry Manilow himself likely has no pretensions about his public image. He'll probably get paid royalties, too. Still, I find it sad to see music weaponized (probably too strong a word, but it fits my thinking). Music has long been a good tool of propaganda, but to use music coercively is a bit much.

May 24, 2006

Sand Art

Filed under: Art,Uncategorized — Robert @ 12:28 pm

This is frickin' amazing. Via the Corner.

May 3, 2006

Kill the DJ

Filed under: Art,Economics — Adam Gurri @ 11:36 pm

I apparently touched a nerve, and Brutus has responded, not once, but twice.

The first post was very eloquent and informative, but I think that it was this passage from the second post that really got me thinking:

Promotional copies of music and software, or copies with limited content or functionality, have always been a tool of intellectual property owners to increase their market share. The argument has been advanced by Adam Gurri that all copies should be promotional copies so that emerging artists and foundling software companies can build their market shares. That's wishful thinking from the perspective of an end-user who wants it for free, but it's naïve to believe that giving away work early in the development of one's market leads to later enrichment.

Tonight, I spent some time putting together a playlist with songs from,  and I now think that I am closer to Brutus' position than to the one I previously articulated.

When thinking about music as a business, it's important to remember that songs have been given away for free for as long as there have been radio stations to play them.  So the question is: why would the record labels willingly allow such mass-freeloading over the airwaves?

Simple: you give a song or two, and then people will want to buy the whole record, or CD, which has songs that you can't hear for free.

If is going to supercede anything in my life where listening to music is concerned, it's radio, not purchased albums. is essentially a mass database of singles.  There isn't a thing you can get there which isn't but a small part of a larger album you've got to fork over the bucks in order to get.

The convenience of it is that, unlike the radio, there is a lot of diversity there.  Radio stations bore the hell out of me because if you listen to one for more than a week, you generally become familiar with their entire cycle of songs. not only has a massive amount of different songs and artists, it gets more every day.  Along with information to help you find out more about the ones you like, and facilitate the purchasing process.

Also, it cuts out the damned, loudmouth DJs.  I can go in, pick up a dozen singles, put them on a playlist on my iPod and I'm set for my commute.  I can even mix in songs from the albums I have bought; the middle man has been murdered in his sleep and it is about time.

I concur with Brutus about intellectual property; if music is to be offered freely, it should only be when it is at the consent of the musician. 

April 24, 2006

The Open Source of Art

Filed under: Art — Adam Gurri @ 3:52 pm

I've been browsing about, and the wheels have started turning in my brain again.

A third of Time's 2005 "Person of the Year", Bill Gates, once said:

I'd say that of the world's economies, there's more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don't think that those incentives should exist.

This has come to be something of a mantra among critics of open-source: what, you want to starve out the artists?!  You selfish, soulless consumer!

Taking a step back, the focus on "incentives" is rather small-minded.  We have only recently become aware of just how much money people are willing to pay for boxed sets of their favorite shows, or more expensive television programs.  And yet, TV producers were not starving before this shift.

The form that internet consumption is taking can only alarm those who ignore the historic success of television, and the modern success of the Google business model.

Think about it.  When have you ever had to pay for every single show that you watch on TV?  The only difference now is that you can pay for things that TV doesn't otherwise have, but for the majority of its existence, the only thing that viewers had to pay for was the box.  Would we brand this extremely successful business model "communism"?

Likewise, Google gives just about all of its services away for free.  The search engine, the blogs, the e-mail accounts, all of it.  Then, it makes its money, as some have put it, by "selling the eyeballs"–utilizing several methods not too far removed from ones that have been used by TVs, radios, and newspapers for decades.

Now, I believe that the law is the law.  If you pirate something that doesn't belong to you, and are caught for it, then you don't have much of a case, in my view.

The answer, then, isn't in illegally downloading music without the consent of the musician, but in turning to and places like it where musicians voluntarily upload their music to be accessed for free.  More on the soundness of this business model for musicians can be found here

I think that people should be allowed their right to charge people in order to access their music or read their books.  But I also think that time will render those who choose to operate in that fashion unable to compete with the open-sourcers.

Because ultimately, clinging to monetary compensation for one's intellectual property rights is something you can only do if you're already an entrenched, well-recognized name in the industry.  For those up-and-comers, who comprise the vast majority of musicians of any sort, open-source websites are like free advertisement.  In fact, people are already moving up in this manner., Fictionpress, and deviantART are all outlets through which one's art, whatever form it may be, can be put out in public for free and to be accessed for free.  I believe that as the model is fine tuned, we will see more and more websites that work much like television stations, only without the constraints of timeslots and with a technology that makes storing and sharing your favorites much more convenient.

Then again, with Tivo and DVR taking off, we will probably begin to see television becoming more and more like the internet. 

Nothing "communist" about any of this, just good old fashioned entertainment business saavy working with groundbreaking new technology. 

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