Film

A Real Life Milgram Experiment

by on October 23, 2014 at 7:30 am in Education, Film, Science | Permalink

This amazing video, introduced by Philip Zimbardo, discusses a real world Milgram “experiment” in which people obeyed an authority figure to an astounding degree, even when the authority figure was just on the telephone.

The video comes from the Heroic Imagination Project which hopes to use the results of social psychology to help people to take effective action in challenging situations. More videos on obedience to authority, including from Milgram’s experiment, can be found in the resource section along with other social psychology videos and other interesting materials.

Here is one more, this time a little lighter, an experiment in which people find themselves unexpectedly married:

From The Daily Beast:

Greg and Jill Henderson, founders of Hendo, have developed a real hoverboard. Yes, the flying skateboard that millions of moviegoers have wished were real since Back to the Future Part II premiered back in 1989 may become the must-have Christmas gift for 2015. Using “hover engines” that create frictionless magnetic fields, the hoverboard only appears to hover an inch or two off a metallic floor. It’s not exactly ready for, or usable on, concrete but everything has to start somewhere.

There is more here.  It needs something like a copper sheet below it.  There are different accounts here, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or lack thereof, I found this one useful.  Still, this is more progress than we were seeing a year ago.

Peer-to-peer file sharing of movies, television shows, music, books and other files over the Internet has grown rapidly worldwide as an alternative approach for people to get the digital content they want — often illicitly. But, unlike the users of Amazon, Netflix and other commercial providers, little is known about users of peer-to-peer (P2P) systems because data is lacking.

Now, armed with an unprecedented amount of data on users of BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing system, a Northwestern University research team has discovered two interesting behavior patterns: most BitTorrent users are content specialists — sharing music but not movies, for example; and users in countries with similar economies tend to download similar types of content — those living in poorer countries such as Lithuania and Spain, for example, download primarily large files, such as movies.

“Looking into this world of Internet traffic, we see a close interaction between computing systems and our everyday lives,” said Luís A. Nunes Amaral, a senior author of the study. “People in a given country display preferences for certain content — content that might not be readily available because of an authoritarian government or inferior communication infrastructure. This study can provide a great deal of insight into how things are working in a country.”

Amaral, a professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Fabián E. Bustamante, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, also at McCormick, co-led the interdisciplinary research team with colleagues from Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain.

Their study, published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…reports BitTorrent users in countries with a small gross domestic product (GDP) per capita were more likely to share large files, such as high-definition movies, than users in countries with a large GDP per capita, where small files such as music were shared.

Also, more than 50 percent of users’ downloaded content fell into their top two downloaded content types, putting them in the content specialist, not generalist, category.

The full article is here, the paper and data are here, and for the pointer I thank Charles Klingman.  Can you explain the rich-poor, music vs. movies difference using economic theory?

My favorite cinematic things Hong Kong

by on October 6, 2014 at 1:36 am in Film | Permalink

Where to start?

1. John WooThe Killer holds up the best on repeated viewings, but Hard Boiled makes the biggest first impression, at least circa the early 1990s.  It is less shocking today, precisely because it has been so influential.  Bullet in the Head has some incredible peak moments, but I’ve never loved A Better Tomorrow as many people do, neither part I nor part II.   Once a Thiefthe true Hong Kong edition only — is a good dark horse pick, nimble and philosophical.  Of the American Woo movies, Windtalkers, about the Navajo code talkers during World War II, is much underrated, a fine work.

2. Ringo Lam. City on Fire, and also Prison on Fire.  I would like to know more of them.

3. Wong Kar-wai.  I love all of his movies up through 2000, after that I have mixed feelings at best.  Essential viewing, perhaps my favorite is Chungking Express, for capturing a certain era in Hong Kong, although I doubt that is the best one.

4. Tsui Hark. I am sorry, but I never have loved them, the less pretentious the better.  I did enjoy Chinese Ghost Story.

5. Jackie Chan. Drunken Master II is my favorite, for some U.S. releases this was retitled simply Drunken Master.  You’ll just have to figure it out.  I love the first thirty minutes or so of Armour of God, you can skip the rest.  I consider him one of the comic geniuses of recent times.

6. Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon is a perennial favorite, plus there is the fight scene with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game of Death, and with Chuck Norris in Return of the Dragon.

The Infernal Affairs trilogy is quite good, as is Election.  Some of the early Shaw Kung Fu movies have entertaining moments, best seen is excerpts.  Chow-Yun Fat is perhaps my favorite movie actor.  There is plenty more I don’t know about.

The bottom line: People, you need to have seen all of these movies, now.  Just ask Scott Sumner.

1. Popular music: The Everly Brothers, I recommend this song.  There is also Loretta Lynn and Dwight Yoakum and Merle Travis, I like this video.  In jazz there is Lionel Hampton.

2. Visual artist: Edgar Tolson, that image is not fully safe for work.  John James Audobon worked in the state quite a bit.

3. Movie, set in: Goldfinger, though of course immobilizing that stock would not affect the world price of gold very much.  And keep in mind the nominal price of gold was pegged back then under Bretton Woods — should we really have expected a lot of goods and services deflation, just because some nutcase set off a bomb?  I don’t think so.

4. Monk: Thomas Merton.  He was an excellent writer, as a monk I cannot judge.

5. Author: Hmm…I don’t really like either Robert Penn Warren or Hunter S. Thompson.  So Thomas Merton wins a second category, try The Seven Storey Mountain.

6. NBA player: The incandescent Rex Chapman, recently arrested for shoplifting.  I liked Pervis Ellison too, believe it or not.

7. Movie director: I believe John Carpenter grew up there, he has several excellent films, including The Thing, Starman, Dark Star, and Escape from New York.  I don’t actually enjoy the D.W. Griffith movies.

8. Poet and impresario: Muhammad Ali.

For some inexplicable reason Victor Mature was one of my father’s favorite actors.  There is also Johnny Depp and George Clooney.  Economist Milton Kafoglis passed away not long ago.  How about the Kentucky Colonels?

The bottom line: If I had better taste in fiction, this list would be strong across the board.  I’m in Louisville for the day.

Assorted links

by on September 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm in Film, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Bill Gates and The Big History Project.

2. The economics of Amazon.

3. Negativity bias sucks.

4. Claudia Sahm now has a blog.

5. Cyranoids.

6. The One I Love is a pretty amazing conceptual movie, with nods to Lem, Albee, Shakespeare, Saramago, and Rod Serling, among others.

Ikea’s Simulacrum

by on August 28, 2014 at 5:31 am in Film | Permalink

An amazing 75% of the images in an Ikea catalog are not photographs but CGI.

…the real turning point for us was when, in 2009, they called us and said, “You have to stop using CG. I’ve got 200 product images and they’re just terrible. You guys need to practise more.” So we looked at all the images they said weren’t good enough and the two or three they said were great, and the ones they didn’t like were photography and the good ones were all CG! Now, we only talk about a good or a bad image – not what technique created it.”

room

A.O. Scott considers that question in The New York Times.   I am not sure I can sum up his view in a sentence, so I don’t know if this is criticizing him or partially agreeing with him.  In any case, I don’t see growing income inequality as the main driving force behind the decline of middlebrow American culture.  An individual’s level of education often predicts cultural consumption better than does his or her income, and education has not in general declined in this country.

Furthermore many forms of culture have grown much cheaper.  Once you are paying for cable, the marginal dollar cost of watching a show or a movie at home is zero.  Songs and music are much cheaper than twenty years ago, and eBooks make many (not all) books cheaper.  In other words, if stagnant income groups wanted middlebrow culture, they still could afford it.

Global markets are growing and those markets are often relatively middlebrow in their orientation, which should maintain the return to producing middlebrow culture.  And the United States continues to grow in population, even though the middle is shrinking in percentage terms.  The supply of creative activity is quite elastic, so it is hard to argue the wealthy have placed all relevant artists in their employ and thus choked or starved the middle.

It is much more expensive to organize a middlebrow art exhibit than fifteen years ago, and we see fewer good ones, but that is mainly because of 9/11 and insurance rates and related institutional issues, not income inequality.

My view is a lot of people never wanted middlebrow culture in the first place, at least not in every sphere of their cultural consumption.  The internet gave them more choice, they took it, and much of middlebrow culture lost its support base.  Consider one area where the internet still doesn’t play that much of a role and that is theatrical productions.  You can watch plenty of theatre on YouTube, but it’s not such a close substitute to seeing the show live.  And if you look at Broadway theatre, it seems more relentlessly and aggressively middlebrow than ever before.  Ugh, that is why I stopped going.  NFL football seems middlebrow to me and the audience base still is there, again because the internet has not come up with a close competitor.  If the sport has a problem it is the violence and injury, not that we’ve evolved into a mix of polo ponies and roller derby.

Liam Boluk has written an excellent four-part series, which should be read by anyone with an interest in movies or cultural economics.  He addresses whether movies are a dying or shrinking business, and the installments are here:

 

Here is one excerpt from number three:

One of the primary barriers to indie success and growth comes from screen distribution. In 2013, 50% of indie films were released on fewer than ten screens – nearly half of which maxed at only two. The reason for this is simple: the audience for the average indie film tends to be small and heavily concentrated in select cities (New York, San Francisco, Portland). As a result, expanding a film’s footprint into additional markets – even cities such as Seattle, Washington DC or Atlanta – can be financially destructive. Yet, even as the theater count is scaled, total performance can remain modest.

And here is Boluk’s blog.

Will Amazon copy Netflix?

by on July 17, 2014 at 12:07 am in Books, Economics, Film | Permalink

According to Gigaom, the e-commerce giant [Amazon] is working on a subscription ebook service called Kindle Unlimited, which would offer unlimited ebook rentals for $9.99 a month.

There is more here.  According to one estimate it would be for 638k titles or so, of course it will matter a great deal which ones.  I would consider this “developing,” but also “not yet confirmed.”

Addendum: Virginia Postrel offers a good analysis.

Transformers: Age of Extinction opened this weekend with $100 million in America and $92 million in China (with $22 million in Russia).

Here is more, mostly a series of broader points about China, many of which I do not agree with but interesting nonetheless.  Here is my previous review of Transformers.

Here is a bit on Chinese product placement in the movie:

…everyone in the audience was puzzled as to why Jack Reynor was drinking Chinese Red Bull in Texas. Is it even available there?

Culturally, some aspects did not translate. There was puzzlement in the audience when Reynor pulled out a laminated photocopy of a Texas legal loophole that meant his relationship with Nicola Peltz, who is 17 years old in the film while he is supposedly 20, does not come under statutory rape laws.

The article has a variety of points of interest.  There is also this:

One Chinese man who was dumped by his girlfriend seven years ago for being too poor spent $40,000 booking four whole IMAX cinemas for the first-day showings of Age of Extinction.

He then posted the receipts on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, which is banned, presumably in case the Decepticons plan to try and attack China.

I like to experience aesthetic extremes, so it is appropriate I ended up sitting through this one.  It is perhaps the most beautifully choreographed movie I have seen — ever — with one perfectly arranged ninety second sequence after another, in seamless fashion yet summed into something quite incoherent and meaningless and indeed even obnoxious at times.  But did L’Avventura make much sense either?  (And like L’Avventura, Transformers 4 is way too long.)  Michael Nielsen was correct in his advice to view this new release as an art film.

The movie poses the question of how the world would look if technologies of defense were no longer clearly superior to technologies of offense.  The public choice answer seems to be that power shifts away from the Presidency, to the intelligence agencies, and to intellectual property holders, at least as first order effects.  Output is reallocated toward rural areas.

The political subtext of the movie is indicated rather clearly by the eventual military alliance of the red, white, and blue-wearing Optimus Prime with the Chinese dragons, consummated in China of course.  Unlike with the recent Godzilla movie, Japan is not the main intended Asian audience.  The Hong Kong scenes are spectacular, but the film reaffirms the importance of “central government” (i.e., Beijing) control over Hong Kong in rather heavy-handed fashion.  (This is done so transparently you could call it an anti-Straussian move — “hey, let’s make sure we get those shooting rights in Hong Kong again!”)  You also get to see a Chinese guy beat up on the CIA, gratuitously, using some kind of traditional Chinese boxing technique.

I am still fond of this this review and this one too of an earlier installment.  If you are tempted, you probably should see this movie, but I am not sure you should feel tempted to feel tempted.

Artistic musts

by on June 11, 2014 at 2:33 am in Books, Film, Music, Television, The Arts | Permalink

Not long ago, a group of people were sitting around a New York City Laotian restaurant and a challenge was made.  The challenge was to create a list of a particular kind, drawing upon the wisdom of the groups.  The producer of the dare (not myself, the person wishes to remain anonymous) put it like this:

…these are MUSTS, not “here’s something I like.”  You aren’t recommending, you are obligating.  That is a much larger responsibility and I urge you to use it with extreme caution.  Also, adding to the list constitutes a commitment to take in the list [emphasis added by TC], with the one caveat.

There is currently no food or visual art on the list.  We briefly discussed adding some food but I think it was going to get out of hand, plus Amazon can’t drone you tacos from Tyler’s favorite gas-station Mexican restaurant.  If the food or visual art is in NYC and readily accessible it could be considered.

Yes, we all obliged ourselves to consume the resulting list.  And what did we put on it?

Primer (movie)
[I am going to remove Upstream Color from the list.  I think it's a better movie than Primer, and I would watch it again twice back to back right now, but it's less of a cultural touchstone. ]

The Power Broker (book)

Nature’s Metropolis, especially Chapter 3 (book)

“Blink” (episode of Dr. Who from TV)

Before Sunrise trilogy (movies)

A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations 1955 & 1981 (music)

The Forever War (book)

A Deepness in the Sky (book)
[Redacted and I agree that the first book, A Fire Upon the Deep, is excellent but not as good as this.  All voices say the third book is a pass]

Prisoners of War (TV series, Israeli)

Loveless (music, 1991 album by My Bloody Valentine)

The Lives of Others (movie)
[there was some controversy around this one]

Thought of You (animated short)

Persona (movie, Ingmar Bergman)

The Godfather (movie)

Beethoven String Quartet Opus 132 (music)

What would you add to such a list?  Of course from this list I do not endorse every pick, but I can report that I do not have “too much extra work to do.”

I know I am late on this one, but I thought it was pretty damned good, well above expectations.  I feel comfortable placing it in the top five Godzilla movies of all time.  The visuals are spectacular but not overdone, and it pays appropriate homage to its sources, including the Japanese original but also Hitchcock’s The Birds.  The movie also treats nuclear weapons use with the moral seriousness it deserves, which is rare these days.

And is there a Straussian reading?  Well, yes (did you have to ask?).  The film is really a plea for an extended and revitalized Japanese-American alliance.  The real threat to the world are the Mutos, not Godzilla, who ends up defending America, after the lead Japanese character in the movie promises the American military Godzilla will be there as our friend (don’t kill me, that is not a major spoiler as it is telegraphed way in advance).

The Mutos, by the way, are basically Chinese mythological dragons, and an image of two kissing Muto-like beings is shown over the gate of San Francisco’s Chinatown three different times in the movie, each time with greater conspicuousness.  The Mutos base themselves in Chinatown in fact.  Note that the Mutos can beat up on Godzilla because of their greater numbers, but as for one-on-one there is no doubt Godzilla is more fierce.  And the name of the being — Muto — what does that mean?  I believe loyal MR readers already know, and apologies for reminding you.  General Akira Muto led the worst excesses committed by Japanese troops during the Rape of Nanjing, perhaps the single biggest Chinese grievance against The Land of the Rising Sun, and thus the beings are a sign of the Chinese desire for redress and revenge.  Unless of course the right military alliance comes along to contain them and save the world…

The references to Pearl Harbor and the Philippines are not accidents either.

So says Neal Stephenson:

In both games and movies the production of visuals is very expensive, and the people responsible for creating those visuals hold sway in proportion to their share of the budget.

I hope I won’t come off as unduly cynical if I say that such people (or, barring that, their paymasters) are looking for the biggest possible bang for the buck. And it is much easier and cheaper to take the existing visual environment and degrade it than it is to create a new vision of the future from whole cloth. That’s why New York keeps getting destroyed in movies: it’s relatively easy to take an iconic structure like the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty and knock it over than it is to design a future environment from scratch. A few weeks ago I think I actually groaned out loud when I was watching OBLIVION and saw the wrecked Statue of Liberty sticking out of the ground. The same movie makes repeated use of a degraded version of the Empire State Building’s observation deck. If you view that in strictly economic terms–which is how studio executives think–this is an example of leveraging a set of expensive and carefully thought-out design decisions that were made in 1930 by the ESB’s architects and using them to create a compelling visual environment, for minimal budget, of a future world.

As a counter-example, you might look at AVATAR, in which they actually did go to the trouble of creating a new planet from whole cloth. This was far more creative and visually interesting than putting dirt on the Empire State Building, but it was also quite expensive, and it was a project that very few people are capable of attempting.

…That [dystopian] environment also works well with movie stars, who make a fine impression in those surroundings and the inevitable plot complications that arise from them. Again, the AVATAR counter-example is instructive. The world was so fascinating and vivid that it tended to draw attention away from the stars.

There is more here, via Morgan Warstler.