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Posts Tagged ‘films

“Since there is no real silence / Silence will contain all the sounds”*…

Sound: it’s so ubiquitous that, unless we’re momentarily thrilled or annoyed by it, we tend to take it for granted. But what is it? Tim Urban to the rescue…

We think of sound as something we hear—something that makes noise. But in pure physics terms, sound is just a vibration going through matter. The way a vibration “goes through” matter is in the form of a sound wave [as per the illustration above]…

Ears are an evolutionary innovation that allows us to register sound waves in the air around us and process them as information—without ears, most sound waves would be imperceptible to a human with only the loudest sounds registering as a felt vibration on our skin. Ears give us a magical ability to sense even slight sound waves in a way so nuanced, it can usually tell us exactly where the sound is coming from and what the meaning of it is. And it enables us to talk. The most important kind of human communication happens when our brains send information to other brains through complex patterns of air pressure waves. Have you ever stopped and thought about how incredible that is?…

The next time you’re talking to someone, I want you to stop and think about what’s happening. Your brain has a thought. It translates that thought into a pattern of pressure waves. Then your lungs send air out of your body, but as you do that, you vibrate your vocal chords in just the right way and you move your mouth and tongue into just the right shapes that by the time the air leaves you, it’s embedded with a pattern of high- and low-pressure areas. The code in that air then spreads out to all the air in the vicinity, a little bit of which ends up in your friend’s ear, where it passes by their eardrum. When it does, it vibrates their eardrum in such a way as to pass on not only the code, but exactly where in the room it came from and the particular tone of voice it came with. The eardrum’s vibrations are transmitted through three tiny bones and into a little sac of fluid, which then transmits the information into electrical impulses and sends them up the auditory nerve and into the brain, where the information is decoded. And all of that happens in an eighth of a second, without any effort from either of you. Talking is a miracle

And so much more: “Everything You Should Know About Sound,” from @waitbutwhy.

See also: 32 Sounds

*  Since there is no real silence,
Silence will contain all the sounds,
All the words, all the languages,
All knowledge, all memory.”

Dejan Stojanović

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As we listen, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that Alam Ara was released. the first “talkie” (feature film with a sound track), it birthed the modern Indian film business, and set the high-romance, all-singing, all-dancing template for what we now know as Bollywood films (which sell more tickets worldwide than Hollywood films– though with lower grosses, as admission prices are generally lower). Sadly, no copy of Alam Ara survives; in 2017, the British Film Institute joined most Indian film scholars in declaring it the most important of all lost films produced in India.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 15, 2022 at 1:00 am

“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)

###

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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“English is flexible: you can jam it into a Cuisinart for an hour, remove it, and meaning will still emerge”*…

Plus ça change. The opening pages of The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, an instructional book of table manners dating from around 1480 and written in Middle English. Amongst other directives, children are told Bulle not as a bene were in thi throote (Don’t burp as if you had a bean in your throat) and Pyke notte thyne errys nothyr thy nostrellys’(Don’t pick your ears or nose).

To be honest, it is a mess…

English spelling is ridiculous. Sew and new don’t rhyme. Kernel and colonel do. When you see an ough, you might need to read it out as ‘aw’ (thought), ‘ow’ (drought), ‘uff’ (tough), ‘off’ (cough), ‘oo’ (through), or ‘oh’ (though). The ea vowel is usually pronounced ‘ee’ (weak, please, seal, beam) but can also be ‘eh’ (bread, head, wealth, feather). Those two options cover most of it – except for a handful of cases, where it’s ‘ay’ (break, steak, great). Oh wait, one more… there’s earth. No wait, there’s also heart.

The English spelling system, if you can even call it a system, is full of this kind of thing. Yet not only do most people raised with English learn to read and write it; millions of people who weren’t raised with English learn to use it too, to a very high level of accuracy.

Admittedly, for a non-native speaker, such mastery usually involves a great deal of confusion and frustration. Part of the problem is that English spelling looks deceptively similar to other languages that use the same alphabet but in a much more consistent way. You can spend an afternoon familiarising yourself with the pronunciation rules of Italian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish and many others, and credibly read out a text in that language, even if you don’t understand it. Your pronunciation might be terrible, and the pace, stress and rhythm would be completely off, and no one would mistake you for a native speaker – but you could do it. Even French, notorious for the spelling challenges it presents learners, is consistent enough to meet the bar. There are lots of silent letters, but they’re in predictable places. French has plenty of rules, and exceptions to those rules, but they can all be listed on a reasonable number of pages.

English is in a different league of complexity. The most comprehensive description of its spelling – the Dictionary of the British English Spelling System by Greg Brooks (2015) – runs to more than 450 pages as it enumerates all the ways particular sounds can be represented by letters or combinations of letters, and all the ways particular letters or letter combinations can be read out as sounds.

From the early Middle Ages, various European languages adopted and adapted the Latin alphabet. So why did English end up with a far more inconsistent orthography than any other? The basic outline of the messy history of English is widely known: the Anglo-Saxon tribes bringing Old English in the 5th century, the Viking invasions beginning in the 8th century adding Old Norse to the mix, followed by the Norman Conquest of the 11th century and the French linguistic takeover. The moving and mixing of populations, the growth of London and the merchant class in the 13th and 14th centuries. The contact with the Continent and the balance among Germanic, Romance and Celtic cultural forces. No language Academy was established, no authority for oversight or intervention in the direction of the written form. English travelled and wandered and haphazardly tied pieces together. As the blogger James Nicoll put it in 1990, English ‘pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary’.

But just how does spelling factor into all this? It wasn’t as if the rest of Europe didn’t also contend with a mix of tribes and languages. The remnants of the Roman Empire comprised Germanic, Celtic and Slavic communities spread over a huge area. Various conquests installed a ruling-class language in control of a population that spoke a different language: there was the Nordic conquest of Normandy in the 10th century (where they now write French with a pretty regular system); the Ottoman Turkish rule over Hungary in the 16th and 17th centuries (which now has very consistent spelling rules for Hungarian); Moorish rule in Spain in the 8th to 15th centuries (which also has very consistent spelling). True, other languages did have official academies and other government attempts at standardisation – but those interventions have largely only ever succeeded at implementing minor changes to existing systems in very specific areas. English wasn’t the only language to pick the pockets of others for useful words.

The answer to the weirdness of English has to do with the timing of technology. The rise of printing caught English at a moment when the norms linking spoken and written language were up for grabs, and so could be hijacked by diverse forces and imperatives that didn’t coordinate with each other, or cohere, or even have any distinct goals at all. If the printing press has arrived earlier in the life of English, or later, after some of the upheaval had settled, things might have ended up differently…

Why is English spelling so weird and unpredictable? Don’t blame the mix of languages; look to quirks of timing and technology: “Typos, tricks, and misprints,” from Arika Okrent (@arikaokrent).

* Douglas Coupland

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As we muse on the mother tongue, we might spare a thought for a man who used it to wonderful effect: Seymour Wilson “Budd” Schulberg. The son of B. P. Schulberg (head production at Paramount Pictures in it’s 1930s-30s heyday) and Adeline Jaffe Schulberg (who founded one of Hollywood’s most successful talent/literary agencies), Budd went into the family business, finding success as a screenwriter, television producer, novelist, and sports writer. He is probably best remembered for his novels What Makes Sammy Run? and The Harder They Fall, his Academy Award-winning screenplay for On the Waterfront, and his (painfully prescient) screenplay for A Face in the Crowd.

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“Don’t pay any attention to the critics – don’t even ignore them”*…

 

It is no surprise that critics and viewers alike agree that The Godfather is the “best film” among the ~2600 films considered on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 100% score among professional reviewers and a 98% score from the audience.  It is perhaps somewhat more surprising to learn which films divide those two groups; thanks to Benjamin Moore, we can contemplate that…

“Overrated” and “underrated” are slippery terms to try to quantify. An interesting way of looking at this, I thought, would be to compare the reviews of film critics with those of Joe Public, reasoning that a film which is roundly-lauded by the Hollywood press but proved disappointing for the real audience would be “overrated” and vice versa.

To get some data for this I turned to the most prominent review aggregator: Rotten Tomatoes

On the whole it should be noted that critics and audience agree most of the time, as shown by the Pearson correlation coefficient between the two scores (0.71 across >1200 films).  [But] using our earlier definition it’s easy to build a table of those films where the audience ending up really liking a film that was panned by critics:

Here we’re looking at those films which the critics loved, but paying audiences were then less enthused:

Explore an interactive version of the chart at the top of this post here; and read more of Moore’s methodology and findings here.

* Samuel Goldwyn

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As we think for ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker”s “We Want Beer” parade was held. Prohibition was in it 12th year; and while that abstemious regime intended to end alcohol consumption, it had succeeded simply in pushing into speakeasies and other illegal settings.  Government officials like Walker watched as gangsters got rich, while city and state tax coffers shrank. (The blow had been softened at the Federal level by the introduction of an income tax.)

Walker positioned his “legalize and tax beer” pitch as a stimulus package:  increased tax revenue would mean more jobs.  And in the depressed economy of the times, the argument resonated : an estimated crowd of 100,000 marched, pining not only for a cold one but also for for employment and an end to the violence and corruption borne of Prohibition.  Similarly large crowds protested in Chicago and other major cities– all rallying behind a “Beer for Prosperity” battle cry.  Soon the voices of the unemployed drowned out the buzz-and-revenue killing voices of the “drys.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election later that same year paved the way for The 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition; it was passed the following year.

Beer March images

 [A portion of this post first appeared on Boing Boing, where your correspondent is a contributor]

Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 14, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out”*…

 

 click here for larger image

Using IMDb‘s ratings of popular films, a Reddit user, Jakubisko, made a map that identifies the most popular movies of each state in America. California thus becomes Pulp Fiction, Florida Scarface, Colorado Psycho or New-York The Godfather. Mainly all the motion pictures named in the map are American movies [in] which plot takes place in America…

Read more at Konbini… and then check out the top-rated films on IMDb set and shot in each European country.

* Martin Scorsese

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As take our truth at 24 frames per second, we might recall that it was on this date in 1887 that Harvey Wilcox officially registered Hollywood with the Los Angeles County recorder’s office.  Harvey and his wife had recently moved from Topeka, where he’d made a fortune in real estate. They bought 160 acres of land in the Cahuenga Valley, in the foothills just of the city of Los Angeles, on what had been a sleepy settlement founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Poricuncula,

The Wilcoxes, prohibitionists, dreamt of founding a community of devout– and abstemious– Christians; by 1900, the community numbered 500.  But the city of Los Angeles, fueled first by the Southern Pacific Railroad, then the Sante Fe, had grown to 10,000.  By 1910, L.A. had used the promise of water (Hollywood had precious little) to lure the smaller community into annexation… after which the fledgling motion picture business began to grow explosively… and Harvey Wilcox’s dream of a sober, conservative religious community faded.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

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