Literally the smallest movie – as in so sub-atomic you couldn’t even see the screen with an ordinary microscope – is A Boy and His Atom, which opened last week at a theater located deep within the molecular structure of your finger nail. In telling the touching tale of a boy and a bouncing atom (played by a real-life atom), the film not only recalls early Atari games, and it also gives rise to all sorts of metaphysical questions: we’re all atoms to begin with, so when we’re playing with atoms, how much smaller can we get? It’s almost obscene in a way, an amplified meta-nudity. Check it out here:
As NPR explained this week, IBM thinkers used a ‘scanning tunneling’ microscope cooled to 450 below zero to see and move each atom around on its magnetized backdrop. It’s not going to win any Oscars for subtlety of character shadings, but then again neither did the first films of Edison or the Lumières. And besides, it’s not even the point: these IBM brains aren’t really researching these atoms for the purposes of entertaining the Incredible Shrunken Man population, but to learn to create an ever-smaller, bigger, faster memory chip for data storage. Notes Andreas Heinrich, one of the film’s producers:
“Current magnets [used in data storage] are made about one-million atoms in size, but IBM says with the kind of technology demonstrated in A Boy and His Atom, they can do it with just 12 atoms.
With data storage units built on that minute scale, “you could carry around not just two movies on your iPhone, but you could carry around any movie that was ever produced,” he says. (NPR)
I’m presuming Heinrich means ‘every’ movie (as in ever made) instead of ‘any’ in that last paragraph, since you can carry ‘any’ movie around on your phone all ready, with the exception, perhaps of Shoah or Out 1.
When I’m home surrounded by my DVDs I’m generally forced to just watch Turner Classic Movies and hope for the best, because there’s just too damned many options to pick from. I have Kindle but I can’t read books on it for long, unless they’re really gripping, because why should I when there are so many hundreds of other options, right there at my finger tips? Now this teensy tiny film doesn’t just threaten the future of animation, it threatens the sanity of even the most decisive film collector. At a certain point the instant gratification of all cinematic desires will shrink our attention spans and ability to sit through opening credits or any boring stretch of cinema until even the above ‘smallest film ever made’ will–at barely over a minute–seem to drag (it already kind of does).
At any rate, atoms are here. Like it or not, they’ve become more than the mere building blocks of molecules. The next step of course is bio-interface. If we can record so much information on atoms, why not just swallow, inhale, inject or eye drop movies into our system? Imagine being able to watch Avatar in 4-D just by inhaling! And worse, never be able to flush it from your system.
PS – TIVO ALERT for Next Tuesday
Speaking of TCM, if you have it, and want to be brave, set your time for next Tues at five AM for The Secret Six (1931) – MGM stalwart Wallace Beery plays a ruffian stockyard worker nicknamed “Slaughterhouse” who leaves that job to become a gangster thug during prohibition, and starts campaigning for mayor on the “pig-sticker” ticket, with the stockyards howling and mooing away behind him. MGM wasn’t known for gangster pics, but this one is so early and crude it could fit right in with Warner Brothers. If nothing else it makes for an invaluable record of Chicago in the actual prohibition era: press rooms, stockyards, nightclubs, bottling plants, breweries, money changing hands, receipt tallying, shakedowns, political rallies, checks being written, highjacking, and blackmail all whisk by in between longer encounters. The cast includes Lewis Stone as the bitter Irish rival (the equivalent of O’Hara in SCARFACE), Jean Harlow as a ‘hired to hook ya’ hat checker, and Clark Gable in a bit part as a two-timing no good rat. You wouldn’t want to live with it in your molecular structure, but it’s worth inhaling.