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"Zodiac": Digital and analog

View image Cracking the cipher of a cracked cipher: The Zodiac Killer.

Over at MCN, Larry Gross has an intriguing take on David Fincher's "Zodiac" which I saw over the weekend. (As usual, I put off reading anything about the movie until after I'd seen it, including Manohla Dargis's dead-on review.) Gross, the screenwriter of "We Don't Live Here Anymore" and "True Crime," begins with this: "Zodiac" is an important postmodern work. It's an authentically “new” and even experimental thing attempting, to quote from Susan Sontag's essay "Against Interpretation," to put content in its place. It's very very much a film constructed on a 21st century conception of information as a non-substantive, purely relational digital phenomenon, and the fact that it was shot on video and exists immaterially as digital information is thus not a merely decorative issue but crucial to its meaning.I said something kind of similar recently about the "digital dimension" of David Lynch's "Inland Empire" that is quite different from "Zodiac":..."Inland Empire" unfolds in a digital world (a replication of consciousness itself -- hence the title), where events really do transpire in multiple locations at the same time (or multiple times at the same place), observers are anywhere and everywhere at once, and realities are endlessly duplicable, repeatable and tweakable."Zodiac," on the other hand, impressed me as very much an analog film. Yes, it was shot on HD video (though with few of the showy CGI tricks Fincher played with in "Fight Club" and "Panic Room" (2002)), but the narrative, technique and structure of the film are inexorably linear and chronological.

The two effects shots that stand out -- following a taxi from directly above as it moves through the streets to an intersection where a murder will take place; and a time-lapse view of the construction of the Transamerica pyramid building -- both emphasize the unity of time and space, one as a measurement of the other. Scene after scene in "Zodiac" begins with a timecode that places it not only in a historical context (month, day, year) but in relationship to the previous scene ("two days later"; "three months later"). As I recall (from a single viewing, not knowing what to expect) there are no flashbacks, not even any instances of parallel action. Continuity is strictly linear: this happened, then this, then this... And the movie is just as specific about its geographical coordinates, because the precise location (and the distances between points) is just as important to establishing what happened, and who the killer is, as the exact time when the killings took place. ("Took place" -- ha! Good time/place term.)

Movie Answer Man

Movie Answer Man (11/01/1994)

Q. The casting of the original "Gone With the Wind" created a world-wide frenzy among movie fans. Who should star in "Scarlett," the TV miniseries? A. I hope they choose a real actress, and not one of the transparent TV beauties with a high Q rating. True, most of the top movie actresses refuse to work in TV, but given the high profile of this project and the $8 million already paid for the rights, this should be the sort of project designed to change their minds.