Archive for January, 2007

Winter Hiatus

Major writing deadline in about three weeks, so I’ll be keeping blogging to a minimum until at least February. Until then, check out some of the other excellent blogs in my blogroll.

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Lazy Saturday Night Reads

One or two other notes about the Bordwell blog entry I mentioned earlier. Like Jim Thompson, I was intrigued by Bordwell’s discussion of the connections between storytelling techniques in film and in other media such as television and graphic novels. Both Thompson and Bordwell point to Jason Mittell’s recent Velvet Light Trap article “Narrative Complexity in Comntemporary American Television”, which addresses many of these concerns (more on the Mittell article later, hopefully).

Jim Thompson’s pointer also reminded me to revisit Kristin Thompson’s discussion of the various DVD versions of The DaVinci Code, where she explains that an extended version of the film is available pretty much everywhere except the US. But I was more intrigued to learn that Bordwell and Thompson are planning to include “recommended DVD extras” at the end of every chapter of the forthcoming edition of Film Art. I’ve been using Corrigan and White’s The Film Experience recently, with some success, but I’ll be very interested to see how these revisions play out. Like Chris, I’ve been thinking about film textbooks quite a bit lately, and I think that DVD extras can be used in the classroom in some very effective ways.

Completely unrelated to the above: I drove up to Durham last night to catch Old Joy (IMDB) at the Carolina Theater, based laregly on the recommendations of a few film bloggers whose taste I appreciate, and I’m really glad I made the trip, even if that meant driving over an hour back to F’ville in a monsoon. Kelly Reichardt’s quiet, minimalist film follows two old friends, Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham) as they travel to hot springs in the mountains. There is a gap between the two old friends who have drifted apart after Mark married and settled down while Kurt continues to drift from job to job and place to place. I shouldn’t keep promising to write longer reviews, but I really liked this film and would like to encourage others to see it by giving it the attention it deserves. I’m just not sure I’ll have time to do that with all of the syllabus prep and other writing I need to be doing this weekend.

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More Denby Links

Michael at Zigzigger tackles a few points I missed in my original bullet-point read of Denby’s New Yorker article on the state of Hollywood (and, no, I have no idea why I called it “brilliant” in my original blog entry–blame it on the lack of caffeine).

In particular, Michael reminds us that Denby’s article seems to ignore or misread some of the big changes in exhibition that have taken place since the 1970s. In praticular, Michael correctly takes Denby to task for “neglecting the boom in theater construction in the 1990s and early 2000s that has perpetuated and exacerbated opening-weekend mania.” And, like Michael, I found the Denby piece most useful when describing digital viewing experiences.

Michael also points to a second Carpetbagger blog entry that more or less rips Denby’s article to shreds. The Bagger offers an eloquent take on many of the holes in Denby’s argument (movie theaters aren’t the “graveyards” Denby imagines them to be, box office actually increased slightly 2007, Hollywood studios *know* the game has changed). But the Bagger’s response to Denby is also helpful in its characterterization of corrupt studios and their relationship to a relatively compliant entertainment press. Not much to add right now, but these readings have complicated my original comments to some extent.

Also worth checking out: The New York Observer’sStardust Memo” to Hollywood.

Update: AO Scott weighs in on the Denby discussion, concluding:

Moviegoing, though unlikely to disappear, will probably never again be the universal rite it once was. This is not a catastrophe, just a change of habit. Going to the movies may survive as an acquired taste, and also, therefore, as an activity through which taste is acquired.

Scott desrcibes the practice of taking his own children (ages 10 and 7) to a variety of movies over the last few months, reading the moviegoing ritual through Frank O’Hara’s 1960 poem, “Ave Maria.”

Update 2: Jim Thompson also has an overview of this debate, and, even better, a pointer to David Bordwell’s analysis of the structures of several recent Hollywood films. Bordwell’s read on Fast Food Nation’s rewarding use of the “network narrative” structure is especially helpful and underscores much of what I like about Linklater’s film.

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Wednesday Morning Media Links

Two urelated links I don’t want to lose: First, an article in today’s New York Times about this year’s Oscars finalists, noting that many of the films address controversial political topics (global warming, Iraq, free speech, etc). The article suggests that the finalists reflect “a shift toward gritty, guerrilla filmmaking, a willingness to tackle controversial subjects, no matter the obstacles.” There’s certainly no shortage of political docs getting national attention this year, but given the long history of political documentaries, including the work of organizations such as Newsreel since the 1960s, this narrative seems imprecise to me. Still, I’m happy to see a number of films that I admire getting national attention.

The Washington Post has an advertisement, I mean article, on SeenOn.com, a new website that allows TV viewers to purchase the clothing, accessories, and other items seen on their favorite TV shows. Dig “Ugly Betty’s” sweater? You can now buy it through the magic of the internet. This kind of service isn’t terribly surprising, I suppose. In fact, I’m somewhat surprised it didn’t hapen sooner, but it probably does represent another means for television and cable networks to profit off of human attention in the age of TiVo.

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Star Trek Interactive Links

For an article I’m writing:

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The Future of Movies

Via David Carr’s Carpetbagger blog, David Denby’s brilliant and occasionally frustrating New Yorker essay on the potential changes in cinematic production and distribution, “Big Pictures: Hollywood Looks For a Future.” I want to return to Denby’s essay later, perhaps in another blog entry and certainly in my book, but for now, I’ll mention a few immediate reactions:

  • Denby begins with a discussion of what Nick Rombes has called the “shrinking screen,” describing his discomfort with watching a Hollywood film on a video iPod. He notes that he could never quite achieve a comfortable position in relationship to the screen and implies that watching a “big” film on the very small screen showed the limitations of the technology. But later he points out that all formats (multiplexes, art house theaters, TV sitcoms, etc) encourage certain kinds of content. I think this is already happening with modes pf direct address seen in video podcasts, videoblogging and other “small,” intimate texts that fit the tiny screen.
  • Denby’s description of the effects of digitization is quite helpful. He describes in detail the experience of watching Million Dollar Baby on a high-def screen, comapring the detail offered on a (very expensive) home theater system with the film’s murkier look on the big screen (a look that resonated with me when I saw the film originally, even though I didn’t mention Denby’s review at the time).
  • The article could work incredibly well in an introduction to film course as a supplement to class discussions of what Tim Corigan and Patricia White have called “the film experience.” Ranging from the movie palaces of the 1930s and ’40s through the “tawdry” multiplexes of the 1980s built in the wake of blockbuster culture to the new art houses, Denby effectively, if sometimes nostalgically, conveys how moviegoing is a shared public experience and why that is so important.
  • Denby also discusses what gets lost when viewing Brokeback Mountain on a small screen. I finally caught Brokeback last night and was impressed by the film’s storytelling but didn’t find myself feeling terribly passionate about the movie. Denby’s description of watching the film, with its majestic mountain vistas, suggests why the film might have been more powerful on the big screen
  • Like many media theorists, Denby imagines a near future in which all media is distrubuted through a central entertainment/media center in the home, and to some extent, convergence is taking place, but like Henry Jenkins, I’m not convinced that all media technolgies will converge into a central media appliance anytime soon (see one version of Jenkins’ discussion of the “black box fallacy” here).
  • Denby also offers a good overview of some of the new Hollywood business models, noting the degree to which the studios are invested in blockbuster franchises such as the Spiderman and Superman series. But he’s also attentive to new moes of independent and specialty distribution that may make it possible for smaller films to gain a wider audience. In partciular he cites Richard Linklater’s observation that some of his smaller films never screen in theaters outside of big cities and college towns and that digital distribution could change that, allowing film fans in smaller towns to become more involved in the conversation about these films.

While I don’t agree with Denby’s essay in its entirety (I see far more potential in the video iPod than he does, for example), it’s a valuable read and worth discussing in some detail.

Update: Just wanted to point to some of the other responses Denby’s essay has been getting. Bright Lights After Dark briefly mentions the essay, and Ryan at Cinematical favorably discusses Denby’s treatment of the state of cinema in 2007, although I don’t think Denby believes it’s quite as bad as Ryan implies.

Finally, Eugene David, the One-Minute Pundit, is far more critical of Denby, in part because of his complicity with the industry in offering favorable reviews to mediocre Holywood product and because Denby favorably describes the new art house theater renovations by National Amusements, a theater chain owned by entertainment conglomerate Viacom. To be fair to Denby, he hardly seems like the worst offender in ad-blurbism (at least compared to certain other critics who are all thumbs), but I think the bigger problem here is David’s dismissal of all things Hollywood. My read of Denby’s piece doesn’t leave me with the impression that movies are necessarily getting worse (Denby praises Million Dollar Baby and Brokeback Mountain among others) but that economic, technological, and social factors are changing the kinds of movies that get made as well as changing how we watch them, a far different kind of argument than the jeremiad David describes (even if Denby doesn’t like the video iPod). Some of those changes, including teh reliance on tentpole blockbusters, are negative, of course, but I think Denby leaves a lot of room for showing how the “specialty” wings of the major studios can produce some interesting and innovative work.

David also implies that “the principal accomplishments” of the Web are The Blair Witch Project, Ain’t it Cool News, and the Snakes on a Plane hype, but I think that overlooks a lot of the truly independent porductions that are promoted and distributed via the internet, including services such as Green Cine and Netflix that allow folks who live in cities and towns without an independent video store or art house theater access to far more film titles than they might otherwise have.

One more note: John Podhoretz also favorably cites Denby’s article, echoing the observation that the internet is contributing to the decline of American movies.

Update 2: Annie Frisbie also discusses Denby’s article in relationship to a rather unpleasant experience at a Dreamgirls screening.

Update 3: Did I say “brilliant?” I meant “obvious.” David at Green Cine links to Anne Thompson’s far more critical take on Denby’s piece.

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Housekeeping

Recovering from four (generally good) days at MLA and the long drive from Atlanta to Fayetteville, but just wanted to mention a couple of planned posts that may happen later today. I’ve been invited to participate in the “five things” meme, which I’m planning to do a little later. I’ve also received a request for more personal entries here. Hopefully that will happen in 2007, but besides work stuff, there really isn’t a whole lot happening right now.

Also wanted to mention that this year’s annual family Xmas movie was the Will Smith drama, The Pursuit of Happyness, a Reaganite fable about a struggling hospital equipment salesman who takes an unpaid internship with a major stock broker with the hopes of becoming the one intern who stands out enough to secure a job at the film (I honestly can’t remember which one, and I’m too lazy to look it up, plus they don’t need me to do any free advertising for them, anyway). The Smith character, Chris, loses his apartment and is forced to spend teh duration of the internship living in homeless shelters with his young son (and, significantly, the film does little to question Chris’s behavior). Maybe I’ll have more to say about Happyness later, especially its treatment of the American Dream myth, but that probably won’t happen.

Robert DeNiro’s The Good Shepherd, a history of the early years of the CIA, was a bit more compelling, especially given its treatment of the paranoia and elitism of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon), whose story is used to convey this history. Wilson’s scerecy and paranoia makes it almost impossible to identify with him as a character, but that’s part of the point, of course. There’s also a fascinating scene early in the film (reviisted at a couple of key moments) in which Shepherd links the secrecy of the CIA with the similar secrecy of Yale’s Skull and Bones fraternity. There’s a lot going on in the film, and I think it may merit a second viewing at some point. Also caught this film with my family (at least my dad and sister), which made for an intersting conversation because the images of bureacrcay in 1960s Washington reminded my father of his early career in DC.

Oh, I almost forgot. Sujewa has named my humble blog as one of the best film blogs of 2006, an honor that I deeply appreciate. I’m flattered to be in the same company as GreenCine Daily, Drifting, and other cool blogs. I’m also happy to see that Sujewa will be back behind the camera in 2007, and once again, will be working with Jennifer Blakemore, a major strength of Date Number One’s ensemble cast.

Happy new year to all my readers.

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