That 70s Media

It’s our last night of a weekend in Strawberry, and we’ve already burned through our rented DVDs. Reaching into the archives here, we’re watching All The Presidents Men on VHS.

Beyond the fluffy 1970s hairstyles, I was struck by some comparisons waiting for the tape to get to the movie, especially as our viewing of DVDs to VHS is about 98% to 2%. As the tape rolled in linear motion, there were movie promos, then a 5-10 minute documentary on the making of the movie (typically under the DVD Extras), then 3 different movie trailers (typically under the DVD Extras), then finally the movie. And there are no captions to turn on/off. Actually we finished our dinner by the time the movie rolled.

I’ve gotten to be a junkie for watching the DVD Extras. It’s so disappointing when the DVD menu only has choices of “Play”, “Setup”, “Scenes”, and “Trailers”! I like learning about the ideas crafted by Directors, or the ideas of the writers, or learning how the movie making process played out.

For example, in the promo for All the Presidents Men, Director Alan Pakula talks about how he juxtaposed how “small” the young reporters Woodward and Bernstein were compared to the power of Washington DC infrastructure, by showing them in long shots of the two of them walking into immense buildings like the Library of Congress. Or in disk two of A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard shares how every shot where John Nash encounters his special characters, it was always done by hearing their voice first, and a camera shot from Nash’s perspective. Wow, does that seem subtle, but powerful.

This may be simple stuff they teach in film school, but I am amazed at these techniques, which directly play off of psychology, perception, and the power of visual media – especially as the creation of web video content is coming from us in the masses, who did not learn the film school way. Might there be new techniques that are effective? Might we suffer from a lack of “traditional” technique? Regardless of how these unanswerable questions flesh out, it says something that web videos are proliferating the way they are doing now.

So really, my conclusion is that watching content on VHS makes me hanker for the features on DVD. It’s easy to dismiss VHS as a format as easy as it is to mock the 1970s hair style of Dustin Hoffman in this 1976 flick.

It’s easy to snicker at past media. I always get this feeling when I come across a pile of old 8 track tapes, remembering the disturbing “thunk” they would make in my high school friend Kevin’s Duster. But I was a bit humbled when during a presentation at last month’s NMC online conference, Jared Bendis reminded us that 8-Tracks were rather revolutionary for breaking the linear navigation of audio content and more so, that they pioneered quadraphonic sound.

So my wondering mind is wondering… what future media or content form might make me snicker when looking back at DVDs as a content form?

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. For what it’s worth, I don’t think they teach the psychology/perception stuff in film school so much as they point it out as an example of good filmmaking. Every filmmaker has their own knack for it, or lack of knack. But when it works as well as the examples you’re describing, it’s magic. I love that DVDs let us find out more about what the filmmakers are up to. Even though every once in awhile you get director’s commentary that’s so dull it’s very disappointing. I think new techniques are always being dreamed up, and continue to add to our visual language. I think videobloggers are coming up with new ones. Enough to make me want an AppleTV. Hold onto your hats, foks.

  2. I love those extras too, Alan. And as for this question, “Might we suffer from a lack of “traditional” technique?”, well, you know by now that my answer is a qualified “yes.” Mostly I think that the online video explosion could become even more powerful if folks used the wealth of critical tools generated by film studies over the last century-plus, both to generate the content and to understand it. But you’ve heard me yammer about that already….

  3. Frederic Jameson has an awesome essay about 70s will in his book The Geo-political Aesthetic -whether or not yo agree with his politics – his discussion of this genre of 70s film is pretty interesting. And he spends some time talking about the very shot in the LOC you discuss in this post.

  4. Alan,
    This need/want for visual/multi-media rhetorical savvy is exactly the topic that a lot of use are talking about in the field of rhetoric & composition. Many of us see that future literacies are multi-modal and therefore we need to teach students to be both critical readers and producers of multi-modal compositions. That would include understanding the rhetorical hows/whys of not only the written word (which is always already visual), but both static and moving images and sound as well. However, the “service” course/s of first year composition are already jammed full of stuff to teach “writing”…right?

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