Archive for December, 2004

Pardon the Dust

Working on some more template and stylesheet changes, including the transition to using TypeKey for comments. If the blog looks messy today (Friday), that’s why. That’s all for now.

Update: Weird. The changes seem to have corrected themselves automatically, at least for now.

Update 2: More experimentation: I’ve noticed that in the paragraph after a block quotation, the line spacing changes.

So here is a blockquotation.

And here is some text below the block quotation, just to see what happens. By the way, if anyone knows a fix for this problem, I’d appreciate it. Oh, and I’m working on matching the fonts, too.

Update 3: It appears to be switching to double spacing after lists, too. I’d noticed this when I would preview an entry, but it never showed up before on my actual blog, just when I previewed it. Really weird.

Update 4: Testing out some other minor changes to see if I can fix the blockquote problem.

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End Humpty-Dumpty

Enclosures is a blog that “collects ephemera found between the pages of secondhand books.” The blog’s only a few weeks old, but the most interesting find so far is the scrawled note, “End Humpty-Dumpty,” found inside a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (via Greg Gilpatrick).

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Special Issue on Blogging

A friend emailed me a call for papers for a special issue on blogging from the online journal, Reconstruction. I’m not sure whether I’ll have time to submit anything, but it’s certainly a topic I find interesting. More importantly, I know that many of my readers have some very interesting things to say about blogging, so go take a look at the CFP and submit something.

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MLA 2004: Blogger Meetup

The MLA conference will take place in Philadelphia from December 27-30. G. at “Not being a Zombie” suggests that academic bloggers who will be attending the conference get together at some point. I think this is a cool idea, so I’ll certainly be there. If you’re interested, contact G (you could also contact me, but it might be easier to have one primary contact person instead of several).

Please also consider putting a notice on your blog.

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Classroom Blogging Revisited

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Austin Lingerfelt’s paper on blogging in the classroom. The paper is done now, and it looks really interesting. I’ve learned quite a bit from Austin’s paper and participating in an interview with him about my use of blogging in the classroom, specifically in terms of how the student “discussion blogs” functioned in relationship to interaction within the classroom.

I generally think Autsin’s right to note that “the key issue then is one of choice,” and that allowing students to write about topics of their choice may make for more engaged writers. In my Rhetoric and Democracy course this semester, I tried just that approach, with some limited success (students were allowed to write about election-related topics that were important to them), but when I allowed students the freedom to find what they wanted to read (and therefore relaxed required due dates for blog entries), many of them procrastinated and didn’t complete the blog assignment until the final week of class. Now, to some extent that may be an implicit commentary on the material, with students who weren’t interested in reading about the election putting off writing about it as long as possible. Or it could be a matter of tweaking the assignment to keep students more consistently on topic in order to integrate blog assignments more effectively into the daily life of the classroom. At the very least, Austin’s essay has encouraged me to rethink the ways in which I’ve used blogging in the classroom in the past and how I’ll use it in the future.

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Documentary Film Panel

Now that I’m done calculating grades, I’ve been looking ahead to future projects, including the film panel I will be organizing at next year’s SAMLA conference here in Atlanta. It will probably come as no surprise that I’ve decided to focus the panel around the theme of documentary cinema (and don’t worry, I’m not a stickler for medium specificity; reality TV qualifies here). I’ll post the specifics later, but I sent off a rough version of the call for papers to the SAMLA office just a few minutes ago.

While organizing the panel, I had the good fortune of stumbling across Chris’s post, “In the Year of the Documentary,” which I read as a very useful analysis of the renewed prominence of the genre. At some point, I’d like to untangle Chris’s claim that the documentary reniassance might in some way be tied to a “return of totality,” but for now, I’ll start with a link. Chris is right that it’s easy to generalize and make sweeping claims about the new popularity of the documentary (I’m sure similar pronouncements greeted the appearance of The Thin Blue Line and Roger and Me within a year of each other in 1988-89), but I think there’s something worth investigating in this contemporary return to the real, no matter how fabricated that real actually is.

Speaking of documentary, does anyone else find it sad that this version of The Thin Blue Line has been released on DVD, while this version sits sadly on the shelf waiting to be released?

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JFK Reloaded’s Theory of History

Via Ian of Water Cooler Games, an interview with Kirk Ewing, one of the developers of the online game, JFK Reloaded (also see Ian’s original post on the game). What I find interesting about the interview is Ewing’s description of JFK Reloaded as a “docu-game.” I haven’t had a chance to play the game yet, but the use of the game narrative to show how the JFK assassination could have turned out differently seems like an interesting use of the medium.

Ewing also describes the game as an attempt to place viewers back in Dealey Plaza in order to disprove the conspiracy theories and witness the assassination of John Kennedy for themselves. Ewing’s comment reminds me of an oft-quoted remark by filmmaker D. W. Griffith, who spoke optimisitically of cinema’s ability to represent the past:

Imagine a public library of the near future. There will be long rows of boxes or pillars, properly classified and indexed, of course. At each box a push button and before each box a seat. Suppose you wish to “read up” on a certain episode in Napoleon’s life. Instead of consulting all the authorities, wading laboriously through a host of books, and ending bewildered, without a clear idea of exactly what did happen, and confused at every point by conflicting opinions about what did happen, you will merely seat yourself at a properly adjusted window, in a scientifically prepared room, press the button and actually see what happened.

There will be no opinions expressed. You will merely be present at the making of history. All the work of writing, revising, collating, and reproducing will have been carefully attended to by a corps of recognized experts, and you will have received a vivid and complete expression.

Of course, Griffith’s view of an objective representation of history has been widely discredited. But, it seems to me that the game might be doing something else, despite Ewing’s assertions that he wanted to debunk the JFK assassination conspiarcy theories, such as the one furthered by Oliver Stone’s 1991 film. Although Ewing claims that the game shows “everything is as it was,” the mere fact of being able to slow down, rewind, and stop time (much less to witness the assassination from a variety of viewpoints) immediately changes our reading of the event, and to my mind, conveys the very difficulty, if not impossibility, of knowing what happened in Dealey Plaza in 1963. But, due to my own interests in time-travel cinema, I’m intrigued by Ewing’s descritpion of JFK Reloaded as “way to travel through time and re-visit one of the most debated and important moments in history, using technology that we love and understand.”

Please note that we’re still working out some of the glitches of moving to MT 3.1ish, so if you leave a comment and it doesn’t show up right away, it has been sent to me for approval. But, don’t worry, I won’t delete any comments unless I regard them as blog spam.

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Ch-ch-ch-changes

As you can see, I’m making some changes to the design of the blog. I’ve been wanting to change the white letter-on-charcoal background for a while, and the Herder upgrade to MT 3.1 is giving me a good excuse to do just that. Please excuse the dust.

Update: Unsatisfied with the changes, so I’ll maintain the normal template for now. Plus, I really should be working on other things right now.

Update 2: Just finished calculating grades, so I had some time to make some quick changes. For now, I’ve just decided to switch from a charcoal background to a solid black one. Let me know if you see any part of the background that’s not showing up as black. Hopefully over the holidays I can make some more substantial changes.

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Overlooked Films

The cinetrix has linked to a list of the “Top 100 Overlooked Films of the 1990s” compiled by the Online Film Critics Society. While I’ve seen many of the films on the list, and have at least vaguely heard of all the others, I’m somewhat surprised and dismayed to see that only a small number of the films listed are from Europe (and most of those are from Great Britain or Ireland). None are from Africa. Overlooking an entire continent would seem to defy the spirit of the list.

Inspired by this “film review” website, with its list of “Movies I Almost Saw,” the cinetrix lists a few of the “overlooked” films that she hasn’t seen. I won’t try to count all of the films on the list that I haven’t seen simply because I’m too lazy, but like the cinetrix (and at the risk of losing my street cred), I’ll disclose a few of the films on the list that I haven’t seen:

  • 16. I can’t say it any better than the cinetrix: “Three words: Fucking Tom Hanks. Alternately, Tom Fucking Hanks. Hate the smug bastard.”
  • 20. I’ve picked up the cassette several times. I have no good reason for not watching it, even if it’s not on DVD.
  • 26. Somewhere along the way, Kenneth Branagh lost me. A four-hour film version of Hamlet seems a little too self-indulgent. Watching it on video would probably take me two weeks.
  • 59. See 16. above. Add Meg Ryan. Stir.
  • 83. I put off seeing this film because I thought the film might be exploiting the concept of conjoined twins, but the Polish brothers’ other film is great. I really don’t have a good excuse here.
  • 87. I like Toni Morrison’s novel far too much to see the film.

In other news, the “Overlooked” list comes from a website called Lists of Bests, which seems to offer the same service as all consuming, except it allows you to compile lists of films and music, too. So, now that we’ve tackled the “Overlooked” list, isn’t it time to move on to the Bad Cinema Society’s “100 Worst Films of the 20th Century” list?

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Counting Words

I’m grading my students’ group blog projects today, and one of the expectations is that all blog entries should meet a certain minimum word length. In the past, I’ve usually opened Word and copied and pasted text there to run a word count. Now, after a quick Google search, my grading has been completely transformed. The javascript at this website makes counting words faster and easier than ever before.

Of course, word count isn’t the only factor in determining my students’ grades for their group blog projects, which means I’ve been grading most of the day, and I continue to find it difficult to grade online work, not simply because I’m still thinking about evaluative criteria for online writing (I certainly allow for a greater degree of informality, for example), but also because the rest of the Internet is only a click away, making it easy to get distracted. I noticed that last year at this time, I found it somewhat difficult to stay on task while grading student blog projects. I’d imagine that this sense of distraction may be more acute this time of year due to the fact that I’m on the job market (sorry I can’t be more specific here about how the job search is going), but I’m still convinced that I need a better method for evaluating online work. Any suggestions?

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Undertow

David Gordon Green’s magnificent new film, Undertow (IMDB), opens with a high school boy and girl quietly and awkwardly communicating their passion for each other. The scene reminded me a lot of the opening sequence of Green’s previous film, All the Real Girls, which also was set in a rural southern landscape of abandoned factories and warehouses, verdant forests, mom-and-pop restaurants, and collections of broken down things. Roger Ebert describes Green’s approach well: “We see not the thriving parts of cities, but the desolate places they have forgotten. His central characters are usually adolescents, vibrating with sexual feelings but unsure how to express them.”

But, unlike his previous film, Green’s Undertow takes a surprisingly violent turn when the boy, Chris Munn (played by Jamie Bell who previously starred in Billy Elliot), throws a rock through his girlfriend’s window, arousing the attention of her father who runs out the front door, shotguns firing into the air. Chris sprints away, running through the woods, through neighbors’ yards, culminating in one of the more painful imges I’ve seen in some time, with Chris leaping barefoot onto a nail sticking up through a board (the stigmata allusion is there, but fairly understated). Even with the nail in his foot, Chris continues to try to run. It’s the only response he seems to know.

After the chase, we see Chris in the police station, waiting for his father to pick him up. Chris has been in trouble before, but it’s clear that the film sympathizes with him. His father, John (Dermot Mulroney), has become a hermit after his wife died, isolating himself and his two sons from the rest of the community. John also burdens Chris with most of the farm’s chores, deeming the younger son, Tim (Devon Alan), too weak and fragile to work. Tim’s fragility is somewhat self-imposed. For reasons that are never explained (other than reference to an “anxiety disorder”), Tim constantly eats objects that are harmful or poisonous–green paint, mud, small metal objects–leaving his stomach tied up in knots. The film’s main plot opens when John’s ex-con brother, Deel (Josh Lucas), enters this fragile family situation seeking a collection of gold coins that John and Deel’s father managed to steal from a museum. The coins are valuable, and it becomes clear that Deel is angling to find the collection, first by preying on the psychologies of the sons, then by actual violence.

Because Chris has a history of petty crime, he feels he cannot turn to the police, and so he and Tim run, attempting to escape from the increasingly violent Deel, and it’s worth noting here that Lucas’s performance keeps Deel from becoming a one-dimensional monster. Chris and Tim spend most of the rest of the film running and hiding, living temporarily in abandoned piles of junk or among a group of teen runaways in the ruins of a brick warehouse along a river. But while the film has all of the genre characteristics of a thriller, Green’s characteristic style, which I previously described as “red clay realism,” still comes through. Throughout the chase, we still witness moments of contemplation and reflection, with characters who speak awkwardly, but poetically, about their circumstances (Philp Glass’s low-key score adds to this sense of contemplation).

Tim Orr, who was also the cinematographer for All the Real Girls and George Washington, again lovingly captures the junk, dirt, and detritus, but also the light, of the rural south. In my review of Girls, I read this sense of atmosphere and Green’s contemplative narrative style as “nostalgic” for an earlier mode of cinematic production, but rather than seeing the films as nostalgic, I now see Green (along with Orr) developing a distinct cinematic aesthetic, one that I can now only vaguely describe as “contemplative,” although that terms seems imprecise (Cynthia Fuchs’ description of the narrative as a “series of impressions” might come closer). The characters in the film are, in many different ways, contemplative, but the film itself is also contemplative, at least in my reading. As many people (including Mel) have noted, Green tends to shy away from conventional narrative, though Undertow comes closer to the narrative expectations than his other films (Ebert’s comparison with Terrence Malick makes a lot of sense in this regard), and it’s within these unconventional moments that I see Green’s films allowing space for thought, for contemplation.

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Reactions to Control Room

This is just a placeholder entry to point to a Reuters article on the audience response to Jehane Noujaim’s Control Room at the Dubai Film Festival. Apparently, the film hasn’t been released widely to Arab audiences, and the film (not surprisingly) provoked strong reactions, many of which I wouldn’t have expected. Okay, I wasn’t surprised that Arab audiences would jeer Rumsfeld and Bush, but some people in the audience reported that the film made them feel powerless:

One Lebanese man who lives in Canada said he found it painful to watch the one-and-a-half hour movie.

“I did not like the film. It made me feel sad,” Gabriel Bakhazi said at a post-movie seminar. “I didn’t see anything to laugh at. Your film made me feel more angry and powerless.”

Thanks to indireWIRE for the link.

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What do Male Bloggers Want?

In an attempt to find distractions from grading, I’ve been reading blogs more often than usual, and while reading, I found that George linked to my birthday entry (among several others) in answer to profgrrrrl’s question about why female bloggers tend to write about more personal topics while male bloggers write about professional topics.

I’m inclined to agree with George that male bloggers do write about personal stuff quite often (as his collection of links indicates), but the question I’d want to ask is how one makes a distinction between “the professional” and “the personal” in the first place (or what we’re talking about when we use these words). For example, is my entry on High School Reunion personal or professional? The entry discusses my TV viewing habits and my ambivalence about my high school experience, but it’s also “professional,” in that my attention to the show grows out of my interest in documentary and in celebrity. My blog entries are usually fairly spontaneous, and I don’t revise them very often. My entries usually reflect what’s attracting my attention Right Now (and as my blog probably indicates, I can have a relatively short attention span). In fact, I tend to think that my blog actually points to the impossibility (or extreme difficulty) of this distinction, at least in my own experience. I could be completely wrong about this perception; after all, I don’t believe that I’m necessarily the most qualified reader of my own blog.

Update: I just noticed that profgrrrl has updated her entry to define more clearly what she means by “personal.” I’m still not sure that I can completely distinguish between “personal” and “professional,” but in terms of her second definition (“Personal as in intimate. Really revealling some private thoughts or emotions or saying things that you wouldn’t say around the water cooler”), that stuff probably won’t show up in my blog anytime soon, especially with my name clearly listed on the blog.

In a way, I think all of these questions come back to what blogs are, and what they are doing, a topic that Collin has addressed fairly recently. Blogs combine “the expressive and argumentative in ways that we’re still coming to grips with,” and perhaps more relevant to this particular discussion, they combine the “personal” and “public” (or professional) in ways that might still be difficult to articulate, at least for me.

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Blog of Note

I’m still procrastinating on all the grading I have to do this morning, afternoon, and evening, but just wanted to identify a new blog that I came across this morning on Technorati. Jonathan Goodwin, a colleague of mine at Georgia Tech, has started a blog.

In other news, David Gordon Green’s newest film, Undertow, hits Atlanta theaters (or, more precisely, an Atlanta theater) on Friday, so I’m looking forward to that. So does Wes Anderson’s latest film.

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Birthday 2004

In completely unrelated news, Wednesday is my birthday. Not surprisingly, birthdays leave me feeling reflective, and it was for me interesting to go back and look at where I was last year at this time. Unlike last year, I haven’t really been thinking about my birthday (in fact, I almost forgot the exact day). I’ve been way too busy with conferences, articles, grading, and end-of-the-semester parties. But blogs have the strange effect of formalizing the process of reflection, at least for me.

Jenny discusses this sense of reflection in a post from several months ago in which she discusses “the state of being almost-30” (inspired by Clancy’s post on the same topic). I’m a little older than “almost-30,” but their observation that they aren’t the person they imagined they would be at that age resonates with me. I never would have imagined that my life would still feel this unsettled, that I’d be single at 34, that I’d be a college professor teaching film studies and freshman composition. But there’s something incredibly satisfying about that (at least for me). I’ve become a much different person than I ever would have expected, but I much prefer the life I have than the one I’d planned for myself. To some extent, this satisfaction might entail a rejection of the person I could have become, the other possible lives I could have led.

I’m on the job market this year, and the fact that I could be living in a completely different place is pretty exciting to me. Even though I sometimes worry about where I’ll be next year and whether I’ll finally be able to make a serious dent in my credit card debt or finally be able buy a car built in the last decade, on another level, I realize that my future is very much open, and that’s pretty exciting to me right now.

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