Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Help fund an archive of weird, dangerous, rare films

In 1990, a film enthusiast named Mike Vraney founded Something Weird Video, a distributor of hard-to-find, sensationalist movies. This included everything from violent exploitation movies to budget Westerns and found footage. Something Weird became a touchstone for the rougher, risky side of film history, and filmmakers including Paul Thomas Anderson and Drive's Nicolas Winding Refn have been involved with the company. Vraney died in 2014, leaving behind a massive trove of some of the only copies of over 6000 strange films – and your help is needed to preserve them.

The American Genre Film Archive has started a project to preserve and re-release as much of Something Weird's archive as possible, and they're looking for $30,000 from a Kickstarter. Something Weird apparently sends out hundreds of prints to film and educational groups every year, and those copies will eventually degrade if not cared for. A proper preservation program like that one AGFA proposes would ensure access to this very odd collection for generations to come.

Consider throwing a few dollars their way. AGFA has chosen the comically ahistorical The Zodiac Killer as its restoration centerpiece, and if you pitch in at least $10, you'll get a free copy when it's available!

Monday, September 28, 2015

See a documentary about Malala early – and for free!

We continue to get advance screening passes for upcoming films, and we're very excited about this next one. We suspect the AU community will be interested in seeing He Named Me Malala, a documentary about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education activist and the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate. Based on what we've seen in the trailer and read it descriptions, it sounds like this will offer a touching glimpse of Malala's family life that we rarely see.

He Named Me Malala opens in limited release next Friday, but we have passes to see the film before it opens on Tuesday, October 6th at 7pm. The screening will take place at the AMC Loews 14 in Georgetown, which is just a quick ride from any number of buses on Wisconsin Avenue.

You can pick up passes online or grab them in person. Please keep in mind that as with all advance screenings, this event will be intentionally overbooked. Show up early to ensure that you get a seat.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Clap in a circle to mourn the end (?) of fake birthday songs

After a court decision last night, movie and television characters might finally be able to sing "Happy Birthday to You." The Summy Company contested for decades that it owned the copyright to the universally recognized birthday song and charged productions $10,000 to include its melody and lyrics. No one really wanted to pay all that for an incidental song (with the bizarre exception of Tommy Wiseau's The Room), so shows and films have made up their own alternative birthday songs to skirt the copyright.

That era might finally be over, but some of those fake jingles are pretty great. A few years back, the Free Music Archive assembled a collection of some of their favorite royalty-free birthday songs into a video, embedded above. There's some good choices, especially Police Squad!'s overdubbed choral replacement and Waiting's uncomfortable military chant.

But we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the greatest omission from that video: "Spirit Formation Journey Anniversary" from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The character Master Shake wrote this bizarre metal dirge in an attempt to replace the original birthday song and claim royalties once it becomes popular at restaurants. It's a spot-on parody of the ridiculous hoops creative media had to jump to sing a song that effectively belonged to the public.

As with so many cultural references, all these substitute songs are now instantly relics and will be confusing for future generations. Or maybe we'll have moved on to "Spirit Formation Journey Anniversary" by then.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

RIP William Becker, the unsung hero of world cinema

A week and a half ago, film distributor William Becker died. His name is not a recognizable one, and his quiet work at Janus Films and the Criterion Collection left a massive imprint on how we consume visual media.

As the co-owner of Janus Films starting in 1965, Becker oversaw the importation of many influential works of world cinema to American shores. He deserves partial credit for the success and influence of directors including Bergman, Kurosawa, and Fellini, filmmakers who might not have come to the United States for some time otherwise. He also co-founded the Criterion Collection, which worked closely with Janus Films to release of hundreds of classic works of cinema and popularized the letterbox film display standard. If you've watched The 400 Blows on a television, you can thank William Becker for that.

One person alone is of course not responsible for reshaping the arthouse and international film market in America, but Becker's transformation of Janus Films significantly helped. Criterion and Janus their exceptional work in distributing high-quality transfers of world cinema, and William Becker silently carved out a spot on the film world for that to happen.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Chinese cancer rom-com Go Away Mr. Tumor comes to America – for free!

In 2011, Xiong Dun started an irreverent webcomic about her cancer diagnosis that gained millions of followers before she died a year later. Her comic was adapted into a romantic comedy movie this year, and although it was a success when it was released in China last month, it hasn't yet come out in the United States. You can be one of the first in the country to see it!

It's unclear when the film will be publicly released in the United States, but we're giving away passes to see it at a private screening at the National Geographic Society on Thursday, September 24th at 6:30pm. Variety liked the movie and compared it favorably to thematically similar movies like The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, so why not give it a shot? (Assuming you can get past the papal security downtown.)

You can pick up the passes at the Media Services desk in the AU Library (or grab them online here). Please remember as usual to show up early for this screening: the organizer intentionally overbooked this event, so you'll need to get in line if you want to see it.

We hope you'll attend! Again, we have no idea when the movie will actually come out in the United States, so this is your best (and cheapest) chance to watch it.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

New Acquisitions - September 2015 - Part 2

DC's 90-degree days are finally behind us. It's almost time to make cider and curl up under some form of flannel, and we couldn't be happier. Seems like as good of a time as any to get you caught up on what you can now check out from our collection.

Our biggest new title for the second half of September is Mad Max: Fury Road, possibly the best post-apocalyptic feminist action epic featuring a guy chained to the front of a truck playing a flamethrower-guitar (pictured). If you don't want to watch that for the third time, you may want to start a critically acclaimed television show you've meant to watch. And we have several: the first seasons The Knick, The Comeback, The Honorable Woman, and Viola Davis's breakout hit How to Get Away with Murder are now all available from the library. The more politically minded might also want to see a documentary about the life of the late Gore Vidal.

Follow the link for a full list of what we added...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The insatiable film appetite of Jimmy Carter

Since Woodrow Wilson screened Birth of a Nation, presidents have enjoyed the privilege of watching seemingly any film they wanted at any time. In the century since – and especially since FDR installated of a formal White House movie theater – we've heard stories about Eisenhower's love for Westerns or Clinton's private screening of Independence Day. But our most movie-obsessed film president might not have been former actor Reagan: it was Jimmy Carter.

At least according to a list assembled by Gizmodo's Matt Novak, who dug through presidential records and discovered that Carter watched 400 films over the course of his presidency, everything from All the President's Men to, for some reason, Blue Lagoon. Carter occupied the White House during the end of the New Hollywood era, so his screenings have a pretty good track record: in his first year alone, he saw The Godfather, Network, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Blazing Saddles. But there's also the funny mental image of him watching The In-Laws the day before his famous "crisis of confidence" speech.

It sounds like this list took some serious manual compiling, so don't expect similar lists from other presidencies any time soon. Weirdest of all, we don't have much anecdotal evidence for why Carter watched so many movies. We're willing to chalk it up to the stress of the job.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

DC Shorts is happening... right now!

One of DC's biggest film events has been happening under our noses! DC Shorts, an annual showcase of short films, has been going on since last Thursday, but there's still a few more days worth of films to catch.

Over the course of a week and a half, DC Shorts screens over 100 shorts from local and international, including documentaries, music videos, and animation. The size and quality of the festival is a testament to the strength of the local film scene, and the concurrent screenplay competition shows that you don't need to know lens focal length to be involved.

Counting today, there are still three days of new films to watch, followed by a Best of Show revue over the weekend. See DC Shorts's schedule for a listing of what will screen where. All the new screenings are at E Street Cinema, so depending on when you show up, you could have your choice of local shorts, LGBT films, comedy, or a general competition showcase. You can still watch these shorts if you can't make it out, too. For $30, you can watch nearly all the festival's shorts online. That's a great alternative if you want to see quality short films without having to schlep to E Street.

We hope you'll attend! There's a few big festivals every year in DC, and this is a favorite.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Remember: sign up for a DC Library card and stream the Criterion Collection!

We try not to re-run content too often here, but now that the semester is settling, we wanted to remind you about the excellent streaming collection that anyone at American University can access through the DC Public Library.

If you have a DC Public Library card (which you can grab at the Tenley-Friendship Library in Tenleytown), you can stream films from the Criterion Collection, one of the greatest assortments of classic films ever assembled. We're proud of the offerings you can get directly from the AU Library, but free streaming access to the Criterion Collection is hard to beat.

We encourage everyone to get a DC Library card and take advantage of this service. It's a great convenience if you're a film student, but anyone who wants to watch the best classic films of all time should take interest too.

(See our full post about this from May for more information.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Hannibal got a rare triple take on the same scene

Media critics widely lamented the cancellation of NBC's Hannibal this year; the show is considered one of the best adaptations of the iconic serial cannibal series. Non-fans might not understand the appeal since we've heard that story several times before, but even for those without an appetite for the antihero doctor might see an exciting film analysis exercise here. The first Hannibal story, Red Dragon, has been portrayed in visual media three times – once as Manhunter, then as Red Dragon, and finally in the third season of Hannibal – which offers a unique opportunity to see the same scenes rewritten by three different creative teams from identical scripts.

HitFix's Drew McWeeny wnalyzed the differences in-depth, including a clip (embedded above) that crosscuts between all three versions while still telling a cohesive story. It's rare that the same film is filmed so many times outside of experiments and exercises, let alone the same script, so this is an exceptionally valuable opportunity for anyone who wants to dissect different filmmaking styles or how those styles have evolved over time.

We'll hop on that wagon that laments the end of the series (we hear good things from our staff), but we're glad it produced at least one terrific teachable moment for film scholars.

If you want to see what else Bryan Fuller did with this famous character, we currently carry season 1 (HU DVD 14307) and season 2 (HU DVD 14308).

Sunday, September 06, 2015

See a free movie in advance on Wednesday and help a Tenleytown charity

We often share free advance movie passes, and we're excited to something a little differently with them this time. We have passes for you to see 99 Homes, an Andrew Garfield-led drama about eviction and homeless – and proceeds from the event are going to a local charity.

To promote 99 Homes, filmmaker Broad Green Pictures started the 99 Good Deeds Program, a charitable effort that holds benefit screenings of the film for small non-profit organizations fighting homelessness. This screening of 99 Homes supports Friendship Place, a homelessness group founded in Tenleytown. (In fact, you've probably walked past one of their locations if you've ever gone north on Wisconsin Avenue near the Safeway.)

The screening will be held this Wednesday, September 9th at 7:30pm at the Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights. Passes can theoretically be redeemed online at, but the link hasn't been working for us. But we do have a bunch of physical passes you can pick up at the Media Services desk in the library.

Remember the usual caveats: this event is intentionally overbooked, and a pass does not guarantee entry. Arrive in advance to ensure you get a seat!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Epix deal (sadly) signals a new phase of streaming fragmentation

Netflix subscribers might have notice their queues empty a little in the coming weeks. Digital film distributor Epix ends its billion-dollar licensing deal with the streaming giant at the end of this month, and many of its biggest films – including the Hunger Games and Transformers franchises – are moving to Hulu. This is a big, risky decision for Netflix, but more troublingly, it's a sign of the growing fragmentation of the streaming marketplace.

Streaming services have long been idealized as a way to cut out DVD purchases and a cable television subscription – especially for people not in a financial position to pay for it all – but that dream rests on streaming options being concentrated and affordable. To watch all the most acclaimed shows on television and the best recent movies, you'll at least need a subscription to Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, Amazon Prime... and the list continues. That could at least $50 per month. Original content like Orange is the New Black will understandably never be on a competing service, but when Catching Fire is only available on tap from specific outlets, instant universal accessibility seems out of reach.

As Bryan Bishop from The Verge puts it, there will never be a Spotify equivalent for video. Netflix and Hulu are fine offering only a limited selection of programming and hoping "the lean-back passivity of television" makes up for the gaps in their libraries. It's unfortunate, but that's how streaming media business works now.

We didn't intend for this post to be a direct promotion for our services, but it does underlie the biggest benefit of library DVD collections: everything will always be in one place – and for free.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Buenos Aires film festival puts decades of Latin American films online for free

Our comfortable routine of watching major blockbusters and idly browsing Netflix often blinds us to titles we wouldn't otherwise seek out, and too often, that includes world cinema. Our usual outlets sometimes either downplay or outright omit films from other countries and in other languages. If you want to watch something from elsewhere on the globe, where can you start?

If you're interested in Latin American films, look no further than Cinemargentino, a streaming website that recently got a big kick from the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema. BAFICI released hundreds of films from the festival's 16-year library to Cinemargentino, which can now be streamed from free via your browser. The library includes shorts and feature-length videos totaling over 15 hours, guaranteeing you, at the very least, one extremely aggressive day of world cinema.

The deal between BAFICI and Cinemargentino seems to be temporary, so you'll want to cram those 15 hours in while you can. The site does have plenty of other exciting Latin American film, so even if you miss this window, you still might've found your favorite new streaming site.

(Thanks to Professor Jeffrey Middents for tipping us off!)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

New Acquisitions - September 2015

And thus the school year begins! Welcome to all the returning and new students that we're looking forward to assisting over the semester.

Although we've continued to add new titles throughout the past month, our largest batch of new additions comes from the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Library formerly located in Mary Graydon. The CDI Library unfortunately closed over the summer, but all of their titles have been added to our permanent collection. This includes a large selection of GLBTA films and documentaries and television shows that might be hard to find otherwise. Amazingly, that includes Ellen, as the show is now out-of-print.

Our other most exciting additions are the first seasons of the hit Comedy Central shows Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele. Nooice!

Hit the jump for a full list of our new titles from the past month...