MiT5 wrapped up yesterday and it was an exhausting but really exciting weekend of scholarly exchange. I kept some tabs on events as they transpired on Twitter, which was fun (though some attendees seem to have resented the divided attention of laptop-enhanced participants). I have been enjoying reading blogs about attendees' conference experiences, including those by Derek, Jill, Chuck, Axel, and Jason.

Perhaps I'll write some more about the conference in the coming days. In the meantime, there are a few photos at my Flickr.

Update 5/1: Jean Burgess (who I heard give an excellent paper at MiT5 about Flickr and vernacular creativity) blogs about issues around Twittering the conference and the "continuous partial attention" that this requires:
As far as I could see over people’s shoulders, and certainly in my own case, most of the time the twitterers were using their laptops and the internet to annotate, share, get background on, critique, and fact-check the papers they were listening to - and yes, they were also sometimes ‘playing around’ and socialising.
The question to me is not only whether this parallel communication is a distraction from the conference presentation--it is and it isn't--but whether it's disrespectful to the person giving the paper. I don't think it is. My mind wanders all the time during conference panels. I find it hard to attend to every word of three or four papers consecutively, so I zone out for moments, scan the conference program, doodle, think about other things. Having a computer in front of me filled these times in addition to allowing me to annotate, share, etc. I don't see the harm in that. All the computer does is makes people's already partial and intermittent attention visible.

And: My paper is now available in PDF form at the conference website. Or you can download it right here: "The Community as Artist: The Show with Ze Frank."


MiT5 kicked off this afternoon and I made it to parts of two plenaries and the entirety of two breakout sessions. Among several good papers I heard was Derek Johnson's on historicizing transmedia storytelling and media franchises. Derek was challenging Henry Jenkins's use of the term "transmedia" while Henry Jenkins was in the audience. That was my favorite part of the day.

My paper on web video and community-based authorship is tomorrow. As for today, here are some more impressions, bullet-point bloggy-style.

-Studying media in transition is shooting a moving target. So many of the speakers here seem to be trying to grapple with ongoing events, with shifting terrain and inchoate discourses, and some even concern themselves with forecasting future trends, which seems to me to go beyond the scholarly mandate of media studies. Studying an ongoing process is not easy, and it makes me wonder whether it might make better sense to wait awhile before writing about what's happening now. This actually makes me feel good about my major non-new-media project on independent cinema, which I think of as a book about something that has already happened rather than something that is developing as I write. (Of course independent cinema continues to develop, but it's also something that has taken shape over the years and assumed a fairly stable identity.)

-There are more open laptops here than I have ever seen at a conference, and from what I can tell from snooping over people's shoulders, most are being used in multitasking fashion, to read e-mail or have encounters in Second Life or scan RSS feeds while at the same time paying attention to a speaker. Just like my undergrads Facebooking in class.

-M.I.T.'s buildings are numbered as well as named, and so looking for your next panel means searching for E-15 or 4-253. This is confusing.

-At dinner I had clam chowder. I'm the kind of person who orders clam chowder in Boston, cuz that's what you do.

For more on MiT5, see Jill's blog. She's keeping track of various Twitter and blog responses to the conference. More to come.

[update 4/28: Jason has a more thorough discussion of the two panels we both attended yesterday.]


"The World Series of Uno" is the only web video I've seen lately that really excited me. Either there's a lull or I'm losing interest. Either way, blogging will continue to be light here for the near future.

I'm going to be at the MiT5 Conference this coming weekend in Cambridge, MA, so hope to see you there if you're planning on attending. (My paper is called "The Community as Artist: The Show with Ze Frank" and it will be posted to the conference website.) In the meantime, you can find me at Fraktastic, Twitter, Flickr, and del.icio.us. And please check out some of the excellent sites in my blogroll. ttyl.


CNN has the Widest Screens


If this were my face, I'd be pissed. Why is this image (of a Virginia Tech student) being presented in this format? The 16x9 aspect ratio on CNN's online video player is presumably to accommodate widescreen footage in its original ratio. But when showing 4x3 footage, CNN uploads distorted 16x9 stretched to fit? It looks awful. Does the whole world really not notice? Is the impressiveness of filling the frame really so much more important than preserving the dignity of the subject? Here's another:


For comparison's sake, I looked at NBC news online at MSNBC. The player might be 16x9 but it preserves the 4x3 ratio when appropriate. Perhaps it's significant that this is a shot of a highly-paid anchor--they have a disincentive to make his appearance unappealing by stretching it horizontally.


And here's another comparison, to the online version of the NBC drama Heroes. Here the player is 4x3 and the original image is widescreen. The familiar letterboxing preserves the integrity of the subject.



Happy Days Season 2 on DVD, which is available in the U.S. + Canada tomorrow, is being released with much of its original music replaced by generic muzak. Of about 50 original songs used in that season, just five have been retained. "Rock Around the Clock" has been replaced as the theme song with "Happy Days," which they started to use beginning season 3. "Blueberry Hill" appears once but it is omitted several other times.

It was only when reading through the list of omissions when I really realized how vital pop songs were to establishing Happy Days's setting. Some of the missing cuts on the DVD are "I'm Walking" by Fats Domino, "Wake Up Little Susie" by the Everly Brothers, "Sh-Boom" by the Crew Cuts, "Splish Splash" by Bobby Darin, and "Love Me Tender" by Elvis Presley. Just hearing these titles I start to see those 1970s blue checkerboard wipes from the Cunninghams' living room to the booth at Arnold's. I have probably watched more episodes of Happy Days than any other show in the history of television--I probably watched two episodes a day for about ten years--and the very idea of it missing these songs fills me with longing and regret. Releasing it without these bits of music would be like reproducing The Last Supper with a couple of Apostles missing.

As with the release of WKRP in Cincinnati on DVD, original music could have been licensed, but the distributor would have had to pay a steep price. The problem of licensing music for DVD highlights one of the excesses of copyright law. A more rational system might set a statutory rate for reuse of music in a television program released on DVD, just as radio stations pay statutory royalties to play songs. But obvs, our system wasn't designed to be maximally fair and the rights holder basically holds its content ransom. On the other hand, the distributor could charge more for the DVD and spend the extra cash on rights. But the market wouldn't support a very expensive Happy Days release. As Something Old, Nothing New notes, the first season DVD of HD did have all the orig music licensed, and it sold badly and lost money. The major media industries aren't in the business of preserving cultural heritage, alas.

No one gets rights from this video...yet, anyhow. It's "Yakety Yak" by The Coasters, performed at the Beacon Theater in New York in 1980 (followed by some super-cheesy stage shtick and then their even bigger hit, "Charlie Brown").


Variety reports on the digital camera's effects on acting. The ability to shoot continuously without worrying about wasting film, without having to call "roll sound" and "action" and "cut," is initiating a shift in the creative process of making films. The author of the piece, David S. Cohen, interviews Mel Gibson and Tony Bill, who have both recently shot films on digital cameras (Apocalypto and Flyboys, respectively).

For 100 years of acting on film, actors have had to cope with several technical limitations...they had to rehearse the scene before they shoot it. Then, once shooting begins, they have to act between reloads.


they have to act when the camera is running, not when it's not running. They're always aware there's film running through the camera, which is a tremendous burden for an actor, whether they know it or not.


This is going to change the way films are made, the way directors relate to actors, and the way actors relate to the camera. I think this will change acting as much as the Method changed acting.
And Gibson:
It just gives you a little more room to experiment, to explore, to talk, and you're not burning this precious stock that's very expensive and runs out. It would have been a tragedy to burn all that film talking to them.
The article goes on to describe the experience of Marley Shelton, who acted in both halves of Grindhouse. Rodriguez's portion was shot on video, and Tarantino's was shot on film. Shelton describes the difference in these processes. Rodriguez would gather actors around the playback monitor and everyone would watch the takes together. Tarnatino's style is more traditional.

Cohen begins by announcing a revolution in acting style, but it seems from the description of the changes that what's really at stake is a directing style as much as an acting style, a new way for filmmakers to collaborate with their actors. I would still love to know more about how the finished product might be different. A matter for future research, for sure.

And another question: isn't the same thing happening in some television productions? Peter Berg and Jason Katims have discussed similar creative situations on the set of Friday Night Lights, and a big part of the spontaneous, natural, partly improvised aesthetic of that show comes from shooting in this more casual setup, with multiple cameras running continuously. (For instance, see the description of the filming of FNL at Wikipedia.) And yet, as far as I know, FNL is shot on film. Maybe there's more to this new style of shooting than just a technological innovation?

(via CinemaTech)


Things I love about "Ode to Zach Braff": the domestic mise en scene, the lip-synching, the piano playing, the cable-knit sweater, the line about the ATM PIN, the line about MySpace, the surgical scrubs, the "ZB for eva" tattoo, when the guy calls Zach "dog," and the whole casual faux gay panic thing. Pretty much everything. (The same creative folks made the much less tasteful Man's Best Friend With Benefits.)
NYT: "Not all is well with the Weinstein Company."

Slate is a-Twitter.

Jimmy Kimmel 1, Gawker 0.

Recently on Fresh Air: Jake Kasdan, Mike White, Peter Berg.

Ken Levine reports from the studio audience of Tuesday nite's Idol. Snarky but appreciative. Lisa de Moraes's WaPo blog is lively reading, too, if you're into this stuff.

And if it's in your power, please make these things go away asap: Imus, O'Reilly, the blogger code of conduct, Daniellyn, and Justin.tv.


Grindhouse flops! People who care about such things as who wins the weekly popularity contest called Box Office (I do care, just a little) are formulating their explanations for why the audience stayed away from a movie that seemed like such a sure thing. Harvey Weinstein himself offers some answers. The movie was too long. The audience, especially in flyover country, didn't get the concept. Both are probably factually true, but as explanations I'm not so sure. Did the grindhouse films of the 1970s earn boffo b.o.? Maybe the Grindhouse audience-that-wasn't did get the concept and expected crapola because the film was promoted as schlocky. Call this the so-bad-it's-bad explanation. Maybe. I haven't seen the film, so I really shouldn't opine. I will anyway.

Explaining why people go to see a movie is hard enough. Explaining why they do not see a movie is a mug's game. It has always vexed me that we generally assume a movie is popular because people like it, and unpopular because they don't. But you can't know that you'll like a movie until you have seen it, at which point you have already paid your money. Movies that are unpopular could potentially please lots of people, but they can't know that until they pay their $8. This is different from many other cultural experiences. We rarely buy music recordings without having heard some of them first. We rarely watch TV shows regularly that we have not already tuned into and liked.

With the impossibility of really knowing the motivations of millions of non-viewers in mind, here are some more reasons why a film like Grindhouse might fail:
-No big name stars. Regardless of how hot they are on the cover of Rolling Stone, Rose McGowan and Rosario Dawson don't open movies big.
-No clearly identifiable, bankable genre. Sorry, postmodern pastiche don't count. Neither does horror anthology.
-No pre-sold property (adaptation from a book or game, say).
-A confusing poster that makes the film seem like a revival (this is the point, but not everyone will get it).
-A title that doesn't refer to the content of the movie and that has to be explained to audiences at every opportunity. If you need to have it explained, that means you don't get it.
-The reviews. The fake trailers and the QT feature were generally well received, but few critics gave the Rodriguez feature a very positive notice, and...
-You have to sit through Planet Terror to get to Death Proof. This is a violation of a basic rule of double-feature programming: you snag the audience with the better film first, and keep them around to watch a weaker film with second billing.
-Most of the key moviegoing demographic, people my age and younger, is too young to have seen movies in grindhouses. The film tries to tap into nostalgia for something we don't remember. 70s retro is so, so dunzo.

Now for the explanations that smell to me like baloney:
-Too long. Long movies do well all the time.
-Easter weekend. Easter weekend is for family films. Yeah, and the studios used to avoid bringing out big new movies in the summer. I don't believe that people are so constrained by Easter weekend obligations as to avoid a movie they really want to see.
-There's something wrong with the audience--they're playing it safe, they're timid, they can't spot quality, etc. Joe Carnahan, who you might know as the director of the QT-manqué Smokin' Aces, writes in his blog:
What is wrong with American moviegoers? Is there nothing NEW that they're willing to embrace? Jesus, it's the worst kind of erosion. We're making dumber and dumber films and they're becoming cash cows. God Bless '300', at least it's got balls and the director WENT for it. THAT movie is good for the business, it's good for everybody. But some of these other flicks don't even TRY because they know in the end, EXACTLY the age range and demographic driving ticket prices these days. Those monstrosities (the names of which I won't mention) are pure pieces of commerce, marketed to perfection.
Kids these days, whatevs. I've seen Blades of Glory, which won the weekend, and it's a competent, funny movie with a strong cast and a decent script. It's no Miracle of Morgan's Creek, but then Smokin' Aces ain't exactly The Godfather, is it?

Keep reading, movie fans: Mojo, Film Threat, Variety, Vidiocy, Poland, MovieJuice, MovingPictureBlog.


An Inconvenient Truth, which we watched last night on DVD, is supposed to be a movie about global warming. But its true subject is Al Gore, and everything in it engineers our deep regret that Gore did not become the American president in 2001. He would have been so good at the job, the film implies. He's so smart, so thoughtful, so empathic and hardworking. And how much we pity him now, shlepping his own suitcase through airport concourses as he tours the world offering up his modest slideshow. In essence, An Inconvenient Truth is an extended opportunity for counterfactual musing: if Gore had been present, would there have been a War on Terror, or even a 9/11? Would there have been a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, or even a Hurricane Katrina? The genius of the film is to connect our sense of urgency about global warming to the tragic loss of Gore--to make the 2000 election a narrative not only of Gore's personal loss, and not only America's, but all of humanity's.

There are passages in the film that actually have nothing to do with climate. Gore's childhood split between Washington and Tennessee. His son's injury at age six. His sister's death from lung cancer. They serve to humanize the speaker, to add to his credibility. He tries to connect them to his own journey toward greater knowledge about global warming and his efforts to do something about it, but ultimately they are there to characterize Gore and make us feel for him. They serve the argument by serving the person delivering it. I wasn't expecting the film to be so much about Gore, but this puts in perspective all the joking at the Oscars about his possible candidacy for president in 2008. It seems unlikely today, but if he decides to enter the race, An Inconvenient Truth will retroactively become a kind of campaign ad. And it has some of the flavor of a campaign ad in the way it positions the politician as a sympathetic regular guy, a good listener as well as a good speaker, and a family man.

The film ends with little messages in text interspersed among the credits encouraging spectators to reduce their carbon emissions, take public transit, drive hybrid cars, get an energy audit, etc. These are the only words in the film that do not come from Gore's voice, and they function to turn the film's ideas away from Gore's collective rhetoric--"we did this, now we can change"--toward an individualistic rhetoric--"you can do this and that." These messages undermine the film's agenda on two levels. First, the solution to global warming, like any massive social change, must come not only from individuals but from institutions, and emphasizing individual responsibility makes the need for political and corporate solutions seems relatively less urgent. More importantly, it takes the last word away from the film's true subject and makes him seem like just a spokesman. In An Inconvenient Truth, Gore is not just a spokesman--he's a character, a protagonist. The film tells the story of our role in changing the planet, but also Gore's role in coming to the point that he made a movie about climate rather than assuming the public office that might have given him the power to achieve something more direct. Whether he would really, practically, have been so empowered had history turned a different page in December, 2000, is another matter, and one the film doesn't consider.


Ira Glass on Charlie Rose (begins around 32:00). I'm still not used to seeing Glass's face when I hear him speak.


Virginia summarizes the Sopranos summary on YouTube (prev.), paying tribute to the art of the found footage video. It's great that the Grey Lady now publishes regular, respectful reviews of amateur videos posted online. Good for them. But the cycle of cool video surfaces → MSM story gives the background is getting a little predictable, and it makes recognition from the established press a kind of endorsement of value. Of course, it's the reverse of how the industrially-produced media generally work, which is for the audience to get the context (reviews, interviews, publicity, ads), then the text. It helps to have context to understand the text. But so much of what makes these online videos exciting is their very lack of context, their lack of standard valuation.

Now perhaps some able reporter can work on this story for next week: who is behind this inspired recreation of Do The Right Thing with Fisher-Price Sesame Street Toys?
A few music links:

Ze Frank's songs have been made available from iTunes as an album. (via)

Via Stereogum: new Amy Winehouse-Pharaohe Monche remix of her excellent single "Rehab"; new Rufus Wainright track at Hard to Find a Friend.

If you have used Last.fm, you can find out here How Mainstream Are You? I'm 38% mainstream.


Allessandra Stanley in the NYT offers a baggy Zeitgeist reading of American Idol's psychological appeal by relating it to our presidential electoral misadventures of the past few years. I don't have the energy to pick the whole thing over, and you can do it yourself if you're so inclined, but here is one bit that jumps out at me:
It cannot be a coincidence that television voting rights arose so soon after the 2000 election left slightly more than half the voting population feeling cheated. Those who didn’t go to the polls and fear that their abstention inadvertently made possible the invasion of Iraq may feel even worse. “Idol” could be a displacement ritual: a psychological release that allows people to vote — and even vote often — in a contest that has no dangerous or even lasting consequences.
Yeah, it can be a coincidence. As a rule, when a writer begins a point by denying a coincidence, you can be pretty sure that they're about to make an injudicious leap. And aside from the vacuousness of relating things so little connected, this argument makes no allowance for the large number of Idol voters who don't feel guilty about 2000 because they were too young to vote or because they never vote and don't care. And clearly to the fan, Idol has serious and lasting consequences. That's why people care about a vote-for-the-worst candidate prevailing.

Ah well. That's enough for now. Tonight's show was good. Tony Bennett was the guest coach so the songs were all standards, and the show is at an advantage when the kids have to sing good songs.

Update 4/5: Chris Cagle has some thoughts about how to do a symptomatic reading of reality TV and legitimation.

Hipster indie music snobs skewered
(via gf, who links to this video with nothing but the description "word document")

Last nite I saw The Host (scary monster!) and before it the trailer for Year of the Dog, which looks great. Has anyone compared The Host and Pan's Labyrinth? I'm too lazy to Google it, but there's certainly something there with young girls, disgusting creatures, and politically-themed global genre cinema. (See also, NYT profile of Molly Shannon.)

IHT on Helvetica, an appreciation of "a democratic luxury."

Wikipedia: Five-Second Rule.

NYMag on the Viacom-YouTube lawsuit is the best analysis I have read. Google, according to this account, has a kind of corporate Asperger's syndrome that makes it oblivious of other corporations and their psychology. (See also The Economist on Google and the future of books.)

The Chron picks its favorite campus prank web videos. (via a+l)

A sneak-peek at TV Guide's forthcoming web video portal/search. I always want to buy TV Guide at the supermarket, their covers are so appealing. But it always seems like a waste of money.

Sanjaya drops by Weekend Update
. I am so glad that the web has made it unnecessary for me to watch the 1:27 of SNL each week that isn't worth my time. I hope Sanjaya sticks around a few more weeks b/c he's more interesting TV than some of these other bland nobodies. I think he will. (See also Jenkins on idolhacking.)