Archive for May, 2007

Blogger Cloggers

Anthony Kaufman has an interesting read on Anne Thompson’s Variety article on film blogs. While Kaufman agrees that film blogs are becoming a permanent fixture of film culture, he also introduces a welcome note of skepticism on the implications of film blog culture, explaining that film critic bloggers, or cloggers, have, in some cases, made it more difficult to find reliable reviews, especially of smaller films that often depend on good internet buzz in order to find a larger audience.

Kaufman cites the example of Sujewa’s frustration at Cynthia’s review of Hannah Takes the Stairs as one example of this potential for frustration. But I would argue that Cynthia’s review tells me more about Hannah than any plot summary or “straight” film review ever could. This may be because I’ve read Cynthia’s blog for several years and know something about her style, but I think her parsing of the film’s gender politics is an important perspective on the film, and one that contextualizes Hannah within the larger context of the Mumblecore movement.

The discussion of film blogging, which spills out into the comments on Sujewa’s blog, points to an ongoing conversation film bloggers have been addressing for some time (inspired, in part, by Scott Karsten’s Boston Globe column), one that opens into larger questions about how we validate authors or, more specifically, film reviewers and critics, and film blogs, which are often self-published obviously upset many of the criteria we use for finding reliable readings of films. I don’t think this has to be a bad thing for filmmakers or audiences. Even while living outside of an urban center, I’ve been able to remain connected to much of what is going on in the indie and documentary scenes. And much of what we see on film blogs might simply be the equivalent of bar chatter, the word-of-mouth conversations that we’ve always had about movies rather than cultural pronouncements along the lines of Pauline Kael, Manohla Dargis, or Roger Ebert.

I’m not sure if I have any specific answers yet about what effects film blogs have on the larger film culture. I think it’s an important conversation, though, and one that probably doesn’t have a simple answer.

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Monday Morning Coffee Reads

Slowly but surely moving into summer mode. I’m planning to make a serious dent in writing the book this summer and hoping to get back in the habit of exercising frequently, which may mean a little less blog time. But here’s a quick tour of my morning blog and newspaper reading:

  • Via CCC: I’ve been meaning to write a longer blog entry on MoveOn’s Video Vets Project. The documentary project features interviews with Iraq vets and their families about their views on the war in Iraq. Hoping to get a chance to write something longer about this project later, but for now, Sam’s blog entry on VideoVets is worth checking out.
  • Pretty much everyone has pointed to this article on YouTube’s decision to share revenue with some its most prominent videobloggers, including lonelygirl15. There’s lots of good debate out there about this decision, including the observation that it creates a kind of “YouTube elite.”
  • Clancy mentions FitDay, a cool resource for tracking your carbohydrate, fat, and protein intake. I’ve gained a little weight this year, in part because I’m not walking nearly as much as I was in DC last year, so I’m trying to find ways of encouraging myself to lose a little weight.
  • Anne Thompson has a nice column about the effects of blogging on film coverage. Lots of good stuff here, including a discussion on how bloggers often speed up the celebrity buzz machine. Thompson also notes the ways in which studios have learned to “play” fan bloggers by using them for advance publicity for their films.
  • Manohla Dargis has an interesting article on the modern blockbuster written in anticipation for some superhero movie that came out last weekend. Rumor has it the film even did pretty well at the box office, countering some of those “moviegoing is dead” stories we’ve been hearing.
  • Interesting article on the continued evolution of the super-small screen. While Hollywood has begun to embrace the mobile screen, apparently advertisers are lagging. But isn’t the super-small screen really just a place for advertising content on larger screens elsewhere, a way of directing our attention to certain franchise narratives?
  • Interesting LA Times article on GreenTeaGirlie, the latest YouTube celebrity. Her meteoric rise to popularity has left many YouTube viewers suspecting that GTG might be a marketing hoax of some kind.

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Debate Update

Good for CNN. Daily Kos passed along the good news that CNN, hearing the requests of academics, activists, and bloggers, has decided to release all debate footage to the public domain (I blogged about this a few days ago). In other good news, several Democratic presidential candidates, including Chris Dodd, Barack Obama, and John Edwards have joined the call.

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Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 (IMDB) opens with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire, who’s getting too old to play a college kid) quietly relishing his celebrity status. Crime in New York is down–even without Rudy Giuliani running things–and images of Spider-Man are broadcast from giant screens in Times Square. Even his girlfriend, Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), is on her way to stardom as a Broadway actress in a lavish musical. But Parker’s contentment is subtly undercut. The kids are bored with Spider-Man’s heroics, and MJ’s acting and singing career isn’t quite panning out, thanks to some bad reviews. Not that Peter notices. After all, he’s become too preoccupied with his own press.

Peter’s selfish turn, caused by some nasty space goop and visually represented through the black Spider-Man costume, seemed like an interesting idea conceptually. After the second film departed from most of the Marvel storylines, I had hoped that the third film would expand on Peter and MJ’s emotionally complex relationship, but as both Manohla Dargis and Marjorie Baumgarten observe, Peter’s turn to the dark side (or at least dark suit) isn’t all that interesting or even that dark. There are a couple of funny moments when Peter struts down a New York sidewalk Tony Manero-style, but Parker’s id is only one or two clicks over from my super-ego, so these scenes were never terribly convincing to me.

While most reviews have complained about the script’s reliance on melodramatic sequences involving Peter, MJ, and Harry (James Franco), I found myself wanting more scenes with MJ. Where the second film seemed to give MJ some independence–see Cassie’s comments in my review–the third film seemed to be much more about Peter’s personal midlife crisis. Harry, who conveniently develops a case of temporary amnesia after a fight with Spider-Man, does briefly disrupt Peter and MJ’s relationship, but it’s difficult to see him as an interesting and attractive alternative to MJ (other than his personal wealth). The other villains were more or less workmanlike–Thomas Haden Church as Sandman worked well, and the subtle touches, such as the braodly-striped shirt and the tenement apartment–associating him with a fugitive from a 1930s chain gang were entertaining. Topher Grace’s Venom was about as sleazy as a PG-13 movie would allow.

In terms of the fight scenes, I suppose they were dramatic and exciting enough. I still find it difficult not to forget that I’m basically watching computer animation sequences, not “real” fight (or flight) scenes. They’re pretty enough but seem to lack solidity, even when Spider-Man is being crushed into a building or leaping off of falling pieces of rubble. But there were at least two gaping plot holes that pretty much ruined the film for me, all other things considered. I’ll hide them below the fold for those readers who don’t want those plot holes “spoiled” for them.

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Goodbye, Stars Hollow

Bummer. Just got the news via Mike that Gilmore Girls, one of my favorite TV shows, has been cancelled. I’ll admit that I lost enthusiasm for the show after it migrated over to the new CW, but the show’s characters were among the most likable and memorable on television, and the dense, talky scripts were always something I appreciated. The series finale will be broadcast on May 15.

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DVD, Internet Radio, and Copyright

Still in grading mode, but I just wanted to mention a few more links that have crossed my path. First, Laura has an important post on the code that can decrypt the new HD DVD format, “Copy protection, web 2.0, and education.” The issues of decryption are important, especially for film and media scholars who rely on clip compilations in class, and as Laura notes, it’s important for film and mdia professors to continue asserting their fair use rights or risk seeing them lost as the market continues to evolve.

On a related note, I had somehow missed the news that the US Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) had severely hiked the royalty fees for internet radio stations. As of right now, Internet radio will remain safe until July, but basically the CRB ruling would cripple most internet radio stations with expensive royalty fees. Living in Fayetteville, I’ve come to depend on (commercial-free) internet radio stations such as KEXP Seattle for access to any kind of independent music scene, and KEXP and similar stations have helped launch the careers of a number of great indie rock musicians (including recent personal faves, Silversun Pickups and Wild Sweet Orange). Such a ruling, I believe, could hurt artists as well as audiences. The bipartisan HR 2060 would essentially reverse the CRB ruling and would allow internet radio to continue to thrive, so if this is an issue you’re invested in, it might be worth contacting your representative.

As Laura notes in her entry on decryption, these stories don’t receive a lot of play in the mainstream media, so it’s important to talk about them and remain informed about what’s going on with these copyright issues.

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Wednesday Afternoon Links

What I’ve been reading and looking at instead of grading student papers:

  • I’ve lost the source, but here are a few photos tagged “MIT5” from last weekend’s Media in Transition conference. I can’t find myself in any of the photos, which is a good thing because I have an aversion to being photographed, but David did take a few photos of the audience for our panel.
  • I think I somehow missed Kim Middleton’s post on MIT 5. Sam Ford’s posts from the Convergence Culture Consortium are also worth checking out.
  • On a related note, Karina has a follow-up to her New TeeVee column on movie mashups by women, a point I addressed in my MIT 5 paper. Karina did find the interesting looking film review series, Girls on Film. More on that tonight when I’ve had time to watch a couple of episodes (or at least feel less guilty about not grading).
  • Anne Thompson cites a USA Today article arguing that comedy shorts are the “killer app” of the online video world.
  • Also worth noting: Lost Remote points to a Wired article reporting that the US Army has ordered soldiers not to post to personal blogs or send emails without clearing the content with a superior. Failure to comply could result in a court-martial among other penalties. Soldiers’ blogs and writings have provided me with an important perspective on the war, and I’d hate for that to be taken away.

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Lazy Tuesday Links

Today’s the last day of class, which means I’m looking for any excuse not to grade papers. Here’s how I’ve been procrastinating this afternoon:

  • Via Lost Remote, news that The Washington Post has acquired Jeff Jarvis’s PrezVid videoblog.
  • Agnes Varnum has a column (also posted at indieWIRE) on the recent rush of “green” docs. As she points out, An Inconvenient Truth seemed to come out of nowhere last year, but since then, we seem to have reached a “tipping point” on climate change, something reflected in the lineups at Full Frame and other documentary fests.
  • One of the topics I addressed at MIT 5 was the “Seven Minute Sopranos” vid (and the similar “5 Second Movies” series). Now Sony has announced its own series of “minisodes,” which will take vintage TV shows, such as TJ Hooker and Charlie’s Angels and crunch them down to 3.5 minutes or less. I’m not terribly convinced that there will be a large audience for this kind of mashup kitscsh; after all, most mashups have relatively small audiences.
  • On a related note, Liz Losh points to some new Colbert Nation mashup fun as well as Discovery Channel’s You Spoof, which invites viewers to mashup their content.
  • Finally, via Mike, the latest mashup of action movies and children’s entertainment, Pulp Muppets.

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