Archive for October, 2007

Nobel Aspirations

I was pleased to learn that Al Gore and his colleagues at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on promoting awareness that climate change is real and caused by human activity. I share Gore’s position that climate change is one of the most urgent issues that we should be dealing with now and in the near future and appreciate Gore’s willingness to take the heat on this issue. After the 2000 election was taken away from him despite his winning the popular vote, it would have been easy to retreat from the public, but through his hands-on environmental activism and through his more public participation in the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, and in the Live Earth concerts, he has helped to mobilize a wider public on this issue. Here’s hoping that Gore and the IPCC can use the weight of their Nobel victory to influence more people to do what they can to fight climate change.

I think the Nobel Prize and the (slowly) developing efforts to combat climate change potentially put an affirmative answer to the question of whether documentaries can change the world. And, yet, while I admire all that Gore has done over the last six years, I can’t help but wonder what might have been had he (properly, in my opinion) won the presidential race in 2000.  And while it’s certainly tempting to call for Gore to run in the 2008 election, his Nobel victory makes me wonder if he’ll be able to do just as much as an activist and world citizen.

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Presidential Debates and YouRhetoric

Just wanted to mention Dave Parry’s very interesting In Media Res post on the YouTube debate.  I’ve frequently expressed skepticism about the hype over what has frequently been called the “YouTube election” because  it often verges into  “Elections 2.0” territory, but I think that Parry is basically right to point out that the YouTube debate offers at least a slight power shift when it comes to political participation.  I remain fascinated by the layers of mediation during the debate, and Parry is right to point out that the videos allow the questioners to present themselves in their own environment, at home, often next to family photographs, which is quite a bit different than the “town hall” format sometimes used in prior debates.  That being said, I still find myself all too aware of the moderating presence of Anderson Cooper in shaping the format and potentially dulling some of these personal edges.  But Parry’s comments (like all IMR posts) are well worth checking out.

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Redacting Redacted

I have a post weighing in on the controversy surrounding Brian DePalma’s Redacted, a fictional film about the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by a group of American soldiers, over at MediaCommons. I lost about half the post in a Googling accident, so it feels a little incomplete, but basically, DePalma has been forced to remove several documentary photographs from a montage at the end of the film, substantially altering the effect of that montage and potentially weakening DePalma’s critique of the representational lenses through which we see the war in Iraq.

Update: Jim Emerson has a really interesting take on the Redacted controversy on his Scanners blog. And while I share Emerson’s take that DePalma’s position is likely untenable legally and that his NY Film Fest press conference was a bit of a publicity stunt, I remain interested in the boundaries between fiction and documentary that DePalma is playing with here. But Emerson goes on to ask some interesting questions about the role of the Internet in re-mediating representations of war and speculates about how the ease with which images now circulate on the web shapes the use of war images. And he’s absolutely right that the controversy over Redacted’s images is now “part of the movie” itself, part of the lens through which it will be seen and discussed.

Update 2: Emerson also has an entry discussing the circulation and “ownership” of Eddie Adams’ famous Vietnam War photograph, “General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon,” an image that we’ve discussed in some detail in my “Documenting Injustice” seminar this semester, in part in terms of these slippery questions of ownership and circulation. Emerson raises some important questions that are worth quoting:

The Bush administration has tried to prevent the press from photographing even the coffins of unidentified US military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do government censorship efforts change our view of war images? Are the legal or ethical standards for showing victims of accidents or natural disasters different from those for showing casualties of war? […] Does the passage of time change how journalistic images are used in fictional contexts? Would you rather not think about this? I don’t have definitive answers to these questions. Do you?

Like him, I’m not sure I have any definitive answers to these difficult questions, although I think his point about the passage of time may be an important one, at least in terms of how these images are received. I do think that the issues of “government censorship” are complicated by the fact that so many other “uncensored” representations, taken by Iraqi citizens or independent reporters, have become available. That doesn’t excuse the censorship, but it shows how documentary images can continue to circulate despite these efforts to control them.

Update 3 (October 14): I see that the Self-Styled Siren wrote about this topic over a month ago. Sheez, I’m behind on everything these days.

Update 4 (October 19): Just wanted to acknowledge that I misspoke slightly in my original description of the Redacted controversy.  For a clarification, see the comments by A below.

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Lazy Tuesday Links

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to throw together a “lazy [fill in the day]” link post.  I don’t really have time today, but after a long weekend of grading and with temperatures approaching the mid 90s in mid-October, I decided to spend a few hours catching up with the rest of the blogosphere.  Here’s what I found:

  • First, Dylan points to the rather distressing news that there is a planned remake of The Karate Kid.  It gets worse.  Jaden (Will’s son) Smith is slated to play the lead.  Even worse: Jackie Chan is planned for the role of Mister Miyagi, and Will Smith himself plans to direct.  I will not see this movie, but I really do wish they’d leave my video-inflected teenage memories alone.
  • Liz mentions a New York Times article reporting that the whole “speed-dating” phenomenon is starting to move to the web using video conferencing technologies not unlike Skype.  I’ve never tried speed-dating services, but there is a certain logic to them, at least to the extent that people often make decisions about whether they like someone in just a few seconds (like Liz, I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink).  That being said, it will be interesting (as Liz also notes) to see how video will alter online dating practices that are more text-based.
  • Anne Thompson’s post on a few recent lists reminds me that I forgot to mention and weigh in on the International Documentary Association’s list of the 25 best documentaries.  Hoop Dreams and The Thin Blue Line are first and second.  Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine is third.   It’s a solid list, even if it’s a little biased towards contemporary documentaries.  Despite some of the recent controversies, I’d probably still pick Moore’s Roger and Me as his best and would put Harlan County USA slightly ahead of Hoop Dreams.  If I had to choose a favorite, it would almost certainly be The Thin Blue Line.  I’d also consider including Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, among recent docs, and Primary and Night Mail, among others from classic docs.
  • JBJ points to ZipSkinny, a cool little web tool where you can learn more about the demographics of your zip code.  I was a little surprised to see that nearly 10% of the people who live in my zip have advanced degrees, but my apartment complex does happen to be in one of the wealthier sections of town.
  • Related fun tool: Juicy Studio has a tool that allows you to analyze the readability of your blog using the Gunning-Fog Index and the Flesch-Kincaid grade level, among others.  According to Gunning-Fog, my blog scores a little over 11 (at the reading level of the Wall Street Journal), while Flesch-Kincaid has the bog at an eighth-grade level, which is a little disappointing, actually.
  • Speaking of the WSJ, Movie Marketing Madness has a link to a Journal article on filmmakers  who make short films using Legos to create characters and scenes, often spending months filming scenes using stop-motion techniques.
  • Finally, Nick has an interesting post about teaching and thinking about Adorno and Horkheimer’s Culture Industry essay in 2007.

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Fayetteville Readers

I forgot to mention this a few weeks ago when the original SCHIP legislation was being considered, but now that Bush has vetoed it, every vote counts in overturning the veto. Our representatives here in Fayetteville, Bob Etheridge and Mike McIntyre, are two of only eight Democrats to vote against the legislation, but if we can let Reps. Etheridge and McIntyre know how important SCHIP actually is, then perhaps they’ll reconsider. I’ve included their contact information below, as well as the contact information for several other members of Congress who originally voted against the bill (thanks to Bitch PhD for the details).

Jim Marshall (D-GA)–Washington, D.C. Office (202)225-6531; Macon, GA Office 1-877-464-0255; Tifton, GA Office (229)556-7418.

Baron Hill (D-IN)–Washington, D.C. Office (202)225-5315; Jeffersonville, IN Office (812)288-3999; Bloomington, IN Office (812)336-3000.

Gene Taylor (D-MS)–Washington, D.C. Office (202)225-5772; Bay St. Louis, MS Office (228)469-9235; Gulfport, MS Office (228)864-7670; Ocean Springs, MS Office (228)872-7950; Hattiesburg, MS Office (601)582-3246; Laurel, MS Office (601)425-3905.

Bob Etheridge (D-NC)–Washington, D.C. Office (202)225-4531; Raleigh, NC Office (919)829-9122 or 1-888-262-6202; Lillington, NC Office (910)814-0335 or 1-866-384-3743.

Mike McIntyre (D-NC)–Washington, D.C. Office (202)225-2731; Lumberton, NC Office (910)735-0610; Fayetteville, NC Office (910)323-0260; Wilmington, NC Office (910)815-4959; Bolivia, NC Office (910)253-0158.

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Karina and Scott have both weighed in on The Lumiere Manifesto, statement of aesthetic principles for web video.  Like Karina, the statement, authored by Andreas Haugstrup Pedersen and Brittany Shoot, reminded me of the Dogme 95 Manifesto in its emphasis on aesthetic restraint in adhering to the formal features that would have been available to the Lumieres when that train was rolling into the station at Ciotat: no zoom, no edits, no effects, no audio, a fixed camera, and a 60-second time limit.

While many of the videos anthologized on the site do have an odd beauty about them, it’s not entirely clear to me what purpose the manifesto serves.  Pedersen and Shoot clearly embrace a documentary impulse for web video, seeing it as potentially capturing an everydayness that might otherwise go ignored:

We believe instead that everyday video brings together a collective consciousness and experience through which we all come to view a universal existence and see “light” in the world, even through personal darkness. Film lacking context and artistic modification in any way beyond perspective, technology, and equipment is essential in an era of unrestrained, theatrical Internet TV. We do not believe filmmaker’s geographical or psychological location to be an advantage any more than any other tool we can all employ. We believe in universal, important beauty and those who can attempt to replicate what their eyes and minds encounter. Inasmuch, Lumiere films require no explanation and are accessible to any audience with patience and an acceptance of the world we share.

The desire to use web video as a means of gaining access to the “everyday” is an enticing one (especially, for me, in the vague echo of Benjamin’s concept of an “optical unconscious”), but like Karina, I found the manifesto to be humorless and lacking in the whimsy that characterizes so many of the early Lumiere films and of early practices of moviegoing in general.  Perhaps my biggest qualm about the manifesto is that while it adapts the Lumiere camera’s technical and aesthetic limits, it doesn’t–and can’t–adapt the exhibition practices of the original films, the sense of wonder and excitement of seeing moving, projected images for the first time in a darkened room with a group of strangers.

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