Thursday, February 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Happy Fair Use Week!

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

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

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Meet Chuck Workman, the Oscar montage man

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

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

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A radical proposal: what if the Oscars removed nominations?

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Revisit SNL for its fortieth anniversary

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Vulture reflects on Ousmane Sembène, father of African cinema

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Making sense of Birth of a Nation, 100 years later

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

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

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

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Today in unexpected fandom: David Cronenberg loves Dilbert

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Dig into net neutrality in Barbershop Punk

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 02, 2015

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Alternative programming: The art of healing

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

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

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