Here’s the link to my final blog!
In Weinberg’s final installation, he discusses his experiences involving the independent film industry. I particularly liked this essay because it was a real account that spoke of “Kodak moments” and reflected on real-life experiences that drew Tom into the business. Learning the theory and histories of a subject of study is one thing; however, to hear insider accounts – especially from someone who knows film so well on a personal and professional level – really gave me better insight into this world of media.
Tom describes himself as a “television native” – meaning that he remembers growing up in the founding days of the television media revolution. These days, he insists, a person of my generation would be considered a “digital native.” It’s strange to think about this, because it just seems as if the Internet, iPhones, iPods, personal computers, etc. have been around for decades. What was life like before we had these things? Cd players were clunky and hard to carry around, students spent time sifting through books at the library so that they could write research papers (by hand, no less), and cellular phones were for the likes of Zack Morris on Saved By the Bell. These things all sprouted up and revolutionized media within the last decade, making life easier by putting everything we could want at the tips of our fingers.
Keeping these things in mind, and reading Tom’s testimony about his life as an independent film guy made me really think about the transitions in the types of media we produce and consume. Society has progressed so much, and it’s baffling to hypothesize what could possibly be the next technological advance that restructures the media and our every day lives. As the class comes to an end, I think that it’s important to keep these things in mind, while remembering McLuhan’s warnings against new media. I should hope that the next movement counters the current wave of making what people see in the media their realities. Luckily, some progressive television programming as well as internet-based resistance groups have formed a global village, pointing to a better future for the media.
1. Whatever Works, 2009
2. Directed by Woody Allen, Produced by Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum; Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
3. I screened this the other night with my room mate.
4. The film was filmed in New York City, in the traditional Woody Allen setting and style. Allen featured the typical jazz and instrumental music that he is known for adoring, and at one point in the film, my room mate even said, “Man, Woody Allen loves this song. It’s in at least four of his films,” to which I had to agree.
5. While the film was distributed by a major film company, there’s something to be said about Woody Allen as an independent director. The film was originally intended to release in the 70’s – before there was any conglomerate control over the film industry. The film was only altered to fit into the context of the present day – tweaking political and cultural references. This fact is suggestive that Allen was insistent on creating a film that he had created a vision for, as he as known to do. Allen is most certainly an independent director, despite the media attention that he has accumulated, because he refuses to produce a film that is anything other than his vision.
6. The target audience would probably be a person going through a midlife crisis. This film is all over the place, and is peppered with nauseating cliches, leaving one to wonder just what worked about the film.
7. Honestly, I was a little more than disappointed with the film. Larry David and Woody Allen are two of my favorite people in Hollywood, so it goes without saying that I expected this to be one of Allen’s best. Maybe I was just unable to relate to the characters, or maybe my disdain for Evan Rachel Wood was just enough to ruin the movie for me. Whatever it was, something about this movie just did not work for me – leaving me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. To a regular viewer, this could have appeared as a mere train wreck on the silver screen; however, to me, it appeared that this film was Woody Allen’s justification of his relationship with his daughter/wife, Soon-Yi Previn – ending the film with a testimony from Larry David explaining that no matter how dysfunctional or wrong something seems, to always do whatever works to provide your own personal happiness. One part of the film that was especially frustrating was watching David delivering structured lines, as opposed to the highly hilarious improvisational style which he has become so well known for.
Final thoughts: if Larry David couldn’t even salvage the film, you know the ship has sunk.
Donnie Darko 
Directed by Richard Kelly, Produced by Adam Fields, Nancy Jurvonen, and Sean McKittrick. This is a relevant independent film because it only had a budget of 4.5 million dollars, and went on to make a meager 4.1 million in profits. It was originally meant for straight-to-home video distribution, however Newmarket Films decided to pick it up – gaining it access to the Sundance Film Festival, and eventually its large cult following. In addition, much of the funding for the film was put up by one of the film’s stars, Drew Barrymore, and it is rumored that none of the actors in the film took pay while making this film – a unique concept, considering the names this cast included (Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone, and James Duval to name a few).
I first saw this film in 2003, when a friend lent it to me. At the time, it hadn’t gained the following which it has now, but the dark, philosophical matter has gained an anti-Hollywood audience, due to its nonconventional plot. For a while, this film became closely tied to the “emo/scene/indie” movement – a defining characteristic of one’s belonging to this subculture. It’s safe to say that I am yet to meet someone my age who has not seen or at least heard of the film, suggesting that the target audience is generation Y.
One of the most prominent features of the film is its memorable soundtrack, featuring Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heals,” Gary Jules’s rendition of “Mad World,” and from my personal favorite scene, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by Joy Division. In my opinion, the use of these fantastic audio clips makes scenes from the movie come alive, imprinting images in my head from the film. The film sequences are ordered in an ordinary fashion, however, clips are sometimes slowed down and sped up to emphasize the film’s theme of time travel, and how easily one is able to manipulate time. One of the subplots of the movie discusses the 1988 presidential election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. In these scenes, archival footage from the debates is used to emphasize plot points.
The movie’s main point is that no one truly knows what is real. Donnie thinks that he has solved the key to time travel, and that by turning back time he has saved the people in his life from any suffering. However, even after the movie is over, the audience is left to wonder whether Donnie’s perception of his life is so accurate; throughout the film, Donnie visits a psychiatrist, is seen taking pills, and even imagines he is talking to a six-foot-tall bunny rabbit, who he calls Frank. Is Donnie really our saviour, or is he suffering from a mental illness? It is unclear, and we are never truly able to decipher reality from delusion. And I think that’s precisely why I love this film so much. No matter how many times I watch it (I’m probably in the upper 20’s by now), the plot is so complex that I never cease to pick out something new that I hadn’t considered before. This film will never die out for me, because it is inexhaustible. It is the emblem of my teen years, and if nothing else, I will always have a little place in my heart for nostalgia (not to mention Jake Gyllenhaal’s glory days before he was tainted by Hollywood).
Here’s a clip to my favorite scene. So much of the plot is built up in this part of the movie, alluding to the tragedy that is about to occur within the last few hours of Donnie’s life.
In Tom Weinberg’s fourth installment of “Video Outside the Box,” he discusses how American culture has been transformed by the internet. One thing he pointed out was that there are more televisions in America than people (2.9 TVs for ever 2.5 people…that’s insane!). However, the impact of television has decreased with the advent of the internet. More people are watching television online ( I’m currently anticipating watching Curb Your Enthusiasm online while I eat my lunch). This led me to think about how fast the internet has grown. Has it only been three years since YouTube existed? It has become harder than ever before to remember life before continuous video access.
The internet, as Tom suggests, has led to the dealing of INFORMATION instead of PRODUCTS. This is the same problem many people have with globalization: it has liquified the boundaries of every day life. Banking, for instance, has become an exchange of numbers because of the internet. Many people these days never actually see the money that they have earned, but instead, trust in the everyday exchanges that are made on the internet.
Likewise, the content of video has become diluted. As George Carlin pointed out, the amount of information that we are subjected to on a daily basis makes the content less intellectually and emotionally appealing or relatable. We have, in a sense, become desensitized to the things that the media projects to us. With essentially infinite access to all kinds of programming, then, Weinberg suggests that it has become virtually impossible for audiences to form allegiances with television programming. The idea of television as a central part of culture has dissolved.
However, I have to disagree with this. The “must-see TV schedule” is not completely dead (for my friends and myself, at least). Thursday nights still hold a special place in my heart – with a solid line-up of comedy shows on NBC (Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office, 30 Rock) and clean-up hitter, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” on FX. Thursday nights have become something to look forward to – gathering around the television with a group of friends to chill and watch. While the internet does allow me to catch up on shows that I may have missed, watching these shows alone in the privacy of the internet and my personal computer does not compare to the community and commentary shared while watching these shows in larger groups. Some companies (TiVo, for instance) have given 24/7 access to programming – leading to the same unrestricted access that the internet provides. However, until there is a union between the community offered by viewing programs on a large screen and the cheapness provided by internet access, the popularity of television will not die out.
Directed and Produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
I’ve owned Party Monster for about three years now, but after having watched the documentary on Melvin Van Peebles, I thought it only necessary to watch it one more time. As a teenager, I was very much into this movie (despite its obviously poor funding) and I have found that the target audience includes mostly “indie” film buffs of my generation. “Party Monster,” like Van Peebles’ films, gives voice to another oppressed group: GLBT. The film is a roman a clef about club kid Michael Alig (played by Macaulay Culkin) and his rise as “King of the Club Kids.” The film was made on a very small budget, but managed to confront the issues surrounding GLBT and Club culture.
The film used over 1,000 costumes and writer James St. James called on many of the scene’s own club kids to play cameo roles in the party scenes. Some scenes were actually shot at the places where they had originally taken place – for example, Michael Alig’s apartment as well as “Limelight” – the club where Michael Alig threw his first rave. The 80’s club scene was a relatively underground movement, making the exploitation of rave sites and members of the community particularly interesting. Never before had members of the culture stepped forward to tell their stories, and St.James’s account brought light to issues of stds, drug use, and the wild antics of this community of people. I really liked this film because it really did give the characters a voice. This was Macaulay Culkin’s first movie in almost nine years, and I believe that it was a great project to work on. Seth Green also did a tremendous job in the film, stepping out of a typical role, and playing a flamboyant icon of the era. The costumes were flashy, the plot kept on twisting, and it leaves the audience wondering how these two “party monsters” managed to survive.
There’s no doubt that the emergence of Independent video has brought with it an abundance of new opportunities. Independent film allows for anyone to have their story heard – despite race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Cultural issues have been able to be addressed due to the free-flowing opportunities that one inherits upon picking up a camera. Stereotypes have been broken and cultural gaps have been transcended, all due to this incredible form of media.
Melvin Van Peebles was one of the first revolutionary African Americans to take on the big screen. After having been rejected by American publishing companies, he moved to France, where he became a well-versed French writer, earning him the rights to make his first feature film. After his project was well-received, new doors were opened to Van Peebles – projects were thrown at him with budgets that would allow him to produce movies unlike anyone had ever seen. He was one of the first directors to challenge black stereotypes, leading to the black empowerment movements spearheaded by the likes of the Black Panthers. Even when Van Peebles was faced with conflicts of race in his films, he cut corners to create a film all his own, while still representing the race in a respectable manner for all of Hollywood to eat up.
Van Peeble’s bold moves in media opened doors for other revolutionary film makers, i.e. Spike Lee. Like Van Peebles, Lee had a difficult time getting into the industry. After winning a film festival for a $10,000 film that his grandmother helped produce, Lee gained access to big names in the African American community. With the help of close friends that contributed to budget costs (Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby, and Oprah Winfrey for example), Lee built a foundation of supporters for his films. His scripts were soon fronted by big names like Denzel Washington and Jaime Fox, securing his spot in Hollywood as a major film maker. Lee, like Van Peebles, was able to challenge cultural stereotypes and present African Americans in a positive manner. He has not only created a name for himself, but has allowed African Americans to break out as commonplace in American media.
Van Peebles’s and Lee’s contributions to cinema can be compared to those women that spearheaded the first and second wave feminist movements. Both sectors of American culture had been oppressed for years, and eventually pushed through the cracks of society to give themselves voice. However, the growth of media undoubtedly made a bigger impact on society – allowing for the plights of oppressed groups to be heard by a larger audience. Video creates visual images and enables an audience to form emotional alliances with a character – causing audiences to better sympathize with the characters on screen. By bringing issues of race to Hollywood, racist commentary began to decrease. People realized the similarities they had with these characters, and were forced to question former stereotypes that they once held.
As new media grows, so does the authenticity of all aspects of our lives. McLuhan supports this argument (as we read in the end of McLuhan for Beginners) by insisting that everything we are, everything we take in, and the ways in which we perceive the world is all cliché. So what did he mean?
McLuhan suggested that perceptions of the world were cliché. Since perceptions and emotions are “closed” – based on the ideas other people have about certain topics (one can define love for himself, but it will not differ that much from another person’s recycled idea of love, for example), one is unable to redefine any of his or her reactions to the world. Likewise, he says that art has become cliché, because it only “retrieves older clichés.” In this same sense, then, new media has just exploited the clichés of art and our senses, because communication media is an “extension” of who we are, our expressions, our thoughts, our feelings, etc. We communicate to explain ourselves, and media makes these explanations accessible to large audiences.
It goes without saying that McLuhan would have donned new media (found on the internet) as the king of all clichés. From competing social networking sites (MySpace versus Facebook) to “remakes” of Youtube videos that either mock or praise the original, it’s become hard to find videos on the internet that contain 100% originality. In fact, it seems that referencing and having enough knowledge of internet content has become the new trend in what draws in an audience in this new culture; a video that lacks a common reference point will lose its viewer amidst the rubble that is online media. In this way, McLuhan’s sense of cliché has been embraced because of the mass-production of streaming videos.
For my final media project, I have decided to study how the advent of sequels and film remakes has changed cinema and the prestigious culture that once surrounded it. As film sequels started appearing, many producers began to use this type of cinema to bring in more money – by extending exhausted plot lines to make an easy, quick profit. Often, despite the large profits they rake in, these films are poorly received by audiences – exposing the film maker’s true inspiration for making the film: instead of creating new, original ideas to spread to a larger audience, these films have become nothing more than an extension of a brand.
In addition, many movies that were poorly received by audiences to begin with have been extended into sequels, trilogies, etc. – bringing into question what these film makers could have possibly been thinking. Movies like “Shark Attack 3: Megalodon,” “Silent Night, Deadly Night 2,” and “Trolls 2” have seemingly created their own counterculture within film – being praised as a mockery of these equally terrible Blockbuster sequels that somehow manage to bring in earnings out the roof. By studying mega-hits like “Terminator 2,” “Transformers 2,” and even the Spiderman movies, I hope to expose the ways in which film has been turned into yet another means of spreading capitalism – branding these films in consumer-friendly ways, and taking away from the artistic characteristics that film once stood for.
1. This Week in Joe’s Basement: “Feet” , 1990
2. This is an independent work, because it is one of Chicago’s Public-Access Television series from the 1990s.
3. Produced and Directed by Joe Winston, this public access show was paid for by the government.
4. I screened this off of the Media Burn website.
5. Lighting for disruption scenes was particularly odd. Some obvious editing was done to these scenes to create a mood. The camera work of the football scene was interesting because its spherical movements made me question whether the camera man, the subject, or both were moving while the footage was being filmed. The confusion that was caused is a technique rarely used in television programming, and it created a dizzy sense of perplexity similar to what one might feel on acid, as described in his story. The manipulation of sound in the second disruption proved that even a person’s words can be changed – that through television, miscommunications can happen. In the first scene, as well, of the woman telling her story about the drugstore, the story is constantly changed, and the character’s words are challenged by herself on smaller television sets. This perhaps explains how things in the media can easily be manipulated, turned around, and falsified; in turn, nothing that one sees or hears can be proven as a fact. The majority of the program, however, featured a straight-forward recant of subject Michelle Huet’s life in London. This was one of the first accounts of “reality television” in which a person breaks former laws of TV, looking directly at the camera, and is centered in focus with nothing but a bare wall behind her. The respondent’s story becomes the main focus of the entire frame – a concept which has been replicated time and time again in shows like “The Real World,” which offer “confession booths,” where content like this would be revealed. This concept seems silly and contradictory, because while it offers the confidentiality of one-on-one conversation, it televises personal information and spreads it to strangers who would otherwise have no access to this sort of account.
6. Since the show was aired on late night public access television, it would be assumed that its target audience was young, out of college, and unemployed – living in mom’s basement. The content of the show would suggest that it attracted stoners looking for late night entertainment with a dash of reality. However, as I watched this show, I took note of the similarities between its structure and the one served up by Adult Swim shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! – a production which lacks, in many times, plot lines, and incorporates random themes that appeal to a small, late night audience.
7. It seems that this video is about personalities – the contradictions that one faces, the stories that one tells, etc. I liked Michelle’s real-life account, which she didn’t bother to censor. Her connectedness to the camera, and the lack of shame in her eyes as she told her stories formed the connection that I think reality television had been hoping for, before it became a cesspool of angry, trashy young adults looking to get their fifteen minutes of fame. I felt a connection to Michelle because of her unabashed honesty, which differs from the fabricated lies that go into manufacturing a modern-day reality series.