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Posts Tagged ‘cinema

“Horror is a universal language; we’re all afraid”*…

The Exorcist

It’s that time of year again…

Why do so many people voluntarily seek out entertainment that is designed to shock and scare them? What do they get out of it? A thrill, a jolt to the nervous system – or is there something deeper going on?

Horror movies come in various forms, which can be divided into two main subgenres: supernatural ones (think of wailing ghosts, rotting zombies or mind-shattering abominations from forbidden dimensions), and the more psychological (your masked-serial-killers and giant-reptiles varieties). Common to them all is that they aim to evoke negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, disgust and dread. They also tend to be enormously popular. According to a survey my colleagues and I conducted a few years ago, more than half of US respondents – about 55 per cent – say they enjoy ‘scary media’, including movies such as The Exorcist (1973), books such as King’s Salem’s Lot (1975) and video games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010).

What’s more, people who say they enjoy scary media really mean it. We also asked our respondents how frightening they wanted their horror to be. It might sound like a weird thing to ask – like asking how funny they want their comedies to be – but we wanted to test an old Freudian idea that the negative emotions elicited by the genre are unfortunate byproducts; a price that audiences are willing to pay in order to watch movies that allow them to confront their own repressed desires in monstrous disguise. But that’s not what we found. About 80 per cent of our respondents said they wanted their horror entertainment to be in the moderate-to-highly frightening range. By contrast, a measly 3.9 per cent said that they prefer horror that’s not scary at all.

So, fear and the other negative emotions are central to the appeal of horror, a fact not lost on the creators of horror entertainment. Surely you’ve seen movie trailers claiming to be ‘The scariest movie of all time!’ or promising to make you sleep with the lights on for weeks afterwards. More inventively, the US filmmaker William Castle once took out life insurance on his audience. If any audience member died from fear as they watched his movie Macabre (1958), their bereaved ones would receive $1,000 from Lloyd’s of London. (Nobody did die. But the gimmick surely drew more horror hounds to the picture.)

Unsurprisingly, given their appeal, horror movies are big business. In 2019, 40 new horror movies were released in North America, grossing more than $800 million in the domestic theatrical market alone. Likewise, the US haunted attractions industry is growing steadily, in 2019 generating up to $500 million in ticket sales. The following year, 2020, naturally saw lower numbers, but even in that year of COVID-19 lockdowns and empty movie theatres, horror movies broke all previous records in terms of market share. That development continued into 2021, with the horror genre now accounting for almost 20 per cent of the market share at the US box office. Evidently, people want scary entertainment, even when you’d think the real world was scary enough.

Despite the broad appeal of the horror genre, it is haunted by bias and prejudice. Many people, apparently, think that horror movies are dumb, dangerous or both – artistically unsophisticated, morally corrosive, and psychologically harmful, with a dubious appeal primarily for maladjusted teenage boys. But what does the science say?

Firstly, horror is not a particularly male genre. While boys and men are slightly more likely than girls and women to say that they enjoy horror, the difference is much smaller than many people seem to think. In our aforementioned survey, when we asked to what extent respondents agree with the statement ‘I tend to enjoy horror media’, on a scale from 1 to 5, men averaged at 3.50, whereas women averaged at 3.29.

Secondly, horror movies are not only watched by teenagers. Yes, the movies are often marketed to that audience, and the appetite for horror does seem to peak in late adolescence, but it doesn’t emerge out of the blue the day that kids turn 13, and it doesn’t disappear in older people either. An ongoing research project of ours is finding that the desire to derive pleasure from fear is evident even in toddlers, who universally enjoy mildly scary activities, such as chase play and hide-and-seek. Even old folks seem to enjoy the occasional thrill provided by mildly frightening media such as crime shows. The British crime drama Midsomer Murders (1997-) always seemed to me like light horror for seniors, with its eerie theremin theme tune and the inexplicably abundant, often startlingly grisly murders in the otherwise peaceful fictional Midsomer County.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that horror fans are particularly maladjusted, depraved or unempathetic. When my colleagues and I looked into the personality profile of horror fans, we found that they are about as conscientious, agreeable and emotionally stable as the average person, while also scoring higher than average on openness to experience (meaning that they enjoy intellectual stimulation and adventure). It’s true they do tend to score fairly highly on sensation seeking, which suggests that they tend to be easily bored and on the lookout for excitement. Maladjusted or depraved, though? Nope, no evidence.

If horror movies do not attract the maladjusted and the depraved, do they then create psychotic monsters? One might think so, judging from the moral panics that have surrounded the horror genre throughout its recent history, from Victorian-era concern over ‘penny dreadfuls’ – sensationalist, often spooky or grisly stories sold in cheap (one-penny) instalments – to modern-day media meltdowns over slasher movies…

There is no substantial evidence to support that concern – audiences know that what they are watching is fiction. The psychological effects of violent media are still discussed by scholars and scientists, but the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ model of media psychology has been severely criticised on methodological and empirical grounds, and now seems to have been abandoned by most experts. In fact, one recent study covering the period 1960-2012 in the US found that, as movie violence went up, real-world violence actually went down.

A taste for horror is natural and should not be seen as pathological. Kids who are attracted to monster comics such as Tales from the Crypt (1950-55) and The Walking Dead (2003-19) are perfectly normal, as are teenagers who love slasher movies or adults who enjoy haunted attractions. That taste makes good sense from an evolutionary perspective. People evolved to be curious about danger, and they use stories to learn about the world and themselves. Horror stories specifically allow them to imaginatively simulate worst-case scenarios and teach them about the dark sides of the world, and about the dark spectrum of their own emotional lives…

Horror movies… can function as inoculation against the stresses and terrors of the world. They help us improve our coping skills, and they might function as a kind of enjoyable exposure therapy. There is also some preliminary evidence to suggest that people who suffer from anxiety disorders can find comfort in horror movies, presumably because these movies allow them to experience negative emotions in controlled and controllable doses, practise regulation strategies, and ultimately build resilience.

In addition to those psychological benefits, there might be social benefits of watching horror movies. Consider how scientists of religion have puzzled over the prevalence of painful religious rituals. Why do people fire-walk and pierce themselves with sharp objects in religious contexts? Apparently, one major function is that such psychologically and/or physically painful behaviours strengthen group identity and make group members more altruistic toward each other. You go through a painful experience together, which reinforces group bonds. It’s a similar story for horror entertainment…

Horror movies have gotten a bad rap, but watching them has surprisingly wholesome effects: “Fear not,” from Mathias Clasen (@MathiasClasen), director of the Recreational Fear Lab (@RecFearLab) at Aarhus University in Denmark.

* “Horror is a universal language; we’re all afraid. We’re born afraid, we’re all afraid of things: death, disfigurement, loss of a loved one. Everything that I’m afraid of, you’re afraid of and vice versa. So everybody feels fear and suspense. We were little kids once and so it’s taking that basic human condition and emotion and just f*cking with it and playing with it. You can invent new horrors.” – John Carpenter (in a 2015 interview with Interview Magazine)

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As we shiver, we might send bracing birthday greetings to Robert Alphonse Picardo; he was born on this date in 1953. An actor probably most widely known known for his roles as Dr. Dick Richards on ABC’s China Beach; the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH), also known as The Doctor, on Star Trek: Voyager; the Cowboy in Innerspace, Coach Cutlip on The Wonder Years (for which he received an Emmy nomination); and as Richard Woolsey in the Stargate television franchise.

But Picardo also has a distinguished resume in horror, having starred in The Howling (1981), Legend (1985), Munchies (1987), Bate’s Motel (1987), 976-EVIL (1988), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Matinee (1993), Tales from the Crypt (episode: “Till Death Do We Part”), Masters of Horror (episode: “Homecoming”), Sensored (2009), Monsterwolf (2010), Supernatural (episode: “Clap Your Hands If You Believe”), Trail of Blood (2011), Don’t Blink (2014), and Mansion of Blood (2015).

Picardo serves as a Planetary Society Board Member and host of The Planetary Post.

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“I want people to walk into a movie theater and be transported to a different world”*…

In the fall of 1997, a blurb appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. AMC Theaters was launching a “brand new concept… a fancy interior that transforms the otherwise plain theater into a science-fiction, high-tech experience,” replete with decorative planets, the colors teal, purple, and yellow, and a “generally upbeat design.” Its name: the Odyssey…

If you went to the movies around this time anywhere in the United States, you might’ve registered a similar aesthetic. Like cartoon corporatism and hypermodernism getting smashed through a cultural particle collider. It was ambient and nearly universal, and yet absolutely the opposite of timeless. One year into life without movie theaters and you might begin to wonder: What was that?

You might start thinking first about the carpets. Those frenzied, high-octane, blacklight carpets that took over movie theaters for a small, fixed period of time and then mostly just… went away. Like an obscure one-hit-wonder earworm, the carpets might keep bugging you, prompting you to wonder: How is it that we, as a society, spent that much free time in these bizarre wall-to-wall settings without ever wondering what acid-doused party monster’s fever dreamt them up? Who decided this is what movie theaters should look like? What was this “style” even called?

Do you think what you’re about to read is simply, like, an etymology of carpet? If only. If those carpets could talk, they’d tell you a story about late-90s economics, showbiz, multiplexes, and an era of world-building that changed moviegoing as we know it—maybe more than any other… 

If Y2K-Era Movie Theater Carpets Could Talk“: behind the ecstatic aesthetic of squiggles, stars, and confetti.

Genndy Tartakovsky

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As we settle on the extra-large tub of popcorn, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1941 that Orson Welles’ first feature film, Citizen Kane, premiered at the Palace Theater in New York. A quasi-biography (based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, with elements of those of Joseph Pulitzer and Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick), it was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories, winning Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Herman Mankiewicz and Welles.

Considered by many critics and filmmakers to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane was voted number 1 in five consecutive British Film Institute Sight & Sound polls of critics, and it topped the American Film Institute’s 100 Years … 100 Movies list in 1998, as well as its 2007 update.

Citizen Kane is particularly praised for Gregg Toland‘s cinematography, Robert Wise‘s editing, Bernard Herrmann‘s music, and its narrative structure, all of which were innovative and have been precedent-setting.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 1, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The most beautiful sight in a movie theater is to walk down to the front, turn around, and look at the light from the screen reflected on the upturned faces of the members of the audience”*…

Back in the early 1990s, movie theaters weren’t that great. The auditoriums were cramped and narrow, and the screen was dim. But in 1995, the AMC Grand 24 in Dallas changed everything. It was the very first movie megaplex in the United States. This is the gigantic, neon, big-box store of moviegoing that we’re all used to  today, and it’s easy to dismiss as a tacky ‘90s invention. But the megaplex—specifically this first megaplex in Dallas—upended the entire theater business and changed the kinds of movies that got made in ways you might not imagine…

A plethora of choice, stadium seating, a surge of independent films, the move to 3-D and IMAX– how the rise of the multi-cinema shaped movie-going and movies: “The Megaplex!” from the ever-fascinating 99% Invisible.

* François Truffaut, as quoted by Gene Siskel

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As we salt our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1921 that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released in the U.S., roughly a year after it’s release (as Das Kabinett des Doktor Calagari in its native Germany. Directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, it is considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema… and was hailed by Roger Ebert as arguably “the first true horror film” and by Danny Peary as cinema’s first cult film and a precursor for arthouse films.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 19, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The cinema is an invention without any future”*…

Some lost films are more lost than others. There are very early works that no one now alive has seen, and we have little hope of recovering. While later silent feature films were duplicated and distributed widely, there are hundreds of short experiments by the first film-makers, movies no more than a few seconds long, that no longer exist even as a memory.

It seemed too good to be true, then, that lost films by Georges Méliès could really have been found by chance in a German bookshop in 2013. Yet a dogged research project by an independent scholar from France, Thierry Lecointe, has helped uncover miraculous images from lost films, not just by Méliès, but also by Alice Guy-Blaché.

The frames were preserved as images printed on to the card pages of tiny flipbooks. With digital technology, the flipbooks, known as folioscopes, have now become something like film fragments again. The photographer Onno Petersen shot each page in high-resolution and the motion-picture restoration expert Robert Byrne, from the San Francisco Silent Film festival, produced animations revealing such treats as a long-lost magic trick, dance, comic sketch or a train caught on camera more than a century ago

Some of the earliest experiments in film 120 years ago were reproduced as flipbooks for wider audiences. Now a painstaking restoration project has brought long-lost gems back to life: “What the flip! The chance discovery that’s uncovered treasures of the very earliest cinema.”

See also Variety‘s account of a similar reclamation project: “George Melies Flip Book Sets off Crowdsourcing.”

* Cinema pioneer Louis Lumière… who was, happily, wrong

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As we enjoy our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that “Tweety,” the star of 46 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, made his official debut in “A Tale of Two Kitties.”

Originally created by Bob Clampett (who also created the first version of Bugs Bunny and went to to such marvels as Beany and Cecil), Tweety was redesigned by Fritz Freleng– who took over when Clampett left Warner Bros, reimagined Tweety, and crucially, added Sylvester the Cat. The first short to team Tweety and and his hapless nemesis, 1947’s Tweetie Pie, won Warner Bros its first Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). Both Tweety and Sylvester were, of course, voiced by the great Mel Blanc.

In related news, there is a live action reboot of Tom and Jerry on the way…

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine”*…

Recently, the serious press has been abuzz with articles exploring the prospect of civilizational decline– or collapse. (C.f., “How Do You Know When a Society Is About to Fall Apart?” and “The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse.”) But perhaps, The Centre for Applied Echatology suggests, that focus is a bit too narrow…

The twenty-first century is unique in human history. At no other time has our species possessed more numerous and powerful means to end the world as we know it. The previous century gave us nuclear weapons; our own era adds new innovations — breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, nanotech, bioengineering, and other technologies — to the growing number of paths to anthropogenic apocalypse.

At present, it is difficult to estimate the likelihood of a global catastrophe. Researchers who study such scenarios vary in their conclusions. The best estimates place the chances of humanity surviving the present century somewhere between 9% and 50%. 

This is an unacceptable level of uncertainty. We can do better…

The Centre for Applied Eschatology is a transdisciplinary research center dedicated to ending the world. We connect professionals from the public sector, private industry, and academia to develop new knowledge and apply existing research to curtail the world’s long-term future. 

We’re working for no tomorrow, today…

Big changes start with small acts of individuals. Like you.

You may not know it, but you’re already helping. Every day... 

Housed at the arts non-profit Fractured Atlas, The Centre for Applied Eschatology makes its point in a powerfully– and painfully- ironic way: “Bringing an end – to everyone, everywhere!

[TotH to friend MS]

{image above: source]

* REM

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As we contemplate conclusion, we might note that it will be on this date in 2115 that the film 100 Years will be released. Written by (and starring) John Malkovich and directed by Robert Rodriguez, its advertising tagline is “The File You Will Never See.”

Malkovich and Rodriguez announced in November 2015 that they had teamed with Louis XIII Cognac, owned by Rémy Martin, to create a film inspired by the hundred years it takes to make a bottle of Louis XIII. Pending release, the film is being kept in a high-tech safe behind bulletproof glass that will open automatically on this date in 2115, the day of the film’s premiere. One thousand guests from around the world, including Malkovich and Rodriguez, have received a pair of invitation tickets (made of metal) for the premiere, which they can hand down to their descendants. The safe in which 100 Years is kept was showcased at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival (and a few other cities) before being returned to Cognac, France and the Louis XIII cellars.

See a teaser trailer here.

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