Monday, June 29, 2015

Spy a few movies in Crystal City on Mondays

Summer is the season for free outdoor film screenings, and with seemingly every neighborhood and area in DC now hosting its own business improvement district, there's no shortage of places to see a movie outside on a big screen. We felt like pointing out one of the bigger festivals happening in the city, Crystal City's annual Crystal Screen series. Every year since 2007, the Crystal City BID has hosted a specially themed film series, and this year, they're devoting the summer to espionage.

We're a little late to this one; the Crystal Screen events started in June, but they're continuing every Monday night all the way through the end of August. Next week, July begins with RED. Argo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follow through the rest of the month. The series is co-sponsored by the International Spy Museum, which will be handing out free swag and hosting spy-related activities before a few of the movies.

If you've never attending an outdoor movie screening in DC before, the Crystal Screen series is a great place to start. These are probably the most fun summer film events in the city!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

How did movie trailers evolve into tiny blockbusters?

Internet nerd-dom had an outrage flashpoint recently when trailers for the upcoming movie Terminator: Genisys revealed multiple major plot twists, effectively spoiling what may have been the most interesting (or only interesting?) parts of the movie. Contrast that with the ominous trailer for the first Terminator movie. How did we go from brief teasers to mini-movies that leave out everything but the ending?

Culture website Hopes & Fears put together an excellent, extended article exploring the timeline of  the movie trailer and, drawing on other writing by film critics and experts, figuring out how film trailers became their own industry in miniature. Author Matthew Schimkowi presents a convincing chronology, starting from their origins as advertisements for serials and following all the way up to the advent of the Inception "BWAAAM" noise. Influential individual trailers get mentioned too, including The Public Enemy, Jaws and Dr. Strangelove. By 2015, he argues, the familiar trailer structure for conveying characters and plot arcs has become its own form of entertainment.

This is a highly recommended read for people interested in the film business, but we warn you that it might ruin trailers for you in the future. You'll be the one yelling about "turn lines" the next time you go to the movies.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Acquisitions - June 2015 - Part 2

As promised, here's our second batch of new titles from June. The most obvious major acquisitions are the remaining seasons of the first decade of The Simpsons that we didn't already own. Woop-woop-woop!

Artsier types might enjoy our additions from The Journal of Short film or Goodbye to Language, Jean-Luc Godard's first film in 3D. (Our copy includes a 3D Blu-ray, but we don't have any 3D screens to play it on. If you own one for some reason, be our guest!)

And if you're looking for a crowdpleaser for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, your clear choice is Drunk History, Comedy Central's American history series narrated by intensely drunk amateur storytellers. You haven't truly heard the story of The Star-Spangled Banner until you hear it slurred.

Home Use Collection:

Three Colors, Blue – HU DVD 2137
Three Colors, White – HU DVD 2138
Three Colors, Red – HU DVD 2139
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 17: Fall 2009 – HU DVD 3727
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 18: Winter 2010 – HU DVD 3728
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 19: Spring 2010 – HU DVD 3729
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 20: Summer 2010 – HU DVD 3730
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 21: Fall 2010 – HU DVD 3731
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 22: Winter 2011 – HU DVD 3732
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 23: Spring 2011 – HU DVD 3733
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 24: Summer 2011 – HU DVD 3734
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 25: Fall 2011 – HU DVD 3735
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 26: Winter 2012 – HU DVD 3736
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 27: Spring 2012 – HU DVD 3737
The Journal of Short Film, Volume 28: Summer 2012 – HU DVD 3738
Made in L.A. = Hecho en Los Angeles – HU DVD 4656
Begin Again – HU DVD 11979
Aida – HU DVD 12014
The Cosmic Man – HU DVD 12054
Strangers from Venus – HU DVD 12055
The Flying Saucer – HU DVD 12056
Il Trovatore – HU DVD 12059
The Lusty Men – HU DVD 12077
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem – HU DVD 12078
Code Black – HU DVD 12189
Crossing Delancey – HU DVD 12203
Diplomacy – HU DVD 12204
Last Days in Vietnam – HU DVD 12205
17 Moments of Spring – HU DVD 12206
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – HU DVD 12209
Cathedral – HU DVD 12210
Coonskin – HU DVD 12212
Let Your Feet Do the Talkin' – HU DVD 12215
Paddington – HU DVD 12216
Mr. Turner – HU DVD 12217
Still Alice – HU DVD 12218
The Immigrant – HU DVD 12220
Goodbye to Language: 3D – HU BLU 12211
Selma – HU DVD 12221
Winter Sleep – HU DVD 12223
Wolf Hall – HU DVD 12224
Overnighters – HU DVD 12225
Watchers of the Sky – HU DVD 12226
Le Silence de la Mer – HU DVD 12227
The Johnstown Flood – HU DVD 12228
The Beguiled – HU DVD 12229
Welcome to LA – HU DVD 12230
The Fly – HU DVD 12232
Wizards – HU DVD 12233
Gods and Monsters – HU DVD 12234
Mighty Aphrodite – HU DVD 12235
Maidan  – HU DVD 12236
Reflections in a Golden Eye – HU DVD 12237


Drunk History, Season 1 – HU DVD 11975
Drunk History, Season 2 – HU DVD 11976
Fortitude, Season 1 – HU DVD 12213
The Simpsons, Season 4 – HU DVD 14327
The Simpsons, Season 5 – HU DVD 14328
The Simpsons, Season 6 – HU DVD 14329
The Simpsons, Season 7 – HU DVD 14330
The Simpsons, Season 8 – HU DVD 14331
The Simpsons, Season 9 – HU DVD 14332
The Simpsons, Season 10 – HU DVD 14333

In-Library Titles:

Stromboli – BLU 11972
Europe '51 – BLU 11973
Journey to Italy – BLU 11974
In Bed with the Arab Spring – DVD 12060
No Fire Zone – DVD 12075
What is Catholicism? – DVD 12084
The Greatest Management Principle in the World – DVD 12086
A Clone of Frogs – DVD 12090
Budapest: Communism with Tanks – DVD 12099
Iacocca: An American Profile – DVD 12100
Depression: The Shadowed Valley – DVD 12161
NOW with Bill Moyers, November 22, 2002 – DVD 12162
NOW with Bill Moyers, April 4, 2003 – DVD 12163
Wall Street: Money, Greed, Power – DVD 12164
The Yellow Gash: John-Paul Sartre on Tintoretto – DVD 12165
The Wall Street Fix – DVD 12172
Academy Award Winners: Animated Short Films – DVD 12173
Will There Always be an England? – DVD 12175
Betrayal – DVD 12182
Moliere – DVD 12186
Streetwise – DVD 12207
Being with John F. Kennedy – DVD 12208

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

RIP James Horner

We're shocked and saddened by news of the untimely death of James Horner, Academy Award-winning composer of classic soundtracks for films including Apollo 13, Titanic, Braveheart, The New World, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Horner was a world-class composer whose works are among the best in film; he was still an active composer and enhanced every movie he scored. His death is a significant loss to the medium.

Listen to his contributions to any of his films below for a reminder of the enormous talent we've lost.

Apollo 13 – HU DVD 529
Aliens – HU DVD 886
Glory – HU DVD 1171
Testament – HU DVD 1665
The New World – HU DVD 1963
The Name of the Rose – HU DVD 2106
Titanic – HU DVD 2290 
Apocalypto – HU DVD 4052
Braveheart – HU DVD 4787
Troy – HU DVD 6200 
Avatar – HU DVD 7045
An American Tail – HU DVD 7796
Hocus Pocus – HU DVD 7852
The Pelican Brief – HU DVD 7936

All the King's Men – HU DVD 3662
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – HU DVD 9732
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – HU DVD 9733
The Mask of Zorro – HU DVD 10750 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

AFIDOCS is underway!

Time for a quick PSA: the annual AFIDOCS documentary film festival kicked off yesterday! AFIDOCS is a terrific, half-week-long, city-spanning event that showcases new documentary features and shorts from around the world.

Visit the AFIDOCS website for a list of where and when everything will be playing. Many of these documentaries will screen at the AFI's flagship theater in Silver Spring, but other theaters throughout the city are participating if you don't feel like making the trek on the Red Line.

If we have to play favorites with this year's assemblage, we would pick The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to The Act of Killing) and Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, which examines the history of women in computer programming.

Buy your tickets in advance if you can. These screenings will sell out!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Watching all of Star Wars at once is a surrealist nightmare

We understand that the Star Wars movies have exciting stories, loveable characters, and terrific sound editing. Forgive us if, for the remainder of the day, we remember it as a video art provocation that almost gave us a headache.

Archer animator Marcus Rosentrater created Star Wars Wars (embedded above), a mashup of all six of the current Star Wars movies into two hours of total cinematic chaos. Iconic scenes flit in and out of view, often covered by lightsabers, bright lights, sand dunes, or subtitles. Sound effects and now-incomprehensible dialogue slam together into a Star Wars-approximating white noise. People often lazy call any psychedelic or surreal experience a drug trip, but this is legitimately close.

Enjoy before it's taken down... and grab some Motrin or Dramamine.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Even in booming China, independent filmmakers struggle for funding and attention

Last month, we posted about the iffy state of film and television production credits in the United States. You might assume that the recent boom of China's film industry has created a new market for incentives overseas, but evidently, the purse strings are tight there as well.

Although major Hollywood "co-productions" like Iron Man 3 and the most recent Transformers movie receiving full support, The New York Times reports that young aspiring filmmakers in China have trouble finding funding and support for their work. Many of the Times's interviewees attest that there is a large market for films by and for younger audiences, but few distributors and festival organizers seem interested in tapping that vein. Films by first-time directors are less commercially enticing than Transformers, and the filmmakers responsible often don't have the professional experience necessary to make their case for funding.

The article also dives into the interesting generational structure used to describe Chinese film history, and that's certainly at play in young Chinese filmmakers' struggles for attention and success.

China may be on track to become the world's largest film market by 2018, but their independent filmmakers still face the same challenges as our SOC grads.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Head back to dino-school before seeing Jurassic World

 What will blow up the box office this summer? Dino might.

...okay, fine, we're sorry. The point is that Jurassic World, the fourth movie in the Jurassic Park franchise, is going to be monstrously successful this weekend. Nearly every child of a certain age became obsessed with dinosaurs at the same time because of Jurassic Park. In fact, we're certain you can still name your favorite dinosaur.

We want to stoke that excitement again. So in addition to promoting our Jurassic Park movie collection (specifically the bonus disc that came with the trilogy box set, DVD 4904), we want to talk about our educational dinosaur videos. A catalog search turns up over fifty dinosaur-related items in our collection; here are a few highlights to get your dino-juices flowing.

(All these videos are available to watch streaming via the library catalog.)

  • Dino Death Trap: Take a close look at a Pompeii-type graveyard of dinosaur species trapped in lava – and well-preserved!
  • Dino Revolution: This video from 2000 sheds light on then-recent discoveries linking dinosaurs to birds
  • How to Build a Dinosaur: Watch up-close as scientists piece together dinosaur skeletons and reveal how they work on these reconstructions.
  • Reconstructing T-Rex: A 2009 documentary about recent discoveries about everyone's favorite giant terrifying apex predator.
  • Dino Math: So this one isn't really about dinosaurs, but it has kids solving math problems with dinosaur manipulatives. We figured this would bring back some good memories.
Early reviews indicate that Jurassic World is exciting but not quite as inspiring as the original. We hope this doesn't prevent a new generation of kids from having their own overly-excited-about-dinosaurs phase. Luckily, we have educational dinosaur content like the videos above the carry the torch.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What do we lose when we revive a TV series?

The next year will see new seasons of Heroes, The X-Files, Coach, Twin Peaks, Prison Break, Full House, and possibly Arrested Development or 24. Television shows long since canceled have found a second life in the increasingly diversified, well-funded world of digital programming. Surely TV fans of a certain generation looks forward to catching up with Agent Cooper and Danny Tanner, but do we risk settling into a cultural rut by revisiting our favorites too often?

Critic Alan Sepinwall tackled this question in an opinion piece yesterday on Hitfix. Sepinwall argues that revisiting an old series is not inherently bad and can often result in some quality television. It helps audiences and networks alike to work with familiar characters and ideas, especially in the current fragmented media climate. But he notes that this has become a crutch in lieu of producing new, original, riskier television. The shows being resurrected, like The X-Files, were once TV's weird outliers, and those chances still need to be taken to ensure the medium's future.

It's appreciated that Sepinwall chose not to rip into television reboots in concept. He notes that the Twin Peaks continuation is among his most anticipated upcoming shows, and when re-runs on Adult Swim garner higher ratings than NBC event programming, there's certainly reason to tap into known properties. This just can't come at the cost of new ideas. After all, what will we reboot ten years from now?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

New Acquisitions - June 2015 - Part 1

As promised, we're going to start updating you about our new acquisitions every two weeks. We just resumed purchasing for the summer, and the latest wave of titles has begun to pour in.

For this most recent batch, our biggest acquisition is the complete run of the Helen Mirren-fronted British crime procedural Prime Supsect. You might also enjoy Tim Burton's artist biopic Big Eyes and the Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice.

Or you could always watch The Young Ones, BBC's short-lived anarchic comedy-musical series that at one point featured a lion tamer.

Home Use Collection:

Walk Cheerfully = Hogaraka ni Ayume – HU DVD 9951
That Night's Wife = Sono Yo no Tsuma – HU DVD 9952
Dragnet Girl = Hijosen no Onna – HU DVD 9953
Where There's a Will There's an A – HU DVD 12081
Giants' First Steps – HU DVD 12155
The Horse Whisperer – HU DVD 12169
The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives as Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – HU DVD 12184
Happy Valley – HU DVD 12187
Concerning Violence – HU DVD 12188
Big Eyes – HU DVD 12191
54 – HU DVD 12193
Fire of Kuwait – HU DVD 12194
Americathon – HU DVD 12199
Hey Good Lookin' – HU DVD 12200
Fido – HU DVD 12202
Inherent Vice – HU DVD 12214


Prime Suspect, Series 1 – HU DVD 12031
Prime Suspect, Series 2 – HU DVD 12032
Prime Suspect, Series 3 – HU DVD 12033
Prime Suspect, Series 4 – HU DVD 12034
Prime Suspect, Series 5 – HU DVD 12035
Prime Suspect, Series 6 – HU DVD 12036
Prime Suspect, Series 7 – HU DVD 12037
The Young Ones, Series 1 and 2 – HU DVD 12057

In-Library Titles:

Fate of a Salesman – DVD 12181

Monday, June 08, 2015

Oregon Goonies fans never say die, but they're getting on in years

Beloved 80s adventure movie The Goonies turned 30 last week. That's a milestone you probably didn't know or really care about, much like how you missed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie's 25th anniversary in March.

But it was a big deal in Astoria, Oregon, the small northwest town where The Goonies was filmed. Over the weekend, Astoria welcomed over 10,000 fans (more than their total population) to take part in a weekend of meet-and-greets, panels, and other Goonies-centric events. The big draw this year was a screening at John Warren Field, a high school athletic field featured in the movie that will soon be torn down. Fans also participated in the "One-Eyed Willy Treasure Geocaching Hunt," which is about as crudely modern as a Goonies remake would probably be.

We love when people care way too much about their favorite pop culture, and we're sad that we missed The Goonies anniversary. Only one year left to plan for the Short Circuit celebration!

You can also always check out The Goonies from our collection for a belated celebration (HU DVD 3576).

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The unexpected new life of Black Angel

Two years ago, we first told you about Black Angel, a recently unearthed lost film from 1980. Black Angel was an influential fantasy short film that played before The Empire Strikes Back during its first theatrical run; its practical effects and "step-printed" slow-motion paved the way for movies including Legend and Excalibur. But copies of Black Angel vanished, and even director Roger Christian did not have a copy until a film archivist unearthed a print in late 2012.

Now Black Angel has found a second wind. Earlier in May this year, the film was released for free on YouTube (embedded above), bringing this fantasy short to audiences who never experienced it in theaters. That isn't the end of Black Angel's story either. After receiving an enormously warm response to the re-release, Christian began production of a feature-length remake of Black Angel, tentatively starring Rutger Hauer and John Rhys-Davies.

Consider that this movie was unavailable and almost unknown a few years ago. Black Angel's resurgence is a testament to why film preservation is culturally important.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Pretentious-O-Meter picks out films on the critical-popular divide

Independent and art films are often unfairly criticized as "pretentious." We've all slung that word around to attack a movie at some point, even though we probably enjoy some arty cinema ourselves. But the roots of that insult deserve some additional dissection: is a film really better or worse because critics and film buffs enjoy it more than the layperson?

Pretentious-O-Meter might shed some light on that conundrum. This movie review tool compares ratings from critics and audiences and determines – very unscientifically – which movies are "pretentious" or "mass market." It's fun to see conventional wisdom borne out in numbers: Truffaut's The 400 Blows is 68% pretentious, while The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser is 86% mass market. Each result also includes the movie's overall rating: it might be preferred by critics, but it might also be a bad film.

The site isn't perfect, of course, especially since it only accounts for the reviews around a film's release and not its reception afterwards. Sci-fi mind-bender Primer's initially poor reviews netted it a 54% mass market rating, tied with The Firm, which doesn't make much sense.

As with all big data-driven Internet toys, anything Pretentious-O-Meter outputs should be treated with enormous skepticism. But you might have some fun looking at the statistics behind it and seeing where initial critical responses and later popular reception diverge.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Unearthed transcript reveals the origins of Indiana Jones

The National Geographic Museum downtown recently opened an exhibit about Indiana Jones and the films' connections to actual history. This had us thinking about our favorite tenured action hero. Coincidentally, a link has been making the rounds revealing how Indy got his start – and what he might have been in an early draft.

In 1978, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and writer Lawrence Kasdan sat down to discuss who Indiana Jones was and what his films would be like. Barnes & Noble's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog provides a good summary of the most interesting parts of a transcript of that meeting, first posted online in 2009. There's mentions of scrapped characters, like an elderly mentor for Indiana who previously assumed the mantle of daring renegade archaeologist. Indiana was also very briefly inspired by Columbo's Peter Falk, and several ideas from the back-and-forth about his adventures ended up in later movies, spinoffs, and media.

(You can also see some of the unfortunately dated politics and language on display when the writers talk about adding "exotic" characters. Nearly forty years have passed since this meeting.)

This transcript is an insightful slice of film development that offers insights into how three of the brightest minds in movies conjured such a memorable character. Only the general idea of an archaeologist in serialized adventures was fully formed; the rest needed hours of discussion. The full conversation is worth committing a day to read. And relevant to the exhibit, it shows how the directors and writers connected real history to a fantastical movie setting.

The finished product is, of course, available in the collection (HU DVD 3251).

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Did you know we have 3D glasses?

While we were rifling through our drawers earlier, we came across a little-known collection that goes along with a few of the DVDs in our collection: 3D glasses!

Modern displays and theaters use advanced projection systems to achieve a 3D effect, but a few DVDs in our collection opt for an old-school solution. Apart from the classic red-and-blue anaglyph glasses, we also have a set of Coraline-branded magenta-and-green glasses, a reversed blue-and-red pair (pictured, and they're nauseating), and most interestingly ChromaDepth glasses for a film in our Orphans in Space compilation (DVD 9991).

ChromaDepth is an especially strange technique that corresponds certain hues to different depth levels. Basically, objects towards the blue side of the rainbow appear further, while redder objects appear closer. The short films Galaxies and UFOs use this technique to create an optional 3D effect. If you want to see it in motion, ask to use our ChromaDepth glasses. (We have them, we promise.)

These sorts of freebies and supplements come with many of the DVDs we purchase, though they're rarely necessary for watching the films like the 3D glasses are. As weird and out-of-the-way as these glasses may be, we're glad to offer them to give patrons the experience of watching a film in ChromaDepth. Seriously, it's wild!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Animation fan? Check out hard-to-find shorts from The Animation Show of Shows

Yesterday in our new acquisitions post, we mentioned The Animation Show of Shows (HU DVD 12101 - 12154), a giant collection of world animation we recently added to our shelves. We want to talk a little before about this series; it's a remarkable showcase of diverse talent that any animation fan should seek out.

The Animation Show of Shows is a traveling exhibition of animation from across the globe that began in 1999. The event has emerged as one of the leading showcases of short-form animation, especially as it has hosted many Oscar-nominated shorts. As a supplement to their shows, the organizers also publish DVD box sets of collected animated shorts, many of which were previously unavailable or only in limited distribution.

The complete Animation Show of Shows collection – totaling a whopping 54 discs – includes decades of terrific animated shorts in nearly every conceivable format and from nearly every continent. We previously highlighted the famous Logorama short (HU DVD 12148), but there are 161 other shorts worth your attention in this box set. Highlights include:
  • Let's Pollute (HU DVD 12150), a satirical educational video about the benefits of being un-environmental
  • Harvie Krumpet (HU DVD 12127), a Geoffrey Rush-narrated claymation film about a very unlucky Polish man
  • Oktapodi (HU DVD 12121), an octopus love story
  • Ski Jumping Pairs (HU DVD 12102), coverage of the fictional, impossible doubles ski jump Olympic event
If you consider yourself an animation fan (or even if you've just felt guilty about never watching anything in the Animated Short Film category), you'll want to check out at least a disc or two of this collection. Many of these shorts are unavailable anywhere else!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

New Acquisitions - May 2015

Apologies for the radio silence on new acquisitions! It's been a breathless few months, but now that we've hit the summer and campus has cooled down, we'll start giving you more regular updates about what new titles are coming into the library.

Since we last updated you in March, we've gotten our hands on a whole slew of new DVDs. We've nearly finished our collection of last year's major award contenders with the additions of Nightcrawler, Interstellar, and Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. But there are plenty of odder titles in this batch as well. You might want to watch a documentary about the development of the gaming phenomenon Minecraft, the Mr. T-starring local cult hit D.C Cab, Japanese gonzo action flick Why Don't You Play in Hell?, or the borderline-illegal Sesame Street parody Wonder Showzen.

Most excitingly, you can now check out The Animation Show of Shows, a 54-disc collection of world animated shorts. There's plenty to recommend in there, including The Cat Came Back and Oscar winner Logorama.

(We're also currently buying DVD copies of many of our older VHSes; if you see lots of names you don't recognize, that's intentional.)

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Video of The Exorcist hubbub lets you experience terror by proxy

Even beyond its familiar DC setting, The Exorcist holds a special place in cinematic memory as one of the most successful and – just going from anecdotes – most terrifying horror films ever made. It's difficult to envision any pop culture event today holding the nation's full attention and enthusiasm, let along a horror movie, but The Exorcist came very close on its release in 1973.

We didn't believe the anecdotes about the enormous turnout and reaction until we watched the above video, an undated and apparently orphaned 20-minute news featurette about the movie's success and impact. Moviegoers lined down the block to see The Exorcist multiple times, with many apparently leaving mid-screening and returning again to see if they could stomach it a second time. This is astounding footage that demonstrates the central role movie theaters played in American culture life decades ago. And this fervor predates Jaws and Star Wars, generally considered the first blockbusters.

Even something as big as Jurassic World won't bring out the same neighborhood-spanning queues or inspire visceral reactions from the audience, so this video of the hype surrounding The Exorcist is the closest most of us will get to seeing a movie release of such sensational scale. (The freakouts over how intensely scary it is are just icing.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Beyond Thunderdome, there was Happy Feet

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Help crowdfund Orson Welles's final unfinished film

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 07, 2015

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

So long, farewell to our seniors!

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

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

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 04, 2015

State film tax credits on the chopping block

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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