The Living Room Aesthetic

I’m working on a paper proposal for a workshop panel at this year’s Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference in Vancouver, and the issue I’m planning to address is the concept of the “living room aesthetic,” which might best be associated with the current crop of documentaries such as Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on News, Gunner Palace, and Tarnation, most of which are filmed on DV and edited on Final Cut Pro (and often promoted on Apple-related websites).

The term “living room aesthetic” was a last-minute choice, but it’s close to the idea behind DIY, though the “living room” grounds practice in a specifc place, in this case, the home, and the stability of “home” as a site for making images (it’s also meant as a faint echo of Vietnam’s characterization as the first “living room war” or even notions of televised campaign ads promoting “living room candidates,” for reasons that I may address later). This “living room aesthetic” can be associated with ideas of democratization (“anyone” can make a movie) that can be politically productive, but must be grounded in some consciousness about access, especially with thousands of people currently homeless or displaced by Katrina.

This paper will riff on some of the work I’ve already done on Gunner Palace and Uncovered, which I’ve grown to admire a bit more than my initial comments might suggest, but the ideas are still developing right now, as I once again use my blog as a kind of “academic workbench” (I’m looking forward to Matt’s response to Ivan Tribble’s second, more defensive CHE anti-blogging piece).

Off topic, but a few other links I wanted to store/publicize: Via Slate, I came across this LA Times article about the use of cameraphones to capture flashers. The article opens with an account of a New York woman who used her cellphone camera to photograph a man who flashed her and then posted his photograph on the web (the man was eventually arrested and charged).

Also, while doing a Google search for something else, I came across the Echo Chamber Project, an open-source doc on how the major networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) “became an uncritical echo chamber to the Executive Branch leading up to the war in Iraq.” This sounds like a productive supplement to Greenwald’s work on FoxNews and might, in fact, provide an interesting twist for thinking about the “living room aesthetic” that I want to unpack.


  1. Darren Said,

    September 7, 2005 @ 8:57 am

    Chuck, next week at TIFF I’m going to see a film that looks like it’ll be right up your alley: Doug Block’s 51 Birch Street. After his mother’s death, the filmmaker was shocked by his father’s decision to marry his long-time secretary. The film, apparently, is a kind of investigative autobiography — kind of a mix of Tarnation and Capturing the Friedmans. I got a ticket for it because of the SAMLA panel.

  2. Kent Bye Said,

    September 7, 2005 @ 3:05 pm

    Hey Chuck,
    Thanks for the plug.

    The Echo Chamber Project is definitely a DIY production shot on DV and edited with Final Cut Pro.

    The difference is that I’m trying to develop some open source tools in order to facilitate the collaborative production of my film.

    I have a couple of video blogs on my site with more details.

    Anyway, glad that you found the site and please do keep in touch.

  3. Chuck Said,

    September 8, 2005 @ 11:45 am

    Darren, Thanks for the tip. I’ve been reading all the blogs about TIFF (yours, Girish’s) and wishing I could check out many of the films you describe.

    Kent, I’ planned to mention the open-source aspect because that sounded interesting. I’ll certainly keep in touch–I’m very interested to see where the project goes.

  4. Kent Bye Said,

    September 8, 2005 @ 12:54 pm

    Sounds good Chuck.

    I’m working my way through the different sections of this flowchart that serves as a model for collaborative, open source filmmaking:

    Just this past week, I’ve been able to produce valid Final Cut Pro XML from Drupal — which means that I’ll definitely be able to convert paper edits conducted by volunteer users online into real edits on my professional editing software offline.

    I also have a friend who is looking into figuring out how to dynamically edit sound bite sequences together. So we’ll see how that progresses, and I’ll keep you posted with any big news.

    Take care,

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