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!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Your pre-March bracket: What's the DCy-est film ever?


Many movies take place in DC to make use of its proximity to politics and major cultural institutions like the Smithsonian. Others just happen to take place in the city. It's fun to see DC represented on the screen in a variety of ways, but the question remains: which is really the DC movie? It's an arbitrary choice, but Washingtonian is going to get to the bottom of this.

Earlier this week, Washingtonian opened a bracket to vote for movies set in DC based on their subject area. The rationale behind different categories is a little hazy, but we enjoy any tournament with the possibility of a DC Cab / Strangers on a Train matchup.

Head over to their site and start voting for your favorites. We really hope something non-political wins for the sake of celebrating DC culture. Sorry, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happy Fair Use Week!

By the declaration of the Association of Research Libraries, this week is Fair Use Week! "Fair use" is one of the most important exemptions in copyright law that allows educators, artists, and journalists to create new works from copyrighted content. Fair use provisions have allowed everything from students editing films for academic assignments to supercuts and feature-length film criticism. In a nearly all-digital media landscape, fair use exemptions are more important than ever for protecting transformative content.

The ARL website has some activities listed, but we want to promote some AU-sponsored fair use resources. The School of Communication's Center for Media and Social Impact has a whole site on fair use guidelines that's worth reading. There's detailed guides for claiming fair use exemptions for different types of media – journalism, documentaries, orphan works, etc. – as well as video guides and a "fair use question of the month." They're highly recommended for anyone working on a media project that might incorporate copyrighted materials

(Pat Aufderheide, an SOC professor and friend of Media Services, contributed a great deal to these resources. Woohoo!)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Meet Chuck Workman, the Oscar montage man

There's really nothing else we have to say about the Oscars last night apart from congratulating Birdman for its big win. Instead, let's direct your attention to one of the most important people behind the scenes at the biggest award show of the year. He's Chuck Workman, and he creates the clips played during the Oscar ceremonies.

NPR put together a great profile about Workman and his twenty years of experience cutting clips for the Oscars. There's a ton of skill on display, whether that's matching cuts for a montage, reducing a film to a highlight reel, or finding a single great scene from an actor's entire career. Everyone in the industry seems to have great respect for him and his talents. You've gotta respect his craft, even if his interview is tinged with some disdain towards new media.

Workman is one of the many people who gets overlooked when dolling out credit to the film industry, and we always love to see more attention thrown their way.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Did you miss Whiplash? Have a bladder of steel? See every Best Picture nominee in a row on Saturday

via icanhasgif.com

You hear the same refrain every year about Oscar nominations: if only those movies had been in theaters for longer. You might not have gone to see The Imitation Game on its own accord, but now that it's in contention for some major awards, it would be nice to see it in the months before it hits DVD.

AMC hears your concerns, and they're going to let you cram all those films in at the last minute, finals-style. This Saturday, the Loews Georgetown 14 theater will hold a marathon of all eight Best Picture-nominated films, starting at 10am with Boyhood and ending at around 5:30am the next day with The Grand Budapest Hotel. This extreme endurance test of art cinema will run you $65, which comes to $8 per movie and isn't a bad price for the value you're getting. Just as long as you brace yourself for 20 hours of film and prepare to eat far more popcorn and nachos than you may have hoped.

Tickets for the event are on sale through the AMC website. We have no earthly idea what the demand is for the event, so you're probably better off buying tickets in advance. If you're going to commit to a full day of movie-watching, you're going to commit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A radical proposal: what if the Oscars removed nominations?

The Oscars are this Sunday, and although we're as excited as every year, there's a certain level of predictability in every ceremony. A few months ago, the current Oscar race was considered one of the most competitive of all time, but the past weeks of tertiary award shows have made it clear who will win most of the awards. Best Picture and Best Director are down between Birdman and Boyhood. Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette will win the actress categories. Even the Best Actor category, a field of overwhelming talent, is now just between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne.

So how do you bring back the surprise? Vulture writer Adam Sternbergh has an interesting idea: never reveal the nominees.

Sternbergh points out that the Oscar nomination announcements are often more exciting and talked-about than the winners themselves. Consider all the ink spilled about Selma's nomination snubs this year; there will certainly be less attention if the film doesn't win Best Picture or Best Song. It would probably never fly for a number of reasons (practicality chief among them), but Sternbergh's proposal would involve revealing the nominees at the event itself, bringing some drama and immediacy back to the ceremony.

The Oscars's problems are well-documented and possibly over-discussed, but much of that criticism focuses on the structure of the Academy and its voting process. We give Sternbergh points for thinking outside the box in an attempt to repair the ceremony.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Revisit SNL for its fortieth anniversary

Saturday Night Live doesn't really turn 40 until next October, but the folks at NBC decided that now was the right time to celebrate four decades on the air. SNL is indisputably one of the biggest and most important comedy programs of all time, having weathered constant changes in style and quality and producing some of the most memorable sketches and performers in comedy. To paraphrase Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall, there's really nothing left to say about SNL. Its alumni roster (including Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, and Will Ferrell) speaks for itself.

Despite its heavyweight cast headlined by John Belushi, SNL still had to find its voice and tone in the beginning like any other show. The first few seasons are odd, with occasional appearances from the Muppets, heavy emphasis on stand-up comedy, overstuffed or entirely absent musical acts, and overall conceptual weirdness. Portions of these shows are available to stream online through Hulu, Yahoo Screen, and other services, but it's hard to get the full picture of early SNL just by watching highlights reels.

For a more thorough trip into the origins of the reigning champion of televised sketch comedy, we recommend checking out the DVD versions of the first two seasons from our collection. And not just because we have them: SNL is really meant to be watched in full episodes, and this is the best way to do that. Undoubtedly some of these episodes will be featured in this weekend's anniversary special, but if you're a fan of the show, a deep dive might be worthwhile too.

Saturday Night Live, Season 1 – HU DVD 14188
Saturday Night Live, Season 2 – HU DVD 14189

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Vulture reflects on Ousmane Sembène, father of African cinema

This year's Sundance film festival hosted the premiere of Sembène!, a documentary about African filmmaker Ousmane Sembène. You might not know that name, but Sembène is one of the most important figures in the birth of African cinema. He arguably started the entire African film movement with, as Vulture describes, "no film equipment, no professional actors, and no funding."

Sembène is a name worth knowing, and in celebration of the new documentary, Vulture put together a terrific overview of Sembène's work and his contributions to African cinema. We strongly recommend giving it a read if you want to learn about one of the hardest working and most pivotal filmmakers in world cinema.

If you want to dive further into his work, look for Sembène's films in our collection. They're frequently being checked out for class use, but you can also watch many of them here in the library.

Xala – HU DVD 1286
Mandabi – HU DVD 1287
La Noire de... – HU DVD 1953
Moolaadé – HU DVD 3862
Faat Kiné – DVD 8721
Ceddo – DVD 9465
Camp de Thiaroye – DVD 9728
Borom Sarret – DVD 10070
Guelwaar – DVD 10586

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Check out the amazing art on Criterion's Zatoichi box set

When we purchase new films for our collection, we always try to buy their definitive version. This means that the films we get often come in extravagant cases with all sorts of bonuses. We've basically seen at all at this point: Futurama in a giant life-sized Bender head, Six Feet Under in a block covered in artificial turf, Singin' in the Rain with a commemorative umbrella... you get the idea.

Even so, we were blown away by the case for Criterion Collection's release of the Zatoichi films. Over the course of twenty-six films, the popular Japanese series chronicled the journey of Zatoichi, a blind swordsman who wanders the country protecting the innocent. Zatoichi has appeared in more movies than James Bond, which should give you an idea about his popularity.

The Zatoichi compilation showed up in this glorious multi-piece box set, decorated with Japanese woodblock-style artwork depicting the events of the series. It's pretty gorgeous, even for a Criterion set.


Unfortunately, we're not going to put this box on the shelf, so it'll take us a while to make cases and covers for all the individual disks. But since you wouldn't see this box otherwise, we really wanted to share it.

(And if you liked these, you also might like the library archives' woodblock art collection!)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Making sense of Birth of a Nation, 100 years later

Today is the 100th anniversary of D. W. Griffith's Civil War epic Birth of a Nation, perhaps one of the most troubling films in the history of the medium. On the one hand, Birth of a Nation is one of the most significant visual works of all time; it was perhaps the first feature-length movie widely distributed across the country (to enormous monetary success) and cemented many of the common directing, editing, and cinematography techniques used in films today. On the other hand, it is deeply hateful and racist, a film the deifies the Ku Klux Klan and blames American unrest on miscegenation. The Daily Beast simultaneously called it "groundbreaking" and "a racist piece of garbage." Its historical value is inarguable, but so is its bigotry.

What do you do with a film like Birth of a Nation?

This is a question that film writers are still actively struggling with. Rather than add our own thoughts, we'll let critics do the talking. Three notable recent articles on the subject are:
There's a lot to say on this somewhat inconvenient anniversary. At the very least, it gives us an opportunity to relish in the fact that film has seemed to grow beyond this moment.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Today in unexpected fandom: David Cronenberg loves Dilbert

Director David Cronenberg has made a name for himself as a purveyor of dark psychological films, from self-contained thriller experiments like Cosmopolis to the extra-gory body horror that made him famous in Scanners and The Fly. As befits his style, you might expect his tastes to skew towards the terrifying or distressing. But surprisingly, Cronenberg also really likes Dilbert.

Counterculture blog Dangerous Minds has assembled a litany of examples showing Cronenberg referencing, praising, or outright quoting Scott Adams's famous office parody comic strip. Even as recently as this November, Cronenberg has name-dropped Dilbert in the same breath as other pop culture critiques of business like Wall Street. There's nothing wrong with liking Dilbert, but given the director's background and interests, we wouldn't expect him to fixate on it. Maybe one day he'll try his hand at a satirical comedy.

We don't have anything Dilbert-related in our collection, so instead, we'll just encourage you to watch Cronenberg's Videodrome (HU DVD 64). It's about as un-Dilbert-y as his filmography gets.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Dig into net neutrality in Barbershop Punk


Only a few hours ago, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler announced his proposal to reclassify Internet services as "common carriers," a major victory for net neutrality and the prospects of an open Internet. We'll come right out and say that this is fantastic news. The American Library Association has made it clear that open and unfettered Internet access is a public good, and we strongly agree with this sentiment. This won't be settled until the FCC approves these changes, of course, but it's still a great development.

The road to net neutrality has been rocky, but as a relatively new issue, it has also been extensively documented. If you want a first-hand look at the labyrinthine legislation and rules that originally governed Internet regulation, look no further than Barbershop Punk, a documentary available streaming through our catalog. Barbershop Punk uses the story of the filmmaker's attempts to distribute his rare barbershop quarter music collection as a microcosm for the larger net neutrality debate. Interviewees include politicians, musicians, and other notable figures with a stake in digital free expression.

Barbershop Punk is highly recommended viewing if you're trying to get a handle on the net neutrality issue. And hopefully soon it's one we can put behind us.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Pixar offers a cautionary tale for filmmakers reluctant to back up their work


The good folks at mental_floss recently uncovered a particularly incredible story from film history that serves as a warning for filmmakers working in the digital age.

Pixar was one of the first studios to work with fully digital animation, and as trailblazers in the industry, they learned hard lessons about the perils of that once-new frontier. Specifically, during production of Toy Story 2, Pixar staff accidentally deleted the entire movie and only continued production after finding an incomplete copy on a colleague's personal laptop.

The whole story, available here, explains that a malicious line of code slowly deleted the studio's files, and a faulty backup system prevented their total recovery. It's startling to think that a mammoth company like Pixar can still be prone to these sorts of failures, but since they were the first major studio to explore this field, it's clearly possible that no one had yet assessed the full dangers of working in an all-digital production environment.

These sorts of historical stories are great reminders of how the film process is continually evolving. Pixar's backup system has drastically evolved since the Toy Story 2 incident, but it's still possible to imagine that current filmmakers working on effects-heavy movies are still learning from the cautionary tale of this near-miss. A similar incident occurred recently in which the entire run of a children's television show was accidentally deleted before it aired (we sadly couldn't find the exact story about this), so it's clear that these sorts of backup problems will continue to be something filmmaker's deal with for a long time.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Bowl trailer offers a rare insight into the modern CGI process


You may have watched the Super Bowl yesterday and caught the new trailer for Jurassic World. Pretty cool, right? Dinosaurs! Panic! Familiar music! But between the screaming crowds and velociraptor herds, you might not have noticed the significant changes to the film's general tone an appearance. As Slashfilm points out, the two trailers are a fascinating window into the extent to which special effects and color correction allow filmmakers to alter their original shots dramatically.

Wired specifically focuses on the shot of a giant aquatic dinosaur (creature?) eating a baited shark. Within the three-to-four months since the initial trailer, the special effects artists have completely changed the backdrop of the scene, improved the quality of the water, and adjusted the overall palette – all without refilming the scene. We sometimes get to see this sort of work-in-progress technical magic as a DVD special feature, but it's somehow more entertaining to see it happening in real-time. We don't just get to see where they put the green screen: we get to watch the art direction change.

We're of course looking forward to Jurassic World, but now, we sort of just want to see how the final product differs.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Alternative programming: The art of healing


Super Bowl XLIX is imminent, and the NFL is under arguably greater scrutiny than ever over many of its policies and behaviors. Some of the greatest continued focus is reserved for the league's treatment of concussions and injuries, which we covered during last year's Super Bowl. This is still a big topic, but we discovered a video in our collection that addresses it from a less-discussed angle: the ethical and moral role of the doctors who treat athletes.

Playing Hurt: Ethics and Sports Medicine (available via streaming) is a recorded hour-long panel discussion with team physicians, doctors, and other figures in the sports world as they examine the murky world in which medicine and athletics intersect. Professional sports and the NFL in particular are covered, but college and high school also receive some attention. When you hear about athletes who play on injured legs, you only ever hear about the coach's decision and not the doctor's. This is a perspective that we're missing, and you can hear it in this video.

This discussion will certainly not be settled in the next few years, and as long as there continue to be new angles to examine it – and relevant videos – we'll continue to share them.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Learn a language, then watch a movie


You may have noticed that the AU Library recently subscribed to Pronunciator, a Rosetta Stone-style language learning service that is now available free for AU students. The service includes a huge range of languages, everything from the popular ones offered in classes (Arabic, Spanish, etc.) to the lesser-learned (like Macedonian or Xhosa). Pronunciator's two-month courses focus on learning practical language skills for travel, a boon for AU's typically world-hopping student body. No Esperanto sadly, but you're not likely to travel somewhere that speaks Esperanto natively.

The promote this new service, we have a little display in the front lobby of some of the library's foreign language collections. We curated some of our favorite non-English-language films and televisions hows and added them to the showcase, as shown in the picture above.

In case you wanted to check any of these out, we included the full list below. If you learn Japanese, getting to watch The Calamari Wrestler is your ultimate reward.

City of God (Portuguese) – HU DVD 849
In the Mood for Love (Cantonese) – HU DVD 1520
Man Push Cart (Urdu) – HU DVD 2762
Offside (Farsi) – HU DVD 3759
Night Watch (Russian) – HU DVD 4211
A Matter of Size (Hebrew) – HU DVD 4515
Chico & Rita (Spanish) – HU DVD 5477
Satin Rouge (Arabic) – HU DVD 6175
Gomorrah (Italian) – HU DVD 6687
Free Men (French) – HU DVD 7775 
Night of Truth (French, Dioula, Moore) – HU DVD 8046
Macho Dancer (Tagalog) – HU DVD 8178
Soul Kitchen (German) – HU DVD 8390
The Calamari Wrestler (Japanese) – HU DVD 8851
Tokyo Drifter (Japanese) – HU DVD 9060
Ali Zaoua (Arabic) – HU DVD 9095
Chak De! (Hindi) – HU DVD 10273
Touki Bouki (Wolof) – DVD 11202
Secret Garden (Korean) – HU DVD 11459
Trollhunter (Norwegian) – HU DVD 11619

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Have a doubleplusgood Orwell Day!

Two years ago, the George Orwell estate declared January 21st "Orwell Day" in commemoration of the anniversary of the renowned political author's death. It's a relatively new holiday – this is only the third one – but we can't help but get in the holiday spirit anyway. The significance of Orwell's work speaks for itself, and the continued relevance of his namesake adjective in current events demonstrates the long shadow cast by his legacy.

Rather than throw you a list of every film we have involving George Orwell, we'll simply recommend one: George Orwell: A Concise Biography. This half-hour streaming video covers Orwell's life in career with brisk pace, touching on his education, travels, writing, and involvement in politics. If you're taking a lunch break, this is a great way to cram in some Orwell appreciation before the day is up.

Do your part to make this fledgling holiday a "thing"! There's nothing Orwell would have loved more than cultural hegemony, right?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Behold the wonderful insanity of Japanese Spider-Man

Just for fun, we're gonna share something really weird. Marvel Studios has slowly been expanding its line-up television programming, starting with Agents of SHIELD and quickly expanding with Agent Carter and Daredevil. There's plenty to discuss about the business of high-budget television and the current wave of genre shows that we're experiencing, but we're not talking about that today.

Today, we want to share the 1978 Japanese Spider-Man show.

The show, often literally translated as "Supaidaman," has previously only been available in the United States as a bootleg VHS or DVD. But to celebrate a recent comic tie-in with the show, Marvel released two episodes via streaming video, making it legally watchable for the first time. Apart from the usual costume and wall-climbing antics, it has very little to do with Spider-Man. For one, Spider-Man has a gun and rides around in a giant robot named Leopardon. It's highly watchable and extremely bizarre, surely ranking among the least faithful television adaptations ever.

We didn't have a good reason to share this other than finding it really funny. We tend to share informative or serious articles, so once in a while, you need some Japanese Spider-Man. If you ever want to watch some normal Spider-Man with fewer giant robots, we have the original film trilogy and the Andrew Garfield reboot in our collection.

Spider-Man – HU DVD 7121
Spider-Man 2 – HU DVD 7122
Spider-Man 3 – HU DVD 7123
The Amazing Spider-Man – HU DVD 6493

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Observe MLK with a free screening of King: A Filmed Record

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday for reflection and service. If you planned to celebrate the holiday through film, perhaps the most obvious choice is to see Selma, which plays throughout DC (including at the Avalon and Mazza Gallerie theaters close to American). Reviews are spectacular, and squabbling over historical accuracy aside, it's likely a must-see.

But there's another option if you're looking for something more educational and historical. On Monday at 1:45pm, the AFI Silver in Silver Spring will host a free screening of King: A Filmed Record, an epic three-hour documentary about Dr. King's legacy from the Montgomery bus boycotts to his assassination in Memphis. Originally intended to be shown only once in 1970, the film is now considered a classic and one of the most significant documentaries of the civil rights movement.

We're very excited to see so many relevant films being screened in DC for the weekend, especially given the unfortunate, racially tinged incidents of the past year. If you aren't out volunteering or such tomorrow, consider stopping by a local theater to see either of these great films.

In case you miss King, we have a DVD copy in our collection (HU DVD 2801).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Everything is Oscars! See the Academy Award nominees that have hit DVD


Earlier today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominations for this year's Oscars ceremony. It's a solid if unsurprising list: Birdman and Boyhood earned big nods, and Jake Gyllenhaal is sadly nowhere in sight. For a full list of nominees that you'll have to start learning the names of, check out the Washington Post's list.

(ADDENDUM: One of our staff members points out that this is the whitest and most male Oscar ceremony in decades. No women are nominated in the major awards outside of the actress categories; Iñárritu is the only person of color in those categories. Somewhat a letdown considering the diversity among directors and writers this year.)

Most of the nominated films were released in the last few months, as tends to happen for award-seeking movies, so very few are available on DVD yet. We have a few in process (Boyhood, Gone Girl, and Guardians of the Galaxy are on their way...), but a handful of the foreign and documentary films have already seen home video release. And to be honest, those are the ones you probably needed to watch anyway.

There'll probably be repertoire theaters replaying some of the nominees in the coming weeks, but if you find yourself in the library, consider watching these award contenders in advance of the big ceremony.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – HU DVD 11444
Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Production Design

The Lego Movie – HU DVD 11466
Nominated for Best Original Song

Ida – HU DVD 11538
Nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Film

Finding Vivian Maier – HU DVD 11547
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature

Maleficent – HU DVD 11584
Nominated for Best Costume Design

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Внимание! Preview the next season of The Americans at the Spy Museum (21+)


We like to offer passes to upcoming film events, but even the best of those (like one in which Jake Gyllenhaal apparently took selfies with everyone in the audience) are restricted to traditional theater and Q&A settings. You may ask: do we have anything classier to offer?

Just for you, discerning patron, we're proud to announce our first-ever passes to a 21+ event and reception!

Next Tuesday, January 20th at 7pm, the Spy Museum will host an advance screening of the upcoming season of FX's acclaimed Cold War drama The Americans. The screening includes a free tour of the museum (typically $22) as well as free hors d'ourves and, yes, an open bar. This event is of course restricted to attendees over the age of 21.

(NOTE: The tickets list a different starting time, but the event does indeed start at 7pm. Don't be fooled! This is likely a KGB trick.)

Redeem your two-person pass online here. Given the age restriction, there's a small registration required before you can get your passes. You'll want to show up early, as usual, especially since this is such a swanky affair that'll undoubtedly bring out a big crowd.

Hopefully see you then, товарищ!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A behind-the-scenes look at how colorists change raw video into beautiful film


Much of the credit for the filmmaking process understandably goes to the directors, cinematographers, and editors, but many technicians work with film behind the scenes to create the final images that you see on screen. This is especially true for colorists. Notable films such as O Brother, Where Art Thou? use extensive color correction to suggest a different era and aesthetic, but that role has grown now that digital is the default film format. Colorists increasingly deal with raw film to which they add their own lighting and tone, dramatically altering the appearance of the final product.

We rarely get a chance to see raw film from commercial products (it's not like Marvel is going to release the rough cut of The Avengers), so it's surprising and exciting to see an independent filmmaker lay their entire coloring process bare. This horror film in this video, The House on Pine Street, provided plenty of opportunities for colorist Taylre Jones to play with dramatic, high-contrast lighting and color levels. You can see how the film's appearance changes with each step of the process, moving from washed out to crisp and colorful.

Videos like this help you appreciate the less-appreciated work that happens in post-productions that make films pop. This technique has of course seen some backlash, especially in recent blockbusters that overblow their teal and orange levels. But it's a neat peek into a filmmaking skill that's often ignored.