Region Codes and Multi-Zones. WTF.


What the hell is with region coding? Isn’t this a terrifically out of date idea in todays global society? I mean really. Here is my tirade about region coding.

I love cinema. I watch those crazy movies all the time. I recently got one of those big HD televisions so now I can watch all my favourite gems in beautiful, clear widescreen. It’s honestly sometimes better than going to the cinema where I frequently put up with a dull image and rustling malteser packets that make me grind my teeth.

But can I actually enjoy all the movies I want to? No. Here’s the deal. I’ve been putting off watching my favourite movie, Two-Lane Blacktop, until I got a new Blu-ray player that will upscale my dvds. So I went to the shop to get a blu-ray player and I asked which ones were multi-zoned so I could watch dvds I had purchased from overseas. Turns out none of them were. Really? None of them? Well, some of them could be de-coded but it’s illegal and voids your warranty. Ok.


So, can I enjoy my beautiful Criterion Collection copies of Shoot the Piano Player or The Last Picture Show on my new TV? No. They are region 1 encoded. Okay, I can get them in region 4, but what about Hal Ashby’s Being There starring Peter Sellers. It’s impossible to find a region 4 copy of this and it took me a year and a half by sheer chance to find a region 2 copy that was under 50 NZ dollars. Can’t watch that either. Harder than walking on water.

So what am I to do? Never buy Criterion Collection dvds again? I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear that I can’t purchase their products because of region coding. And what about all the rare films I can’t get here on region 4 that I really want to see? What are my options? Well downloading them illegally is one. So really region coding just drives willing consumers to flout the law and contribute to the very illegal activity region coding supposedly prevents.

What a mess. And Criterion just released Harold and Maude. Maude would be fucked off I reckon. What am I supposed to do buy a player from each region and have three extremely expensive players stacked up on top of each other? Well, it seems like the only way right now. Horse-shit.

Sigourney Weavers face.

Yesterday as I waited to be served at an electronic store I watched a nearby HD television that was looping the DVD menu for Avatar. Readers of my blog will already be familiar with my distaste toward James Cameron’s film and as I watched ridiculous looking blue creatures running across tree trunks and space craft flying over impossible waterfalls I could hardly suppress my smirk.

And then suddenly I had a revelation. I was truly taken aback. There for less than 3 seconds was Sigourney Weavers face in the most extraordinary detail I have ever witnessed. No longer feeling anxious about when I was to be served I instead felt anxious waiting for this brief image to return to the screen. I was able to watch it four more times and each time the effect was just as significant.

I realised that I was experiencing the “irrational power of the photograph to bear away our faith” (Bazin, 14). Although Bazin does not believe that the quality of the image is the important thing, suggesting “No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discoloured, no matter how lacking in documentary value the image may be, it shares, by virtue of the very process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it is the model.” There is something to be said for the sheer sublime quality of the high definition image. For the first time in my lifetime I was confronted with an image with the same visual quality as my own reflection.

 

Blanking: The Unseen Art

Hey friends!

A wee while ago me and my pals entered New Zealand’s V48 Hours film competition. For the uninitiated, this is a competition where you are given 48 hours to make a 1-7 minute film. Each film must be made in a certain genre that is drawn by each team (out of a possible 12). It must also include a certain prop, a line of dialogue, a character and as of last year a certain technical feature. This year our film had to fit the following guidelines.

  • GENRE: We drew ‘Fad Film’ the example being ‘Planking’ which is very popular these crazy days.
  • PROP: A bent piece of wire.
  • CHARACTER: Bobby Young (an Ex-Bully)
  • TECHNICAL FEATURE: A freeze-frame ending (à la The 400 Blows)

The result was Blanking: The Unseen Art which you can view below.

Blanking was pretty well received. My mum laughed which was a big plus. And we didn’t hate watching it which was a big plus. We also got through to the Wellington Finals which was completely unexpected. There, we got nominated for ‘Best Script’ which was pretty funny because Blanking was largely improvised (although improvisation is still scripting in a sense, aye John Downie?). The lovely Stella Reid was also nominated for ‘Best Actress’ which was very well deserved I thought. Best of all though was having Graeme Tuckett tell us he loved our film and also having the guys who made Fistfull of Crime say they liked it too. You should watch their utterly insane and wonderful movie below.

Funnily enough a fellow Whanganui team ‘The Couch Kumaras’ made up of some rad high-school guys took out the Wellington Finals and, in my opinion, were robbed at the National Final. You should also check out their beautifully shot film Sketch, winner of way too many awards to list here.

Anyways please enjoy ours too. Please.

*Also please note this is a slightly altered version. The film itself is still exactly the same, I just re-did the credits so we could thank everyone that was involved. I did however forget to thank my buddy Tyrone Ohia who was ‘Typography Advisor’.

Mumblecore/Slackervetes

As a would-be filmmaker, sometimes the most inspiring pictures are the lowest low-budget ones. These films, made on a shoestring, shot on digital video in a rough and ready style are often innovative in all the ways films with massive budgets aren’t. Without millions of dollars at their disposal these ‘guerrilla’ films often tailor there stories toward real locations, focus their attention on regular folk struggling with day-to-day existence or frequently detail the chance encounter of a boy and a girl. They place emphasis on character, performance, and pace, three elements that should be the crux of all films regardless of budget.

This isn’t to say all low budget films are great. I’ve seen many that aren’t. Films trying to reach beyond their budget or schlock genre fare offering nothing new are the most common crimes. There are however many worthy low budget films that have reached us primarily because of two technological innovations. The first being the availability of cheap digital video cameras (most recently digital SLR camera’s with extraordinary video capabilities) and the second being the internet and it’s marketing power. Desktop filmmakers can operate a one-stop-shop editing their features on laptops and then using the net to market or distribute the finished product.

Whole digital cinema movements have started, including one in my country that has probably influenced me as a filmmaker more than anything else. The Aro Valley film movement, named by Dr. Russell Campbell and chronicled in the wonderful documentary Campbell Walker is a Friend of Mine will be detailed further on this blog in an upcoming post. The films made by proponents of this school of cinema including Campbell Walker, Alex Greenhough and Elric Kane, and Dick Whyte, are influenced by ‘realist’ filmmakers like Jean Eustache and Maurice Pialat, and often focus on the tenuous relationships of 20-something kiwis. Greenhough and Kane’s Murmurs and Kissy Kissy were utter revelations to me when I first encountered them and are shining lights in a national cinema starved for originality in recent times.

Today however, I want to talk about the so-called ‘mumblecore’ movies that have been conquering the festival circuits in the US. The film in particular is Quiet City, a minor masterpiece made for a paltry sum and shot on HD video. Though Quiet City might not be made with the intellectual rigour of some of the Aro Valley films, it progresses at a poetic pace and represents to me the zenith of the boy-meets-girl-in-chance-encounter tale that was less successfully explored in mumblecore’s break out success In Search of a Midnight Kiss.

Quiet City follows a very familiar premise, one that had me very wary to begin with. Jamie (Erin Fischer) has arrived in New York only to discover the friend who she has come to visit is nowhere to be seen in a deserted subway station. As luck would have it she meets Charlie (Cris Lankenau), a goofy unshaven musician who more than fills Quiet City’s mumble quota. Charlie offers Jamie a place to stay and over the next few days they gently forge a connection. On paper this seems terribly boring and trite but director Aaron Katz lets the film unfold at a glorious pace and follows a series of events that are wholly realistic.

While some of the supporting roles are irritating the central performances of Fischer and Lankenau are rather charming and the slow deepening of their bond manages to remain indistinct but still carry an emotional weight. It’s a film built on subtlety, something I was convinced was non-existent in recent American cinema. Nothing is overbearing. The music, the performances, the dialogue, the visuals and most wonderfully the resolution are all understated. Just shy of ninety minutes Quiet City is lean too, Katz never letting his images linger longer than they need to or his dialogue drift into redundancy. The overall feeling is that there are a million stories in the Quiet City, and this is just one of them.

As I suggested in my post on Three Blind Mice, this is the type of cinema that should be championed. But I’ve slightly rethought this conclusion. I now think it’s exactly the type of cinema filmmakers need to remember how to make. Without the buffer of a huge budget, overzealous use of CGI, the draw card of a well-known star, or the marketing machine that can sell the very worst forms of the art, these low budget filmmakers are fuelling a renaissance of films that exercise simplicity and reflect the reality of everyday life. Furthermore, these films transcend their meagre running times by leaving the viewer with something to think about well after the credits have rolled.

If you can find a copy of Quiet City give it a go. Below is a trailer for Aaron Katz’s follow up film which looks promising, I only hope I’m not forced to eat my words re: ‘…genre fare that offering nothing new…’

Cold Weather Trailer from Alex Bickel on Vimeo.