Archive for the 'Cinema' Category

04
Jun
10

As A New Media Critic, Adam Curtis Makes A Great Documentarian

“First of all, the people who do blogging, for example, are self-selecting. Quite frankly it’s quite clear that what bloggers are is bullies. The internet has removed a lot of constraints on them. You know what they’re like: they’re deeply emotional, they’re bullies, and they often don’t get out enough. And they are parasitic upon already existing sources of information – they do little research of their own.

What then happens is this idea of the ‘hive mind’, instead of leading to a new plurality or a new richness, leads to a growing simplicity.

The bloggers from one side act to try to force mainstream media one way, the others try to force it the other way. So what the mainstream media ends up doing is it nervously tries to steer a course between these polarised extremes.” – Adam Curtis

It’s a testament to how much I admire the work of BBC documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis that I do not turn my back on it for his being so shockingly wrong about something so important.

Curtis, a contemporary of the immensely important and beloved band Gang of Four hails from Leeds and was friends with the band in its earliest days.  As such, he had a head start as an ally of RW370 without my even considering his film work.  But it is these that inspire awe.  His documentaries for BBC Century Of The Self and The Trap are among the most important of the last decade. They have a frighteningly keen insight into the little-discussed ways the 20th century’s most revolutionary ideas in psychology, marketing and politics have enabled the dominant political and commerical institutions of our time. Curtis adroitly chronicles distortions imparted by the institutionalizing process upon the culture as well as the original ideas themselves. Century is especially brilliant, illustrating the hidden history of the development and imposition of the templates from which all of today’s political marketing is drawn.

That’s the Curtis I know. Today, I read a new and different Adam Curtis from an interview in 2007, and I’m sorry to say don’t like this one much and hope he’s come around since.  This Adam Curtis is a new media bigot who portrays bloggers as “bullies” and parasites who are”self-selected” and have “a lack of enthusiasm about finding out about the world”.

Some things about Curtis’s extended complaint about the writers who make up the new media landscape are fairly sound: he finds a tendency for bloggers to simplify their subjects to the point of creating journalistically useless content, and he has found that bloggers have undue influence in mainstream news media. Many bloggers, he effectively says, are committed more to heat than light. Fair enough, as such superficial and universal conclusions go.  I have a hard time finding anything in these complaints that doesn’t apply to mainstream media equally.

To characterize influential bloggers as “self-selected” is one of the more embarrassing canards a clueless baby boomer can level at new media. I hope I am not the one to tell him that the internet, distinctly unlike the model of, say, Mr. Curtis’s television network employer, treats the issue of selection as a plain matter of direct democracy, using clicks as votes.

Curtis doesn’t understand that an influential blog is not that way because one person decided it to be so. Nobody who ever read a traffic statistics report for a blog would ever hold that notion for long. A blog’s influence is manifest solely in the consumption of its content – the relevant selection is that done by its audience, not its publisher. Compare this with any TV network’s programming decision process and see which is the more unilateral and arbitrary. Traffic reports aren’t guesses, and linkback traffic – the signal to the blogosphere at large of what the real headcount is at a blog – isn’t falsifiable to any meaningful extent. Curtis is so far off about the fundamental online power relationships, it’s embarrassing.

Nor does it help when he goes on to excoriate the mainstream media for not knowing enough (or anything) about the things they report upon. It’s not that he’s wrong about TV news – mainstream TV has never made much money at reportage and in fact stands to lose its corporate owners far more money than it could ever make if it was to become competent at it. But again Curtis’s warped new media landscape places TV news’s routine derogation of its duty not in the domain of its corporate ownership but inexplicably on “bullies” – bloggers, who “from one [ideological] side act to try to force mainstream media one way, [while] the others try to force it the other way. So what the mainstream media ends up doing is it nervously tries to steer a course between these polarised extremes.”

This is an unfortunate breakdown in understanding. Were it true that mainstream media takes its cues from its position relative to bloggers instead of its corporate owners, navigating a path between the extremes wouldn’t require much steering – polar extremes by definition have maximum space between them. The problem isn’t in finding a center, the problem is in commercial pressure of reaching for maximum audience.  This is absolutely done by reaching for the extremes of the spectrum. Could it be that Curtis has not listened to enough US right wing talk radio – as utterly mainstream a product as exists – or explored its decades of commercial history to understand that saying insane things that sound plausible to economic victims is not a fringe strategy, but is in fact wildly popular and profitable?

Audience, Mr. Curtis. Ignore it at all of our peril. As you so clearly showed in Century Of The Self, the self-image of people was the first thing sold to them en masse. Why throw away this magnificent truth when the medium is a web browser?

[UPDATE: Happily, since 2007, Adam Curtis has indeed straightened out his new media perspective and has joined the self-selected bullies with a great new online property, to which I gleefully link here and at the sidebar.   Thanks to other Curtis fans for the gentle boot in the arse.]

09
Jan
10

Art Clokey 1921-2010

Claymation giant and creator of Gumby Art Clokey passed away yesterday.  Normally, I’d get into what he did and how singularly awesome it was, but I’m in a real hurry.  So I’ll just post a clip I swiped from Underworld cartoonist Kaz Propoulenis instead.  Enjoy Clokey’s pre-Gumby 1953 surrealist masterpiece Gumbasia.

01
Dec
09

Behind The Greenscreen At Alex Cox’s Repo Chick

For a real eye-opening education on what’s going on with modern low-budget feature filmmaking technology, check out these collected clips from the set of Alex Cox‘s Repo Chick. The film, billed as “not a sequel to 1984’s Repo Man” was shot almost entirely on greenscreen, with backgrounds added later.  The film also features physical stop-motion animation, a real anachronism among all the software, RAID arrays and compositing.

Repo Chick Digital Image Technician Luis Flores walks us through the process:

Behind-the-scenes of the visual FX:

And a uh, well, a, uh..preview. A five-minute film preview.

Three thoughts:

1) God, I hope that perma-shakeycam isn’t in the final cut: I need dramamine.
2) Alex Cox can write better dialog than this!
3) All that digital compositing sure puts images on a screen, doesn’t it? Yep. Right on the screen is where it puts them.

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19
Jun
09

Shooting, Or The Shot?

yeltsin-tank

One (far less visually appealing) way to climb on top of a tank

The line has been drawn.  Last night, Iran’s Ayatollah Khameni cracked his whip and demanded an end to the mass protests roiling across the country all week.  With hundreds of thousands of blue-jeaned, Chuck-Taylored protesters in the streets of Tehran, a showdown is fast approaching.

Unlike at Tienanmen, these anti-authoritarian protesters are much greater in number and spread far wider.   Also, they are urban, pro-Western,  many are reportedly pro-American, and they are likely to face the guns of their own military tomorrow.  The stakes in this nascent revolution are huge for young Iranians, already bloodied and likely to shed more tomorrow. In that, I wish them the best.

The stakes are also considerable for persons outside the country who have the greatest stake in fomenting a distorted image of a Muslim enemy.

Something about looking at the vast swathes of citizenry in the streets tells me that Iranian army commanders aren’t looking forward to this encounter, and I have an intuition – – call it a hope — that tomorrow will be bloodier for the regime than for the people.

In that case, imagine one iconic photograph, surfacing this weekend or soon after:  A young Persian woman, perhaps without a headscarf, big-eyed and beautiful in blue jeans.  She is perched upon a tank, smiling and waving.  Her Chinese-made Converse Chuck Taylors bring a touch of the Ramones to the sandy beige of the painted armor plated vehicle. She waves to her countrymen, perhaps granted this chance by an Iranian army commander who has refused orders to fire on the crowd.

If we are blessed to see that photo, not everyone will cheer.  For those whose livelihoods are dependent on what we used to insanely call “The War On Terror,” such a photo means they are going to have a bad year.  Years of PR groundwork will have been trashed in the click of a digital camera.  They’ll need to hurry back to the drawing board to gin up new demons to jiggle in the faces of those who are most susceptible to boogeyman politics.  What else can AM hate radio or the Republican party do when their treasured “Axis Of Evil” is finally represented by a cute girl in gymshoes?  How will Israel’s Likud party continue to leverage Iran into its own bloodthirst in Gaza or its settlement fever when Israel loses their photographic monopoly on hot Middle-East women posing with weapons?  What will the Pentagon and the neocon hawks do when, as happened with the Soviet Union, the opposing team packs up and goes home?

Each would find new enemies, of course. That’s what paranoids do. But it would take time, and meanwhile, perhaps one repressive theocracy will have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

05
Jun
09

Terrible Writing Habits, Napping, And Michael Moore’s Bush Family Patron

Cover of "Roger & Me [Region 2]"

While spelunking last night in the forums at Celtx.com (tremendous open-source screenwriting software) I stumbled across a link to the golden podcast cache of Creative Screenwriting Magazine’s Editor Jeff Goldsmith.  In this trove, Jeff’s microphone is summarily shoved under the noses of writers and directors of some quality work, including Joel and Ethan Cohen, David Chase, creator of the Sopranos,  Michael Moore and dozens of others I haven’t cracked open yet.

From David Chase, we learn of the role less-than-Calvinist work habits have played in his output.  From Joel and Ethan Cohen, we are illuminated as to the reliance upon naps in their working arrangement.

Michael Moore’s stories are particularly hilarious and eye-opening.  Especially his revelation in 1989 that the principal benefactor for Moore’s first film Roger And Me was documentary filmmaker Kevin Rafferty (Atomic Cafe).  Moore and Rafferty met when Rafferty came through Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan shooting a documentary about the rise of neo-nazi groups in the wake of economic devastsation.  Moore, recently fired as editor of the San Francisco “church of the left” organ Mother Jones (for the dire offense of placing a grubby United Auto Worker on its cover) learned all his first filmmaking chops from Rafferty, who generously supported Moore with film reels, supplies, editing support and tutoring.

As Moore tells it, while finishing editing of the film in Washington DC, January ’89,  he decided to attend the inauguration of George H.W. Bush, only to find seated on the stage, behind the President-elect, one Kevin Rafferty.  Afterward, Moore contacted the documentarian for the story explaining his onstage seat and found out that that Kevin was none other than the nephew by marriage of the President.  Michael Moore had gotten his start thanks to the generosity of a filmmaking Bush scion.

Which says that philanthropy and artistic patronage, in a country as rich as ours, ensures that there will always be true stories of the largesse of the few finding its way into the hands of those who are most vocal in decrying the uneven distribution of that largesse.  That Rafferty had already made Atomic Cafe means the institutions and aristocracy of any country as inundated with wealth as ours must  inevitably fuel some of its own indictments.  And that Rafferty was generous with Moore reminds us that those institutions will even spark careers of its high-profile populists.  Let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen.  And let’s also not pretend that it shouldn’t.

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09
Feb
09

Bike Safety ’63 + BoC = Head Asplode

I…yeah.

22
Jan
09

Open The Light: National Film Board Of Canada Launches Online Archive

nfb-onf-logo-beta1_1

You can’t be a fan of public television, educational films. analog synthesizers or visually rich 1970s-era color cinematography without having experienced the awesome work subsidized by the National Film Board of Canada. The public cultural institution, an inspiration behind the name and aesthetic of a certain well-loved stratospheric Scottish IDM duo has placed their archive of 700+ films online, which is another way of saying kiss your weekend goodbye.  Truly, the finest use of Canadian tax dollars since nationalized healthcare.




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