Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How do you adapt an unfilmable novel?


Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Hossein Amini has a reputation for adapting scripts from books that could never translate into films. His screenplays for The Wings of the Dove and especially Drive took novels that would be incoherent if adapted literally and made them natural fits for the screen. So how does one go about writing something like that?

Amini wrote a column for The Guardian about that process, and for him, it's all about the writer's personal experience reading the books. In the best novels, he argues, "the reader's experience of the book becomes as important as the words on the page," and screenwriters can extrapolate from their own interpretations of the characters to create new scenes and moments true to the spirit of the original work.

This is in contrast to films that closely adapt the original text, which Amini considers lifeless. You can see the same distinctive approach in other risky interpretations of unfilmable stories, like Naked Lunch and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, which is about attempting to adapt the story it's based upon. We'll take a film that's impressionistic and possibly a disaster over something staid every day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gene Wilder and his triumphant Mel Brooks comedies


As with everyone else, we're saddened by the news of the death of Gene Wilder. He was Willy Wonka, of course, but he was also one of the greatest comedic actors of the 20th century. His collaborations with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor are all-time classics, and hearing that someone with such a sharp mind died from complications from Alzheimer's is heartbreaking.

If you only know Gene Wilder as Roald Dahl's famous chocolatier, this is an opportunity to discover the comedic intensity and chemistry that made him a favorite. We have all of the movies he made though Mel Brooks (though sadly none of his roles alongside Richard Pryor). Wilder has other assorted performances through his career, including stage roles and a bit part in Bonnie and Clyde, and we've included them on this list as well.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but Were Afraid to Ask – HU DVD 123
Blazing Saddles – HU DVD 673
Young Frankenstein – HU DVD 865
The Producers – HU DVD 5169
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – HU DVD 10240 
Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros – HU DVD 10815
Bonnie and Clyde – HU DVD 11487
Death of a Salesman – Streaming video
Scarecrow – Streaming video

Monday, August 29, 2016

The New York Times looks at the confusing work of film preservation

Still from Decasia

Welcome back! The fall 2016 semester is underway now, and we're happy to see students back. You can come to us to watch any films you need to watch for class... but as we're often reminded, there are some things we just can't get our hands on.

Last week, The New York Times ran a story about the challenges of preserving films from the silent era. There's a lot of eye-popping statistics – especially that 70 percent of the films from that time are lost forever – but we were most amazed by the stories of alternative versions of movies. Evidently, studios used to produce pre-censored or re-written versions of movies to show overseas or in areas that could not yet play movies with sound, and their content and production vary significantly from the originals. Keeping these versions intact has been a nightmare for preservationists. If you ever need to watch something out-of-print for class, remember all these archivists toiling way to keep culture alive.

This is to say nothing of films that have never been available on a modern format, left behind on VHS. We're taking care of these cases as we find them in our collection, so rest assured, we're doing our part to prevent other films from being lost to time too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BBC critics poll names the top movies of the century


Time for another list of great films as decided by critics! This time, the BBC asked critics to name the best films of this century. David Lynch's Mulholland Drive tops their selections, and it gets more eclectic the deeper you look.

Compared with similar lists about the golden age of Hollywood, BBC's list has an immediately greater range of expression and ideas. Two international films appear in the top five, including one that's animated (Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away). Elsewhere in the top 25 films, you can find documentaries (The Act of Killing), action movies (Mad Max: Fury Road), and off-the-wall experiments (Holy Motors). And again, the large number of international films is unique among other American-centric lists.

We can't complain much about omissions from this list because of the remarkably wide net it casts. Spring Breakers, Before Sunset, and The Turin Horse all land near each other, and that seems like a pretty great microcosm of film.

We have most if all of these films in our collection. Here's ten call numbers for their top ten:

1. Mulholland Drive – HU DVD 382
2. In the Mood for Love – HU DVD 1520
3. There Will Be Blood – HU DVD 4196
4. Spirited Away – HU DVD 586
5. Boyhood – HU DVD 11713
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – HU DVD 1020
7. The Tree of Life – HU DVD 9230
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two – HU DVD 1114
9. A Separation – HU DVD 10336
10. No Country for Old Men – HU DVD 3982

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Media Services Pop-up Library hits the quad on Wednesday!

Our pop-up library from Spring 2015 with desk attendant Micah

Welcome Week is underway! We're happy to see campus buzzing again after the summer. We also know that there's a whole lot of new people on campus who haven't had a chance to explore the library yet. So we're bringing the library to you!

On Wednesday, August 24th at 4pm, we're setting up a Media Services pop-up library on the quad. We'll have a selection of new titles, classics, and television shows for checkout with your AU ID. It's the end of summer, and we get that you want more quality time outside, so now you don't even have to set foot in the library to learn about what we do.

We'll see y'all on Wednesday!

Monday, August 15, 2016

When happens when film crews lack diversity, too?

We know that the film industry has visible diversity problems, from directing to acting. We can point to the lack of racial diversity among the Oscar acting nominees as a glaring problem, but less obviously, behind-the-camera craft roles like sound and editing suffer from both subtle and overt racism.

Variety recently ran a cover story about what they've termed #ArtisansSoWhite, the white male dominance of the technical side of the film industry. Their article includes a number of troubling anecdotes, not just of racial imbalance but outright hostility. One visual effects supervisor even recounted having his skills questioned by someone who asserted he was a diversity hire.

This has implications for mentoring opportunities and the type of work available to non-white artisans; one interviewee noticed that she had worked overwhelmingly on films about African-Americans, exclusively slotted into those films by producers.

Variety's exposé is long, disconcerting, and worth a read for those interested in where the industry needs to improve.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Take a look inside our old U-matic player

If you've never had to deal with a U-matic player, consider yourself lucky. These beasts from the 70s were the ancestors of VHS players, and they are sort of a nightmare to use. We have a few on-site still so we can transfer out-of-print U-matic videos to a new format.

We think this one might've finally kicked the bucket yesterday, so our collections coordinator Molly opened it up to see if there was anything that could obviously be prepared. We were not prepared for the cyberpunk nightmare inside. Given the age, it looks like every button and toggle (and there were many) has a maze of circuitry attached. We take care of our equipment, but we wouldn't even know where to start fixing this thing.

You deserve to see the guts of a U-matic player. We're digitizing the out-of-print U-matic collection so you'll never have to deal with this.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Love British TV? See where those shows are meant to take place

Have you ever seen one of those experiments where people from other countries try to identify the United States? Let's admit that we're just as bad with the United Kingdom. Unless you've spent some time over there, everything that ends in "-shire" sounds interchangeable. And when it comes to television and movies, we just sort imagine everything taking place in a big, inspecific British countryside.

So for the rubes among us, graphic designer Tim Ritz (an AU alumnus!) put together a map of where major shows from the United Kingdom are set. As you can imagine, London hosts at least two dozen shows, but the rest of the country is littered with other hotspots. Finally seeing where Derbyshire fits into the local map gives Pride & Prejudice a whole lot more context.

Of course, the map also points out that many of these shows weren't filmed on-located. Wolf Hall, set at Hampton Court Place in London, was shot at "various castles," which just leads us right back to our original vague idea of what England looks like.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Watch HBO documentaries for free through Films On Demand

from Citizen U.S.A.
You probably know HBO for Game of Thrones and their other hit shows, but they're also known as a powerhouse of prestigious documentaries, like the Academy Award-winning Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.

Films On Demand just signed a deal with HBO to stream their collection of documentary films, and as part of the AU community, you can watch them for free! Follow this link to the HBO section of the Films On Demand website to see what all they have. Notable titles include the veterans stories of Alive Day Memories, Arab Spring documentary In Tahrir Square, citizenship road trip Citizen U.S.A., and a look at the life of a single mother in Paycheck to Paycheck. (And don't forget When the Levees Broke!)

These are great film – not just to watch for your own enjoyment, but for coursework and scholarship. HBO documentaries have great educational value, and using one is a fun, productive way to mix up a presentation or research.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Alternative programming: Getting real about Rio

from Rio de Janeiro: Urban Future
The 2016 Rio Olympics start tomorrow, and this year seems particularly fraught. Every Olympic event has some enormous, costly, potentially negative impact on its host – remember the broken hotels in Sochi and the wasted construction in Athens? – but Rio has it worst in recent memory. The Zika virus outbreak and hazardous water conditions are enough cause for alarm, but the government's ongoing anti-crime and urban renewal efforts have revealed the dangerous state of the city.

To learn more about the challenges facing Rio as it heads into the global spotlight, consider watching one of these three streaming documentaries. (You will need to log in with your AU username/password to access these.)

  • Rio de Janeiro: Urban Future
    The Urban Future series looks at programs attempting to revitalize major cities. The Rio episode highlights the displacement of families living in neighborhoods razed to build Olympic facilities. What will happen to those communities after the Olympics are over and the buildings fall into disuse?
  • The Road to Rio
    Monty Python's Michael Palin hosts this unexpectedly serious travelogue, where he describes the contrast between Rio's glitzy Olympic-friendly image and marginalized neighborhoods overrun with drugs as "a mixture of construction and ruin at the same time."
  • Witness: Rio
    In the grimmest of the three documentaries, Eros Hoagland takes a camera into Rio's favelas document the city's violence and the effect of the police's attempts at "pacification."

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

New Acquisitions - August 2016


One month left in summer! Everyone panic!

Well, don't actually panic. We're getting everything set for the fall semester, and we're stocking up on more new acquisitions. As before, we're in the process of replacing as many of our VHSes with DVDs as possible. But we're also plugging other holes in our collection. We've added Hercules, A Bug's Life, The Good Dinosaur, and Zootopia, which we think completely rounds out our collection of Disney animation.

We also want to highlight Gaming in Color, a documentary about queer experiences in gaming, and Anomalisa, an adult stop-motion film by Charlie Kaufman.

Hit the link for a list of what else is new for August...

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Matt Damon in The Great Wall sadly isn't unprecedented

Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu
Last week, a trailer debuted for Matt Damon's new film, The Great Wall, set during the Song dynasty in China. Matt Damon basically has no business being in that movie, and the fact that he's the star at all sadly capitalizes on how international audiences associate white male action heroes with high production value.

It's also yet another example of whitewashing in film. For as long as Hollywood has existed, white actors have been cast in non-white parts, usually to horrifying or embarrassing results. A few months back, IndieWire rounded up the twenty most egregious examples, in case you've forgotten the extent of this lousy tradition. It affects movies good and bad, past and present. We can look at Katharine Hepburn's horrifyingly offensive portrayal of Jade Tan in 1944's Dragon Seed and shake our heads in hindsight, but it's less easy to dismiss the white casting of a real, living Indian-American man in The Social Network.

You could dismiss Damon's new role as a byproduct of international film development, but consider how bizarre it is that America's long, poor diversity track record in film has become the standard even for other countries. We can do better, folks.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Director Edgar Wright names is favorite 1000 movies (Yes, 1000)


Edgar Wright is one of the most distinctive, stylized directors working in film right now. If you've seen Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, you'll recognize his unmistakable, kinetic energy. We're all ears when he wants to share his thoughts on the art of filmmaking.

As it turns out, Wright was happy to oblige. Last week, he shared a list of his favorite 1000 films, ordered chronologically from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1920 to The Neon Demon from this year.

1000 films is a lot. I haven't seen 1000 films. I couldn't even name 1000 films. But Edgar Wright can. His list finds room for everything, from the expected big movies (Ghostbusters and Vertigo) to strange cult hits (Withnail and I and John Woo's A Better Tomorrow II). Those odd ones are the most revealing about Wright's taste and influences, and they're the ones we really want to seek out.

We'd normally end a post like this with a list of some of the most interesting films on the list, but honestly, 1000 is more than we can reasonably sort through this afternoon. Dive in yourself, and we guarantee that if you're interested in Wright, you'll come back with a dozen movies you'll want to watch.