the bible on dvd: another weird embodiment of the book on screen 02.19.2006, 5:50 PM
posted by ben vershbow
The bible has long been a driver of innovation in book design, and this latest is no exception: an ad I saw today on TV for the complete King James Bible on DVD. Not a film, mind you, but an interactive edition of the old and new testaments built around a graphical rendering of an old bible open on a lectern that the reader, uh viewer, uh... reader controls. Each page is synched up to a full-text narration in the "crystal clear, mellow baritone" of Emmy-winning Bible reader Stephen Johnston, along with assorted other actors and dramatic sound effects bringing the stories to life.
There's the ad to the right (though when I saw it on BET the family was black). You can also download an actual demo (Real format) here. It's interesting to see the interactivity of the DVD used to mimic a physical book -- even the package is designed to suggest the embossed leather of an old bible, opening up to the incongruous sight of a pair of shiny CDs. More than a few analogies could be drawn to the British Library's manuscript-mimicking "Turning the Pages," which Sally profiled here last week, though here the pages replace each other with much less fidelity to the real.
There's no shortage of movie dramatizations aimed at making the bible more accessible to churchgoers and families in the age of TV and the net. What the makers of this DVD seem to have figured out is how to combine the couch potato ritual of television with the much older practice of group scriptural reading. Whether or not you'd prefer to read the bible in this way, with remote control in hand, you can't deny that it keeps the focus on the text.
Last week, Jesse argued that it's not technology that's causing a decline in book-reading, but rather a lack of new technologies that make books readable in the new communications environment. He was talking about books online, but the DVD bible serves just as well to illustrate how a text (a text that, to say the least, is still in high demand) might be repurposed in the context of newer media.
Another great driver of innovation in DVDs: pornography. No other genre has made more creative use of the multiple camera views options that can be offered simulataneously on a single film in the DVD format (I don't have to spell out what for). They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and what greater necessities than sex and god? You won't necessarily find the world's most elegant design, but it's good to keep track of these uniquely high-demand areas as they are consistently ahead of the curve.
Posted by ben vershbow on February 19, 2006 5:50 PM
tags: DVD, The Performing Book, bible, books, christianity, ebook, ebooks, god, interface, literacy, porn, pornography, reading, religion, scripture, television
Dave Munger on February 20, 2006 11:37 AM:
I'd be hard pressed to come up with another example of a text that would work in the Bible-on-DVD format. Maybe other sacred texts, where the very "bookness" of the text is what makes it important. But who'd want, say, the latest Tom Clancy thriller in this format?
OTOH, I've argued before that audiobooks should include an e-book version of the same text, just so readers have both options. I find that the only place I want to listen to texts rather than read them is in the car, so if I'm halfway through an audiobook and don't have anywhere to drive to, it'd be great to have an e-book option as a backup.
K.G. Schneider on February 20, 2006 1:26 PM:
"But who'd want, say, the latest Tom Clancy thriller in this format?"
Anyone for whom the format of a book is intrinsic to its pleasure. Clancy, I think not. But consider picture books, graphic novels, poetry, or quite a bit of literary fiction and nonfiction where the relationship of word to page is conscious and rigorous.
Librarians have talked about the combined ebook/audiobook for years--a book that would provide a seamless environment for moving between text and audio.
ben vershbow on February 20, 2006 5:08 PM:
Documentary filmmakers with old subjects frequently struggle to bring a world to life with static materials. Ken Burns' "Civil War" series comes to mind with its innumerable soldiers' letters read aloud by actors as a lonely fiddle plays and the camera pans over a mottled handwritten page or grainy archival photograph. The static comes curiously to life.
The DVD bible strives for a similar effect, conveying the sense of real voices amid real events with an ample dose of sentimentality. It does this as an audio book might, but maintaining a vital visual connection with the source text. You read, watch, and listen all at once.
I don't mean to imply that this approach would work well for all texts. Nor do I mean to endorse its Hallmark sensibility, only to appreciate a kind of cunning that went into the thing. The makers of the DVD were working specifically with the bible in mind, which, in many households is the only book that can be said to rival the centrality of television. They used the new criteria to open up a very old book, while still essentially being faithful to it as a text.
K.G. Schneider on February 20, 2006 7:18 PM:
Well, faithful if you consider the King James version the right one to use. ;) The "text" of the Bible has been up for discussion, and frequent reinterpretation, for thousands of years. When I see the NRSV version, then I'll get excited.
Not entirely sure what you mean by the "Hallmark" presentation. I do agree it seems to be designed very well for Bible study.
I can tell you many stories about ministers and technology--a group that is very low-tech on the whole but will learn a new technology, such as the PDA, in order to benefit from ebooks and similar tools. Olive Tree is a company well known for its PDA versions of the Bible and other scriptural resources.
ben vershbow on February 20, 2006 10:28 PM:
I mean Hallmark simply in terms of the cheesy graphic design and the style of the voiceovers and soundtrack (more amply on display in the demo).
I've also heard numerous stories of the church as an early adopter of technology: ministers "godcasting" sermons, and of course, the Australian Bible Society's translation of the bible (CEV) into SMS.
K.G. Schneider on February 20, 2006 10:33 PM:
I get you--this version is definitely not an Episcopalian or Congregational God.
Bob Stein on February 21, 2006 7:19 AM:
the relationship of text to spoken word is very interesting. we once published a cdrom, Poetry in Motion, which consisted of 24 short videos of poets performing their work. readers/viewers were delighted to be able to watch, listen and read all at the same time. i always thought there was something magical going on in the margins between the video and the text. the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. (you can see a demo of Poetry in Motion here.)
K.G. Schneider on February 21, 2006 11:55 AM:
Recently a librarian worried that we are all headed back to the "chaos" of the Manuscript Age, but the positive side of that is how playful text was in that period, based at least on my limited understanding of illuminated manuscripts. Maybe not the greatest ROI, but they sure were pretty. Today we can produce and share genre-bending documents much more easily.
Other cultures mix image and text on paper more than we do in this country. Graphic novels (and graphic creative nonfiction, as I consider Maus) have a slender toehold, but not like they do elsewhere. In this country we feel pictures are for kids. 500 years ago, pictures and text were considered sacred!
I think when it's digital, people will be more comfortable with blended media. People have very rigid ideas of what a book should be.
sol gaitan on February 21, 2006 1:41 PM:
We have several ideas here; the ebook/audiobook, the DVD with cinematographic embellishment, the Bible Society of Australia's "translation" of the Bible into SMS, and poets performing their own work in a medium that gives us the written text, the audio and the visual. All important advances in the search for the "book" that covers all fields, but still presenting an inert object that lacks the dynamism and plasticity that we see is possible with new technologies. Ben's point, when quoting Jesse, that:
it's not technology that's causing a decline in book-reading, but rather a lack of new technologies that make books readable in the new communications environment. He was talking about books online, but the DVD bible serves just as well to illustrate how a text (a text that, to say the least, is still in high demand) might be repurposed in the context of newer media.
The exciting thing about repurposing, or directly publishing in the context of newer media, is that we can have a book in which the bibliophile in us can feel the weight of the page (the velum as opposed to paper in Sally Northmore's beautiful post on Turning the Pages,) but also one that allows us to enlarge sections, to look inside illustrations, to hear its sounds, and best of all, that offers the scholarly tags, and even more, the truly open one where discussion among readers shows how different their book is to mine even though we are reading the same one. The possibilities are mesmerizing and profound, a whole subversion of the creative act. Here indeed, reading is writing.
Yes, the book is a fetish, and how wonderful that technology has the potential to feed it in ways unthought of before.
ben vershbow on February 24, 2006 3:55 PM:
Sol: I love this notion of feeding the fetish. It brings to mind Kim White's image (in if:book's first post) of the book as a behemoth lumbering through time, incorporating new objects and sub-species into its bulk.
Just to add: a major godcasting site I've come across is sermonaudio.com -- where "faith cometh by hearing."
Holly Cowan Shulman on February 27, 2006 2:25 PM:
The Talmud on DVD
I don't know if any of you have picked up the project at Bar Ilan University in Israel, called The Global Jewish Database, or The Responsa Project. You can find it at: http://www.biu.ac.il/ICJI/Responsa/index.html. It is a concordance gone computer literate, in which you can find commentary (Talmudic, Jewish commentary that is) on almost anything in the Talmud or, by direct derivation, on your daily concerns, or daily life as defined by Jewish law. It is totally authority driven and top-down structured, after all it is about finding your way around traditional, Orthodox, Jewish sacred texts. And it predates any non-military computer project I know of, having begun in the 1960s.
But while you are talking about bibles, here is another interesting take on the problem of bringing sacred text to your local community. As far as I can determine, it does not try literally to reproduce the feel, or look, of the book. (There are some sites that do show you the look and feel and movement of a page of Talmud, but they are pretty basic, no page turning, no three dimensional feel. And of course literal "page turning" is not necessarily a useful Talmudic process). There is no physicality to the sentiment, although sentiment is clearly there. It is totally about linking information, albeit within a self-defined and closed universe. In a sense it is the opposite of the bible as object that Ben began this blog with, but it is still a representation of the central sacred text.
Kim Carter on June 12, 2006 9:44 AM:
The "Bible on DVD" is a very archaic form of a video book in comparison to the brand new "Watchword Bible" on DVD -- it uses video scenes filmed on location in the Holy Land, original music underscore, cool graphic and sound effects -- all to bring the words of the Bible alive. You can check it out at www.thebiblechannel.com. This is the future of what all "true" video books will look like.
Jake Loderhose on June 25, 2006 9:23 PM:
Kim, the Watchword Bible took about 15 years to complete - and was actually created before DVDs existed. It was meant for video tape.
It's a great work, but I don't know how many books can be released with that kind of schedule. Also, it's the New Testament -- the Old Testament wasn't completed. By my calculations, it would take 50 years for them to complete the Old Testament.
If you're still around then, more power to you. But I'm pretty sure I won't be on this earth anymore. If they can send a copy to Heaven, then I guess I'll order it.
Jim Fitzgerald on June 28, 2006 10:33 AM:
We originally began The WatchWORD Bible project in 1991 for delivery worldwide via TV and satellite. Video was not the main goal.
Providentially, 1991 was also the year the internet was born and this project has tremendous potential for delivery via broadband which is only now widely in use. In the early 90's we also believed that handheld devices would one day be one of WatchWORD's chief uses. It looks great on an iPod.
When we began production, we chose to work with uncompressed video files which made the project so much more difficult, but we did so because we wanted to be able to go in any direction that technology took it.
Also, the New Testament took so long when we began because the project was truly immense and the technology inadequate for uncompressed video. Every single frame of video had to be input into computers as a separate file. By the end, we were moving much more quickly.
With new developments in technology, we believe we can produce the whole Old Testament in six years time. The entire Bible would have been about a 20 year project...and the more advanced digital technology becomes, the more useful and practical WatchWORD becomes.
We could not foresee all the future developments, but God in his providence knew why he called us to do this work. Our vision was to multiply the reading of his word in an age of electronic media. Marshall McLuhan had been an influence in my thinking.
As we first hoped, WatchWORD now airs on satellite TV throughout the whole middle east, North Africa and Europe in Arabic. It will also be distributed there soon on Apple's upcoming Arabic version iPods. The Japanese New Testament comes out on DVD in July. We're also working on a Hindi version for future distribution in India as a church planting tool on inexpensive VCDs.
Having said these things, the project has certainly been far, far more difficult and time consuming than we every imagined. But it was truly God-given and we've done our best to be faithful in what the Lord called us to do.
The WatchWORD Bible
Jeffrey on September 16, 2006 12:17 AM:
Hello, What Software was used to produce the WatchWord Bible? Thank You JG.
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