Get That Computer Screen Off My Cinema Screen!

Last night I made a short Vine movie clumsily titled We See Screens and We See Typing But Shouldn’t We Be Seeing Something Else? Because six seconds isn’t much space to make the full point or represent the questions that inspired me to make it, here’s a blogpost with extra detail. Yes: it’s an exclusive Director’s Commentary!

I got the idea for the Vine vid a few weeks back when I watched the Wikileaks biopic, The Fifth Estate. Overall, I enjoyed the movie but one thing rankles and it’s a rankle that keeps on resurfacing across a range of films (and on TV as well). Computer scenes: I’m not keen on them. They irk me. They annoy me. They get me saying, “Ah, enough, can we point that camera some place else please?

I’m not opposed to scenes that feature computers. I accept that we need them because sometimes plot points turn on the effective manipulation of technology. Also computers exist in ‘real life’ and people use computers and the internet so naturally they should be present in film. As a matter of fact some of my favourite movies are about computers and A.I. entities, complex techno-techno devices and other sentient machines that may have more soul or intelligence than human beings. Off the top of my head I’m remembering The Matrix, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Dark Star and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Please, let’s all take a moment to mourn for HAL 9000

Anyway, the thing that bothers me is gratuitous shots of computer scenes (I mean realistic PC screens and not grandiose supercomputer interfaces of the kind that star in the kind of classic movies mentioned above) . I’m talking about the moments where films linger on people checking their emails, browsing the web, looking at YouTube or posting things on message boards. Yeah, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. of TV: I’m looking at you with your last week’s episode all full of “Hey! We can rely on Instagram and Facebook to do our secret spy-biz now and, hey, let’s all look at computer screens!

I understand why we’re seeing computer screens on screen. These are the technologically literate times we live in and humans use computers and are perpetually hooked up to social media. I get the want and need, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Most of the time I find these scenes dull and sometimes even disturbing. I think there’s an ‘instant disinterest’ switch somewhere in my sensory machinery and the moment a shot of a monitor flashes before my eyes, that lever gets knocked.

Breaking it down in brief, here’s what I think happens: I spend a lot of time looking at computer screens. I go to the cinema as a refreshing alternative, so I can look at a different screen. Seeing computer screens on screens is a bit of a weird visual experience anyway – “Screens on screens? How perverse.” as C-3PO never said – but it also ruins my escapism trip. I came here to get away from that! Get that thing away from my eyes!

There’s also probably some control freakery in there because I can’t stand the sensation of being a passive observer as other people use computers (mainly people who are inept when it comes to using computers). I want to empathise with characters, not get frustrated with them for the way they browse the web or debase themselves with banal online chat.

That stuff is for real life or real online life and that, as I say, is the life I’m not keen on seeing again when I go to the cinema. Supremely talented cinematographers and actors deserve better than that. The strength of The Fifth Estate, as a case study, is in the facial reactions and dramatic delivery of Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl to significant things that appear on their laptop monitors. You can’t milk much drama and emotion from flashing cursors and un-personified pixels alone.

Humans and human thoughts and feelings are always going to be way more fascinating to behold and appealing to viscerally experience than a shot of screen. It’s my humble view that filmmakers and televisionmakers need to show some caution and restraint in case I’m not the only one who feels this way. They have to have a good reason to be there and you have to work extra hard to make them interesting. I don’t want to look at computer screens on TV screens or cinema screens – I’d rather be looking at fantastical stuff that isn’t so quotidian. Epic special effects spectacle! Beautiful, breathtaking landscapes! Exhilarating ultraviolence! Evocative drama from past times or future times or times from worlds that are entirely fictional fabrication! Impossibly good-looking people and good-looking animals! Impossibly good-looking people and animals bursting into song and dance routines!

That all sounds so much better than standing by watching someone social networking. Uck. Please, keep the shots of computer screens down to minimal, if only so I don’t get this uncanny nausea stemming from a sense of frustration that I can’t transcend over-familiar reality or do anything to stop the screen-fetishism that will lead us to a dystopian future…


The End of the Alternate Reality News Service…

Way back on August 28th 2012 A.D. in this current reality from which I’m writing I initiated the ‘Meanwhile, in an alternate reality…’ Tumblr blog. Given the power to gaze into parallel dimensions, I thought I’d use my gift to share the news and current affairs of other paradigms of existence with internet users on this particular version of Earth. I didn’t plan to do it for long but, as ever, I have a tendency to get carried away.

Next thing I knew I was months down the line consistently broadcasting daily news bulletins. Some people enjoyed the service, which was cool, and I personally got in touch with incredible visions of other ways of life. Alternate histories raised their head. I came to face startling scientific and technological advancementsutopian societies and dystopian nightmares. I experienced a myriad of weird and wonderful sociocultural traditions, beliefs, political issues, burning questions and so on. It all overwhelmed me, inspired me and intrigued me as more and more and so much more came forth on a daily basis. Glimpses of a Universe that had evolved differently kept hitting me and, altogether, I got a constant  reminder that the infinite Universes out there are beautifully diverse and fascinating to contemplate.

I dug it all and it blew my mind over and over. Subsequently, I had a lot of fun re-writing it all up as digestible news beats to share. Alas, nothing lasts forever and I’ve decided it’s time to call time on the service. Having hit the nice number of 222 updates I’m going to stop the news feed for now (at least in this reality). It’s true that similar broadcasts are continuing in parallel strains of existence and, of course, I may reboot it in our future but for now: halt. All good things must end and life is transient. I will devote all my energies to other brainmelting, awe-inspiring ideas but I’ll retain my interest in all the cosmic metaphysical wonder and ensure I keep in sync with alternate realities.

Thank you for reading and, please, make sure that blowing your own mind and considering the fantastical outside of your own quotidian existence is a daily exercise. The Universes are infinite. Enjoy exploring them