Archive for June, 2004


Via Boing Boing: Metroblogging is “a hyper-local look at what’s going on in the city. a group of regional bloggers give each site a new perspective on daily life. less calendar listing, more friendly advice.” Metblogs have alreay been established in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, among other cities, and they’re currently planning to expand to several other cities including Atlanta and Washington, DC.


[AFF] Control Room

Jehane Noujaim’s Control Room (IMDB) continues the trend of excellent documentary filmmaking that we’ve been witnessing over the last few years. I had a chance to watch the film last night at its Atlanta Film Festival screening with a packed and enthusiastic audience (for those Atlantans who missed it, Control Room will be opening Friday at the Midtown Art Theater). Noujaim’s film is very compelling, and I’ve been struggling the last few days to find a way to review it, so I’ll admit that this review is probably more impressionistic than most.

The film, which deploys a classic cinema verite style, opens with several Arabs watching one of Bush’s pre-war speeches on Al Jazeera and essentially introduces one of the basic, but significant, arguments made by the film, which is to illustrate how the US and Arab narratives of the war lead to vastly different perspectives on it. In his Village Voice review, J. Hoberman notes that “every conflict is a contest of competing narratives.” In a later sequence, one of the Al Jazeera employees echoes Walter Benjamin when he observes that “history is written by the victors.”

The scenes in CentCom are also fascinating, specifically the interactions between Lietenant John Rushing, a young American information officer, and Sudanese journalist Hassan Ibrahim, whom Hoberman describes as “a former bin Laden classmate, onetime Deadhead, and ex-BBC man.” Initially, Rushing maintains the classic justification for the war in Iraq based on humanitarian grounds. Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator, and the US has an opportunity to bring democracy to Iraq. Gradually, Rushing begins to question some of these beliefs, or at the very least, he’s willing to discuss them, and one of the film’s most powerful scenes shows Rushing and Ibrahim planning to get together for dinner to further discuss their perceptions of the war.

One aspect of the film that I found fascinating was the clear efforts that Al Jazeera confronted simply to define itself. It’s interesting to watch the debates in teh newsroom about what news should be covered, and from what perspective. Other scenes portray the absurdity of the military efforts to manage the media in the war. One sequence that got a lot of laughs involved the infamous deck of cards, which the military revealed at a CentCom press conference. The army announced the existence of the deck, but then failed to provide the press with any copies of the deck or even to display the deck in a public space. Throughout the film we witness the ways in which information is managed, and in a sense, it may not be a terribly new story, but with violence in Iraq continuing, it’s a story that needs to be told with great urgency.

There are several humorous moments in the film in which Donald Rumsfeld is accusing Al Jazeera faking evidence in order to drum up opposition to the war. In fact, Rumsfeld’s comment, “the truth will come out” probably got the biggest laugh of the night. I’m still thinking about this movie, two days after seeing it initially, and I think it may be the kind of film that I’ll want to write about in an exteneded essay.

Update: Check out Amardeep Singh’s review of the film.

Update 2: I’d planned to mention the cinetrix’s review of Control Room before, but other things intervened. She also links to this Village Voice article on the film (which includes an extended interview with Lt. John Rushing). Kelly at Shiny Blue Grasshopper also has a good review of the film.

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Letters From an Unknown Filmmaker

My article, “Letters from an Unknown Filmmaker: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil and the Politics of Memory” is now available online. This issue of Rhizomes looks particularly good–lots of interesting stuff on time and memory. Kudos to Davin Heckman for putting the issue together.

It’s a strange sensation looking back at my article, which bears the traces of its unpacking over the course of several years. The article originally grew out of a conferene paper I delivered at the International Association of Philosophy and Literature conference in Hartford in 1999. The original paper was an attempt to read Sans Soleil via Derrida’s Post-Card, a reading I found produtive at the time because of Marker’s experimentation with disjunctions between sound and image. I could go back a step further and observe that my interest in Marker grew out of some connections between cinema and time travel I made in a visual theory course I took at Purdue.

I’m rarely satisfied with my own work, so I’ll never really be able to judge what I’ve written, but it’s interesting to see the essay in published form and to see how it evokes certain aspects of my past.

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Dare We Call It Genocide?

Recently, some people in the national media have begun to pay attention to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has been following the story pretty closely lately. He notes that the Bush administration is still trying to determine whether or not to call the mass murder and rape committed by the Sudanese government “genocide.” According to the US Agency for International Development at least 320,000 people have died will die this year alone if no action is taken. Ted Koppel also covered this story last night on an episode of Nightline, which aired after the basketball game (when probably six people were watching). I certainly applaud Kristof and Koppel for finally bringing some attention to this story, but the international community’s lack of response to this crisis is really inexcusable.

Update: Entry edited 6/19/04 due to my misreading of Kristof’s editorial.

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Summer Solos

I just learned that a colleague of mine here at Georgia Tech has an exhibition at Atlanta’s Contemporary Art Center. The exhibit, Summer Solos, pairs the work of Michael Oliveri, Chair of the Digital Media program at the University of Georgia, and Prema Murthy, a Fellow at the Wesley Center for New Media at Georgia Tech.

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Four Word Film Review

The Four Word Film Review provides you with a much shorter synopsis of today’s films than I ever could. You want a quick review of Brad Pitt’s Troy? Try these:

  • Trojan horse bypasses firewall.
  • Bana gives ’em Hector.
  • Greek women prefer Trojans.
  • Horse, Brad both wooden.

Or, you could check out reviews on an older film such as The Big Lebowski:

  • Coens kill Buscemi again.
  • Raymond Chandler discovers bong.

Thanks to pullquote for the link.


[AFF] Reconstruction

Reconstruction is a meticulously directed film by young Danish filmmaker, Christoffer Boe, who won the 2003 Camera d’or at the Cannes Film Festival for this film. The film’s plot defies description. The film opens with Fred Astaire’s version of “Night and Day” playing non-diegetically while grainy shots of Copenhagen at night, some in time-lapse, establish the film’s meditation on uncertainty. We cut to a magician who defies gravity by seeming to suspend a lit cigarette in midair while a voice-over reminds us that, even though we may respond emotionally to the stories of the characters, the film is merely a “construction.” The film itself reflects philosophically on the nature of identity and memory, reminding me of Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad and to a different extent, Kieslowski’s Blind Chance.

I’m going to explain the plot in some detail here, in part to simply better sort through my interpretation of the film. After the opening sequence, we are then introduced to the film’s four central characters, Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a young man in his early thirties; his girlfriend, Simone (Maria Bonnevie); an older novelist, August (Krister Henriksson); and his wife, Aimee (also played by Bonnevie). Alex, in one of teh film’s first scenes, approaches Aimee in a bar, immediately striking up a conversation, immediately asking her to go to Rome with him. She smiles and says she can’t; she doesn’t know him, it’s too soon. Alex insists that there is a spark of recognition, that they do know each other, and the familiarity between them is emphasized by close-ups that include both of them in a single shot.

Later, Alex goes to meet Simone; they’ve clearly been together a long time, but the relationship seems to be lacking intensity. He only tells Simone he loves her when prodded, and the camera seems more distant here, reducing the intimacy between them. Later, the two of them catch a train when Alex spots Aimee from a distance. He ditches Simone and eventually has a one-night stand with Aimee and makes plans to meet her the following day. The next day, however, something has changed. When he returns to the apartment he shares with Aimee, the entrance to the apartment is gone, and his landlady doesn’t recognize him. Later in the park, his father says he doesn’t know him. Finally, Simone herself fails to recognize Alex, though she does seem drawn to him. The decision to cast the same actress for both roles becomes significant here, as it adds to the films meditation on identity. In part, the film seems to suggest that falling in love changes one’s world completely, but I think the film complicates that notion considerably.

In addition to Alex’s story, we also learn a little about August, the famous novelist. He is writing a novel that seems remarkably similar to some of teh events taking place in the film. In addition, it is his voice-over that introduced the film’s constructedness. Are these characters simply ideas from his novel, with August experimenting with the emotional effect of certain events? The film never answers this question, but it certainly raises the possibility. I won’t reveal how the film concludes the plot, but the final shot of Reconstruction reprises the image of the magician, still in black-and-white, the cigarette still floating in air, when the cigarette suddenly flashes creating a giant puff of smoke, the magician disappearing behind it. In this closing sequence, Boe also reprises Astaire’s “Night and Day,” completing the circle of this fascinating film.


Critical Art Ensemble Petition

Via GreenCine:

Steve Kurtz […] teaches art at the State University of NYU in Buffalo and is also a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, a group that has been exploring the politics of biotechnology for some time now. When he woke up on May 11, Steve Kurtz discovered that his wife Hope had suffered a cardiac arrest and died in her sleep. He called 911. Long story short, the police suspected that the material and equipment they found in his apartment was being used for some sort of bioterrorist plot. Kurtz was held briefly, then allowed to return home, but the investigation is still in full force – in fact, instead of being called off once the obvious misunderstanding came to light, it has expanded to include other CAE members.

Here’s a link to the CAE Defense Fund overview and a petition you can sign supporting CAE.


The Film Experience Website

Bedford-St. Martins has launched a website designed to complement Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White’s The Film Experience: An Introduction. I haven’t dug around too much, but the links section looks very useful and informative. If anyone is planning an introduction to film course, this might be a helpful resource.

Cross-posted at Palimpsest.


Melon Farmer!

This made me laugh out loud. Jim, at Uncle Jazzbeau’s Gallimaufrey, reports the anecdote of watching part of Die Hard 3: Bruce and Samuel Get Paid Lots of Money to Blow Stuff Up, when he noticed that Samuel Jackson called Bruce Willis a “melon-farming cracker.” Jim explains that he eventually noticed that “melon farmer” stood in for another MF expletive. It turns out that Alex Cox, of Repo Man fame, coined the phrase when re-dubbing that film for television. By the way, Melon Farmers is a cool site focusing on media censorship.


Yet Another Blogging Panel I Wish I’d Attended

Collin reports on a panel on blogging chaired by Liz Lawley and featuring Alex Halavais, Jill Walker, Sébastien Paquet, and Clay Shirky. Sounds like a great discussion. Should be useful for my paper on using blogs in the classroom.

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[AFF] Everyday People

I attended last night’s screening of Jim McKay’s latest film, Everyday People, at the opening night of the Atlanta Film Festival. The film itself focuses on a Brooklyn family restaurant, Raskin’s, that will soon be closing after being sold to developers who plan to replace it with condos and chain stores, and the action basically takes place over the course of a single day, primarily within the walls of the diner itself.

We learned after the film (during a Q&A session) that executive producer Nelson George originally developed the idea for the film by soliciting stories about racial tension on the web. George commented that they received hundreds of stories and found that most of them (around 70%) dealt with racial tensions in the workplace. George then recruited McKay, and they began the process of building a set of stories around the larger narrative of the restaurant. Many of these stories actually grew out of the workshops with the actors before the script had been written. Sydnee Stewart, for example, is a Brooklyn poet and spoken word artist, and the filmmakers were able to incorporate her story into the film’s script, with her character Erin determined to become a professional poet while her mom, a beleaguered employee of the company that plans to buy Raskin’s, is desperate for her to go to college.

The film itself was pretty compelling. McKay deftly weaves between several plotlines, effectively using an ensemble cast of primarily unknown actors (McKay himself commented on this decision, noting that he felt using familiar actors would disrupt the world he was trying to create), allowing the different plotlines to comment on each other without being too obvious. The dialogue-heavy film allows McKay to introduce several of the major debates around the “gentrification” process that many neighborhoods face, and while the film deosn’t resolve these questions (the lack of narrative closure is almost overdone), it’s pretty effective in raising them. In this sense, I think Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times gets it right: “Mr. McKay’s integrity is sometimes a weakness; he’s determined to maintain a balance, strike a theatrical democracy.” Like Mitchell, I would have liked to see more of the street vendor, Akbar, who tended to challenge some of the easier narratives about race and social class, but despite these absences, Everyday People is a worthy film, one that could only be made with the indie sensibility that McKay brings to it.

Update: Eugene Hernandez of indieWIRE, previews the AFF and includes a link to Bob Longino’s AJC article, where Longino ranks the top 25 films of the festival.

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Explode Your Television

Via Cinema Minima: Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine is prediciting that TV is about to explode. He notes that the major barriers to producing and distributing television broadcasts are now being lowered. Jarvis comments:

Citizens TV will not look like the early efforts at TV online. It won’t be all edgy Atom films (nobody watches them). Neither will it exactly mimic broadcast and cable (why bother?). But you can, today, turn out useful TV with little effort and expense.

For example, you could with one camera person and one host and a little editing create a house remake show like the ones my wife and I now love to watch. You could create local shows about sports or politics. You could review movies. You could test drive cars or gadgets. You could teach people how to use, oh, PowerPoint. Or you could create source material: Tape the board of ed meeting and put it online. And then you can distribute it. And then you can get people to watch it.

Now, I actually did watch Atom Films back in the day, but Jarvis makes a good case here. One of the major benefits I’ve encountered while blogging is the opportunity to network with people who had similar interests in local politics (I could also list dozens of academic bloggers, but that would take a while), and if Jarvis is correct, this would be another cheap way of providing access to this type of information. Jarvis has lots of links to articles that imply that TV is “exploding before our eyes.” I do wonder how much the residue of current TV content, with the current heavy emphasis on “reality TV,” will limit people’s imaginations when it comes to content for these shows, but “Citizens TV” still sounds promising to me.

Update: Jarvis follows up on the “Explode your TV” post with a link to SpecSpot, a site where filmmakers can display commercials they’ve made on their own. Of course I’d like to see these technologies put to use for less explicitly commercial purposes. Why use the cheap production and distribution technologies to expand further the complete branding of everything that moves? But some of the spots are pretty cool.


Exhuming McCarthy

Via Kevin Drum, this LA Times (subscription required) op-ed by Thomas Doherty marking the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous soundbites in the history of televised political spectacle. On June 9, 1954, Army attorney Joseph N. Welch, responding to Senator McCarthy’s increasingly vitriolic attacks against Fred Fisher, a young lawyer at Hale and Dorr, eloquently asked,

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Doherty goes on to note that Welch’s defense of Fisher marked a turning point in the McCarthy hearings. But, as Doherty (a film scholar whose books I like) points out, they are equally interesting in terms of the effect these words have today:

The words still echo loudly in the fantasies of anyone near a microphone at a televised congressional hearing — grandstanding politicians, ambitious lawyers and subpoenaed witnesses, all straining to summon a golden sound bite for a media moment of ad-libbed eloquence and historic weight.

Some local rock band even sampled the line in one of their songs (BTW, Doherty’s wrong about the date of “Exhuming McCarthy,” which was actually released in 1987). It is a pretty powerful moment in American history (Welch’s speech, not the song), with the spectacle of politics finding its greatest expression in the emergent medium of television, an image that informs all of the scandals and Congressional hearings we’ve had since.

Doherty also addresses the debate about whether or not Welch’s famous line was rehearsed or not. Welch, of course, insists it was not planned while McCarthy lawyer, Roy Cohn argued otherwise. The transcript and audio are available here.

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Mo[u]rning and Memory

Because I’m in the habit of not watching TV (a bad habit–I must break it), I’ve managed to avoid most of the Reagan nostalgia for the last few days, but I have been fascinated by the number of interesting blog entries that attempt to come to grips with Reagan’s legacy. I share in this attempt to set the record straight regarding Reagan’s presidency, espeically regarding AIDS, Nicaragua, taxes, and so on. But I’m more intrigued by two other interrelated aspects of the Reagan story, both of which have more to do with representations of Reagan, or more broadly representations of Reagan’s America.

In “Mo[u]rning in America,” The Cinetrix describes the experience of re-watching Reagan’s famous 1984 campaign video, “Morning in America.” I vaguely remember watching this video during the Republican convention when I was a teenager. I didn’t have the critical thinking skills back then to really understand politcal rhetoric, but I remember the images having a powerful effect on me as a viewer. As the cinetrix points out, Reagan still stands as our “most cinematic” president, with his carefully scripted performances and his perfectly framed photo ops (Reagan as cowboy, Reagan as farmer, Reagan as jokester).

More recently, we have another version of Reagan. As Ryan asks, “What, for example, does it mean to remember a president whose death was cause by a disease whose primary feature is a loss of memory?” Ryan’s suggestion, linking the cultural memory of Reagan to a tendency towards nostalgia (itself a major element of the Reagan image), makes some sense to me. Reagan has been virtually invisibe for the last ten years, making almost no public appearances over the last ten years, and I think that adds to the outpouring of nostalgia that has become attached to his image.

I’m not sure I can quite synthesize these two related ideas into anything particularly new, but they struck me as closely related points that belong side by side. Reagan’s cinematic presidency seems to fit readily onto the attempts to remember Reagan.