Archive for February, 2007

Friday Afternoon Videos

One of my projects for spring semester is my paper for MIT’s Media in Transition conference in April where I’ll be talking about “Movies 2.0,” which will allow me to revisit my interests in DIY media making. One relatively recent project that caught my attention(via Howard Rheingold on the DIY Media Weblog) is what is being billed as the world’s first “open movie.” The makers of Elephants Dream describe their project as “made entirely with open source graphics software such as Blender, and with all production files freely available to use however you please, under a Creative Commons license.”

The short movie appears to be several months old, but right now, I’m more interested in collecting examples of different kinds of DIY movie productions. There are also some remixes of Elephants Dream available online, and in keeping with the open source nature of the movie, the movie makers actively encourage such remakes.

In other news, Aaron Burr is (was?) into Wu-Tang. Who knew? Thanks to Karina for the link.

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The Rest is Static

Just wanted to mention, “The Rest is Static,” my contribution to the In Media Res series at MediaCommons. I discovered Jericho while working on my science-fiction television article, watching all of this season’s episodes online at the Jericho website and wanted to provoke a little more discussion about the show’s representation of the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the United States.

I’m still not quite sure what makes the show work for me; my interest in the show clearly developed because I could watch all of the episodes consecutively online rather than waiting for them to be broadcast over several weeks. As a result, the show is more readily identified with the computer screen than the TV screen for me, to the point that I sometimes confuse other shows with it when watching network television on the web.

The supplemental series, Countdown is also pretty interesting, once you get past the tedious AT&T promos, especially in providing interesting background information about Robert Hawkins, one of the show’s central characters. The documentary footage of Condoleezza Rice commenting on North Korea’s nuclear tests and talking heads interviews with various experts on nuclear technology support the storyline without alienating casual fans of the show.

At any rate, the In Media Res series is starting to pick up steam now, so I’d encourage you to check it out.

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From YouTube to YouNiversity

Grading today, but I just wanted to mention Henry Jenkins’ Chronicle of Higher Eductaion article, “From YouTube to YouNiversity,” in which he argues for specific changes in the field of media studies in response to Web 2.0. More discussion at MediaCommons, where I found the article.

I’m in agreement with the basics of Jenkins’ major arguments that media studies needs to become more comparative; that media studies needs to become more attentive to the further blurring of the lines between media consumption and production; and that media scholars should attend to public interest in our current moment of media change. Jenkins’ article may disappear behind the Chronicle’s pay wall, but for now it’s available for free.

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Deconstructing Maverick

I just learned today about the cool new-to-me film blog, CineFile Video, and wanted to mention Hadrian’s post on a video highlighting the homosexual content in Top Gun, appropriately called “Gay Top Gun.” Mixing Top Gun clips with footage from the otherwise forgettable Eric Stoltz-slacker comedy, Sleep with Me (remember when Eric Stoltz films constituted their own genre?), “Gay Top Gun” performs what Hardian calls “video-form film criticism” on Top Gun. Arguably, of course, the video is also performing video criticism on Sleep with Me, reading Tarantino’s cameo and his drunken grad-student commentary on Top Gun.

The video is lots of fun, but I think Hadrian is right to point out that identifying “latent homosexual subtext” is relatively easy to do, espeically in male-bonding films such as Top Gun (I hesitate to describe anything about Top Gun as “latent,” and there is, in fact, a whole genre of YouTube vids that perform this form of deconstruction of Top Gun). Hadrian offers an interesting reading of why such readings are so commonplace, but I’m even more intrigued by the editing of the sequence from Sleep with Me, in which Tarantino’s character misrepresents several key bits of dialogue from Top Gun in his conversation with the other partygoer (played by Todd Field), in part because Tarantino’s reading of the film now seems relatively obvious. Not sure I have much to add right now, but Hadrian’s reading of the video is well worth checking out.

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Web 2.0, The Movie and the Inevitable Sequels

In my previous post, I mentioned Michael Wesch’s ubiquitous Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us, a compelling and beautifully-crafted five-minute video describing the basic concepts of the Web 2.0 concept.

The video has now inspired a number of video responses, including several by people who appear to be Wesch’s students. Some of the more interesting responses include CoryTheRaven’s response, which addresses some of the limitations of the Web 2.0 emphasis on participatory culture and Research 2.0, which raises a number of interetsing questions about the ways in which the web is reshaping how we do research. Also worth cheking out: Digital Democratic Media, which reads reality TV (and our impatience with it) as a symptom of our desire for a more participatory media culture.

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Media Miscellany

The big writing project I’ve been mentioning, a book chapter on the future of science-fiction television, is out of my hands, for a few days at least, so I’m gradually looking ahead to future projects and hoping to get back in the habit of a more consistent blogging schedule. I even got a chance to get out and experience Fayetteville’s exciting nightlife for the first time in several weeks. My next project is my conference paper on SCMS, which will be focusing on the documentary, Unknown White Male, which I re-watched last night (and was pleased to discover was even better than I remembered). More on that project over the next few days, but I’ve been thinking about that paper for a while now.

What I really wanted to do this afternoon is to link to the videos I’ve been watching. Michael at Zigzigger tipped me off to the very cool and entertaining videoblog, 39 Second Single, about a thirty-something woman’s dating experiences. The main character, Liza, has great presence and comic timing, making it one of the more interesting videoblogs I’ve seen in a while. Of course, the series also makes me miss living in a big city, but I’ll ignore that for now.

Michael (and Clancy) also pointed me to the currently ubiquitous clip, Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us. Like Michael, I may show the clip in one of my classes, in my case my graduate course on Using Technology in the Language Arts Classroom (or I suppose I could just post it on the course blog).

Finally, Tim has a link to a YouTube clip taken from the documentary Zizek! The clip features an interview between the Slovenian philosopher and an evening news talking head who is quite clearly baffled by Zizek’s arguments and even stumbles over the pronunciation of his name (to give him credit, the newscaster’s comment that Jacques Lacan makes Freud “sound like a simple valley girl” is pretty funny).

In other news, I’m pleased and honored to mention that I’ve been invited to join a distinguished group of scholars on the MediaCommons editorial board. I’ve enjoyed watching MediaCommons develop over the last few months and am very excited about this news.

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Torture TV

Via Nikki Finke, an interesting New Yorker article by Jane Meyer on representations of torture on 24. Of particular interest: Meyer reports that top military officials have clashed with the show’s producers because it depicts torture as an effective technique for obtaining information. Meyer describes a meeting between U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and several of the show’s writers, noting that Finnegan had expressed serious reservations about the show and its influence on his students:

Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors–cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students.

Finnegan points to a number of flaws in the show’s logic, noting that 24 rarely, if ever, depicts scenarios in which torture backfires. These observations are not entirely new. I’ve attended a number of conference panels in recent years that describe the ways in which 24 depicts torture favorably, a position only reinforced by the “ticking time-bomb” premise. But the discussion of the meeting between military and F.B.I. interrogators and the 24 creative team is worth checking out.

Nikki suggests boycotting 24, which isn’t really an issue for me. I’d much rather being watching Heroes, anyway.

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Media Legends Old and New

A grab-bag of topics I’ve been meaning to blog: First, Michael at Zigzigger comments on Anne Hornaday’s glib description of early cinema audiences in her recent article on YouTube. In describing YouTube audiences, Hornaday makes reference to the legend of panicked filmgoers diving under their seats when they first encountered the Lumiere bothers’ film of a train entering a station, an account that most film scholars now regard as fabricated. As Michael adds, however, Hornaday’s article, which charcterizes YouTube as an “uncurated museum” of video clips and home movies, is generally pretty insightful.

David Bordwell has an interesting read on Sharon Waxman’s recent New York Times article on the limited output of many of today’s indie auteurs such as David O. Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kimberly Peirce, Spike Jonze, David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky, and Baz Luhrmann. Boys Don’t Cry for example, was released nearly eight years ago, and Punch Drunk Love came out four years ago, and Aronofsky’s The Fountain appeared seven years after his previous film, Requiem for a Dream. Bordwell outlines five basic explanations offered by Waxman and addresses whether they are credible explanations.

I think he’s mostly right, but the fourth explanation he identifies–that today’s indie auteurs don’t know how to deal with the post-9/11 world–doesn’t really hold water in my opinion (Bordwell also seems relatively skeptical regarding this explanation). After all, a number of indie directors have already produced elegant and thoughtful responses to these issues, including Russell himself in I [Heart] Huckabees. I’m also inclined to agree with Bordwell that the entertainment industry has changed considerably since the 1970s. Karina also fact-checks many of Waxman’s claims and finds them rather lacking, noting that her desciption of Russell’s Huckabees as “disastrous” might be motivated by her personal “contempt” for Russell (Karina also points out what many people seem to have forgotten: when it first hit–and quickly disappeared from–theaters, Fight Club. was considered a box office bomb).

Finally, I’ve been meaning to mention that In Media Res, the MediaCommons videoblog has been putting out some interesting material over the last few days. Worth checking out: Jeffrey Sconce’s reading of the press conference after the Cartoon Network’s guerilla marketing campaign set off a war on terror panic in Boston a few days ago.

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Taking a Break/The Departed

Chris’s post congratulating Scorsese for (finally) winning the Directors Guild of America award for The Departed (IMDB) reminded me that I wanted to at least mention that I finally caught that film last night. I wont pretend to say anything new about The Departed, at this point (and I’m way too tired from a long day of writing, anyway), but I did enjoy the film as much as anything Scorsese has done since Goodfellas. As lots of folks who saw the film three or four months ago pointed out, The Departed has been seen as a kind of return to form for Scorsese, revisiting the urban street life, the conflict between cops and criminals, where he built his reputation in the 1970s and ’80s (not to mention a liberal dash of Catholic guilt).

But I was most fascinated by the status of the film as a remake of the Hong Kong action film, Infernal Affairs, which is now rapidly skyrocketing up my Netflix queue and is itself heavily influenced by the work of Scorsese and other New Hollywood directors of the 1970s. Oddly, there were several key moments during a chase scene set in the streets of Boston, shots filled with glittering neon signs and derelict buildings, that I felt could have been lifted from Blade Runner. And in other key moments, I couldn’t help but appreciate Thelma Schoonmaker’s fast, sharp editing.

The Departed wasn’t a perfect film. In several places, I felt as if there were two or three films competing with each other, a feeling that was particularly acute whenever Jack Nicholson, with his oversized persona, appeared on screen. While Jack’s character, Frank Costello, is a larger-than-life villain, Nicholson’s leering and preening were a bit distracting. And I never could get a sense of the role of Madolyn (played by Vera Farmiga), other than as a mediating figure between the Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio characters. That being said, The Departed might be my favorite film among the Best Picture nominees.

Big Writing Project is almost done (maybe one more day), and hopefully then I’ll be able to make a more permanent return to blogland. I haven’t felt this far removed from blogging in a couple of years.

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Valuing Viacom

Via Talking Points Memo: Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central, MTV, BET, and many other cable networks, has demanded that YouTube take down over 100,000 clips containing content from those networks.

I don’t really care about Viacom’s bottom line, but this strikes me as a really bad idea. As a YouTube spokesperson noted, Viacom will no longer benefit from YouTube’s “passionate audience,” thus losing out on potential audiences for their shows. Video sharing sites such as YouTube would seem especially beneficial for shows such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show that make use of short sketches that work well in the format of streaming video and often find wide audiences very quickly via email and blogs.

Update: Here’s another article on this controversy from the Washington Post, including a comment from CBS indicating that clips on YouTube may have helped boost the network’s ratings. In the previous version of this entry, I may have overstated the relationship between finding audiences on YouTube and translating those audiences into larger audiences for specific shows, but I do think the ratings controversy itself is part of a larger definitional issue, as television networks and movie studios attempt to make sense of how new media fit into the entertainment industry.

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