We're still months away from the consumer release of Google Glass, Google's spectacles-like mobile device that's the most anticipated gadget since the iPad. Still, Google has let a handful of people beta-test the Glass, which puts a voice-activated computer display and 720p high-definition video camera at the user's eye level. If you've seen the protoypes walking around, you can recognize why professional filmmakers are already pondering what its impact will be on the world of movies.
A study by research firm IHS suggests that as many as 10 million smart-glasses (whether they're made by Google or a rival riding Google's coattails) may be sold by 2016. A world where everyone on the street is instantly uploading to YouTube whatever they're looking at will be a world where everyone is both continuously filming and being filmed, where everyone is both voyeur and object.
Naturally, you might expect the pornography industry to be the Google Glass filmmaking trailblazers and dive in head-first. The unit would certainly make point-of-view filmmaking a lot easier, noted Peter Acworth, CEO of Kink.com, in an interview with the Silicon Valley Business Journal. "You could film picking up someone at a bar and taking them home, for example," Acworth told the Journal. "It takes the whole genre of POV and reality productions one stage further. You'll hopefully get something very authentic." Nonetheless, a spokesman for Kink.com told Fox News his company has no plans yet to use the device. And Vivid Entertainment founder and co-chairman Steven Hirsch said his company would take a "wait-and-see approach to Google Glass."
Watching some of the sample short movies that early adopters have already made, it seems clear that Glass movies offer a fully-mediated experience. Everything you see may be overlaid by a related computer display – a map of the route you're walking, a review of the restaurant you're visiting, the avatar of the person you're talking to on the device's phone app. It's like a more benign version of the cyborg's-eye view presented in The Terminator or RoboCop, with every viewed image juxtaposed with a simultaneous meta-image of analysis or commentary.
Film scholar S.T. VanAirsdale has predicted that Google Glass will further erase the already blurred boundary between filmmaker and film viewer, or between voyeur and object. In a recent essay, he noted that there are already some precedents for what Google Glass filmmaking might look like – for example, the first-person music video for Biting Elbows' "Bad Motherfucker," or the Beastie Boys' crowdsourced camcorder concert documentary Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! (2006).
"I feel like once filmmakers start making movies with Google Glass, there’s no end," wrote Henry-Alex Rubin, co-director of the documentary Murderball and the recent fiction feature Disconnect, in a recent blog post. "It’s going to revolutionize documentary filmmaking – no question."
Think, too, of the prospects for comedy filmmaking. After all, comedy nowadays is dominated by the Judd Apatow/Ricky Gervais school of "cringe comedy," as defined by intrusive, documentary-style camera work, the awkward silence that follows an unwittingly revealing remark, and the notion that no event is truly private. Rather, every moment you experience occurs under surveillance, ready to be served up in public for your humiliation.
If we grow accustomed to a world of constant surveillance, then we become constant actors. All the world really is a stage, and we're free to perform whenever we like for whoever happens to be watching and filming. That's the sort of vaudeville sensibility already on display in the varied and seemingly spontaneous performances recorded in Leos Carax's 2012 cult hit Holy Motors, notes Dylan Schenker of The Creators Project.
Paradoxically, movie theaters are likely to become the first places to ban Google Glass, out of fear of piracy. You may artificially modify your own vision in order to enhance your experience of watching a film, as long as you do so only in the approved manner. Make sure you check your camera spex at the box office before you pick up your 3D spex (that'll be an additional $3, please).
So far, the main hurdle for Google Glass has been the device's own obtrusive dorkiness. It's already been spoofed on Saturday Night Live and ridiculed on Tumblr (see this feed of unflattering photos of White Men Wearing Google Glass). NBC's Luke Russert recently tweeted a snapshot of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) wearing a set. When a woman known for her contempt for science is the most prominent celebrity to be seen wearing your high-tech product, maybe it's time to rethink the impression that product is making on the public.
Still, that seems like a temporary obstacle. Eventually, the device will drop in price, while its design will doubtless become more sleek and streamlined. It may be a while before established mainstream directors like Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott take to it as they did 3D. Somewhere, though, a kid with Google Glass and a home editing software app will shoot a movie that makes us see the world with fresh eyes.