Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Press the eject and give me the tape

No, this isn't a post about Bauhaus, but about the death of VHS. This might come as a surprise to many of you who probably thought VHS had died some time ago. It might be more accurate to say that it has been on its deathbed, wasting away, and has now, with one long, low rattle, shuffled off this magnetic coil at last.

The format, rather astonishingly, lasted three solid decades. It had no real competition at all in the 90's from laserdisc, an expensive and cumbersome format that appealed only to hardcore movie dweebs like me. But when DVD emerged in the late 90's, inexpensive and crisp, packed with loads of goodies and easy, instant, clickable navigability, VHS began hemorrhaging market share until 2003, when DVD finally passed it decisively. Now, pretty much any retailer left that matters has decided to pull the plug. Simply by being granted no shelf space, this venerable format is officially obsolete. (Practically, it has been so for a few years.)

Ah well. You had a nice little world-conquering run there, VHS. But in the world of technology, it's hard to go back when you've been presented with something new, shinier, and better. I actually find it difficult to watch VHS these days; the image quality is literally that bad, even worse than I remember. And I've been enjoying higher-quality video for over a decade now, several years longer than most members of the public, who didn't discover the joys of higher resolution until DVD came along. I bought my first laserdisc player in 1991 (!), so as long as 15 years ago, I knew tape was on its way to the bin.

But now that it's actually, really, no-kidding-this-time, honest-to-goodness dead — I don't know — I'm a teensy bit sad. I had some good, dweeby adventures with VHS, obsessively taping my favorite movies and TV shows off cable and creating lovely labels on my laser printer. My rows of uniformly and chronologically labeled MST3K episodes are like my own personal shrine to shake-your-head geekdom. Even though those shows remain the only tapes I still watch at all — and that, only because many episodes aren't on DVD yet, and when they are, the tapes will be retired — I'm still a little sorry to see it go. Thanks, VHS. You did good, and you'll be fondly remembered.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A farewell to Altman

Just a quick note to lament the passing of maverick director Robert Altman, director of such classics as M*A*S*H, Nashville, and The Player, as well as other respected films like Short Cuts, Thieves Like Us, Gosford Park and this year's A Prairie Home Companion. He was making films right into his 80's, which I hope to be lucky enough to do. Altman said of his life behind the camera, "I'm very fortunate in my career. I've never had to direct a film I didn't choose or develop. My love for filmmaking has given me an entree to the world and to the human condition." Of course, even an admired veteran like himself took his share of abuse from arrogant studio execs; his film The Gingerbread Man was taken away from him, cut badly, and flopped as a result, proving that even a filmmaker with a sterling track record and the admiration of all his peers isn't immune to being abused by the system like any wet-behind-the-ears first-timer. (The Player's very bitter tone was all too clearly informed by some of Altman's own worst experiences.) We've lost one of the great ones; hopefully we've got many more years of Scorsese to soften the blow.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's the big PS3/Wii launch weekend...

And I just bought a GameCube! That and a boxed set of three Resident Evils for 100 bucks total. Ha!

So while a zillion game geeks will be freezing their asses off outside the nation's Best Buys waiting for the highest of high-tech, I'll be nestled in, playing Resident Evil Zero and 4.

Hey, don't get me wrong. A Wii, an XBox360, and a PS3 are all on my want list. It's just that I'm not such a hardcore gamer that I have to have the newest system or the hottest new game right goddamn now. Also, I really see no point at all in even owning a PS3 or a 36o until I've got one of these in my den. So I can wait, happily, for the prices to come down, and in the meantime, I've got all kinds of gaming goodness to keep me happy. Hell, I've still got my N64 and my Dreamcast, and play 'em both.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Bloody Work update, at last

Haven't been around here for a couple of months, mainly because I've had nothing too exciting to report — just business as usual — and the film industry as a whole hasn't been doing anything sufficiently outrageous to get me riled up. But I do, at long last, have something of an update on how the documentary is coming.

Much of what I'm calling my "preliminary" research is done; now I'm looking more closely at individual pieces of the research to eke out more details, confirm facts, deny unfounded claims or myths, that kind of thing. I'm also underway on prepping a teaser trailer, which, when done (New Years-ish, I hope), will be shown on an official site as well as my MySpace page and YouTube. I want the thing to go completely viral.

Adam Dooley and Ryan Krueger of IllusEffects Studios here in Austin are creating a replica of an 1870s-80's vintage axe to be used as the hero prop in the trailer, and ultimately the feature's appropriate re-enactment scenes. These guys are amazing. Ryan showed me a photo of a gigantic model he made of a temple-like structure that's about 12 feet on a side and composed entirely of styrofoam. It looks like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. He drew up the plans for it in AutoCAD, then output the information directly into this amazing 3D modeling machine that automatically scultped the whole damn thing using hot knives. It's truly jaw dropping what can be done these days. These guys will be working with me on the feature, for sure, and we've discussed plans as elaborate as a complete 1885 miniature reconstruction of the Congress Ave. section of downtown Austin, including the Capitol (which was just being built at the time).

Anyway, there will be more to come, and hopefully more frequently, as the next several months progress.