Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"SNOW": The Documentary Film

I know, I know.  I should learn how to shrink links down so they would at least fit on twitter.  But I hate having to conform to the technical demands that I spend more and more time figuring out what they want me to do, instead of being able to just use the keyboard to produce print.  I do not WANT to be cheerful, to make my posts beautiful, to be (above all) marketable.

Anyway, consider this link to Aeon, an online “magazine” (I guess) for thoughtful people.  There is a lot of info in this link description, including the idea that they want you to subscribe and therefore are putting out enticing stories.  One of the best things they do is to mine the wonderful endless supply of short videos, nothing at all like Hollywood nor Netflix, but coming from original visions made possible by new technology.

This one is on the automatic email feed that I get and it is not at all a vid innovation.  Rather it is a classic, beautifully orchestrated, gorgeously imaged, Oscar-nominated “short” from the past.  The Aeon presentation is just THERE, the film to see, but I would love to understand how and why it was made.

To me, it is an essay about industrialism, the technology of pipes, wires, and rails (also canals) that provide infrastructure for our lives.  What is a railroad but a way of “piping” people from one place to another?  It works beautifully in a small country like England, showing up in BBC plots, moving across a patterned connectome of places.  In Montana the picture is much different as it is in all huge intemperate countries like Russia, China, and Australia — as it is in Alaska and the arid prairie.  Those places have had to wait for airplanes — even helicopters.  (Check out the thrilling Aussie rancher series now streaming on Netflix.  “Keeping Up with the Joneses”)

The genre concept I’m feeling around for is how industrial infrastructure (including oil pipelines) conflicts with nature and how, since humans are organic products of nature, we are affected.  So these railroads overcoming deep snow illustrate how we have gone from backbreaking shovel work in order to open a track to sitting comfortably in the dining car while the landscape seems to zoom past us.  

But now, though we still are dependent on industrial-style infrastructure that we have let decay, the newer transition is the one from industrial to technological.  Now the “man” sits in his own home sending paperless documents and Skyping conference calls.  We forget that the internet is still dependent on industrial infrastructure power networks (plus satellite and tower additions, solar and wind energy sources).  We forget that if we don’t have a power source for the computer, it’s a doorstop.  And batteries are a form of pollution and mysterious fires.  And we are using up rare minerals.

And it’s pretty clear that we’re losing social skills.  But many studies suggest that the best evolutionary mutations for survival are the ones that lead toward cooperation and understanding each other directly with other people “present and accounted for”.  We need to learn how to speak eye contact and body language, just as dogs and horses do.  Beyond that, to see how other humans see the world and think about what they are doing.  It’s not an easy or natural skill.  

But that’s all rather obsessive and too alarming to sustain very long.

Going back to this railroad-against-snow subject, in my desire to know more about the film I went to YouTube and discovered that there is a whole genre of snow films.  The snow sports, of course, all that speeding and jumping, but also quiet spans of snowfall without commentary or even a sound track except for a bit of wind and whispering snowflakes.

I did find info about the origins of this short docu.  “Snow is a short documentary film made by Geoffrey Jones for British Transport Films in 1962-1963. The 8-minute-long film shows the efforts of British Railways staff in coping with the 1963 United Kingdom cold wave. An example of "pure cinema", it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1965.

"The film had its origins in primary research for a documentary about the British Railways Board. Jones' test research coincided with one of the coldest winters on record, and Jones approached BTF producer Edgar Anstey with the idea to contrast the comfort of the passengers with the efforts of the railway workmen in keeping trains going in the frozen conditions.” 

I also found a listing of a snow film that seems to draw art into the conversation, but I can’t see it because of some cyber glitch, characteristic of cyber technology. http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/short-film-showcase/one-mans-walk-in-the-snow-creates-a-giant-masterpiece?source=relatedvideo  You can see by the url that it is a National Geographic vid.  But “Flash Studio” wants to own it.  Here’s their description.

Simon Beck is a snow artist who creates huge designs in the snow by simply walking in a pair of snowshoes. He believes that inspiration goes before motivation, and nature's perfect patterns inspire him to create something new every time out. This short documentary follows Beck's preparations for a piece he did in Stryn, Norway, on a day of good snow. Watch and join him as he catches a first glimpse of a masterpiece that, after many steps and calculations, would most likely be covered in two days.”

So now we see the most pervasive and subtle influence of the shift to the “virtual”, the digital, the evanescent.  The industrial paradigm was about stuff, visible, graspable, dominate-able things that could be owned, stored, sources of bankable cash.  No more.  Now it’s all like those photos of starling flocks swirling through the sky.  It’s about ideas, patterns in the head.  Sometimes access is blocked.


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