Archive for January, 2005

Hays Code Bookmark

I’m teaching Blonde Venus this week and wanted to frame the dicussion in part in terms of the Hays Code, which I found here.

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Another Documentary Bookmark

For future reference: Jem Cohen’s Lost Book Found looks like a really fascinating film, and while I was digging, I found this interview with Cohen in Senses of Cinema.

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Documentary Links

I’m doing a somewhat last-minute conference proposal on documentary and the war in Iraq and using this entry to collect a few links to some possibly relevant articles and webpages. I’ll try to make sense later of what might appear to be a fairly random list of links.

Update: Two more documentary links. I was trying to find information about the documentary Voices of Iraq earlier tonight, and here’s one rather celebratory article. Hayder Moussa Daffar’s The Dreams of Sparrows also sounds interesting.

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Lazy Sunday Film Reads

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon here at the home office of the chutry experiment, and I’ve found myself returning to a film blog that looks pretty cool from Filmmaker Magazine. Worth noting: Matthew Ross’ link to Viceland.com’s list of top ten “outsider” video clips.

Also worth noting: Atlanta’s getting at least two interesting-looking films over the next two weeks at Landmark’s Midtown Art theater: Ousmane Sembene’s MoolaadĂ© and Robert Stone’s documentary, Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst.

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Frank Rich on Gunner Palace

I’m still waiting for Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein’s documentary, Gunner Palace, to reach Atlanta (I think it’s coming in the next month or so, but Frank Rich has an article about it in The New York Times that I didn’t want to lose. It’s a good read if you’re interested in the topic of how war is represented in film and on TV.

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The Ice Storm

I returned from my previously mentioned travels late Friday evening, just before Atlanta’s weather turned icy. Like David, I don’t mind (and sometimes even enjoy) the cold weather, but ice storms are not fun. I didn’t have any good reason to brave the icy roads (or more precisely Atlanta’s notoriously bad drivers trying to navigate icy roads), so I’ve been more or less trapped in my apartment with the few meager DVDs I could scavenge from a nearby blue-and-yellow family-friendly videostore. Because my electricty was out for two or three hours last night, I didn’t even get to watch these films until fairly late, instead reading Hunter S. Thompson’s latest, which I’d picked up for some “light” airplane reading, by candlelight.

After a stressful but exciting week, which I may describe later, I was not in the mood for anything heavy, leading to an unintentional double dose of Christina Applegate films, the mildly entertaining Will Ferrell vehicle, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and rumored Sundance fave, Employee of the Month. I’ll skip the Anchorman review for now, given that most people have probably already formed an opinion of the Will Ferrell-Vince Vaughan-unsuspecting blond actress genre.

And I’m only going to comment quickly on Employee of the Month to say that it suffered from many of the excesses associated with the pseudo-indie formula, specifically an annoying over-use of fast-motion camera effects (I’m guessing the director has seen Requiem for a Dream one too many times) and a privileging of quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness, without making that quality very interesting or relevant to the film itself. The gunplay that comes later in this film suggests that the director has also been watching too many Guy Ritchie films, but as this reviewer notes, Matt Dillon’s role in teh film suggests that the best way to describe Employee of the Month is as a poor man’s Wild Things. Not recommended unless you’re really bored. Or a big Matt Dillon or Steve Zahn fan.

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Feeding Oscar

No time for a longer post, but just wanted to point you, my readers, to the “Expert Oscar Analaysis” article in Inside Higher Ed. Enjoy.

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Paul Giamatti Was Robbed

I don’t really take the Oscar nominations very seriously, but after Paul Giamatti won pretty much every acting award given out in 2003, you’d think that he would have at least been nominated for an Oscar for acting in Sideways. After all, his performance was one of the things I liked best about what I found to be an overrated film (by the way, with Giamatti not getting a nod, I’d imagine that Sideways probably will not win in the best pic race–just a hunch). Hasn’t Giamatti been overlooked a few times before (Man on the Moon, American Splendor)?

In other news, how did Taylor Hackford get nominated for an Academy Award for Ray? And it looks like the road is being cleaered for Marty Scorsese to finally get his statue for best director. I’ll make some predictions later, maybe (I’d propose an Oscar pool, but I’m not sure I’ll have time to organize it). By the way, can anyone tell me how Before Sunset is an “adapted screenply?” Is it adapted simply because it’s based on characters from a prior film? Very happy it got at least one nomination, but the category is a bit odd.

Leaving town (and blog) for a few days, so expect continued limited posting.

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Speaking of David Fincher…

I’ve just learned that the Fight Club director’s next project will be to direct Zodiac, a thriller based on Robert Graysmith’s books. According to Chuck Palahniuk’s official site (where I found this news), the film will focus “on the men who hunted Zodiac, the infamous serial killer who terrorized San Francisco for 25 years.”

Please note that my posting entries on two consecutive days does not constitute a full-time return to the blogosphere. My schedule is still very much in flux right now, so blogging will be sporadic at best for the next few days.

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Tyler Durden Goes to Church

Or, perhaps, The Promise Keepers meet Braveheart. John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart is encouraging Christian men to get in touch with their inner warriors. While the book was originally published in 2001, its popularity continues to grow four years later. According to Nigel Hunt’s Yahoo article,

Eldredge believes many Christian men have become bored, “really nice guys” and invites them to rediscover passion by viewing their life’s mission as having a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue.

While I don’t want to predict whether the book’s impact on people who follow its advice would be positive or negative (how would one measure such a thing, anyway?), I am fascinated by the fact that Eldredge argues that modern technologies, such as the television and Internet, have rendered men passive and docile, bored with their middle-class lives. In many ways, the book echoes the male angst portrayed in Fight Club, both film and novel (a topic that I’ve written about recently).

I am certainly disturbed by the adventure and battle metaphors that include rescuing princesses (who, quite frankly, probably don’t need rescuing), but I also want to address a recurrent assumption that I find curious. Why do so many people assume that “modern technologies,” especially television, render everyone so passive? What is it about our experience of TV that allows us to accept such a claim about the power that it has over our lives? I don’t think there is anything inherent about TV that necessarily defines our relationship to it as passive, but the “passivity thesis” seems to be gaining a degree of credibility that ought to be challenged.

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My Week in Movies

I’ve been pretty distracted with job stuff this week, so not much time to blog or to watch too many movies that aren’t related to work, but just wanted to remind myself to show some clips from an Oscar Micheaux film in class next week to conclude my discussion of early cinema. So far, I’ve been pleased with the dicussion of early cinema, especially the student responses to Georges Melies’s A Trip to the Moon.

In completely unrelated film news, rumor has it that DeNiro and Scorsese, attempting to recapture their 1970s mojo, are contemplating a sequel to Taxi Driver. No word yet whether the film’s title will be Meet the Bickles.

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Keepin’ It Real

Rodney Bethea and Skinny Suge’s DVD, “Stop Snitching,” has been one of the hot topics in the media this week. The DVD is being distributed underground, most prominently in Boston and Baltimore, and as its name suggests, the DVD is designed to warn people against testifying against street gang members. The documentary has aroused further controversy because Denver Nuggets hoops star, Carmelo Anthony, appears in the film, though he is not shown making any threats. I haven’t had a chance to see the DVD, but the debates about “Stop Snitching” or “Stop Fucking Snitching,” according to Rachael, raise all kinds of questions about documentary practice in general.

As Rachael notes, it’s important to ask whether or not these images are “real,” at least in terms of threats against potential snitches, and in her reading, much of the video consists of “boasting and talk.” I’d also wonder how much of the video (and the promotional materials for it) are staged in other ways. It’s worth noting that the DVD itself becomes a taped confession if the people in the film act on their threats. This description is more or less echoed by one of the DVD’s creators, Rodney Bethea, who claims that the video was made for “entertainment purposes” only and adds that “It’s no different than a documentary about a serial killer” (Bethea, according to Gregory Kane’s Baltimore Sun editorial has been reticent to talk since news of the video has spread).

From my reading of Kane’s editorial, I’d imagine that the underground distribution is also part of the posturing. As Scott Macaulay notes, the underground distribution “has the punch of an urban-themed Ring.” When Kane asks several Baltimore high school students whether they’ve seen the video, two of them respond that “Stop Snitching isn’t the only video of its kind, that they’re quite common and that they are the only type of movies they watch.” I’d imagine that these students may be playing up the significance of this video (and the presence of others like it) for the reporter.

I don’t want to sound like I’m being dismissive of the real problem of witness intimidation, which according to The New York Times, affects hundreds of witnesses every year, but I do want to asert that this video is a more complicated artifact than it might initially appear, something that Rachael and the Baltimore Sun columnist convey pretty effectively. As Fox Butterfield notes in the NYT article, this lack of witness protection disproportionately affects poor and working-class people like Ricky Prince, who was murdered, and his mother, Jackie Davis, who was forced to move out of state at her own expense, and I do think that some form of witness protection is a reasonable expectation for the people who put themselves at risk in order to help prosecute violent crime.

Quick Update: A comment in Renov’s book reminded me of something I wanted to add. I think I’m suspicious of characterizations of this documentary as an objective representation and want to emphasize the film’s “expressive” qualities, what it seems to be saying about crime and about street gangs. It’s also important to remember that the wider distribution of the DVD has most certainly carried it far away from its original audience (and that it’s likely worth reading, or trying to read, “Stop Snitching” from the POV of that audience).

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War and Cinema

Just a quick note to remind myself to keep an eye out for Harun Farocki’s 2003 documentary, War at a Distance (via Green Cine). I’ve been reading Michael Renov’s The Subject of Documentary this weekend, and Renov’s discussion of the Gulf Crisis TV Project, a grassroots group that contested CNN’s “military promotion” of the first Gulf War, has me thinking about what, if anything, has changed since then, less in commercial media than in the independent or alternative media that Renov celebrates, especially with the proliferation of documentaries about the second war with Iraq (or about the Bush administration more generally). I’d imagine that this proliferation can be attributed in part to digital technologies that allow cheaper production and (more importantly) cheaper distribution, but that answer isn’t compltely satisfying, simply because it doesn’t explain the relatively widespread interest in these films (that is, just because a film is available doesn’t mean that audiences are clamoring to watch it). I’m hoping to have more to say about Renov’s book later this week, but my schedule is about to go into warp-speed, so not sure I’ll have that opportunity.

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Television, A Novel

Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s Television, a Novel features a thiry-something Parisian academic who, while spending a year in Berlin on sabbatical to conduct research on Titian, concludes that he watches too much TV and that it’s preventing him from completing his work. The novel begins with the anonymous narrator confiding, “I quit watching television. I gave it up cold turkey, once and for all, never to watch another show, not even sports.” He acknowledges, of course, that he waited until after the Tour de France to make this decision, and like many of us, speaks coyly about the depths of his addiction: “On average, I watched maybe two hours a day (maybe less, but I’d rather err on the side of generosity, and not try to puff myself up with a virtuously low estimate).”

The narrator’s decision provokes an entertaining, humorous, satirical meditation on TV’s role in our daily lives (Warren Motte aptly describes Toussaint’s work as “an epic of the trivial”). Mark Holcomb, in his Village Voice review, notes that Toussaint is “in DeLillo territory,” and that description seems especially apt when the narrator speaks about the endless streams of programs that play non-stop, whether the TV is running or not: “everywhere it was the same undifferentiated images, without margins or titles, without explanation, raw, incomprehensible, noisy and bright, ugly, sad, aggressive and jovial, syncopated, all equivalent.” Thus, for the narrator, TV prevents the quiet contemplation needed to engage in his scholarly work, as Joy Press points out in her New York Times review. Of course the narrator consistently finds ways around his self-imposed TV boycott, concluding that it doesn’t apply when he is visiting other people’s homes, ultimately justifying more frequent visits to a neighboring apartment where he is supposed to be caring for their plants (though he does a humourously poor job of fulfilling this rather simple task).

The novel is also an amusing satire of the solitary academic writer and the ways in which the narrator finds ways to avoid writing. Soon, a daily trip to the swimming pool becomes justified as work precisely because it is not writing, explaining to himself that he must let his ideas “gestate” before trying to put them on the page while they are still incomplete. There’s also a humorously uncomfortable scene in the novel when the narrator runs into the professor who awarded him the grant while sunning himself naked in a public park.

Throughout the novel, the narrator becomes acutely aware of television’s ubiquity, its overwhelming presence in daily life. In this regard, the novel seemed almost a fictional companion to Anna McCarthy’s Ambient Television, with Toussaint’s playful descriptions of surveillance monitors in a museum, apartment buildings lit entirely with the dull blue light of TV screens (all of which are tuned to Baywatch of course), an electronics stor that resembles a Nam June Paik sculpture, and the narrator’s own continued reading of TV listings. Despite the narrator’s renunciation of TV, however, Toussaint treats our TV “addiction” sympathetically, acknowledging its seductive pleasures while also noting its ubiquity in our daily lives.

But the strength of the novel, which can best be described as a picaresque of the everyday, is its episodic structure, with the narrative consisting of a series of disconnected fragments, just like…yes, you’ve guessed it, just like TV.

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A Scanner Darkly Images

While blog surfing, I came across Wiley Wiggins’ link to some of the first publicly released images from Richard Linklater’s forthcoming adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.

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