Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Acquisitions - July 2015

Last month we promised more regular updates about our new acquisitions, and... well, we didn't have a whole lot coming in for a few weeks. But we do now! We got a motley assortment of new titles in July, and to avoid going for the obvious bigger names (nothing against Thor), let's spotlight a few the great off-the-track DVDs you can get now from the AU Library.

Before anything else, you'll want to check out Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a remake of the first Indiana Jones movie filmed by three childhood friends over the course of several decades on home video cameras. Music fans should tune in for Nas: Time is Illmatic, a documentary about the creation of rapper Nas's groundbreaking debut album. And anyone interested in gaming or diversity in culture should watch GTFO, a primer on harassment and exclusion of women in the video game community and industry.

We also finally got The Wiz. How did we not have The Wiz? Read on for a full list of what's new.

Monday, July 27, 2015

75 years later, celebrating Bugs Bunny – and looking at his contentious history

Today marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros.'s de facto cartoon mascot and a symbol of the golden age of animation (and maybe LeBron James's future co-star?). Though Bugs is an immediately recognizable icon today, it took hundreds of theatrical animated shorts and countless years of Saturday morning television shows to get there. And those decades have left behind countless historical artifacts of the birth of popular animation that Warner has thankfully preserved and shared for future generations – including the unseemly current of prejudice and xenophobia that sadly defined Looney Tunes for years.

This DVD set, the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, remains the best collection of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts available anywhere. Across six volumes, the compilation includes a breathtaking 360 animated shorts, spanning from 1929 (before the Looney Tunes name even existed) up to the 3D, CG-created Road Runner shorts from 2010. Each disc includes audio commentaries for select shorts from famous animators, as well as fascinating Looney Tunes ephemera such as interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. If you ever wanted to see Mel Blanc recording the voice of Bugs Bunny, you can find some candid footage on the first disc of Volume 1.

But as mentioned, many of these earlier Bugs Bunny shorts were produced at a time far, far less attune to the hurtfulness of racist and sexist stereotypes. A number of the shorts in this collection traffic in insensitive and damaging racial humor that was unchecked, and Warner Bros. has thankfully included those unedited where possible. Several cartoons known as the Censored Eleven have never been released on home media. Warner Bros. eloquently defends their inclusion in the collection with a message that appears at the top of each DVD:
The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as to claim these prejudices never existed.
That's a powerful statement in defense of artistic history, and with that unfortunate past acknowledged, it's easier to appreciate the wealth of animated joy Bugs Bunny and directors Tex Avery and Chuck Jones helped bring into the world.

The AU Library proudly circulates three volumes of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, as well as a massive collection of Tex Avery's adjacent work from the golden age of animation. Any are suitable viewing for Bugs's big milestone.

Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 1 – HU DVD 3231 - 3234
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2 – HU DVD 3235 - 3238
Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 6 – HU DVD 8181 - 8184
The Compleat Tex Avery – DVD 9781 - 9789
Space Jam – HU DVD 7990

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Watch the suddenly-very-relevant Soy Cuba on the big screen

The normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba this week opens some obvious doors – some are surely counting down the days until legal cigar imports – but it also offers an appropriate moment to revisit cultural history we may have ignored intentionally or otherwise. Post-revolutionary Cuban films are sometimes left out of world cinema discussions.

A great place to start that discussion is I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba), a visually stunning work depicting pre-revolutionary Cuba and the spirit of its people, including the country's early cultural tensions with the United States. I Am Cuba was nearly forgotten and languished in Soviet archives for decades before its found new popularity for its striking camerawork and themes. In an almost-too-perfect programming coincidence, the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring will be screening I Am Cuba tomorrow, July 24th, at 4:30pm, with repeat screenings on Sunday and Monday.

Historically, culturally, and artistically, this is a tremendous and once-again relevant film. If you can't catch it this weekend, you can always borrow our copy from the AU Library (HU DVD 331)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How Hollywood's color correctors are playing with your emotions

We've talked about the color correction process in the past and how a once-cosmetic technique has become a fundamental part of the film production process. Total control of a film's color range and palette allows filmmakers to tailor create visually resplendent works and sometimes to ignore other steps in the process. But the colors their choose are a separate consideration, one rooted one psychology as much as filmmaking.

A new article from Fast Company dives into how certain color schemes can trigger emotional responses in everything from blockbuster movies to political campaign commercials. Through interviews with colorists, the authors reveal how certain tones can change the mood of scenes for dramatic effect. For instance, greens rarely appear at night in life, so emphasizing those colors in film for an unsettling effect. Or in a case of genuine artistry in Transformers, alien worlds intentionally lack normal white and black light to create the illusion of an unknown space.

This is an interesting insight into why filmmakers employ color correction to suck us into their creations. There's a dark side to these techniques, though: the article also mentions how political campaign ads will play with warm and cool colors to make opponent appear out of touch or distant. We put a lot of stock (no film joke intended) in post-production to sway us emotionally, and like any talent, that can be used for good or ill.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What happened to the makers of Sky Captain?

The 2004 retro sci-fi caper Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was the first major film to shoot entirely on greenscreen. In an era when blockbuster movies eschew physical sets and use CGI wizardry as a crutch rather than a tool, that doesn't seem like a groundbreaking or even welcome accomplishment. But no movie – even the effects-heavy Star Wars prequels – came close to using virtual scenery to Sky Captain's extent. The movie flopped, but it impressed the film world and presaged today's fantasy-soaked cinemas. So what happened to the filmmakers behind this milestone?

The Telegraph released a heartbreaking profile of Sky Captain's creators, Kerry and Kevin Conran, who saw their careers dramatically ascend and collapse in a few years over the anticipation and failure of their only feature film. Sky Captain started as an attempt to prove that independent filmmakers could create exciting blockbusters on small budgets using modern technology, but it ballooned into a massive, Jude Law-fronted boondoggle. Their innovations at one point caught the eyes of James Cameron, George Lucas, and other directors known for their technical wizardry, but they never earned a seat at the table in Hollywood. Kerry Conran continues to be crestfallen over this reversal of fortune and refused to participate in the article.

Given how little the Conran brothers created during their moment in the limelight, we may not know if they're the greatest untapped film talents in a generation or just more indie darlings who didn't work well on a bigger canvas. Their single shot fired, though, was a big one that is largely untold in film history. The next time a movie dramatically alters its setting without needing to reshoot, thank the Conrans for climbing that peak first.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

See which rejected films survive an audience gauntlet tonight at Cheers and Sneers

The annual DC Shorts festival showcases some of the best short films from local talent, but not all submissions make the cut. And every so often, presumably and hopefully with their creators' blessings, DC Shorts celebrates these rejections at Cheers and Sneers, an audience-driven showcase of the DC film scene's near misses, secret triumphs, and total failures.

Cheers and Sneers plays closer to a reality show voting round than a film festival. The DC Shorts folks play three minutes of each film on their program, and audience boos or cheers determine whether to advance that short to the next round or eliminate it from the competition. The winner at the end of the evening earns a spot in the upcoming DC Shorts festival (this year in September). Think of it as a roast of aspiring filmmakers; no malice is intended.

Lest this be too rationally critical, Cheers and Sneers is always held at a bar with ample drink specials, so the audience will be buzzed heading into this potentially disastrous lineup. Suffice to say this is a 21+ event.

2015's Cheers and Sneers unfolds tonight at 7:30pm at Penn Social near the Chinatown Metro. If you're looking for a happy hour spot that happens to be the spot of a near-drunken, vindictive film festival, you are in luck!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Coming soon: the most epic slapstick of the silent era

Dr. Strangelove nearly ended with an extended war room pie fight, but Kubrick eventually deemed the idea as too ridiculous for his otherwise subtler satire. The footage was never released, but it might have been one of the greatest on-screen pie fights in history. Pie tossing has been a staple of vaudevillian slapstick since the silent era, and Dr. Strangelove's fight would have topped them all... had Laurel and Hardy not beaten it to the punch forty years earlier.

As The New York Times tells, Laurel and Hardy's short film "The Battle of the Century" features arguably the most epically scaled pie fight in movie history, burning through over 3000 pies in 20 minutes. The second half of the film has been missing for decades, becoming "a holy grail of comedy" as critic Leonard Maltin dubbed it. But just recently, an archivist discovered this missing portion. The existing reel seems to contain most of the pie-throwing, and anecdotes suggest the second reel reveals why the pastry carnage ensued. More pies might not be thrown, but we'll finally hear the setup to the punchline.

We won't get to see the results until it's properly preserved, but soon, we'll get to see the conclusion to arguably the greatest pie fight ever captured on film. Take that, Kubrick!

(The video above is a stitched-up version of "The Battle of the Century" using all currently available footage.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Why should you care about Ennio Morricone?

San Diego Comic-Con wraps up today, and amid all the Batman and Star Wars news, you might have missed a little announcement that has classic film fans in a tizzy. During a panel on Quentin Tarantino's upcoming The Hateful Eight, the director announced that film composition icon Ennio Morricone would score the movie, his first Western score in forty years. That's a big, big deal.

So why the hubbub? Morricone's work is a cornerstone of the Western genre. Picture a Western movie and the music that pops in your head; it's probably based on something Morricone composed.

Beyond his most recognizable work, the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (and that film's legendary Ecstasy of Gold, embedded above) Morricone also wrote the music for Once Upon a Time in the West and countless near-anonymous spaghetti Westerns that have been sampled by other films. Bits of his score for Navajo Joe, for instance, was re-used in Election and Tarantino's Kill Bill duology. Morricone's trademark combination of raw guitars, whistling, choral singing, trumpets, and whipcracking have become ingrained in popular film vocabulary often to the point of parody.

A new Morricone Western score is like a new Hitchcock thriller. It's a new work by an artist in a medium they so thoroughly defined that everything afterwards is homage.

Of course, you need to listen to his music for the full effect. Instead of recommending that you watch any of the dozens of films Morricone scored, we'll instead point you to Morricone Conducts Morricone, a streaming video in our catalog of a concert of select notable pieces from his oeuvre. It's a great taste of how he transformed a genre – and what we can expect from him later this year.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

A glimpse behind the Library of Congress's film preservation vaults

You may be familiar with the National Film Registry, the Library of Congress group that annually selects significant American films to maintain in perpetuity. That's only a fraction of the over one million video recordings held by the Library of Congress, but all undergo a rigorous preservation process. For the first time that we've seen, WIRED was granted an inside look at the Library of Congress's preservation center in Virginia to show what the nation's film archive looks like. Turns out it's crowded – way more than desirable.

This profile of the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation is packed with interesting peeks behind the scenes, featuring everything from political process of curating their collection to the prison-like storage facilities. But the most fascinating detail comes from curator Rob Stone, who admits that the Packard Campus receives more items than they can handle and sadly reject a significant portion of them. WIRED writer Bryan Gardiner describes the complex in terms usually reserved for hoarders, but such is the nature of any archive flooded with rarities.

We only infrequently deal with film preservation in Media Services, so it's exciting to see the process involved in this whole other world of media in libraries. The Library of Congress is doing excellent, important work, but we'll take the AU Library over a "nuclear bunker" any day.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Filming permit map reveals NYC's hotspots in film

Many of us who do not often visit New York City are still intimately familiar with its iconic buildings and streets mainly because of its over-representation in film and television. Every other sitcom takes place in Manhattan, and aliens have destroyed the New York skylines more times than we can count. This keeps NYC's film office exceptionally busy, issuing thousands of permits every year to large and small productions filming on public property.

New York-focused data visualization group Metrocosm got their hands on over 10,000 filming permits issued from 2011 to 2013 and plotted them on a map, revealing which streets see the most action. Unsurprisingly, Times Square and the classically styled Financial District saw the most play, but you might notice a few other zones of interest. According to Metrocosm's analysis, those correspond to the city's outdoor and non-private film studios, including the massive indoor space at the 47th Regiment Armory.

We've most interested in productions that shot on the side-streets. Magician thriller Now You See Me shot extensively in Long Island City, and that's a little more exciting than seeing the Flatiron Building again.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

DC's West End Cinema is back!

Great news, DC film fans! The Washington Post reports that West End Cinema, which shuttered back in March, is reopening later this month!

West End was one of the area's most beloved limited-run independent theaters, and its closure earlier in the year left a hole in the DC film market only partly filled by E Street Cinema, the Avalon, and the AFI Silver. High-end movie-going experiences like the new ArcLight, iPic, and Drafthouse theaters in the area crowded West End out of business. The closure also signaled the symbolic end of DC's neighborhood theaters, which used to be everywhere.

Now, the Landmark Theatres chain has revived West End Cinema, still true to its goal as a small arthouse venue. Only two screens will be ready by the time it open on Friday, July 17th, but that's a good start for getting this theater back off the ground.

The theater might be under new management, but we're glad to see it back and operating!

Monday, July 06, 2015

Root around for something good in this fridge shot supercut

We had been looking for an occasion to post this supercut of refrigerators in films, and the post-Fourth of July leftover glut seems like a good occasion to do so.

The classic point-of-view shot of a character look for food in a fridge has become almost background noise at this point. When previously groundbreaking cinematography turns up in a Sunny D commercial, it's probably pass̩. This minute-and-a-half-long video from an editor under the pseudonym "Roman Holiday" is startling Рnot because it assembles so many fridge clips but because of how many notable films use them. Ghostbusters, 127 Hours, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes all appear, and Roman Holiday promises he'll continue to extend the video as he finds more.

The original fridge shot surely originated as a gimmick, but is it so ubiquitous as to be essential? Do all respectable directors need the Sunny D shot in their arsenal?

All we know is it reminds us to finally get rid of that weird jar of peppers that's been in the back of the fridge for a year.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Celebrate 'merica with an irrationally patriotic movie marathon

 Fourth of July falls on a Saturday this year, so many DC businesses are taking Friday off too – including us! The extended weekend gives us an opportunity to cram in a few more patriotic movies. We have fond memories of spending the Fourth lazily watching Independence Day on basic cable, and for America's 239th birthday, we look forward to three days of the same.

When making Fourth of July recommendations, there's a few classics. Lincoln is a powerful portrait of one country's greatest presidents, and 1776 will always be entertaining for making Benjamin Franklin singing about "sexual combustibility." But for a holiday primarily about blowing things up, we also need to recommend the most aggressively, absurdly patriotic movies. There's a danger, especially in military films, of patriotism turning violent or xenophobic, but the best rootin'-tootin' America-worshipping movies love our country to an exaggerated level that's almost harmless in its total silliness.

So, before we close tonight, we recommend swinging by the library for one of these movies that celebrates America – either in serious reverence of its history or in total, deep-fried excess. National Treasure probably falls hallway between those.

1776 – HU DVD 4969
Glory – HU DVD 1171
Independence Day – HU DVD 3111
John Adams (miniseries) – HU DVD 4991 - 4993
Lincoln – HU DVD 6210
National Treasure – HU DVD 11187
The Patriot – HU DVD 347*
Red Dawn – HU DVD 259
Team America: World Police – HU DVD 2089
Top Gun – HU DVD 2959

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Documentaries answer: what's happening in Greece?

News broke today that Greece is in serious financial straits, having missed a major loan repayment to the IMF and now teetering on the edge of default. We admit to not following this situation closely and to being less literate in international politics than likely a majority of the AU students. As is our tendency, we're turning to documentaries in our collection to get a better understanding of this situation.

We found three quality streaming videos on the Films in Demand database that explain how Europe's greater currency crisis, Greece's particular situation and its relationship with banking, and how many Greek citizens are reacting to the austerity measures.

  • The Great Euro Crash – a BBC documentary about the long history of the Euro, tracing its development from theoretical planning in the mid-20th century to the current dilemma in Greece.
  • Greece's New Odyssey – looks at changing rural life in Greece and how agriculture and barter have become an alternative for young people leaving cities
  • Goldman Sachs and the Decline of Greece – generally about Greece's crisis but specifically about how American investment bank Goldman Sachs fed its financial collapse
This is of course not a complete picture of what's happening in Greece, but these videos certainly fill in the details better than many articles we've read. Films on Demand regularly updates their collections with quality, timely documentaries like these.