The Digital Aesthetic: All the Emperor's Men
Posted Nov 1, 2003

My Deep Throat didn't wait around, and I don't blame her. The call came in while I was napping, about eight in the evening, from a bar I frequent because of its high anonymity factor. This is the place you're not supposed to be found, but somehow Deep Throat got wind of my refuge, and told the barkeep she was looking for me, wanting to speak with me on the issue of digital projection. That prompted the clandestine call from the secret place. At about nine, I showed up, intrigued for a number of reasons: that she found me, that she knew what I was writing about, and that she knew I was having difficulty getting anyone to talk. She'd gone by the time I arrived.

It started Friday afternoon—this is Monday evening I'm writing this, on the run, with a tight deadline—with a call in to the single theater in Denver boasting a digital projector. As my memory isn't all that great—dissolute youth, all apologies—I've got a sliver of an atom of a recollection of a rumor, one I don't know has been proven or disproven by anyone, that George Lucas essentially "blackmailed" theaters nationwide into carrying digital projectors, on pain of not receiving Attack of the Clones.

What I do remember distinctly is that Mom fell asleep on my shoulder about 15 minutes in when I saw the digitally projected Attack of the Clones at our single local digitally-equipped theater, and that there was a character, a very bad man, named Count Dooku. "Dooku" didn't incite any alarm or fear in me, for some reason. I remember too, that upon snapping out of the long sleep, Mom whispered, "Yoga can fight?"

So here we are a year and then some later, and it happens I place the call to UA (United Artists) Denver Pavilions, Friday afternoon. All I really wanted to know is what machine they carried so I could look at specs; how, when, and why did the theater add it to their arsenal; what were they currently using it for; and had they entertained the possibility of something like "freako indie digi film midnights on Saturday," or some comparable free-for-all.

Beyond addressing any conspiracy concerns, therein was my other purpose here: to discern what, if any, trickle-down effect the go-digital goading from the Lucas empire might have on the no-budget nether regions of digital filmmaking. Lucas' insistence on THX sound back in the day certainly ushered in a better aural experience for the suburban proletariat, but didn't necessarily mean much of anything to the underfunded indie. Expanding the installed base of digital projectors, on the other hand, just might accidentally open a back door to outsider art. But I wasn't destined to test that theory today.

The extraordinarily pleasant man I spoke with told me he was sorry, he could not furnish the answers I sought, but perhaps his manager could. Straight away, I was on the horn with the Manager, also a delightful man, who told me precisely the same thing, that he could not furnish answers to any of my questions, but that maybe the General Manager could, and that he'd be in about three.

The General Manager, Tim Campbell, yet another affable fellow, told me the same thing, that he could not address any of the questions I'd posed, and that I'd need to call another person, Dick Westerling, East Coast, to speak to my questions. Knowing I was looking at a tight deadline, I thought, well, better get what I can get. I asked Mr. Campbell if I had his permission to quote him on what he was not able to speak about, which he happily granted. These are the things Mr. Campbell cannot address: when the equipment arrived, the circumstances under which it did arrive, what use it was currently serving, and, just by the by, did you remember this Lucas "blackmail" innuendo?

At this point, I began to wonder whether or not there was some weird thing going on, whether it was a Lucas thing, an Anschutz ("dealmaker of Denver") thing, or something else entirely. The thought entered my head, too, if it ends up being a Lucas thing, what shenanigans he might be up to now, given that the final installment of the Star Wars hexology will show up summer '04—again, presumably, in some digital format.

Deep Throat was "willing to talk," according to the barkeep. A couple of beers in a dark dive with a strange woman who would fill me in on what's what…I mean, seriously, how cool a scenario could a guy wish for? We'll have to track this person down—I'll get that scoop if it kills me, my promise to you, Dear Reader.

Left with little here, and an hour or two to write, I placed the call to Dick Westerling at Regal Entertainment Group, founded by Phil Anschutz in 2001. He's gone until next Monday, according to his voicemail. This has happened to me before—that the person you absolutely need to speak with happens to be gone the week you need to speak with him—but this time, I'm totally newsless, and without recourse.

I leave you, however, with these facts: nobody's talking; Phillip Anschutz founded Regal Entertainment Group (the parent company of UA Denver Pavilions, along with, at last count, 562 other cineplexes around the country); Phillip Anschutz accomplished a merger between US West (Denver's Telco) and his Qwest, Inc., now our local telco and broadband provider; Phillip Anschutz got busted by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, along with Bernie Ebbers, Joseph Nacchio, Clark McLeod, and Stephen Garofalo for IPO spinning; Phillip Anschutz settled for $4.4 million on condition that he not be required to admit his IPO-spinning guilt, guilty or not. Finally, "Lucas says he's counting on guys like Anschutz and Leon Black, who recently put money into ailing AMC, for digital's next window of opportunity," says Ron Grover of BusinessWeek. It's not exactly a smoking gun, but it feels warm, and leaves one to wonder if there's something rotten in the state of Denver after all. This cat smells something fishy…I'll keep you apprised, that's a promise.

It's not exactly a smoking gun, but it feels warm, and leaves one to wonder if there's something rotten in the state of Denver after all. This cat smells something fishy…I'll keep you apprised, that's a promise.