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Looks like film, but it’s not film.

Looks like film, but it’s not film. (photo)

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At the LA Weekly, on-the-verge-of-departure editor Scott Foundas pays Michael Mann a visit on the occasion of the release of “Public Enemies” on DVD. Foundas gets the director to open up a bit about the ways he’s been pushing digital photography into the avant-garde realm while shooting summer action movies.

“The advantage of the technology is in a search for its own aesthetic, not to try to duplicate what you can do on film,” Mann muses. “If I’m going to do that, I may as well shoot film.”

Indeed, though, judging by the underwhelming box office numbers for “Miami Vice” and “Public Enemies,” someone forgot to tell the public, who seem a little mixed about what Mann is doing. Shooting at night, he makes gunshots into startling light bursts, and indelibly captures LA’s afterhours grid in “Collateral.” But sometimes his tendency toward harsh camera movements and deliberate calling of attention to the technology’s inability to keep up the way film does seems less than productive.

Mann’s not the first to use video this way. It’s had its own cinematic following since the ’70s, mostly among boundary-pushers and the underground (Godard, Paul Cox, Rob Nilsson). It was only recently that the technology became both good and cheap enough to be thought of as a replacement for the expensive pain-in-the-ass of film.

Steven Soderbergh’s made a specialty of exploiting primitive digital for all its worth, as early as 2002’s (almost unwatchable) “Full Frontal,” which made a point of pointing out how different it looked from film. Those visuals were unredeemable — he’s since used digital filming for a series of mostly gorgeous movies.

01182010_collateral.jpgMann’s interested in taking digital to a new place — he compares it to architecture:

It’s not an analogue of film — it’s totally different. Just like when they first used steel in architecture, initially it was to make buildings that took their form from masonry buildings, even though they didn’t have to. You didn’t have to have a pediment on the roof, but a lot of early modern architecture, particularly in New York, did.

I think he’s laboring under a misapprehension. What the industry really wants is a flawless digital replacement for film that’ll make moviemaking faster and cheaper. The look of “film” is here to stay, whether or not it’s actually on film. The look of digital will be put to use in music videos and for certain visual flourishes, for effect, but it’s doubtful that it heralds a brave new world.

[Photos: “Public Enemies,” Universal, 2009; “Collateral,” DreamWorks, 2004]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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