Archive for December, 2009

Saturday Links

Now that my computer seems to be back up to speed, I’m hoping to blog on a regular basis again.  I’ve got a couple of posts brewing including a discussion of a graduate seminar I’ve been asked to teach, a version of my Using Technology in the Language Arts Classroom course I’ve done twice before.  I was unhappy with how the previous version turned out, so as usual I’ll be soliciting advice, crowdsourcing, and trying to rethink how the course might work best.  I’m also still thinking about a “decadism” post as I contemplate all of the decade-in-film posts that are circulating in film blogs these days.  I think they’re a fascinating form of popular (film) history, but I still need to process those thoughts for a while.  For now, here is a list of some of the things I’ve been reading and watching this weekend:

  • The Film Doctor pointed out a couple of must-watch videos the other day: Matt Zoller Seitz’s insightful documentary short about Bill Melendez, the director of dozens of Charlie Brown specials.  As Seitz observes, Melendez’s eye for visual storytelling is often underestimated, and his influence on contemporary filmmakers, including Wes Anderson, is well worth noting.  Also of interest, Mario Balducci’s “The Knife,” a completely surreal reimagination of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.
  • Via The House Next Door, a sharp video essay on “Video Games & The Tentpole Film.”  One of my biggest regrets with my book is that I spent little time thinking about video games (other than as part of a larger marketing chain within a larger entertainment franchise), but this essay makes a compelling case for the ways that video games are fining new and innovative ways of proucing suspense and horror that are more compelling than their cinematic counterparts.
  • Via Tama Leaver, what appears to be an incredibly useful research report on contemporary practices of movie engagement, Moviegoers 2010, a report that starts with the observation that studios and other entertainment professionals know little about current audience behaviors.  One quick factoid from their blog: most “moviegoers” now spend slightly more time online than watching TV.  Such categories are, of course, rather blurry given that many people now watch TV via Hulu and other online portals.
  • Bad Lit has a pointer to the Sundance NEXT lineup, a connection of ostensibly “low- and no-budget” films that will play at this year’s festival. On a quick skim, I recognize one name, Linas Phillips who made the quirky autobiographical documentary, Walking to Werner, which I saw at Silverocs a few years ago and quite liked.  But, as usual, the list provokes big questions about what counts as “independent” and what role Sundnace seems to be playing in fostering the work of aspiring filmmakers.  On a relate note, AJ Schnack compiles a list of this year’s Sundance documentary competition films.
  • Bad Lit also points to a new documentary that I’m curious to see: Guest of Cindy Sherman, a documentary by Paul H-O, a New York public access TV host who was briefly romantically involved with visual artist Cindy Sherman, famous for her Untitled Film Stills, in which Sherman photographed herself in a variety of poses of different female characters.  The trailer suggests that the film will meditate on what counts as art, how art mediates and engages with identy and celebrity, all things I find fascinating.


Panic Attack and YouTube Discovery

One of the underlying narratives associated with Hollywood mythology is the “discovery story,” the idea that a talented newcomer emerges by chance, out of nowhere, to become a Hollywood “star.”  Lana Turner was  discovered, so the legend goes, on a barstool at Schwab’s drugstore.  Now, as the tools of filmmaking and film distribution have been democratized, those discovery stories have expanded to filmmakers as well.  And although it is the case that such stories can be read ideologically, it is also true that YouTube and other video sharing sites still offer us the opportunity to be astonished by the talents of an aspiring filmmaker.

One recent example is the story of Fede Alvarez, a post-production and visual effects specialist working in Uruguay.  Alvarez posted a short four-minute film, “Ataque de Pánico,” which depicts an attack on the Uruguayan city of Montevideo by a series of ginat robots and airplanes.  Major buildings in the city are reduced to rubble as fearful residents watch with a mixture of horror, fear, and excitement.  In addition to producing convincing visual effects, Alvarez successfully creates a sense of foreboding as we anticipate the attacks.  And he even throws in an allusion to the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin for good measure.  In short, it’s the kind of moment we all hope for when talking about the possibilities made available by cheaper production and distribution tools: it is visually breathtaking and narratively compelling.

And thanks to the internet buzz over the film–the version I saw was posted to YouTube in November and has already been viewed over a million times–Alvarez is walking into Hollywood with a deal with Mandate Pictures  to support a $30 million film. As Patrick Goldstein points out, film festivals are now being eclipsed by YouTube as a site for discovering (and even nurturing budding filmmaking talent): “Today, the fastest way to spread the news is on the Internet,” adding that much of the early buzz about “Panic Attack” was taking place on Kanye West’s blog, of all places.  Goldstein also points out that Alvarez’s promotion has taken place largely outside of the major studio system, which has become less adept at discovering new talent.

As Goldstein cautions, a four-minute film tells us little about whether Alvarez will be able to deliver a feature-length story; however, the “buzz” surrounding his video already serves as an early form of marketing forthe film once it’s made.  In Goldstein’s words, Alvarez’s overnight success is just “another fascinating example of how Hollywood has gone viral.”  I’m looking forward to following this story as it unfolds in the coming months.

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Quick Update

Something is wrong with the visual editor on Word Press right now, at least on my blog. Because I’ve forgotten some of the HTML I did know, blogging may continue to be sporadic for a few days. I’ve been immersed in grading, travel, and fighting a cold for the last few days. Hoping that winter break and spring semester (and, perhaps, a new computer) will create a better schedule for writing.

Update: Thanks to Jason, the problem is fixed.  More blogging soon, but for now, a quick pointer to a nice write-up about my book on the Fayetteville State blog by one of my students.