Watch And Learn

Anyone who has ever held more than a few conversations with me probably already knows that if I found myself locked in a room with just a television and a stack of documentaries, I would be okay with that.  Everyone always talks about the selection on Netflix in terms of popular hit movies, star-power, and overall commercially successful offerings, but my favorite thing about the watch-on-demand subscription service is its extensive catalog of intriguing documentaries.  There’s nothing better, to me, than learning how other people see the world.

I’m not much of a reader; I tend to find it too labor intensive, what with holding a physical book in place, turning pages, and having to sit in particular positions – it also hurts my eyes and gives me a headache.  With a documentary, I can sit, stand, or lie down, and if I take my eyes off the screen, so what!  I watched a pair of excellent films tonight, and I highly recommend them.

First up was “Indie Game: The Movie”, which as one might guess, is about the world of independent game developers, especially for Xbox Live Arcade.  The film focuses primarily on the creators of titles such as “Super Meat Boy”, “Fez”, and “Braid,” though the film uses them as examples, rather than particular subject matter.  But seriously, what’s cooler than a boy without skin trying to save his girlfriend made of bandages?

This film is yet another chapter in my love affair with Kickstarter (you might recall my affinity for the “Ostrich Pillow” which is another Kickstarter campaign).  As to be expected, the film offers a host of interesting behind-the-scenes perspectives.  I might have guessed that an independent game would take a few months to produce, but was surprised to learn that “Fez” was in production for five years.  The developers themselves are “fight the man” types who could be working for big-name game studios like Electronic Arts or Epic (two specific examples mentioned by one of the designers in the film), but they have a love for gaming that is more than the desire to make a successful product – they want to make games that they would love to play themselves.  Not always riches and fame, the life of an independent game designer can be downright torturous.  Hats off to them.

Next I watched “Pianomania”, about the master tuner for Steinway & Sons.  No one could possibly imagine the intricate details of tailoring the sound of a piano to its player’s needs.  Much more than simply making sure it’s in tune, the skill of the piano tuner is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

The nuances of tweaks here and there are nearly imperceptible to the untrained ear, but a concert pianist can, without watching the tuner, sit down afterwards and pick out the adjustments.  “Ahh, you put more relief in that hammer,” or “this note feels more alive now.”  Incredible!  If ever you had interest in watching a documentary about someone turning a seemingly tedious, mundane job into an absolute work of art, “Pianomania” is the one.  A fair warning, however: it’s filmed in Austria, so unless you speak German, you will have to read subtitles.  Don’t be a baby.  It’s worth it.

-J

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~ by hamiltonjacobs on October 31, 2012.

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