Archive for August, 2007

Mutable Cinema

Just a quick pointer to Mutable Cinema, which bills itself as “an Interactive New Media Movie Experience.” Essentially, it’s an interactive movie, which allows viewers to navigate the narrative in order to create their own personal viewing experience. An audience watches as a player “edits” the film in real-time, choosing story lines and camera angles from a preexisting database. Because these decisions are being made in real time, the player is often forced to choose quickly, scrambling to keep pace with the story.

As Karina points out, within the context of a larger debate between Roger Ebert and the gaming community about whether gaming narratives qualify as “art,” the narrative structure of much interactive cinema seems to be related to gaming narratives, which was certainly the case with Mystery at Mansfield Manor, an interactive movie I reviewed about a year ago. But I don’t think that the gaming narrative structure is the only–or even the most interesting–possibility for interactive cinema. As I suggested in my Mansfield review, the gaming structure left me feeling like a passive subject forced to “play out” or figure out a preexisting narrative conclusion rather than using interactive cinema to think about issues such as performance, narrative, and participation, as the Mutable Cinema creators invite us to do.

While the online demo of Mutable Cinema, a short called “The Blind Date” offers only a limited illustration of parallel story lines available, the language of the “player” as performer, the emphasis on recombination, and the role of the player in responding to an audience all suggest something closer to the idea of a DJ, mixing and cutting between various scenes. This metaphor isn’t perfect, and I haven’t seen the movie in an installation setting, but Mutable Cinema seems to be striving towards something new, something that would require performing the game in a public setting to truly make it work.

In terms of the debate about whether games can be art or not, I’m not sure I’m all that interested, although I hope it’s clear from this post that I don’t see why they can’t be.  I’m not a gamer (unless Pac-Man counts), but the dismissive attitudes towards games seems to echo past dismissiveness towards TV as a medium, arguments that most of us now regard as inherently flawed.  Two of Ebert’s criteria for dismissing games as art entail the “content” of games (most games, Ebert argues, are point-and-shoot or treasure hunting games), but that kind of content can be found in countless movies as well (it’s essentially like judging the entire medium of film on the basis of the Rambo movies).  Ebert’s other argument is somewhat more interesting in that he argues that “player control over the outcome” turns games into competition, thus limiting narrative possibilities.  As Karina implies, interactive movies can muddle things to some extent as players explore the story world, but I think that Ebert also places too much emphasis on player performance as the defining aspect of a game rather than looking at the possibilities of games and interactive narratives for producing new kinds of stories and new ways of thinking about the world, narratives that emphasize the process of storytelling, perhaps, rather than the product.

According to the Filmmaker Magazine blog, the Mutable Cinema project will be showing at the Second International Conference on Digital Interactive Media in Entertainment and Art in Perth, Australia, this September, so if any of my Australian readers happen to be in the neighborhood, I’d love to hear more about it.

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Women in Film

Via Anne Thompson, this fascinating, somewhat hypnotic video, in which the faces of dozens of Hollywood actresses seamlessly, and somewhat creepily, morph into each other in roughly chronological order running from Marlene Dietrich to Gwyneth Paltrow.

Update: The original link to the video doesn’t seem to be working, but Anne has a version in her post.

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Words, Images, Sounds

Still working towards a couple of relatively immediate deadlines, but to get back in the blogging routine, here are some of the things I’ve been watching, reading, or listening to lately:

  • I caught Introducing the Dwights (IMDB) last night at the art house, and while I was generally entertained, the film itself turned up the eccentricity a little too high for my tastes, making the film feel like Yet Another Quirky Indie (YAQI?). I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but I think that Aaron Hillis is correct to observe that Brenda Blethyn’s “trademark histrionics” were turned up just a little to high. The film feels a bit like Muriel’s Wedding meets Little Miss Sunshine minus the charm of both of those films (coincidentally minus Toni Colette in both cases).
  • I’ve been checking out the Netflix “Watch Now” Player, which allows you to watch certain Netflix films streaming over the Internet. The feature appeals to my propensity towards spontaneous movie rentals, so I’ve been taking advantage of it quite a bit. Most recently, I enjoyed loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies (IMDB), which follows The Pixies on their 2004 tour. The doc reminded me of the Metallica doc, Some Kind of Monster, especially in its treatment of the changes rock bands as they grow older. Like the Metallica documentary, we get several scenes that show the band’s sometimes dysfunctional relationships and we also see members of the band juggling their responsibilities as parents with their responsibilities to the band. LQL culminates with a poignant scene in which a female fan makes a connection with Pixies bassist Kim Deal that gave me an even greater appreciation of their music.
  • I also caught a preview of the new David Duchovny Showtime show, Californication (IMDB), which features Duchovny as a New York novelist grumpily “slumming” in Hollywood after his novel was adapted into a treacly hit movie. He also manages to have lots of meaningless sex with virtually every attractive woman who crosses his path, which the show kind of-sort of pretends to criticize him for doing. In other words a middle-aged male fantasy show in search of a narrative.
  • Speaking of music, I’m still wearing out the Once soundtrack after seeing the film a few weeks ago. Also continuing to dig Pela and, more recently, Beirut’s EP, Lon Gisland. This Pitchfork review is more critical than I would be, but the Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons make a lot of sense (and may help explain why I like Beirut).
  • Much of what I’ve been reading lately has, of course, been research related to the book. I’ve been reading Neal Pollock’s Alternadad, which is great for short bursts of inattentive reading, in part because it mostly consists of anecdotes about Pollock becoming a father and dealing with the responsibilities of parenting. It’s a genuinely funny book in places, a good leisure-time distraction for me while I’m waiting in coffeehouses, movie theater lobbies, or other such places. But for the most part, my reading list has consisted of long tails, convergence cultures, and other such things.

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Brownback Girl

This is truly hot stuff.  Hotter than Georgia asphalt.  The sexualization of American politics continues (h/t Oliver Willis).

Working on an (unrelated) article for Flow, so hopefully I’ll have more to say about this video in a couple of days.

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Filming Public Space

Agnes Varnum has a useful overview of the ongoing battle over new rules that would strictly regulate filmmaking activity in New York City. The new regulations proposed by the Mayors Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting (MOFTB) would be restrictive, especially for independent filmmakers, and as Keith Olbermann observed in his “Worst Person in the World” segment last night, would appear to be a violation of the First Amendment (more permanent link later, if I can find one).

The regulations would require crews of five or more people filming in one location for more than ten minutes to get a permit and would require crews of two or more filming for thirty minutes at a single site to get a permit. All permits would require the crew to have $1 million in liability insurance, essentially squeezing out independent filmmakers. The rules would also seem to work against documentary filmmakers who may produce the kinds of observational documentaries that allow action to unfold in sometimes unexpected ways (the implications of these rules were spelled out nicely in an email written by Jem Cohen to members of the New York film community). As Amy Taubin points out, these regulations would have the effect of making “an entire formerly underground, now very much overground, history of the city by everyone from Helen Levitt (her “In the Street” is now a national treasure in the Library of Congress), Robert Frank and Bruce Davidson to Jim Jarmusch and Jonas Mekas simply impossible.”

Because of public outcry, the MOFTB has extended a public comment period until August 3rd, and the New York film community is hoping that the Office will respond to the feedback offered by the filmmaking community. Picture New York has set up a website where you can sign a petition protesting these rules.

Update: The Picture New York website also has a number of videos that dramatize the importance of being able to film in public space.

Update 8/3: Agnes is reporting that the Mayor’s Office has decided to revise the rules based  on the negative public commentary.   Public comment will reopen when the new rules are released.

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Watching 24 in Kabul

Just came across an interesting New York Times article that describes the growing role of television watching in Afghanistan. Television, of course, was prohibited under the Taliban, but access to TV had long been limited, in part due to a lack of infrastructure. In fact, the article notes that a larger percentage of Afghanistan households have television sets (19%) than the 14% who have public electricity. But I think that what is interesting about the article is its discussion of how Afghan televisual forms and audiences are developing. In a relatively vivid way, the article illustrates the democratizing potential of television, especially in a country with a relatively low literacy rate. This is not to suggest that TV is inherently democratizing or that Afghan TV will necessarily follow this course, but I think it will be interesting to see how televisual practices develop there in the future.

In part, I was intrigued by the mixture of public and private TV watching practices in Afghanistan. Of course, thse practices are deeply divided by gender–men can and do watch TV in public, often in large groups–but it complicates the idea, at least to some extent of television as a private, passive medium, associated solely with the home. Perhaps connected to these conversations about watching TV in public, TV is also seen for its moral and instructional value, for its potential to impart real-life lessons, as audiences weigh the behaviors of soap opera stars or the answers of TV talk-show hosts. Some stations have even taken on a relatively skeptical, critical perspective on the government, showing representatives falling asleep during debates (or worse).

But I was also intrigued by the ways in which TV stations were negotiating the kinds of shows that would be well-received by Afghan audiences. Some surprising (to me) observations: the arms and mid-riffs of women in Indian music videos were electronically blurred while female tennis players in Wimbledon were not, and some audiences were even receptive to the show 24, even though the show’s villains are often Muslim (apparently, as long as the villains weren’t from Afghanistan, that wasn’t a big deal). I realize this blog entry risks sounding a bit utopian (and I know all of the arguments against TV), but I also think that the development of a TV culture in Afghanistan is genuinely interesting and well worth further attention.

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