Monday, February 08, 2016

Our streaming video partners celebrate the less-known corners of Black History Month

Our friends at Kanopy and Docuseek2 provide access to some great documentaries, often ones with a socially conscious perspective. In time for Black History Month, both companies have collections dedicated to the American black experience – and they're stories you probably haven't heard before.

First up is Kanopy's African American History collection, a group of 14 films often about contemporary issues at the intersection of race, class, and culture. There are a number about history too: of particular interest is The Barber of Birmingham, a documentary about a barbershop owner who was a lifelong civil rights activist and held the American flag during the Selma march.

Docuseek2 also has a Black History Month playlist, which has a much stronger historical bent and focuses on undertold black history. The most exciting-sounding is Finally Got the News, a film about Detroit's League of Revolutionary Black Workers from the 1960s.

Both these sites supply AU with some terrific documentaries, and you owe it to yourself to watch at least one of their Black History Month selections. We're especially thankful that they turned their spotlight to parts of African-American history that are often overlooked.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A salute to Jacques Rivette, craftsman of the French New Wave


Last week, we quietly lost Jacques Rivette, one of the original filmmakers of the original French New Wave movement. As a filmmaker and a critic, Rivette advocated for a more natural, improvised cinema that the New Wave aspired to. Godard and Truffaut captured the spotlight, but Rivette's films are often considered some of the most involved and accomplished. His films are often only critical assessed long and complicated, but they offer more than that.

We'll leave the eulogizing to Glenn Kenny at Flavorwire, who wrote an excellent tribute to a man who never labeled himself a director and preferred a credit for mise en scène. Give it a read.

Rivette's films are often unusually difficult to find in the United States, but luckily, we have a few available to watch in the library.

Short film on Lumière et compagnieHU DVD 283
Who Knows? – DVD 314
Gang of Four – HU DVD 318
Secret Defense – HU DVD 530
The Beautiful Troublemaker – HU DVD 10599
The Nun – DVD 11306

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

How copyright law makes Star Wars homage, not theft

The fever over Star Wars: The Force Awakens has faded now (we haven't posted about it in over a month!), but there's still plenty to dissect about it. One of the greatest criticisms of the movie was its tendency to retread themes, imagery, and structure from the original film – ignoring that the first movies explicitly, famously stole from classic action serials and samurai movies.

Rather than turn this into a creativity blame game, the Re:Create Coalition, an intellectual copyright law advocacy group, used this as an opportunity to explain the limits of copyright and the difference between infringement and expression. For one specific example, author Jonathan Band cites the early Tatooine scenes from A New Hope by comparing them to sequences and imagery from John Ford's classic Western The Searchers. This isn't theft since it's building on the ideas of an existing work and expressing it in a new way.

That's a tricky distinction in copyright law for any filmmaker, and Star Wars is a great example of how that can be navigated creatively. Band's article is mostly a list of examples connecting Star Wars to previous films, but they make a strong point: ideas are meant to be adapted, not restricted.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Bill Clinton watched Groundhog Day while in office – and lots of comedies, oddly


Today is America's favorite non-holiday that we're all still obligated to talk about: Groundhog Day! The classic Bill Murray movie with that name came out 23 years ago this month and almost immediately had its fans – including, apparently, Bill Clinton.

That's a clumsy topical segue into a new list from Gizmodo's Matt Novak of every film Clinton watched while he was president. Novak previously rifled through public records for a list of everything Jimmy Carter watched, and Clinton's history is even more fascinating for its variety.

Groundhog Day was one of the first films Clinton watched after his inauguration in 1993, which set the tone for the hundreds of movies that followed. Where Carter's movie selections were defined by New Hollywood classics like The Godfather, Clinton watched far more new-release action movies and comedies. It just makes a lot of sense to read that he watched Demolition Man, Deep Impact, The Big Lebowski, Fight Club, and the third Naked Gun movie.

Novak argues that this surprisinglye exciting list might reflect that Clinton used the White House theater for entertaining visitors rather than his tastes. We chose to believe Bill Clinton was a Bill Murray fan.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Atlas Obscura thinks Fritz Lang may have invented rocket countdowns


Life imitates art, but rarely does art have the chance to define the hallmark of a totally unrelated field. For an example of when a film managed to capture the public imagination that strongly, read Cara Giaimo's article for Atlas Obscura about how German director Fritz Lang essentially popularized the basic ideas of space travel.

Giaimo ties Lang's 1929 silent film Woman in the Moon to the booming popularity of rocketry in post-World War II Germany. Lang worked with a rocket scientist through the film's production to depict space travel as realistically as possible, often making up concepts as needed. A number of their hypothetical inventions, like a multi-stage engine, have become standard in space travel.

But their biggest artistic license was the use of a countdown before a rocket launch. That was entirely a filmmaking technique to build tension in the absence of sound, but it was so effective that it immediately became part of the popular imagination. The next time you watch any sort of space launch, remember that we have Fritz Lang to thank, accidentally, for that countdown from ten.

Woman in the Moon so accurately predicted the future of rocketry that Hitler reportedly banned the film during Germany's development of the V-2 rocket. We have no idea if that's true, but you can certainly watch it now. Borrow our DVD copy at the Media Services desk (HU DVD 1285).

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Acquisitions - January 2016

Rub your weary eyes and put on non-sweatpants; DC has functionally recovered from the weekend's massive snowstorm, and we're back to work. Our first order of business is pushing out the next wave of new DVDs from this month.

Big names from this month include the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy, Marvel's Ant-Man, and Sundance hit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but we want to talk about the stranger documentaries. We haven't seen Mondo Hollywood, but the documentary's description brags about being condemned by both capitalists and communists. And anyone who was raised on pop culture will appreciate The Wolfpack, the true story of seven children forbidden from leaving their apartment and learned about the world almost entirely through film.

(We are also now the only library on the continent with a copy of the French film Afrique 50!)

Hit the break for a full list of this month's titles...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Snow approaches! Lock yourself in with the best movie blizzards

via Giphy

Yes, a massive snowstorm will hit DC in about 24 hours. It will be big, possibly as large as if not larger than the Snowmageddon storm that locked down DC for a week in 2010 and caused some substantial damage on campus. If this is anywhere as bad as the experts predict, prepare to be locked in for a while.

If you plan to hunker in with your TV over the course of the storm, we recommend going for the absolute snowiest possible movies. Maybe you don't want to be reminded of what's happening outside, but arguably, there's no better timing for watching a film about totally oppressive weather.

For your consideration, we suggest the following cold, cold, classics. Stay safe and warm.
  • Die Hard 2: Die Harder – HU DVD 446
    Though there's less snow in this one than others, a movie where a snowstorm delays flights at Dulles Airport is too real.
  • The Thing – HU DVD 1410
    Want to feel grateful about being snowed in? At least you're not trapped inside with a shapeshifting monster that makes the Antarctic look pleasant by comparison.
  • The Shining – HU DVD 2168
    Even if something otherworldly was involved, The Shining is still the all-time best argument in favor of mental health check-ins during cabin fever.
  • Groundhog Day – HU DVD 2325
    A blizzard traps meteorologist Phil Connors in small-town Pennsylvania, and in an example we all should follow, his crew eventually gives up on trying to travel. 
  • Fargo – HU DVD 2393
    Long, beautiful shots of snowy rural expanse make this one of the all-time greatest, coldest films. (It's great for other reasons too.)
  • Dead Snow – HU DVD 7972
    Nazi zombies are unlikely in DC this weekend, but this Norwegian horror movie should scare anyone from wanting to head outside.
  • Snowpiercer – HU DVD 11486
    Extreme global cold has become borderline weaponized by the elite in this recent sci-fi hit. Brace yourself when an arm is stuck out the window.
  • The Day After Tomorrow – HU DVD 12586
    New York completely freezes over, and Jake Gyllenhaal becomes trapped in the library. We wouldn't know anything about that...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Film's great directors circled up and talked about their craft


Everyone has probably imagined a fictional conversation between history's greatest leaders, thinkers, or artists. It's a classic hypothetical situation, but unless you're in a science fiction story, you can't assemble centuries of historical figures together. Film is still a young medium, though, and many of the greatest filmmakers are still active. That meeting-of-the-minds can actually happen, and The Hollywood Reporter did it.

In the above video, THR's Stephen Galloway presides over an hour-long roundtable discussion with some of the best working directors, including Ridley Scott and Quentin Tarantino. Their conversation zigzags across tons of issues in film, from working within studios to the lowest points in their careers. Perhaps the most interesting point of discussion is what Alejandro González Iñárritu calls the disappearance of "middle-class films" that sit halfway between micro-budget indies and blockbusters.

It certainly helped that all these filmmakers had films with skin in the awards circuit, but gathering them for an hour to muse on the state of the film industry is an absolute treat.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

This year's Oscars remind about the importance of cinematography


This year's Oscar nominations are out, with the usual mix of surprises (Mad Max!) and disappointments (whitewashing across the board). But the one incontestable standout out on the list is the Achievement in Cinematography award. 2016's lineup might be one of the most competitive races ever.

It's too easy to lump cinematography in with the technical categories (which is what the Academy does), but this award is one of the most important to the filmmaking process. Directors receive all the credit for how a film looks, but skilled cinematographers are the ones who execute their vision. For examples, read The Beat's summary of famous directors and cinematographers who teamed up: when you watch a Christopher Nolan film, the tone and composition of those images were chosen by his cinematographer Wally Pfister. Don't underestimate a great cinematographer.

All five nominated films are outstanding, and a four in particular represent exceptional achievements and pedigrees.
  • Robert Richardson's work on The Hateful Eight was famously the first Ultra Panavsion 70 production in decades, and the work shows.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road has been considered one of the all-time greatest action movies thanks to John Seale's surreal camera work.
  • Emmanuel Lubezki has won the cinematography Oscar for the past two years for good reason, and he stands a chance to repeat for his gripping work on The Revenant.
  • Roger Deakins's nod for Sicario is his thirteenth nomination, but the legendary DP has never won an Academy Award yet (?!).
Of the five nominees, only Mad Max: Fury Road is currently available in the library (HU DVD 12486), but Carol, The Revenant, and The Hateful Eight are still in theaters. If you can see all of them, remember that someone sat behind that camera to get those gorgeous – and this year, chaotic – shots.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

25 years ago, an Islamophobic film dented the public imagination


On this week in 1991, MGM released Not Without My Daughter, a drama film about a woman and her daughter held captive in Iran. It was hacky, received poor reviews, and generally flopped. It also carried the unusual, regrettable status as being one of the only American films about Iran at the time. For years, it served as one of the few contemporary pop culture depictions of Islam and the Middle East, and as Vulture tells it, that's an bad legacy.

In the film, an Iranian man effectively imprisons his American family in Iran after rediscovering his Islamic faith. Vulture's retrospective goes into the constant harmful portrayal of all these elements, from the vilification of Muslim men to the staging of Iran as an dark place. More troubling is the long-lasting impact of these depictions: reportedly, the film was been regularly shown in schools across the county as a cautionary tale about Iran – and was once even intentionally aired on television before a major soccer match against Iran to fire people up.

Gazelle Emami's article is a potent example of the ripple effect that even seemingly throwaway media can have on our beliefs and ideology. By all accounts, Not Without My Daughter is a forgettable, low-quality movie. But for a while, its charged representation of Iran and Islam was the only representation of Iran and Islam, and that influenced the public's perception.

Not Without My Daughter is available from our collection if you want to see it for yourself (HU DVD 2183). As an alternative, we recommend watching an expression of Iran from Iran itself, like the Academy Award-winning film A Separation (HU DVD 10336).

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

In the latest casuality of physical film, the Air and Space Museum goes digital

The transition from physical to digital projection has been a long time coming, even if Tarantino has tried his best to keep the format around. This Sunday, another stalwart – the IMAX theater at the National Air and Space Museum – retired their 70mm projector.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted last month, so many people insisted on seeing it at the Air and Space Museum because of the quality of the 70mm projection. But as The Washington Post points out, the aging equipment hasn't changed much from 1976 and requires intensive labor to setup. The projectionists and "hipsters" (not our words, see the article) might enjoy the feel of film stock, but for a theater that regularly shows so many different films, digital is simpler and faster for everyone involved.

Film projection will always have a place, even if just in specialty theaters. The Air and Space Museum's transition feels like a bigger change, though, because of how many people have gone through that theater.

(Also, look at how chunky that projector is! Holy moly!)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Remembering Bowie on film


Like everyone, we're shocked and saddened by the death of David Bowie, rock god extraordinaire and cultural icon. Bowie was a true renaissance man who dabbled in music, performance, games, and yes, film. Attempting to quantify all his contributions to the arts is a fool's errand, but we want to at least acknowledge some of the excellent work on film by a man described by Vice as "fascinated with the moving image."

Everyone probably knows David Bowie best on the screen in the iconic role of Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson's Labyrinth. If that's any indication, his film choices were eclectic. He also played the starring role in the Japanese World War II movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (HU DVD 10689) and was the centerpiece of the ethereal, influential The Man Who Fell to Earth (HU DVD 2658). And you might not recognized his brief appearance as inventor Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige (HU DVD 3831).

Don't forget the countless times other actors and filmmakers have paid tribute to Bowie's work, most notably the David Bowie-themed episode of the HBO series Flight of the Conchords (HU DVD 4831). There's also Velvet Goldmine (HU DVD 687), a film based so closely on David Bowie that the rock star nearly sued the production.

And of course, see Bowie's self-effacing cameo in Ricky Gervais's Extras (embedded above, also HU DVD 2992).

We're glad Bowie brought his enormous talents to film. It's a shame that he never got behind the camera apart from his music videos.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Need inspiration to watch more this year? Track it like Soderbergh

Several of us might have made New Year's resolutions to watch new things – to see more films in theaters, maybe, or to stop streaming The West Wing on loop. There's always that pull to be a more responsible, cultured consumer of entertainment, but committing to a quality movie or television show every week can be a daunting task. A role model could help. Enter filmmaker Steven Soderbergh.

Since 2009, Soderbergh has published a list of everything he has watched, read, or listened to over the year. His roundup for 2015 is voracious: he watched at least a television show every day and tended to watch three or four films per week. For your own purposes, you might notice that Soderbergh picked a good mix of old and new, high- and low-brow. In the realm of true crime television, for instance, he watched The Jinx as well as Dateline.

Around Christmastime, Soderbergh watched twelve movies in a single week. You aren't expected to match the pace of an acclaimed, prolific director. But maybe his tenacity will inspire you to keep a list of your own and be more conscious of what you watch.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Forget Pink Floyd. Watch The Wizard of Oz alphabetically

Supercuts, mashups, and re-edits of popular films are ubiquitous now, and we've made a point of only sharing the most interesting of them. We suspect it'll be difficult to top the absurdity of Of Oz the Wizard, an alphabetical re-cut of The Wizard of Oz.

Filmmaker Matt Bucy broke down the 1939 classic apart based on every word spoken, then re-arranged the clips of those words in alphabetical order. (Judgment calls were made for the spelling of verbal noises like gasps, laughs, and so on.) The resulting hour is one of the most surreal videos in recent memory. Repeated words like "dead," "little," or "you" can recap scenes – or even the entire movie – at rapid speed.

Thankfully, this extremely silly exercise had a positive effect. Bucy said the process gave him a greater appreciation for the film's craftsmanship and the economy of the script: The Wizard of Oz uses less than a thousand words, with many (like "liquidated") only popping up once. That certainly wasn't the goal going in, but maybe even the most ridiculous of these projects can have a constructive purpose after all.

For those who would prefer to see the film in chronological order, we have multiple copies available in the AU Library (HU DVD 666) .

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

National Film Registry's 2015 picks include Top Gun and sneezing


Every year, the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress picks 25 notable films for permanent preservation, ensuring that everyone will have long-term access to these works. Every year includes a mixture of historical items and more current movies, like last year's selection of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the first film with an all-black cast.

For 2015, the National Film Registry once again cast a wide net. Ghostbusters, L.A. Confidential, The Shawshank Redemption, and Top Gun are surely the most well-known, but as usual, the odder choices are probably the most exciting. Of great interest is the Spanish language version of Dracula, produced alongside the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic using the same scripts, sets, and costumes. Other highlights include the New Deal working-class ode Our Daily Bread and an early educational film about menstruation that still had to sanitize its contents.

And finally, at long last, the National Film Registry is preserving Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (above), the first copyrighted film and the subject of many running jokes about the subject matter of early video recordings. It may be the most famous sneeze in history – though it's not clear how you'd measure that.

The AU Library has copies of most every film in the Library of Congress's 2015 list, though several are included on compilation discs with other early cinema. Record of a Sneeze is a rare case where you might be better served with a GIF.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

New Acquisitions - December 2015


Oh, hello! You caught us right in the middle of turning off the lights and locking things up the library closes up for winter break. But before we speed off, we wanted to leave you with a big stack of DVDs you can look forward to checking out when you're back.

Everyone looking for new releases should be happy with this next batch, which includes Jurassic World, Inside Out, Pitch Perfect 2, Tangerine, and Trainwreck. Those interested a deep dive might also notice the massive JVC folk music anthology that we added as well. Romantics might want to watch Carey Mulligan's performance in Far from the Madding Crowd. And for families? You have to love Shaun the Sheep.

Hit the break for a list of the last DVDs we've added for 2015. See you next year!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The definitive Star Wars remaster came from fans, is super illegal


George Lucas's remastering the original Star Wars trilogy has gone down as perhaps the most controversial decision in film history. Even without discussing the merits of the changes made (many of which stand out like a sore thumb or detract from the original meaning), Lucas's permanent alterations to the films' negatives effectively erased the original versions of some of the most successful films in history. It'll be difficult to get that back... legally.

Film restoration hobbyist Petr Harmy has assembled a "Despecialized" version of the film, using elements taken from Blu-rays, DVDs, television broadcasts, production stills, original film copies, and other fan remasters to create a high-definition version of the film as it was projected in 1977. Often these changes make the film look objectively worse – Lucas at one point smeared Vaseline on the lens to disguise part of a shot – but it accurately represents the original release of Star Wars.

Of course, that edition brazenly violates copyright law and is illegal to obtain. This puts cultural history and the law at a crossroads. Matthew Yglesias at Vox does a good job explaining the ramifications of this, even if his explanation veers into political bluster a bit. As the video above also explains, the Library of Congress never received an archival copy of the original film, so it's up to renegade fans/heroes/criminals like Harmy to get as close as possible.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Alternative programming: Before he was Finn, John Boyega saved London


Much of the early coverage of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has focused on the likely career booms of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, two actors thrown into the global spotlight by their starring roles. While we have almost nothing to go by for Ridley (a music video and some commercials, basically), we had a chance to see Boyega once before in Attack the Block, a cult British sci-fi film that should be required viewing before Friday. (HU DVD 11432)

Set during Guy Fawkes Day, Attack the Block tells the story of a street gang that fights back against aliens invading London. It's a riotously fun movie that should appeal to fans of movies in the Edgar Wright vein (director Joe Cornish has worked with Wright and appeared in Hot Fuzz). Much of the film's critical praise was reserved for Boyega, who played gang leader Moses; at the time, he was a total unknown who had never acted in a film.

Boyega will never, ever have that problem again. Why not watch him in the role that essentially earned him his headline spot in Star Wars? Maybe we're just jealous that his first ever movie was such a massive success

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Wars was probably not "brutalizing children" in 1983


With its Disney-fication complete, the Star Wars series has become embraced (or begrudgingly accepted) as a family-friendly sci-fi adventure series. That wasn't always the case. Not that the series was ever adult or hyper-violent – it was meant for kids! – but at least a few cultural critics still objected.

Specifically, watch this bizarre, recently popular clip from a 1983 episode of Nightline where film critic John Simon, noted for his acerbic reviews, decries the Star Wars as empty special effects showcases for "stupid children" that stunt growth and encourage violence. His critique is shockingly rude, calling the stars "lousy" and the script "ghastly" while simultaneously insulting Walt Disney's entire body of work.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert then provide a terrific counterpoint: "I feel badly," Siskel says, "that [...] John Simon didn't have a good time at these pictures. That's too bad for him." Ebert follows up, agreeing that "it made me laugh. It made me thrilled. And that's what a movie like this is for."

There's no retort to that. Sorry, Simon.

That snottiness aside, the conversation is relatively interesting, especially Siskel's discussion of whether we should reward films "for aiming low and hitting that mark." It's great to see two of the most renowned popular critics defending the gold standard of Hollywood blockbusters.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Star Wars saga, as seen for the first time by kids


The Star Wars series has understandably become a major cultural touchstone for several generations. For parents of a certain nerdy persuasion, introducing a child to R2-D2 and the Jedis for the first time can be a make-or-break moment. What order do you show the films in? Does the "I am your father" twist matter? What do you do about the prequels? And what if they're disappointed?

HitFix film critic Drew McWeeny put a great deal of thought into this as part of Film Nerd 2.0, a column about introducing his two sons to the world of film. McWeeny is a dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars veteran, and to celebrate the series's release on Blu-ray, he documented his childrens' reaction to the series, starting with the fourth film, A New Hope. McWeeny was one of the first critics to advocate for a staggered viewing order – cutting to the prequels after The Empire Strikes Back – and his methodology paid off here.

Apart from the fun of reading about kids screaming and making a ruckus after meeting classic characters like Chewbacca (here called "the monster" by the younger child), McWeeny offers some insight into the series's thematic heft for young viewers. Watching Anakin Skywalker turn to the Dark Side helped teach his sons about morality as defined by your actions. Credit where it's due to the prequels!

You can read all six chapters in the series via the links below, including McWeeny coming to terms with his kids loving The Phantom Menace.

Yep, it's Star Wars Week

As almost every human being on the continent is aware, Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters this Friday (with some early showings Thursday). We recognize cultural critical mass when we see it, so we're dedicating this week of blog posts to the juggernaut movie franchise.

We realize that Star Wars exhaustion has also reached new heights, so we'll do our best to keep it interesting and insightful. May the synergy be with you!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The future of film copyright could rest in the Hands of Fate


Beloved by fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 but unknown to the rest of the world, horror film Manos: The Hands of Fate is often considered the worst commercially released movie ever made. Nearly everything about the movie is a disaster, most famously the bizarre characterization and knee-heavy costuming of the evil henchman Torgo (pictured). Joel Hodgson described it as a movie where "every frame [...] looks like someone's last known photo."

Manos was recently re-released on Blu-ray, but as explained by Jonathan Bailey in Plagiarism Today, it might become the center of a landmark copyright battle. The producer of Manos neglected to copyright the film, leaving it in the public domain, but he did copyright the script before production. His son, inheritor of those rights, has threatened legal action – but no case has ever legally tested whether script ownership constitutes ownership of a public domain film. Bailey notes that similar cases have come up in the past, such as when story and soundtrack rights helped maintain control of It's a Wonderful Life, but Manos's case is far trickier.

(An interloper completely unrelated to the film's production has attempted to claim distribution rights, but that's a separate dispute.)

These specific ownership circumstances rarely happen, as proven by how this has never been tested. The answers could be a big moment for film copyright law, but Bailey sees little reason why such a thorny battle would end up in court given Manos's extremely low profile and revenue.

But we hope it does, if only so Manos can sneak into legal textbooks. Master would be pleased!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Alternative programming: Why run when you can ride?


Tonight is the library's annual Final Perk study boost event, this year rechristened as the marathon-themed Final Lap. That's a great metaphor, but we'll admit that this is a difficult topic for our collection. Frankly, not many running or track movies exist, almost all of them besides Forrest Gump are about the Olympics or Steve Prefontaine. How are we gonna come up with a tie-in for that?!

We want to recommend something lighter to help push you through finals. To riff loosely on the racing theme, our recommendation is Breaking Away (HU DVD 5172), a coming-of-age movie that has surprisingly fallen out of popularity despite an Oscar win and critical accolades.

The film tells the story of a group of high school graduates who join a university cycling race and – no surprises – stand up against the competition. Beyond from the big race scenes (which gadget site Stuff called "the best fictional road-bike action ever committed to film"), Breaking Away has the same triumphing-against-adversity, finish-line-crossing-ery spirit as tonight's study break.

You deserve a treat. Breaking Away is here and thematically appropriate. Grab it!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Need a finals break? See The Danish Girl on Thursday!


Welcome to finals week! We know it might be a rough time of year, so best of luck.

We're kicking off this hellacious week with a little present: advance passes to see The Danish Girl on Thursday, December 10th at 7pm in Friendship Heights. The story of transgender woman Lili Elbe is fascinating and timely, and Eddie Redmayne's performance has garnered major attention (and some controversy). No one has won back-to-back acting awards since Tom Hanks for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump; could Redmayne be next?

You can see for yourself weeks before the film expands to a larger national release – what better study break? You can pick up passes in person at Media Services or online. Remember to show up early: passes don't guarantee admission, and these screenings typically fill up early.

Hopefully you can make time this week to head to the movies. If not, we hope to at least see you at the library's Final Perk event on Wednesday!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Hateful Eight makes the case for physical film, so what if it backfires?


The upcoming release of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight is a pivotal moment for physical film. Tarantino famously loves film stock (having shelled out money to keep film production plants running); the director wants his upcoming movie to showcase the rich power of film in a way that's undeniable to studios and audiences. But showing that film in all its glory takes specialized equipment. Only select theaters will project it as intended in Ultra Panavision 70  – a beautiful format that, it turns out, nobody really remembers how to use.

No major commercial film has been shot in Ultra Panavision 70 since the 60s, and given their rarity, few working projectionists have experience with the format. This might explain The Hateful Eight's apparently disastrous advance screening last night, as reported by HitFix's Drew McWeeny, in which the film drifted out of focus for two hours before the theater decided to play the digital version instead. The event meant to celebrate physical film stock might have convinced attendees that the format isn't practical anymore.

McWeeny warns that too many of these failures could reduce film stock to a fetish object for filmmakers with little meaningful use. He notes that the most recent season of Project Greenlight involved a huge push to shoot on film rather than digitally, "[a]nd in the end," he says, "it made no difference."

If theaters struggle with the medium's show-off piece, that's a bad portent – and clearly not what Tarantino and other film diehards hoped for. We're sure The Hateful Eight looks gorgeous when projected correctly, but the long-term outlook on watching film like that seems more uncertain.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Special event film screenings grow with audiences and theaters alike

Archipelago Cinema, via the KT Wong Cinema

In a little over two weeks, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuts, and insiders hope that raises the tide for the whole film industry. Like Jurassic World this summer, a new Star Wars movie is a cultural event, and although that usually spells huge profits for theaters and distributors, the movie business can't rely on massive, polarizing tentpole twice a year. Instead, in that spirit, theaters have turned to immersive screening events to drive interest in heading to the movies.

You might be familiar with some of these screenings as they've popped up around the country, like Alamo Drafthouse's poolside screening of Jaws, but the writers at The Conversation dove deeper, looking at these "live exhibition" events as an outgrowth of audience-focused film culture. Novelty screenings have engaged viewers since the earliest nickel theaters and drive-ins, and the rise of social media and affordable technology have made unusual events like Secret Cinema more desirable – and profitable.

As an example, the article focuses on a recent orchestrated tour of THX 1138 (incidentally, as with Star Wars, a George Lucas joint), which deepened emotional response to the film while generating new interest in it. The technique has also been used for social impact, as with a particularly harrowing screening of The Battle of Algiers run by Secret Cinema.

DC is getting wind of these too: in addition to themed outdoor screenings during the summer and special occasions like the Back to the Future parties last month, the AFI Silver in Silver Spring often plays silent films with live accompaniment. If this trend really signals where the big bucks in film will come from, color us interested in those city-block sized events.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

How We Made looks at the inauspicious production of My Beautiful Laundrette


We hadn't stumbled across it until now, but since 2012, The Guardian has been publishing "How We Made," a weekly column that invites creative types to talk about the history of their works, including films and television shows. This leads to all sorts of great anecdotes, often about the emotional, personal side of production.

This week, The Guardian rounded up the director and co-star of My Beautiful Laundrette, a groundbreaking romance story that tackled the class, race, and gender identity climate of 1980s England. The filmmaker and actor reveal tidbits about the budget and filming process, but most interestingly, they both admit that they never expected the film to find much success or audience. Director Stephen Frears assumed the film would go direct to television because "Who in their right mind," he recalls, "was going to go to the cinema to see a film about a gay Pakistani running a launderette?"

The film went on to be a classic, and the fact that no one would even bat an eye at My Beautiful Laundrette's themes or political humor today speaks to its importance. We always enjoy hearing human element stories like these, and if you do too, consider adding "How We Made" to your regular reading rotation.

My Beautiful Laundrette is frequently reserved for class use, but given its popularity, we have a copy you can always take out of the library (HU DVD 3451*).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Hobbit featurette shows the emotion toll of filmmaking


Campus is mostly deserted today, what with everyone leaving early for Thanksgiving. Enjoy the trip!

This happens to be the time of year when courses assign final projects, and for film students, that might mean producing a short or a demo reel. It can be stressful... but you don't know the agony of filmmaking until you've seen director Peter Jackson behind the scenes on The Hobbit.

BoingBoing recently found seven startling minutes of footage on the Blu-ray of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies showing the improvised, chaotic production of the final chapter of the trilogy. The crew finished sets, costumes, and scripts at the last possible moment, shooting battle scenes with no context and eventually delaying filming for a year. This speaks to the troubled final state of the films, but the most distressing part is Peter Jackson's visible fatigue.

In every shot, Jackson looks near-death – haggard, sad, tired, and reportedly going on only three hours of sleep a night. At one point, he took an extended lunch break just to figure out how to make the next scenes work. Look at his thousand-yard stare: if The Hobbit didn't break Jackson, it came close.

So, the film project you're working on over break will not be as stressful as The Battle of the Five Armies. And it definitely won't let down Andy Serkis as much.

Monday, November 23, 2015

See Leonardo DiCaprio's next big (award-winning?) film early!


November and December are the peak release months for prestige films. Academy Award nominees are announced in January, and the big hopefuls have a habit of popping up right before the deadline. We've been fortunate enough to share passes to a few of these movies, but we're saving the biggest for the end of the semester...

We have advance passes to see The Revenant, director Alejandro González Iñárritu's upcoming frontier movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio! The Revenant is in serious contention for Best Picture, and DiCaprio is an early favorite to win Best Actor – potentially his first Oscar. And you can see it almost a month before everyone else. Lucky you!

(Plus, there will be a Q&A afterwards with supporting actor Will Poulter!)

We have only 40 admit-two passes to give away for this screening on Thursday, December 3 at 7pm at the Georgetown Loews 14. Follow this link to redeem your pass before they're gone. This screening will no doubt be packed, so you'll need to arrive way in advance of the 7pm start time to ensure that you get a seat. Passes don't guarantee that you'll get in!

Snag a pass now so you can lord it over your family for Thanksgiving! Or, because it's an incredibly exciting movie that you can see weeks early for free before it becomes a hot topic.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Raise awareness of film censorship by making a censor watch paint dry

Still from Paint Drying via Charlie Lyne
There's a lot of insightful talk about the role film boards play in censorship – why do these unaccountable groups get to decide what can practically be released? – but sometimes it's more fun just to be a jerk about the whole process. This is one of those cases.

In an act of crowd-funded ultra-spite, filmmaker Charlie Lyne plans to submit an epic-length film titled Paint Drying to the British Board of Film Classification, which will require a censor to watch hours of basically nothing. The BBFC charges per minute, so Lyne is raising cash to submit at least 14 hours of video. Besides being obnoxious, Lyne started this project to raise awareness about the censorship performed by ratings boards.

It worked, and now we're cheering for Paint Drying to go the distance. Mashable confirms that the BBFC will be required to watch the entire film, so many Lyne can slip in a single f-bomb at some point just to keep them on their toes.

For a more serious take on the issue, seek out This Film is Not Yet Rated (DVD 2414). In the meantime, we're waiting for a DVD of Paint Drying.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New Acquisitions - November 2015

Another month has passed, we've added another hundred titles to our collection. The obvious big highlight is the first season of Empire, the massively successful hip-hop drama that has been a boon to television in more than one way. You might also spot Going Clear, the famously damning exposé of the Church of Scientology, and the Wachowski's totally-off-the-rails sci-fi wonder Jupiter Ascending.

But you may notice a ton of oddly named, vaguely threatening-sounding films like A Dangerous Possession and The Tattooed Stranger. Our media librarian Chris Lewis is currently on a mission to add every single film noir to our collection, and these are some of the new additions. We're getting pretty close! If you ever need to research the film noir genre, we are more ready for you than you might be prepared for.

Hit the jump for a full list of what's new...