Archive for August, 2007

Dorothea Lange Links

I’m teaching Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” photographs in my “Documenting Injustice” course and just wanted to keep track of a few links.

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Katrina, Two Years Later

I’m supposed to be working on my book all day today, but I feel like it’s also important to put forward a reminder that this week marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast, along with everything that followed.  While there was quite a bit of attention paid to the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I sometimes get the uneasy feeling that many people would like us to forget about the devastation caused by Katrina and the mishandling of the rebuilding process.

With that in mind, I just wanted to mention quickly the Brave New Films video, When the Saints Go Marching In, which provides a brief visual reminder that the rebuilding process is far from complete and invites people to sign a petition supporting Senator Christopher Dodd’s Gulf Coast Recovery Bill of 2007 to assist the Gulf Coast region in rebuilding destroyed infrastructure. The bill is co-sponsored by six other Dems, including John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, and Barack Obama.

Not much to add here.  I’m thinking about showing this video in my “Documenting Injustice” course, so I didn’t want to lose track of it, but the video is a vivid reminder that the recovery process is still very much ongoing.

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Short Takes

I’m starting to settle into the new semester, so hopefully blogging will pick up soon. I’ve almost completely fallen out of the habit of blogging at MediaCommons and Newcritics, something I’m hoping to change soon, but for now I just wanted to mention, however briefly, a couple of films I’ve seen recently.

First, I caught the Steve Buscemi-Sienna Miller drama, Interview, last night. Buscemi and Miller play a jaded journalist and an apparently vacuous starlet, with Buscemi’s character, Pierre, assigned to interview Katya. The film is a remake of a film by Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, which Van Gogh himself planned to remake with Buscemi and Miller before he was assassinated. Buscemi stepped in to direct, and the result is a serviceable, if unspectacular, movie not unlike Richard Linklater’s Tape, in which two characters bicker, argue, reveal truths about themselves, etc. While Roger Ebert seemed to appreciate the characters and performances, which were certainly adequate, I found what he called the film’s “O. Henry ending” a little too distracting. I’m also not that convinced that the film was saying anything terribly interesting about the concept of celebrity and performance that it seemed to be trying to deconstruct.

I’ve also been planning to mention Don Diego Ramirez’s autobiographical documentary, Trailer Trash: A Film Journal after I got a chance to watch a screener copy a few days ago. I initially expressed interest in the film because of its use of Super 8 and home movies, but the film is less about home movies as a storytelling medium and much more about the Ramirez family’s experiences in dealing with the death of Ramirez’s grandmother and the murder of his grandfather, which took place a few days later.  At the same time, Ramirez and his wife become new parents for the first time.  There is a strong narrative voice in the short (58 min) feature, but I’m not quite as convinced that the film had an overarching perspective on the issues the family faced.  At the beginning of the film, Ramirez expresses his frustration with the term “trailer trash” that had been used to describe members of his family, and at various points, he refers to the ways in which making the movie allows him to make sense of his experiences, but these points seem to have been subsumed under the (admittedly very powerful) story itself.  I do think that Trailer Trash deserves a wider audience and I hope that Ramirez gets the opportunity to develop his voice as a filmmaker because there was a lot of interesting material here.

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“Other Things that Happened”

One of my Twitter connections pointed out this MTV interview with David Lynch to promote the DVD of his most recent movie, Inland Empire. I didn’t have time to write a full review when I saw it in theaters a few months ago, but I was taken with Lynch’s experimental use of digital technologies in making the movie, and Lynch discusses the ways in which digital technologies have altered how he will make movies in the future.

But what I find more interesting about the interview is Lynch’s discussion of the extras he has included on the Inland Empire DVD. Lynch has famously avoided contributing commentary tracks to the DVD releases of his films, arguing that after we hear a commentary track, “the film is seen in terms of the memory of that commentary and it changes things forever.” But Inland Empire has made extensive use of other “extras,” including approximately 70 minutes of additional footage that was not included in the already very long film. Lynch describes these scenes as “other things that happened,” comparing them to meeting a family “except for the sister who lives in Ohio” and suggests that deleted scenes can provide a fuller picture of the world depicted in the film.

The MTV interview is worth checking out, especially if you’re interested in some of the issues pertaining to how digital media have come to shape the ways in which we can think about cinema as a medium and institution. Not much to add here. I’m still adjusting to the new semester and working towards some major deadlines, so expect infrequent blogging to continue for the next few weeks.

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Believing is Seeing Redux

In a recent blog post, Errol Morris addresses the debate over the identity of the subject of the iconic “hooded man” photograph taken in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Recalling that The New York Times reported on March 11, 2006, that Ali Shalal Qaissi, nicknamed “Clawman” by his guards, was the man in the photograph.  To reinforce this point, the Times published a photograph of Qaissi holding a copy of the “hooded man” photograph on the front page of the paper.   As Morris goes on to note, the Times was forced to issue a retraction one week later when it was determined that another prisoner, nicknamed Gilligan, not Qaissi was the “hooded man.”  Morris uses this controversy to remind us of “the central role that photography itself played in the mistaken identification, and the way that photography lends itself to those errors and may even engender them.”

Morris uses these arguments about the properties of photography to underscore a larger argument that what we see in photographs is determined by what we believe and not, as we might expect, the other way around.  In other words,  as Morris puts it, “believing is seeing.”  As I prepare for my “Documenting Injustice” seminar at FSU, I’ve been finding myself thinking about many of the arguments that Morris raises and, I think that his blog essay will provide an interesting companion to some of the other materials I’ll be teaching this semester (and it’s consistent with an argument I made last fall about the controversy over Thomas Hoepker’s “Brooklyn, New York, September 11, 2001”).

I do think that Morris continues to turn “post-modernists” into straw men by implying that postmodernism “would throw truth out along with objectivity” (i.e., postmodernism isn’t relativism), but I share much of his skepticism regarding photography’s ability to represent reality.  But part of what I find valuable about Morris’s blog essay is his detailed reading of the second photograph, the Times picture that shows Qaissi holding the “hooded man” photo.  Morris asks the reader to take a second look at the photo and points out that Qaissi’s injured left hand–the injury that earned him the nickname Clawman–is cropped out of the photograph, speculating about the conscious and unconscious impulses that might have gone into choosing that particular photograph for the Times story.

I’m still thinking about how I’ll use the article–I obviously have a lot of material I want to cover–but I think Morris’s comments will be useful for framing some of these arguments about photography and documentary.

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Random Bullets I Didn’t Mention in My Previous Post

A few random bullet points that I’ve been planning to blog:

  •  This iPhone bill spoof is prety funny, although it’s pretty ancient in viral video time (it was posted about eight days ago, which might as well be a decade on YouTube).
  • Nels pointed out the Oracle of Starbucks, which tells you about your personality based on your typical Starbucks entry.  Mine is perfect.  I’m an asshat: “You carry around philosophy books you haven’t read and wear trendy wire-rimmed glasses even though you have perfect vision. You’ve probably added an accent to your name or changed the pronunciation to seem sophisticated. You hang out in coffee shops because you don’t have a job because you got your degree in French Poetry. People who drink venti iced americano are notorious for spouting off angry, liberal opinions about issues they don’t understand.”  The Oracle has obviously been reading my blog in its spare time.
  • Another political parody video from the Barely Political gang.  This time it’s the Romney Girls (there are three of them) attacking Obama Girl.
  • Scott at CinemaTech points to an interesting Hollywood Reporter on the growth of 3-D screens.  Despite the strong box office this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more 3-D films as a way of creating unique theatrical experiences that cannot be (easily) replicated on home screens, whether TVs or computers.

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Summer of Chuck

Classes start Wednesday here at Fayetteville State, so I’ve spent most of the day finalizing syllabi and getting all of my ducks in a row for fall semester.  I’m also wondering, as usual, about how the rhythms of the new semester will change my blogging habits, if at all.  Like Horace, I’ve found myself blogging less frequently this summer, in part because of the time I’ve been able to devote to larger projects, especially my book project.  I’ve been able to do a lot of writing on the book this summer, which is a good feeling, especially since I’d let the project drift for a while.

But even if I have been making less frequent ventures out into the blogosphere, my summer has been a productive one, in part because it’s the first summer in which I haven’t moved since 2004.  In addition to book stuff, I’ve also managed to put the finishing touches on a co-written article (more on that later, hopefully), to revise and send out an article I’d shelved for a year or so, and to write two columns for Flow, one on anti-war street theater and another on Netflix’s streaming video service, Watch Now.  I should have another short article on Jem Cohen’s Chain and Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil in Art Signal, which was a great way to indulge my documentary jones.  I also reviewed a new edition of a prominent film textbook and served as an external reviewer for a program proposal.

In other non-professional good news, I’ve also lost 19 pounds this summer (actually since July 15).  I’d like to lose about twenty more pounds, which would bring me relatively close to my weight in high school.  My one concern is that when a new semester starts, I often find myself neglecting exercise, but I’m hoping that a little accountability will help keep me on track.

I realize that I’m phrasing this post in such a way that it sounds like blogging and book writing aren’t compatible, but I really don’t think that’s the case.  Many of the ideas for the book and many of the subjects addressed in the book have started out as blog entries.  I’ve consciously avoided using language from the blog, but in a very unsystematic way (I’m well aware that my category system Makes No Sense), the blog has been a useful tool in bookmarking articles, websites, and concepts that I wanted to address and, in fact, in helping me to rethink the conceptual framework of the book.

At any rate, I’m starting to accept my status as an infrequent blogger and starting to think about how I can use the blog more productively.  More on that in an upcoming post.

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Democracy (Still) Matters

With classes starting next Wednesday, I’m moving towards ironing out the details of my classes. And, once again, I’ve decided to focus my freshman composition classes around the 2008 presidential elections. That approach worked very well when I used it in fall 2004, and with the Democratic and Republican primaries providing so much to analyze, I think the course should be fairly rewarding.

I’m still working out some of the details, but one of the issues I’d like to address would be the ways in which online video has changed election rhetoric, and as of right now, I’m tentatively planning for my students’ first major assignment to be a rhetorical analysis of an online video (official or unofficial). I’m still sorting through other paper ideas. Because this is the “research” course, I’m considering a research project that requires students to research a candidate’s position on a specific issue (the war in Iraq, stem cell research, immigration reform) and then to argue for or against that position (or, possibly, to compare and contrast two candidates’ positions), but that assignment doesn’t quite fit some of the arguments I want to make.

Once again, I’d like my students to think about the election process, the ways in which candidates are chosen and whether or not that process is truly democratic. And I’d also like them to think about the “meta” issues, the ways in which different candidates argue. With that in mind, here are a few essays I’m considering:

Some of these essays feel a little dated, so I’m certainly open for suggestions. And, of course, much of the material for the course will grow out of class discussion itself and the election process as it unfolds over the next three months. More than anything, though, I’m very much looking forward to teaching this course theme again. I think it’ll be fun for me and I’m hoping that my students will find it relevant as well.

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Sunday Links

Starting to feel the end of summer fast approaching. This is my last truly “free” weekend before fall semester kicks into gear, something I wish I’d realized a few days ago. Faculty are expected to attend a pre-semester conference thingie on Wednesday, requiring us to show up at the absurdly early hour of 9 AM, and then classes start a few days later, but I’ve had an incredibly productive summer, so I can’t complain too much (more on that later). But for your entertainment (and hopefully enlightenment), here are a few of the things I’ve been reading and viewing on the web this morning over my second cup of coffee:

  • Via Tama and a number of other people, a useful chart, Who Owns Web 2.0? Like the valuable semi-annual Nation chart that documents who owns what entertainment outlets, this chart is helpful in documenting how ownership of Web 2.0 is being divided up.
  • Via NewTeeVee, two zombie videos, one a mashup featuring George W. Bush speaking about the threat that zombies represent to our way of life, the second, a fake trailer I hadn’t seen before which turns West Side Story into a 28 Days Later-style zombie film.
  • Agnes has a useful link to a planned project by the Center for Social Media on Fair Use and user-generated content. The Center for Social Media has already done some excellent work on documentary and Fair Use, so I look forward to their contributions on this issue. Their Remix Culture video illustrates some of the many ways that content is being repurposed in web video and is (by coincidence) a virtual montage of some of the materials I’ve been writing about this summer. They also have a blog, which will be focusing on these issues. Update: Actually, it’s two blogs, one that focuses on the future of public media, something I’m very interested in exploring, and a second on copyright and fair use.
  • A pointer to a trailer for Unconscious, a film in which Sigmund Freud, appropriately enough, appears as a character. I don’t have a lot of info on the film, but it looks like it’s available on Netflix, among other places.
  • And, finally, a link to a book that might be relevant to my own thinking about networked film publics, David Jennings’ Net, Blogs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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Watch Now

My latest Flow column, “Watch Now: Netflix, Streaming Video, and Networked Film Publics,” is now available online. As usual, I tried to do much within the space of a single column, but I found myself torn between talking about the ways in which Netflix is trying to manufacture online film communities via Netflix friends and the immediate access to movies represented by new “Watch Now” player. Anyway, I’d appreciate comments either here or on the Flow website.

Update: In my article on the “Watch Now” player, one of my complaints was the issue of compatibility. The “Watch Now” player works only in Internet Explorer, which is a little annoying for those of us who prefer Firefox. The player is also not compatible with Macs, which I don’t believe I mentioned but is also relevant. According to Steve at the Netflix Community Blog, the player should be Firefox-ready by early 2008. I probably should have addressed those issues in slightly more detail, but I’m currently somewhat more interested in how the “Watch Now” player changes the temporality of viewing by providing “instant” access to a wide selection of movies.

Update 2: Here’s another read on the pros and cons on movie downloading from the blog that focuses in part on the issue of selection.  In general, the Netflix selection is relatively limited, but I was able to find a few things that I wanted to see, and I found that most of the films I teach are available, which would make it a viable option for my students who can’t watch the film in the library.  But, like the post, I think downloading could explode once it becomes more feasible to transfer movies to the TV screen, as Netflix’s rumored set-top box promises.

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Thursday Media Miscellany

Getting ready to go back into writing mode, but just wanted to point to a few links that crossed my radar:

  • Scott Kirsner at CinemaTech points to an interesting Hollywood Reporter article predicting that the number of theaters with digital projection will surpass the number with film projectors by 2010.  As I’ve mentioned, the Carmike theaters here in Fayetteville are equipped with digital projectors, and I’m guessing that most audience members don’t notice a significant difference.
  •  Karina has a YouTube clip of the Hannah Takes the Stairs trailer.  I’ve been thinking about the Mumblecore gang quite a bit lately in my chapter on distribution in the digital era, so I’m very much looking forward to eventually seeing Hannah.  Karina also mentions that the film’s theatrical debut will take place during the IFC Center’s New Talkies: Generation DIY series, which I desperately wish I could attend.
  • Chris Cagle of Category D fame has launched two new blogs with Diana King (and, it would appear, Paul Harrill): Now on DVD and Not on DVD.  The former focuses on new DVD releases, concentrating on obscure, experimental, and art films and videos.  The latter focuses on films and videos currently unavailable on home-market DVD.  Both blogs should be outstanding resources for teachers and scholars of film studies, as well as cinephiles in general.  As Chris points out, this niche isn’t widely covered in the film blogosphere, and it’s a field that will benefit from the collective wisdom of the film blogging community.
  • There’s an interesting New York Times article from a few days ago about companies that transfer home movies to DVD.   I have to admit some ambivalence here.  While I realize that DVD is the format that is currently most accessible, I also wonder what gets lost in the transfer process.  With the annual Home Movie Day fast approaching, I think it’s worth pointing to their claim that, with proper care and storage, the original films can often last longer than digital or video copies.

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Colbert Connection

Just found out that one of my former colleagues at Georgia Tech, Ian Bogost, was on The Colbert Report the other night. Bogost was promoting his book, Persuasive Games, as well as the Persuasive Games website. The interview is lots of fun, and of course, as Jill points out, it’s very cool to see a colleague interacting with one of the funniest people on television. As with most Comedy Central content, the video isn’t embeddable on YouTube, but you can watch it on Comedy Central’s website for at least the next few days.

Update: Here’s an interesting twist to Bogost’s appearance on Colbert.  Apparently, Virgin Airlines mogul Richard Branson was also supposed to appear and got into a water fight with the host.  Whether the water fight was planned or not is open for debate, but in video from the appearance, an empty water bottle is visible in the mantle behind Bogost and Colbert was also forced to try to blow dry his suit (something I didn’t notice because I only watched the interview online).  Here’s Bogost’s take on the experience of being on the show (and here’s the Boing Boing post that helped spread the story).

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The Great Happiness Space: Tales of an Osaka Love Thief

I’ve been wanting to see The Great Happiness Space: Tales of an Osaka Love Thief, directed by Jake Clennel, ever since I read Cynthia’s appreciative, but somewhat ambivalent, Silverdocs review, and now, via Boing Boing, I see that the film is available on Google video (and will soon be available on Netflix).  The documentary focuses on Osaka “host bars,” where women pay for the experience of spending time with the male hosts.  For the most part, the hosts are not selling sex, but are instead selling “dreams.”  The hosts offer their clients romance, attention, compliments, all in the hopes of turning their customers into frequent clients, and many of the women who pay for this service spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars during every visit.  Interestingly, as the client-host relationship deepens, the host turns to scolding the customer, which often influences the woman to spend even more money.  I don’t have time for a full review, but like Cynthia, I sometimes found it uncomfortable to watch the documentary, in part because of the self-destructive behavior of the clients, many of whom are prostitutes (one host estimates that 70-80% of his clients are prostitutes).  But it’s also interesting to see how the work ultimately affects the hosts themselves.  Because they are in the business of manufacturing dreams, one host finds himself feeling confused about his “real personality” as he performs his roles for his various clients.   The film is well worth watching, although I’d recommend Netflixing (or renting/buying) it instead of trying to watch it on Google video’s postcard-sized screen.

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SCMS Doc Studies Interest Group

Via the Visible Evidence listserv, news of a proposed documentary studies interest group within the Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS).   As documentary continues to find increasing prominence in film studies, this seems like a good time to organize such a group.  Stephen Charbonneau, a professor at Florida Atlantic University is the point person behind organizing the group, but I’ve already expressed interest in both supporting and organizing, so if you’re interested in becoming involved, let me know (chutry[at]msn[dot]com), and I’ll put you in contact with Stephen and the other organizers.


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Chicks Dig the Long Ball

In honor of Tom Glavine becoming just the 23rd player in big league history to win 300 games, one of my favorite Nike commercials of all-time, especially in the current era of anti-steroids backlash.   Even though Glavine won 300 as a member of the Mets, for me he’ll always be a Brave, the guy on the mound in game six of the 1995 World Series.  I was lucky enough to have a friend with season tickets during the early 90s when the Braves’ run of division titles was just beginning, in no small part because of their incredible pitching staff, so it’s great to see him reach this incredible milestone.

Now I just need the Mets to start losing a few games so the Braves can catch them.

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