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Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database

Author: Lev Manovich, Andreas Kratky
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005
Review Published: February 2007

 REVIEW 1: Tico Romao

When we started to work on Soft Cinema in the Spring of 2002, my inspiration for using multi-frame screen layouts came from just a couple of sources -- specifically the works by film directors Peter Greenaway and Mike Figgis, as well as some works from the 1960s "expanded cinema" paradigm. It was interesting to watch how in the last couple of years mainstream TV programs started to use similar multi-frame layouts more and more frequently. And yet I think that the possibilities of this visual format are still barely touched upon. I am planning to work on Soft Cinema 2 where I want to use dozens of windows simultaneously ...

If you do a search for "control room" using Google Image Search, you will find pictures of lots of different facilities: from a TV editing studio to a NASA center. What they all, however, have in common is the presence of multiple sources of information -- typically monitors, LCD displays, large scale monitor walls, etc. Whatever situation, process, or an object people in a control room are monitoring or controlling, they are simultaneously tracking it from multiple points of view, comparing multiple sources of information, asking for more information sources, etc. For me such a control room represents one of characteristic spaces of contemporary society, and I want to use such a "control room" structure for Soft Cinema 2.

Having now a distance from Soft Cinema made me see more clearly what it was all about. When we were working on putting together the movies for the DVD and dealing with our own software which occasionally did not work as it was supposed to, I was wondering if it was actually necessary to use it. I was thinking if I could have done without the software: now that I had a sense of what kind of sequences it was generating, could not I simulate it myself by editing sequences manually? So I tried to do this -- and it did not work at all. No matter how much I tried to make unpredictable decisions, the result was something familiar -- and very different from the video sequences our software was assembling using the database of clips and their metadata assigned by us. This exercise made me realize why it was necessary to spend many months putting the whole software system together and then suffer through its bugs and occasional misbehavior. Although the software was relying on keywords and other meta-data which we have assigned ourselves, the result had its own logic which was different from our familiar logic. Creating the Soft Cinema system allowed us to look at the collection of video clips in a new way, transcending "normal" ways of understanding them. This, for me, is the key achievement of the Soft Cinema project.

3. Many people have asked me if they can use our software for their projects. Although in principle we are all for it, when people start using your software they inevitably need some support, and unfortunately neither I nor Andreas Kratky have time to provide such support.

However, there is another piece of software which has been used successfully for a number of years and it is well documented: www.korsakow.com.

Korsakow tool does not do multiple windows but it is a good way to get started exploring what it means to make films from databases, so I highly recommend it.

Lev Manovich, January 31, 2007

Lev Manovich


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