Apr 09, 2018, 06:29AM

Surplus Poses (#12)

Digital video preservation, social media inertia, and the perverse art of headline writing.

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Tonight I’m seeing Mean Streets for the first time: The Charles has a 35mm print and is screening Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough film tonight at seven and Thursday at nine. I’m excited, and struggling to remember the last 35mm print I saw in a theater. Six months ago? Maybe four? Too long, but unless you live in New York, Los Angeles, or London, 35mm screenings are few and far between. DCP rules, the “stable” format, “more reliable,” “safer.” How are we backing those files up though?

I read a great piece in Filmmakers’ Magazine by Vadim Rizov covering nearly every film shot in 35mm released in 2017, and toward the end Sean Baker (The Florida Project) said his decision to shot on 35mm wasn’t purely aesthetic: “We’re going to have issues with digital films, at least the ones that haven’t been film out-ed. With Tangerine, Starlet and Prince of Broadway, I’m still dealing with those issues… There’s no studio for any of those films, and I’m basically the person who’s solely responsible for their long lives. It seems like it’s an endless thing, but I’m constantly spinning drives. I’m making sure all of my masters are backed up properly, and that there’s redundancy everywhere on two different coasts. I have [them backed up on] LTOs, and still I feel it’s not enough. I just lost a mezzanine file of Starlet the other day—a top-quality, uncompressed QuickTime of the film with all of the properly broken-down 5.1 audio tracks. That drive stopped spinning. So, now I have to go back to my LTOs.”

A tangential thought passed by when the shooting at YouTube headquarters happened: what if their servers go down? What if they’re destroyed? Any kind of EMP attack or solar flare would destroy our power grid and bring us down into a horrible Mad Max style race to the bottom of brutality—in other words, we’d have bigger things to deal with than whether or not Trash Humpers survived the last wave. It’s easier and more comforting to think about the flimsiness of digital preservation in apocalyptic terms than the more quotidian challenges Baker is talking about. I don’t know what condition that Mean Streets print is in, but it was probably struck over 40 years ago. Is anyone going to be able to access external hard drives that are 50 years old? Can you even get one going from the early aughts?


Facebook isn’t going anywhere. Mark Zuckerberg will never be president, but he’ll have to take hours of lashing before Congress for allowing over 87 million people to have their privacy invaded, a full digital strip search. Facebook will take a bath, but Zuckerberg won’t be defenestrated and his social network isn’t going anywhere. If Google can’t dethrone him, if ELLO withers on the vine, how do you expect such a behemoth to fall? Nobody under the age of 35 is paying attention to the Cambridge Analytica story or Zuckerberg’s public foibles. They might be tangentially aware of it, but most people made up their minds about Facebook one way or another years ago.

I have plenty of friends who never had an account, deactivated years ago, or start new accounts every six months. But the vast majority have been on Facebook for over a decade, and more than anything, it’s inertia that will keep them there. How else are you going to promote your art, invite people to your party, or show people what a sick time you’re having on vacation? Our brains are totally fucked dopamine-wise: posting a selfie (or better yet, a portrait by a professional photographer) at noon on Instagram and waiting until midnight to see how many likes you got is exactly the same as copping hard drugs and walking around all day knowing you can feel right whenever you want. That’s a hard habit to kick, whether it comes in a blister pack or a smartphone app.


I found this video from 2014 of RuPaul driving John Waters around. Worth watching both parts, no need to summarize or transcribe it, but I’ll say I’m glad John appreciates the brutal headlines of the New York Post. His favorite, one I was unaware of, is a masterpiece in bad taste. On the occasion of Ike Turner’s death: “Ike Beats Tina to Death.”

—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1992


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