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Two Weeks in Spain: Madrid

After three or four days in Barcelona, The Best Girlfriend Ever and I spent one final evening in the city, relaxing in Parc de la Ciutadella next to the city’s Arc de Triomf before boarding a night train to Madrid.  The night train was not quite as comfortable as we’d hoped, and at first we were under the impression that we would be riding in a car seated for the entire duration of the trip, not the best way to try to sleep.  On top of everything, a neighbor in the car managed to step on Andrea’s already swollen toe, adding to our (or, at least, her) discomfort.  Fortunately, some of the people in our car left, and we were able to lay our seats flat, even if we didn’t quite have total privacy.

After arriving in Madrid, we found our way to our hotel, a big change from the sprawling, modern 2-br apartment with kitchenette we’d left behind in Barcelona.  This time, we were in a tiny room at Hostal Josefina, a room so small that the bathroom had a sliding door.  But we’d chosen location over comforts, and our room overlooked the Plaza Callao, which was well within walking distance of most of the locations we hoped to see, including the Prado, the Royal Palace, the Puerto del Sol, the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia (Spain’s modern art museum), and the Plaza Mayor.  Unlike Barcelona, where quick subway trips were sometimes a necessity, most of the major sites in Madrid are in easy walking distance.

We both found Madrid to be a little more business-like.  This might be due to the retail stores along the Grand Via where we stayed, or it might be due to Barcelona’s artsy, coastal vibe.  But the Prado and the Royal Palace both offer quite a bit to explore.  In particular, it was cool to see Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas after viewing many of Picasso’s reworkings of that painting in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.  Sadly, we missed Guernica in the modern art museum because we got there relatively late and got a little lost, but for those who like modern art, the Reina Sofia offers a nice collection.  The Royal Palace itself was an almost surreal experience.  I have to admit that it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of hereditary power and around the sheer wealth that was (and is) accumulated around the throne.  And yet, at the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the sheer craft and detail that went into the construction of the Palace and the design of the many rooms there.  Only a small number of rooms–15 or so–are open to the public at any given time, and yet, even the small amount we saw began to overwhelm (this might also be due to impending cathedral/palace overload).

Madrid  also gave me the chance to meet up with Hunter, Ramon, and Nicolas, who are all involved with the production of the crowdfunded film, The Cosmonaut, currently in the early stages of production.  I had a chance to record a video interview, inside a Vips store/cafe, which I’m hoping to post soon, but it was very cool to talk shop with a few people about DIY cinema and to learn even more about their project.  Plus, we got to exchange a few travel tips since they (at least some of them) were heading down to Morocco to do a shoot for a short film.

Other fun tidbits: we stopped by The Mueso del Jamon (the Museum of Ham), a restaurant in the city center, and we spent a couple of hours relaxing in Retiro Park, a nice break from our frenetic exploration of palaces and museums.  Then, of course, there was the odd experience of coming home and catching a Rick Steves travel show where Steves visits Madrid, especially after we used his guide throughout our trip.  Madrid felt a little rushed–we were only there for two full days, one after sleeping on the night train–especially since we were left with somewhat limited time in the museums, but it’s another city I’d love to revisit when I have more time.

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Two Weeks in Spain

This post might be part of a longer series of posts on my recent trip abroad:

I’ve just returned from a two-week vacation in Spain with The Best Girlfriend Ever, one which took us from Barcelona to Madrid, down to Toledo, and then down to Tarifa (with a day trip to Tangier, Morocco), Gibraltar, and finally to Seville.  We traveled by pretty much every mode of transportation imaginable and saw dozens of cathedrals, countless paintings and sculptures, and often spent time wandering narrow alleyways just to explore a particularly old or intriguing section of one of the cities where we were staying.  Although I described our return home as a “return to normal,” in some ways, our travels became a new normal: wake up late, run to a market for baguettes and other food supplies, explore whatever city we were visiting, and then grab a late dinner, often eating after 10 PM, before returning to our hotel or hostel to sleep the sleep of the exhausted traveler.  Thanks to some savvy planning–most of it by my girlfriend–we were usually able to find our hotels quickly and easily and usually had just enough time to explore each city’s highlights.

As I mentioned, we started in Barcelona, in some ways my favorite city of the trip.  Barcelona offered not only a fascinating range of architectural and artistic sights to explore but also contained a lively downtown scene, the Ramblas leading from Plaza Catalunya down to the Mediterranean Sea.  In Barcelona, every street seemed to offer the potential to surprise: our visit to the Barri Gotic (Gothic barrio) coincided with the Sardana dances, where groups seemingly spontaneously leave their apartments and shops to dance in collective circles, their belongings piled in the middle.  Later that evening we were surprised in the Plaza Catalunya by a group of naked bicyclists, possibly participants in Barcelona’s version of the World Naked Bike Race.  Still other corners presented a group of street performers dressed in green and white creating human pyramids stacked three or four people high, with a tiny child maybe 3 or 4 years old managing to climb all the way to the top (while wearing a safety helmet of course).

Our first night in Barcelona featured some odd juxtapositions: we started our night by people-watching during some of the weekend festivities in the Plaza Catalunya, but that was briefly interrupted when Andrea encountered an Israeli woman who had been separated from her tour group.  The woman spoke almost no Spanish but could speak enough English to relate that she couldn’t find her tour group’s bus and that she was due to fly out of Barcelona later that night.  Andrea’s Spanglish helped a little, and I tried to read our city map (which would become extremely worn by the end of four days, so much so that we had to replace it) to find her hotel but the hotel seemed to be several miles from the city center, and our limited phone access made it difficult to contact them.  Eventually we were able to track down a police station under the Plaza where an officer fluent in English was able to communicate that she would help.

Of course, Barcelona is also a kind of palimpsest city: like many cities in Spain, it has a history of architecture dating back to ancient Rome.  It also has layers of architecture associated with the Visigoths, Jewish settlers, and most famously, the Modernisme movement led by Antoni Gaudi, whose whimsical, flowing buildings and park spaces sought to embed natural imagery, Gothic design elements, and curved lines into the buildings he created, turning his creations into something that might appear in a Tim Burton film.  Perhaps the most impressive of these buildings is his Sagrada Familia cathedral, which he began in 1884 and continued to work on until his death in 1926.  The cathedral is still under construction in 2010, but its massive towers and ornate, detailed carvings serve as to illustrate Gaudi’s attention to detail.  The towers also presented us one of our first adventures in Spain.  After taking an elevator nearly to the peak of the 170m towers (a short stairwell led us further up), we got a little lost and instead of following the staircase that led us back to the elevator, we followed a narrow, winding, scary, circular staircase (with only a narrow, and very low handrail) that led us all the way to the floor of the cathedral, perhaps the closest I’ve come in a while to contemplating my own mortality.

But the Sagrada Familia also introduced a thought that informed much of my experience in the cathedrals and museums we visited: the current moment is often characterized as being marked by a sense of increased distraction, of having our attention span further and further fragmented by all kinds of audiovisual stimuli, and yet, as I explored a 19th-century cathedral, and later, others that were much older, I found myself thinking about all of the visual detail found in these Gothic cathedrals.  A worshipper could easily get lost in the immense detail of the altar pieces and stained glass windows, the frescoes and paintings that seemed to fill every corner and niche of all of the buildings we explored.  To be sure, this sense of information overload was informed by the fact that we were often directed by (contemporary) audio guides that sought to explain and account for many of the buildings details, and yet the vividness of detail, the flourishing of meaning in many of these buildings was impossible to ignore.

Like most of the cities we explored, we were able to see Barcelona from above and below.  In addition to ascending to the spires of Sagrada Familia, we also visited the top of Casa Mira, a residential building designed by Gaudi that resembled melting ice cream cones.  Later, we took a longish subway and bus ride to the entrance of Park Guell, a planned community that was never completed designed to appeal to wealthy Barcelonans who wanted to avoid city living but which incorporated some landscape design by Gaudi.  But in addition to exploring the city from above, we also saw the Roman ruins beneath the city, where the old Barcelona Cathedral was built.  We could see the vats where wine was made and where clothes were washed and dyed.  In seeing the mixture between old and new, all of the architectural and design fashions, as well as the street life on the Ramblas, I found myself thinking about Walter Benjamin’s discussions of Naples, Paris, and other European cities and about the ways that history is expressed through architecture and design.  Barcelona’s architecture, its neighborhoods and street scenes, tell countless stories about its social and political past, and it was well worth the extra time to explore those sites.

Because we spent several days in Barcelona, it’s impossible to capture every aspect of our trip in detail, but it was terrific to spend time exploring the Picasso Museum (which featured an impressive number of Picasso’s Las Meninas paintings and sketches), the Chocolate Museum, and other highlights.  From Barcelona, we took a night train to Madrid.  More details about that city in a future post.

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Buying Dreams

I’ve been taking a break from blogging for the last few days, partly to focus on writing, but also because the Wordherders server got hit by a pretty vicious bit of malware.  I think everything is OK now, but at ant rate, I just wanted to offer a quick pointer to this Yahoo story about the news that one of the most iconic film sets in recent history, the Iowa farm where Field of Dreams was shot, is up for sale for the bargain price of $5.4 million.

Many years ago, I wrote a chapter of my dissertation on time travel and nostalgia in Field of Dreams and Frequency, and I remember being fascinated by the ways in which the location became a kind of tourist attraction where people could enact the final scene of the film, visiting a baseball field in Iowa as a form of escape.  The chapter honestly didn’t work very well, and I’m sort of relieved that it’s collecting dust in the basement of Purdue’s library, but I’ll always have a soft spot for the movie and am intrigued that the site continues to attract so many visitors.

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Reinventing Cinema Review in Film & History

Michael Marino is the most recent person to review Reinventing Cinema, this time in the journal, Film & History. The review is generally positive, with Marino remarking that  “Tryon’s book is generally interesting and well argued and it is clear he is an expert on this topic. The book does an excellent job outlining the evolution of the medium of film in the age of digital technology. This topic in turn speaks to wider themes related to the intersection of technology and society.”

He does criticize the book for not appearing critical enough of the ways in which corporate culture–such as media conglomerates–threaten to suffocate the democratizing aspects of digital cinema, an issue I thought about quite a bit when writing the book.  Ultimately, I decided that the “giant media entities” described by Marino couldn’t be reduced to a single intentionality or effect–note Paramount’s decision to support a small set of micro-budgeted genre films–and tried to navigate a fairly careful line between the many players involved in the digital transformation of cinema.  Still, it’s an insightful review that helped me to see some of my key arguments from a different perspective.

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The Kids Grow Up [Full Frame 2010]

If you’ve been following me on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll likely know that I recently gave The Best Girlfriend Ever a Flip Camera for her birthday.  We’d talked about buying one for a while, in particular so that we can document an upcoming trip to Spain, but once I had a chance to play with the camera (here’s one recent effort), I found myself increasingly drawn to filming, recording even the most banal moments of everyday life.  But even though I enjoy playing with the camera, I’m conscious of how it shapes my experience these events, simultaneously saving their representation for later while also potentially distancing me from participating in the event itself, in real time, as it’s happening.  The Flip Camera, which is about the size of a cell phone, helps diminish that sense of distanciation, but no matter what, the camera’s presence shapes my interaction with the people I’m filming.

Playing with the camera in recent days has left me thinking about the genre of personal documentary, in particular Doug Block’s most recent film, The Kids Grow Up, a follow-up to his prior film, 51 Birch Street.  In The Kids Grow Up, Block traces the evolution of his relationship with his daughter (and only child), Lucy, as she finishes high school and prepares for college.  During an opening scene, Block comments that “nothing prepares you for letting go,” and The Kids Grow Up serves as his cinematic testament to that sentiment.  In conversations with his wife and Lucy, Block is forced to confront his own ambivalence about his daughter leaving home.  At the same time, although Lucy complies with his requests to appear on camera, she is also, quite often, a recalcitrant subject, demanding privacy during certain key conversations, both out of a sense of privacy and out of a desire for an unmediated relationship with her father.  The film traces a number of important coming-of-age moments: looking for colleges, meeting a new boyfriend, meeting a college roommate.  Throughout the film, we are made conscious that Block is filming, and the camera becomes the subject of many of the film’s conversations (and, sometimes, arguments), but at the same time, we often see Lucy making choices about self-presentation because of her awareness that she will later be watched.

Watching the film, quite naturally, reminded me of my own relationship with my girlfriend’s kids, who are both teenagers and will soon be leaving home, and although Block depicts an experience that might be familiar to many of us–the excitement (and difficulty) of watching a child grow up–he presents it in an honest and refreshing way. Like Anthony Kaufman, I appreciated Block’s approach to his subject.  As he points out, “Even though the film is ostensibly autobiographical, he focuses his lens on his daughter, his wife, and everyone else around him, which saves the project from navel-gazing.”  Because of the care Block uses in depicting his subject, The Kids Grow Up is a subtle, personal meditation, not only on the experiences of parenting but also on our contemporary habits of documenting those experiences, whether to hold onto them–and relish them forever–or simply to make sense of them.

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Hollywood in the Carolinas

During a recent visit to Wilmington, North Carolina, the Best Girlfriend Ever and I dropped by EUE Screen Gems Studios for their tour.  The studio is currently best known as the site where CW Network television series One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek are (or were) filmed, but the facility has been used for a number of movies and TV shows, including Blue Velvet and The Hudsucker Proxy, and intermittently HBO’s hilarious Eastbound and Down, as well as a number of Geico ads, among others (my girlfriend happened to notice the backdrop for one of the gecko ads in the distance of one studio).  Because I’m not a specific fan of either show–I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an episode of One Tree Hill–the tour was not really an experience of fandom for me, as much as it was a chance to see how such tours are constructed and the attempts to create an “on-set experience.”

The history of the studio itself was fairly interesting. It was built by Dino De Laurentiis, who did not realize the proximity of the nearby Wilmington airport at the time, a situation that has created some complications in filming there (though these are apparently handled relatively easily).  One of the surprises for me was the distinction between the show itself as an intellectual/entertainment property and the studio as a site where the shows (or movies) are filmed.  Because of this distinction, the only merchandise available on the property was associated with the Screen Gems name, not the individual properties or shows produced there.  Much of the tour involved exploring several of the One Tree Hill sets, including the kitchen and bedrooms of several characters, as well as the recording studio owned by one of the show’s characters.  Although I know little about the show, it was hard not to be impressed by the attention to detail, by the attempts to make a relatively flimsy set look like a genuinely lived-in (or worked-in) location.  Details such as photographs, books, and even magazines seem carefully placed to suggest that the space is occupied by a family (or individuals).  Non-functioning refrigerators filled with food products, many of which were part of product placement strategies, also helped to complete the picture.

Even cooler for me was stumbling across a bulletin board with an annotated script plan on it, often with notes suggesting the tone of a key scene here (including one that said simply “they bond here,” of two of the show’s key characters).  The tour concluded with a short video consisting of snippets of TV shows and movies that had been filmed on the studio lot shown in one of Screen Gems’ screening rooms.  Significantly, the room was outfitted with a medium-sized TV set so that production personnel could see how the show would play on a smaller screen.  Throughout the tour, the guides, most of whom were UNCW film and theater students, related on-set production anecdotes, including some of the challenges of avoiding continuity errors.  Obviously, no photographing or filming was permitted on the tour to avoid potential spoilers (or other concerns), but because of Wilmington’s history as a site for movie and TV production, it was quite a bit of fun to see how the studio creates a narrative about the show and other work done on the site.

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New Reinventing Cinema Review

I’m taking a quick break from my Full Frame blogging to mention that I have just learned about another review of my book, Reinventing Cinema, this time from Bad Lit blogger and American Film Institute researcher Mike Everleth.  Mike is especially attentive to my arguments that both utopian and dystopian claims about the future of cinema need to be challenged.  Here’s a nice pullquote that gets at the flavor of the review:

Our media landscape is definitely changing in the digital age, but we need to watch out for the doomsayers and hucksters. To navigate this new world, there needs to be more reasoned analysis on par with what Tryon has accomplished with Reinventing Cinema.

Be sure to read the whole review.

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SCMS Blogging

In case you missed it elsewhere, I wrote yesterday’s SCMS conference report for Antenna.  It’s pretty much impossible to summarize my reactions to four different panels in the space of 600-700 words, but as you’ll see, I found many of the panels I attended yesterday to be incredibly productive and engaging.  While you’re in the neighborhood, you should read yesterday’s report from Derek Kompare, as well.

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Reinventing Cinema Review

Hey, this is pretty cool.  Here is a very nice pullquote from the review of my book in the December 2009 issue of Choice:

Expanding film studies beyond traditional boundaries, Tryon explores how cinema affects and is affected by developments in technology and culture that have altered the way movies are consumed, produced, and perceived. The book is readable and well researched, offering students an excellent opportunity to go beyond more traditional film studies. Highly recommended.”

For those of you who are curious, here is some interesting data on how Choice reviews books.

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Miramax: A Cinematic Education

By now, pretty much everyone who cares will know that the legendary independent movie distributor Miramax has finally closed down.  The closing of Miramax, the studio built by Harrvey and Bob Weinstein and named after their parents, had been anticipated for a while in this era of downsizing studios, and of course, Miramax had long lost its reputation as a maverick dealer in edgy indie fare.  Once Disney took ownership (and especially after the Weinsteins left), it became difficult to see Miramax as an “independent.”  Its films were instead labeled with the sometimes-pejorative distinction “Indiewood.”  But as Miramax closes its doors, I’ve found myself thinking about how their films provided me with something like an ad hoc cinematic education, one that helped shape my decision to study film.

Like many people, including Owen Gleiberman, I first became aware of Miramax via Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape, a film I happened to see several times because my religious college had overbooked the dorms and was forced to put several of us up in a local hotel.  And with three free months of premium cable, I had a chance to see the film several times, to begin to grasp, barely, that Soderbergh was trying to do something different, to mesh thoughtful, interesting (and, yes, potentially voyeuristic) material with a pop sensibility.

It would be several years later that Miramax would make its biggest impression on me, though.  And although Miramax helped ditsribute Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, two films I loved, it was Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Red (the trailer, oddly, is not anything like the film) that made me want to study films professionally.  Weeks after seeing the film, I was enrolled in a Feminist Film Theory course at Purdue (along with other coursework), and many of the questions about chance and coincidence depicted in the film began to motivate my early scholarship (work that briefly focused on another underrated Miramax film, Smoke).

The Feminist Film course at Purdue gave me a framework for reading both Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game and, more crucailly, the marketing apparatus created by Miramax (and others?) that promoted the film as one with a “surprise twist.”  Although I criticized Miramax in the paper, that moment was the beginning of a slow realization that the framing materials around a film, the trailers, marketing elements, and so-called ancillary materials matter.  In fact, for me (and I’d guess many others), Miramax had become a frame that shaped our anticipation of what a film would be (this perception was only reinforced when the filmmaker Kayo Hatta discussed her negotiations with Harvey over the editing of Picture Bride during a talk she gave at Purdue many years ago).

So although Miramax became somewhat more conventional with its offerings–I’ve never been able to generate the interest to watch Gangs of New York, for example, and have fallen well behind Focus Features and others when it comes to more current indie fare–they helped contribute significantly to the debates about what counts as independent, indie, or Indiewood cinema.  The end of Miramax comes in an era when the definitions of independent film and the roles of film festivals such as Sundance in fostering indie voices are being redefined.  But it’s worth thinking about the remarkable energy those early Miramax films generated as we look ahead in the rush to define what’s next.

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Blogs, Twitter, and Wikis: eCitizenship at Fayetteville State

Just a quick reminder that tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 PM, I will be giving a revised version of my talk, “Blogs, Twitter, and Wikis” in Fayetteville State’s Continuing Education Building.  If you are a student or faculty member interested in these issues, I’d be delighted for you to drop by.  I gave a much shorter version of this talk at our Mid-Year Conference, but this will allow me to cover quite a bit more material.

It will also allow me to show the legendary Stephen Colbert commentary on “wikiality,” which still holds up incredibly well, three and a half years after it first appeared on the air (hard to believe it was that long ago).  Hope to see some of you there.

Update: I’m also hoping to bounce briefly off of the debates about the Siegenthaler controversy before moving into a more specific discussion about wikis and even Wikipedia can be used productively as teaching tools in the college classroom.

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Repetition Compulsions

I’ve mentioned a couple of times here that the first movie I ever “owned” on VHS was an edited-for-TV version of The Karate Kid, which my sister and I must have watched at least twenty times, to the point that the tape itself was completely degraded (in fact, I’d argue that I’ve seen the film more often, though less recently, than legendary KK-watcher and ESPN Sports Guy, Bill Simmons).  I’m not terribly proud of this fact about myself, but as a child of the 1980s trapped in suburbia, my options were somewhat limited, and as a sports-meets-coming-of-age movie, it’s not half-bad.  So, I greeted the news of a remake featuring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith with mild derision.

It sounded like a bad idea, an unnecessary and silly remake, but nothing that would occlude my memories of the original film.  On principle, I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea of remakes or reimaginings of older cultural texts, whether adaptations of novels or plays, so why be so protective of an older movie?  Plus, it’s not as if I felt the need to defend the Macchio-Morita version.  It satisfied some vague repetition compulsion when I was a teenager, but I no longer want to revisit it, so when I found out about the trailer for the remake (via a Fayetteville Observer blog), I watched it more out of a sense of curiosity than anything else.

And although I still find the remake completely unnecessary, I found the trailer oddly intriguing.  like many popular remakes, the new film borrows heavily from the older one: the kid moves far from home to a “foreign” environment (more on that in a minute), he gets bullied by a gang of karate thugs, and his mentor teaches him karate using a variety of unorthodox methods.  Many of the shots–the Kid riding away from his old ‘hood looking out the window of a car, a high-angle shot of the mentor’s garden–directly echo the original film.  But the context is a little off.  Instead of moving to LA and getting bullied by a bunch of WASPy jerks, Jaden moves to China instead, perhaps suggesting the film has its eyes trained on international markets.  But although the film has a professional polish, part of me felt as if I was watching a “sweded” version of Karate Kid, rather than a Hollywood remake, as if someone who half-remembered the original film took some of the more memorable scenes and threw them together and made up the rest.  Mocking the “wax on-wax off” scenes in the original with new moves (“take off jacket”) was mildly funny, but the rest seems like an extremely expensive fan production, albeit one trained toward launching one career and reviving another.

I still have almost no interest in seeing the remake, but seeing the uncanny echoes of the original in the trailer had the obvious effect of reminding me about my childhood pleasure at watching the original while also illustrating just how much things have changed since the original came out, twenty-five or so years ago.

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Twitter, Blogs, and Wikis: eCitizenship at Fayetteville State

This post is part of a panel at the upcoming mid-year conference at Fayetteville State University organized by several faculty members and students who attended the American Democracy Project’s eCitizenship Initiative Meeting in Detroit.  The goal of the project is to introduce faculty to social media tools that we can use to help students become more engaged with their classroom experiences and campus communities.  My contribution to the panel is a very brief overview of Twitter, blogs, and wikis, three tools that I have used both in the classroom and in my professional and personal life.  The panel itself leaves room only for about a 15-20 minute description, so these remarks will be incredibly broad (and I probably won’t be able to cover everything listed below, but want to make it available for faculty after the presentation), but if you have anything you’d like to add in the comments, I’d appreciate it.

Blogs: Although blogs are becoming a fairly visible part of web culture, professors and teachers are still exploring their implications for classroom use.  The most common expectations of blogs is that they are frequently updated, with newer entries appearing at the top of the page, making them valuable for course updates and for organizing class discussion.  Although Blackboard offers a blog function, I have often used public blogs in order to help students learn to write for a public audience.  Some useful links for faculty interested in blogging:

  • There are two major free blogging services, Blogger and WordPress (demo setting up a Blogger blog), where you can set up blogs, usually within minutes.  Both services offer default templates, but if you have basic web design skills, you can customize your template rather quickly.  Both services allow you to insert hyperlinks, video, and images quickly and easily.
  • Here are two past courses, both at Georgia Tech, where I required students to create both personal and group blogs, Rhetoric and Democracy and Writing to the Moment.
  • Be prepared for readers outside the class to discover your blogs and your students’ work, especially if you create a direct link to someone else’s site.  In a few cases, authors have left comments on student blogs responding to what they have to say.  For the most part, this seems to validate student perceptions of their writing, suggesting that others found it interesting or engaging.
  • Sample class blogs by faculty at other universities include David Silver (University of San Francisco), Bill Wolff (Rowan University), and Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Pomona University).
  • For some information about blogging and scholarship, here is a presentation I gave at this year’s MLA conference in Philadelphia, and for another helpful explanation of the value of blogging, you might also read Andrew Sullivan’s “Why I Blog.”

Twitter: Another easy-to-use resource, Twitter is a microblogging service that limits updates to 140 characters.  Although it has been much-maligned, it is also an incredibly valuable tool for sharing information and organizing conversation.

  • My personal Twitter account
  • Possible classroom uses for the @reply/retweet feature: users can direct a response to a specific comment while keeping their tweet public (demonstrate, asking readers to say hi)
  • Role of hashtags in organizing conversations: #MLA09 as conference backchannel.  You could create a course hashtag and allow students to submit questions via cell phone/text during class or to raise questions outside of class (one problem: older tweets may not be successfully archived after a few days; Twitter is more ephemeral than blogs).
  • Posting links: although Twitter is often criticized because it limits discussion to 140-characters, many tweeps use it to link to longer forms of writing, including blog posts.  There are several URL shorteners on the web, including bit.ly and tinyurl.com.
  • Although students have been more reluctant to pick up Twitter than Facebook, it is being widely used by film, media, and literary scholars (among others).  For some discussion of Twitter’s use in the classroom, see Kelli Marshall (who identified some problems with using it) and David Parry, who offers a number of helpful instructions on setting up students with accounts.
  • Lists as a convenient way to follow a sub-group of specific Twitter users:  Film Studies for Free’s “Essential Reads” and Dan Cohen’s “Digital Humanities” list.
  • Two recent articles on Twitter: Inside Higher Ed reports on Twitter’s use at this years MLA Convention, Clive Thompson on Twitter’s “sixth sense,” and my AlterNet article, “Why You Should Be on Twitter.”

Wikis: Most people know wikis only from the collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia that “anyone” can edit.  Although this crowdsourced approach to knowledge organization has been widely criticized, research has shown that it is no less accurate than other major encyclopedias, but most media scholars are interested in the wiki tool as offering a new mode of authorship for the digital age, one that emphasizes collaboration rather than individuality.

  • Blackboard offers a wiki function that I haven’t yet tested.  PBWiki is a free wiki service that offers basic wiki authoring tools (they make money through ads).  Other professors have had success with requiring students to write Wikipedia entries on subjects that haven’t yet been included in the site or to polish entries on subjects familiar to the students.  Wikipedia has a very helpful page offering suggestions for instructors thinking about creating assignments around the site.
  • There is a relatively slow learning curve with teaching students wiki authoring.  I spent several class periods working with students and many of them still struggled.  But here is a typical welcome page for a wiki (login may be required).
  • A more productive project–one that I found to be very successful, even if students were originally resistant–was an assignment asking students to analyze Wikipedia as a source.  Here is my original description of the project (note: this entry offers a number of useful links, including the assigned readings I gave) and an update a few weeks later after I’d read the students’ papers.
  • My project in particular asked students to examine how a typical Wikipedia entry is conducted in order to make conclusions about new forms of digital writing and collaboration.  I used the entry on Representative Joe Wilson to jumpstart this project, showing students both the discussion and archive pages for his entry (see the tabs at the top of the page on Wilson).

If you have any questions or observations about this project, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me by email at ctryon[at]uncfsu[dot]edu.

Update: Here are a couple of pertinent links that have crossed my radar since I composed this post.  First, via David Silver (linked above), an article by Virginia Heffernan of The New York Times about the role of hashtags in reshaping Twitter conversations.  Second, Steven Johnson explains “how Twitter will change the way we live.”

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My Decade in Movies, Part II

The second half of my “Decade in Movies” list (go here for part one) reflects a deepening interest in documentary and, eventually, in do-it-yourself (DIY) cinema, leading to the rise of the Mumblecore phenomenon and many other filmmakers ready to take up their mantle (pretend the list starts with the number 13).

  1. I admired Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset when I saw it in 2004 and deeply enjoyed revisiting it with my girlfriend a few months ago.  It successfully recreates the characters of Jessie and Celine as older, wiser, and slightly more cynical adults while retaining much of the romance of the original film.  And it made me want to revisit them again in 2014.
  2. Michel Gondry’s playful experiments with storytelling, subjectivity, and cinema, whether working with Charlie Kaufman or on his own managed to balance self-conscious quirk with broader philosophical themes.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind may be one of my favorite films of the last decade–it’s among the first to find its way to my Intro to Film syllabus–but I also quite liked Be Kind Rewind, especially due to its romantic celebration of the power of creativity (as discussed by Jason Sperb in this fantastic blog essay).  I was ambivalent about Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synechdoche, New York, but Roger Ebert’s recent comments on the film sold me on it.
  3. Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know had a powerful impact when I saw it at the Atlanta Film Festival many years ago.
  4. My year in Washington, DC, gave me access to more independent and documentary films than most other locations.  Jia Zhangke’s The World offered a sharp, moving analysis of globalization through the lens of workers at an amusement park that sought to simulate, albeit partially and incompletely, tourist sites from the rest of the world.
  5. On a related note, Jem Cohen’s Chain, a hybrid documentary-narrative feature offered a powerful portrait of consumer sprawl, using as its setting locations in several cities, states, and even countries to create a powerful sense of displacement (in multiple senses of that term).  The film, inspired in part by Walter Benjamin’s powerful critiques of the Paris Arcades, Chris Marker’s cinema essays, and Barbara Ehrenreich’s descriptions of retail work, is probably my personal favorite of the decade and, in fact, inspired a short essay I published in Art Signal.
  6. When I lived in DC, I also began to develop an awareness of the Mumblecore filmmakers and their achievements with DIY cinema.  My favorites:  By chance, I happened to catch Andrew Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha at a special screening at the AFI Silver, and I was immediately impressed by Bujalski’s ability to capture the awkwardness of young adult romance.  The Duplass Brothers’ Puffy Chair played soon after at the E Street Theater.
  7. One of the most influential DIY films of the decade was Four Eyed Monsters.  Arin Crumley and Susan Buice helped create some of the more successful models for promoting and distributing films online, through video podcasts and YouTube and Second Life screenings.  Much of what they did informed my own thinking about DIY cinema in Reinventing Cinema and beyond.
  8. Another important DIY film: Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, an imaginative re-telling of a section of The Ramayana mixed with Annette Hanshaw blues numbers and visually realized through a pastiche of animation styles.  Paley, like Buice and Crumley, turned to web distribution and used Creative Commons licenses after running into problems with clearing rights to Hanshaw’s songs.
  9. Like Sita Sings the Blues, Waltz with Bashir used animation to powerful effect, in this case to retell a traumatic massacre of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers.  The film explores the Israeli soldiers’ feelings of complicity with the massacre, as well as their inability to remember fully what happened or what they saw at the time.
  10. Like Roger Ebert, I’ve continued to be impressed by the work of Rahmin Bahrani, who made three powerful films over the last decade, Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo.  If I had to pick a favorite, it would likely be Goodbye Solo, if only because I saw it on the big screen in Cary, soon after moving up to the Research Triangle.  But all three films are small, intimate, observant stories about outsiders.  On a related note, Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy struck a similar chord.
  11. Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy mixed Richard Linklater’s penchant for showing two characters wandering aimlessly through city streets while deep in conversation (in this case, San Francisco) with some astute observations about race and class and their relationship to indie culture.
  12. Once is one of the few musicals that worked for me, a film that incoroprated Glenn Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s music perfectly into the grubby streets of Dublin in a bittersweet romance between The Guy and The Girl.

Any observations? Objections? Omissions?  I’ve certainly not pretended that my list is definitive.  I missed many quality films, of course, but I hope these two lists tell us something about the decade we’ve just endured and about the movies that helped make it a little better.

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My Decade in Movies, Part I

With the decade coming to a close, there has been a frenzy of list-making from bloggers and reviewers alike, ready to name the best films or documentaries of the last decade.  Although such lists often have ideological functions or merely serve to show the “hubris” of the list-makers, as Jeffrey Sconce points out, there is some value in list-making, in using lists to tell a story about the last year, the last decade, or even the last century.  Although it is easy (albeit worthwhile) to criticize organizations such as the American Film Institute for championing middlebrow, white-bread entertainment, these list-making practices persist, whether in blogs, the pages of newspapers or magazines, or in the syllabi to the courses we teach.  As A. O. Scott points out, list-making allows for a fascinating dialectic between the “consensus masterpieces” that tell us something about our cinematic past and the subjective tastes that may prove more idiosyncratic but may also allow us to see a certain moment in the history of film (or audiovisual) culture in a different way.  It is the curatorial power of the list-maker that can map relationships between films in order to make sense of our cinematic past.

With that in mind, I’m resisting the impulse to pick a “10 Best” list for the last decade, following Sconce’s observation that such lists are often arbitrary and subjective.  There are hundreds of films from the last decade that I haven’t seen–including, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, the Lord of the Rings trilogy–so any claims toward universality aren’t very convincing here.  So instead, I’ll discuss an extended list of movies that had some significance for me and that may also say something about film culture in the last decade.  Perhaps not surprisingly, I wouldn’t have predicted that many of the films on my list would stick with me so many years later.  Others that I listed as favorites have faded from memory, a phenomenon addressed by Dan Callahan in his review of the last decade.   The full “list” is below the fold in a semi-chronological order shaped by my own memories of seeing or reviewing them.

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