Archive for January, 2012

Accessing the Cinematic Cloud

In case you missed it elsewhere, I have a new post on the Antenna Blog, “Accessing the Cinematic Cloud,” which responds to John August’s comparison of digital movie delivery with ATMs. August draws some interesting connections between early problems with ATMs and similar problems that confront consumers of digital cinema. My main response is to raise some questions about how these issues will be resolved and whether these new formats will really fulfill the promises of access, choice, and diversity. I’d very much enjoy hearing your thoughts.

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Catching Up

With Andrea out of town for the weekend, I’ve spent much of my time attending and participating in Duke University’s Marxism and New Media Conference. While my own work seemingly places much more emphasis on the category “new media” than “Marxist,” I deeply enjoyed and benefitted from testing the limits of current conversations in media studies about the practices of production, and in my own essay on social check-in services, about the creation of value in an attention economy. I’m not going to try to read today’s links completely through the lens of the conference, but I think it has sharpened my thinking on a couple of key points:

  • One quick bit of news: Star Wars Uncut, a fan film I discussed in the edited collection, Science Fiction Film, Television, and Adaptation: Across the Screens, has been released on YouTube in a director’s cut, one that includes more seamless video and sound editing. I discussed SWU as a paradigmatic example of a crowdsourced adaptation and still remain fascinated by it, though I have to admit that I still have some fondness for the original patchwork version that was auto-generated based on people’s votes.
  • Speaking of fan responses, I’ve been interested in the Vertigo meme, in which fans, responding to Kim Novak’s complaints about the use of the Vertigo theme in The Artist (which she referred to as a “violation”),  have been adding the music to a wide range of other texts. For one of the more thoughtful discussions of this project check out Jason Mittell’s discussion of how he Vertigoed The Wire and Kevin Lee and Matt Zoller Seitz’s announcement of the contest at Press Play.  Scroll down for one of my favorite examples, in which The Big Lebowski gets the Vertigo treatment. Moments like these renew my faith in remix culture.
  • This story is a few days old, but given my focus on digital cinema, I think it’s worth noting that Eastman Kodak has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  • I’m intrigued by the discussion of this screening of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, in which the pre-show advertising automatically turned on during the movie, leading to overlapping images showing Ben Kingsley talking over ads warning us to silence our cell phones, animated candy bars, and other advertising ephemera. It’s a bizarre mashup and a horrifying depiction of the automation of theatrical projection in the era of digital cinema.
  • On a related note, Anthony Kaufman discusses some of the challenges for indie and art house theaters in the era of digital projection.
  • Worth noting, many of the videos I’ve mentioned today would be at risk of being pulled (and their websites would also be threatened with legal action) if SOPA and/or PIPA had been passed. Henry Jenkins links to a detailed discussion of some of the creative activism that has been inspired by the anti-SOPA movement. On a related note, New Tee Vee has an article that explores some of the possible motivations for piracy, specifically the lack of available premium content via digital platforms.
  • Curiously, given this complaint, however Janko Roettgers, also of New Tee Vee, argues that we are in a “golden age of content.” Roettgers uses the announcement that  both Hulu and Netfix are producing original series (rather than merely serving as a portal to access content produced by others) to argue that we have far more choices for watching than ever before. Videonuze also has a discussion of “online originals.”
  • On a related note, Aymar Jean Christian has announced the launch of a new academic blog dedicated to the study of the future of video and television, Hacktivision.
  • This has been around for a while, but via the cinetrix, I just learned about the promo video for a planned adaptation of William Gibson’s Neuromancer from 1986.
  • Joe Swanberg has a new film out called Marriage Material. Richard Brody reviews the film favorably and notes that it will be available to watch online for free for two weeks.

The Big V from Will Woolf on Vimeo.

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Mitt the Ripper

So far, the 2012 Republican primaries have offered a dispiriting display candidates who seem ill-prepared to run a political campaign (Perry’s brain lapses, candidates failing to get on the Virginia ballot), much less a country, even while those same candidates are sustained by the so-called SuperPACs that allow them to raise virtually unlimited funds. It’s dismaying to watch, for sure, which gives me an even greater appreciation for the work that Steven Colbert has been doing in satirizing the excesses of this process, in part through his own SuperPAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, as well as his appearance on a Sunday morning talk show, in which Colbert–in character–continued to play coy with his exploratory plans to run for President in South Carolina.

Part of Colbert’s political theater has involved handing over the reigns of his SuperPAC to Jon Stewart, his Comedy Central fake news colleague, with the two of them almost giddily displaying the absurdity of the idea that campaigns and SuperPACs are not coordinated. Now Colbert is using gaps in campaign finance law that allow him to broadcast advertisements in the days leading up to a presidential primary. The result is Colbert’s “Mitt the Ripper” ad in which Colbert simultaneously mocks campaign financing, Romney’s corporatism, and attack ads themselves, effectively turning Romney’s comments that “corporations are people” on its head.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Super PAC Ad – Attack In B Minor For Strings
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

It’s worth noting that anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry has been exploiting the same loophole, airing an advertisement that depicts aborted fetuses as he wages a non-serious campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. I’m not entirely sure what the solution is when it comes to producing more democratic elections, but few people have been more effective than Colbert at diagnosing the problems.

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The Adventures of Tintin

Although I have been quick to reinforce the perception that most current 3D films are gimmicks (see for example, my complaints about the latest Spy Kids), I have been intrigued by the somewhat more innovative uses of the technique by Martin Scorsese in Hugo, and more recently, by Steven Spielberg in his adaptation of the Belgian comic by Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin. It’s tempting to read Spielberg’s film as a lightweight, kiddie-oriented rehashing of his Indiana Jones films, but I think this interpretation misses out on how the film is subtly navigating some of the questions raised by adaptation.

Even though I had some awareness of the popularity of Tintin in France and Belgium, I was somewhat unaware of the extent of that popularity until a Twitter conversation this afternoon (thanks to some of my comics-loving and Francophone tweeps) and a quick review of the box office numbers for the film, which has made almost as much money in France as it has in the United States. In fact, the announcement of two planned sequels seems to be built upon the film’s overseas success, even though the film has struggled here in the U.S.  As a result, many U.S. critics seemed unprepared for the movie’s engagement with the original, often reading the film primarily as an auteurist product tied to Spielberg’s preoccupations with childhood and B-movie adventurism (even relatively favorable reviews emphasize the connection to Indiana Jones).

I’m still in the process of researching the comic, but I think it’s important to consider how the film functions as an adaptation and how that relates more directly to Spielberg’s status as a filmaker.  It’s worth noting that the film’s official website both resembles the pages of a comic and provides quite a bit of backstory about the comic, including a detailed discussion of The Secret of the Unicorn, the adventure that provides the basis for the first film. We are also given quite a bit of information about the history of the Tintin character, including how to draw him and how Hergé developed the character. In essence, the website establishes Tintin as an auteurist project, one that was a crafted narrative.

In turn, Spielberg’s film contains a number of these elements, seeking to remind us that even in the age of 3D and performance capture, movies are not merely industrial objects. Instead, Spielberg hopes to show that they are works of art. This artistic signature comes across in part via some of the more inspired effects, especially a long sequence in which Tintin and his embattled crew move from a burning lifeboat to an airplane that crash lands in the Sahara Desert to a chase through a Moroccan city, all in the space of a single shot.

Dana Stevens’ review in Slate also touches upon one of the other challenges of the film–depicting realistic characters via the animation technique of performance capture. Stevens makes reference to the idea of the “uncanny valley,” the idea that when human replicas (whether robotic or animated) look “almost” human, they inspire repulsion in audiences or observers. That didn’t seem like a particular concern for me here, in part because the characters, especially the Thompsons and Tintin himself, seemed so clearly taken from the comic book page. For Maryann Johanson, however, the artificiality seemed to work against her appreciation of the film, in part because the use of CGI helped to reinforce the perception that Tintin and his crew were never in any serious danger. As she put it, “Raiders of the Lost Ark had soul….That sort of organicness is utterly missing from Tintin. There’s only so much organicness that can be faked via CGI that beautifully replicates grass or stone or skin or whatever.”

I’m still exploring my response to the film, in part because it may be something I will work into a couple of ongoing writing projects on 3D. The question for me isn’t whether the film is “good,” at least not in any traditional sense. Instead, I’m interested in exploring how the film engages with the politics and practices of adaptation and how those issues are navigated through the use of digital effects, especially 3D. I’ll admit that the 3D looked “better” in Tintin than it has in most other 3D films I’ve seen, but as I was watching, I felt myself thinking about how Spielberg, like Scorsese in Hugo, seemed to be trying to figure out how to tell stories using the new visual tools available to him.


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Technology in the Classroom Blog

This is just a quick update to point interested readers to the blog/website I’ve created for my English 518, Technology in the Language Arts Classroom course. Thanks to everyone for their suggestions and advice about the course.

Links to the readings should go live by midnight, January 11, but I wanted to make sure interested readers would be able to see the course as it stands right now.

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Window Treatments

Just a quick pointer to a couple of articles discussing some of the changes in the “windows” determining when and how DVDs will be available for rental via Netflix:

  • First, Warner has further stretched the so-called retail window for Netflix and Redbox from 4 weeks to 8. Because Netflix and Redbox have been seen as cannibalizing DVD sales, Warner required them to wait four weeks after a film was available for purchase to make it available to rent. Ryan Lawler at New Tee Vee seems to think this will have little impact on any of the major rental services.
  • Second, (in a related story) HBO has announced that they will no longer be selling DVDs directly to Netflix. This decision further illustrates the principle that HBO now sees the streaming and DVD service as a direct competitor, a reasonable argument given that HBO is increasingly focusing on delivering mobile content, while Netflix has been setting its sights on creating quality programming through its production of Lilyhammer and House of Cards, as well as new episodes of Arrested Development. Worth adding, Netflix, by one measurement, would rank as the 15th most watched TV channel. Netflix will still be able to buy HBO DVDs at retail and “rent” them through its DVD-by-mail service, but that will be far more costly, of course.

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