New Year Links

I’m finally starting to recover from holiday travels, MLA activities, and holiday revelries, and starting to think about spring semester in earnest.  As I mentioned before, I have some tentative plans for my grad course on “Technology in the Language Arts Curriculum,” and I’ll discuss those in detail later, but I’ve really enjoyed taking some time just to read blogs and a couple of books–David Crystal’s txtng: the gr8 db8 and Jill Walker Rettberg’s Blogging–and to do a little reflection before diving back into things.  Here are some of the things I’ve been reading (and I wish I had time to write longer posts about all of these items):

  • I’ve mentioned my enthuisasm for Chris Marker several times here on the blog–and, in fact, one of my first published essays is on Marker’s Sans Soleil–so I’m excited to see that there is now a blog devoted to Marker’s films and videos. Some great viewing tips, including the news that one of Marker’s short films, Junkopia is available on Ubu.  You can also check out Marker’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
  • Scott Kirsner also has a report on some of his research for the Independent Television Service on new distribution and promotion strategies for independent filmmakers. The research focuses on seven case studies, incluing some that I mentioned briefly in my book and in my recent talk at MLA, including Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell’s 10 MPH, although I’ll be interested to see what Kirsner has to say about the promotion of Katy Chevigny’s Election Day and Curt Ellis’s King Corn, as I’m a big fan ofboth of those films.
  • Kirsner also has an interesting dicussion of a new low-budget 3-D horror film, My Bloody Valentine, which will check in with a relatively modest $20 million budget.  If it’s a decent horror film, it shoul make that budget back without much difficulty, and while Kirsner cites Cameron’s concern that 3-D could fall back into the exploitation and schlock “ghetto” it occupied in the 1950s, I actually think it’s exciting to see a variety of potential uses for 3-D.  I’ll admit that I’m not that interested in the horror genre, but I’d likely make an exception for a 3-D film.
  • Alisa Perren addresses a challenging question about teaching a Media Industries course in the face of (1) declining advertising revenue and (2) a looming actors’ strike that could further hurt “the industry.”  Alisa’s remark provoked a useful comment from Mark Deuze (who also has a new-to-me blog), who points out that media scholars often have a habit of treating the media inustry monolithically rather than looking at the creative activities pursued by smaller studios and production houses.
  • Via Agnes, the cool news that the New York Public Library is the latest organization to put some its archival materials on Flickr Commons.  Obviously, this material could prove valuable for media scholars and teachers (I’ll certainly introduce my students to it), so it’s exciting to see it becoming publicly available.  And as Agnes points out, the library’s blog is, itself, a great resource.
  • Another interesting film distribution story: Roger Ebert writes a positive review of fellow Urbana, Illinois, native Nina Paley’s animated film, Sita Sings the Blues, but notes that the film cannot be distributed because of copyright clearances on songs performed by Annette Hanshaw songs, which are instrumental to the film’s plot.  After the positive attention from Ebert, Paley develops a plan to distribute the film under a Creative Commons license by making promotional versions of the film available on and several other web sites. More later, but this is a really cool idea, a nice variation on the “Raiohead” model used by Weeks and Caldwell on 10 MPH.
  • More online viewing excitement: the PBS series POV has made its groundbreaking documentary, Silverlake Life, available online as a streaming video from now until February 22, 2009.
  • Anne Thompson reports that Robert Epstein’s 1984 documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, has regained a new life onlinem thanks to the popularity of Gus Van Sant’s Milk.  I’m probably a good example of this: I’ve had Epstein’s doc in my Netflix queue for over three years but kept putting off watching it until the release of Milk gave me an excuse to sit down and watch it.
  • Harry Tuttle has a terrific overview of all of the “film criticism in crisis” articles and blog entries that have been written in 2008.  If you’re doing research on these crisis narratives, this is an excellent place to start.*
  • Finally, Karina, responding to a Kansas City Star column by Aaron Barnhart, takes a look at MSNBC’s use of documentary as cheap off-hour programming and asks a useful question about how these programs may be “redefining” documentary.  I’ll quickly add that I’m skeptical about MSNBC programmer Michael Rubin’s spin that viewers make no distinction between high-brow content such as Dear Zachary and exploitative fare such as the Lockdown series. That sounds like a cheap justification for putting programming that is one step away from COPS on a “news network.”  In fact, it’s pretty insulting to claim that audiences aren’t making a distinction, even if we might be too lazy to change the channel.  That being said, it is being used as a justification for producing more of that kind of schlock.

* Corrected small typo. But Harry’s collection of links is still indispensable.

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