HD and Me

There are lots of ways to judge one’s age. Birthday parties, for instance. They’re always a good clue.

Once one outgrows parties with ponies, other intrusions infiltrate the mindscape, offering the time-is-passing alert.

Some hints about chronological age arrive without invitation or notice. Here’s one I recently experienced.

A recent week-long diet of exposure to digital, wide screen, high definition television made me yearn for the “old days.” Those would be the days when television images appeared in a 3×4 format and resembled the grainy 35 mm film one expects in old documentary cinema.

HD TV is clean, sterile, antiseptic. The problem? The fictional TV shows’ sets look exactly like sets. Instead of the real fake locations one expects to see on fictional television.

It’s weirdness reminiscent of a time 60-plus years ago.

Then, emerging at the conclusion of World War II, Italian “Neorealism” became a much-heralded style of filmmaking. It was a breath of fresh air, an aesthetic sensibility distinctly different from the tightly controlled precision of productions taking place on Hollywood sound stages.

Typified by on-location filmmaking, natural lighting and non-professional actors, together these features enhanced the Neorealist film’s sense of “realness” and immediacy. Gritty narratives drove home the “This ain’t Hollywood” message.

Vittorio DeSica and Roberto Rossellini became celebrity directors thanks to their Neorealist movies: “Bicycle Thief” and “Rome, Open City” are well-known examples. Only slightly later, the English version of Neorealism is the group of “Angry Young Men” directors and their working class films.

But the weirdness (maybe it’s a paradox) of Neorealism was the directors’ insistence on employing the uncluttered cleanliness of post-production, studio recorded, dubbed-in sound. Dialogue leaving actors’ mouths and ambient sound effects that all sounded highly artificial.

Especially in contrast to the films’ stories and images, the sanitized sound was jarringly incongruent.

I respond nearly identically to digital HD TV.

Mind you, I am not one of the audiophiles who longs nostalgically for the pops and hisses of vinyl records. The current craze for vinyl, one has to think, is simply that: a craze or a fad.

And I know my complaint is a curious one: fakery impersonating reality is undermined by hyper-realism.

Returning from vacation, I once again immersed myself in the low definition analog television world. Another year older.