Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

YouTubbing: My favorite online videos of the 21st century

At first , I wanted to post a list of my favorite films of the decade (just for the record, this is the best movie of the decade as far as I’m concerned), but there are so many lists already out there, and there are so many movies to sift through in nine years (and to think of it, 2010 is part of this decade too, so the real bookkeeping should take place next year), that I decided to focus on something a little different and much more manageable:

Online video.

Okay, so you can’t really call it “best online videos of the decade” since there wasn’t any online video before this decade, but the online-video world have been growing exponentially, both technically and creatively. Sure, 80 percent of it is crap – glorified home movies, or simply imitations of better videos, but the remaining 20 percent has given us some really entertaining stuff, right there on our computer screens (and later on our smartphones and other portable gadgets), with almost no mediators – straight from the guy at home to you, the viewer. And let me tell you, there are some seriously creative folks out there who can write, edit and perform – people we might have never had the pleasure of sampling their talent if not for the internet and especially YouTube – the Hall Of Fame for online video, at least until the next “It” video site comes along.

I chose to share with you five of the best videos I have watched these past few years. I only chose from videos who were made by “regular” people specifically for the internet. So I didn’t take into account any movie trailers, scenes and clips from movies or TV shows, or official music videos. Only user generated material. The criteria for me was simple: How re-watchable is the video? How original it is? Have i watched it more than once? more than 50 times? Is it still entertaining even by the 50th time? Two of these five videos were included just because they always make me laugh, no matter how many times I watch them. The other three are pure brilliance as far as I’m concerned.

It warms my heart to see people like me and you put time and effort, usually with no financial gain whatsoever, just to share it with other people. They did it just because they wanted too, just because it was fun.
Above all else, this decade brought the internet to almost every household and person in the world. A technological invention that has become such an essential part in our lives that we can hardly remember how it was before. And as far as creativity goes, the internet has freed us all.

So, in descending order, five of the greatest online videos:

5. Dramatic Cat

I really tried not to include any cat videos. We’re all sick of cat videos. But the hell with it, this short clip is hilarious, and there’s no ignoring the fact that cats have overrun YouTube. And why not? They’re certainly the most mischievous, mysterious, cute and amazing household pet in the world. So as an honorary representative of all 1,344,988 cat videos on the internet, I present to you my favorite one.

4. Marvel Vs. DC: The Dark Knight

There are many fanboy parodies on the net. Everything from Star Wars to Star Trek to Comics to anything in between. Some of these parodies I adore, but I didn’t include them because they seemed too particular, meaning, they might not make sense to the general public, or to put in a more direct way: I’m not everyone will get the joke.
But this video is much more accessible. Everybody knows Batman and everybody knows The Dark Knight. It’s a great satire of the phenomenon that the second Chris Nolan Batman film, a smashing artistic and financial success. It’s very well written and performed, and I laugh every time. Like the cat video, this is here also as the honorary representative of all the fan-made parodies out there, and it’s certainly one of the best.

3. Hey clip

I might seem less than objective here, since the performers are from my own country, but with 28 million views and countless tributes, including one by a Mr. Kevin Smith(!), I guess I’m not the only one. It’s a simple clip, but extraordinary at the same time, and a perfect proof of home-grown talent just finding its own audience in its own natural way.
Two teenage girls from a small town in Israel decided to shoot a clip in the bedroom of one of them for the Pixies’ song Hey, just on a lark. The result was a huge hit on YouTube. It’s Francis Ford Coppola’s vision materializing in front of our eyes: The girl with the cheap video camera is creating something that is on par or even better than many official music videos out there. Fantastic editing and shot selection, and the girls have perfect timing and chemistry together, and they have so much fun, and it shows, and it’s catching, and it’s real , and it just puts a smile on your face. It’s a winner.

2. Shining trailer

The first (if I’m not mistaken) and still the best of all the mock trailers that swept through YouTube in recent years. Notice that it’s not The Shining, but Shining. A grim horror film has been turned into a heartwarming family drama with the aid of music, voice-over, and again, brilliant editing. If I was an editing teacher that’s the first thing I would show my students. But it’s not just a great parody and a great example of the power and magic of editing, it’s also a damn good trailer in its own right. I mean, I wanna see this film! The part where Peter Gabriel’s chorus for Solsbury Hill comes in still sends giddy shivers down my spine. If the guy that made this isn’t cutting trailers in Hollywood right now, or even better, cutting movies, then something is seriously wrong.

1. Where the hell is Matt?

A 32 year-old American Video Game developer got fed up with it all and felt like he was missing out on life. He had money, so he began traveling.

One more thing you should know about him is that he had this sort of funny, bad dance move he used to do.

Okay, back to the trip: A friend filmed Matt doing his dance in Hanoi. Like many internet videos, it became viral and got the attention of a chewing-gum company that offered to sponsor Matt and send him around the world to do his little dance in different places. And that’s what he did.

Up to now it sounds pretty silly, I admit.

But then, in 2008, he was back on the road again.

And this time, he didn’t dance alone.

The result is one of the most uplifting, exhilarating, and heart-warming little montages I have ever seen. It does nothing short of giving me a since of renewed faith in mankind as a species. It’s stunning and beautiful in more ways than I can describe. I love it.

So here’s to music and joy and silly dancing and especially love, because that is the most powerful message of this video.

Oh, and what a gorgeous world we have.

So that’s it. Here’s hoping for more oodles of grassroots creativity on the World Wide Web as it enters its second decade and expands and grows to make us all one nation under the stars. It’s been a hell of a ride.

The Watermills

Sometimes things in life converge in a peculiar way. For the past few weeks I’ve been practicing, or attempting to practice, some  forms of meditation to help alleviate stress and anxiety.  Stress and Anxiety which stem from personal difficulties, but also, I’m quite sure, from the nature of the actual world we live in. A world that puts first and foremost the constant striving for success and achievement, both personal and professional. The constant comparing with people around you, are they happier than you, do they have more money than you, are they in better shape than you. You find it almost impossible to just exist in your own skin without going all over the place and compare, judge and critique. The mind, the modern western mind, is in constant chatter. It always has something to say, and at least for me, most of the things it has to say aren’t really positive or nice. It reminds me of what I can’t do and what Iwas never able to do, no matter how much I tried. It lives almost exclusively in the past or the future, and almost never in the present.

So it was interesting to me, specifically in a time like this when i’m trying to subdue the mind-chatter by meditation (and mostly not succeeding for now, but at least I think I understand the concept), that I happened to watch Akira Kurosawas’s Dreams. Now, I hope I don’t need to mention that, but Kurosawa is one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived and Dreams is one beautiful, mesmerizing film. It is made up of eight stories that represent, well, dreams. But those are not the dreams of The Sopranos for example (which if you ask me are more “realistic” portrayal of how actual dreams unfold) but a more subdued version, more like surreal short stories. The main theme of the film, as I see it, is of celebrating life and nature and it has a major criticism against science and technology as harbingers of pollution and misery. Of course, it is not technology itself but what Man does with it, which means this is ultimately a film about the spirit of man and its capability to create and destroy at the same time.

But the film is so visually breathtaking, and so slow and deliberate in its presentation (this is most certainly NOT a Hollywood action film), that,  if you’re in the right mindset for it- and after three weeks of partial-meditation I sure was – you may be rewarded by something which is akin to a meditative state. This film is magical.

It was exactly what I needed to see right now since it complemented perfectly my state of mind or rather the state of mind I was trying to achieve. There is something at the same time soothing and frightening in it. For some of the segments are truly beautiful and serene (Crows, The Peach Orchard) but some are grim and scary (The Blizzard, Mt. Fuji  in Red). In the end, I was especially struck by the final segment, titled Village Of The Watermills. It takes place in one of the most beautiful locales I have ever seen. I find it hard to believe a place like this can actually exist. It looks like paradise and not in the commercial, cliched way –  an island with white sands and palm trees – but actual paradise, the real one, up in heaven. It consists of a conversation with an old man followed by a rather joyous funeral procession filled with song and dance and I almost cried with the beauty of it all, and wished I could visit it.

The Village of the Watermills seems like a manifestation of what your own self should ideally feel like when you’re in a meditative state: Serene, peaceful, with nothing of the outside world barging in on you. A place which exists only for itself and which represents your inner being, after all the clutter and noise and bullshit of the modern world is swept aside.

At the end it’s just us and nature, from which we came and to which we return, and if we try and remember that, remember what the important things are, we may be in peace.

I think most of us deserve it.

No flying cars

2009 is here, and there are still no flying cars to be found anywhere. How disappointing. Other than that, things are par-for-the-course for the human race. You’ve probably heard about all of it already. Economy in depression, first black president etc etc. (Go Obama).

Sadly, everything is also par-for-the-course in my homeland, where Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed the new year with a new mini-war.  We bombard them with big missiles and they respond with small but persistent missiles. (they started it though. The whole thing is very childish in essence). Half a million Israelis are in the line of fire, including members of my family. I wish I was wrong, but I do believe there is no real military solution for this unending conflict. Israel’s greatest military triumphs were always when it was the underdog, attacked by two or three armies, significantly outnumbered. As in the War Of Independence and the Six Day War. On the other hand, whenever it was the big and strong IDF against terrorists, the result was usually bloody and frustrating without real victories achieved. That is because an army is ill-equipped to handle guerrilla warfare, as history showed us again and again.
The same goes for the current round of blows. Although we are fighting a vicious terrorist organization hiding among innocent civilians, the mere fact that we attack it with fighter airplanes immediately puts it in the underdog position, which is just plain wrong. The solution should and must come through political and international channels and the only way this could ever happen is if we’ll have brave politicians from both sides who will truly want this mayhem to stop.
Don’t hold your breath, though.

I sure yearn for the age of the flying car. For me, it was always a representation of a smoother, utopian future. Huge skyscrapers towering and the sun is setting behind them, and streamlined, silent, flying cars swish between them like graceful ballerinas. But I’ve come to accept reality. It’s more likely that we won’t have cars at all in the future than flying cars. And hey, I’m pro-environment, so there.

In a screenplay I’m working on right now, which takes places in the early years of the 22nd century, there are no flying cars to be found at all. Instead, I’ve extrapolated on the future use of cell phones, the Internet and first aid kits. Oh, and nobody wears glasses anymore. But flying cars? Give me a break. It’s not safe anyway. How is that supposed to work? will we have lanes and exits in midair? Just think of the headache that will cause people living in penthouses. You live on the 80th floor and there’s a traffic jam outside your window. Ouch.

It makes me sad that Israel is the only democracy in the world which still has military conflicts at its borders on a regular basis, with direct influence on civilian population. Sure, the US, along with other western nations, is engaged in a conflict in Iraq, but those wars aren’t fought in the US or Canada or the UK or France. People don’t need to go to shelters. As a result, and although Israel is one of the leading nations in cutting edge scientific research in the world  – if you were an alien landing here and you watched the media the immediate impression you would get about Israel is that while the other nations’ attention is spent on things like global warming and recycling and stem cell research, and, well, cutting-edge science, Israel is still knee deep in war and destruction, like time just froze for us back in the 1970’s. What’s the solution? there’s no easy solution. It’s just the way things are, and it’s not looking like they’re going to change soon.

Would that same hypothetical alien be surprised to find out people are not using flying cars in the 21st century like they do on his home planet? Maybe. Maybe not. What will he report back to his Mother Ship when landing here on  the morning of the first day of 2009? I think it will go something like this:

“Have initiated first contact with a peculiar life form. Its speech is slurred and its vomiting all the time. It keeps saying something that sounds like  “hangover”. All in all, it doesn’t look too impressive. Apparently it thinks its imagining me. How very peculiar. And insulting, I might add.” And then he will just swish away in his small aircraft and mutter to himself about setting his expectations too high.

Join the club, brother.

Enjoy the silence

Yesterday I saw Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Wow, what a movie.

The first time I saw it was years ago, when I was a kid. Yesterday was the second time, and amazingly, it all seemed fresh and familiar at the same time, no doubt thanks to the countless Sci Fi films I’ve seen since that have all been influenced in one way or another by this one-shot wonder.

Elaborate sets, thousands of extras, and fantastic special effects(!) that look impressive to this very day. When you watch it, a constant thought runs through your head:

This was done in 1927!!!

Metropolis seems so familiar because it influenced an entire genre. The industrial nightmare a big city has turned into. Workers in the depths, toiling. Nameless cogs in the nameless machine they themselves operate. They are just one more big machine in a city that has traded its soul for the temptations of technology.

The Boss’s son falls in love with a commoner and descends from the skyscraper where he lives (like a god) to the belly of the earth, and when he witnesses the exploitation and nightmarish existence there, he decides to do something about it, along with his charismatic beloved

But then, wouldn’t you know, his beloved is kidnapped by a mad scientist (yes, a mad scientist) who wishes to graft her face upon a Machine Man he has built in a sad attempt to revive his long lost love (echoes of Frankenstein here). His objective: To destroy Metropolis by destroying the machines which operate it. Hate breeds indiscriminate destruction. Sounds familiar?

There are so many powerful themes here which resonate to this very day: Man and Machine and our dangerous dependency on them, losing one’s humanity because of grief, love conquers all, the abyss that lies between the rich and the poor and volatility of it all. And all this is done without any spoken words, just inter-titles and the actors faces. When you look at Brigitte Helm’s face you don’t really need to hear anything. It’s there, in front of you, every emotion, every nuance, in all its glory.

There is something truly magical about silent cinema. It is so stylish, so unrealistic, it is a pure movie. Alfred Hitchcock, who began his illustrious career in silents, really didn’t like dialogue and in every picture he made tried to tell the story as visually as possible.

And who can blame him? Cinema is visual. There are so many films these days with endless yammering. Not everyone writes dialogue like Tarantino or David Mamet. I myself have a secret desire to do a silent film, or at least a film without dialogue, to feel what it’s like to make pure cinema. How rich. This is coming from a guy who’s just preparing to film a script with tons of dialogue.

At the end, I think it’s about the material. The story I want to tell with my current production can’t be told without dialogue. Its essence rests on the spoken word. When you are both the writer and the director, you find yourself in an odd position: For a writer, writing dialogue is the most enjoyable part of the job. You hear your characters speak. Up until now they were just thoughts, ideas, but the minute they open their mouths, they become people. But when you put on the director’s hat, you look at the script and think: “What’s with all that talking??” for a director, shooting two people talking is mostly boring stuff. You put the camera on one side, and then on the other side, and you do a two-shot, and that’s it. Sure, there are exceptions, but mostly, when you’re a director, you want to tell the story visually. There are dialogue scenes that are great not because what is being said but because what is not  being said. Seeing the actors think and react with their eyes and body language is much more interesting then hearing them talk.

Metropolis is a great example for the triumph of the image. This won’t work today. This movie is a time capsule in a way. A movie like this today would be considered a parody or an intersting experiment, but won’t stand on its own. We moved on, of course. Technology has turned cinema into a digital playground where anything is possible.

So why are there so few films that look and feel as impressive a Metropolis? Why do so few filmmakers utilize technology to tell a story instead of using a story to celebrate the Machine? Let us not forget Metropolis’ main theme and sage advise to us all: “There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator”.

Or else, we are all just cogs.