Archive for July, 2006

Anticipating Snakes

In her Salon article on the Snakes on a Plane hype, Aemilia Scott manages to name-drop both Chuck Klosterman and Theodor Adorno in the space of just a couple of paragraphs, criticizing both Klosterman’s “prefab populism” thesis and Adorno’s “culture industry” thesis as inadequate explanations for the enthusiasm for Snakes on a Plane, basing her argument in part on the film’s unusually specific title and on the studio’s decision to tap into the blogosphere as a massive focus group, reading both as illustrating the ways in which Snakes exposes the artifice of Hollywood film production.

Like Scott, I’ve argued that there’s nothing new about testing films on audiences (whether through test screenings or reading blogs), leaving me relatively unconvinced by Klosterman’s argument that Snakes on a Plane will usher in a new era of prefab populism. Scott also notes that the film likely was not conceived as a “ready-made cult classic,” that it was likely originally imagined as a standard-fare summer action pic (she called it a “PG-13 snoozer,” while I called it a “PG-13 yawner”). In this context, I find Scott’s reading to be relatively convincing. The audience enthusiasm for the trailer has less to do with “honest” cult directors such as John Waters and more to do with our boredom with Bruckheimer-style blockbusters (although given Pirates’ boffo box office, we’re obviously not that bored). This positioning is implied in Snakes’ playful trailer, which offers the film as an alternative to the pirates, Pixar, and superheroes who’ve been dominating the megaplex. So, yeah, arguably, part of the film’s appeal is the film’s tacit acknowledgement “that the industry itself doesn’t believe in its own magic.”

However, Scott misreads Adorno in order to dismiss the relevance of his critique of what he calls “the culture industry,” using Adorno’s pessimism to stand in for all cultural critics. Building on the false assumption that Adorno believed that exposing the artifice of the culture industry would lead to “riots” against the status quo, Scott argues that “Americans don’t just love the culture industry; they fetishize it. But Americans are also savvier than most theoreticians believe. The lamest and most transparent attempts of the culture industry to deceive us are defeated not by outright rejection, but by assimilation.” I don’t think this exposure of the artifice is all that unusual. In fact, DVD commentary tracks, blooper tracks, and making-of videos constantly call attention to the ways in which films are constructed. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to argue that sites such as Box Office Mojo and strategy games such as Hollywood Mogul have also contributed to our knowledge o fthis artifice. But I think her more explicit argument, that cultural critics believe all audience members to be passive dupes, is probably the most insidious one. Quite a bit of cultural studies scholarship in recent years has sought to investigate how audiences use poular culture in a variety of ways, including ways that are remarkably resistant to the initial attempts at “deception,” a concept she never quite defines clearly (who is deceived by Hollywood? what is the nature of this deception?).

I’m still not convinced that Snakes on a Plane represents anything more than a remarkably savvy, if accidental, marketing coup by the folks at New Line, but I continue be interested in the promotion of the film and the online discussions of this promotion (which are pretty much inseparable at this point).

Salon article via stark ranting by way of Shakespeare’s Sister. Cross-posted at Dr. Mabuse.

Update: Via the Cult News Network, a report that New Line will be skipping press screenings for Snakes on a Plane so that they can take the film “directly to the fans” (which seems to assume that critics aren’t also, potentially, fans). The decision to release the film to “select theaters” before opening widely seems pretty savvy, though, as internet/blog buzz will be far more important in promoting this film than two thumbs up from Ebert and Roeper.

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Sunday Afternoon Links

A few unrelated articles and random observations from the Barnes and Noble cafe:

  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an article reporting on college and university coaches asking (or in some cases requiring) athletes to take down or modify their Facebook and MySpace pages. There’s nothing terribly unusual here: coaches are worried that the reuptation of their universities will be damaged by depictions of athletes engaging in underage drinking, to name one example. But the article might be useful in my media studies-themed composition classes this fall, especially in its treatment of the questions regarding public-private divide raised by these sites.
  • John Anderson’s New York Times article, which asks why documentaries primarily support a “liberal” or “left” politics. For the most part, the article seems to resuscitate stereotypes of liberalism and conservatism, but I also think it’s worth asking how Anderson is defining “liberal” political documentaries, especially when film festival director Jim Hubbard identifies 19 of the top 20 docs as “liberal.” While the numbers at Box Office Mojo would likely reinforce this claim, theatrical box office is a relatively misleading way of measuring the popularity of documentary films (especially given that docs often play at festivals, churches, cultural centers, and other places where tickets aren’t necessarily sold).
  • Finally, I happened to notice that multiple copies of John Linder and Neal Boortz’s book promoting the flat tax (no, I’m not gonna link to it) were sorted on a “fiction” table here at Barnes & Noble. I’ve been trying to figure out if that’s a quietly rebellious editorial commentary on the part of a B&N staffer, but it seems appropriate.

I didn’t make it out to a movie theater this weekend (still waiting for A Scanner Darkly to get to F’ville, which should be happening soon, but have been watching Chris Marker’s Grin Without a Cat off and on all weekend, which I’ve been wanting to see for a really long time.

Update: Just wanted to add a pointer to this LA Times interview with Kevin Smith promoting Clerks 2. I happened to catch the original Clerks at precisely the right time, when I was working as a cashier at a Very Big Box DIY store. Reading the article, I also realize that I’m almost exactly the same age as Kevin Smith, and as a result, I shared many of the concerns articulated by Randal and Dante, the two clerks in the original film. In addition to promoting Clerks 2, Mark Olsen’s article addresses and challenges Smith’s reputation as a “lazy” filmmaker and discusses his ability to connect with his enthusiastic fan base. It also mentions that Smith worked with Richard Kelly on the graphic novel series written to accompany Kelly’s latest film, Southland Tales.

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Cable TV and Me

For now, a quick pointer to Steven Johnson on The Daily Show (thanks to JBJ at The Salt-Box), promoting Everything Bad is Good For You, in which he argues that TV and video games are actually making us smarter. I briefly discussed Johnson’s book a few months ago when I was reflecting on my own television-watching habits and have been revisiting some of his ideas recently because I have cable television for the first time since the spring of 1998. I don’t want to rehash those arguments here, and it would be unwise to generalize about cable television from the very limited sample of cable programs I’ve watched since installing cable (itself a concession to living in a smaller city with fewer art house screens), although cable news has been as bad or worse than I’d been led to believe.

That being said, it’s difficult for me not to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of channels and television shows available at any given time, with the result that I often feel like I should be watching something else or at least watching two or three shows at once, which probably means I’ll be getting TiVo soon. I’ve been trying to pay careful attention to how regular access to cable television changes my TV watching habits because even though I have cable and sometimes face the difficulty of choosing between 2 or 3 shows at a given time, I don’t think I’ve been watching more television and I remain virtually incapable of watching TV without also doing something else (cooking, eating, reading, blog surfing, even exercising). But I’ll still be curious to see how I learn to incorporate cable TV into the habits and practices of my daily life. More on this topic later, but I initially planned this entry as a quick link to the Johnson interview and his recent blog entry on Raymond Williams.

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Klosterman on Snakes

Taylor of The Devil in the Details referred to Chuck Klosterman’s Esquire rant about New Line’s attempt at “prefab populism” with this summer’s zeitgeist pic, Snakes on a Plane., the film that has inspired more blog buzz than just about any film in recent memory (note: in addition to writing an insightful blog entry on Snakes, Taylor was also a student in one of my media studies classes). As Klosterman points out (and as many film bloggers will know), New Line actually reshot several scenes, incorporating more snake violence, some gratuitous nudity, and new dialogue (“I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!”), apparently because bloggers thought all of the above would be cool. But whether New Line’s reworking of Snakes constitutes anything new, much less the “prefab populism” Klosterman diagnoses is an open question.

Klosterman, who is certainly one of the more insightful popular culture critics working today, offers a much needed corrective to the Snakes hype, arguing that it “is like the Wikipedia version of a movie,” with New Line tapping into the collective wisdom of the blogosphere in reworking a film that might otherwise have been a quickly forgotten Samuel L. Jackson vehicle, a typical PG-13 yawner that would bring in popcorn money for three weeks before really cashing in on video. He then compares New Line’s pratcice of mining the blogosphere for plot suggestions to his experience working on struggling newspapers who used focus groups in a desperate attempt to recover lost readership, concluding that “when it comes to mass media, it’s useless to ask people what they want; nobody knows what they want until they have it.” For the most part, I think he’s right about how the suggestions of focus groups can be misused. Listen too closely to focus groups and your film or TV show will try to be everything to everyone. Of course, studios have responded to focus groups or test screenings for some time, so that’s nothing new; if anything, the blogosphere just makes it into an interesting gimmick, providing the film with some cheap buzz (and, yeah, I know I’m contributing to that buzz as we speak). In a sense, all Holywood films are “prefab” in the sense that studios cater to audience expectations.

The second question I have (and perhaps this is completely trivial) is whether the edits of Snakes can be understood as a kind of populism along the lines of Klosterman’s other examples (The Beatles, The Godfather). If populism involves, at the very least as Klosterman puts it, an expression of “the shared sensibilities of large groups of otherwise unconnected people,” or more precisely an expression of the common person against a larger elite, then perhaps Snakes on a Plane is doing something else. I think Snakes fits far more easily in the genre of cult film than into what he’s describing as “prefab populism.” If anything, the appeal of the added scenes relies at least in part on an insider’s knowledge that lines of dailogue or film taglines were added because of the film’s internet fandom. In other words, the online audience for Snakes might be read not as populist but as a pop savvy elite, with audiences congraulating themselves because they know all of the film’s pop culture references (Taylor’s discussion of the film’s use of “injokes” articulates this point well). Klosterman makes a similar point when he concludes that “the only purpose of Snakes on a Plane is to make its audience feel smarter than what it’s seeing. Which adds up, since that’s part of the reason people like reading the Internet.” In fact, this pop culture savvy is a big part of the appeal of filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, who frequently engages with his audience on his blog.

Whether the film will be a “good” cult film remains to be seen (and isn’t really an issue for me because the marketing of the film has been interesting enough, although I will certainly see the film early in its run). I do think that the production and marketing of Snakes have tapped into the desires of bloggers to feel less alientaed from the Hollywood flms that seem increasingly calcultaed to appeal to the widest possible audience, but I’m also inclined to agree with Klosterman that this appeal is somewhat cyncial, or prefabricated, to use his phrase. What I’m suggesting here is that I don’t think Snakes on a Plane will change how films are made in any measurable way (although we may see a few imitators) but that it may contribute to the ongoing changes in the ways in which films are marketed (which, come to think of it, may be the same thing).

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Movie Miscellany

In an effort to start exploring my new ‘hood here in the Tar Heel State, I drove up to Raleigh last night to meet the local Drinking Liberally group, which meets at the Flying Saucer, one of the bars we visited when I was in Raleigh for the Convergences symposium a couple of years ago. The Drinking Liberally group was pretty cool, and we even won the evening’s team trvia competition. But while I was there, I was tipped off to a number of local film and media events that are worth mentioning, if only so I’ll have them for future reference.

While driving up to Raleigh, I happened to notice a billboard advertising the Ava Gardner Museum, which is actually located in Smithfield, about forty minutes north of F’ville because how could I resist missing a museum dedicated to the star of The Barefoot Contessa, The Killers, and The Night of the Iguana, among many other films and TV shows.

The Raleigh DLers also recommended other cool film events, including the First Friday events at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, which typically features a film screening of a classical Hollywood film, including in past months, On The Beach, starring the aforementioned Ms. Gardner, and for June, The Devil Bat, a Bela Lugosi flick featuring Lugosi as a mad scientist who creates a squad of electronic bats to get revenge on his former employers. The Lugosi screening was sponsored by a group called the AV Geeks. The group also suggested Kings, a bar that primarily features live music but also screens a documentary on the second Sunday of every month.

Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, Matthew at Defective Yeti will be on the radio show, The Works, tonight where he will be talking about a subject I think is pretty cool: movie blogs. Here’s a direct link to the episode.

Update: This bit of trivia isn’t really worth a separate entry, but I just learned via the Fayetteville Observer’s daily N.C. trivia series that Carson McCullers wrote The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter here in Fayetteville, just a short walk from downtown in an apartment above the Cool Spring Tavern. According to the folks at Library of America, McCullers spent quite a bit of time here in Fayetteville.

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Just Lose It at Wal-Mart

I’ve been planning to watch the Wal-Mart videos Henry Jenkins mentioned a few days ago, but because I didn’t have internet service at home until yesterday, I didn’t really have a chance until now. Discussing the Wal-Mart videos, Jenkins argues that these amateur videomakers have posted videos that “celebrate the Wal-Mart shopping experience.” Many of the videos posted on YouTube were shot illicitly using personal cameras brought into the store and often feature teenagers dancing to music played on radios found in the store’s elctronics department. Others, such as the affectionate parody of Eminem’s “Just Lose It,” entail elaborate staging, often using props found in the store (or at least using a shopping cart as an improvised dolly). Jenkins also points to the “Wal-Mart Time” video, described by its creators as a “hardcore rap about everyones favorite super store.”

In his reading of these videos, Jenkins notes that they all display “a kind of affection for the store as a public space which contrasts sharply with the anti-corporate messages one associates with the ad-buster or culture jammers movement.” Because I’ve recently moved from DC to a much smaller city, I’m finding myself much more attentive to these questions of access to public space, and given that “Wal-Mart time” runs 24-7, it’s one of the few public spaces available at any time, day or night, but I’m wondering whether these videos signal affection for Wal-Mart or whether they actually convey a degree of ironic distance (and I’ll be the first to admit that the categories aren’t mutually exclusive). In the “Wal-Mart Time” video, the teenage girls do make some pointed critiques of the store’s practice of selling guns and its practice of selling cheaply-priced goods in bulk quantities. It also seems significant that these videos are produced illicitly, “under the watchful noses of Wal-mart’s ever attentive and friendly welcomers,” as Jenkins puts it. I’m not sure that my reading is vastly different than Jenkins, in that these videos do look quite a bit different than Robert Greenwald’s more overtly anti-Wal-Mart documentary, but I am interested in how these videomakers are negotiating their relationship to Wal-Mart.

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Bush Pilot

Remember that mysterious bulge on Bush’s back during the first debate? Thanks to Google video, here’s the real (and very funny) explanation (thanks to Alterman for the tip).

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The Devil Wears Prada

For whatever reasons, David Frankel’s adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s novel, The Devil Wears Prada (IMDB), left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied. Like Mel, I found the casting of Anne Hathaway to be a creative choice, especially given Prada’s ambivalent take on the Cinderella story, but my final reaction is probably closer to Stephanie Zacharek’s review in Salon: it felt as if the film was teetering between fashion fantasy and fashion satire without ever satisfying either impulse.

Prada features Hathaway as Andy–a shortened version of Andrea–a wannabe journalist just graduated from Northwestern University who takes a position as an assistant to Miranda, the editor of Runway, an influencial magazine based on Vogue. Miranda, of course, is the devil named in the title, and she bosses her employees with a degree of self-absored ice-queenism reserved only for the very powerful. As we see in the opening scenes, in which Miranda ritually drops her coat on Andy’s desk and repeatedly refers to Andy as “Emily,” it’s not that Miranda particularly dislikes her employees; she’s simply oblivious to their existence unless they don’t fulfill her expectations. As a satire of the cut-throat aspects of the fashion industry, the scenes with Streep work relatively well, but I think the film is far too cautious in satirizing the power relationships in place at Runway, a blindspot that, as A.O. Scott observes, probably has much to do with the power structures and reliance on underpaid assistants almost equally in place in Hollywod as in the world of fashion.

I think the film also falters in failing to give Andy much of a personality beyond her initial disdain for high fashion. We learn that Andy was an award-winning college journalist, but her passion for journalism wilts against Miranda’s deconstruction of her during one of their initial meetings. Appraising Andy’s appearance–including a blue cable-knit sweater and plaid skirt–Miranda explains with some disdain that the sweater’s color (actually “cerulean”) is in fact already chosen for Andy well in advance of her purchase of it. While I think the film does need to challenge Andy’s somewhat self-congratulatory ideals, it offers her little authority or ground in fighting back against Miranda (perhaps, again, Hollywod can’t take someone like Andy terribly seriously?). Once Andy takes on the role of Miranda’s assistant, she adjusts relatively quickly, assuming the costume and manner of her colleagues, namely her co-assistant, Emily (Emily Blunt), whose deferential treatment of Miranda reflects that she has accepted the fact that “a million girls would kill for this job.” But this Cinderella-style transformation was never fully convincing, in part because Andy was already so attractive before she stepped into the offices of Runway and in part, for me, because I liked the blue sweater that Miranda so maliciously deconstructs.

I haven’t read Weisberger’s novel, and several of the critics I read (Zachareck, Scott) have hinted that the film adaptation softens Miranda slightly, particularly in the scene described by Mel, in which Andy encounters Miranda in her bathrobe, without makeup, in the one moment in the film in which Miranda is not fully in control of the shiny surfaces that surround her. Scott mentions that Andy’s alma mater is changed from Brown University to Northwestern, and I have to wonder how much her personality was changed as well. This lack of personality might also be attributed to the fact that her long-time friends existed not such much as characters but as types (her boyfriend the chef, the gay fashion consumer friend, etc). Perhaps, more than anything, I kept finding myself aware of the constraints of a mainstream Hollywood production as I watched Prada, particularly when it came to the film’s inability to depict convincingly Andy, the intelligent, idealistic woman as anything more than a type.

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Cameo Performance

For my first visit to Fayetteville’s art house theater, the Cameo Art House Theatre, I caught The Devil Wears Prada, appropriately enough, given the number of fashionistas who appear, however briefly, in the film. I’ll have more to say about the film tomorrow, but because the neighboring coffeehouse, Rude Awakening, is about to close, I’ll just say that the Cameo is a great little art house theater. Good projection, great sound, and comfortable seating, with a good beer and wine selection. I probably wouldn’t have seen Prada in DC, and I can’t say that I liked the film all that much (like Jerry Seinfeld, I think Streep’s a little overrated), but I liked the theatrical experience itself quite a bit.

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New Media Studies and Freshman Composition

Inspired by a conversation with George, I’ve decided to use a “new media studies” theme in my freshman composition class this fall. I had originally planned to put together a course similar to my Fall 2004 “Rhetoric and Democracy” course, which focused on the various kinds of argument used during the presidential election, but because there is no central national election, such a course doesn’t seem feasible in 2006. I’m still thinking about what such a course would look like and how it might serve Fayetteville State’s student population, but given the number of important questions raised by new media, I think students could benefit from such a course.

I’m still debating about whether to require students to maintain blogs this time around for a variety of reasons. I do think it’s important that students produce new media texts in a new media studies course, and blogs are becoming one of the more accessible versions of that kind of “democratized” new media production. When I taught the “Rhetoric and Democracy” course, blogs also made it easier for students to generate content for class discussion by linking to news articles or op-ed pieces on their blogs, a practice I found especially useful and informative when I taught the election-based course. But I’ve also found that when I don’t have actual paper assignments to return to my students that I find it much more difficult to remember their names (and I’ll have a lot of students this fall). I’m also becoming less patient with the role of being a default blog administrator for seventy-five or so students and am somewhat unsure about what kind of technological access students will have. I have obviously had good success with using blogs in the classroom in the past, but I’m also ready to try something different.

Also, because the course is the composition course focused on teaching the research paper, it may make more sense to look at significant debates about new media to provide contexts where students can write argumentative essays. Here, I’m thinking about the debates about the place of copyrighted material on YouTube, whether it’s the “Lazy Sunday” clip from Saturday Night Live or fans filming themselves dancing to their favorite songs, to name one example. But I’d also like students to think about issues such as YouTube’s popularity rankings and comments features and how those functions might affect how and what we watch, as well as pointing students to writers who are performing interesting interpretations of amatuer media, such as Henry Jenkins. And, of course, amateur media raises all sorts of questions about public and private boundaries that students need to consider, especially with many of them maintaining Facebook and MySpace pages, which often feature their names and contact information.

This is sort of a brainstorming post, and I’d be happy to hear your suggestions, but there seems to be at least some enthusiasm among my colleagues for this kind of composition course. I’m planning to keep some aspects of the course flexible under the assumption that as new media practices continue to evolve, so I’m a little cautious about imposing too many required readings at the beginning of the semester. Plus, I think that this flexibility may, in fact, provide one way of modelling some of the challenges of doing new media research.

Oh, while I’m thinking about it, I’ve been invited to join the group blog, Dr. Mabuse’s Kaleido-Scope, and so from now on, some of my posts may be cross-posted over there.

Update: Via Planned Obsolescence, Alan Liu’s draft policy statement on student use of Wikipedia. Like him, I’ve seen students increasingly rely on Wikipedia as a source, and I think it’s worth discussing that practice with my students. I’m probably less inclined than most English or composition instructors to expect my students to spend time in the library stacks, but I do think it’s important that students gain some self-consciousness about how they research and how they come to conclusions about what’s reliable and what isn’t.

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Raining on Ramsey Street

Checking out a new coffeehouse today. They charge for the wifi, but the cappuccinos aren’t bad. Still adjusting to Fayetteville, but I wanted to mention a cool film series sponsored by the South Carolina Arts Commission called Southern Circuit, which sponsors screening of independent films all over the Carolinas and Virginia (and even Mississippi), mostly at colleges and universities. The 2006-07 schedule isn’t listed yet, but last year’s series looks impressive.

Also wanted to mention Category D, Chris Cagle’s new film and media studies blog. Chris’s most recent entry reminds me that I need to start thinking about this year’s SCMS conference.

Meanwhile, GreenCine has an interview with Michael Winterbottom, director of The Road to Guantanamo, the compelling and important documentary about the Tipton Three, who were wrongly imprisoned in Guantanamo for over two years. Citing Andrew O’Hehir’s Salon article, David also speculates about why Winterbottom’s film hasn’t caught on in the United States. I think O’Hehir may be right that the film’s potential audience may be concluding that the film is “too damn depressing,” but I also wonder if the film isn’t also being overshadowed by Al Gore’s documentary. At any rate, David offers a spirited argument for why it is important to see the film and not to forget what happened in Guantanamo.

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Independence Day

As many readers may know, George Bush spent a significant part of the July 4th holiday here in Fayetteville at a rally at Fort Bragg. I celebrated my Independence Day by spending the afternoon with fifty other protestors, many of whom drove in from Raligh, Durham, Winston Salem, and other nearby places, with representatives from the local branch of Code Pink and Iraq Veterans Against the War in attendance (including, coincidentally, the soldier who attended the DC premiere of Sir, No Sir! I attended a few weeks ago).

The experience of participating in a protest is something that I feel is important, even if I’m not sure why I find it important or valuable. I often feel self-conscious about getting involved in anti-war protests not because I am unsure of my position on the war in Iraq but because protesting often feels more like a representation of protest. But in many ways, I think it was one of the best ways I could have spent the Fourth of July, as it allowed me not only to join others in expressing my opposition to Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq but also because it did provide some sense of solidarity with others who share that opposition.

By the way, I’m still blogging exclusively from assorted coffeehouses in Fayetteville, but I should be fully connected to cyberspace by Sunday when my cable guy or gal shows up. I’ve decided to take the full plunge this year and get both cable internet and, for the first time since the late 1990s, cable TV. I’ve been amazed at how disconnected I feel without having internet service at home, but because I only have brief amounts of time for surfing, it’s interesting to see what online activities I end up privileging when internet time is a limited resource (among other things, I spend far less time looking at sports news, which is probably a good thing).

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Click

In “Ideology, Genre, Auteur,” Robin Wood identifies one of the most prominent aspects of “American capitalist ideology” as it is realized in Hollywood cinema, which he calls the “Rosebud Syndrome.” According to Wood, films such as Citizen Kane suggest via narrative that “Money isn’t everything; money corrupts; the poor are happier. A very convenient assumption for capitalist ideology: the more oppressed you are, the happier you are.” Wood describes the Rosebud Syndrome and other aspects of American Capitalist Ideology as they are pushed to their absolute limit in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jimmy Stewart rescued from despair only through the timely arrival of his guardian angel, Clarence. The recent Adam Sandler vehicle, Click (IMDB), directed by Frank Coraci and written by Bruce Almighty screenwriters Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe, is the Rosebud Syndrome writ large. And read aloud by James Earl Jones. In Dolby. But that’s probably relatively obvious, even from the trailers for Click, which most readers will know features Sandler as Michael Newman (New-Man), a workaholic architect who manages to gain control of his life with a universal remote control that allows him to skip fast-forward, or pause his universe. But the magical remote comes with a high price: like a TiVo, as the remote control “learns” Michael’s preferences, it begins to take control, fast forwarding through significant moments in Michael’s life, with the remote interpreting Michael’s ambitions at work as a preference for his career over his family.

Of course, if this rehashing of the classic opposition between work and family was all that Click had to offer, it wouldn’t be an interesting or even terribly entertaining film, but I believe that Click is somewhat unexpectedly interesting and generally entertaining, if only because it depicts the further maturation of Sandler’s slightly angry goofball screen persona. In particular, Click tapped into my interest in time-travel films, notably through its use of TiVo as a kind of time travel, allowing Michael to revisit past chapters of his life or to skip ahead through the stressful and boring moments of his life (and I’ll be the first to admit that fast-forwarding through traffic would be awfully tempting). By turning Michael’s life into something like a film, Click is able to unpack the logic of our media-saturated lives in surprisingly interesting ways. While being introduced to the remote by a mysterious Bed, Bath, and Beyond employee, Morty (Christopher Walken in full mad scientist gear), Michael learns that his life has a commentary track (provided by James Earl Jones, of course), and in a scene that recalled Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, Michael is even given the opportunity to experience both his conception and his birth. Even the casting, especially of Michael’s parents (Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner) and boss (David Hasselhoff), seems to suggest that Michael’s life is deeply televisual.

At the same time, because of its adherence to this opposition between work and family Click also comes across as a film with a remarkably narrow imagination. Because the film really only offers two choices between the domestic and the workplace, it presents a relatively limited range of choices for Michael’s life. If Michael truly has a universal remote, shouldn’t he be able to change channels? It doesn’t imagine other career paths that Michael might have followed, other than architecture, and it doesn’t really address whether Michael’s wife, Donna (Kate Beckinsale, whose major contribution to the film seemed to be wearing tight tanktops), ever had any career ambitions of her own. Even within the logic of Michael’s world, the implication that Michael will only be successful and wealthy once he makes partner seems somewhat dubious, especially when he worries that the purchase of two bicycles will prove to be too expensive if he doesn’t make partner. The film was also overwhelming laden with product plcements. Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time in the art house, but I’ve rarely encountered such extreme use of product placements, especially for Bed, Bath, and Beyond, where Michael first receives the remote (though to be fair, the joke on the “beyond” in the store’s name was a nice touch).

I’ll admit that I’m somewhat ambivalent about Click. Like Bruce Almighty, the film has some remarkably reigious overtones, with Sandler turning to the skies at one point for divine guidance. And the film’s failure to imagine anything beyond the conflict between home and office left a little to be desired. But as a commentary on TiVo and time, Click is surprisingly compelling.

Update: While you’re in the neighborhood, check out Caryn James’ review, which depicts the underlying cyncism of a film such as Click. She explains that while the film’s message is that Sandler’s Micheal should slow down, but that “Nothing could be more bogus; as if anyone in Hollywood really wants to slow down. The true message — wouldn’t it be great to have that remote? — shines through anyway. And it’s not just the filmmakers who are in on the sham.” Thanks to GreenCine for the link.

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American Messiah Screening

Just a quick note to my DC readers: Chris Hansen’s The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah (IMDB) will be playing at Kensington, MD’s Kensington Row Bookshop as a part of the Capital City Microcinema screening series. If you’re in the neighborhood, I can certainly recommend Chris’s film, which is a mockumentary about Brian B., who believes that he is a kind of local messiah. The film’s deadpan humor evokes films such as Napoleon Dynamite and Waiting for Guffman, and Hansen will be there to answer questions about the film (which makes me really wish I could attend).

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Closed on Sundays

I’ve just learned that my former new favorite coffee house is closed on Sundays, which has left me feeling unnecessarily grumpy this afternoon. I still think the coffeehouse is a cool spot, but Sunday afternoons are usually when I’m most productive so I’m a little bummed that the place is closed. Add that to the fact that the local bank lists the temperature at 100 degrees and that I’ve had to join the ranks of car owners, and I’ll admit that I’m going through a bit of culture shock today as I attempt to settle in here in F’ville.

That being said, I’m trying not to be too grumpy so I’l point to a couple of cool-looking North Carolina places and events and a new-to-me film blog that looks like a good read. Via the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, I’ve just learned that Margaret Sartor is giving a reading of Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s, which has been described as “a unique form of memoir written as a diary, evoking a teenage girl’s coming-of-age in the Deep South of the 1970s.” The book is drawn from diaries that Sartor kept when she was a teenager and sounds like an interesting read. The reading will be held at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, which looks like a great bookstore.

Also, the film blog, Lost in Negative Space, looks very interesting, and I’d say that even if the author, Peter Gelderblom, hadn’t linked t my blog. Peter is the founder of 24LiesASecond, another website I really like. I’ll try to return to a normal posting schedule soon, but until I’m able to get internet service at home, it looks like I’ll be blogging and blog-surfing somewhat more infrequently than I would like.

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