Wednesday, May 20, 2015

With Letterman's departure, walk back through the old guard of late night

David Letterman ends his late night talk show career tonight. Although he has certainly settled into a curmudgeonly pattern in the last decade or so – and is probably indistinguishable from Jay Leno for many younger viewers – Letterman's earlier years behind the desk remain some of the stranger and riskier network television ever produced.  He pioneered the use of absurdism and sarcasm in the traditional talk show model, like in an episode where the screen rotated throughout the evening. He's certainly an institution now, but for many years, Letterman broadcast on the edge of what producers would allow.

Letterman is the last remaining network talk show host who started before the year 2000, and his retirement arguably symbolizes the end of the old guard of late night television. This got us thinking about the history of late night and the older figureheads who defined the genre for earlier generations.

If you want to learn a little about the history of late night talk shows, we found a great documentary, Pioneers of Television, that covers the first twenty years of the format. We're sure everyone is sick of hearing about Johnny Carson's borderline canonization, but there's great bits in there, like the story of host Jack Paar's sudden disappearance mid-program. This is a streaming video, so you can access it off-campus and watch it at any time.

The talk show has certainly evolved beyond those older shows, with Jimmy Fallon's energy or Eric Andre's aggressive surrealism marking the new goal posts for future hosts. But it's worth a trip back to remember why Letterman's weirdness mattered in the television landscape.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

TCM's 'Summer of Darkness" offers free online noir course – and a noir movie marathon!

Turner Classic Movies is preparing for "Summer of Darkness," a slate of over 100 noir films a commentary that will air throughout June and July. Two months of nearly century-old, dark, black-and-white movies is a hard sell during warm weather and peak movie theater season, but Turner clearly isn't aiming for a general audience. Their noir extravaganza is for film nerds – and now TCM has the academic bonafides to back that up.

TCM has partnered with Ball State University to present a free online course, titled Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir, that will examine the history of noir using critical texts, live chats, and the original films. The course includes access to TCM's archives, which include production photos, trailers, and essays about the films being discussed.

We've never participated in a MOOC ourselves, but we have full faith that BSU and TCM can deliver a quality course. If you've feeling a little itchy for film criticism now that the semester's out, this might be the right outlet for you. Best of all, it's all lectures and no assignments. It's learning for the sake of learning! You always wanted more of that from your education, right?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sterling Cooper will go out big – but not bigger than Tool Time

AMC's breakthrough drama Mad Men ends tonight, eight years after its debut that put scripted basic cable television on the map. Despite the show's cultural ubiquity(some would argue oversaturation) the final episode likely won't come even close to breaking records for most-watched finales. This has much to do with the ways we now watch television compared to decades ago; in fact, when considering the finales that made the greatest cultural impact – The Sorpanos, Breaking Bad, and even The Colbert Report – the most-watched finales in history seem downright silly.

Take a quick look at mental_floss's list of the ten most highly rated television finales. Somehow, Home Improvement makes the list, with other 35 million people watching Tim Allen's last turn on as Tim Taylor. That has far less to do with the quality of Home Improvement than the network-dominated media environment that led it to massive popularity.

We don't mean to rag on the quality of some of these shows. The finales of M*A*S*H and Cheers are certainly all-time classics, but it's startling to consider any show that would draw an audience of over 50 million viewers. We're sure Mad Men will bring out a big following, but with current media consumption patterns, we expect most fans to watch it on Netflix or Amazon months later.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Watch a huge chunk of the Criterion Collection for free via DC Public Library

As film buffs know, the Criterion Collection releases the definitive versions of hundreds of classic films, restored and remastered to their original glory. Criterion has recently made much of their catalog available digitally through a subscription database, and we noticed that DC Public Library now provides access to this collection.

This is a huge boon for film aficionados: many of these films are not available in any format except the Criterion-released DVD or Blu-ray. You can now watch Eraserhead, The Battle of Algiers, The 400 Blows, and other classic films with almost no effort. This is useful for personal viewing as well as academics: there's a good chance that Criterion offers the international film you need to watch too.

If you have a DC Public Library card, you can watch over 300 films in the Criterion Collection for free, instantly! All American University students, staff, and faculty are eligible for a DC Library card if you don't already have one. For full instructions, check DCPL's Get a Library Card page. You can get temporary registration online and pick up your official card in person at the Tenley-Friendship Branch, which is only a block from the AU shuttle stop.

You might be out of DC for the summer but already have your library card thanks to one of the events the AU Library ran earlier in the year. In that case, enjoy a summer of free classic films, courtesy of DC Public! If not, look for DCPL in the fall when they'll likely host another meet-and-greet here at the AU Library.

Faculty members can contact us at for more information about using Criterion films for their courses.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Beyond Thunderdome, there was Happy Feet

 Director George Miller returns to the post-apocalyptic Mad Max franchise this Friday, and early reviews indicate his latest movie is a total triumph, an admittedly surprising outcome given Miller's thirty years away from action films. That got us wondering: what else was Miller doing in the interim?

If you can believe it, George Miller – the mind behind The Road Warrior – directed Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City.

Miller refused to be typecast as a filmmaker over his career. He easily could have coasted on low-rent action movies for the rest of his life after his initial successes, but he went in unusual directions, directing a television miniseries about cricket and writing family-friendly fare like Lorenzo's Oil. The two Happy Feet movies were his only output since 1998, so he has been inactive lately, but we were still shocked that his CV includes so much unlike his most famous films.

In anticipation of Fury Road, walk back through some of Miller's other films for a reminder that this director has more tricks up his sleeve than explosions: he also has talking pigs.

Twilight Zone: The Movie – HU DVD 3270
Lorenzo's Oil – HU DVD 3324
Mad Max – HU DVD 6577
The Road Warrior – HU DVD 6578
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – HU DVD 6579
Babe – HU DVD 7221
Babe: Pig in the City – HU DVD 7222

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Help crowdfund Orson Welles's final unfinished film

In 1970, legendary director Orson Welles began work on The Other Side of the Wind, a film about a filmmaker attempting to fund an experimental comeback film. Welles never intended The Other Side of the Wind to be autobiographical, but his life mirrored the protagonist's in eerily similar ways. Over the next six years of production and the remainder of his life, Welles struggled to finish his film as well, stymied by obstacles including an unconventional improvised script, budget embezzlement, and most bizarrely the confiscation of the negatives by Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iranian Revolution.

Over forty years have passed since Welles started filming The Other Side of the Wind, and at long last, it may finally be released. A group of Hollywood producers have arranged to obtain the negatives and, based on extensive notes left by Welles before his death, edit and remaster the film as he intended.

This is an enormous undertaking with the full support of notable film industry figures, but they understandably need some finishing money to complete this. To finish the job, the production team has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to secure the $2 million necessary to complete the film by early 2016. That seems like a steep price tag, but as the team puts it: "What if Mark Twain lost a manuscript? Or if Mozart lost his sheet music for a final Sonata? Or a lost book of poems by Walt Whitman was discovered hidden away in a dusty attic? Would you want to see that art realized?"

We certainly would. Here's hoping we can watch Orson Welles's final film before the next election!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

"Lo and behold, there was actually an image in there." Criterion's techinical director talks restoration

Restoration is an important component of any film preservation and re-release process, especially the high-quality efforts from the Criterion Collection. Those of us without professional archival training never get a good idea of what happens during this mysterious process. Do they scan the original film? What sort of tools do they use to clean dirt off? What if a film reel is too damaged to use? Surely they don't just color black-and-white movies with crayons!

Thanks to The A.V. Club, we now have a glimpse into the processing room. In commemoration of the Criterion remastering of the The Apu Trilogy, a masterwork of Indian cinema, The A.V. Club interviewed Criterion's technical director Lee Kline about how a company restores a sixty-year-old film. The details are shocking; apparently the original copy was damaged in a fire and almost too brittle to play. Kline then goes into the chemistry of film preservation, as well as the tedious process of cleaning up scratches.

Just reading about the work that went into The Apu Trilogy's restoration stresses us out, so we're it was handled by someone with skill. Maybe you won't be grossed out reading about the nasty vinegar smell of rotting film – and maybe this line of work seems like something you'd want to do! We at least hope Kline's interview helps you appreciate the enormous effort spent on saving global cultural heritage.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

So long, farewell to our seniors!

Now comes the difficult part of every year when we say farewell to our departing senior staff. This year, we have five staff members graduating: Caitlin, Claire, Jasmine, Travis, and Trevor. We've gotten to know this crew over the past several years, and they've done a terrific job exceeding patron expectations of great library service.

We're sad to see them go, but we know they're moving onto exciting careers and future programs. We wish them the best of luck!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

School's out! Christen the end of the year with summer vacation movies

In just a few hours, the 2014-2015 academic year comes to a close. We've enjoyed this decidedly busy year, but like you, we're looking forward to cutting back our workload a little. More importantly, we're sure everyone is looking forward to taking some time off for a little vacation, no matter how big or small. And given the beautiful weather, we're giddy thinking about the summer to come. What better way to stoke that excitement than to recommend a few summer-themed movies.

An infinite number of vacation movies and television shows exist, so we winnowed our selections down to a handful that we can learn something from. Everyone's summer experience is different, but there are enough unifying themes – travel, emotions, and friendship – that we could make a few recommendations that most everyone should connect to.

(We aren't actually offering these movies and TV episodes as life models, and in most cases, you should probably avoid doing whatever their characters choose. The one exception is the streaming video about travel photography; that one is very useful!)

Wet Hot American SummerHU DVD 1506
The lesson: Don't be the one to make a grand confessional on the last day of summer; it's cliched.

SummertimeHU DVD 3964
The lesson: Summer love, though fleeting, can be trouble.

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!: Season 2, Episode 1, "Vacation" – HU DVD 4026
The lesson: Make new friends, preferably if they have dreads and make a video of your summer.

AdventurelandHU DVD 6464
The lesson: A summer job isn't so bad, and you might get something more out of it than money.

The Way Way BackHU DVD 8478
The lesson: Take the family trip, even if your stepfather is a jerk.

The Office: Season 3, Episode 22, "Beach Games" – HU DVD 14156
The lesson: Improve your trip to the beach with competitive eating and sumo wrestling.

Travel: How to Take Stunning PhotosStreaming video
The lesson: Remember to bring your camera... but use it well.

Hot SummerHU DVD 495
No lesson here, but we bet you haven't watched this Germany summer vacation musical. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

State film tax credits on the chopping block

Tax incentives are often the saving grace of film productions. If a local film board gives you incentive to film your upcoming production on-site, you'd be silly not to at least consider its possible budget alleviation. That's why House of Cards films many of its scenes in Baltimore. It brings commerce and attention to states and helps filmmakers stay afloat, but many argue that like the Olympics, these productions cost more in goodwill and hassle than they bring in.

Perhaps those criticisms have become the consensus, as multiple states are now considering cutting their film credits. MinnPost reports that Minnesota legislators are now considering rescinding the state's $10 million film incentives. The state has apparently struggled with its budget in recent years, and with competing incentives from Canada attracting productions like Fargo, lawmakers don't easily notice the return investment of luring film crews. (Minnesota's film board says $4.6 million of credits brought nearly $30 million into the state.)

A similar conflict is underway in Massachusetts, where Governor Charlie Baker wants to put those credits into income tax rebates rather than supporting out-of-state businesses. As with Minnesota, this is a difficult argument to suss out, as the impacts of film production (positive or negative) are challenging to determine.

The shuttering of some local credits may not have a noticeable impact on the quality of films and television shows; those will still get made somewhere. But California and New York's unquestioned dominance of the production industry would have a negative ripple effect throughout the business. Local film board and production houses would struggle to stay afloat, and we'd have to get used to seeing more palm trees and New York skylines in all of our media.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

After 30 years, New Coke is still a black mark in marketing history

from Coca-Cola: The Real Story Behind the Real Thing

Thirty years ago today, Coca-Cola unveiled New Coke, a Pepsi-like formula that replaced the original Coca-Cola in stores. In retrospect, this is regarded as one of the worst marketing decisions in history. Fans considered the change a betrayal and stockpiled the classic Coke in an act of consumer protest. The Coca-Cola Company relented and re-introduced the original formula within three months, saving Coke from long-term brand damage.

If you were born after the 80s, you probably never encountered New Coke (or Coke II, as it was later named). Luckily, the frantic media coverage of the Coke switch-up ensures that we have some documentation of the fallout. We found a good segment from Films on Demand about the release of New Coke and its competition with Pepsi; it's short, but it gets to the point and shows the extreme value of the Coca-Cola brand.

It might also be useful to catch up a bit on the importance of branding and image – and why Coca-Cola frantically moved to maintain them. To this end, we offer three streaming documentaries that specifically discuss Coca-Cola iconography: Power of Brands, Understanding Brands, and In Brands We Trust. Each runs under an hour and can be viewed from your choice of device as long as you long in with your AU library account.

The New Coke debacle will likely be discussed for decades in business courses as a prime example of well-intentioned marketing gone awry. We're glad there's video evidence of this calamity, and today is a great time to revisit it through our streaming collections

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day! Say hi to Mother Nature with environmental films

Happy Earth Day, one and all! The AU Library and Media Services take pride in our commitment to sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, and we hope our patrons learn about sustainability and green living too.

If you're looking for some entertaining eco-conscious film choices for Earth Day, we have a resource for you! Last year, Media Librarian Chris Lewis put together a filmography for environmental studies which doubles as a handy list of all our films about going green. Some, like The Age of Stupid (streaming video), are documentaries about the impact of our actions on the environment. Others are a little more fun, like YERT (HU DVD 10863), the story of three friends on a green-themed road trip.

We realize that Earth Day can be associated with lecturing about keeping the planet safe for the next generation, so we think some of these green films are a great way to make the day entertaining while still informative. Many of them are streaming, so you won't even have to leave your room to watch them.

And yes, of course we have Captain Planet available. The power – and the first season – is yours! (HU DVD 8841)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Television's reign of visual media continues, bleeds into film festivals

Even in a post-Breaking Bad and nearly-post-Mad Men landscape, television continues to assert its cultural dominance. More directors and actors turn to television for a chance to tell experimental or long-form stories, and the film world has unsurprisingly taken notice. In the latest sign of this explosive growth and relevance, the Toronto International Film Festival is changing tune and including television shows in its regular lineup for the first time.

TIFF is billing this new selection as Primetime, a roster of six shows from around the world that highlight the increasing quality of international television programming. TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey is direct in his praise of television, noticing that "film and television have been converging for years, with many filmmakers gravitating to television to experiment with that medium." It's a bold statement – both the words and the gesture – that suggests the staying power of television's seeming golden age.

Submissions for TIFF are still open, so we can't tell you what they'll be highlighting just yet.

Television has come a long way in public and critical esteem since HBO premiered The Sopranos (many critics consider this the medium's turning point.) We wouldn't be surprised to see other festivals add television episodes to their lineups in the coming years.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Too nice to stay indoors? Come to the Media pop-up library!

We're about halfway into April, and we know that it's gorgeous outside. (Well, except today, since it's raining.) Even with finals season approaching and forcing everyone into their study bunkers, we'd all rather be outside. We see you, Frisbee players! We envy you!

We want to go where our patrons are, so for one day only, we're taking Media Services outside!

On April 14th from 2pm to 5pm, we're setting up a table on the quad outside of the Mary Graydon Center and checking out movies to anyone passing by. We're still working out logistics, but we're going to bring up a decent selection of our newest titles for checkout. No strings attached to this: bring your AU ID, and you can check items out just like you're in the library.

This is the second pop-up stand the AU Library has hosted; the Music Library set the standard with their pop-up library in February last year.

We'll send out another update once we're closer to the event. See you on the quad!

Friday, April 10, 2015

See sci-fi drama Ex Machina with director Alex Garland

Science fiction screenwriter Alex Garland makes directorial debut in theaters today with Ex Machina, a futuristic drama starring future Star Wars co-stars Domnhall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac about artificial intelligence. The movie has mostly glowing reviews so far, which bodes well for Garland's transition from the writing desk to the director's chair. If you want to pry his mind a little, we have an opportunity for you...

Alex Garland will be at Landmark E Street Cinema next Tuesday for a special screening of Ex Machina. Although we don't have details about what will happen at this screening, we imagine there will be a Q&A or guided discussion with the director. Garland's career trajectory is putting him on the path to being a big name in science fiction film, so take advantage of this opportunity!

The event takes place at Landmark E Street Cinema on Tuesday, April 14th. Unlike many screenings that we offer passes for, you'll have to RSVP for this one. Send an email to in advance to indicate that you'll be attending. We'll see you there!

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The A.V. Club names their eclectic, contentious list of the best films of the '10s

2015 marks the halfway point of the decade, and given our itchy need for instant gratification, why not do some retrospectives now instead of waiting until 2020?

All week, the pop culture aficionados at The A.V. Club have been posting the results of a highly debated internal poll to determine the top 100 best movies released so far this decade. "The largest film poll The A.V. Club has ever attempted" apparently uses rigorous survey methods to determine the top choices. We really want to know the methodology, because their list – especially the top 20 – is startlingly varied.

You can read parts 1, 2, and 3 on The A.V. Club's site. We're sure you'll disagree with many placements (ranking The Master as the top film of the decade is bold), but we love the audacious selections here. You can't sum up this list better than looking at its #20 and #19 choices: Cannes-favorite Iranian drama Certified Copy and comic-book-based action-comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

We're very proud to have all but one of The A.V. Club's top 20 in our collection (Two Days, One Night is not yet available on DVD in the United States).

#1: The Master – HU DVD 11009
#2: A Separation – HU DVD 10336
#3: The Tree Of Life – HU DVD 9230
#4: Frances Ha – HU DVD 4507
#5: The Act Of Killing – HU DVD 11069
#6: Boyhood – HU DVD 11713
#7: Dogtooth – HU DVD 8089
#8: Under The Skin – HU DVD 11598
#9: The Social Network – HU DVD 7969
#10: Before Midnight – HU DVD 1100
#11: The Grand Budapest Hotel – HU DVD 11444
#12: Margaret – HU DVD 10302
#13: Holy Motors – HU DVD 11008
#14: Her – HU DVD 11340
#15: Inside Llewyn Davis – HU DVD 11235
#16: Two Days, One Night (unavailable)
#17: Whiplash – HU DVD 11897
#18: Winter's Bone – HU DVD 7696
#19: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – HU DVD 5070
#20: Certified Copy – HU DVD 10031

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

SOC's International Cinema Series concludes Friday with British film

Back in the fall, SOC teamed up with the National Gallery of Art to kick off the International Cinema Series, a year-long roster of world cinema screenings and discussions. Over the course of the academic year, the series has covered Italy, China, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Brazil.

This Friday, the International Cinema Series wraps up with Ken Loach's Spirit of '45, a documentary about changes in the United Kingdom after the end of World War II. Prior to the screening, SOC will host a reception featuring guest speaker Paul Smith, Director of the US British Council and Cultural Counselor at the British Embassy. These NGA events have been terrific so far, and we expect this one to be great too.

The reception begins at 6:30pm on Friday, April 10th near the Forman Theater in MGC. The film will begin at 7pm.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

For real? Furious 7 carries the torch for practical effects in movies

The latest entry in the Fast and the Furious franchise is apparently on-track to crush April box office records. There's a plethora of reasons why the series has been so successful – this entry in particular attracting attention after the death of actor Paul Walker – but its greatest asset might be its continued use real, practical effects. In era when films can use CGI to portray all manner of spectacle (something that audiences no longer find as appealing), the Fast and the Furious movies still use real cars and real stuntwork. Yes, even Furious 7's ridiculous cars-falling-out-of-a-plan scene actually happened.

HitFix quickly points out that despite the recent glut of CGI, Furious 7 is only the most recent movie to use practical effects in stunning ways. Writer Emily Rome points out twelve other examples – some recent, some quite old – when filmmakers did the real thing instead of faking it. Our favorite tidbit? Christopher Nolan actually upended a truck in Chicago's financial district for The Dark Knight. And the Red Sea in the 1956's The Ten Commandments came as close to parting as possible: effects workers simulated the scene by reversing footage of a studio tank filling up from the sides.

The human eye can somehow tell when something is computer-animated. Films like the ones mentioned by HitFix might have cost more to produce, but they undeniably pack powerful that you can't get from rendering software. Pick up the DVDs for any of those films and check out the special features for more in-depth looks at how they pulled off their madness.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

All the President's Men wins Washingtonian's bracket; SOC professor has some choice words

In February, we reported on the Washingtonian's bracket to determine the most "DC" movie of all time. Much to our sadness, the Mr. T-starring DC Cab did not win, but top honors went to the classic Watergate drama All the President's Men. AtPM beat out lobbyist ode Thank You for Smoking for the top prize, also knocking out presidential dramas Lincoln and The American President along the way.

Not everyone is happy with the top choice though, especially not SOC professor W. Joseph Campbell. Professor Campbell's objects that the film glossed over the many other forces in Washington that contributed to the unraveling of Nixon's presidency, including criminal investigators and the courts. Dubious mythmaking aside, we love the movie (sorry Professor), but we agree that in the spirit of the competition, it doesn't do service to the other institutions in DC.

Professor Campbell suggests the Nixon parody comedy Dick as an alternative winner, but of the other choices on the bracket. We might have also gone for Burn After Reading, if only for actually shooting at Constitution Gardens.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

What is world cinema? American's Cinema UC answers

Under the preview of film professor Jeff Middents (friend of Media Services), AU's Critical Approach to Cinema University College group has helped on-board new undergraduate students into the world of cinema studies. This year, as a capstone project, Middents asked his UC group to make sense of contemporary world cinema. The UC students produced a series of critical video essays about films from twelve different countries – and they're available to watch right now!

Head to the Contemporary World Cinema Project's YouTube page for a look at what these students have been working on. The project covers a great range of countries, from Australia to Argentina to North Korea (yes, North Korea!). For many of the participants, this was their first time editing a video project, and they make great use of selected clips from their film subjects.

We've embedded a playlist of all the video essays above. Each one runs six or seven minutes, putting the running time at just about the length of a Disney movie. Give them a watch, and leave some comments for these up-and-coming film scholars!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In India, national cinema preservation is in the balance

We post about film preservation frequently on this blog, and for the most part, contemporary film preservation effort in our neck of the woods are excellent. Between the National Film Registry and the continued investment in restoring older masterpieces, we've come a long way from losing all our silent films. But such an infrastructure doesn't exist elsewhere in the world, and many countries continue to struggle to save their works.

For an example of the ongoing fight to save film history, look no further than India. The Jakarta Post reports that, in recognition of the country's National Film Day, Indian film critics have called more a concerted effort to preserve national cinema. The country's national film archives are apparently decaying, with even some films from the 90s already degrading in quality. Many solvable problems are cited, especially budgetary constraints and more mindful collection (and copyright) management.

There's a strong interest and thirst for historical Indian film, and even though individuals and smaller organizations have made strides in saving national cinema, a greater national effort is only a good thing – both for India and film enthusiasts worldwide.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Move over, Fitzcarraldo. Newly rediscovered Roar had the most disastrous film production ever

Many films have ascended to legendary status for their troubled productions. Apocalypse Now, Heaven's Gate, and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote all famously far exceeded their budget and production scope. Thanks to the sleuthing and restoration efforts of Alamo Drafthouse, we can add one more name to that pile of terrifying disasters: 1981 safari film Roar.

Roar embodies the old maxim never to work on a production with animals. The film was intended to showcase lions and tigers living alongside humans and raise awareness for their conservation, but nearly a decade of production (including living alongside the animals to acclimate them) left the entire cast and crew horrifically injured. Everyone was gored in some fashion; Noel Marshall developed gangrene from his wounds, and cinematographer Jan de Bont was scalped. Crew dropped like flies, and producers pulled financing. Even during the injury-free parts, the filmmakers had to wait for the animals to "act" appropriately for each shot, prolonging the filming. It's a miracle that the film was ever finished, even if the process is more interesting than the product.

You can read all about the chaotic production of Roar from Alamo Drafthouse as well as from crew member Randolph Sellars. Alamo Drafthouse has led the effort to raise awareness for this film in anticipation of its theatrical re-release next month, but they almost didn't need to do any work. The tumultuous, violent, terrible production speaks for itself.

We don't have this one available in the library, but we look forward to the Blu-ray release "this summer."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

See these 100 streaming documentaries before you graduate

AU students get access to our streaming video collection, which includes thousands of hours of great documentaries. We realize that there's quite a bit to sort through, so finding the best of them (or even knowing to look for them) might be a challenge.

To help you navigate the highlights of our collection, we've assembled a list of the 100 Streaming Documentaries to See Before You Graduate. Everyone on the full-time Media Services staff helped put this list together, and we think it represents the best of the best online video content that you can get through American University.

You might recognize a few big names like the Ken Burns Prohibition series and environmental classic King Corn, but we found something for most every subject and interest. Literature students might be interested in an hour-long Bill Moyers interview with George Lucas about creating the mythology of Star Wars. And for political science majors, you can't miss Street Fight, an unprecedented look at the ground game for now-Senator Cory Booker's campaign for mayor.

Take advantage of these resources and watch these documentaries while you can! For those of you graduating in May, you've got a little over a month to binge all of them.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Vanity Fair celebrates one century of vanity credits

gif via listal

Earlier this week, we acknowledged the 100th anniversary of Birth of a Nation and the blockbuster style of filmmaking that create. But as Vanity Fair points out, Birth of a Nation also marked the start of directors declaring authorship for movies. D. W. Griffith was the first director to have a possessive credit for his film ("Griffith's The Birth of a Nation"), and increasingly, many directors are opting for a similarly authorial style. Many recent Oscar winning movies, for instance, describe themselves as  "A film by" rather than "Directed by."

It's a minor difference but one that asserts the auteur role of directors in a big way. Many screenwriters and other contributors (including their respective guilds) take issue with this type of credit, as it downplays the work of the rest of the crew. As Vanity Fair explains, this has become a contentious issue in film promotion; the Writers Guild of America even lobbied to remove "A Christopher Nolan film" from some screening copies of The Dark Knight.

The article is a great read for anyone looking for a glimpse into how minutia in Hollywood can change careers. You'll probably have trouble reading movie posters the same way again.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New supercut celebrates the symmetry of bookending shots

Over the course of two hours, most films show growth and change. It's reasonable to suggest that the characters you meet at the start of the movie are not the same ones you see off at the end. Filmmakers understand that and frequently look for visual ways to tie their beginnings and endings together.

Jacob Swinney took this concept to its logical conclusion and created this montage of the very first and very last shots of a few dozen famous films. Not every movie he picked works, but it's fascinating to see how the best ones match their opening and closing scenes with color, composition, and so forth. Some pairings show character growth; others are cyclical. A few examples even repeat their opening shots verbatim. (The music selection also deserves credit for making the whole package work.)

Many of these films had very satisfying endings, and this is a great example of how to achieve that. We probably don't even notice this deliberate symmetry most of the time, but it works on an extremely effective, subconscious level.

(And that last literal "match" shot? Excellent.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Did you ever catch the Citizen Kane pterodactyls?

There are dinosaurs in Citizen Kane.

No, seriously, hear us out on this. This is one of the greatest bits of film trivia we've heard in a while.

Before the advent of greenscreen technology, many films in the 30s and 40s used "rear projection" for complicated scenery. Pre-recorded footage of a background was projected onto a screen behind the main scene, creating the appearance of a larger and more bustling setting. Filmmakers used this extensively to put views outside car windows, but it could also simulate filming in an environment that couldn't otherwise be practically used.

RKO Pictures used rear projection for jungle scenes in 1933's The Son of Kong. As part of the pre-recorded jungle scenery, effects artists added silhouettes of flying pterodactyls to the background. This was a King Kong movie after all. Perhaps in a cost-cutting measure, Orson Welles chose to re-use Son of Kong's rear projection footage for a swampy picnic scene in Citizen Kane. He did not remove the pterodactyls. If you pay very close attention during the scene (embedded above), you can see them flying around in the background.

So yes: there are dinosaurs in Citizen Kane. It's unknown if anyone caught this during production, but we wouldn't put it past Orson Welles to leave them in intentionally. Of course, if you want a little more context, you can always watch the full movie (available in our collection, HU DVD 434).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Caught up with The Jinx? Watch these investigative crime documentaries

HBO's true-crime documentary series The Jinx ended in shock this week when the show's subject, real estate magnate Robert Durst, confessed to multiple murders over an open microphone and was subsequently arrested. No spoiler warning on this one: Durst's arrest made international headlines. After all, how often does a documentary change the course of the legal system?

As it turns out, The Jinx is only the latest documentary that resulted in arrests, appeals, and settlements. The true-crime genre is having its moment with the success of podcasts like Serial, but filmmakers have long been fascinated by controversial legal battles to the point of essentially intervening in the cases. If you enjoyed The Jinx – or if you just find the Durst story compelling – consider watching these four documentaries in our collection that famously jumpstarted the legal process.
Ken Burns investigated the story of a racially polarized rape case from 1989 in which five black and Hispanic minors were convicted on various assault-related charges despite a lack of evidence. Burns towards a damning eye towards the racist testimony and media coverage that propelled the case, as well as the accused party's struggle to find closure after their convictions were overturned. Shortly after the release of this documentary, the city of New York awarded $41 million to the Central Park Five for emotional distress.
In 1994, three teenagers in Arkansas were convicted for the murder of three children in a supposedly Satanic ritualistic murder. The filmmakers of Paradise Lost were not satisfied with the trial, which used no physical evidence, and spent nearly twenty years investigating the murders and lobbying for the West Memphis Three's innocence. Arkansas courts took notice, re-examined the case, and released the three convicted men after DNA evidence proved inconclusive.
Was the death of North Carolina woman Kathleen Peterson a stair-related accident or murder? This eight-part documentary series looks into the ongoing murder trial of Kathleen's husband Michael and tries to find the answer. The filmmakers were given "unusual access" to the Peterson family and lawyers to produce this documentary. Michael Peterson remains in legal limbo, and this documentary is responsible for the increased scrutiny afforded to the case.
Randall Dale Adams was wrongly sentenced to death for the murder of a Texas police officer in 1976. Now-legendary documentarian Errol Morris poked holes through Adams's trial in The Thin Blue Line, using a combination of reenactments and interviews to build the case for his defense. Within a year of the film's 1988 release, Adams was a free man.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why are film production deaths on the rise?

Last year, the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones during the filming of Midnight Rider brought attention to issues of film and television production safety. Many people risk their lives while filming large productions; beyond pyrotechnics and stunt performers and so forth, production assistants and crew members find themselves in dangerous or risky situations where safety concerns are secondary. Evidently, these incidents are on the rise. Los Angeles Times's Richard Verrier reveals that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics deaths on television and film productions have doubled in the past five years despite a general decline in workplace fatalities.

So why is that rate increasing? Verrier says that many productions simply do not value safety over getting a good shot faster and cheaper. He cites repeated examples of films and television shows that sidelined safety personnel and risk assessment in the interest of getting the job done, including equipment malfunction during set deconstruction for one of the G. I. Joe films and the famous incident in which a helicopter crash killed actor Vic Morrow on the set of the Twilight Zone movie.

Worse still, no one is held accountable for these incidents, encouraging future risk-taking. OSHA does fine productions that don't comply with regulations, but almost no one has ever been convicted of negligence for a production-related death. Safety is ignored, responsibility is defused, and the producers get their results.

We certainly hope that studios would consider investing more in safety precautions and training as the frequency of these tragedies continues to grow. No one's life is worth losing for a good shot.

Monday, March 09, 2015

New Acquisitions - March 2015

Now that all the students are away, it's time to roll out the new DVDs!

We've been steadily adding new titles all semester, the usual mix of academic titles, popular films, television shows, and other interesting and noteworthy titles. We got the blockbusters Guardians of the Galaxy and Divergent, and we're picked up Oscar nominees starting with Boyhood and Birdman. We grabbed a wide range of television shows, from Roxanne to The Americans. And if you want to learn film history, we have What is Cinema? and a documentary about early motion photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

Lots to go over this month. Hit the jump for a full list.

Monday, March 02, 2015

See the next documentary from the director of Miss Representation TOMORROW!

Miss Representation was one of the most impactful and successful documentaries from 2011, and its examination of the portrayal of women in media is extremely relevant to larger cultural conversations that have started in the last few years. Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom's newest film is The Mask You Live In, looks at another component of the gendered media landscape, specifically harmful notions of masculinity.

The Mask You Live In premiered at Sundance in January and likely won't find itself in theaters or on DVD for a while. But we're lucky enough to be hosting a screening?

The American University Library is co-sponsoring a screening of The Mask You Live In tomorrow at 7pm in the McKinley Theater. The discussion of the film will follow. RSVP for this screening is not required, but since attendance is already expected at over 100 people, you might want to get there early.

This is a very exciting event that we're proud to be involved with. Please note that the event will take place in the McKinley Theater, not in the SIS Founders Room as originally planned.

See you there!