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.