Archive for collectibles

Tuesday Links*

A few quick links while I recover from a grading marathon, take a deep breath, and prepare to travel to New Orleans for this year’s Society for Film and Media Studies conference, where I will be participating in a panel focused on “Teaching Across Media.” It’s a workshop, so my talk will be relatively brief (about ten minutes), in order to allow more time for discussion. The talk will focus primarily on my Adaptation Project, which requires students to adapt a scene from a play into film, an activity that asks them to engage with the discourses of medium specificity. It’s a fun assignment, one that seems to bring out the best in my students, so hopefully our conversations about the challenges of teaching media outside their disciplinary homes will be rewarding. Now for some links:

  • Box office analyst Richard Greenfield chastises theater owners for charging 3-D premiums and for their huge mark-ups on popcorn. To some extent, this is nothing new. There has always been a huge mark-up on popcorn, which is why candy-smuggling is such an important skill. But $13.50 for a child’s matinee ticket to see a crappy 3-D film like Mars Needs Moms isn’t cool, especially when those theatrical windows just keep getting shorter and shorter.
  • And when you can get access to some of Warner Brothers films on Facebook, there’s even less incentive to hop in your car and head down to the local multiplex. As Matt Dentler points out, Warner has created an “app environment on Facebook that allows for movie downloads directly on the social networking site.” Each download is $3 or whatever the equivalent is in Facebook credits (the future gold standard, I’d imagine). You’ll have 48 hours to watch, will be able to pause, rewind, and control how you watch. You’ll also be able to have full Facebook functionality, so you can chat with your friends while watching The Dark Knight for the 37th time. To be fair, Matt points out that indie films and documentaries, which often build followings on Facebook, might be able to take advantage of this form of direct distribution. The Hollywood Reporteralso has a short blurb.
  • Of course, given that most of us watch the majority of our video content online, Warner is only going where the customers are. PricewaterhouseCoopers calculates that people 44 and under (thankfully I’m still in that category) consume the majority of their video online, while people 45-59 close behind. Other numbers in their survey are revealing, with only 12.9% of the population reporting “purchasing” content via VOD, while 42% obtained DVDs via Netflix and 23% or so still went to bricks-and-mortar video stores.
  • But while digital access is exciting, there are questions about the durability of access. Paying $3 for temporary access to a film via Facebook VOD is well within historical practices (Blockbuster rentals are roughly competitive with those prices). But now Harper Collins is telling libraries that they can only allow 26 viewers to check out a digital copy of their books before the library’s access to that book expires. Cory Doctorow eloquently argues why this is completely antithetical to the tendencies of librarians around the world.
  • And speaking of expiring media, Michael Chabon’s next novel will apparently be partially set in a used record store. This news excites my inner geek on about four different levels. As Chabon himself explains it, perhaps “the entire novel is just a pretext for spending as much time and money as I possibly can in used record stores.”
  • And one more nod to my geekiness. REM’s latest video, “Oh My Heart,” was directed by Jem Cohen, one of my favorite contemporary directors.

Update: I changed the title to reflect the actual day this entry was written.

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DVDs and Film History

Thanks to a project I’m currently developing on new models of DVD distribution, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the utopian claims about “long tail” retailing and its relationship to film history. In Reinventing Cinema, I expressed quite a bit of skepticism about claims that at some point in the future, film consumers and cinephiles would have access to the entire history of cinema at the click of a mouse, a claim expressed most vividly in this New York Times article by A.O. Scott (note also Kristin Thompson’s critique of this fantasy).  In addition to noting the sheer financial and infrastructure costs, it’s worth considering that such a fantasy obscures the larger question about who might have access to this perfect archive.

Now, with the decline of the DVD sell-through market, we are beginning to see just how precarious our film catalogs actually are.  In a post for Antenna, Bradley Schauer points to two notable stories about DVD consumption.  First, Sony announced that it is laying off 450 workers, many of them in their home video division.  More notably, the WSJ also points out that, for the first time since 2002, studios made more money from box office than from home video.  Schauer uses these details to contextualize his discussion of Warner’s decision to make much of its back catalog available via DVD-R copies of titles that are burned on-demand.  As Schauer notes, Warner’s strategy has two major effects: one, it takes classical Hollywood films further out of the realm of bricks-and-mortar stores.  Second, it allows Warner to market these products as “rare,” adding to their value as collector’s items.

But it also makes it possible that many “hidden gems” will remain invisible to casual (or even energetic) film viewers.  In that sense, both Schauer and Richard Brody, in a post discussing Humphrey Bogart’s The Harder They Fall, remind us of the significant curatorial role of TCM in presenting many of these forgotten classics.  These issues were turning over in my mind last night during a conversation with another local film professor, when we were talking about the implications of the degrading VHS tapes that contain dozens of films that have never been converted to DVD.  It’s easy to dismiss this in terms of market logic–if the films were that good, they’d be available on DVD–but obviously it’s not that simple, and even if the films themselves aren’t gems, we can learn quite a bit about film and media history from some of these “lost” texts.  That being said, one of the “lost” movies that we watched last night, a Star Wars Holiday special–featuring the film’s entire lead cast plus Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Diahann Carroll, of all people–did turn up online after a quick Google search.

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Saturday Links: Super, DVD Box Sets, Klosterman

A few links to celebrate the end of finals week:

  • One of the more compelling aspects of digital cinema is the increase in access to production discourse for the average movie consumer.  John Caldwell touches on these issues in his important book, Production Culture, and I tried to address those practices in Reinventing Cinema.  Now as DIY and indie filmmaking are developing a more recognizable presence on the web, I’ve become interested in how these conversations about movie production have become tied to the practices of film promotion.  With that in mind, I’m intrigued by what Ted Hope is doing with Twitter in his role as producer for the upcoming film, Super.  Using Twitter’s new list function, Hope has curated a list of 30 cast and crew members involved in the production of the film, as a way of building interest in the film.  It helps that one of the cast members is Rainn Wilson (The Office), who already has a massive Twitter following, but once again, we can see how social media tools are altering and expanding notions of film culture.
  • Via The Film Doctor, I found this interesting interview with pop media theorist Chuck Klosterman, where he talks at length about the role of the web in mediating fan cultures and practices.   Among other observations, Klosterman argues that the web has intensified and transformed the celebrity process.  He also notes that fans [of Twilight in particular] “have incorporated this film almost like a verbalized cog in their conversation.”  Film stills sent via email or posted on Facebook or MySpace pages become, as the interviewer puts it, an updated version of the emoticons we might have sent in the past.
  • Also worth noting: On Film in Focus, Jenna Bass has a recent post listing essential (online) resources on film festivals.
  • Finally, Slate’s Grady Hendrix has a discussion of his distaste for the DVD box set, calling it “the newest and most terrifying form of ritualistic abuse we inflict on one another.”  DVD purchasing in general is down, but I think Hendrix tackles some of the reasons why box sets, in particular, may not always be welcomed as gifts.  I disagree with some of his basic arguments, however, in particular his claim that “Television episodes were never meant to be viewed in rapid fire order.” Perhaps that’s the case, but show like 24 and Lost very easily lend themselves to the kind of intense viewing that DVDs offer, and I likely would have never survived my dissertation without Buffy breaks–2 or 3 episodes per night after a long day of writing during a time when I didn’t have TV reception.  To be fair, I likely wouldn’t inflict an entire TV series on an unsuspecting relative, but DVDs in general, with their power to anthologize and curate, have reshaped TV discourse, and that’s something that shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed.  

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Friday Links

A couple of quick links while I’m procrastinating on reading an MA thesis and a set of papers:

  • Karina points to news about another Iraq doc, JD Johannes’s Outside the Wire (blog), that purports to see the war through the eyes of the soldiers. The DVD features three documentaries Johannes filmed while embedded with his old Marine Corps unit beginning in 2005, and Johannes bills the documentary series as the first “pro-troop” documentary. Consider me a little skeptical given the generally sympathetic depictions of the military in a number of Iraq docs, including The War Tapes and Gunner Palace, among others. Johannes also has the rather odd goal of trying to sell 2,900 copies of the DVD from his website in order to match the US box office totals of Brian DePalma’s Redacted, in order to convey that “pro-troop, pro-victory documentary can succeed in the market place by beating the domestic box office gross of an anti-war film.” Of course, given the degree to which Redacted flopped at the box office, I don’t think that’s a terribly strong message.
  • It appears that the “six word” meme that ran its course in the blogosophere a few months ago has spread to YouTube.  YouTuber micahsamaniac is calling for viewers to submit six word summaries of their life so far (or at the moment).  And so far there seem to be quite a few video responses (and many others in the comments).  I’m not quite sure if the meme works or not for video because it really only takes about eight seconds or so to say six words.
  • It may be gone soon, but Karina also points to Frederick Wiseman’s fascinating and disturbing 1967 documentary, Titicut Follies is available on Google Video.  Wisemen’s film offers an unsettling look at the treatment of patients in a Massachusetts  mental hospital.

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Instant Karma Action Figure

I forgot to mention that while I was in Chicago, I saw what has to be one of the best action figures I’ve seen in a long time in the window of a comic book store near Belmont and Clark: a John Lennon action figure based on his look during his New York City years. Tim also saw the action figure and tracked down an image, and discovered that the action figure was licensed by Yoko Ono and apparently has a sound chip allowing it to repeat a number of “Lennonisms.”


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DeLay’s Dollars

While skimming Robert Greenwald’s blog this morning, I came across his link to DeLay’s Dollars, which is designed to raise awareness of the Hammer’s ethics violations and his questionable fundraising practices. The game requires the user to move DeLay across the bottom of the screen to catch bags of cash falling from the sky while dodging indictment and ethics violation letters, with each round taking DeLay to the sites (St. Andrews in Scotland, for example) most associated with his funraising efforts. When DeLay loses (and he inevitably does), he announces in a huff, “I’m going home!” After playing the game, the user is taken to the website of Nick Lampson, the Democratic candidate for DeLay’s (former?) district. The game works well as relatively humorous political satire, even if DeLay is now a bit of an easy target.

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There’s the Rub

Via a link to the Bush Backrub game, inspired by Bush’s impromptu and apparently unwelcome backrub of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, in which you move Bush behind various world leaders and give them backrubs to encourage them to think happy thoughts. If the “comfort levels” get too low, you lose.

As the folks at Water Cooler Games point out, there’s not much political content here, but it is a playful interpretation of Bush’s “performance” at the G8 Summit.

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Just Lose It at Wal-Mart

I’ve been planning to watch the Wal-Mart videos Henry Jenkins mentioned a few days ago, but because I didn’t have internet service at home until yesterday, I didn’t really have a chance until now. Discussing the Wal-Mart videos, Jenkins argues that these amateur videomakers have posted videos that “celebrate the Wal-Mart shopping experience.” Many of the videos posted on YouTube were shot illicitly using personal cameras brought into the store and often feature teenagers dancing to music played on radios found in the store’s elctronics department. Others, such as the affectionate parody of Eminem’s “Just Lose It,” entail elaborate staging, often using props found in the store (or at least using a shopping cart as an improvised dolly). Jenkins also points to the “Wal-Mart Time” video, described by its creators as a “hardcore rap about everyones favorite super store.”

In his reading of these videos, Jenkins notes that they all display “a kind of affection for the store as a public space which contrasts sharply with the anti-corporate messages one associates with the ad-buster or culture jammers movement.” Because I’ve recently moved from DC to a much smaller city, I’m finding myself much more attentive to these questions of access to public space, and given that “Wal-Mart time” runs 24-7, it’s one of the few public spaces available at any time, day or night, but I’m wondering whether these videos signal affection for Wal-Mart or whether they actually convey a degree of ironic distance (and I’ll be the first to admit that the categories aren’t mutually exclusive). In the “Wal-Mart Time” video, the teenage girls do make some pointed critiques of the store’s practice of selling guns and its practice of selling cheaply-priced goods in bulk quantities. It also seems significant that these videos are produced illicitly, “under the watchful noses of Wal-mart’s ever attentive and friendly welcomers,” as Jenkins puts it. I’m not sure that my reading is vastly different than Jenkins, in that these videos do look quite a bit different than Robert Greenwald’s more overtly anti-Wal-Mart documentary, but I am interested in how these videomakers are negotiating their relationship to Wal-Mart.

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Bush Pilot

Remember that mysterious bulge on Bush’s back during the first debate? Thanks to Google video, here’s the real (and very funny) explanation (thanks to Alterman for the tip).

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Cellphone Cinema

Via Eugene Robinson’s Washington Post column: the You Tube video, “Bus Uncle,” which features an oddly compelling argument between two passengers on a Hong Kong bus captured by a third passenger on his cell phone.

The basic plot: a middle-aged man has been talking too loudly on his cell phone and a younger pasenger behind him taps the older man on the shoulder to ask him to lower his voice. The older man then begins lecturing the younger passenger, repeatedly alluding to the “pressures” of daily life while gradually becoming more and more profane. And as Robinson points out the episode concludes perfectly with the older man getting another cell phone call and turning to answer it. Of course, Robinson points out that the scene is fascinating in part because it illustrates just how easily a scene from everyday life in Hong Kong can very quickly be transmitted across the globe with millions of potential viewers ready to watch. The version I watched has been viewed nearly a million times in less than a month. Not sure I have much to add, but it’s an intriguing little video.

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Sex Pistols Action Figures

Via McChris, a pointer to two sets of Sex Pistols action figures by Japanese toy company, Kubrick Toys. One set features the best-known members of the band, and the second applies their aesthetic to a group of brightly-colored bears.

Update: Since Andrew and McChris have suggested bands they’d like to see immortalized as action figures, I think I’ll turn this entry into a question: which bands do you think this toy company should translate into action figures next, especially if those figures are brightly-colored bears? I’m still thinking about this one, but I’ll put my answer in the comments.

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Man on the Moon

REM and Bruce Springsteen performing “Man on the Moon” live in Washington, DC, in 2004. YouTube is the coolest invention, ever. Case closed. Thanks to Crooks and Liars for the link.

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10 Things I Hate About Commandments

More fake trailer fun, this time featuring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. Thanks to Tony Pierce for the link.

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Feline Theology

Via Brian Flemming, tonight’s late-night YouTube fun: Kona and Hilo: Talking Cats.

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Remediating Baseball

Via Jeff Passan’s Yahoo article, I just learned about the fascinating viral video, “RBI Game Six,” available on You Tube. It appears that I’m a little late to the party on this video. According to Passan, “RBI Game Six” has received over 200,000 views, and Conor Lastowska’s blog, San Diego Serenade, has developed a significant following, in part due to the video’s popularity. It’s a playful and entertaining use of the video game to revisit one of the most famous (or infamous) and widely replayed World Series in recent history.

The video, created by Lastowka, depicts the ninth inning of the 1986 World Series, in which the Red Sox, just one out away from winning the World series, saw their Series hopes dashed on Bill Buckner’s tenth inning error. Lastowka, fascinated by “Game Six,” was also a fan of Nintendo’s RBI Baseball game, which first appeared in 1988. RBI baseball featured the four playoff teams from 1986 and 1987 plus all-star teams for both leagues. The players looked identical, other than a nod to whether the player bats right-handed or left-handed.

Lastowka ran through the first 9.5 innings of the game, setting up the correct score and number of hits before saving the tenth inning on a video game emulator. From here, Lastowka had to emulate the details of the inning prefectly, often replaying the same pitch as many as 200 times in order to set up a fly ball to center field, for example. RBI baseball graphics also add an interesting twist when showing Bill Buckner’s infamous error. Instead of showing Buckner’s error as it happened, with the ball dribbling behind first base, in RBI, “the player stands frozen for a second with what look like tears spouting from his head.” Lastowka supplemented the late-80s video game graphics with Curt Gowdy’s game six broadcast, bringing Gowdy’s classic, colorful delivery to the revised visuals of the game.

It’s a creative use of the video game emulator software, especially in the nostalgic evocations of both the RBI Baseball game and baseball itself. The experience of making the video also made clear to Lastowka just how “improbable” the outcome of Game Six actually was (this might be a general effect of producing videos on a game emulator–having to go back and replay a pivotal moment until you “get it right.”).

Update: Lastowka writes about his experience making RBI Game Six on his blog. Like him, I think Bill Buckner should receive far less blame for the Game Six loss. His error was just the culmination of the Red Sox’s collapse (a version of the video is also available here).

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