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June 30, 2004

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Sam Raimi's Big Idea

Okay, so Sam Raimi’s idea might seem flaky…

The proposal: Position cameras above all major American cities and shoot one frame — a 24th of a second of film — each day at noon. The frames would be strung together gradually to create a continuous chronicle of each city’s development.

“It’s the same idea of all time-lapse photography, but over an outrageous amount of time,” Raimi told The Associated Press in an interview to promote “Spider-Man 2.” “So you could watch the city of Los Angeles rise, and maybe an earthquake might come in 300 years or a tidal wave.”

…but how cool would it be it someone had started this 50 years ago? It would be fascinating to see the last half-century of human habitation in LA — ooh, or Detroit, I wanna see Detroit — condensed like this.

Is he imagining a satellite, though, or just a camera bolted to the top of a hill?

I think the aerial view would be more interesting — maybe it could be a blimp or a balloon or something, not a satellite — ‘cause you’d really get to see the macro patterns of growth, the rings of development (leaving orbits of decrepitude in their wake).

It’s all very Long Now, you know?

Posted June 30, 2004 at 3:46 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Society/Culture


Rob's blog made me do something I try to do only when absolutely necessary. It made me bust out my calculator.

A frame of film takes a ridiculously short amount of time: only 1/24th of a second. A year's worth of footage, then, would yield only a little more than 15 seconds worth of film: five years, one minute. What's more, a film of this length wouldn't show very much that would catch the eye: the huge scale and length of time between frames would register only the most dramatic changes. Even the seasons would only register for about three or four seconds each. You'd be lucky if the camera caught a building the size of a sports stadium be built, let alone the eye register the change.

But when you extend the time period over decades or centuries, this changes dramatically. Robin's "Fifty Years of Urban Decay" project would yield about 12 and 1/2 minutes of film time: not bad for a creative short or public policy presentation piece. Three centuries gets you 76 minutes, the length of a short feature. (The entire history of the United States would take less than an hour.) Five hundred years is even better, more than two hours of footage.

At this macro-level, though, the project becomes something horrible. What seemed absurdly fast before now becomes absurdly slow: to watch a city be founded, grow, expand, and collapse, with every five years taking a full, continuous minute? A minute of screen time is long enough for a sense of stability to sink in, a sense of "this is the way things are now." Over a hundred times, that sense would be ripped away, replaced by sudden or gradual decline or growth: history's angel in the storm of progress.

[In 1940, Walter Benjamin wrote in an essay "On the Concept of History" (or "Theses on the Philosophy of History"): "This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."]

Posted by: Tim on July 1, 2004 at 02:57 PM
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