I watched a lot of movies while I was at SXSW — 25 to be exact. There was one interesting theme that I took away from the films I watched: a return to traditional, non-digitized media. It’s obvious that we live in a world where music, movies, and practically every form of media has been touched by the magic of a digital wand. So much that it becomes a little artificial, soulless, and kind of unsexy. Sometimes you just want something to have a human touch. By not having a movie or a piece of music go through a digital grinder, gives it more personality. It gives it character. In a weird way, it gives it a breath of life. Ultimately, there are times when you just want your media to be au natural…like ’70s porn.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of movies at SXSW that directly or indirectly explored this concept of the return to practicality in media. The best example is the film festival’s opening night film: Evil Dead. The reboot of the Bruce Campbell cult favorite about a group of kids going into the woods only to be tormented by a demonic entity, followed the original and only used practical effects. Yup, you heard that right. There were absolutely no CG effects used when it came to all the blood, guts, and dismemberment in the horror movie (and there was tons of it!). From the vomit to the face slicing to the grotesque makeup to the tree raping (if you know the original, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about), everything was done like it was in the old days of horror movies: with material made without the help from a computer. And it worked just as fine, if not better (and a lot more enjoyably disgusting I might add).
The same philosophy of practical effects was used in the comedy horror Milo starring Ken Marino, Gillian Jacobs, and Peter Stormare. If you haven’t noticed I have been obsessed with this movie since they announced it was screening at SXSW. I’ve been Tweeting, Instagramming, and Facebooking all about it. I could not WAIT to see it — but I’ll give you my full review of it later. In case you didn’t read any of my coverage about it the movie is about — brace yourself — a demon living in Ken Marino’s character’s butt. Trust me, it’s as amazing as it sounds. What makes it even better is that the creature living in said butt was not created in post production by Industrial Light and Magic, but via a practical effects shop. It was a cute little butt demon a la Gremlins and added an organic humor to the movie that wouldn’t have been accomplished with CGI. I mean, imagine the life that Gizmo would have taken if it were computer generated — it would have the appeal and cuteness of Jar Jar Binks.
In Dave Grohl‘s music documentary, Sound City he explores another kind of practicality. He takes on the world of music and takes us back in history when things were recorded on tape in the famed recording studio, Sound City. (For all you kids out there, tape was a form of media used to play back and record music and other forms of audio.) Specifically, the documentary follows the use of the Neve 8028, a pre-digital, gigantic recording device used to record some of the best music in history. From Fleetwood Mac to Rick Springfield to Nirvana, the Neve gave life to music. It gave it character and captured the essence of the music — and it actually sounded like human beings were playing instruments and singing — unlike all the overproduced digital malarky we get today. Like practical effects, it gave the music more soul and character.
Twenty Feet From Stardom also explores the hey days of pre-digital music via the importance of background singers. Yes. Background singers. The documentary follows a handful of background singers, their careers, their attempts at solo careers, and how they add a much needed texture to music. Most of all, it shows us how the background singer is a dying trade that is slowly being killed by digital manipulation and untalented mofos.
Finally, there was Rewind This!, a documentary about the VHS tape and the huge cultural impact it made in the industry. From copyright issues to pre-YouTube video entertainment to amateur filmmaking to porn, the videotape is a very relevant artifact — and the doc illustrates it well. It revolutionized home video entertainment and introduced us to the coolest place to go to on a Friday night: the video store. My prediction is that the documentary will cause a resurgence in the VHS tape.
These movies aren’t necessarily telling us to totally convert to a non-digital life. They’re simply reminding us to give our music and movies character and soul — to make it sound or look like a human hand had something to do with it.