Movies, narrative, multi-tasking, the randomness of it all.
Joe Morgenstern, movie reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, is a fine writer. The excerpt below reflects his concerns about our multi-tasking children.
My son Zed and I laughed when we watched an episode of the old show Dragnet. Joe Friday would tell his partner, "I'm going to make some telephone calls now." His partner would stand (silently) by the desk as Joe sat down carefully, looked up a phone number, picked up the receiver, dialed a number on his rotary phone at a stately pace (remember how much time that took?), waited for the phone to ring on the other end and for somebody to pick it up, said, "Hello, I'm officer Joe Friday, blah blah blah ... ", listened (a long time) as the other person answered, then hung up the phone, told his partner what the other person said, and repeated the process. Certainly we don't need a return to that.
I also remember at least one commercial from my childhood, from the days of black-and-what tv - I remember a man standing next to a white refrigerator in a white room, pointing to it as he talked about it for a while, then opening its door and pointing inside as he talked some more, then walking around behind it and talking some more. For a full sixty seconds! Now, that was boring.
But commercials of today are so raucous and short they make my head hurt. I can't watch or even listen to them, I feel attacked inside my very brain! It must take a different kind of mind than I have to tolerate such a rapid succession of loud images, ideas, and sounds.
There've even been suggestions lately that planting young children in front of the tv can increase the incidence of autism.
What do you think about all this?
The latest strike against narrative: a movie that lets you shuffle the scenes
by Joe Morgenstern for the Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2006
Until the advent of the iPod, shuffle was a word most often associated with card players, magicians, the unfleet of foot and travelers bound for Buffalo.
Now, of course, it's a keystone concept in the life of kids, who frequently free themselves of heavy choices by letting an algorithm embedded in a chip pick their songs at random.
I mention this in connection with a DVD that recently came my way. Called "The Onyx Project," it claims to be the world's first hyperlinked and fully browseable motion picture -- create your own narrative structure as you go. There's also an optional feature that shuffles the sequence of scenes, in case you want to surrender the sense of control that the links provide.
It raises provocative questions about the way visual entertainments are changing, and the way they're perceived by growing numbers of kids who live much of their lives in shuffle mode. Multitaskers, hyperlinkers, inter-actors and attention-splitters, these young people have little or no patience for the straight-line narratives that were once the dominant mode of storytelling.
Kids who used to turn out for movies every weekend now devote themselves to videogaming, instant messaging, MySpacing and YouTubeing, sometimes simultaneously, while movie executives, pacing studio corridors, worry rightly that they no longer understand how kids' minds work.
I know how they feel. I grew up on movies that told their stories in a stately procession of cause and effect, with obligatory transitions -- endless shots of doors opening and closing, in case audiences couldn't comprehend how a character got from a hallway in one scene to a living room in the scene that followed. And I came to think, in a preshuffle way, that those straight-line narratives played directly to the hard-wiring of the human brain. Children listening to bedtime stories ask their parents what comes next, how one thing leads to another. They want to understand the life around them.
Yet making sense of the modern world means making peace, however anxiously, with the randomness that so often seems to govern life. That's what some of our most adventurous filmmakers have been teaching us to do for many decades, and I've been an eager student.
Hard-wiring hasn't interfered with my enjoyment of movies that use disjunctive narratives to keep us entertained, mystified and interactively enthralled. (Jean-Luc Godard famously said that every movie has a beginning, a middle and an end, though not necessarily in that order.)
The question is whether young people, hyperlinking their way across trackless digital wastes, will come to embrace entertainment -- in whatever medium -- that conveys the complexities and consequences of being human.
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