What Does Marcellus Wallace Look Like? is a kind of found poetry. In some ways it works like The Machine is Us/ing Us, with the wow in the words and the way they appear and move around the screen.

Influences: an artist paints thirty portraits on his tummy. (via Grow-a-Brain)

The Jeanie Tate Show is a made-for-web talk show hosted from the front seat of a soccer mom's minivan. This ep has Bill Hader of SNL.

Something Blue: David Lynch does rom-com.

Winds of Change: Kodak's in-house digital pep talk video is building buzz. Seems like hype to me but like many of these online vids, you don't have enough context to really make sense of it. Who actually made this and for what purpose? (Compare the UNC breakup vid discussed at Chutry.) Also, I know this was made before the 30 Rock ep where Alec Baldwin says "Booyah!" but I saw Alec Baldwin say it earlier and better than the actor (?) in the Kodak video.


Wired takes the videosnacks meme and busts it wide open, proclaiming on its cover: Snack Culture! I first read the metaphor describing online videos as snacks (in contrast to the full meals that are TV shows and movies) in this November interview with the CEO of Brightcove. Now Wired is applying it to everything that has gotten shorter or smaller, from music and web apps to TV shows (mobisodes, say) and celeb gossip. Even t-shirts are snacks now. Bon appetit.
NPRgasm: Terri Gross interviews Ira Glass about adapting This American Life from radio to TV. And Glass is interviewed and photographed in Good. There are trailers for the new show at the This American Life website.

Jonathan Dayton + Valerie Faris

My In Media Res post today is called "Indie Volkswagens on Screens Big and Small" and is commentary on Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's VW ad from 1999 called "Milky Way," which you might remember as the one with the great Nick Drake song. Dayton and Faris directed Little Miss Sunshine, hence the "indie Volkswagens" angle. This discussion is a spin-off of from a longer project on indie culture, which is also the source of the paper I am giving next week at SCMS (which I intend to post to the web when it's ready). I hope to say more about my SCMS paper as the conference approaches. In the meantime, more Dayton and Faris.

Before directing their debut film, D+F were prolific producers and directors of commercials and music videos. As I mention at In Media Res, their demo reel can be viewed at the website of their company, Bob Industries. (Unfortch, it's full of that annoying Flash-based design which makes it impossible to link directly to a page within the site.) Their aesthetic is marked by humor and often whimsy. They are boldly imaginative. Although the look of any piece is dictated by the product being sold (whether a song or consumer good), they tend to like bright colors and outlandish situations. It's not hard to see links from their music videos to Little Miss Sunshine on the level of the visuals.

Indie films are often criticized for being visually boring, just a lot of scenes of people talking in closeups and two shots with drab mise en scène and rudimentary cinematography and editing. Fair enough, but Little Miss Sunshine has lots of clever compositions, as in the scene where the son Dwayne learns he is colorblind and runs from the van to scream "fuck" framed kneeled over in the foreground with his family and their broken VW bus in the far-off background talking about him.

(It's around the 2:00 mark of this clip, which is the source of that low-res grab.) At once, the directors show us Dwayne's rage--he has been mute until now--and the sympathy and confusion his family feels, and underlines the fact that he cannot escape their dysfunction, that even as he runs away they are there watching him. And the VW being a bright yellow gives it a vividness we associate with advertising imagery.

Many of the music videos of the D+F oeuvre that I tracked down online are well worth a look and they would make a strong DVD compilation. The Smashing Pumpkins's "Tonight, Tonight," an homage to Méliès's A Trip to the Moon, won six MTV music video awards. It is retro sci-fi retro meets Victorian costume drama, and the mashup of styles seems to work with the 90s alternative love song. (Updated 3/20/08, for more see this illustrated analysis of "Tonight, Tonight" by Kimberly.) Oasis's "All Around the World" uses trippy, collage-like animation with psychedelic colors, asserting a wild and vivid imagination. (I was going to link to Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros videos here to make some similar points, but someone sent YouTube a nastygram and they are no longer available.)

Many videos, like "All Around the World," integrate animation and live action. "She's Got Issues" by The Offspring is pretty amusing, mixing grotesque cartoons and grungy cinematography. Red Hot Chili Peppers's "Californication" uses videogame imagery. Most impressive is the cover of Tom Waits's "I Don't Want to Grow Up," in which The Ramones find themselves in a comic book, complete with frame lines.

Extreme's "More Than Words" -- the most infectious earworm ever recorded -- is given a tasteful black and white treatment with passionate closeups and an elegantly gliding camera. It has a nice bit of humor thrown in to lighten the seriousness of a hair-rock band doing an acoustic ballad: the drummer and bass player sit around looking really bored and gently mocking them with a waving cigarette lighter. You're welcome for getting that song stuck in your head.

-Wikipedia: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
-Interview with Dayton and Faris in Metromix in which they talk about the creative process of making commercials and videos, balancing artistic expression with the need to satisfy the client.
-Interview with Dayton and Faris on Fresh Air (also appearing is Little Miss Sunshine's Oscar-winning screenwriter, Michael Arndt, who revels that his very own brother is indeed a Proust scholar).


Slate: Why all the hating on indie-quirk? Of Little Miss Sunshine: "why should anyone be so annoyed by a genial comedy that clearly satisfies the genre-requirement that it be funny?" (The article also defends The Royal Tennenbaums, You and Me and Everyone We Know, and Garden State sorta).

TV themes galore! is a finetune playlist by Whitney Matheson. Would be excellent for playing "name that show" among people who love pop culture as much as you do.


Music + video:

1983 MTV, in two parts, recorded to videotape and uploaded to Google Video with commercials intact. Prince, The Tubes, Night Rider, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police...

"You Tube" is a love song.

OK Go's new video, with the band decked out in paisley to match the studio backdrop, is their effort at matching "Here it Goes Again." Not quite.

Blake Lewis might be the next American Idol. He would be a nice change from the red state Idols who have been dominant until now. He's from Seattle and has an indie sensibility (compared with the other Idols, anyway). Lots of tattoos, seems comfortable on camera, and cleans up real nice. He's the one who wowed in the auditions with his beat-box. We learned last night that he can really sing, too.


At Category D, Chris Cagle's film studies blog, there is a discussion going on about post-classicism. It began with Chris's post in response to an item on the Bordwell-Thompson blog. I left a comment at Chris's blog. Chris has responded to me in another post, to which Brad Schauer has left a comment. In a nutshell: is it appropriate to refer to post-studio era Hollywood cinema, and especially to contemporary Hollywood cinema, as post-classical? Many film scholars including Chris think it is. David and Kristin, two main authorities on classicism in cinema, disagree. Brad and I, Wisconsinites both, are not surprisingly with David and Kristin. If this is too inside baseball for you, I have another item.

Jeremy Butler has posted an In Media Res entry on the new sit-com (with a clip of My Name is Earl). He asks some provocative questions, e.g., "Is the sitcom truly dead, or is it just evolving into something more interesting?" I have left a comment there with some thoughts on that question (dead no, evolving yes) and a link to my previous discussion of this topic.

Finally, I have created a sidebar feed for links to comments I have made on other blogs. I did this by first creating a del.icio.us tag to use in collecting these links and then using that tag's feed (didja know that all del.icio.us tags have feeds?) in a blogger RSS sidebar widget.


An animated playing-cards-themed credit sequence is the best part of Casino Royale, which was last evening's entertainment. We went to a budget theater in a part of town we almost never visit. It was like taking a time machine to the 1980s, before the megaplexes supplanted the multiplexes. The grade of the seats is a shallow slope rather than a stadium cliff, the décor is neon, and not an elevator in sight. At Greenfield, Wisconsin's Silver Cinemas Budget South, it costs only $2.00 to get in on a Saturday night. $2.00! It's twice that to order a movie on PPV, and then you get pan-and-scan and the small screen. There was a big crowd out last night and they laughed and even cheered at the right parts. I remember budget theaters with sticky floors and screaming children from my days in Madison, but this one was clean and the projection was even acceptable. So second run still exists. It hasn't been swallowed up by the ancillaries. As for the post-credits part of the movie: more beefcake than I remember in Bond films of old, and a bit too earnest and sincere for my taste. I would prefer a ridiculous, high camp Bond. I am flabbergasted that Glieberman put it first on his top ten (no link, as EW doesn't want you to read this online). But it's a decent, workmanlike thriller, with about thirty minutes too much running time (I would have started to trim with the romantic scenes in the final act). The best action set piece comes early, with Bond chasing a baddie across a crane perched hundreds of feet in the air. It's so gripping it makes it hard for the rest of the film to measure up. And my favorite line: when the barkeep asks, shaken or stirred, Bond retorts, "Do I look like I give a damn?"


Netvibes (Wikipedia) is a personalized homepage like Google's, to which you can add RSS feeds and various other useful things (weather, e-mail, eBay auction-tracking, etc.). One thing netvibes can do that other similar apps can't is apply the social dimension of web experience: it lets you share your personalized pages with other like-minded people. The screenshots here are from a netvibes tab I made of feeds of blogs by people who study film/media or that might be of interest to them (it's also available in a new button on my sidebar).



If you set up a netvibes account, you can add this tab and then reconfigure it as you like. This kind of remixing, personalizing, and sharing of modular content is one of the most exciting things about the contemporary web. And yet, many websites are keeping their full RSS feeds from us, making us click over to them to get the full story. Increasingly, I am interpreting this lack of full feed as a kind of arrogance or passive aggression, as though people are saying, "you come to me, I don't feel like coming to you." Increasingly I am avoiding partial-feed websites in favor of full feed ones. I would rather be able to read it the way I want. According to some authorities, blogs that switch to full feeds often get more readers. (I am too lazy to track down where I read that this afternoon, sorry.)

Here are some more newfangled web tools I have recently been playing around with (or contemplating playing around with) and a little bit of scholarly prose to put it all in context:

-Peel, an MP3 blog reader for the Mac.

-Pipes, the new masher-upper from Yahoo!

-OttoBib, an online automated bibliography generator in the citation style of your choice.

-FeedYes, to create an RSS feed for a site that doesn't have an RSS feed.

-"Remix and Remixability" by Lev Manovich.


On the New Yorker's website, Jane Mayer talks over scenes from 24, offering up some of the ideas from her article in the current issue (previously). She sounds more polemical speaking on the clip than she does in writing. At the end of the video, she lowers her guard a little and lets on that she actually does like the show, or at least that she finds it riveting. (This kind of audio commentary over video clips might be a good idea for In Media Res or other forms of online media criticism.)

One more thing... Lots of 24/torture links at the blog CineFile Video, well worth checking out.
Jeff Jarvis has debuted Idol Critic, a videoblog to rehash AI starring Liza Persky of 39 Second Single (previously). The first episode is online and it's clever and witty. The creators hope you'll make response videos to Idol Critic and post them to the web. Responses to responses to responses...the new web way.

Gawker on the Sex and the City room of HBO's new creepy-looking retail establishment in NYC: "Is it wrong to think that Sarah Jessica Parker looked better on the side of a bus?" More pics at adrants.


Henry Jenkins admits that 90% of user-generated content is crud. And he is the world's leading champion of user-generated content!

So this falls in the 90. It might even be the worst. video. ever. It's called Goodbye Anna Nicole - Candle in the Wind 2007 - JME and its creator, Mike, offers this caveat: "I would be the first to admit I am not a singer so to any comments about the vocals I would quote Catherine Tate 'am I bothered'". Huh? It begins:
Goodbye Anna Nicole
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
That gave you so much heartache
Oh boy.

Have you been watching Anna on the cable nets? I'm with Jarvis, who writes, "Watching the coverage certainly makes me want to wash it off me."

(Pardon my opportunistic use of Jenkins...his post is of course very thoughtful and makes an excellent point about the value of participatory culture being as much about process as it is about product.)
Jane Mayer on 24 in the New Yorker (via zp, chuck) is a Fast Food Nation for liberal TV junkies. Those Chicken McNuggets might be delectable, but the conditions of their creation would make any sensible person think twice before dunking them in honey, and their consumption exacts an unreasonable cost. Mayer's piece subtly makes the case that the brain behind 24, Joel Surnow, is a wingnut, and that U.S. military personnel who watch the show model themselves on Jack Bauer, the heroic torturer. Every sentence of Mayer's piece seems designed to make any leftish 24 viewer blush a little redder. Nice Jewish boy...raising his three kids Catholic. Calls his show "the Hollywood television annex to the White House." Buddies with Limbaugh and Coulter...wants to rehabilitate the good name of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Thanks to Surnow, everyone in the U.S. military wants to be like Jack Bauer and extract vital info from terrorists by injecting mysterious pain-inducing drugs that get carted around in a silver suitcase. I made up the last bit but you get the idea. It's a right-wing show having a right-wing effect. No surprises there, just occasion for a gut check. But what makes 24 so popular among liberals? Everyone I know seems to watch and like it, and my peeps are hardly the magnetic yellow ribbon crowd. Here are some thoughts on why, as Mayer notes, the show is popular with folks like Barbara Streisand and Bill Clinton.

-We like it for the narrative conceit and the suspense, and in spite of the politics (or without much reflection on the show's message). This is me, sometimes. Other times I find the narrative conceit tiresome, the situations excessively contrived, and the suspense cheap and repetitive. I always have the sense that they're making it up as they go along (which is the problem with Lost for me too) and I hate having that sense--I like to feel I can trust my TV storytellers. When I'm bored by the narrative conceit (or find it excessively familiar now in season 6), not gripped by the suspense, and attentive to the right-wingness of it all, why do I continue to watch?

-We like it as a wish fulfillment: if only the war on terror were being fought by people like Jack, a courageous hunk with a preternatural pain threshhold and a perfect moral compass. In other words, we oppose the "war on terror" as framed by the Bushies but wouldn't mind a war on terror carried out by the likes of Jack and Chloe and President Palmer. This is a suspended-disbelief stance that allows for enjoyment without endorsement. This stance describes me too, sometimes. More often I feel that it may be wish fulfillment for others, but it's worst-fear fulfillment for me. Maybe there is a masochistic pleasure in realizing your worst fears, a kind of thrill you get from entertaining a paranoid fantasy.

-We use it as cultural slumming. Many leftish sorts (like my brother) apparently like to listen to conservative talk radio, too, not to hear their opinions voiced but for that "can you believe he said that?!?" feeling. For a sense of moral superiority. And to know what they other side says so that we can beat them in arguments. I don't like right-wing talk radio, but I do sometimes find the politics of 24 fascinating in a freakshow sort of way. Other times, it just leaves me aghast and I say, no more! Then, this season, I keep watching.


Heather Havrilesky, funny as ever, compares Jack's torture methods with childbirth and praises the show for jumping the shark. It's not a bug, it's a feature! I love.

Nikki Finke wants to organize a boycott. Do these things ever work?

Jennifer Holt's In Media Res entry offers a vid clip and commentary. She says she would argue that the notion that the show is right-wing is too simplistic but doesn't make the argument. Jennifer: I want to know!


Yahoo News.

24 Bingo.

"The Orwellian Ideology of 24", a slightly overheated essay by Matt McCaffrey, who says that the show's politics "almost makes [him] want to root for the bad guys."


Happy Darwin Day! Charles Darwin was born on this day in 1809, and now many people observe February 12 as "an international recognition of science and humanity." This is supposed to be an antidote to our excess of bogus, commercialized holidays. Speaking of which, "There's nothing more deadly to romance than Valentine's Day," according to the host of This American Life, Ira Glass.

For my Principles of Media Studies class, I have created a glossary of terms on copyright. Feel free to use it, remix it, adapt it to suit your needs. Leave a comment here if you have thoughts about how it might be improved.


24: Aqua Teen Hunger Force


39 Second Single, about a woman's experiences going on dates, is a nice change from the typical videoblog. Its star is neither young nor male, and she wins your sympathy.

Things you CAN'T do when you're NOT in a pool is excellent physical comedy from the online troupe Don't Be That Guy.

The daily podshow GeekBrief.TV with Cali Lewis has become an unexpected pleasure during my video iPod-enhanced workouts. I have tried watching TV shows on the iPod (no movies yet, though I do want to give it a shot) but I'm happiest watching content made for the very small screen on the very small screen (like The Show, above). GeekBrief.TV is about gadgets and I'm not that into gadgets, but I like Lewis's casual charm and, I guess, I'm kind of getting into gadgets. Thanks to GeekBrief, I really want a Nokia N800.

The Machine is Us/ing Us is a video that puts the ideas behind web 2.0 into a compelling visual form. I might show it in my Principles of Media Studies class when we get around to talking about the web and participatory culture.

In Media Res
, at the Media Commons site, has been around for a few months; as of this week the curated video series is offering new entries daily. See for instance the press conference with the Aqua Teen clowns and accompanying discussion by Jeffrey Sconce.
Jonathan Lethem has an inspired essay on plagiarism and artistic creation in Harper's called "The Ecstasy of Influence." He writes:
appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production.
industries of cultural capital, who profit not from creating but from distributing, see the sale of culture as a zero-sum game. The piano-roll publishers fear the record companies, who fear the cassette-tape manufacturers, who fear the online vendors, who fear whoever else is next in line to profit most quickly from the intangible and infinitely reproducible fruits of an artist's labor. It has been the same in every industry and with every technological innovation. Jack Valenti, speaking for the MPAA: “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone.”
Artists and their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every possible second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of exalting and enshrining their work.
Kenneth Koch once said, “I'm a writer who likes to be influenced.” It was a charming confession, and a rare one. For so many artists, the act of creativity is intended as a Napoleonic imposition of one's uniqueness upon the universe—après moi le déluge of copycats! And for every James Joyce or Woody Guthrie or Martin Luther King Jr., or Walt Disney, who gathered a constellation of voices in his work, there may seem to be some corporation or literary estate eager to stopper the bottle: cultural debts flow in, but they don't flow out. We might call this tendency “source hypocrisy.” Or we could name it after the most pernicious source hypocrites of all time: Disnial.
Any text is woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The citations that go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read; they are quotations without inverted commas. The kernel, the soul—let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism.
The essay is itself a tour de force of literary sampling. Don't skip the ending.



if:book blog on the academic conference:
the traditional conference which is structured around the presentation of papers might be putting the emphasis on the wrong aspect; focusing on the presentation of the author/speaker while leaving the discussion for the hallways, dinner tables and cocktail lounges. conferences officially capture the one thing which you don't need a conference to capture - the written record of the formal paper. we can do better than this.

Like academic publishing, academic conferencing is stuck in an old mode and needs to get with the information age. The twenty-minute paper, read word for word off the page, is the standard format for conferences in film and media studies and many other fields in the humanities. Courtesy aside, listening to these papers is often boring. It’s hard to deliver a paper well when reading off the page. (It’s probably even harder to present a paper well when not reading off the page, so I’m not advocating that everyone start speaking extemporaneously.) Worse yet, presenting papers in this fashion uses our time and resources inefficiently. As the if:blog suggests, perhaps circulating papers electronically is preferable to having them read aloud.

And even if people are still going to read their papers, why not also circulate them on the internet? They all exist in electronic form, so let’s get them into each other’s hands--let’s make them avaialble not only to people who happen to show up at the conference panel, but to anyone out there at any time who might have an interest in the work. Scholarship belongs online. What is avaialble online will increasingly be the scholarship of first resort for anyone doing research. This might be regrettable in some ways, but it is the new reality. I am more likely to read things if they are online. I am more likely to assign them for my classes if they are online. And since putting things online is so easy, so fast, and so inexpensive--practically free--I can’t think of a good argument against it. And yet I'm willing to bet that almost none of the conference papers I have heard in the past few years exists in an easily accessible online form.

There is another way of applying digital technology to updating the academic conference. I haven’t participated in one (yet), but there are online conferences like this one on the convergence of web culture and video sponsored by the New Media Consortium to be held March 21-22, 2007. They're taking applications until February 23. The conference will convene entirely in what used to be called cyberspace. Here is part of the call for papers:
Video as we know it, produced by experts and consumed by viewers, is metamorphosing into a different genre altogether, blurring the lines between producers and audiences. New video-based forms of self-expression are emerging, with notable examples like video mashups, jumpcuts, and video blogging. Nonlinear narratives abound in this format, in which stories unfold across a series of 1 to 3-minute clips and web viewers are drawn into mysteries such as the story of Lonelygirl15. Brand-new forms like machinima are emerging that bridge virtual worlds, gaming, and storytelling, all through the medium of the small video.

The singular focus of the Online Conference on the Convergence of Web Culture and Video, part of the NMC's Series of Online Conferences, is to consider how these developments are impacting our lives, and how they are affecting the ways we work, learn, collaborate, and even socialize.

The conference is designed to spark an examination of this phenomenon that explores both the positive and negative aspects of it on learning, social interaction, self-expression, and more.

Conference Format

The conference will be conducted entirely online. Sessions, which will be conducted live, can incorporate a variety of visuals and rich media, and are generally about 45 minutes in length, with about half that time devoted to dialog with participants using voice over IP.

Designed for both synchronous and asynchronous participants, the event was conducted entirely online using an innovative conferencing environment provided by NMC Distinguished Partner LearningTimes. Attendees of NMC's online meetings enjoyed a wide range of features commonly associated with their traditional face-to-face conferences, including interactive sessions from engaging presenters, "hallway" conversations, chances to ask presenters questions, and more.
I imagine that the problem with an online conference is that the hallway is a "hallway," but having never stood in a conference "hallway" I will hold off on judging the idea. And if I participate, I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.


Film History Fakelore

The linguists at Language Log are fond of picking on journalists who make fallacious claims about language. One hobbyhorse is the notion that the Eskimos have a hundred (or however many) words for snow. Not only is it incorrect, but its typical deployment in formulations like "if Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Germans have as many words for bureaucracy" is a cliché. (Here is a nice list of such statements.) Thus they have two complaints about this kind of journalism: it is based on a misconception about language, and it is a kind of bad writing.

Film and media scholars might be equally irritated by mainstream writing about their field, and on similar grounds. Popular prose about media is often full of clichés and some of these clichés are based on misconceptions about film and media history. The passage that caught my eye most recently was in an article in the Washington Post by its film critic Ann Hornaday about YouTube:
One hundred years ago, the first moviegoers ran screaming from a French theater while watching a train pull into a station; they were transfixed by quotidian scenes of a baby eating lunch, a man being sprayed by a sprinkler and workers leaving a factory. Today we have a baby passing gas in a crib, and teenagers mixing Diet Coke and Mentos and cats, cats, cats.

Conditioned by "magic lantern" slide shows and serial comics of the 19th century, the earliest filmgoers at first didn't see film as more than just a series of still images. But then -- and fairly quickly -- out of the random, the daily, the incidental, a cohesive aesthetic emerged, born of film's distinct visual grammar and narrative power.
Here are two claims about early cinema, the former far more common than the latter, both based on no credible evidence that I have seen.[1] It is convenient for Hornaday's point to recycle these myths about the introduction of cinema. It helps make her discussion of web video appear to be grounded in an historical context for understanding the emergence of new media. But it doesn't excuse her offering bogus facts that we are expected to accept as though they are just part of common knowledge. (Aside from this passage and some other regrettably glib phrases--she calls the audience for YouTube "an eagerly narcotized booboisie"--the article is full of useful insights into the web video phenomenon and I recommend it.)

Popular writing that makes references to the history of film often relies on such an unofficial body of common knowledge about the topic, and much of it is at best partly true. You might have your own roster of favorite dubious notions about film history; these are some of mine.

-Moviegoers in the 1890s were panicked by the train's approach in the Lumière film L'Arrivé d'un Train.

-The Great Train Robbery was the first film to tell a story.

-D.W. Griffith invented or discovered "film language."

-The Jazz Singer was the first sound film.

-Citizen Kane is the undisputed heavyweight champion of cinematic masterpieces. This one generated its own saying: "X makes Y look like Citizen Kane."[2]

-John Cassavetes (or Sam Fuller, or Andy Warhol...) is the "father of independent cinema."

-Jaws was the first summer blockbuster and its success killed the more authentic auteur cinema of everyone's beloved early 1970s.

There are at least three problems with these assertions as they are typically made. First, they are historically inaccurate, are based on too little evidence, or simplify something rather more complicated. The Jazz Singer, for example, was not the first film with sync sound or the first feature film with a soundtrack. It was a hit feature film made with some synchronized dialog and singing and it had some role in influencing the creation of more sync sound features--a role abetted by promotional puffery from the film's own producers.[3] It marks one significant event among many in cinema's transition to sound. Putting it that way makes it more difficult to slip in as a factoid along the way to making some other point. It is rhetorically more effective to treat film history as a before and and an after, with The Jazz Singer marking the passage.

Second, these formulations are based on fallacies of historical reasoning. Popular discussions of history often fall back on certain habits of thought that professional historians consider highly problematic. In film history as in history generally, these include the "great man" theory that gives more credit to individuals than to other causes (structural ones, for example, such as economics, technology, and society). It makes a more compelling story if you put a great man like Edison or Griffith or Cassavetes at the center of it. But "great man" history often slights many important issues. Griffith's contribution to the development of cinema into a narrative art, which he himself advertised in the early 1910s, has too often been grossly overstated. Great man history makes the error of assuming that events may have a single cause.

Another historical fallacy we often find in journalistic film writing is the emphasis on firsts. It seems to make some kind of intuitive sense to try to identify the first instances of important things, but ultimately it is of limited value to the historian because firstness is not an explanatory notion. It doesn't often tell you anything about a category to know which instance of it came first. If Jaws was seen as innovative in various ways (e.g., in the way it was advertised and promoted), that is a significant fact. But naming it "the first summer blockbuster" is like pinning a ribbon on the movie. What does that gain us?

Finally, like the clichés about Eskimo words for snow, these bits of fakelore are evidence of bad writing. Good writing avoids facile analogies and conventional wisdom. Good writing is built on good ideas and respects the complexity of complex things.

As for the notion that early cinema spectators saw "a series of still images": does this not contradict the notion that early cinema spectators were afraid of an onrushing train? Who would be panicked by a series of still images of a train?

[1] Martin Loiperdinger, "Lumière's Arrival of the Train: Cinema's Founding Myth" The Moving Image 4/1 (Spring 2004), 89-118, discusses the centrality of this story to film history. Loiperdinger writes on page 94, "Are there credible reports from eyewitnesses that document the panicked behavior of the spectators? Apparently nothing of the sort exists." The article goes on to describe the film and its reception in terms not of confusing image and reality, as the myth suggests, but of offering the thrill of a "fantastic image of familiar reality."

Recent film history surveys either ignore the story of spectators frightened by the onrushing Lumière train (Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction; Douglas Gomery, The Movies: A Short History), or make clear that its veracity is questionable:

-"Apocryphal tales persist that the onrushing cinematic train so terrified audience members that they ducked under their seats for protection." Roberta Pearson, "Early Cinema" in Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Ed., The Oxford History of World Cinema (Oxford UP, 1996), 17.

-"From the platform, the camera observes the train in the distance approaching the station (legend has it that some spectators panicked as the engine appeared to come closer)." Robert Sklar, Film: An International History of the Medium (Prentice Hall, 1993), 30.

An earlier generation of film historians was less careful in evaluating claims of this sort and are among those responsible for spreading this story, as Loiperdinger discusses. "[T]he audience shrieked and ducked when it saw the train hurtling toward them," writes Gerald Mast, A Short History of the Movies (Pegasus, 1971), 33. Now even Wikipedia says that the story of the panicked spectators is bunk.

[2] These were on the first page of hits when I searched Google for "look like citizen kane":

-"[Kumbha Mela] makes Zabriskie Point look like Citizen Kane."

-"This cinematic Chernobyl [Millenium] made Gigli look like Citizen Kane."

-"[Dead Poets Society] was bad, but The Emperor's Club made it look like Citizen Kane"

-"[Blow Out] makes the San Pedro Beach Bums and Pensacola NAS look like Citizen Kane and Forrest Gump."

-"[The author's video of himself during Trial Skills Weekend] makes my commercial for the Awesome B and C Alarm Clock look like Citizen Kane."

-"Armageddon makes Deep Impact look like Citizen Kane."

-"[Britney and Kevin: Chaotic] made Crossroads look like Citizen Kane"

[3] For more on The Jazz Singer, see Donald Crafton, The Talkies: American Cinema's Transition to Sound 1926-1931 (U of California P, 1997), especially 516-531.



Watch the R-rated trailer for Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's forthcoming comedy. All your favorite Freaks, Geeks, and Undeclareds are going to be movie stars. Katherine Heigl too, probably. If you click on only one of these links, make it this one. (via)

I thought I would never see another recut trailer parody worth watching till the end, but I was wrong. This is really good: When Harry Met Sally as a horror film by John Piscitello. The conventions of the scary trailer are all here: shifts in music tempo, stylized titles, ambiguous facial expressions. The orgasm scene in Katz's Deli doesn't exactly work but they couldn't very well have left it out.

Speedometer videos scare the crap out of me. (via)

A surreal Golden Girls theme remix from Fatal Farm, with the girls reincarnated as cookies and then eaten. See also the more disturbing Happy Days theme from the same twisted minds.

Lots of funnies in the Battlestar 3rd season gag reel.

3D Morphable Model Face Animation, a demo to make you go Wow.


Some more sources for online videohounds: Morbidly Amusing, Viral Video Chart, The A.V. Club's Videocracy, Salon's Video Dog. Happy sniffing.
Ars Techinca, a site I discovered only very recently and now cannot live without, has a survey of the advanced technologies used in broadcasting the Super Bowl. It's another reminder that today just about all media are new media. If you watch the game's broadcast over the air on a conventional set with a tube, you are still experiencing the product of numerous advanced digital technologies.

For instance, the yellow first-down line requires a detailed digital model of the stadium that syncs with computers to track each camera's position, zoom, and tilt data. The cablecam, strung up over the top of the field for overhead shots, is controlled using a Linux-based computer that updates its position 200 times per second. Supervision replay cameras shoot in HD, 2400 x 1800, and up to 480 frames per second. The cameras require so much memory (24 gigs) that they can shoot only a few seconds at a time. Even if not cranked to full capacity, the cameras still shoot "fast enough to make even a center's gut jiggle a thing of slo-mo beauty."

Unfortunately, this year we will not see EyeVision, which configures 33 cameras around a stadium's perimeter to create a "Matrix" effect. The producers can "pause the action, rotate 180 degrees around it, and resume viewing from the other side." But switching from standard to HD cameras, among other issues, meant that this option would be off the table this year.

Finally, NFL Films still shoots many thousands of feet of 16mm every year. That's old media. But to watch it, you probably need cable TV. Or better yet, YouTube.


Everything is Miscellaneous:

Helvetica is a movie about a font.

Lawrence Lessig says that Congress needs to do something about the internet.

There is an X motif in The Departed
. I didn't notice it when I watched the film. To me this says that the filmmakers did a bad job of exploiting the motif. That or I wasn't paying attention the way some people do.

Jonathan Lethem wants you to adapt his short stories into plays or short films; you pay him $1.

Goodstorm is an online t-shirt design app.

All the press for The Sarah Silverman Program is making me eager to watch tonight: The Watcher; an interview on NPR's Day to Day; Tad Friend in The New Yorker (more on that here). Watch it.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a report on tagging which is as good an introduction as you will find to the topic. It includes an interview with David Weinberger, whose book-to-be is has the excellent title Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder.
Torontoist: "Famous YouTube Bridezilla Revealed." It's a performance. The hair is a wig. This is great work. "It looks cute! It looks like Shirley Temple or something!" "Can you put away the camera!" The surest sign of a hoax is that someone says to stop shooting.

What I liked best about the "Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out" video was that it made you wonder if it was really real. Some of these YouTube sensations trade on that ambiguity, familiar from Reality TV and P.T. Barnum, between the authentic and the sham. The pleasure is in the wondering. And having the word "wig" in the title of the video, hiding in plain sight, just adds to the effect.