Sunday, 22 November 2009

Bad Moon Rising.

Twilight is upon us again. New Moon is taking the box-office by storm. Hordes of marauding, hormonal females swarm into cinemas across the country, nay, the world, and work themselves into a gibbering frenzy at the prospect of another couple of hours in the company of pasty, glittering vampires and buffed up, semi-naked werewolves.

New Moon is going to be a huge hit, no doubt about it, but it is unlikely to reach very far outside its core audience, remaining a mystery to those of us who were not won over by the original film's ponderous teen-angst. This inevitable popularity is a source of much morbid fascination to me; what is it about this series of books and films which can cause so many people to overlook its myriad shortcomings and deem it the best thing since the invention of the bread knife?

The backbone of the tale of Twilight is a love story between a vampire and a human, but their love is a gratingly simple, love-for-love's-sake romance, with little actually connecting the two characters beyond him properly wanting to eat her, and her thinking he's, like, totally hot and mysterious and stuff. They mooch around a lot and then some bad vampires show up to introduce a bit of third-act jeopardy, and then the first film ends.

New Moon sees the introduction of a bunch of werewolves or something who are literally so hot they have to have their tops off all the time, and they don't like vampires. The main girl cock-teases one of these wolfmen to prove she's still got it when the vampire ditches her for her own safety.

There's a lot of teenage self-importance, as everyone acts like any given event is the most important moment in their entire life, and the main girl mopes in a chair for three months when she gets dumped, before jumping off a cliff. This is the protagonist. The person we are supposed to root for.

It is this inability to relate to the characters that puts me at an immediate disadvantage. Bella is a selfish, self-important child, who actually wants to become a vampire. Everyone knows that anyone who wants to become immortal, especially a vampire, is cruising for a bruising, but she just sees it as a surefire happily-ever-after clause for her and the human glitter-ball.

Edward is an overbearing weirdo. He's a hundred years old and still goes to high school? He and his "siblings" go to school, sit at their own table, don't interact with anyone and sit through lessons they've experienced a hundred times before. Why? Is there nothing better to do with immortality than hang around the playground? Is this a character with believable motivations, or is Edward at high school simply because the author needed him to be there for the story to start and to make it relatable for her teenage target-market? "I could start a new school and meet a beautiful stranger who turned out to be a vampire and could turn me into one and we could live happily ever after! Sqweeeee!"

This "aspirational fantasy" tone is the source of a lot of the problems with these stories. Author Stephenie Meyer has taken established vampire lore and put her own spin on it, for certain, but her version of vampire mythology is singularly uninteresting and dramatically muted.

What was compelling about vampires was always the concept that immortality came at a price. Hey, you wanna live forever? Well, you can! But you'll be eternally damned, unable to walk in sunlight without burning up, cursed with an insurmountable bloodlust and generally lead a miserable, brutal, lonely existence.

Meyer's vampires are presented as some kind of romantic ideal, as something to aspire to. Vampires via the Ikea catalogue. The Cullens are a middle-class family who live in a smashing, modern house, they're all beautiful and friendly and don't burn up in the sunlight. They twinkle in the sunlight. Twinkle. Like they're covered in glitter. Teenage girls love glitter, right? And they love hot guys, right? BINGO! Hot guys that GLITTER! It's like printing money...

The vampires of Twilight are vampires with the sharp edges taken off. De-fanged. Neutered. Their curse is one of eternal mediocrity.

And now, from what I've seen, she is giving werewolves the same treatment. Lycanthropy is, again, traditionally a curse. What made it interesting was the idea that a person could entirely lose control of the metaphorical beast within and unleash a literal beast, often without ever knowing it. The transformation will be agonising and debasing, as the human is essentially consumed by the primal animal.

New Moon seems to depict its werewolves as another teen-friendly tone-down of this concept. The ability to change instantaneously and at will removing any of the dark burden of the beast and making it more like a neat superpower. Compare the transformation in "American Werewolf" with Jacob Black's mid-air "POOF! I'm a wolf now!" routine in New Moon, and you'll see what I'm getting at.

Meyer creates a limp narrative which is simple, blank and inoffensive enough for the reader to paint their own image onto. Readers can yearn for their own Edward, think how awesome it would be to become a vampire, to be friends with a werewolf, without ever being presented with the essential conflicts, questions and resonances that the best literary and cinematic examples of these supernatural creatures express.

A common defence of Twilight is that it is "not-to-be-taken-seriously" and is a "bit-of-fun", and while I have found much to laugh at in both Twilight and New Moon, I doubt much of it was intentional. The films and books have a relentlessly po-faced, moody air of angst to them which renders the superficial conflicts and overwrought drama unintentionally camp and hilarious. Plus, any film series that refers to itself, without a hint of irony, as a "Saga" is taking itself very seriously indeed.

So, does a love of Twilight stem from an inability to recognise the flaws in both the novels and the films, a conscious disregard for these problems, or an all-out embracing of them? I leave you with the single greatest defence of Twilight-love I have ever heard:

"i do understand that its shit but its like kfc, you know its made out of disabled chickens but its still delicious."

You can't argue with that.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

FAQs about cinema projection.

It's all on DVDs and that now, isn't it?

Nope. We still mainly use 35mm prints, which come broken into about 5-8 reels and must be spliced (sellotaped) together into one glorious whole. Each print is about 10,000 feet long, and we have to run it onto a big platter (like a turn-table)before it goes through the projector.

If it goes well, it looks like this:

If it goes badly, it looks like this:

Do you get to just watch films all the time?

Not all the time. We are supposed to watch films before they go in front of the baying mob, ostensibly to make sure that they aren't buggered up in some way, but we are also supposed to check each and every projector regularly when they are running public shows. This leads to a situation where projectionists usually find themselves watching films in small segments here and there, spoiling pretty much every film for themselves, and losing faith in the engrossing capability of narrative cinema. It's kind of like channel hopping, if you had to walk thirty yards to hop to the next channel.

You have to run all the projectors?

Usually you have one projectionist on a shift at a time, depending on the size of the cinema. At a smaller site, it's rare to have multiple projectionists on at once, and when you do, it leads to a "too-many-cooks" type of problem. Putting two or more projectionists in a room together is like starting a knitting circle. For nerds.

Do you get to watch films for free?

I do. Most cinemas offer free tickets to staff as a perk, but projectionists have the extra advantage of actually getting paid to watch films in the aforementioned "print-checks". It is part of our job to make sure a film is suitable for public viewing. Sadly, this is mostly a technical assessment, so my protests at the unsuitability of "Twilight" for any sentient audience largely fell on deaf ears.

Can you get me in to watch films for free?

No. Piss off and get your own menial job with strangely in-demand benefits.

What film did you project today?

All of them. ALL OF THEM.

Can you splice single frames of pornography into family films?

Theoretically, yes. If you happen to have a 35mm print of a hairy-hand flick, I could quite easily chop a frame out of it and sellotape it into the latest Disney blockbuster. I don't believe, however, that this would go unnoticed, as 1/24 of a second is just enough time for your brain to process an image, so only really slow, thicky-types would not acknowledge a subliminally presented twelve-foot-high cock.

Is there much training required?

No. A drunken amputee monkey could do my job with enough practice. It does help to have an aversion to natural light, an isolationist attitude and a powerful singing voice, though.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Digital Age.

This is my first wade into the blog-swamp.

I am a projectionist for a well-known cinema chain, and am also a massive nerd.

Cinema is on the cusp of a new age; an age of sharper images, clearer sound, stupid glasses, higher prices.

The Digital Age.

Unfortunately for me, come the digital revolution, projectionists will be first against the wall; either assimilated into management or swept out onto the street, no longer needed for the finicky task of looping endless reels of film around tiny wheels in a room with no windows. Projectionism in The Digital Age will be only as complicated as making a playlist on your ipod and pushing play.

So, in my time of looming redundancy, it seems reasonable to want to document this dying art in a shadowy corner of the internet. Well, I say "art", but projectionism is actually more like being a bloke who hangs paintings for a living: Somebody else created the actual art, but it's up to you to dangle it in front of people's eye-holes. And let's not underestimate the importance of a skilled picture-hanger: What if he hung it upside down? Or back to front? Or hung it in the wrong place? The picture-lookers would be furious and rightly demand a refund on their extortionately priced art-gallery tickets and snack foods. Have you seen what they charge for a hot-dog in these art-galleries? Daylight robbery. I like to sneak a capri-sun and a bagel in under my jacket and then spit chewed-up bits at statues of naked people. Anyway...

Continuing to run the picture-hanging metaphor into the ground;my cinema recently had its first digital projector installed, which is like the picture-hanger coming to work to find that C3-P0 from out of Star Wars has already hung all his pictures in a much more aesthetically pleasing manner than a human being ever could. The camp, robot-butler bastard. I'm telling you, it's like Skynet is taking over or summat. I keep expecting the machine to start talking to me in an Austrian accent. The Rise of the Machines is upon us.

It's not all portents of doom, however, as the fact remains that digital projection has a great many things going for it, not least the simplicity of running the machine. The picture is sharper and clearer, print scratches, hairs, dust and all the other flickering imperfections you have to suffer throughout a 35mm print will be a thing of the past, there is the novelty 3D option (which will probably get a blog all to itself from me at some point), the lighter transport (digital films come on hard-drives instead of in big, heavy boxes of film cartons) and all manner of pluses which render analogue movie projection obselete.

Many film-aficionados will claim that digital removes the "organic" and "earthy" qualities of 35 mm and we should smash the machine with a mallet of retro-artistic techno-fear. To these people, I say : Go and ride your penny-farthing home and listen to your vinyl 45s whilst I skitch my hoverboard to the digital cinema of the future! I won't be able to get in however, because I'll be out of a job and won't be able to afford the ridiculously marked-up ticket prices of the future, so I'll just hang around the flying-car park, cadging money for bagels and capri-sun.

So yeah, projectionism. Shining a light through a window for a living. How boring can one blog be? Let's find out.