Archive for March, 2011

Monday Links

Shocked to see how long it has been since I posted anything, but I’ve been busy with wedding preparation, evaluating documentaries for a jury, and participating in recruiting activities at my university. Hoping to pick up the blogging pace soon. For now here are a few links:

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Sometimes There Are Bad Questions

…at least on the S.A.T. This year, one of the questions on the test focused on reality television, asking students to weigh whether the contrived scenes in many reality TV shows undermined their authenticity.  After a brief description of reality television, the prompt asked, “How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?” Which might be fine, if all teens were avid TV consumers and familiar with the many different genres of reality TV (or at least familiar with enough shows to offer sufficient examples). As several friends mentioned on Facebook, we wouldn’t ask students to write on a genre or subgenre (poetry, Shakespearean drama) without some confidence that all students were familiar with it because they’d be forced to resort to generalities.

For this reason, I’ve been disappointed by the flippant reactions by some TV and media critics (Drew Grant’s Salon piece is one example), essentially mocking students for panicking about the question. Although Grant suggests that you don’t need to know Snooki’s arrest record or whatever, people who watch reality TV are at a profound advantage for this kind of question. And while Angela Garcia, executive director of the SATs, argues that any teen will have an opinion about reality TV, the phrasing of the question presumes familiarity with the shows, leaving students to scramble for examples (although the student who tied reality TV to Jacob Riis would likely get a high score in my book).

I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of asking a question that will encourage students to draw from interests in popular culture, but this particular question ignores the fact that reality programming may actually reach a much narrower audience than the S.A.T. test writers assume.

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Wednesday Links

Still recovering from SCMS, Daylight Savings Time, and the end of Spring Break. Only six more weeks left until finals. Yikes!

  • Michael Newman posted his SCMS talk on Television File Sharing on his blog. While most scholarship discusses the role of piracy in shaping the film industry, fewer people have talked about the (possibly more complicated) implications for TV consumption and fandom.
  • Cinematical reports that many of Netflix’s contracts for streaming content are about to expire and explores the implications, which might include higher subscription costs.  Edward Jay Epstein is even more blunt in predicting that Netflix is about to “hit a brick wall.”
  • On a related note, another article on Fandor, which seeks to combine streaming video with a greater focus on social media. Similalry, Zediva allows you to rent and stream movies at $1.99 per title. The article points out that Zediva, which does not pay for rights to stream, may be legally dubious, but they argue that the First Sale Doctrine allows them to pay retail for movies and then make them available for streaming. We’ll see how that works out once Hollywood lawyers get involved.
  • David Poland discusses Netflix’s plans to get into distributing original TV content, a series featuring Kevin Spacey, prompting Poland to ask whether the company is “abandoning its business model” again. Chris Becker links to a wide range of reactions.
  • Via Chris Becker a discussion of the fact that Time Warner Cable is streaming live TV content to iPads, but only within the confines of the subscribing household.
  • Chris also points out that AT&T is planning to cap bandwidth use for its subscribers, which may limit streaming video consumption.
  • Finally, Ted Striphas revisits the issue of “algorithmic culture” (something he considered previously a few months ago) which he discusses primarily in terms of Amazon’s recommendation algorithms. A similar principle, of course, applies for services such as Netflix. Hooping to put together a longer post on these issues soon.

I linked to this on Twitter but it deserves a closer look, and I don’t want to lose it in the Twitter stream. Here is Newton Minow’s article in which he revisits his “cultural wasteland” thesis to think about how media policy should work in the days ahead.

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More SCMS Reflections

I’ve been intrigued by the wide range of SCMS conference reports that have been published this year. It seems that more and more scholars, including many junior scholars, have been thinking about the ways in which SCMS expresses something about the fields of film and media studies, and although a conference is an incomplete snapshot, one marked by individual tastes, I think that SCMS’s decision to embrace some of these social media tools has helped to foster some of these conversations. Rather than update my previous entry, I would instead like to highlight what others have said about their experiences at the conference.

Chris Cagle’s thoughtful roundup of the conference argues that SCMS would benefit from requiring contributors to submit papers in advance of the conference and creating a mechanism for publishing “proceedings” of the conference. I’m generally in favor of having authors submit complete papers, and Jason’s decision to post his paper to his blog illustrates how well this can work to encourage conversation. I’m a little less intrigued by the idea of conference proceedings, but an anthology of papers that address a specific theme–such as this year’s conference theme of media citizenship–could be valuable.

On a related note, Justin Horton argues that there is a “gulf” between TV and film studies in terms of social media use, and I think this is a reasonable observation–one that was occasionally raised at the conference. Justin also calls into question the 20-minute presentation, but again notes that more “traditional” media like film seemed to invite longer-form presentations while TV scholars were more likely to do shorter workshop and position papers. I’m tempted to attribute this, in part, to the different models of fandom associated with both media. Even with all of our discussion of asynchronous TV viewing through DVRs, streaming video, and other platforms, TV, far more than film, seems to inspire more real-time chatter. But that’s just a hunch on my part.

And it’s worth noting that many of these scholars have expressed a great deal of ambivalence about the conference. Although my experiences were generally positive, Mabel Rosenheck, among others, has pointed out that SCMS can (still) be an alienating experience, especially for younger scholars seeking to network and/or navigate their way through panels and other aspects of the conference that are less than transparent. In particular, Mabel points out that the purpose of scholarly interest groups (SIGs) isn’t clearly spelled out, and I tend to agree that is something that conference and SIG organizers could work on.

Noel Kirkpatrick also highlights some of these limitations, including the politics of tweeting (especially when you might be the only person tweeting a panel). Noel also offers a useful reading of the blogging “workshop,” which I wish I could have attended.

In all cases, these perspectives on the conference are well worth reading, and I hope you’ll drop by and comment on some of their posts. Although many of them are far more ambivalent about the conference than I was, their reflections help to illustrate (at least to my mind) the ways in which social media can be used to rethink our current practices as academic professionals.

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SCMS Reflections

This year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in New Orleans (note: some links may be accessible only by SCMS members) felt like a whirlwind of conversation, activity, and intellectual engagement, one that I’m still recovering from a day after the conference, and not only because I was forced to get up at 4 AM—the equivalent of 3 AM, given the shift to Daylight Savings Time—to catch an airport shuttle Sunday morning. During several of the panels this week, I found myself nodding in agreement with colleagues and friends from other universities as we discussed the richness and diversity of panels that seemed to reflect the Society’s commitment to a focus on media studies, and media industry studies in particular. At the same time, thanks to a fully engaged Twitter backchannel, as well as an effort to document the conference through SCMS-sponsored blogs, many of the conferences ongoing intellectual themes seemed to resonate more deeply for me than ever before.  It also made aspects of the conference feel as if they have been archived in a potentially more systematic way.

The focus on media industries was most deeply felt when the announcement came through from Paul McDonald that a proposal for a Media Industries Scholarly Interest Group had been accepted, helping to bring together in a more systematic way a wide range of media scholars whose work speaks across disciplinary and media boundaries, something I’ve been discovering in writing toward my second book, which looks primarily at issues pertaining to the digital distribution of movies. As a number of scholars have reminded me, the issues in place with regard to the film industry are similar to those in music (Spotify vs. iTunes) and certainly in television. As a result, I’m very much looking forward to see how we can synergize—to use an industry buzzword—our various scholarly pursuits.

It would be incredibly difficult to summarize my conference experience in a single blog post; however, most of the panels I attended ended up focusing in some way on providing more finely-grained analyses of media industry practices, while some of the panels I most regretted missing looked at specific regional production practices and cultures, whether the shooting on HBO’s Treme in New Orleans or, from Alisa Perren, a discussion of the comic book community in Atlanta. As Miranda Banks noted in her response to a panel on European production industries, we need more microstudies of local practices that are embedded within a macro-framework.

Other scholars offered compelling industrial analyses, whether at the very local or DIY levels, such as Steven Rawle’s discussion of digital independent cinema through the lens of Hal Hartley’s move toward self-distribution, Benjamin Sampson’s discussion of Christian distribution networks, or larger industrial practices, such as Bryan Sebok’s detailed engagement with the political economy of 3-D distribution or Tom Schatz’s discussion of what he called “post-theatrical culture.”  Both Sebok and Schatz underscored—from slightly different perspectives—an idea that I have been exploring in some of my own recent work that Avatar serves as one of the most influential films in recent memory, not so much at a narrative level as a distributional one. Finally, other industrial practices, such as the rise of theatrical advertising, carefully traced out by Kimberly Owczarski, can tell us quite a bit not only about the political economy of film distribution and exhibition but also about how we consume movies.

Sebok’s paper was part of a larger panel on 3-D, one that helped to expand some of my own current research on the increasingly common use of it in blockbusters (given that blockbusters now seem to appear year-round, it seems pointless to append the word “summer” to that particular distribution strategy).  In addition to thinking about it at an industrial level, historical papers by Allison Whitney and Melanie Brunell reminded me that 3-D is also rooted in ideological, even nationalistic traditions—especially for the IMAX format, while Bret Vukoder’s paper on the narrative genres most commonly associated with 3-D helped to deepen some of my own recent attempts to trace a taxonomy of 3-D movies (which I’m hoping to do in detail in a forthcoming blog post).

Amazingly, I had what can only be described as an epiphany of sorts during the last panel of the conference that I was able to attend on Saturday. The panel, “Digital Television, Analog Memories” helped to crystallize something I’d been struggling to articulate for a while, especially when Karen Lury offered what can best be described as a mini-ethnography of digital media consumption, one that looked at a narrow group of media consumers (approximately six or so families) in order to remind us—powerfully—of the importance of considering “the everyday mess of living” when we begin talking about all of the utopian narratives about digital transmission.  Max Dawson’s discussion of the shift from CRT television sets to LCD sets also grounded media consumption in an everyday by reminding us of the profound environmental waste associated with planned obsolescence (and the often related wanton destruction of these tools), one that encourages us to replace our cell phones every two years, our laptops every three years, and our TV sets in less than a decade. It’s often quite easy to accept the prescribed uses of new media tools as they are spelled out in the (web) pages of magazines like Wired and the countless tech blogs, but as Lury astutely observes, things aren’t quite that simple. Lury’s paper created quite a stir—Twitter was positively buzzing during her talk—and it helped me to see my on project in a slightly different light.

Ultimately, conference reports like this are grounded in the personal. Although I attended at least part of a panel during pretty much every session from Thursday through Saturday, given that there were usually 20-25 concurrent panels, others saw a much different conference. And yet, thanks in part to Twitter and blogs, I do feel more connected to the conference than ever before. This year’s SCMS coincided with the eighth anniversary of my blog, The Chutry Experiment. Something that began very much as an experiment in spring 2003 now serves as a crucial means for me to engage with the profession, one that has followed me from Georgia Tech to Catholic University and, for the last few years here at Fayetteville State. Blogging is often a frustrating practice for me. On occasions it feels obligatory, and yet it also has served as a crucial mechanism for allowing me to cultivate relationships and to engage in broader conversations.  This role of sharing and discussing was neatly spelled out by Jason Mittell who, in the spirit of conversation, has posted his conference paper (on series finales) on his blog.   To say that I’ve been challenged and inspired by the papers presented by my colleagues this year at SCMS is an understatement.  As I sat on my hotel’s curb at 4:40 AM, waiting for the airport shuttle and watching drunk revelers stumble away from Bourbon Street to their hotels and cars (!), I found myself already anticipating next year’s conference in Boston and regretting the fact that I wouldn’t be hearing more papers this year, but I am looking forward to keeping the conversation going through all of our online channels.

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Wednesday Links

Clearing out my RSS Reader one last time before I hop on the plane to go to New Orleans for SCMS:

  • Via David Poland at MCN, the news that Universal has licensed rights to much of its movie content to AnyClip, a company that cuts up movies into brief segments and makes them searchable online. As the Hollywood Reporter article notes, the company hopes to partner with distributors such as Hulu and IMDB.com and has positioned each clip so that you have the option to rent or buy that video. Poland notes, however, that at least some clips are not available, pointing out that for the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the scenes with Spicoli are omitted, as is the scene in which Phoebe Cates emerges from the swimming pool sans top. As I understand it, the logic is that this will make legal versions of the film more searchable, especially given that approximately 2% of all internet searches (according to their estimates are related to movies). I haven’t had time to play with the site yet, but it’s a fascinating move by Universal.
  • The Hollywood Reporter also assesses the emergence of Amazon’s streaming service and concludes that it will be beneficial for Hollywood, in part because it may provide for more studio control over their content.
  • A short article announcing Redbox’s plans to launch a streaming service, which will focus almost entirely on movies, rather than television content.
  • At SXSW, Fandor, a streaming movie subscription service announced their launch. Perhaps their bigest advantage is that, rather than creating their social networking software from scratch, they have partnered with Facebook. I haven’t had a chance to sample their collection yet, but the Anne Thompson article suggests that it is a pretty eclectic mix. Buried deeper in the Thompson article is a discussion of BlipSnips, a tool that allows users to grab a short clip from any film and to share that online (one of Thompson’s examples is the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin). This might be a cool tool for creating libraries of clips for teaching purposes. Just a thought.
  • Speaking of Facebook, New Tee Vee weighs in on the news that Warner has begun distributing films via the social networking service.
  • A reminder that portable television existed long before the iPad. I vaguely remember the old Sony Watchmen. In particular, I remember attending a few Atlanta Braves games in the 1980s and noticing a fan or two who lugged one of those things into the stadium so they could watch the game on TBS while they were watching it live. This was before stadiums routinely rebroadcast every play on a center field screen, so while I found the idea of portable TV kind of cool, I was also a little perplexed that fans would want to mediate their experience of the game in this way.
  • Also of interest, a discussion of the failure of enforcement as a means to combat video piracy. The conclusion reached in a recent report by the Social Science Research Council is that the main problem is pricing. Viewers in emerging economies are still expected to pay $15-20 per DVD, a prohibitive cost for workers in many of these countries.
  • More Warners executives are suggesting that the “retail window” has been helping to improve slumping DVD sales.

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Tuesday Links*

A few quick links while I recover from a grading marathon, take a deep breath, and prepare to travel to New Orleans for this year’s Society for Film and Media Studies conference, where I will be participating in a panel focused on “Teaching Across Media.” It’s a workshop, so my talk will be relatively brief (about ten minutes), in order to allow more time for discussion. The talk will focus primarily on my Adaptation Project, which requires students to adapt a scene from a play into film, an activity that asks them to engage with the discourses of medium specificity. It’s a fun assignment, one that seems to bring out the best in my students, so hopefully our conversations about the challenges of teaching media outside their disciplinary homes will be rewarding. Now for some links:

  • Box office analyst Richard Greenfield chastises theater owners for charging 3-D premiums and for their huge mark-ups on popcorn. To some extent, this is nothing new. There has always been a huge mark-up on popcorn, which is why candy-smuggling is such an important skill. But $13.50 for a child’s matinee ticket to see a crappy 3-D film like Mars Needs Moms isn’t cool, especially when those theatrical windows just keep getting shorter and shorter.
  • And when you can get access to some of Warner Brothers films on Facebook, there’s even less incentive to hop in your car and head down to the local multiplex. As Matt Dentler points out, Warner has created an “app environment on Facebook that allows for movie downloads directly on the social networking site.” Each download is $3 or whatever the equivalent is in Facebook credits (the future gold standard, I’d imagine). You’ll have 48 hours to watch, will be able to pause, rewind, and control how you watch. You’ll also be able to have full Facebook functionality, so you can chat with your friends while watching The Dark Knight for the 37th time. To be fair, Matt points out that indie films and documentaries, which often build followings on Facebook, might be able to take advantage of this form of direct distribution. The Hollywood Reporteralso has a short blurb.
  • Of course, given that most of us watch the majority of our video content online, Warner is only going where the customers are. PricewaterhouseCoopers calculates that people 44 and under (thankfully I’m still in that category) consume the majority of their video online, while people 45-59 close behind. Other numbers in their survey are revealing, with only 12.9% of the population reporting “purchasing” content via VOD, while 42% obtained DVDs via Netflix and 23% or so still went to bricks-and-mortar video stores.
  • But while digital access is exciting, there are questions about the durability of access. Paying $3 for temporary access to a film via Facebook VOD is well within historical practices (Blockbuster rentals are roughly competitive with those prices). But now Harper Collins is telling libraries that they can only allow 26 viewers to check out a digital copy of their books before the library’s access to that book expires. Cory Doctorow eloquently argues why this is completely antithetical to the tendencies of librarians around the world.
  • And speaking of expiring media, Michael Chabon’s next novel will apparently be partially set in a used record store. This news excites my inner geek on about four different levels. As Chabon himself explains it, perhaps “the entire novel is just a pretext for spending as much time and money as I possibly can in used record stores.”
  • And one more nod to my geekiness. REM’s latest video, “Oh My Heart,” was directed by Jem Cohen, one of my favorite contemporary directors.

Update: I changed the title to reflect the actual day this entry was written.

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Inside Job

Although Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job (IMDB) has been out for a few weeks, I finally caught it last night, thanks, in part, to the fact that the film won the Oscar for Best Documentary, and I’ll admit that while I found the film to be an exhaustively researched and carefully rational explanation of What Went Wrong with the economy over the last decade, I also found it to be incredibly frustrating at times. Part of this frustration may be connected to the complexity of the manipulative practices engaged in by the various captains of high finance. As A.O. Scott observes, the film feels like a “classroom lecture” at times, a history lesson with a pedantic purpose. That lesson is basically clear: we need tighter regulation of Wall Street, but the institutions that might serve to monitor Wall Street–the federal government and academia–are often complicit with those corporations. Many of the federal regulators, appointed and reappointed by both political parties, worked for Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms and stood to benefit tremendously from the lax oversight.

Ferguson’s film outlines–quite literally, in that Inside Job is divided into five chapters–how the crisis began, how it was allowed to continue, and in a far less convincing coda, what can be done to reduce corruption. The film itself is highly polished, with interviews taking place in the offices and interiors of the wealthy and powerful, far different, Scott also points out, than the hand-held camerawork that we typically associate with muckraking journalism (J Hoberman makes a similar point). But even while the film avoids the theatrics we might encounter in a Michael Moore fim, Ferguson’s anger at the absurdity of derivatives, credit default swaps, and other financial shenanigans is palpable. At one point, a Columbia professor states that he left a regulatory post to revise a textbook, with Ferguson reacting just off-screen, spitting out the words, “you can’t be serious?!” Many of the interviewees deny any wrongdoing, leaving Ferguson incredulous, although in places I found myself feeling resigned, almost restless, given the image of unchecked power that Ferguson had painted.

And that brings me to my first problem with the film: as Scott points out, Ferguson avoids any systemic explanations for the crash. Although he traces out a clear complicity between (mostly Ivy League) economics faculty, Wall Street executives, and government regulators, the film seemed to stop short of imagining any alternatives to the existing system. Power corrupts. Even some of the Wall Street executives he interviewed admitted as much. There is a vague suggestion that allowing banks to become “too big to fail” helped create the problem and that the coupling of commercial banks and investment banks also led to corruption. The film also tentatively spells out a “pathology” of sorts among the Wall Street executives, noting that many of them were highly-driven risk takers who spent their nights binging on cocaine and paying thousands of dollars for high-end prostitutes, but I think this form of risk-taking could have been spelled out more explicitly (although it echoes some of the conclusions reached in Alex Gibney’s Enron documentary).

The other aspect that I found mildly frustrating was the fact that it was somewhat difficult to develop a sense of identification with any of the people who were attempting to fight corruption. Although Elliot Spitzer offers some of the more trenchant critiques of Wall Street corruption, I often felt a little unmoored, even overwhelmed, by the film. Although Scott suggests that the film should not be at “fault” for producing this sense of dispiritedness, I found it difficult not to feel as if the economic system that produced this crisis–and the rising income inequality, unemployment , and poverty that goes with it–is inevitable (Kenneth Morefield makes a similar observation). That being said, I think the anger that Ferguson channels in Inside Job may, finally, be finding expression in the protests in Madison, Columbus, and state capitals throughout the country where workers are demanding that their collective bargaining rights not be taken away.

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Blade Runner Sequels, Cult Films, Commodity Culture

I’ve been fascinated by the response to the news that Alcon Entertainment, best known for bringing us The Blind Side, has secured TV and film rights to Blade Runner, a move that would allow them to do “anything” with the original movie. While executives from Alcon have wisely ruled out the possibility of remaking Blade Runner, they have stated their intentions of making sequels and possibly a prequel to the 1982 film, which has become a cult favorite (and film studies staple) after starting out as a box office failure. Like many of my film studies colleagues, I expressed my share of righteous indignation about Alcon’s plans–I think I compared the idea to Highlander 2–but, upon further reflection, I think it’s worth asking why announcements about possible sequels for Blade Runner could arouse such immediate and vitriolic opposition.  I’m not defending Alcon, much less suggesting that a sequel or a prequel would be a good thing, but I wonder if the reaction to the news tells us something about our engagement with movies, and particularly a text that has such a thorny production and reception history as Blade Runner.

First, there are some interesting chronological aspects that introduce a number of logistical problems when it comes to adding to the Blade Runner universe. I’ve taught Blade Runner for years, and as the 2019 date of the film’s setting fast approaches, my students have become increasingly bemused by the distinction between the world of the film and the “actual” 2019  they envision. No flying cars yet, and no replicants, though robots are becoming increasingly realistic. No “uncanny valley” to unsettle our definitions of what it means to be human. Any prequel would have to reach theaters quickly, unless it was to be set in the past. But that’s a relatively trivial concern, and given some of the effects in Tron: Legacy, it would likely be possible for some of the original actors to reprise their roles, playing characters even younger than those that appeared in the original 1982 film (I imagine Sean Young is calling her agent now).

More crucially, a sequel to Blade Runner potentially changes its status as a “cult” text and threatens to turn the film into what Cinematical’s Jacob Hall calls, “just another popular commodity, ready to be used and abused by the powers that be.” The film is transformed, Hall and others imply, from a work of art into something that can be damaged by being relaunched as a transmedia franchise. Sean O’Neil at the Onion AV Club echoes this thesis when he points out that Blade Runner sequels were “inevitable” once another sequel to an 80s cult film, Tron: Legacy, reached $100 million at the box office. Of course, despite Blade Runner’s box office failure, the film is, without doubt, already an aggressively commodified media product.  There are at least two video games (though none of them appear to be recent) that retell aspects of the movie and several different DVD versions of the film, including the original theatrical release, the director’s cut (which, when it appeared on VHS in the 1980s, helped to revive the film’s critical reputation), two different Collector’s Editions, and the two-disc “Final Cut.”  Although the film failed as a theatrical franchise, it is a powerful domestic media franchise, one that has been aggressively marketed, in part through the ability of DVD to make multiple editions of the film easily accessible.

These multiple editions of Blade Runner–one of the collector’s editions of contains at least five different versions of the film–introduce multiple problems when it comes to any sequel. These different editions of the film, although they only contain slight variations, have profoundly different implications for some of Blade Runner’s thorniest questions. What is the fate of Rachael, the benign replicant, and Rick Deckard at the end of the film? Is Deckard a replicant? It depends, in part, on what version of the film you’re watching. A similar, though only mildly relevant problem (raised by The Guardian’s Ben Child), is the fact that Philip K. Dick never wrote a sequel to the original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, on which Blade Runner is based. Of course, given the degree to which Blade Runner departs from Dick’s novel, that’s probably not a major concern. As it stands, Blade Runner reveals much about the collaborative nature of film production. It builds on Dick’s novel, sure, but it’s also the product of Ridley Scott’s direction and, just as importantly, the visual effects of Syd Mead, complicating any efforts to remain faithful to any artist’s “vision” for the text. For some good discussion of these issues, check out the collection of essays on Blade Runner edited by Will Brooker, including Jonathan Gray’s discussion of Blade Runner as a “replicant text.”

To be fair, it is difficult to underestimate what gets lost when a sequel “answers” many of the film’s unanswered questions, and I am sympathetic to the critics who have worried that a sequel will force us to re-evaluate our perception of the original film. My students have spent entire class periods debating Deckard’s status, citing key scenes to underscore their interpretations. Any answer to these questions risks undermining some of these strategic ambiguities. Of course, if the film sucks, we can try to pretend it never happened and continue to study and appreciate the original, but in a way, I think that risks suffocating the original, putting it in a plastic case where it turns into a mere object of contemplation, not a living text that continues to evolve as our own histories change. I think it also risks idealizing what is, in many ways, a flawed film, especially in its phobic depiction of Asians and other diverse cultures. In fact, given the trend toward more antiseptic depictions of a future devoid of racial and ethnic conflict, it will be interesting to see how a sequel handles those more problematic aspects of the original.

To be sure, the response to this news is, to some extent, a naturalized response to any announcement of a sequel to or remake of a film that is regarded as a classic. We are all protective of the films we love, as evidenced by my unwillingness to acknowledge the Karate Kid remake. But given Blade Runner’s incredibly convoluted textual history, I’ll be fascinated to see how the efforts to expand the text play out.

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Friday Links

It’s Spring Break. I have papers and midterms to grade. And I’m gearing up for the annual Society for Media and Cinema Studies conference, which will be held this year in New Orleans, where I will be participating in a panel on “Teaching across Media” (and where I imagine I will run into more than a few of my readers). I’ll be talking, specifically, about some of the challenges of teaching film courses in an English department and how I have negotiated them. For now, though, here are some links that have been distracting from grading this morning:

  • From the 3-D snark files: According to the Los Angeles Times, Fox has announced plans to release the first installment in its big-screen 3-D re-release of the Star Wars films. A converted version of George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace will hit theaters in February 2012, just in time for the 3-D novelty to have worn off for about a year. I didn’t like Phantom Menace the first time, so I’m not sure what adding an extra dimension will do to make the film better.
  • Doug Liman, director of Go, Swingers, and The Bourne Identity, has collaborated with the ACLU and multimedia artist Jenny Holzer to stage a performance piece that draws from the massive archive of materials documenting the torture of detainees in Guantanamo. The eventual goal is to produce a feature-length documentary both about the materials and about public reactions to the staged performance as it tours the country.
  • Jon Reiss has posted an incredibly rich guest post from filmmaker Solomon Mac-Auley, who discusses Egg Up, a resource that filmmakers can use to distribute their films online via electronic sell through.
  • Lost Remote has an interesting post highlighting Clayton Christensen’s discussion of “disruptive innovations.”
  • Via Chris Becker’s indispensable News for TV Majors, pointers to news about DirecTV and Cablevision’s plans to expand their video on demand offerings, with Cablevision planning to make all of their VOD selections available on the iPad. DirecTV’s plan would allow users to download and rent a movie for $30 within two months of its theatrical premiere, about a month before the same film would appear on DVD. Naturally, theater owners have complained about the further narrowing of the theatrical window.
  • The Cablevision story is especially fascinating in that the streaming rights are actually somewhat narrow. An iPad user could only watch some VOD programming in his or her home, but it also points to the ways in which tablets like the iPad may make it easier for users to navigate VOD menus.
  • Speaking of tablets, David Poland’s image illustrating reactions to the iPad 2 is priceless. His commentary about the new iPad is also well worth reading.

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