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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/14/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 11
Table of Contents
HDTV (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
THAT ITCHY, SWEATY PALM FEELING? IT'S HDTV. So blares an ad in a magazine for a store that specializes in electronics. Of course the ad is hyping High Definition Television. It is reaching out to anybody who gets really excited about advances like HDTV. But I have to admit that though I am really into movies, I am not all that excited about the advent of HDTV. I do not get sweaty palms thinking about it. But why am I not excited?
Let us just take another look at that name, "high-definition television." You have the adjective "high-definition" and a noun "television." It is really just an enhancement on television. Consumer television came along in the late forties and early fifties. We are just passing the half-century mark for the introduction of devices to bring pictures that move into the home. Go back another half century and you are to the point that a reasonable technology for creating moving pictures had come along was first taking hold. Now that was an innovation that justifiably gave people itchy, sweaty palms!
There are some that say that the motion picture was really the completion of an art that goes back to cave paintings. Certainly early in representational art the artist became dissatisfied that his paintings were fixed in time and what he saw in the real world moved. In a sense all still painting is a lie, or at the very least unrealistic. When Rembrandt painted a person he wanted to capture that person on canvas. But he had to remind the person to keep still and not move. To get a realistic portrait of the person the subject had to behave unrealistically still. Modern photographers still have the problem. They pose people and then tell them not to move. People and things in the real world move and change. They have motion. But oil cannot move on canvas so the painting is a misrepresentation.
It took until the early 1900s for there to be a viable technology to put motion into art. And the very earliest commercial films did not even have a story. They were just pictures of things the photographer saw in the world around with that super-special new added feature, movement. Note we still use the words "movie," "motion picture," and "cinema" [from the same root as "kinetic" or "moving"]. This is true in spite of the fact that we are a long way past the point that promoters of this summer's blockbusters want to emphasize is that they ACTUALLY MOVE and are not just still pictures. This was pretty exciting stuff a century ago.
Fifty years later was another watershed in communication of moving visuals. Again itchy sweaty palms were in order. You could bring a picture with motion, if not a motion picture, right into your home. The difference was a lot like the difference it made when computers could be brought into the home and just ordinary people could own them.
Now 50 years later we are moving into the era of HDTV. Another big leap forward? Hardly. As the name indicates HDTV is a refinement on television. The problem is that you reach a point of diminishing returns with what new technology buys you. HDTV is a big investment and it brings you a better picture than VHS and even a somewhat better picture than DVDs give you. HDTV is a medium for the person who says the glass is 3% empty, not 97% full. HDTV will moderately improve the experience of seeing a noisy special effects movie like ARMAGEDDON. It is not clear it offers any real advantage at all in seeing a great film like TWELVE ANGRY MEN. In that film the value is in the dialog and the acting. It was a story originally written for the tiny, black and white TV screen and that is about all it requires. HDTV may be a medium for someone who enjoys a film like ARMAGEDDON, but it will do little for the fan of TWELVE ANGRY MEN who does not need to hear Jack Klugman in eight channel stereo or to see a crystal clear image of Jack Warden's face.
HDTV is a refinement on existing technology. TV has come a long way since the 1950s. The picture is color, a lot clearer, and the shape of the picture is less dictated by the shape of the vacuum tube. But if there is an improvement somewhere out there of the magnitude of the invention of the motion picture or of television, I am missing it. Perhaps technology has slowed, or perhaps it really is out there I am just not recognizing it. Perhaps innovations fusing the motion picture with the Internet will eventually have a big influence. But I think that fifty and a hundred years ago there were a lot of people who were excited about changes in the representation of motion in art. Today the next sweaty palm experience is running behind schedule. [-mrl]
BODIES IN A BOOKSHOP by R. T. Campbell (Dover, 1984 (c 1946), trade paperback, $3.95, 178pp) (a book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Let me just quote the first paragraph:
"I don't know what came over me. It wasn't as if there were not enough books in the house to begin with. There were books on the floor, books on the beds--and in the beds if one wasn't careful. Only that morning I had removed three volumes of Curtis from my room. How they came to be there I would not know. There seems to be a plot between the old man, Professor John Stubbs, and his housekeeper, Mrs. Farley, to dump anything they like in my room. So far as I am concerned this is fine. I like books. But I have books enough enough and mess enough of my own."
Then two paragraphs later:
"Having made up my mind that I wanted the life of Robert Boyle I started going round all the bookshops I could find. This was fine, but I kept running into others books I wanted. I spent the devil of a lot of money. I said to myself that it didn't really matter very much if I failed to get the 'Life of Boyle,' I had gathered enough to keep me reading for at least a fortnight."
(Okay, only a fortnight's worth of reading on a book trip is a bit light.)
Anyway, the narrator finds two dead bodies in a bookshop off Tottenham Court Road, His off-hand comments would seem to indicate that this is not the first time he has stumbled onto deceased persons, though Dover doesn't indicate any earlier books in a series. The deaths--murders, of course--are all tied up with the London used booksellers, trafficking in stolen rare books and in high-quality pornography.
It is all vaguely reminiscent of THE CLUB DUMAS crossed with 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD, and if all this doesn't get you to want to read it, nothing else I can say would help. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Virtue has never been as respectable as money. --Mark Twain
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