Persistence of vision

Unfortunately it’s not really practicable for me to go to see The Hobbit screened in 48 frames-per-second. I should be very interested to see what it looked like: it’s an obvious improvement in quality. The long-established standard (since 1929) of 24 fps is plainly inadequate: even Thomas Edison commented at the time that it wasn’t enough, and I for one can clearly see strobing on fast movement. I expect most people can (though I do seem to have a slightly shorter persistence of vision than normal) but they are so used to it that they don’t notice it.

So why, if it’s an obvious improvement, are so many people complaining about it? It’s an observable phenomenon that people get used to imperfections and find difficulty in adjusting to improvements.

Example: The Quad Electrostatic loudspeaker which appeared in the 1950s was far and above the most accurate loudspeaker available at that time - even over 50 years later it’s still better and more accurate quality than many modern conventional box-type speakers. At the time it showed up almost every other ‘hi-fi’ speaker for the unpleasant squawk-box it really was. And yet many people complained that it was ‘clinical’ - meaning, I suppose, that it lacked the colorations and distortions they were used to hearing, and so they didn’t like it.

Another example: many people complain that transistor amplifiers don’t sound as good as valve amplifiers (I’m talking about high-quality ones here - there are plenty of bad ones about, and always were, but that’s not relevant) - meaning that they missed the warm, fat, cuddly sound of many valve amplifiers (which is caused by microphony - the valves being vibrated by the sound from the speakers, and so colouring the sound).

An extreme example - some years back I was working on a BBC World Service programme in an Indian language, which included some LPs of songs from films (almost all Indian films have lots of songs in them). The quality was terrible, despite their being (then) modern recordings. I commented on this, and was told that the bulk of the population, living in the countryside, had got used over the years to the very poor quality of the soundtracks in local cinemas; and if they heard the songs in a good quality recording they wouldn’t accept them as sounding correct.

I could go on: but the point is that 48 fps must surely be an improvement, but once again it will meet with considerable resistance from people to whom cinema is not authentic if it doesn’t display the same faults it always has.

Dialogue which will live for ever

A discussion on Facebook arising from someone having watched the Taylor-Burton ’Cleopatra’ on BBC4 reminds me that it has a wonderfully daft line when Octavian finds Apollodorus, who has poisoned himself. Octavian says, 'A strange people - their poison smells like perfume', then he hands the poison to a soldier and says 'Have this analyzed'...! Have this analyzed? in 31BC? What for - earth, air, fire and water?

But the 1933 Hollywood version (which didn’t take itself so seriously) also has two splendid lines - someone speaking to Antony: ‘You and your “Friends, Romans, countrymen”’ and, in a scene set in Alexandria, ‘Your Majesty, a carrier pigeon has just arrived from Rome’...

Cathedrals and Abbeys

I’ve always enjoyed the technical challenge of taking photos in churches, and a month or so back I posted an album of pictures taken in various cathedrals including Lincoln, Rochester, St. Paul’s, Coventry and Exeter. These were taken on real 35mm film, long before the advent of digital photography, and the interiors in particular provided an interesting exercise in getting the exposure correct - the camera had no automatic exposure and I used a Weston Master exposure meter.

I will admit to some digital post-production in sharpening up the pictures and unskewing them to correct the inevitable converging verticals.

The album is online here:
Cathedrals and Abbeys and includes an automatic slideshow with larger images.

Shankar Shankaramurthi

I was sorry to see in 'Prospero' (the newsletter for BBC pensioners) that the BBC World Service Tamil producer Shankar Shankaramurthi has died at the age of 81. He was a splendid gentleman, cheerful, enthusiastic, committed to his work and unfailingly polite.

Among his productions were several Shakespeare adaptations, transmitted in episodes because their transmissions were fairly short. I worked on several of these, including Hamlet.

I didn't work on the episode with the fencing match: apparently his enthusiasm led him to insist on participating in the duel himself, using one of the foils (fencing swords) from the Sound Effects collection - he was waving it around like Errol Flynn. I have to say I wouldn't have allowed this - he had seriously impaired vision, and might easily have put someone's eye out: and you don't fence with sound effects swords, you point them downwards and bang them together (or on a metal music stand).

For some reason Shakespeare identifies the gravediggers as 1st and 2nd Clowns: an over-literal interpretation of this led him to get the actors to perform in a very exaggerated comic manner which apparently is the norm for comic characters in Indian drama but sounded rather out of place here. Most of it was convincingly done, however.

When we recorded the speech 'O what a rogue and peasant slave am I' I commented to the English producer handling the technical side that it seemed rather short: she said 'Yes, he's cut it'. I said 'I hope he didn't cut "To be or not to be"' - she said, 'No, he liked that one so much he expanded it'.

This is not a blog

It looks like one. Indeed I’m using blog software for convenience, but it’s not going to be one of those regularly-updated ramblings we’re so familiar with. I ran a blog for several years - Wilmut’s World Wide Weblog - which I started principally to make myself familiar with blogging techniques. It was interesting to do for a time, but in the end updating it regularly became too much of a chore and I closed it in 2010.

So if this isn’t a blog, what is it? Occasionally I feel like writing something on a subject which isn’t covered by my other web pages on
technical notes, 78rpm records, photos or music-hall, but never get round to it because I would have to create an unconnected page. Using RapidWeaver’s blog software I can write when I feel like it, keeping the articles together, and this simplifies the whole process.

So I don’t promise to write frequently, and I can’t predict whether the results will be of much interest. The internet is cluttered with personal blogs which add nothing to human knowledge and which probably nobody reads. This may be just another one - but it’s not a blog.