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Tuesday Links: Hulu, Arcade Fire, UltraViolet

More digital delivery news stories as I slowly settle back in to book writing mode:

  • While I don’t always (or, maybe, ever) agree with the political views over at Big Hollywood, John Nolte is asking some of the right questions about UltraViolet, the new digital distribution initiative put together by the major studios. One assertion he gets wrong, sort of, is the idea that Hollywood isn’t making “good” movies anymore, but that’s kind of beside the point here. Nolte is responding to a recent article by Brent Lang in The Wrap discussing UltraViolet’s upcoming launch, which raises the even more crucial point that Apple, which controls 60% of the digital download market still hasn’t signed on with UltraViolet.
  • New Tee Vee reports that Arcade Fire and Spike Jonze’s short film, Scenes from the Suburbs, which was set to premiere this week on Mubi.com, has been geo-blocked in the United States, Germany, Australia, and Canada. The short film was intended to serve as a promotion for a limited edition copy of the Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs. One reviewer who caught the film before it was geo-blocked came away impressed, and the trailer itself looks engaging, but the band’s manager chose to make the film unavailable until the August 4 release of the album/DVD.
  • On a related note, Jason Mittell discusses his attempts to plan how he will continue to consume American media, even while spending a year in Germany.
  • New Tee Vee also discusses MoviePass, which would allow people to pay up to $50 a month to see an unlimited number of movies in theaters. A second pass for $30 a month would allow people to see up to four movies per month. Given that many frequent moviegoers are teens who tend to plan spontaneously, I’m a little skeptical about this idea. Also, unless you’re seeing 3D movies exclusively, you’d probably have to see five or six movies a month to make the $50 pass worthwhile, something that seems like a stretch for anyone other than a theater employee or a movie critic.
  • New Blockbuster President Michael Kelly tries to make the case that physical media, such as DVDs, continue to have advantages over digital delivery and kiosk services such as Redbox. Oddest moment: Kelly emphasizes that you can watch DVDs in your car.
  • Peter Kafka explores some of the changes Hulu may make in the near future.
  • Finally (via The Valve), just for fun, Nina Paley’s anti-plagiarism video, “The Attribution Song.”

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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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Next Saturday Links

Thanks to a much busier week than usual, I’m just now catching up with some of my online reading, but here are some worthwhile things I found over first two cups of coffee:

  • Fred Fox, Jr., author of the notorious “Jump the Shark” episode of Happy Days, defends himself against charges that the Fonz jumping the shark was the beginning of the end for that show, and describes his reaction to becoming one of the most notorious phrases in ad hoc TV criticism.
  • NewTeeVee asks whether smaller cable channels, such as The Hallmark Channel, might be squeezed out thanks to the recent negotiations over carriage fees between cable providers, such as Time Warner, and channels such as TNT and ESPN.  We have over 100 channels I’d never miss–The Military Channel, Hallmark, etc–so I understand the temptation to eliminate some, even if I’d like to see niche programming get more protection and support.
  • On a related note, NewTeeVee also explores the implications of cheap iTunes rentals of individual TV episodes for television.  They also offer an assessment of Hulu’s impact on broadcast TV.  Perhaps lost in all of this is the impact of box sets of TV series, which now seem almost transitional as we look at how audiences access TV now.
  • David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson have a compendium of useful essays from their blog that address topics covered in Introduction to Film classes.  These blog posts might serve as useful supplements to pretty much any Introduction to Film textbook and serve as a useful reminder of how the blogosphere is cultivating new forms of film criticism (rather than killing it as many critics have recently claimed–more on this in a longer blog post).
  • I’ve been following Scott Rosenberg’s series defending the practice of linking with quite a bit of enthusiasm.  He is responding to Nicholas Carr’s assertion that linking serves as a form of distraction, one that inhibits understanding, rather than aiding it.  Rosenberg’s third post is especially useful in that it provides a brief taxonomy of what kinds of textual effects links can have.  In general, links offer new, more visible and more immediate forms of engagement, allowing us to connect with others who have similar interests.
  • Interesting discussion with indie filmmaking expert Peter Broderick on the future of festivals and much more (via Documentary Tech).
  • Also from Documentary Tech, news that the Freakonomics documentary will be released via iTunes before coming to an art house theater near you.  To be honest, I’m not sure that this move is all that surprising or unusual for a film dedicated to such a specific (if relatively wide) niche.  The point, especially for indie films and documentaries, seems to be to provide multiple access points and to entice audiences to view the film on the platform of their choice.
  • Radiohead joins the Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi in turning their fans into amateur cinematographers.  Here’s the story: a group invited 50 concertgoers to record a live performance of the band using Flip video cameras that were then edited together into a concert video.  Kind of fun, right?  But what’s kind of cool here is the fact that Radiohead has given their Prague-based fans the actual soundboard recordings of the concert, turning what was originally an engaging amateur video into a band-endorsed concert film.  The DVD is available for free from the film’s website, with the band’s blessing.

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Cool “Kids”

Via The House Next Door, I just learned about the contagiously fun lip dub video by the students of Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Kansas.  The video, shot in an impressive long-take through the halls of the high school, shows students dancing playfully to Kim Wilde’s ’80s classic, “Kids in America.”  The costumes, music, dancing, and even the tracking shots through locker-lined hallways reminded me of a forgotten John Hughes classic.  The students clearly had fun and displayed a lot of creativity.  It’s truly contagious, especially for those of us who grew up in the ’80s. Unfortunately, the original video was hacked and the music was replaced and hateful, even homophobic comments were annotated to the video, but the Lawrence students decided to fight back by reposting it. Congrats to the students at LHS for making a terrific and fun video:

Update: Via the comments at HND, David Bordwell’s take on the lipdub phenomenon.

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Wednesday Links: Criticism is Dead, OK Go, and Film Festivals

As I glance across my snow-covered lawn, only one thought crosses my mind: Spring break! But to keep myself warm until Friday, when the weather should magically change, here are some of the things I’ve been reading (in between grading papers and midterms, of course):

  • My critique of Thomas Doherty’s lament about the state of film criticism seemed to generate quite a response.  The Columbia University Press blog offered a relatively straightforward citation, while Keith Uhlich of The House Next Door caught my Kenneth Branagh reference.  Meanwhile Jim Emerson, citing a 1990 article by Richard Corliss, emphasizes a point I wish I’d given more attention: the long history of social critics decrying a new technology’s effect on film criticism.  Dozens of people, including some of my commenters, pointed out the absurdity of characterizing David Bordwell as a “postmodern” Harry Knowles.
  • In other news, I participated in a roundtable on religion in the blogosphere at the Social Science Research Council’s Immanent Frame blog.
  • Friend of the blog, and the filmmaker behind Clean Freak and The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah, Chris Hansen has a trailer for his latest movie, Endings.
  • Matt Dentler points to the new OK Go video for their song, “This Too Shall Pass,” which features one of the most impressive Rube Goldberg machines I’ve ever seen.
  • Ted Hope has a discussion of the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to make some of their films available through video on demand (VOD).  Hope points out that the failure of the Sundance-YouTube model was avoidable and offers some suggestions for making the festival-VOD model work better for festivals and filmmakers.

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Wednesday Links

I’m back in Fayetteville after my mini-spring break tour, which consisted of a brief stop in Durham, NC, for the Internet for Everyone Town Hall, and a slightly longer stay in Spartanburg, SC, where I had a chance to catch up with George (and where he introduced me to Little River Roasting Company, makers of some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted).  I’m still recovering from the trip, in part because I locked my keys in my car in a Florence, SC, fast food parking lot and spent 2.5 hours waiting for a locksmith, so I’m starting off with a quick links post.  I’m planning to write short reviews of The Watchmen and Waltz with Bashir, hopefully, but that may require a little more energy than I have right now.

  • The biggest news is that I mailed the index and page proofs back to my publisher this week, basically the final step (for me) in writing the book.  George was there to document the occasion with a couple of photographs.  While creating the index did cause some angst, I found it to be a somewhat rewarding experience, allowing me to uncover connections that were only implicit in the book’s original argument.
  • Just a quick note on the Internet Town Hall: I found the discussions rewarding enough, and as someone who teaches with technology, it was interesting to learn about the experiences that others have with broadband access.  Sometimes the discussion felt a little forced, with answers already implied in the questions, but I liked the mix of small group discussions and wider dialogues.
  • Now that I have a little spare time to explore new projects, I’m sitting down to read a review copy of Alex Halavais’s Search Engine Society (Polity), a book that explores how search engines are affecting thought.  I’ve known Alex via blogging for a while, so my reading is shaped by that, but I’m finding Alex’s book incredibly helpful in thinking through some of the challenges our department is facing with regard to the fairly panicked reaction to the use of digital technologies such as search engines in the classroom (a reaction that isn’t uncommon from what I gather).  In particular, so far, Search Engine Society has been helpful in providing me with a slightly better language for characterizations of the current crop of students as “digital natives,” a description that leaves out quite a bit.  More on that in a few days, hopefully.
  • A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to catch Liz Witham’s A Certain Kind of Beauty, which focuses on one family’s struggles after they learn their son has MS, at Silverdocs.  Now the film is available in its entirety from SnagFilms, the very cool online streaming source for documentary films, where the filmmakers hope to raise money to support 160 people living with Multiple Sclerosis to attend support groups, a cause that would seem to extend the film’s overall goals.
  • If you haven’t seen Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, Aaron Hillis’s DVD review over at GreenCine should be more than enough to convince you.  I’m inclined to agree that it’s one of the best films of 2008, and I think that Aaron’s reading is pretty much right on.     Like Aaron, I’ve been mystified by reviewers who charcterized the wedding party scenes as overly sanguine multiculturalism because they miss the degree to which these expressions of community mask the family’s deeper pains.  It’s a beautiful little film, well worth your dime (or at least pushing to the top of your rentl queues).
  • While he misrepresents the new goals of GreenCine blogger Aaron Hillis (who is not seeking to relace David Hudson as a film blog and news aggregator), Adrian Martin does raise a valuable question about the future of festivals in the digital age.  Given the widespread access to DVD screeners and the massive growth of active film bloggers who have created all kinds of forums for talking about film, do we need to “physically stage” film festivals anymore? It’s an interesting discussion, and while I made some passing references to SxSW’s role in marketing Mumblecore in the book, I’d like to address these ideas in further detail.  I do think there is some benefit to sitting down face-to-face over drinks in Austin, Park City, Durham, or wherever, but Martin’s question is a provocative one (link via David, of course).
  • J.J. Murphy raises an important point about the state of independent film in 2008 and 2009.  Citing a friend who expressed concern that 2008 was a “bad” year for quality indie films, Murphy points out that there were a number of great films last year but that few of them played beyond big cities.  Murphy goes on to list an impressive-looking top ten, none of which played theatrically in Fayetteville to my knowledge.  This is probably old news for anyone who reads my blog, but Murphy’s post helps to underscore the ways in which our filtering a promotion systems still make it difficult for indie fans to find all of these compelling films.
  • I’m just now catching up to Girish’s list of links posted last Friday.  As usual, he provides a wealth of great reading material.  Some favorites: Anthony Kaufman’s Moving Image Source article on the demise of VHS and its implications for film history, and a Film Festival research bibliography (also cited in the above essay by Martin).
  • Oh yeah, and if you haven’t seen it, Kutiman’s remix “album” of YouTube musicians, ThruYou is pretty amazing, both as a work of art and as a commentary on the community-building practices on YouTube (or, at least, the desire for those communities).

That’s enough for now.  It’s nice to feel like I’m not scrambling toward a deadline, so hopefully I can start using the blog again as a way of tracking down and thinking about new research.  And just maybe I can get back in the habit of writing reviews again.

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John Williams is the Man.

Via Tama: this YouTube a capella tribute to Star Wars, Jaws, and Indiana Jones composer John Williams is completely brilliant, a fitting–and humorous–nod to a great popular film composer.  Tama also notes that the lyrics are available here.

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Saturday Links

A few of the things that I’ve been reading lately (and may want to reread later):

  • Henry Jenkins revisits his “Photoshop for Democracy” essay from 2004–developed in much further detail in Convergence Culture–on his blog in a review of Sarah Palin photoshops, many of which creatively use visual imagery to question Palin’s qualifications and address concerns about McCain’s age.  For the most part, I’ve written on the use of web video in mediating the 2008 election, but many of these photoshopped images, especially the ones that reference Juno, use some of the same intertextual strategies to comment upon the election.
  • Patrick Goldstein has an interesting blog discussion of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s assertion that in the near future all films will be made in 3-D.  Katzenberg’s argument relies on the primary assumption that 3-D is now capable of reproducing an immersive experience, arguing that even independent films–he cites the example of Juno–would be improved by allowing us into Juno’s living room.  Like Goldstein, I’m still somewhat skeptical, especially when Katzenebrg seems to imply that 3-D is inevitably a “better” experience simply because it is 3-D.  In fact, his enthusiasm for it actually leads him to imply that what he regards as two-dimensional media are somehow imperfect or lacking (“We can’t fix reading or paintings”) because they lack a third dimension, which seems false to me on multiple levels.  I’d certainly question whether paintings are necessarily two-dimensional, especially given the use of collage and other techniques, much less the issue of the positioning of the viewer in relationship to the painting.  More crucially, the idea of 2-D art such as painting somehow being less realistic than 3-D art such as sculpture just seems odd to me.  Katzenberg’s comments seem to have struck a  nerve.  Maybe I’ll do something longer on 3-D later.
  • In the most recent issue of FlowTV, Ethan Thompson addresses the aesthetics of web video via the practices of Josh Marshall’s TPMTV.  In preparing for the upcoming Flow Conference, I’ve been thinking about TPMTV and Brave New Films quite a bit lately.  Both sites make extensive use of the tools that allow broadcast media to be archived easily and then, through simple editing tools, to be juxtaposed against other texts.  Marshall, in particular, has been instrumental in using video to debunk some of the myths about the major presidential candidates, such as Sarah Palin’s now discredited claims about being a “reformer” who fought against the practice of obtaining earmarks.  Also worth checking out: Kathleen Battles’ FlowTV on “The Politics of Pluckiness.”
  • And now a few DC movie links: Sujewa gets the Film in Focus “Behind the Blog” treatment (thanks, Sujewa for the shout out!), Film in Focus also profiles the favorite movies of a number of 20th century US presidents, and finally a video of Ben Kingsley in the role of Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye.

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Back to School Links

Mandatory pre-semester activities start tomorrow, which means that I’ll have to get up early tomorrow–I’m even setting my alarm–and that I’ll likely have a difficult time falling asleep tonight.  I have a blog entry or two on the back burner, but for now some links:

  • This political video, Republicans and Military Men on John McCain, offers a pretty dramatic reminder of what a McCain foreign policy might look like. In addition to citing some of the usual clips (McCain singing “Bomb Iran,” McCain promising “more wars”), there are one or two pretty startling moments.  The big one for me: Pat Buchanan saying that McCain would make V.P. Dick Cheney “look like Gandhi.”  The background music, from Requiem for a Dream, is a bit overdone for my tastes, but this a great use of the web video format.
  • Jeff Sneider posted some interesting links on the Thompson on Hollywood blog, including Stephanie Zacahrek’s Salon article on “blockbuster fatigue,” which I’ll confess to feeling at some point in April, soon after I saw Speed Racer (which I actually sort of liked). Hoping to write something longer on Zacharek’s article later.
  • Sujewa has a poster up for the indie film bloggers doc.  If you look carefully, you can see me inside the “O” in road.  Here’s another poster where I am little more visible.
  • David blogged about his work on a new Okkervil River documentary (here’s the trailer), which I can’t wait to see.   I loved their last album and have enjoyed what I’ve heard from the new one quite a bit.
  • Chris has a thoughtful post on Errol Morris’s latest discussion of documentary, photography, and manipulation.  Like Chris, I think Morris’s essay would be interesting to teach.  Hoping to get back to that in a blog post as well.

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08-08-08 Links

Just in case you need something to distract you from the breathless coverage of John Edwards here are some links:

  • Amy Sullivan has probably the most thorough coverage I’ve seen of McCain’s “The One” advertisement and its highly dubious use of coded language to associate Obama with the Antichrist, including some insightful comments from progressive evangelical Tony Campolo–by far the most memorable speaker I saw during my days at an evangelical college–connecting the imagery directly to the apocalyptic Left Behind book series. Scott McLemee has some insightful observations about “The One,” as well, as does Maud Newton. I’ve suspected for a while that the Obama as Antichrist meme would resurface from time to time, so I think it’s important to address–and challenge–these messages whenever they appear.
  • As an antidote to “The One,” here is some (incredibly geeky) political humor, McCain Portrait, done in the style of Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.” Wonderfully devastating stuff. Thanks to Professor B for the link.
  • I don’t write about music very often here, but I totally dig the new Gnarls Barkley album, and this video is terrific.
  • My North Carolina readers might be interested in knowing about the “Mixed-Tape Film Series” sponsored by the guys behind the terrific The Movie Show, which I’ve had the chance to catch on podcast a few times. Kind of reminds me of Girish’s cool idea of calling for double bills. Off the top of my head, one double bill I’d love to program: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil followed by Jem Cohen’s Chain.
  • Some interesting discussion regarding the state of the box office: Via Sharon Waxman, a WSJ article arguing that people are seeing fewer movies, using as its basis a survey by the group Interpret. Wired, however, did some digging and found that box office receipts are actually up slightly in 2008. That’s probably partially due to increased ticket prices, but as I argue in my book, surveys asking people to describe their moviegoing habits can be unreliable. I don’t think movie theaters are going to be extinct anytime soon. That being said, with the continued emphasis on Hollywood franchise pics, they might be less likely to show the movies that I want to see.
  • Bad Lit has an interesting post about a new player in the online indie distribution scene: IndieRoad. I haven’t had time to investigate the site as fully as I would like, but it looks like a promising new resource for filmmakers and indie film fans alike. I’ll try to write a longer post once I’ve had the chance to check out the site in more detail.
  • While I’m thinking about it, I’ve been watching the documentary, Mardi Gras: Made in China.  I don’t know that I’ve been surprised by any of the revelations in the documentary, but it offers a really powerful metaphor for thinking about the use of underpaid labor in producing US consumer goods.  The film cuts from people literally throwing away the beads they’ve purchased to the workers who make only a few dollars a day, while working shifts that often run twelve hours or more, to make them.  Well worth checking out.

Just wanted to add that I’m finding the nonstop Edwards coverage a bit nauseating.  Yes, it’s got all the makings of a great scandal: sex, hypocrisy, falls from grace, etc.  And I do think it was incredibly selfish for Edwards to risk sacrificing his principles to run for president when he knew that news of the affair would likely come out.  But shouldn’t we devote at least a couple of minutes of the news to the fact that Russian tanks are in Georgia?  Or that Olympians have been banned from China for speaking out on Darfur.  Or even if you want to talk about the election: the dubious contributions that rolled into the McCain campaign from Hess executives.

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Once in a Lifetime

To celebrate the first anniversary of newcritics, our esteemed captain, Tom Watson, invited regular newcritics contributors to write about a single “bit of media that touched your life in the last year.” I ended up cheating–a little–and choosing John Carney’s amazing movie musical, Once, and its soundtrack, featuring the music of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the film’s two stars.

And while you’re there, be sure to check out some of the other contributions addressing Tom’s surprisingly difficult question.

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Prayers and Tears in Fayetteville

Just a quick reminder to my local readers that the very cool Chapel Hill-based indie band, the prayers and tears of arthur digby sellers, will be playing at an exhibit opening at the Fayetteville Museum of Art tonight from 6-8 PM.  Admission to the event is free, but donations are happily accepted.

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Tuesday Afternoon Linkfest

Classes here at Fayetteville State start Thursday, so blogging will slow down soon (I also have a couple of upcoming article/conference paper deadlines), but here’s a quick link post so that I can procrastinate on work I ought to be doing:

  • First, in one of those cool coincidences, I just discovered the music of Fayetteville-based indie-acoustic musician, Joshua Morrison (MySpace), on KEXP Seattle this afternoon (strange to “discover” a local musician on a radio station based over 3,000 miles away). Even though I’m sometimes reluctant to make comparisons, his music sounds a bit like Iron & Wine and Elliott Smith, so if you like them, Morrison is well worth checking out.
  • Second, I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned the P.O.V. blog (or if I have, I lost track of it). But it’s definitely a go-to blog for all things documentary, including this round-up of documentary best-of lists. I’ll have more to say about documentary, including a new award for non-fiction films, in a subsequent entry.
  • Via Agnes, I just learned about the International Documentary Challenge, which is “a timed filmmaking competition where filmmaking teams from around the world have just 5 days to make a short documentary film.” This sounds like a lot of fun, and although I won’t be able to participate this year (the dates overlap with SCMS), I’d love to give it a shot in the future. Last year’s winners are available in the website’s “screening room.”
  • Girish posted an interesting survey of some top film scholars conducted by Screening the Past, asking them to name the most important contributions to film and media studies in the last ten years. Not surprisingly, it’s an interesting and eclectic list, ranging from Charles R. Acland’s Screen Traffic, Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media, and Toby Miller, et al’s Global Hollywood to the restored Touch of Evil DVD and the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement on Best Practices and Fair Use. I could spend hours poring over the list in order to comment further, but I’ll leave the discussion to the folks over at Dr. Mabuse.
  • Agnes also points to the call for entries/new distribution model sponsored by some of the champions of web distribution, Lance Weiler, Arin Crumley, and M Dot Strange, “From Here to Awesome.”  One of the challenges of writing about what I am calling “networked film publics” is that new approaches to production and distribution seem to appear overnight.  But this looks like an exciting way for independent filmmakers to find that elusive wider audience.

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Words, Images, Sounds

Still working towards a couple of relatively immediate deadlines, but to get back in the blogging routine, here are some of the things I’ve been watching, reading, or listening to lately:

  • I caught Introducing the Dwights (IMDB) last night at the art house, and while I was generally entertained, the film itself turned up the eccentricity a little too high for my tastes, making the film feel like Yet Another Quirky Indie (YAQI?). I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but I think that Aaron Hillis is correct to observe that Brenda Blethyn’s “trademark histrionics” were turned up just a little to high. The film feels a bit like Muriel’s Wedding meets Little Miss Sunshine minus the charm of both of those films (coincidentally minus Toni Colette in both cases).
  • I’ve been checking out the Netflix “Watch Now” Player, which allows you to watch certain Netflix films streaming over the Internet. The feature appeals to my propensity towards spontaneous movie rentals, so I’ve been taking advantage of it quite a bit. Most recently, I enjoyed loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies (IMDB), which follows The Pixies on their 2004 tour. The doc reminded me of the Metallica doc, Some Kind of Monster, especially in its treatment of the changes rock bands as they grow older. Like the Metallica documentary, we get several scenes that show the band’s sometimes dysfunctional relationships and we also see members of the band juggling their responsibilities as parents with their responsibilities to the band. LQL culminates with a poignant scene in which a female fan makes a connection with Pixies bassist Kim Deal that gave me an even greater appreciation of their music.
  • I also caught a preview of the new David Duchovny Showtime show, Californication (IMDB), which features Duchovny as a New York novelist grumpily “slumming” in Hollywood after his novel was adapted into a treacly hit movie. He also manages to have lots of meaningless sex with virtually every attractive woman who crosses his path, which the show kind of-sort of pretends to criticize him for doing. In other words a middle-aged male fantasy show in search of a narrative.
  • Speaking of music, I’m still wearing out the Once soundtrack after seeing the film a few weeks ago. Also continuing to dig Pela and, more recently, Beirut’s EP, Lon Gisland. This Pitchfork review is more critical than I would be, but the Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons make a lot of sense (and may help explain why I like Beirut).
  • Much of what I’ve been reading lately has, of course, been research related to the book. I’ve been reading Neal Pollock’s Alternadad, which is great for short bursts of inattentive reading, in part because it mostly consists of anecdotes about Pollock becoming a father and dealing with the responsibilities of parenting. It’s a genuinely funny book in places, a good leisure-time distraction for me while I’m waiting in coffeehouses, movie theater lobbies, or other such places. But for the most part, my reading list has consisted of long tails, convergence cultures, and other such things.

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Once

This weekend marks one year of living in Fayetteville, and while I’m not really in a stock-taking mood, I’ve found myself thinking about moviegoing and place a little this weekend. Sicko still hasn’t reached Fayetteville and probably won’t for at least two more weeks, which means I’ll likely be making a trip to Raleigh, maybe tomorrow. I’ll admit that I’m a little disappointed that a film with such a large built-in audience isn’t playing here by now. Fayetteville is a medium-sized city and Moore has proven that he can open films in a big way. Kind of makes me think that Mark Cuban is on to something with day-and-date releasing. I’m adjusting to living outside of a major cultural center better than I expected, but I also have to think there are better alternatives for providing more access to good, important movies to more people in a timelier fashion. This isn’t quite the same thing as Tama’s very useful concept of “the tyranny of digital distance,” but belated access to some of the movies I want to watch has been a little frustrating.

That being said, if it weren’t for Fayetteville’s one art house theater, the Cameo, I’d probably feel completely lost here. Last night, I did get to watch Once (IMDB), the Irish musical featuring Glenn Hansard and his band the Frames. Hansard plays a Dublin street musician (listed in the credits only as Guy or The Guy) who meets a younger Czech musician (Markéta Irglová), and although The Guy initially brushes her off, she returns, and it becomes clear that she is also a talented musician.  The two develop a tentative friendship based on their shared status as outsiders who are passionate about music, and they eventually collaborate to record a few tracks at a recording studio.

I’m no fan of musicals and often find the disruption of a narrative by musical numbers annoying, but Once makes the musical performances work.  As Robert Wilonsky of The Village Voice writes, “the magic of the movie is how utterly wrenching it renders these songs, which thrive alongside the film’s simple, eloquent, dusky narrative.”  And, more than anything, that’s what I liked about the film.  It’s passionate about music, about how songs can tell stories, communicate emotions, and help us connect with other people.  And as both Wilonsky and A.O. Scott speculate, Once is a film I’ll certainly want to watch again (and for a taste of the music, check out the official website).

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