Thursday, April 28, 2016

The future of film preservation is... DNA?

Not that you need any kind of mental stress during finals, but our media librarian passed along this mind-blowing update from the world of film preservation. The best-preserved filmstrips and digital backups will still deteriorate overtime, but the folks at Technicolor (yes, the Wizard of Oz Technicolor) think they've developed a foolproof technique for keeping films stable and format-neutral for thousands of years.

Basically, Technicolor converts a film into code, then – with science indistinguishable from magic – encodes that into DNA. DNA is absurdly dense storage: your phone might hold 32 gigs, but DNA can store about tens of billions times more data in a single gram. Technicolor can bottle millions of copies of this DNA in a small water vial, where it will remain safe probably through the apocalypse.

We have to be a little skeptical just because this is the bleeding edge of film preservation technology, but Technicolor says they'll have it down-pat in a year. Imagine being able to store the entire history of film in a rain barrel. It'll be pricey, but we're astounded.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If you're seeing a movies in the 1910s, kindly remove your hat

Finals week has arrived, folks. In deference to your stress levels, we'll be sharing some light, entertaining things this week.

Firstly, we wanted to show you these great old "lantern slides" that were once displayed in movie theaters at the turn of the 20th century. In the days long before FirstLook and movie theater radio stations, theaters still used the empty screen between movies to explain theater policies and advertise. Apparently in 1912, wearing a hat to the movies was the equivalent of using your phone. (We're sure 1912's AMC briefly considered the idea of a hat-friendly theater.)

You can see a whole bunch of these in the Library of Congress's collection. The world of 2016 would probably benefit from a "Don't forget your umbrella" slide.

(Thanks to film critic Manohla Dargis for pointing these out!)

Monday, April 25, 2016

See The Terminator with artificial intelligence experts – free!

Tomorrow, AU takes a day-long study break before final exams begin. Use this time wisely if you need it, and don't forget about the library's Final Perk event!

But suppose you're off-campus, have time on your hands, and want something film-y to do. Slate's Future Tense has you covered. Tomorrow, the web magazine's futurist column will host a free screening of The Terminator at 6:30pm at E Street Cinema downtown. The screening will be accompanied by a discussion from robotics and technology experts Kevin Bankston and Sean Luke about the concept of "killer artificial intelligence."

We hope the robot uprising won't happen for many years, but expert testimony and a great movie on the topic are a great way to spend the evening. See the linked article for details about how to attend; you'll need to RSVP via email.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

See local film shorts, featuring the AU Library's Christina Floriza!

We have a special film screening recommendation today: the AU Library's own Christina Floriza is starring in Rendezvous, a new independent short film playing at the NOVA Film Festival tomorrow in Fairfax, VA.

The film looks like a small-scale dinner date dramedy, filmed on location at a restaurant in Tysons Corner. We haven't seen it and can't much it or its merits, but we'll gladly encourage you to go see it to support Christina!

The NOVA Film Festival continues tomorrow, April 25th at 7pm at the Angelika Film Center in Fairfax. Tickets for the two-hour block featuring Rendezvous cost $11 – not a bad price for a bunch of local shorts. Purchase them through the NOVA Film Festival website.

Congratulations to Christina for her theatrical debut!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Movies don't get worse than watching them on Videodisc

Occasionally, we have a laugh about some of the obsolete media formats we keep stocked behind the desk. We still have a large number of VHS tapes and a handful of LaserDiscs – and even an extremely unloved U-matic player that looks like part of the Space Shuttle.

But there's a format even clunkier than all of those. Behold, the CED Videodisc.

The video by retro technology group Techmoan, embedded above, explores this horrible media format. CED Videodiscs combine the impracticality of listening to music on vinyl, the blurry quality of VHS tapes, and the short running time of LaserDiscs. Discs only half an hour on each side and need to be flipped halfway through a movie. And if a Videodisc had any damage or particles stuck on the surface, it would skip wildly; many older discs are almost unwatchable.

We don't have any Videodiscs in our collection, probably because the format was dead by 1984. You'll have to make do with this video if you want to experience the absolutely worst way to watch a movie. Skip to about the 20 minute mark to see it in action.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Want to be a media librarian? Kino Lorber's here to help

Allow us to toot the horn of our own profession for a second. If you're interested in becoming a librarian who works with film, the American Library Association has a scholarship with your name on it.

ALA has partnered with classic and art house film distributor Kino Lorber to offer an annual $1000 award for a prospective library science Masters degree student interested in "work[ing] professionally as a media librarian in an academic institution." The scholarship includes a paid trip to New York City to learn about film distribution at a festival from the Kino Lorber folks – a great hands-on opportunity that uniquely fits the media librarian sub-profession.

We're glad to see Kino Lorber giving back to the library world. Richard Lorber himself shares in anecdote in ALA's press release about how librarians helped him find films to use for his teaching. We certainly hope the AU Library's collection and librarians have been so helpful, and this scholarship is a little boost to keep those sorts of services going in the future.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Browse the history of the small screen in our new television filmography

We recently added dozens of television shows, bringing our collection total to nearly 400 television show. The time seemed right to assemble a formal list of every series in our collection, so after weeks of hard work and formatting from our staff, we bring you our new Television Shows filmography.

In addition to the master list of shows, we've broken up our television collection by genre and, most importantly for television studies, the era the show was released. For the most part, that means distinguishing them by decade (80s shows were very different from 90s shows), but the filmography also sets space aside for the two "Golden Ages" of television in the 50s and 2000s. If you just want to study or watch post-war Leave It to Beaver-type sitcoms, you can now find what we have in stock much more easily.

(It might seem bizarre to put Reno 911! in the Second Golden Age of Television, but it rode the same wave as other critically acclaimed scripted shows!)

We hope this filmography makes your research in television just a little easier. If you're looking for something similar in the realm of film, we have a separate section of films by subject area.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Koyaanistocksi is filmmaking out of balance

Here's a fun one to start off the week: Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi is a striking experimental film that uses footage of nature, people, and technology to convey our often dissociated relationship with the world. It's an unusual, groundbreaking work that, along with its outstanding Philip Glass soundtrack, has become a touchstone for awe-inspiring cinema.

Koyaanisqatsi is also more than the sum of its parts, as demonstrated in the hilarious new video embedded above, Koyaanistocksi. Jesse England recreated the trailer for the 1982 film entirely with stock footage, and his cut matches the original shot-for-shot. It also clearly isn't as good as the original, which makes it a great example of how compelling filmmaking is distinct from just putting together a string of images.

Filmmaking lessons aside, Koyaanistocksi is hilarious for people who will recognize the shots. Life is so out of balance that the sorts of shots that used to be terrifying commentary on society are now packaged and sold by iStock as filler videos.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hollywood's big new technology is 90 years old

As movie theaters search for new technology to drag people into theaters, the latest promise comes from Barco Escape, a three-screen technology designed for "immersive cinema" with a panoramic view or, potentially, action on three different screens at once.

But as Dennis Duffy once said, technology is cyclical. These ideas have come up before – in spectacular fashion.

Back in the 50s, the Cinerama format had a similar concept, using three projectors on a wide-angled screen to create a broader picture. The technique seemed so unusual at the time that the first Cinemera film, This Is Cinerama, is basically a commercial for the format; it opens with an educational lecture about the history of film to prepare viewers for what will come next. Flicker Alley released This Is Cinerama on Blu-ray a few years ago, complete with a fake curved screen. (Available from the AU Library under HU BLU 10798.)

Other movies have used multiple projectors to show several scenes at once, maybe none more famously than the 1927 silent film Napoleon. The 5-hour-long behemoth of a movie includes a sequence with three different projectors running at once. Because of the changing size of the screen and length, Napoleon is nearly impossible to watch correctly at home. You'll have to catch one of the rare theatrical screenings, held only 14 times since the 1930s. (A Blu-ray will also come out later this year.)

Or maybe, if Barco Escape catches on, you can watch Napeleon there. Everything old is new again!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Acquisitions - April 2016
As promised, as part of our year-end push, we're continuing to add huge volumes of classic television shows to our collection. Frasier, The Jeffersons, Get Smart, The Golden Girls, and other famous sitcoms are now available to check out from the library, either for research purposes or just for fun.

Huge thanks to our staff for processing hundreds of DVDs so quickly. This is a staggering volume to turn around in half a month, especially considering how many custom cases had to be created and processed. Kudos to all!

If you're not interested in checking out The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, we've also added several Oscar-contending films from last year. Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and The Big Short are all available too.

Hit the break for a list of everything now in stock...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Big-budget independent television is still a dream
This year, Louis C. K. debuted Horace and Pete, an original dramedy television show that he independently produced and released exclusively through his website. The show itself is apparently very good, but its production model caught much of the attention: C. K. financed the entire thing himself, something never attempted for a show with production values like Horace and Pete. Has the media marketplace evolved to the point where it can support independent artistic larks like this?

Evidently – and unfortunately – no. Louis C. K. revealed this week that the first season of Horace and Pete left him several million dollars in debt. Each of the show's ten episodes, with a star-studded cast including Alan Alda, Edie Falco, and Steve Buscemi, cost about $500,000 to produce (cheap for television), and C. K. never saw the return on investment he expected. The same strategy that helped the comedian sell stand-up specials doesn't seem to scale to full television production.

Independent television shows are still possible on a much smaller scale; Broad City started as a no-budget web series. But Louis C. K.'s struggles with Horace and Pete serve as a reminder that, even in an age of television everywhere, somebody still foots the bill.

Monday, April 11, 2016

New infographics break down gender in screenplays... and it's about what you'd expect

Late last week, Hanah Anderson and Matt Daniels released a study on Polygraph breaking down the dialogue of over 2000 major screenplays by the gender and age of the actors. If you've followed any of the other news about representation in film for the last few years, the results should come as no surprise: it's men all the way down, and older women are especially absent.

Polygraph bills the study as the largest demographic breakdown of film ever undertaken, and its scope certainly helps make the point. Among the 2000 screenplays dissected, over 75% give a strong majority of their dialogue to men. Only eight screeplays feature all-women speaking roles – a number even that's more troubling in comparison to the 304 scripts with only men. Age breakdowns are similarly frustrating, with roles increasing for men as they age and decreasing for women.

To make the point, the authors included a separate list of statistics just for Disney movies. Even in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a movie noted for its progressive gender representation, men get 72% of the dialogue.

As with other tests and measurements, this isn't an indication of whether a movie is a good or morally acceptable. It also isn't wholly reflective of individual movies: men have a majority of the dialogue in Kill Bill, but the movie has an exceptional cast of women. But it's statistical confirmation that, on the whole, women (and older women) are still disproportionately out of the spotlight.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

After People v. O. J., a closer look at the Trial of the Century

The People v. O. J. Simpson, the first season of FX's American Crime Story, ended last night to thunderous reviews. For a generation that didn't live through the Simpson murder trial and never had to endure a year of Jay Leno monologue jokes, American Crime Story was a sensationalist look at a period of history that continues to explain so much about the current state of celebrity culture and race relations in America. Intrigue about O. J. and the trial are at their highest since 1995.

Viewers gripped to the show probably want to learn more; the obvious starting place is in the books written by the trial's participants. We'd also like to offer up two documentaries in our collection, one about the trial itself and one that shows the effect of the verdict.

First, watch American Justice: Why O. J. Simpson Won (HU DVD 11111), an A&E documentary hosted by Bill Kurtis about the legal and cultural significance of the case. The hour-long documentary includes interviews with Johnnie Cochran and Fred Goldman. A&E claims this is "the definitive wrap-up" of the trial, and it may be able to solidify the themes – however exaggerated – that the show introduced.

If you want to see a first-hand example of how Cochran's symbolic victory opened up discussions about police and race – if only on a cursory level – you can watch a streaming version of Racial Profiling and Law Enforcement: America in Black and White, ABC News's special report on racially motivated police practices produced three years after the trial ended. Its messages should come as no surprise to anyone following police violence in the past few years, but the special is clear evidence of these issues' heightened profile after the trial. The participation of prosecutor Christopher Darden is also telling evidence of trial's long shadow.

Again, sadly, you don't have to look far to see the same sort of racial discord. But if you want something more factual than the show, these two documentaries are a closer look at what happened in the trial, why it happened, and what it meant.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

See horror's John Carpenter in DC... at a concert?

Master horror filmmaker John Carpenter is beloved for directing Halloween, They Live, and The Thing. Many people don't know that he scored many of this movies as well. Carpenter composed the famous Halloween theme song, and since largely setting aside his film career, he has continue to dabble in the minimalist, terrifying synthesizer music that he has helped popularize as the soundtrack of horror.

Even so, we're surprised that John Carpenter has launched a national concert tour where he'll be performing horror themes and original music. His second album, Lost Themes II, debuts on April 15th. To support it, Carpenter will be visiting DC's Lincoln Theater on July 12th for a retrospective night of his music, past and present. He'll probably perform the Halloween theme – of course – but we're curious about what else will "[inspire] people to create films that could be scored with this music."

Tickets are pricey, starting at $55, but we can't really think of another event this unusual. Horror fans especially should jump at the rare chance to see a famed auteur working his craft.

Monday, April 04, 2016

A new site can find movies by describing them... for the most part

Every once in a while, we get stumped trying to remember a certain movie starring a certain actor. Usually those questions can be answered with a quick search (or by asking your librarian!), but there are trickier ones too: how do you find a movie by the subject matter? Today, we stumbled across a new site attempting to make all movies searchable with natural language results.

What is My Movie? is a tech demo for technology by a video analysis company called Valossa, which aims to make videos machine-readable by their content in conjunction with transcripts. Valossa has so far parsed 40,000 movies for their content; you can search by year of release or director, like anywhere else, but you can also look for information about the content and themes of the movie.

Sometimes it works well: "Paul Newman movies from the 70s about hockey" brings up Slap Shot. Sometimes it doesn't work well: "sad movies starring Brad Pitt" brings up Slap Shot.

What is My Movie? is definitely a work-in-progress, but using movie searching as a proof-of-concept for their engine is a clever, practical use of the technology. Take it for a spin and see if it turns up your favorite movie by a description. When there's finally a comedy starring Daniel Day-Lewis about competitive eating, we'll be able to track it down.