Archive for December, 2009

Infographic art

December 29th, 2009

Beautiful in their organic, subjective and muddled attempts to represent the world and his own life with objective information, Simon Evans’ works explore, as Frieze excellently puts it, “that wonderful gap between the words and life itself”.

Link roundup

December 28th, 2009
  • Harris returns to the Capitol Wasteland – Armed with a gaggle of mods and tweaks to Fallout 3, chum Duncan Harris has gone to town taking pictures. This one, his character posing before the Washington Monument, is probably my favourite, but every one’s a winner.

Last House On The Left

December 27th, 2009

We saw the original Last House On The Left last night, a Lovefilm delivery which we’ve been putting off for a while, what with all the warnings of it being horrible.

And it was. For those unaware, it’s a horror film, the directorial debut of Nightmare On Elm Street/Scream creator Wes Craven, about the abduction, rape and murder of two girls by a cadre of sadistic criminals and the subsequent revenge taken out on them by the parents of one of the girls. It was famously banned from general cinema release in the UK and Australia in 1974, and when it was mooted for DVD release in 2002, UK censors wanted to make 16 seconds of cuts. The distributor appealed the decision, calling film critic Mark Kermode forth to present an argument for the film being left unsullied, but the case failed – in fact, the appeal committee doubled the cuts to 31 seconds. Oops.

Frankly, it’s a total mess – the acting is mostly abysmal, the script is wobbly and the editing is all over the place. The narrative jumps ahead several times with no attempt to explain what happened in between, and some juxtapositions of scenes are eye-watering, swerving directly from rape to excruciating attempts at comedy with a bungling pair of cops. It was, after all, the first film most of the production team and actors had made.

And yet it’s also brutally effective. Over all these failings, and after all this time, Last House On The Left remains nail-biting, its depictions of violence and cruelty unblinking. Craven’s intention was to show violence and its repercussions without shying away – a reaction to the bloodless violence of such films as A Fistful Of Dollars, in which audiences would witness the deaths of many characters but not see the true horror of each act – torn flesh and bloody retribution.

His attempt to explore the horror of savagery, from its immediate effects to how it inspires equally barbaric revenge by the the ‘civilised’ middle class parents, isn’t quite so effective, though, struggling to make itself distinct from the mess. Let’s just say that Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring probably did it better – it did, after all, inspire LHOTL, with its story (which actually originates from a 13th century ballad) all but identical.

I think its visceral potency is down to Craven’s essential talent as a director. There are many great touches, including a lingering shot of the rapists awkwardly brushing grass off their hands after the act and some powerful jump shocks, in particular when one of the fleeing girls suddenly meets with the machete of one of her pursuers. And for all the fact that the team originally planned the film to be pornographic, and for all the weird lasciviousness of the opening section, it ultimately does not sexually objectify the girls. The scene in which they are forced to strip is about showing their total vulnerability rather than providing salacious thrills.

Lovefilm encourages users to grade films using five stars. But I found it pretty much impossible to rate Last House On The Left. It’d be easy to dwell on all its many failings, but it has a raw energy which makes it impossible to ignore. Despite its own tagline, ‘It’s only a movie,’ I rather think it’s both more and less than that.

Comments in the cloud

December 26th, 2009

From Iain Tait’s Trend Predictions For 2010. Spot on, I say, and a good thing, too.

Commentary is and should be disparate – to attempt to contain all relevant discussion in the tidy comments list below the original article is just pissing in the wind. And the good stuff is so often dislocated from the source, anyway – I rarely comment on posts, but often talk about them elsewhere.

Besides, the sooner good material is stopped from getting polluted by crappy comments the better. It breaks my heart to see another carefully written piece immediately followed by a thoughtless line of crap spat out in an instant.

All we need, then, are commentary aggregators, pulling stuff from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and all that jazz. Separate yet inclusive, embracing plurality.

Death, therefore, to comments. Long live discussion.

Link roundup

December 24th, 2009
  • A short history of Team Fortress 2 updates – Smart Tom Francis looks at how Valve has built on its Team Fortress multiplayer shooter since release in 2007 with a raft of character abilities which have fundamentally changed the way the game plays (two of which Francis came up with himself, more or less).

Link roundup

December 21st, 2009
  • Troy Gilbert deconstructs Zelda movement mechanics – Superbly techy, this. Game developer Troy Gilbert looks at the pixel-by-pixel technique The Legend Of Zelda uses to stop Link getting caught on the scenery. It reveals Miyamoto’s lovely bit of clever trickery to, as Gilbert says, ensure “the player’s desire is successfully expressed in the gameworld, regardless of the potentially pedantic ways of the computer.”

Mag+ tablet magazine prototype

December 17th, 2009


London design agency Berg has released a video presenting its fascinating proposal, made for magazine publisher Bonnier, for a tablet interface for magazines. Everyone’s doing it these days – Time Inc. released a video showing a prototype for Sports Illustrated, while a video of Conde Nast’s Wired tablet app appeared at Wired promotional event last month. All in preparation for the rumoured appearance of Apple’s 10-inch tablet in January.

It’s all at once fascinating, exciting and scary for paper magazine producers like me.

I think Berg’s design is the smartest of the lot, because it demonstrates the greatest knowledge of magazines’ strengths rather than attempt to simply bring video and connected information into a kind-of magazine layout. Designer Matt Webb knows them deeply, grasping in particular their quality of finality – that you have a finite amount of edited content to enjoy, a property which I think makes magazines more approachable and allows them to feel more complete, paradoxically, and therefore satisfying to consume than the ever-swelling nature of RSS readers and websites.

Sure, in a broad sense, the proposal takes iPhone interaction design and applies it to a larger screen. And it does rather emphasise the bounded nature of the screen – to see a spread you must turn the tablet to landscape and zoom out; to read a column it’s best to turn it to portrait and zoom in. And though swiping left and right quickly allows you to browse adjacent pages, and there’s a neat visual trick which gives a sense of how far through the publication you are, the concept needs work in leading and teasing readers through the pages in order to provide an analogue for your ability to flick though a magazine in order to read it.

I do, however, love the way the tablet senses the reader picking it up, switching from displaying the cover to the inside pages. And, crucially, the the project does point to an ‘e-magazine’ enabled future which absolutely takes the strengths of magazine design and editorial principles and builds on them. It rather emphasises the ‘excited’ bit of the feelings I have for the coming revolution to my trade.