Virtual film analysis

September 8th, 2008 — Wordman

Having recently completed Awake in the Dark, I was glad to see Roger Ebert’s article on how to read a movie. I immediately started thinking along the lines that some of the commentators did: could this be reasonably done in an on-line way?

I think it could. It wouldn’t be exactly the same as Ebert describes, of course, for some obvious reasons: the crowd would be much larger, the pace would be necessarily slower, the shots to be examined would have to be selected in some way other than yelling “stop”, typing is not the same as speaking, and so on. Even so, it still might be useful. And fun.

I’m tempted to do this myself. Maybe I will if no one else picks up the gauntlet. One way it could work would be like this:

  • Get a domain like cinema-interruptus.org.
  • Install the latest version of phpBB.
  • Create one forum per film.
  • Use one thread per shot.
  • For each film, one registered user acts as the “host”.
  • Lock down permissions in a forum so that only the “host” can create new threads (i.e. shots) in that forum.
  • The host initiates a shot by creating a new thread containing the shot to be examined, with a number in the subject. The initial post would contain things like the time index and so on.
  • Anyone can then post to the thread.
  • Once some criterion has been reached, a new shot is posted. This could be done in a few ways:
    • Some sort of time limit, say, an hour or two. This forces the experience to work in a “live” way, however, which isn’t what the internet is best at.
    • Some sort of “post count” limit is hit. For example, after 50 or 100 (or whatever) posts to the thread, the next shot starts. This has the advantage that the pace of the process is dictated by interest, moving through shots quickly when a lot of people are posting (i.e. at “peak hours”) and more slowly when fewer are paying attention. Disadvantage is that the cutoff is arbitrary. There will surely be cases where it either cuts off to soon or stalls.
    • Allow the host to move on when he feels the time is right. Would probably be the best choice, but would entirely depend on a good host.
    • Some other method.
  • It might be useful, when moving to a new shot, to lock the previous shot/thread. I can see where this would be helpful. I can also see how it would be a hindrance. Probably a choice left up to the host.
  • It might be interesting if the choice of frames was deterministic (e.g. take one frame exactly every 30 seconds), rather than having the host (or, perhaps, requests from earlier shots) pick out “interesting” frames. On the one hand, this downplays the human element and forces focus onto a place it might not go naturally. On the other hand, this downplays the human element and forces focus onto a place it might not go naturally.
  • Using one film per forum, run several different movies at once.
  • Close down the site after being sued by the MPAA for copyright violations.

It would take quite a while to get through a film. It would also be a project with many built-in “intermissions” from the point of view of the reader. That is, they’d see a few shots, then go on with their day, then see a few more, and so on. This would be a much different concept than sitting in a dark room for several hours at a stretch. I’m guessing it might make the analysis better, but perhaps not.

Who’s up for it? Would you participate in such a thing?