So I was thinking about what to write, when I was on Alex Ross' site, therestisnoise.com, and I saw that quote. It got me thinking about opera and how, when it first started, back in the 16th Century, it was probably the cutting edge of culture and technology. I can see the Florentines treating it with the same mix of enthusiasm and skepticism with which we are considering digital technology, at least for the purposes of this column. Opera may be a dying art, but the fact that it's lasted even this long tells me that we still crave meaning. We want to feel. We want to see ourselves in someone else's true love, murderous rage, or human tragedy. We want stories that touch our hearts with their archetypal simplicity.
That's never going to change. Content is content. It is the true revolution. Technology is just evolution. At its best, it's a tool. And, like any tool—any toy—people overuse it, at first. They want to take it for a spin, and see what this baby can do. So they smother a good story in a showcase of visual effects. Or they figure that if they pour enough movie magic onto a non-story, they can make something out of nothing. And that never works.
But digital technology is not the enemy, either. I guess maybe that's how the term digital schmigital came to me. First off, I am a Jew, so 'schm' is my native prefix. But, more to the point, it's my way of saying that technology is just that – technology. If stories are chocolate, then digital technology is a little bit like paraffin wax. It can provide a certain shape, scope, and sculpt-ability, but it can never give us a story. We are all still learning to harness what I think of [as] the cinematic equivalent of nuclear power. I get tempted. I am giving a soul to a robot, a dog, a dinosaur, or an object, and I get the urge to push it. It's like that painting that is perfect, until you ignore your better angels, and give it that one brush stroke that ruins it. The mantra is restraint, which sounds funny, coming from me.
So I guess the real question comes back to content, not form – and technology, form, as just a slave to content. I say this, realizing that the average attention span is shrinking, and so are the viral films that satisfy it. But it's not my place to judge the viewer, just the work, as a viewer, myself. And, at the end of the day, I judge everything—art, books, films, music, opera, ads—with my heart. Do I relate to it? Does it make me feel? Does it move me—to tears, to a smile, to love, to anger, to empathy, or to murder someone? Conceptually, thematically, and emotionally? If yes, then it works. If no, then it won't matter whether the content comes to me via a laptop, a TV, a movie theater, an iPod, as Anna Karenina on my new Kindle II, or as Il Trovatore on stage at the Met—it doesn't.