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11 Movies that Shaped the Digital Revolution

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Hollywood is changing: Paramount Pictures no longer produces films on celluloid and Old Guard directors like Martin Scorsese are shooting their movies with digital cameras. Here’s a list of important films that helped propel Tinseltown’s controversial shift from film into digital, from niche-market fad to high-profile industry standard.

1. Julia and Julia

We’re not talking about the 2009 Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams movie about Julia Child here. This 1987 Italian drama directed by Peter del Monte and starring Kathleen Turner was the first movie shot with Sony’s High Definition Video System. At the time, the film had to be converted onto 35mm so it could be shown in theaters. See what you think about the nascent digital format for yourself—the entire film is available on YouTube above.

2. The Last Broadcast

Shot in a docudrama style, this low-budget 1998 American horror movie about searching for the Jersey Devil in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens predates the similarly inexpensive and much more famous Blair Witch Project by a year, and was allegedly the first feature length film shot and edited on consumer-grade equipment. The whole movie is available on YouTube for your spooky viewing pleasure.

3. and 4. The Celebration/The Idiots

These two films by infamous Danish directors Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998 and were shot using the Sony DCR-PC7E and DCR-VX1000, respectively. They somewhat adhere to the goals of the Dogme 95 movement, a set of restrictive cinematic rules set down by a group of filmmakers—including Vinterberg and von Trier—who sought to emphasize “actual story and the actors’ performances” above all else. Despite the fact that one of the rules states, “The film format must be Academy 35mm,” both movies ushered in a more widely accepted view of digital cinema that fit along nicely with the burgeoning independent film movement of the 1990s.

5. Once Upon a Time in Mexico

The third and final installment in director Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico Trilogy featuring the El Mariachi character played by Antonio Banderas, Once Upon a Time in Mexico was shot in 2001 and released in 2003 and was among the first wide-release movies to be shot using 24-frames-per-second HD cameras meant to mimic the look of film. After seeing test footage shot by director George Lucas, Rodriguez would shoot all of his movies—including the highly stylized Sin City—digitally.

6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

For director George Lucas, innovation has always come hand in hand with controversy. Though he and the CGI masters at Industrial Light and Magic would use some HD digital cameras for effects shots on The Phantom Menace, Lucas decided to shoot the middle chapter in his prequel trilogy entirely on Sony’s HDW-F900. It marked the first time that a massive blockbuster dared to question the sanctity of celluloid, and despite the relatively lackluster critical response, the film ushered in a new era of digital acceptance. Much like its unconventional predecessor Julia and Julia, many theaters showing the movie screened it in 35mm despite Lucas’ plea to convert their projectors to digital. Lucas would also shoot the last film in the trilogy, Revenge of the Sith, digitally, and has been a big proponent of the digital revolution ever since.

7. Russian Ark

The same year that a blockbuster broke down digital barriers, an ambitious Russian film showed cinephiles just what the new format was capable of. Director Alexander Sokurov used HD video cameras to shoot his 2002 movie Russian Ark all in a single, unbroken 96-minute Steadicam shot. Numerous films had used long takes and had been edited to make them look like they were comprised of one continuous shot (perhaps most notably Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope), but never before had film been able to legitimately maintain the uninterrupted balletic narrative—not to mention the logistics—of Russian Ark.

8. Collateral

American auteur Michael Mann had dabbled in digital video while shooting certain sequences in his 2001 biopic Ali, but it wasn’t until 2004’s Collateral that he began to really embrace the new technology. Though some minimal shots are 35mm, Collateral’s mix of the Thomson VIPER FilmStream camera and Sony’s ubiquitous F900 gave the look and feel of nighttime Los Angeles the director required—something that couldn’t be achieved via normal lighting techniques on film. Mann has been a digital convert ever since and has paved the way for other auteurs like Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher to go digital as well.

9. Slumdog Millionaire

Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle could perhaps be labeled the godfather of digital cinema. Mantle served behind the camera for The Celebration and continued to quietly hone the use of digital cameras in movies from Danny Boyle’s zombie flick 28 Days Later to Lars von Trier’s sparse chamber pieces Dogville and Manderlay. But it wasn’t until 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire—also directed by Danny Boyle—that digital cinematography was finally accepted on a major scale. Though scenes were shot with 35mm, Slumdog became the very first movie with digital cinematography to win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. It would also go on to win Best Picture. Mantle shot his next collaborations with von Trier (Antichrist) and Boyle (127 Hours) using digital cameras as well.

10. Avatar

The highest grossing movie of all time also happens to be the first 100 percent digitally photographed film to win an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Not since George Lucas’ Attack of the Clones had a director tried to fundamentally change the cinema-going experience and, love him or hate him, James Cameron meant to do just that. He immersed audiences in the alien world of Pandora by incorporating groundbreaking 3D along with the digital Fusion Camera System to capture his vision, ushering in the final shift towards digital cinema for the majority of major movie productions.

11. Hugo

No contemporary figure has done more for the preservation and appreciation of film than director Martin Scorsese. He is, after all, the man who created The Film Foundation. So it was a surprising move for film fanatic Scorsese to shoot his 2011 movie Hugo using digital cameras. Hugo won an Academy Award win for Best Cinematography, and it was the first step leading to Scorsese abandoning film as a format altogether; his next film, The Wolf of Wall Street, was the first major studio film to be released to theaters exclusively in the digital format.

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.


Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?


This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.


An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.


Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.


Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.


Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.


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