Archive for November, 2005

Multiplexes are Being Left Behind

I’ve been intrigued by the discussion of the most recent installment of the Left Behind film series (this one starring Louis Gossett, Jr. as the President and Gordon Currie as the Antichrist), based on Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ bestselling novels that narrate one of the competing narratives regarding the “end times” anticipated in Christian eschatology. I’m not really that interested in seeing the film, but the articles reporting on the film’s distribution have attracted my curiosity. The Hartford Courant offers the basics: rather than relesing the film directly to theaters, which has often led to disappointing box office, Sony has decided to release the film directly to churches, with over 3,000 churches planning “opening night” screenings.

I’m not willing to come to any conclusions about how these screenings will function for the people who attend them. Like most church activities I’d imagine that the screenings will serve different functions for different audience memebers, and the “evangelical” or conversion function addressed in this New York Times article is only one of many functions the film will serve. In addition, while I may not share any of the film’s theological underpinnings, Waxman’s dismissal of the film’s “unfamiliar and even strange universe” offers only a superficial gloss of why certain audiences might find these films valuable or important.

In this sense, at the risk of completely missing the mark, I want to compare these Left Behind screenings to the house party screenings for Robert Greenwald’s grassroots documentaries. Obviously the films are quite different in terms of content or subject matter, but I think it’s worth noting that both sets of films are making truth claims about the world, whether in documentary form or in a fictional pre-enactment of what the end times will be like. The grassroots distribution is also significant and relatively similar, of course. I do want to caution against seeing the two cinematic subcultures as precise opposites. While the Left Behind films are certainly “political” (asserting that the Antichrist will come from Russia is certainly a “political” claim), they are also doing other things.

I’m unwilling to further line the pockets of LaHaye and Jenkins, so I probably won’t see these films anytime soon, if at all, but the similarities between these two modes of distribution is striking. It’s certainly significant that Sony is backing the Left Behind films while Greenwald has been forced to seek financing independently, but the decision to bypass the multiplexes is an interesting one. I want to map these distribution strategies back onto Ivan Askwith’s argument that consumers have been willing to pay for iTunes-style TV downloads and that this approach could produce programming independent of the constraints of advertisers’ demands for strong ratings. Such independence, argues Askwith, could allow TV producers to create more innovative and rewarding programming. This third term isn’t mapping quite as nealy as I would like, other than to note that all three approaches illustrate the ways in which we are finding our media in new places and that the effects of those changes still need to be mapped carefully and thoughtfully.


Still Life With Action Figure

Just noticed that GZombie has posted a photograph he took in my apartment last weekend. Bonus points for anyone who can remember the animated series that “inspired” this toy.

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DC Screens

Just a quick link roundup of some indie film notes, including a few upcoming screenings here in DC. First, the Hirshhorn Museum will be screening Jem Cohen’s Chain. I had a chance to see Chain at the DC Underground Film Festival a few weeks ago and highly recommend seeing it. According to the Hirshhorn website, Cohen’s frequent artistic collaborator, Guy Picciotto, will be in attendance.

Playing this week at the Landmark E Street Cinema will be After Innocence, a documentary about innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades after new evidence became available (more information here). The screening is being promoted by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, an organization that seeks the exoneration and release of persons who have been wrongfully committed of crimes. I’ll be travelling this weekend, so I won’t get to see the film until later this week, but it sounds like an interesting project.

I also want to add more information about Sujewa Ekanayake’s Date Number One, which I mentioned a few weeks ago in the context of my discussion of indie cinema. I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but Sujewa is a DC-based filmmaker and his blog is a great resource for keeping track of his work in distributing and promoting the film. Worth noting: On December 1, Sujewa will be giving a talk about his film at the Kensington Row Bookshop in Kensington, Maryland (yep, it’s easily Metroable).

Finally, a quick reminder that screenings of Robert Greenwald’s WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price will be taking place in a few short days (November 15-16). I’ll be attending one of the DC Drinking Liberally screenings on Wednesday, November 16.

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Indefinite Detention

I’m currently reading Judith Butler’s Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence for the paper I’ll be delivering at MLA. So far, I’ve read only the Introduction, but the book appears to address many of the questions I want to discuss, especially in terms of the issue of the public sphere after September 11.

Butler also has a chapter titled “Indefinite Detention,” which focuses on the detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay (the current number is around 500), many for over four years now. A number of these prisoners have never been charged with a crime, and as Butler points out, “these prisoners are not considered ‘prisoners’ and receive no protection from international law” (xv). It’s now widely acknowledged that the US does not consider itself bound to the Geneva Convention in its treatment of the prisoners, leading Butler to argue that by this logic, “the humans who are imprisoned in Guantanamo do not count as human” (xvi).

I’m citing Butler in detail this morning because Josh White of The Washington Post is reporting on the attempted suicide of Jumah Dossari, the 36th documented attempted suicide in teh past twenty months. Dossari’s suicide attempt is receiving attention because he chose to attempt suicide while his lawyer was visiting him to work on his case. The article also reports on the ongoing hunger strikes by many of the detainees.

Dossari’s lawyer, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan reads his client’s suicide attempt and the hunger strikes much like I do, as an attempt to reclaim some form of identity or subjecthod through control over their bodies:

Detainees “see it as the only means they have of exercising control over their lives,” Colangelo-Bryan said in publicly describing the incident for the first time. “Their only means of effective protest are to harm themselves, either by hunger strike or doing something like this.”

The article also lists a number of abuses that Dossari and others have reported during their incarceration in Guantanamo. A spokesperson from the prison identifies the hunger strikes and the abuse claims as tactics of a certain terrorist organization. Such a claim seeks to silence even these limited attempts at criticism. It’s this second question, the limits of what can and cannot be said, that I’m planning to address in my paper. I’m working from this question as it has manifested itself in popular culture (hence my recent discussion of “independent cinema“), but the intersction of ideas between Butler’s book and White’s Post article seemed worth noting.

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