Opening Notes

D’Arcy Jenish,Barbara Righton November 15 1999

Opening Notes

D’Arcy Jenish,Barbara Righton November 15 1999

Opening Notes

Tanya Davies

Fire and brimstone filmmaking

At the North American première of Dogma, its writer and director Kevin Smith stood up in front of a Toronto International Film Festival audience to introduce his controversial religious satire. “Well, the roof hasn’t fallen and lightning hasn’t struck, so I guess we’re OK in the eyes of the Lord. ” Smith was referring to his year-long battle to convince church leaders and movie executives that Dogma, which has been accused of being anti-Catholic and anti-faith, is, in fact, the exact opposite. Although the church takes a bit of ribbing, says Smith, “it is affectionate ribbing, not flat-out mockery.”

An indie darling based on his past movies, Clerks, Chasing Amy 2nd Mallrats, Smith is entering new ground with Dogma. Besides the controversy, it was his first time working with a big budget and young A-list stars, including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris Rock and Ottawa native Alanis Morissette, who plays God. The hot cast, though, presented its own set of problems. “First, we lost Ben to Shakespeare in Love, and then he and Matt had to go pick up their Oscar. Rock was still out on Lethal Weapon 4,” laughs Smith. “Suddenly, it was like, ‘When did this happen?’ The last few flicks people slept on my

couch, we got up and made the movie.”

But more than just scheduling made Dogma hard to film. Even before shooting started, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights began publicly attacking the production company, Miramax Films, and its parent, The Walt Disney Co., for backing an immoral picture. The heads of Miramax, brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, distanced Disney from the film by buying Dogma from Miramax using their own money.

Still, more protests could ensue once

Dogma opens on Nov 12. It includes two homicidal angels, sex-crazed prophets and a Skee Ball-obsessed God. It even has a “Catholicism Wow” campaign that changes the crucifix image of Christ to the Buddy Jesus because, “Christ didn’t come here to give us the willies.” While the Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada has attacked the film, Suzanne Scorsone, director of communications at the Archdiocese of Toronto, believes that the “burgeoning exploration of religion through film, whether one likes the outcome or not, is a hopeful sign.”

Web frivolity

Witty. Obsessive. Surreal. Thanks to this bizarre recipe, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency (www.mcsweeneys.net) is one of the Internet’s most talked-about humour Web sites. Edited, designed and published by American David Eggers, the 29-year-old co-creator of the now defunct satire magazine Might and a former Esquire editor-at-large, McSweeney’s celebrates writing outside of

the mainstream. “On the Web, you just get some stupid idea and put it online,” says Eggers, who publishes the site from his Brooklyn apartment. “McSweeney’s is a home for writing that has no home, or has been killed elsewhere.” McSweeney’s is also published quarterly in paperback, for which Eggers enlists both unknowns and established writers. Stories range from a “Whitmanic” poem—Even though your feet smell like cheese// prefer to think, they smell/ Like good cheese—to a wry 28,000-word essay chronicling a correspondence with the Unabomber.

The Web site began as a reaction to what Eggers believes is the “goodenoughness” approach to mainstream magazine writing he encountered while working at Esquire. Instead, he craved the freedom he had when still an independent publisher. “A magazine putting me on staff was like a girl thinking she can make a gay guy go straight,” he says. “It just couldn’t work.”

McSweeney’s success online is translating to an increase in paperback sales: circulation has grown from 2,500 in

1998 to 7,000 for the current issue. And Eggers and his magazine are winning notice in mainstream magazines such as The New Yorker. Ironically, the qualities magazine editors praise—McSweeney’s frivolity and elevation of the pure written word—are the very things Eggers believes they would never put into print. That leaves him the patron saint of wayward prose, something he would not have any other way. “Outside of flagellating myself and not leaving the house,” he says, “I have a lot of fun publishing stuff that wouldn’t get published elsewhere.”

Explorer

The age of digital cameras

Five years ago, digital still photography was still in its infancy. Now, the technology is improving so quickly that a camera that looks good in June, just in time for summer vacation, may be outdated by the time Christmas arrives. “Anything that’s been on the shelves longer than six months is old in

this business,” says Andrew Patrick, sales manager at Toronto-based Vistek Ltd., which bills itself as Canada’s largest digital photo store. In fact, change is occurring so quickly that many experts now wonder how long film will last. Some, like Eddie Cheung of Aden Camera on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, see film and digital cameras co-existing, like ovens and microwaves, as complementary products for many years. Others aren’t as sure. “I don’t know where film is going to be in five years,” says John Donovan, who sells both types of cameras.

For now, film is safe because it still yields a superior five-by-seven-inch print, the staple of the consumer market. But digital photos are getting better because manufacturers keep packing more pixels, the tiny dots that capture colour, on their CCDs—the devices that record images and transform them into electrical charges that can be stored on removable flash-memory cards. Most manufacturers include an eight-megabyte memory card, capable of storing about 110 low-resolution images, with the camera. The cards can be transferred to a personal computer and the images manipulated endlessly— backgrounds can be erased or colours altered—and images can be used in Web sites or attached to e-mails. Digital also has other attractions. Most of the cameras come with built-in liquid crystal display panels so users can see an image on-screen as they shoot it. And the majority have a playback feature, which allows a person to review on the LCD monitor the pictures

they have taken for the purpose of erasing those that are unsatisfactory.

Below is a selected buying guide to digital cameras grouped by pixel count, which determines the resolution or quality of a photo.

LOW RESOLUTION

1 million to 1.5 million pixels

Kodak DC215 (retail price: $599) and Kodak DC215 Millennium 2000 (retail price: $749): The DC215, Kodak’s entrylevel digital camera, is a compact product that will fit into a shirt pocket. Both come with one-million-pixel CCDs, which is low by current standards and can mean grainy rather than crisp photos. The differences in the two models begin with the looks—the Millennium 2000 is goldcoloured while its lower-priced cousin is silver. The basic DC215 comes with a four-megabyte memory card, again low by the standards of the moment, but it can store up to 54 images of average resolution. The Millennium is sold with a removable eight-megabyte card, which can hold up to 115 pictures.

Fuji MX-500 (retail price: $599) and Fuji MX-600 (retail price: $799): Both these cameras are light, compact, attractively designed and come with 1.5 million pixels. The MX-500 has a lens equivalent to those on standard 3 5-mm film cameras, and the MX-600 has a zoom comparable to a 35-mm-to-105-mm lens. Both come with built-in flash, meaning users cannot attach their own units. The

playback feature allows users to view their photos either one at a time or up to nine simultaneously. There is also a zoom playback in which the image can be enlarged four times and part of it examined up close on the LCD monitor.

Canon PowerShot A50 (retail price: $799): The 1.3-million-pixel A50 is noteworthy because its size, 103 mm by 68 mm by 37 mm, and its weight, just 260 g, made it, briefly, the worlds smallest and lightest digital camera. It comes with a built-in zoom lens and motor drive, always an expensive addon to a 35-mm camera, which allows continuous shooting at a rate of one frame per second.

Agfa ePhoto CL50 (retail price: $1,000): Users can talk to this 1.3million-pixel camera, feeding it caption information such as time, place and subject, which will be recorded digitally and can be played back when the image is displayed on a computer screen. It also comes with a built-in prism designed to capture sunlight and conserve the batteries used to run the camera.

Minolta Dimâge EX Zoom 1500 and Dimâge EX Wide 1500 (retail price: $ 1,000 each): The difference between these 1.5-million-pixel cameras is in the lens. The Zoom can bring subjects up close with its range of 38 mm to 115 mm, and the Wide shoots everything in wide-angle at the equivalent of 28 mm. Minolta has also built the CCD into the lens, meaning that when a new device with a higher pixel count becomes available, users need only replace their lens, not the entire camera.

MEDIUM RESOLUTION

2.1 million pixels

Nikon Coolpix950 (retail price: $1,500): Quality of image, ease of use and the black magnesium body have made the Coolpix950 a top seller this fall, according to several leading retailers. It comes with a built-in zoom, which can be converted to a macrolens for closeups merely by clicking on a digital icon displayed on the LCD monitor. In macro mode, users can

take pictures of small objects from two centimetres away, while other cameras cannot get closer than four centimetres. Another unique feature is “best shot selection,” which allows the camera to choose the sharpest image from a series of consecutive shots of similar subjects.

Canon PowerShot S10 (retail price: $1,000): Virtually the same size as the PowerShot A50, the S10, launched in late October, ensures that Canon will retain the “worlds smallest” tide for now. It includes many of the standard features found in digital cameras, such as automatic white balance in which the user clicks on an icon to indicate whether the picture is being taken in bright sunlight, under cloud cover or fluorescent light and the camera adjusts the shutter speed to account for such conditions. But the S10 is one of the few cameras capable of using IBM’s $799 micro-drive memory card, which can store up to 500 low-resolution images.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F55 (retail price: $1,199): Other manufacturers are using standardized square memory cards as image storage devices, but Sony utilizes a device called the memory stick, which resembles a piece of chewing gum. The memory stick can be used in Sony photo accessories such as photo printers, but cannot be used in any other manufacturer’s camera. As well, the Cyber-shot contains a digital zoom, meaning an image can be enlarged only on the LCD screen. A user cannot zoom in on a subject while taking a picture. Therefore, a subject shot from 100-m away will look as though it was taken from that distance, and if enlarged on paper, will be grainy.

Ricoh RDC-5000 (retail price: $1,299): This camera is equipped with a 38-mm-to-86-mm zoom lens that can be switched to macro mode for closeups in which it is nearly as good as the Nikon Coolpix950. It can focus on an object just four centimetres away. The Ricoh’s motor drive is slower than some of its competitors—it shoots one frame per second—

but it produces higher-resolution images. Unlike most other digital cameras, the RDC-5000 contains both a built-in eight-megabyte memory card and a port for inserting portable cards. This can be a useful feature for someone taking pictures while on vacation because the camera contains reserve storage capacity when the portable memory card is full.

Fuji MX-2900 Zoom (retail price: $1,400): The Japanese manufacturer’s flagship camera, the MX-2900 has an external bracket allowing users to connect their own flash units, which may be brighter or more versatile than a built-in flash. The camera comes with a 35-mmto-105-mm telephoto lens, but it also includes digital zoom capabilities, which means an image can be magnified 7.5 times for viewing on the LCD panel prior to shooting, a feature that can be used for checking facial expressions or lighting.

HIGH RESOLUTION

2.5 million pixels

Olympus C-2500L (retail price: $2,439): Olympus is the first manufacturer to break the 2.1-million-pixel barrier. Designed for professionals and serious amateurs, the C-2500L produces images that are sharper than ever, with richer colours and truer contrasts, according to experts. More important, it means the quality gap between digital and film photography continues to shrink.

In fact, the strides made in digital cameras since the start of the year have convinced many commercial users, such as companies that produce retail catalogues, and wedding photographers, to switch from film, says Vistek’s Patrick. And consumers are showing greater interest in the new technology says Donovan. “Some days, I get 20 inquiries about digital and 10 about film,” he says. “Digital is definitely the new kid on the block.”

D’Arcy Jenish

I Explorer_

Putting pictures online

A popular use of digital cameras is to create electronic family photo albums on a personal computer. Pictures can be inserted into greeting cards that are designed on-screen, they can be sent by e-mail to relatives and friends elsewhere, or used in Web sites. But what happens to pictures captured on photographic film? They can be left to languish in a traditional photo album, or they can be converted to digital images on a scanning device and join the electronic age.

Over the past year, entry-level scanners have fallen in price from the $800 to $1,000 range to as little as $220 for an Agfa SnapScan. Computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard Co., as well as camera companies such as Olympus, Minolta and Canon, all produce moderately priced scanners aimed at the consumer market. And there are many cheaper clones available, which often incorporate components purchased from the brand-name companies.

Flat-bed scanners, the most common format currently available, are small enough to sit on a desk top and resemble a miniature photocopier. Users lift the lid and place the object to be scanned face down on a glass plate. But rather than create a paper copy, the scanner transmits an image to a PC where it is displayed onscreen. Almost anything flat—maps, pages from books and magazines, even coins or medallions—can be scanned, making the devices useful for students who need to incorporate text and images into school projects. Dual-purpose scanners are used the same way as flat-beds, but can also convert images from a film negative to digital. All that technology isn’t cheap though: they start at $1,000.

D’Arcy Jenish

Double Take

A master artist returns

Canadian wildlife artist Glen Loates approaches visitors to his studio in Richmond Hill, Ont., with his eyes averted and his voice so low it is almost inaudible. Shaking hands, he whispers: “Hi, I’m Jim.” And then he chuckles. Clearly, he like to disconcert the unsuspecting. And that is exacdy what his new art will do once his book Dwellers of the Deep is published next year. The work was inspired by a 1986 trip more than 1.6 km below the surface of the Adantic Ocean off the coast of Bermuda with the likes of Jaws author Peter Benchley and Canadian ocean explorer Dr. Joseph Maclnnis. It is Loates as his wildlife fans have never seen him: grotesquely beautiful monster fish with gaping jaws and eyes the size of pin dots, giant squid and human-like creatures. “The monsters could be real,” says Loates,

who is known for his realistic portraits of wildlife. “I have created a new life form inspired by actual deep-sea fish.” And with their creation, at age 54, after suffering two severe injuries, Loates has come full circle.

Growing up in Toronto, Loates liked to draw fantastic creatures, until his mentor, landscape artist Fred Brigden, encouraged him to change direction. So, for more than 30 years, starting with his first showing at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum at age 19, Loates has built a worldwide reputation drawing wolves, foxes and blue jays. His painting of an American bald eagle was presented to thenPresident Ronald Reagan in 1982, and still hangs in the Oval Office. Both former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and Prince Philip own originals.

Loates still loves wildlife, but now that he suffers from osteoporosis, he doesn’t go on field trips as much anymore. Since 1996, he has been debilitated by two severe leg injuries that not only sidelined him physically, but sank him into depression that caused him to give up drawing. This month, he is making a comeback with his first new wildlife work in three years, a painting of a cougar cub commissioned by the Scarborough Rotary Club in Toronto, to raise money for hospital equipment. He is also selling 21 artist’s proofs for $1,100 each. “I think they will go fast,” says Loates, who is married with two sons. “Wildlife art attracts more people than many of the paintings by the great masters.” Especially art by a wildlife master.

Barbara Righton