Friday, June 23, 2006


Digital technology

This won't be news to anyone: digital technology has fundamentally changed the way we do so many things. What I'm particularly looking at right now are the results of a contest by the Seattle Times, called the Three-Minute Masterpiece Contest:

This year's contest, in which we asked our readers to make three-minute digital movies, was our most popular yet. We got more than 200 entries. Many of our entries were in the under-18 category, and in some cases entire classes sent in films.

I've looked at a few of them so far (and I really like "Go Fish"), and will get to the others as I have time. What's striking about these, apart from the artistry of the filmmakers, is the ease with which one can film, edit, and distribute things like this these days.

See, back in 1970 there was a song by Steppenwolf, called "Monster", which chronicled the history of America, talked about some of the not-so-great things that we've done through that history, and culminated in an anti-war message — Vietnam, at the time, but it's interesting how timely the song still seems now. I had the idea of doing a project for social studies class, where I'd make a short film cutting from one to another still photo, timed to the music, with each photo depicting what the song was talking about at that moment. During the instrumental sections and the more general lyrics, the choruses, the photos would cut to the drumbeats and guitar licks. I had a great plan, and it would have been a really cool project.

The only trouble was that it was essentially impossible for a high school kid to do such a thing then. I'd have had to do it as a home movie with super-8mm film. Cutting that would be done with physical film splices. I'd have needed equipment that could record the audio track afterward, and I couldn't hope to get the cuts properly synchronized with the song. And the cost would have been outrageous. After discussing it with some friends, I abandoned the idea, but have obviously never forgotten it.

Now, though, while it would still be challenging to get a suitable collection of photos and to plan all the cuts from one to the next, and would take some care to get it right, it would be very practical. Once one had the photos, a $50 piece of software and an evening spent dragging, dropping, clicking, and tweaking would get the desired result. What's more, once it was made it wouldn't just be shown to one's high-school class — it could be posted on the Internet for immediate viewing by millions of people. Get noticed by the right blog or two, and the online world would soon be flooding your ISP with hits.

Ah, I wish I'd had this stuff 35 years ago, when I wanted it. Or the inclination to do it now.......

Update: I added the lyrics to "Monster" in the comments section, for those who're interested.


Barry Leiba said...

Lyrics to "Monster":

Once the religious, the hunted and weary
Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
Came to this country to build a new vision
Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope
Like good Christians, some would burn the witches
Later some got slaves to gather riches

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

And once the ties with the crown had been broken
Westward in saddle and wagon it went
And 'til the railroad linked ocean to ocean
Many the lives which had come to an end
While we bullied, stole and bought our homeland
We began the slaughter of the red man

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

The blue and grey they stomped it
They kicked it just like a dog
And when the war over
They stuffed it just like a hog

And though the past has its share of injustice
Kind was the spirit in many a way
But it's protectors and friends have been sleeping
Now it's a monster and will not obey


The spirit was freedom and justice
And its keepers seemed friendly and kind
Its leaders were supposed to serve the country
But now they will pay it no mind
'Cause the people got fat and grew lazy
And now their vote is a meaningless joke
They talk about law, about order
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told

'Cause there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there watching

The cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is strangling the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can't understand
We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole world's got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner we can't pay the cost

'Cause there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there watching


America, where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
Don't you know we need you now?
We can't fight alone against the monster.

wooddragon said...

I actually did something somewhat similar in high school. We got all these books about the 60's and Vietnam and protesting and flower children, took pictures of the pictures, developed them ourselves, then set it to a (from what I recall) pretty powerful soundtrack of music of the time. We also had one of us narrate it.

Not as elegant as yours would have been, but we knocked the socks off our class.