Archive for November, 2008


I didn’t quite beat out my previous half marathon record, which I set a couple of weeks ago, but in my second running of the Atlanta Half Marathon, I did significantly better than last year, with a chip time of about 37 minutes faster.  I’m pretty happy with that.  And my times this fall give me a new goal for next year of bringing my time down to less than two hours.

This year’s race threatened to be a minor catastrophe.  My sister and I arrived at the starting gate about fifteen minutes late, thanks to a MARTA mishap, but in a way, our late arrival may have actually been beneficial in that I didn’t have to worry about running in crowded spaces, and once I got going, I was able to pass a bunch of people.  One of the few problems I encountered was that runners were only entitled to one bottle of water at the end of the race, so I was pretty dehydrated for about an hour or so until we got home from the race.  Other than that, the race was a lot of fun, and as always, it’s really cool to have so many enthusiastic spectators cheering for you on a cold Thanksgiving morning (it was quite a bit colder than last year, although thankfully it didn’t rain).

Like last year, I also enjoyed getting a street-level tour of a city where I’ve spent much of my life.  The full marathon essentially follows the Olympic marathon course, and the half marathon covers the second half of that, starting near the Chamblee MARTA station and following Peachtree Street through Lenox, Buckhead, and Midtown, and passing the campuses of Georgia Tech and Georgia State, before finishing near Turner Field.  It was sad to see so many of my favorite haunts–the Garden Hills Cinema in particular–essentially shuttered and a little disappointing to see so many high rise condos replacing older, funkier buildings.  But, once again, I’m really pleased with my time, especially since I’ve been sick for much of the last two weeks.

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Documenting Film Criticism

Just a day or so after writing about my experience of watching myself in Sujewa’s documentary about indie film bloggers, I came across a Chicago Reader blog post discussing a new documentary by Gerald Peary, For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, which I am now incredibly curious to see.  Peary’s film, according to the Reader, features interviews with Roger Ebert, Elvis Mitchell, A.O. Scott, and Andrew Sarris, as well as a number of critics who have made their reputation on the web, including Harry Knowles an Karina Longworth.

Unlike Sujewa’s film, Peary’s documentary spends some time covering the history of film criticism (incluing discussion of Frank E. Woods, whom Peary describes as the first film critic) while also addressing some of the changes in the practice of film reviewing and criticism in the age of blogging.  Peary is also attentive to the distinctions between criticism and reviewing, as ilustrate in this interview with Boston University Today, a definiitonal distinction that I occasionally tried to address here a couple of years ago, sometimes with frustrating results. At any rate, I’m incredibly curious to see Peary’s film.

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“You’ve Got to Pay Your Dues Before You Pay Your Rent”

Scott at the Filmmaker Magazine blog tipped me off to Range Life, Todd Sklar’s indie film roadshow, which is delivering four independent films to over twenty cities across the United States.  As Karina points out, the name of the film series alludes to the 1994 Pavement song, “Range Life,” which addresses the challenges on maintaining indie cred while bigger bands get all of the attention.  The tour, which is being documented via a video tour diary and filmmaker blogs, deliberately challenges some of the conventional wisdom of inie film distribution.

Instead of using a platfrom release starting in New York or Los Angeles, Sklar and his hardy band of filmmaking tour mates are taking the film to cities and college towns mostly in the midwest and along the Pacific coast.  It’s an interesting strategy, and Sklar’s tour diary suggests a energetic and witty style that would seem to work well in attracting the collegiate and “post graduate hipster” audience that the filmmakers are seeking (I guess I fall into the latter category, although I rarely get to sleep in anymore).  Sklar’s remarks in the interview do raise an interesting point about the role of festivals in promoting films, in that focusing solely on festivals may limit a film’s audience, although in the few festivals I’ve attended, I’ve actually had the opposite experience of being pleasantly surprised at the diversity of people who seem invested in seeing independent films and documentaries wherever they can find them.

As Karina adds, there are still a lot of questions about how these new distribution and promotional models can work.  I think it is worth asking, however, whether the binary oppoition between “indie rock” web cred and affirmation in the pages of The New York Times (or Village Voice, or whatever New York-based taste-making mag one might choose) holds up.  Obviously, these magazines can’t review everything, especially with fewer professional critics working the beat, but I think there is some risk in defining indie too narrowly.  No matter what, I think it is the experimentation, the attempt to imagine new forms of promotion and distribution, that matters here.

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Pop Politics

I keep forgetting to mention this bit of news here, but I have a short article, “Pop Politics: Online Parody Videos, Intertextuality, and Political Participation,” on viral videos and the 2008 election in the new issue of Popular Communication.  The article itself is behind a pay wall, and while I finished it a few weeks before the election, I think (or at least hope) it holds up fairly well.

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Indie Film Blogger Road Trip

A few months ago, just as I was finishing the manuscript of my book, Sujewa Ekanayake swung through Fayetteville to interview me for his forthcoming documentary, Indie Film Blogger Road Trip (IFBRT). Now, just as I am finishing copyedits on the book, Sujewa has been kind enough to allow me to be one of the first people to screen a rough cut of the film. I won’t pretend to review IFBRT. Obviously, I’m not an objective observer. But I am interested in talking about my experience of being filmed and then watching myself onscreen, as well as some of the questions the film raised for me as a blogger who happens to write about independent film.I’ll admit that the first time I watched the segments in which I appear, late last night, my first reaction was to grimace in discomfort. Do my hands really move like that? Do I really have that big of a gut? I now know why so many actors find it difficult to watch film clips of themselves when they play at awards shows. And I was watching the film alone on the very futon where I was interviewed a few months earlier. But after watching my scenes again, I felt a little better. Yes, my fingers seemed to be twitching madly during certain moments, but not as much as I initially remembered, and I ended up chalking up the appearance of a gut to a bad shirt choice. Not much I can do about that. Wear a more flattering shirt next time, of course. I liked the messy hair, though.

I’ll also admit that I was surprised at the answers that Sujewa chose to include. Given that I’m not living in a big city, it made sense for Sujewa to give me room to discuss the fact that blogging allows me to continue to feel at least somewhat connected to film cultures that are geographically distant but remain available, albeit in mediated form, on the web. But for whatever reason, I spent a few minutes talking about the role that blogging had played in organizing documentary filmmakers and artists in protesting new rules instituted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that would have severely restricted the right to film in New York City. Now I don’t have any issues with Sujewa’s decision to use the comments, and I think the story is an important one, but it seems like an odd story coming from me, as if I was describing something I read, or maybe saw, not something in which I was a participant.

Which brings up a question for me. I wonder how other interviewees make sense of the experience of watching themselves onscreen, or about the kinds of things that make it into the film. As I mentioned in my original blog entry on being interviewed, Sujewa left my apartment with quite a bit of footage, and while I’m reasonably content with what appeared in the film, it is impossible for me not to think about what else Sujewa might have done with the film–or with the footage that he left on the virtual cutting room floor (we need a better metaphor to describe unused footage in the age of digital filming and editing, but I digress). In short, as I watched Sujewa’s film the first time, I found myself wanting to assume the director’s chair, to retell the story of film blogging in my own way, making my first viewing of IFBRT a rather frustrating experience.

But as I watched the last few minutes of IFBRT tonight, my fully copyedited manuscript sitting neatly in front of me on my coffee table, I found myself thinking about the place of a document such as Sujewa’s film in the current media landscape. One of the questions that seemed to persist was whether blogging would continue as an important cultural form in promoting and consuming indie films, and the consensus seemed to be that it would, in fact, persist. However, as more and more of my online activity migrates to Facebook and Twitter, where I can talk about everyday banalities and have random conversations with friends, both near and far, in 140 characters or less, I’m left to wonder how all of that new sociability will affect longer forms such as blogging–and yes, I realize the oddity of referring to blogging as a “longer form.” Jenny asked a really useful question about this media transition recently: “What’s your social software of choice right now?” I still like blogging and find it to be a useful space for working out ideas, but my recent breathless anxiety about the 2008 election and this semester’s nonstop flurry of activity have left me wanting to write short state of the psyche posts, not long, overly detailed film reviews or manifestos about indie cinema.

At the same time, Sujewa is attentive to the various ways that all of his interviewees are invested in blogging as an activity, even if, as Anthony Kaufman confesses at one point, we don’t always like doing it or like what it has done to film and entertainment journalism. Other bloggers complicate the perception that the indie film community is a completely inclusive, utopian space. As Judy Wajcman observes in her excellent book, TechnoFeminism, “networks create not merely insiders, but also outsiders, the partially enrolled, and those who refuse to be enrolled” (42-43). Melissa Silverstein, for example, took the time to challenge the “all boys club” tendency of many blogging communities, while Armando Valle pointed out that indie festivals often have less room for genre pics such as low-budget horror films. To Sujewa’s great credit, he took great care to ensure that he presented a multi-faceted and diverse portrait of the blogging community, while also acknowleding the ways that we sometimes fail to be fully inclusive. In addition to all that, it was certainly fun to see so many of the bloggers I’ve been reading, in some cases, for several years and to get some history of film blogging from people, such as Kaufman and S.T. VanAirsdale, who have (like myself) been practicing the fine art of film blogging for some time.

Obviously, because I am in the film, I can’t fully distance myself from it, and I have to wonder how it will play for people outside the circle of this specific slice of indie film culture. One of the maddeningly unanswered questions of the film is what counts as “indie.” Another might be what counts as “blogging.” Perhaps because these questions are impossible to answer in any concise way. IFBRT concentrates on what might later seem like a relatively narrow slice of the history of both “indie” and “blogging,” in that many of us, including myself (although my comments about the subject didn’t make it into the film) were relatively fixated on what was typically described as the indie film crisis of 2008, which makes me wonder what it would have meant to do this documentary as a series of impressions, following the ebb and flow of indie and blogging practices as our technologies change, as our social protocols change, and even as the movies themselves change. No matter what, I very much enjoyed being a part of the project and hope that Sujewa has success with it. Even if my hands were manically twitching the entire time I was onscreen.

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John Williams is the Man.

Via Tama: this YouTube a capella tribute to Star Wars, Jaws, and Indiana Jones composer John Williams is completely brilliant, a fitting–and humorous–nod to a great popular film composer.  Tama also notes that the lyrics are available here.

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Get to Work!

Via Daily Kos, a great little video in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would go a long way toward restoring the balance of power between workers and corporations, among other things by requiring an employer to recognize its employees’ union when a majority has signed union authorization cards.

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Politics, Documentaries, and Hoaxes

Like virtually everyone else, I’ve been fascinated by two or three great news stories related to the 2008 election.

  • First, I loved the “Fake New York Times” created by the Yes Men, with the famous headline declaring an end to the war in Iraq.  I would love to have a hard copy, but the web version is a pretty sophisticated match, and the mock resignation by Thomas “Suck on This” Friedman is pretty terrific.  The Gawker’s story about the hoax is pretty solid, as is the story by the real New York Times. According to a press release from the Yes Men, the prank took six months to plan and execute, and the paper included recall notices for all cars that run on gasoline. I loved the Yes Men documentary when it came out and have a special fondness for this kind of prankster-activism, when it’s done well, and it’s not much of a stretch to guess that the fake New York Times has a number of headlines that many of us would love to see in the real version of the newspaper.
  • Karina expands upon a story originally reported by The New York Times on the mysterious case of Martin Eisenstadt, a fake policy adviser to John McCain.  It turns out that Eisenstadt was the creation of Dan Mirvish, co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival, and Eitan Gorlin, director of The Holy Land. Eisenstadt is currently taking credit for leaking the information that Sarah Palin believed that Africa was a country on his “fake” blog, of course (where Eisenstadt is currently denying the claim that he doesn’t exist), and the news was reported on MSNBC where David Schuster repeated Eisenstadt’s claim.  Eisenstadt is also featured in the fake BBC documentary, The Last Republican, which you can watch in sections on YouTube.  And, of course, you can see Eisenstadt respond to his treatment in the documentary, here.

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Spoil Me

Christopher Campbell of Spout has a link to one of the better video clips I’ve seen in a while, “100 Movie Spoilers in 5 Minutes,” by the Fine Brothers.  As Christopher points out, spoiler culture has occupied a somewhat contested status in internet fan cultures, so consider yourself warned if you’re still putting off seeing The Crying Game or Fight Club and still don’t know those films’ major plot twists.

But like Christopher, I enjoyed the video, in part because of the duo’s delivery, and in part because of the not-so-subtle commentary on the tendency to recycle older plots through sequels or remakes (at one point they list eight consecutive movies where Meg Ryan ends up with the male lead and then tick of the results of the many Rocky movies).  Again, if spoilers aren’t your thing, then you might be advised to skip this one, but I’m guessing that most movie fans will be familiar with pretty much all o fthe films they “spoil.”

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In my second ever half marathon this weekend on the Outer Banks, I shattered my previous best time in last year’s Atlanta Half Marathon by over forty minutes.  I’ll admit that I’m ecstatic (and a little surprised) at the results.  To be fair, this particular race was far less difficult than my previous half marathon, in part because the running conditions–clear sky, temperature in the 50s–were just about perfect (not to mention the fact that I was better prepared).

The course itself is pretty cool–running alongside some sand dunes and weaving through a number of residential neighborhoods before crossing the Washington-Baum Bridge (probably the steepest and most intimidating part of the course) before finishing on Roanoke Island, near the location where English colonists first landed in a sleepy little village called Manteo.

For those who live nearby, the race is well-organized and includes a reasonable number of runners.  In keeping with the maritime setting, the race’s pirate theme is a lot of fun (you can even get a post-race picture taken with a pirate or two), and you can even celebrate completing the race with a free beer or two (or more).  Of course, the race was even more fun because I ran with several friends and colleagues (all of whom were happy with their times), but the race offered just about a perfect break from a long (if rewarding) semester.  Now back to some belated teaching prep.

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Politics, Media, and the Academy

My nerves are still far too frayed from last night’s election-watching to say anything coherent about the decisive Obama win, so for now, I’ll provide a quick pointer to a scholarly roundtable, “Scholars on the Subject of Media, Politics, and the Academy,” hosted by the UCLA-based film journal, Mediascape, in which I was a participant, along with Toby Miller, Bill Nichols, and Allyson Nadia Field.

The editors at Mediascape raised some interesting questions about the connections about media and politics, so even if I wasn’t an (incredibly long-winded) participant, I’d encourage everyone to check it out.

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My Friends: The Musical

Just in time for election day, the group that brought us “Baracky” now offers, “My Friends: The Musical,” a virtual greatest hits of the McCain campaign.

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