a thousand authors

While writing about the 1979 movie Alien and what it can teach us about extractive capitalism, I noted that movies can be more nuanced, profound and comprehensive than the most philosophical texts because they have many authors – possibly even thousands.

Coincidentally, I came across this single frame (roughly .0005% of the entire movie) of the canonical movie Fury Road:

Foreground: actor John Howard as “People Eater”.

Let’s review the painting before us. The car is missing its roof. There is a safety / roll cage in the style of an iron grate, 19th century at lest. There are bolts holding a plate above the featured character (John).

John’s lips are cracked, he has beard stubble and his skin is shiny. His head is closely shaved with a red blotch above his forehead. He is wearing a filigree nose cover held in place with a thin chain as might have been used by a person suffering from syphilis of leprosy (i.e., his nose is gone, collapsed, the skin rotted away from a contagious disease.)

His seat belt is a wide tan leather belt. His suit jacket is covered in dust. His cufflinks are ceramic or plastic representations of nipples. (His full costume includes more such fetishes.) The sideview mirror is covered with a patina of rust or dirt. It appears to be attached with tape or another material.

The background character is wearing a leather mask that covers their entire head, depriving them of their full senses and us of their identity. Their eyes are covered with reflective lenses and what would be their ears is decorated with a circular band of apparently hand-shaped metal.

An additional ornamental reference to the human underneath is made with the large caliber bullets arranged vertically where the driver’s teeth might be. The middle bullet in this array is larger, where the character’s nose would be.

I’ve enumerated some 20 details in this frame, which is one of 172,800 frames in this movie. (We will not count the composition of the frame – the location of the viewer, floating alongside the moving vehicle –  nor the desert setting, time of day, color saturation, etc.) Not every one of the movie’s ~173k frames will have the same number of details; some scenes feature hundreds of extras (real or painted) such as this double plane composition:

An elevator from hell.

We can count at least a dozen characters in the foreground and at least a hundred bodies in the background, as well as two dozen significant mechanical pieces, from the “ribbed” tanker to the number of rocks inside the cage that serves as a counterweight to the elevator platform.

In sum, some frames will have many more details which means the total number of choices visible to the eye during the course of the movie approaches two million, at least.

We cannot doubt that bean counters will attempt to use computers (“AI”) to generate knock-off’s of scenes like the two I’ve summarized here. But it will be quite some time before Generative Antagonistic Networks can arrive at the total number of choices made by the hundreds if not thousands of humans whose labor produced such rich frames (if ever).

At best, they will create smears; cartoons, if that’s even the right word for it.

But I did not begin to describe the tremendous labor (of love) required to make the movie Fury Road in order to argue against the reductio ad simulacrum of computerized counterfeiters. I did so to celebrate the quite literally unimaginable creativity contained in movies, the product of many people working together.