Thursday, May 26, 2016

Some of the great, weird things we found while cleaning out our desks

 Now that we're in the slow months of summer, we have a chance to tidy up our department. A big part of that this summer is cleaning out desks that haven't been emptied in decades and finding all sorts of goodies in them.

Most of what we found was old files, but a few wonderful relics from the past stood out. We shared some of the best to Facebook. The catalogs are pretty amazing (look at all that wood paneling!), but the cassette of a 1984 Ted Kennedy speech at the nearby Methodist church has some real historical value. Luckily the University Archives had already backed it up!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

You can own a piece of Mad Men history – even just an ashtray

Prop auctions are so irrationally fun. A pen might be worth a few cents, but if that pen appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, my god, it's worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. The chance to own a small piece of a movie or television show is the chance for a connection to art and characters we love.

Which means that you, too, can buy the box that Peggy's walking with in that GIF.

In commemoration of the year since Mad Men's finale, the show's propmaster Ellen Freund will be auctioning over 1000 props from the show, including typewriters, office decor, and, of course, drink sets. Now you can buy the empty decadence of Sterling Cooper without actually destroying your life and alienating your family!

The auction begins on Wednesday, June 1st, but you can browse the items for sale right now. If you really, really want the model ship on Pete Campbell's desk, it can be yours.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An intro to double Palme d'Or winner Ken Loach

In a choice that shocked many critics, director Ken Loach won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival for I, Daniel Blake, a drama about a carpenter fighting for disability benefits. This is Loach's second Palme d'Or (a rare feat) after his 2006 Irish War of Independence film The Wind That Shakes the Barley. Already, film critics are debating whether his newest work is too "aggressively Loachian."

...but what does that mean? If you aren't familiar with social advocacy British cinema, you may not have encountered the director before. Ken Loach's films tend to address issues like welfare and labor with a focus on the realistic living conditions of the individuals affected. His 1969 film Kes, about a delinquent child with minimal family support who befriends a falcon, has often been considered one of the greatest British films of all time.

By all descriptions, I, Daniel Blake fits that mold for good or for ill; the filmmaker's work has been criticized as maudlin and unsubtle at its worst. We have a bunch of Loach's films in our collection – he's been active for six decades after all – so you can judge for yourself.

Sweet Sixteen – HU DVD 1133
Bread & Roses – HU DVD 2619
The Navigators – HU DVD 2653
The Wind That Shakes the Barley – HU DVD 3374
The Spirit of '45 – HU DVD 7594
Kes – HU DVD 8370
Ae Fond Kiss... – HU DVD 8803
Raining Stones – HU DVD 10683

Great Directors (interview with Loach) – Streaming video

Monday, May 23, 2016

New to the collection: rare car commercials from great filmmakers

Occasionally, we get an unusual item in the collection that we just have to share with everyone. Sometimes it's just an oddity like Executive Koala (HU DVD 8910), but this time we have a special, unusual DVD with a place in film history.

In 2001, BMW commissioned The Hire, an anthology of eight 10-minute short films starring Clive Owen about the driving features of their cars. They were among the earliest successful branded web video content – and make no mistake, they're commercials.

What makes them special is that each film was directed by arguably one of the greatest film talents working at the time. Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai, Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Woo, and others all participated; the names BMW attracted were astounding.

The high profile is also one of the reasons you can't watch them anymore: The Hire was extremely expensive, and BMW opted not to continue hosting the videos. Very few DVD copies exist, and some versions omit one of the films because of a contract stipulation from Forest Whitaker. We got our hands on one of the complete promotional DVDs (DVD 13108), so the AU community will always have access to these lost works by great filmmakers.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Media Services at the Movies: Neighbors 2

The summer blockbuster season is here! "Media Services at the Movies" will look at what big movie is coming out this week, then offer a few movies like it from our collection.

Summer movie season is, at last, finally upon us. Although the likely biggest movie of the year (Captain America: Civil War) is already behind us, there are plenty of interesting movies over the new few months that we're eager to find similar recommendations for.

The big movie this week is Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, the Seth Rogen- and Zac Efron-fronted generational comedy sequel. As before, Rogen and Rose Byrne duel with their Greek life neighbors to keep their lives under control, but there's a bit of melancholy to their rivalry. The Neighbors movies are crazy and violent, but they're also about growing, moving on, and finding yourself being the older voice of reason. In the new film, apparently even Efron's bro character finds himself drifting from his old lifestyle.

This might be an odd and controversial pairing, but to go with that introspection on growing older, we recommend a few coming-of-age films about finding yourself untethered after graduation. (We know that more than a few of our patrons will be feeling this soon, too.)

American Graffiti – HU DVD 93
Ghost World – HU DVD 362
Into the Wild – HU DVD 4130
Kicking and Screaming – HU DVD 4842
Tiny Furniture – HU DVD 9713

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Our final count: 672 new DVDs this semester!

As we wrap up the academic year, we want to brag for a second. In a typical semester, we add about 200 or 300 new DVDs. Our collection grew by over 3000 titles in four years, which is a pretty great pace.

According to our stats, during the spring 2016, we added 672 new DVDs to our shelves! That's two-to-three times the normal semester output and almost a full year's worth of additions. Much of this can be chalked up to the huge volume of television we purchased (44 discs of Frasier!).

Our staff worked tirelessly to get these DVDs onto the shelf as quickly as we could, and we're proud of the sheer volume we got through. For television shows, we have to make sure all the episodes play correctly, create cases for each disc so we can circulate them individually, and catalog them so you can find them and check them out. It takes almost everyone in our unit to push these through at the rate we did, so kudos to everyone (especially our student staff, who process the cases) for the job well done.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Every Frame a Painting turns inward with a look at the editing process

Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos's Every Frame a Painting is one of the best film criticism channels on YouTube. The creators are excellent editors, and the attention they put into the pace and structure of the videos shows.

Appropriately, this month, Every Frame a Painting's new video looks at the editing process. Zhou edits films professionally, but when asked, he has trouble figuring out how to describe the logic behind editing film. As the video describes, it's all about reading the emotions of the scene. Stories have rhythms and natural beats, and you can cut earlier or later to get a different reaction from the audience. Where you cut a shot can make moments land differently, and figuring out what each scene needs is sometimes just a feeling.

We can't put it into words much better, so watch the video for some terrific examples of how different editing techniques can change scenes. The examples from From a Few Dollars More, Taxi Driver, and A Brighter Summer Day are particularly interesting and should give you a great idea of the sort of instinctive rhythm that great editors have.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Why do TV characters who love coffee not actually drink coffee?

Want to ruin every television show you'll watch for the next week? Look at the cups people drink coffee from.

Critic Myles McNutt has noticed the prevalence of people drinking coffee on TV. It's an easy way to make characters seem relatable and gives them a reason to stand around or meet together. But something has been bugging him for years: their cups are almost always empty. Actors gesture around with cups that should be splashing around or at least have a little weight.

This is a common production flaw, but rather than mock it, McNutt uses it to make a point about the challenging nature of film production. Filling prop cups with liquid could be a nightmare if they spill, especially if they contain real coffee. In the often tightly budgeted world of television especially, having a realistic Starbucks cup is the lowest priority item.

If you want to play along at home, McNutt started #EmptyCupAwards for people similarly annoyed by this. Just don't get sucked down a black hole of noticing every production shortcut.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What does independent film look like today?

via Maryland Film Festival

The slow roll into summer is the time of year when we start to look at our big-picture tasks, so it seems appropriate to share a big-picture article about the state of film.

For The New Yorker, Richard Brody wrote a lengthy piece about the state of "independent film" and what the term means in 2016. Independent film has always distinguished itself from Hollywood by its open experimentation, as well as by what Brody calls the "perpetual crisis" of needing to find a direction to transform film. In his summary of the Maryland Film Festival, Brody sees the current crisis as a resistance to the entire form of the feature film. Digital distribution and cheap production with phones have outmoded the long-standing system of pitching films at festivals for theatrical release. Can "indie filmmaking" grow past its old habits?

Brody's article profiles a few interesting entries from the Maryland Film Festival, but more importantly, it shows what independent film now looks like from the ground. Filmmakers, producers, and others continue to meet behind closed doors to talk frankly about their industry. There's community, but increasingly, it's one that wants to shake out of its usual structure.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Watch Purple Rain for free at the MLK Library tonight

Prince graffiti in Tenleytown
Prince's sudden death last month still comes as a shock, and the public outpouring of grief and remembrance has reminded us of his singular musical talent. In the realm of film, Prince also left four movies of varying quality. While Under the Cherry Moon may not be remembered as more than an oddity, his soundtrack and starring role as The Kid in Purple Rain are beloved contributions to the film canon.

As part of the extended mourning period, the MLK Library downtown will host a free screening of Purple Rain at 6pm. This is part of DC Public Library's ongoing Tuesday Night Movies series. The event room can hold 250 people, so whoever shows up first gets a seat.

If you haven't seen Purple Rain before, now is the right time. This is the movie that established Prince is a superstar.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Graduated and moving onto filmmaking? Kodak may have a deal for you

Congratulations to everyone who graduated this weekend! We have no doubt you'll go on to do great things. In particular, we want to talk to AU's graduating film students, many of whom may be looking to start film projects.

If you're considering going down that path, you might need a little crowdfunding money. And if you need a little crowdfunding money, Kodak has a little bonus for you. For qualifying projects on Kickstarter, Kodak will match 20% of your fundraising in 35mm film stock. It's unclear how Kodak vets the project – we imagine access to a 35mm camera is a requirement – but this is a great offer for anyone considering taking a stab at the format who may have been worried about acquiring physical film.

Unless you're Quentin Tarantino, it can be difficult or expensive to get a whole bunch of film stock. Kodak's new initiative should help get film into the hands of more up-and-coming filmmakers. Could you be one of them? Of course you could! Get that Kickstarter together and patch Kodak an email.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Get ready for DC's outdoor movie season

Photo via Bethesda Urban Partnership
You did it! The semester's over! Despite the overcast, soggy weather, we're officially in the academic summer. For those sticking around DC for the summer (as we are), we'll keep you updated on interesting film events and happenings around town.

As part of our favorite DC summer tradition, communities all around the DMV will be hosting outdoor movie screenings from May through August. No matter where in the area you live, you'll find something interesting to watch one evening. We're most excited about the Congressional Cemetery Cinematery, a movie screening series in a graveyard.

We'll update you about these as they come up, but if you want a master list of what to expect, visit the handy website DC Outdoor Films. The site also mentions which screenings will have captions (hurray accessibility!).

Monday, May 02, 2016

On cinema and hunkiness

As we get closer to the end of the finals, we bring you hunky dudes. More specifically, we bring you an examination of the future outlook of hunky dudes in cinema. (Is there anything academic analysis can't un-sexify?)

Flavorwire's Lara Zarum wrote an insightful post about the changing representation of masculinity in movies. As the film industry pushes for better, more substantive roles for women on-screen, many have noticed an odd corollary of more movies with, to use the article's term, beefcake. Magic Mike is an obvious example of the more sexualized appearances of men, but even Daniel Craig's James Bond is, to quote CBC's Rachel Giese, "both Bond and a Bond girl at the same time."

But as Zarum notices, rather than just being walking abs, these sexualized male characters often remain the subjects and have to deal with their changing relationship with women. She cites Jamie Fraser on Outlander as an example: he's a dreamboat, but he deals with the expectations of his relationship and abuse.

The article is unsure whether these new, more conscientious male character archetypes have a net positive effect, considering they still go hand-in-hand with objectification. But they at least reveal areas that can be explored with closer consideration of gender portrayal.

In the meantime, hunks.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Take film with you over summer break with Kanopy

Three days of finals remain! Summer is close, and we imagine everyone wants to head home as soon as possible. It also means that you won't have access to our gigantic DVD collection.

Fear not: you can still stream a whole bunch of movies through Kanopy. We mentioned Kanopy last year; they have a huge library of streamable movies that you can access with your AU login. Just looking at their homepage, you can watch the George Takei documentary To Be Takei, the classic dinner conversation movie My Dinner with Andre, Hong Kong favorite In the Mood for Love, and the child-traumatizing Watership Down. That's a seriously impressive lineup without even diving deeper into the collection, especially their documentaries.

If you're aching to learn more about film on a day off, you can also watch the entire The Story of Film series through Kanopy. The Story of Film might be the greatest documentary series about the history of motion pictures, and you can binge the entire thing for free on a week off.

It's ironic that as soon as classwork is done and you have the free time to watch things, you're probably moving away from campus. But now you can take at least a big chunk of those films with you through Kanopy. Just remember your username!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The future of film preservation is... DNA?

Not that you need any kind of mental stress during finals, but our media librarian passed along this mind-blowing update from the world of film preservation. The best-preserved filmstrips and digital backups will still deteriorate overtime, but the folks at Technicolor (yes, the Wizard of Oz Technicolor) think they've developed a foolproof technique for keeping films stable and format-neutral for thousands of years.

Basically, Technicolor converts a film into code, then – with science indistinguishable from magic – encodes that into DNA. DNA is absurdly dense storage: your phone might hold 32 gigs, but DNA can store about tens of billions times more data in a single gram. Technicolor can bottle millions of copies of this DNA in a small water vial, where it will remain safe probably through the apocalypse.

We have to be a little skeptical just because this is the bleeding edge of film preservation technology, but Technicolor says they'll have it down-pat in a year. Imagine being able to store the entire history of film in a rain barrel. It'll be pricey, but we're astounded.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If you're seeing a movies in the 1910s, kindly remove your hat

Finals week has arrived, folks. In deference to your stress levels, we'll be sharing some light, entertaining things this week.

Firstly, we wanted to show you these great old "lantern slides" that were once displayed in movie theaters at the turn of the 20th century. In the days long before FirstLook and movie theater radio stations, theaters still used the empty screen between movies to explain theater policies and advertise. Apparently in 1912, wearing a hat to the movies was the equivalent of using your phone. (We're sure 1912's AMC briefly considered the idea of a hat-friendly theater.)

You can see a whole bunch of these in the Library of Congress's collection. The world of 2016 would probably benefit from a "Don't forget your umbrella" slide.

(Thanks to film critic Manohla Dargis for pointing these out!)

Monday, April 25, 2016

See The Terminator with artificial intelligence experts – free!

Tomorrow, AU takes a day-long study break before final exams begin. Use this time wisely if you need it, and don't forget about the library's Final Perk event!

But suppose you're off-campus, have time on your hands, and want something film-y to do. Slate's Future Tense has you covered. Tomorrow, the web magazine's futurist column will host a free screening of The Terminator at 6:30pm at E Street Cinema downtown. The screening will be accompanied by a discussion from robotics and technology experts Kevin Bankston and Sean Luke about the concept of "killer artificial intelligence."

We hope the robot uprising won't happen for many years, but expert testimony and a great movie on the topic are a great way to spend the evening. See the linked article for details about how to attend; you'll need to RSVP via email.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

See local film shorts, featuring the AU Library's Christina Floriza!

We have a special film screening recommendation today: the AU Library's own Christina Floriza is starring in Rendezvous, a new independent short film playing at the NOVA Film Festival tomorrow in Fairfax, VA.

The film looks like a small-scale dinner date dramedy, filmed on location at a restaurant in Tysons Corner. We haven't seen it and can't much it or its merits, but we'll gladly encourage you to go see it to support Christina!

The NOVA Film Festival continues tomorrow, April 25th at 7pm at the Angelika Film Center in Fairfax. Tickets for the two-hour block featuring Rendezvous cost $11 – not a bad price for a bunch of local shorts. Purchase them through the NOVA Film Festival website.

Congratulations to Christina for her theatrical debut!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Movies don't get worse than watching them on Videodisc

Occasionally, we have a laugh about some of the obsolete media formats we keep stocked behind the desk. We still have a large number of VHS tapes and a handful of LaserDiscs – and even an extremely unloved U-matic player that looks like part of the Space Shuttle.

But there's a format even clunkier than all of those. Behold, the CED Videodisc.

The video by retro technology group Techmoan, embedded above, explores this horrible media format. CED Videodiscs combine the impracticality of listening to music on vinyl, the blurry quality of VHS tapes, and the short running time of LaserDiscs. Discs only half an hour on each side and need to be flipped halfway through a movie. And if a Videodisc had any damage or particles stuck on the surface, it would skip wildly; many older discs are almost unwatchable.

We don't have any Videodiscs in our collection, probably because the format was dead by 1984. You'll have to make do with this video if you want to experience the absolutely worst way to watch a movie. Skip to about the 20 minute mark to see it in action.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Want to be a media librarian? Kino Lorber's here to help

Allow us to toot the horn of our own profession for a second. If you're interested in becoming a librarian who works with film, the American Library Association has a scholarship with your name on it.

ALA has partnered with classic and art house film distributor Kino Lorber to offer an annual $1000 award for a prospective library science Masters degree student interested in "work[ing] professionally as a media librarian in an academic institution." The scholarship includes a paid trip to New York City to learn about film distribution at a festival from the Kino Lorber folks – a great hands-on opportunity that uniquely fits the media librarian sub-profession.

We're glad to see Kino Lorber giving back to the library world. Richard Lorber himself shares in anecdote in ALA's press release about how librarians helped him find films to use for his teaching. We certainly hope the AU Library's collection and librarians have been so helpful, and this scholarship is a little boost to keep those sorts of services going in the future.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Browse the history of the small screen in our new television filmography

We recently added dozens of television shows, bringing our collection total to nearly 400 television show. The time seemed right to assemble a formal list of every series in our collection, so after weeks of hard work and formatting from our staff, we bring you our new Television Shows filmography.

In addition to the master list of shows, we've broken up our television collection by genre and, most importantly for television studies, the era the show was released. For the most part, that means distinguishing them by decade (80s shows were very different from 90s shows), but the filmography also sets space aside for the two "Golden Ages" of television in the 50s and 2000s. If you just want to study or watch post-war Leave It to Beaver-type sitcoms, you can now find what we have in stock much more easily.

(It might seem bizarre to put Reno 911! in the Second Golden Age of Television, but it rode the same wave as other critically acclaimed scripted shows!)

We hope this filmography makes your research in television just a little easier. If you're looking for something similar in the realm of film, we have a separate section of films by subject area.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Koyaanistocksi is filmmaking out of balance

Here's a fun one to start off the week: Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi is a striking experimental film that uses footage of nature, people, and technology to convey our often dissociated relationship with the world. It's an unusual, groundbreaking work that, along with its outstanding Philip Glass soundtrack, has become a touchstone for awe-inspiring cinema.

Koyaanisqatsi is also more than the sum of its parts, as demonstrated in the hilarious new video embedded above, Koyaanistocksi. Jesse England recreated the trailer for the 1982 film entirely with stock footage, and his cut matches the original shot-for-shot. It also clearly isn't as good as the original, which makes it a great example of how compelling filmmaking is distinct from just putting together a string of images.

Filmmaking lessons aside, Koyaanistocksi is hilarious for people who will recognize the shots. Life is so out of balance that the sorts of shots that used to be terrifying commentary on society are now packaged and sold by iStock as filler videos.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hollywood's big new technology is 90 years old

As movie theaters search for new technology to drag people into theaters, the latest promise comes from Barco Escape, a three-screen technology designed for "immersive cinema" with a panoramic view or, potentially, action on three different screens at once.

But as Dennis Duffy once said, technology is cyclical. These ideas have come up before – in spectacular fashion.

Back in the 50s, the Cinerama format had a similar concept, using three projectors on a wide-angled screen to create a broader picture. The technique seemed so unusual at the time that the first Cinemera film, This Is Cinerama, is basically a commercial for the format; it opens with an educational lecture about the history of film to prepare viewers for what will come next. Flicker Alley released This Is Cinerama on Blu-ray a few years ago, complete with a fake curved screen. (Available from the AU Library under HU BLU 10798.)

Other movies have used multiple projectors to show several scenes at once, maybe none more famously than the 1927 silent film Napoleon. The 5-hour-long behemoth of a movie includes a sequence with three different projectors running at once. Because of the changing size of the screen and length, Napoleon is nearly impossible to watch correctly at home. You'll have to catch one of the rare theatrical screenings, held only 14 times since the 1930s. (A Blu-ray will also come out later this year.)

Or maybe, if Barco Escape catches on, you can watch Napeleon there. Everything old is new again!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Acquisitions - April 2016
As promised, as part of our year-end push, we're continuing to add huge volumes of classic television shows to our collection. Frasier, The Jeffersons, Get Smart, The Golden Girls, and other famous sitcoms are now available to check out from the library, either for research purposes or just for fun.

Huge thanks to our staff for processing hundreds of DVDs so quickly. This is a staggering volume to turn around in half a month, especially considering how many custom cases had to be created and processed. Kudos to all!

If you're not interested in checking out The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, we've also added several Oscar-contending films from last year. Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and The Big Short are all available too.

Hit the break for a list of everything now in stock...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Big-budget independent television is still a dream
This year, Louis C. K. debuted Horace and Pete, an original dramedy television show that he independently produced and released exclusively through his website. The show itself is apparently very good, but its production model caught much of the attention: C. K. financed the entire thing himself, something never attempted for a show with production values like Horace and Pete. Has the media marketplace evolved to the point where it can support independent artistic larks like this?

Evidently – and unfortunately – no. Louis C. K. revealed this week that the first season of Horace and Pete left him several million dollars in debt. Each of the show's ten episodes, with a star-studded cast including Alan Alda, Edie Falco, and Steve Buscemi, cost about $500,000 to produce (cheap for television), and C. K. never saw the return on investment he expected. The same strategy that helped the comedian sell stand-up specials doesn't seem to scale to full television production.

Independent television shows are still possible on a much smaller scale; Broad City started as a no-budget web series. But Louis C. K.'s struggles with Horace and Pete serve as a reminder that, even in an age of television everywhere, somebody still foots the bill.

Monday, April 11, 2016

New infographics break down gender in screenplays... and it's about what you'd expect

Late last week, Hanah Anderson and Matt Daniels released a study on Polygraph breaking down the dialogue of over 2000 major screenplays by the gender and age of the actors. If you've followed any of the other news about representation in film for the last few years, the results should come as no surprise: it's men all the way down, and older women are especially absent.

Polygraph bills the study as the largest demographic breakdown of film ever undertaken, and its scope certainly helps make the point. Among the 2000 screenplays dissected, over 75% give a strong majority of their dialogue to men. Only eight screeplays feature all-women speaking roles – a number even that's more troubling in comparison to the 304 scripts with only men. Age breakdowns are similarly frustrating, with roles increasing for men as they age and decreasing for women.

To make the point, the authors included a separate list of statistics just for Disney movies. Even in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a movie noted for its progressive gender representation, men get 72% of the dialogue.

As with other tests and measurements, this isn't an indication of whether a movie is a good or morally acceptable. It also isn't wholly reflective of individual movies: men have a majority of the dialogue in Kill Bill, but the movie has an exceptional cast of women. But it's statistical confirmation that, on the whole, women (and older women) are still disproportionately out of the spotlight.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

After People v. O. J., a closer look at the Trial of the Century

The People v. O. J. Simpson, the first season of FX's American Crime Story, ended last night to thunderous reviews. For a generation that didn't live through the Simpson murder trial and never had to endure a year of Jay Leno monologue jokes, American Crime Story was a sensationalist look at a period of history that continues to explain so much about the current state of celebrity culture and race relations in America. Intrigue about O. J. and the trial are at their highest since 1995.

Viewers gripped to the show probably want to learn more; the obvious starting place is in the books written by the trial's participants. We'd also like to offer up two documentaries in our collection, one about the trial itself and one that shows the effect of the verdict.

First, watch American Justice: Why O. J. Simpson Won (HU DVD 11111), an A&E documentary hosted by Bill Kurtis about the legal and cultural significance of the case. The hour-long documentary includes interviews with Johnnie Cochran and Fred Goldman. A&E claims this is "the definitive wrap-up" of the trial, and it may be able to solidify the themes – however exaggerated – that the show introduced.

If you want to see a first-hand example of how Cochran's symbolic victory opened up discussions about police and race – if only on a cursory level – you can watch a streaming version of Racial Profiling and Law Enforcement: America in Black and White, ABC News's special report on racially motivated police practices produced three years after the trial ended. Its messages should come as no surprise to anyone following police violence in the past few years, but the special is clear evidence of these issues' heightened profile after the trial. The participation of prosecutor Christopher Darden is also telling evidence of trial's long shadow.

Again, sadly, you don't have to look far to see the same sort of racial discord. But if you want something more factual than the show, these two documentaries are a closer look at what happened in the trial, why it happened, and what it meant.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

See horror's John Carpenter in DC... at a concert?

Master horror filmmaker John Carpenter is beloved for directing Halloween, They Live, and The Thing. Many people don't know that he scored many of this movies as well. Carpenter composed the famous Halloween theme song, and since largely setting aside his film career, he has continue to dabble in the minimalist, terrifying synthesizer music that he has helped popularize as the soundtrack of horror.

Even so, we're surprised that John Carpenter has launched a national concert tour where he'll be performing horror themes and original music. His second album, Lost Themes II, debuts on April 15th. To support it, Carpenter will be visiting DC's Lincoln Theater on July 12th for a retrospective night of his music, past and present. He'll probably perform the Halloween theme – of course – but we're curious about what else will "[inspire] people to create films that could be scored with this music."

Tickets are pricey, starting at $55, but we can't really think of another event this unusual. Horror fans especially should jump at the rare chance to see a famed auteur working his craft.

Monday, April 04, 2016

A new site can find movies by describing them... for the most part

Every once in a while, we get stumped trying to remember a certain movie starring a certain actor. Usually those questions can be answered with a quick search (or by asking your librarian!), but there are trickier ones too: how do you find a movie by the subject matter? Today, we stumbled across a new site attempting to make all movies searchable with natural language results.

What is My Movie? is a tech demo for technology by a video analysis company called Valossa, which aims to make videos machine-readable by their content in conjunction with transcripts. Valossa has so far parsed 40,000 movies for their content; you can search by year of release or director, like anywhere else, but you can also look for information about the content and themes of the movie.

Sometimes it works well: "Paul Newman movies from the 70s about hockey" brings up Slap Shot. Sometimes it doesn't work well: "sad movies starring Brad Pitt" brings up Slap Shot.

What is My Movie? is definitely a work-in-progress, but using movie searching as a proof-of-concept for their engine is a clever, practical use of the technology. Take it for a spin and see if it turns up your favorite movie by a description. When there's finally a comedy starring Daniel Day-Lewis about competitive eating, we'll be able to track it down.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Stealthy challenging censorship in China with film

Film has always been an instrument for pushing back against media censorship. The need is less visible and more subtle in America than it was during the years of the Hays Code (see This Film is Not Yet Rated, HU DVD 2414), but in other countries, overt suppression of creative content continues to be the norm. In one of the most audacious examples, China continues to prohibit depictions of same-sex relationships in movies and television. (This is an equality issue the country has long struggled with, having only effectively decriminalized same-sex relationships in 1997.)

So it comes as a major victory that, this year, China will release its first commercial film about a same-sex relationship. Although the promotional materials for Seek McCartney seemingly downplay the romantic aspect of the film, this way of sneaking in socially taboo content is a classic subversion of censorship laws, like the decades of "curious" characters in film.

It's unclear if this is the beginning of a trend – an interviewee in the linked Quartz article above sees the censorship process in China as too unstable to depend on – but at the least, it is a testament to film's continued social power.