Everything looks more cinematic with letterboxing

Having switched to the Galaxy S4 which shoots images and video in 16:9 (widescreen format), I recently realised that when I shoot videos on it, the icons for those video files now look like this on my desktop:

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Have my video icons always looked like this? The automatic letterboxing in the icon of the video file itself? Perhaps I hadn’t noticed it before until now when I have to look at the files in Finder (result of having to set up an IFTTT for my files to go straight from camera to dropbox to flickr, thus bypassing iPhoto). What I do find is that the application of letterboxing to stills of my images actually works very well to suggest to the user that it must be a moving image. Which came first? How strange that something as arbitrary as letterboxing and changing the aspect ratio should completely affect the icon/symbol of a file, lending to our expectation that the image within should have some sort of “cinematic quality”.

Case in point, here are some examples:

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A regular day walking down the street

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WITH LETTERBOXING: “AN EMOTIVE, DRAMATIC SHOT OF URBAN LONDON YOUTHS IN STAMFORD HILL”

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A normal day in Hastings with some weird cultish german youths dancing in the distance

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“STILL FROM A DOCUMENTARY FILM ABOUT WEIRD EUROPEAN YOUTH CULTS”

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A regular day in Central London

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“STILL FROM A DOCUMENTARY FILM ABOUT THE STATE OF BRITAIN’S FASHION INDUSTRY”
So, does it work for you? I think its a bit funny that letterboxing was probably created because filmmakers in the past would rather retain the original composition of their films when they were to be shown on different screens (such as from film to video, from the cinema screen to television). And now the reverse can now be said of how we digitally put letterboxing back onto images or films which require no such interventions and could be shown without the letterbox. I guess it is a design decision to put the letterboxing onto films or still images because that suggests some association with cinema and the tradition of cinema (thus in part, legitimising the image or making it seem more important). I wonder, is there also something about how the image also appears perfectly primed to be part of a bigger narrative once we see that letterboxing?

Narrative, Performance, and Bathos in Korean Pop Ballads

As some of you might be aware, I occasionally update my Preposterous Music Blog (over at http://basicbitchez.tumblr.com) This week, while searching for new abominations of music, I chanced upon this video. I have always had a particular preference for “intense” or “high-tempo” music, and have consciously avoided listening to ballads or slower pop songs because I felt that slow songs were uninteresting since they were not intense, exuberant, nor particularly danceable. I thought it was because some people just liked slow songs and I did not (I enjoy fast music because a fast background tempo also sets a faster tempo for one’s own living). Anyway, for some reason, I did not instantly close the tab on this slower paced song by MBLAQ (which actually stands for “Music Boys Live in Absolute Quality”, and I am not even making this up…) The song begins with a spoken word quote in English that goes “Time is too slow for me…”

MBLAQ – CRY

The video is generic by most measures; like most manufactured korean pop songs, there is something deeply “performative” about it, but in this case, it is almost in an old fashioned boyband way. The boys are fashionably dressed to fit that particular kind of androgynous asian masculinity; wearing make-up; dancing dramatic “interpretive dance” moves (including an underwater scene) while they are repeatedly asking in engrish, “why are you making me cry?”…

Like that dance move from Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights.

Mandatory dramatic underwater scene.

Crying in the rain. Oh boo hoo.

Their relative youth and polished appearance makes it completely impossible for me to take their “emotions” seriously, and there is a lot of “over-enunciating” going on (the result of overzealous elocution classes perhaps?) which kinda disturbs me when I see how they speak. On top of that, they are performing the song in artificially created studio spaces… curiously prepackaged and isolated in a vacuum. So, yes, this is pure plastic artifice/performance. Nothing new I know, this happens all the time in pop music – but suddenly I realized…

….that I had forgotten that the word “ballad” had originally referred to stories or narrative set to music, and that the form of the “ballad” song was not originally synonymous with simply “slow tempo songs”, but relating more to how the ballad was the medium for the stories that people told (set to music!).

So, when people buy into slow ballads such as this boyband ballad, is it because they are indeed, truly interested in watching the performance (as an obvious performance)? Is their main motivation for listening to it because they want to be absorbed into the drama or emotion?

Some weeks ago I realized that my interest in “horrifying” or bad music could perhaps be related to me being a nihilist at heart, which is why I gleefully embrace and hold up the symbols of youth-centric cultural mis-reappropriation and self-aware dumbing-down as the irrefutable proof that the world is quickly folding into an entropic black hole of meaning.

Its probably safe to say that most people probably don’t have such a complicated reason for listening to pop music, and maybe some people just enjoy the slower tempo of a ballad song compared to something faster or too “intense”.

But perhaps… they’re in it for the STORIES. This puts it into a different perspective for me. That ballads exist because they are vehicles for popular emotional narratives. I would love to believe that, because I might try to develop a better appreciation for even the slow numbers then! After all, everybody (including me) loves a good story, aye?


The Story Behind the Interpretive Dance in MBLAQ’s Y

In an attempt to understand how they came about with their dance and songs, I searched further and found a useful video in which they explain their dance in one of their other tracks in detail. You should watch the original video “Y” before reading further.

Presenting: MBLAQ – Y

Dance Lesson: MBLAQ’s G.O (left) and Lee Joon (right) explain the dance behind the track “Y”

Lee Joon explains, “After making an inverted triangle with both hands, spread the arms to create a Y with the entire body. Then, as if a man is making a fist and crying, bend down the upper body and gather the arms to the heart. To get emotional at this moment, act like you’re at the market. Give a feeling like you are demanding a discount. ‘Cut the price a little!'” [“양손으로 역삼각형을 만든 후 팔을 힘차게 뻗으며 온 몸으로 Y를 그린다. 그 다음 남자가 주먹을 쥐며 울듯이 상반신을 숙이며 팔을 가슴 쪽으로 모아준다”… “이때 감정이입을 위해 마트에 간 상황을 연출한다. 깎아달라는 느낌을 줘야한다”… “좀만 깎아줘”]

After that demonstration, G.O adds that you should put on a “시크” or chic facial expression (whatever that means) and he also adds this line of comedic gold: “Imagine when you are in a restaurant and 10 minutes has passed, 20 minutes has passed, and your order still has not come.” [“이 표정은 음식을 시켜놓고 10분이 지나도 20분이 지나도 음식이 나오지 않았을 때를 떠올려야한다”] (At this point, the camera hilariously cuts to Lee Joon’s face, suddenly seething with seriousness)

If this is not the most brilliant description of a dance ever (coming from the artistes themselves), I don’t know what is…

Now, please watch MBLAQ’s “Y” again.
(aka “Y U NO GIVE ME DISCOUNT? or Y U NO SERVE ME FOOD ALREADY?”)

A Visit to the Police Memory Booth

EXCITING MAIL AT THE ROWELL ROAD!!!
We received this “exciting” letter at the flat today. It was addressed to a “Loo Pin Seng” and was postdated 11 April 2012. Unfortunately, no one called Loo Pin Seng has ever lived at this address in at the very least the last 7 years, so this is a bona fide mystery!

What is the significance of the yellow paper though? I am not sure, for Taoist practices are completely alien to me. The Wikipedia page on Taoism in Singapore says that a “paper coloured yellow with a gold foil printed on it represents a gold tael”, so I think this might be joss paper. What is the significance of sending joss paper then?

We’ve passed this on to the friendly policeman at Rochor Police Station, who took our statement and wrote us and our account into a lovely little story which he printed out, got my housemate to sign, and then filed away for posterity. Although it was replete with typos and grammatical errors, I love the idea of this police man sitting here and writing down all these silly little stories all day long. Years ago I’d imagine the head of a town would do pretty much the same, minus the uniform.

Although it is a kind of memory booth, the crucial difference is that this is not a place to make up stories. I wonder whether the policemen have to go through a writing course, because they would be writing down all these statements, and how did they know how to write a compelling statement or story? Wouldn’t it be a bit like having to read the account of someone else’s dream, something that you won’t ever live but have to imagine being real because it was going to be set down in writing?

Behind us there was also a sign board that warned us that it was bad to tell false stories to policemen in order to get back at people who had offended you. It had a photo of two men sitting in the very same position that we were sitting in Rochor Police Station, across the counter from a policeman, and submitting their statements to a policeman. I looked up to the left and also saw the surveillance camera in the corner. The sign had a very longwinded story in it about a man who had told the policeman that someone had stolen his phone because the other man had offended him. It said that the lying man was jailed for 6 months for making a false statement. In the police memory booth, it is clear that there are some stories that will not be told, that the police refuse to tell and record – ie: those imaginary stories, the made up stories. How can we ever tell which is the true story? If we hadn’t made this legal statement, and because the police make their business about recording true stories, would this incident be any less real or true if not backed up by the physical statement written on the paper?

Anyway, if anyone wants to have a hot sexy chat with a mysterious english-speaking illegal loanshark, the hotline number to call is 83485909.