Thursday, September 29, 2016

New Acquisitions - September 2016, Part 2

Yes, part two! A steady stream of DVDs continues to flow into the library, and we're getting them on the shelves for you. This month in particular had a focus on international films, so let's talk about those.

Pictured above is A Town Called Panic, the first stop-motion film ever screened at the Cannes Film Festival. We've added a number of movies nominated for the Goya Award (Spain's equivalent of the Oscar), like Marshland, Living is Easy With Eyes Closed, and the animated foosball comedy Underdogs. We've also expanded our collection of Arabic films with My Father is on the Tree and Ghazal Al Banat.

If you want to expand your film appetite beyond our shores, this is a great month to start. Follow on to see what else we have...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What was the last VHS ever?

Yesterday's post about Vidiots had us thinking about the VHS format again. Commercial VHSes have been out of print for nearly a decade, and with the last VHS player leaving the factory in July, it's glory days are clearly behind. Just for fun, this got us asking: what was the last VHS ever?

According to Inverse, the last commercial VHS ever published was David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, released on March 14, 2016. Others point to an extremely hard-to-find tape of Cars from 2007, but it's hard to figure out where those came from. Either way, we can safely say the VHS died about ten years ago.

The Inverse article goes on to wonder whether there might be a future market for VHSes in the same way that vinyl records have come back. Basically, there's not. The formats that replaced the VHS are all far better and more useful. We're always in the process of keeping our collection available and up-to-date, but we suspect we won't be purchasing new VHSes in 20 years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Help a beloved LA film library preserve their old VHSes

If you read this blog, you know we have an affinity for digital preservation and weird, niche films that aren't available anymore. We do our best to serve the university community in those areas, but there are other groups with their own missions. Take Vidiots, a video rental store that's served Los Angeles film nerds (including directors like David O. Russell) for decades with its massive library of hard-to-find titles.

Now, Vidiots has launched a crowdfunding campaign to take wants to take their collection into the modern era by digitally preserving as much of their collection as possible. Vidiots has thousands of rare VHSes that are presumably deteriorating and may be the last copies remaining of certain films, and Vidiots wants to digitize those tapes, license them, and check them out to whoever wants a copy. Additional funds will go to creating programming to showcase these films. This is a huge benefit to the LA film community – which more or less overlaps exactly with Hollywood.

If you want to support a good cause that makes the world of film a better place, consider kicking a few dollars their way. Their campaign has about a month left to raise $45,000, any amount helps.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hasta la vista, Molly

We have a bittersweet post to share today: after four years of service, Visual Media Collections Coordinator Molly Hubbs is leaving the AU Library. Molly has been an invaluable member of the Media Services team and a backbone of many of our ongoing projects, especially new acquisition processing and the push to digitize our VHS collection. Although we're sad to see her go, we're excited for her new and exciting opportunities. Best of luck, Molly!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Toronto Film Festival had "its blackest edition ever"

As we saw at this weekend's Emmy Awards, we're finally seeing what happens when diversity in film goes from being a challenge to an asset. Diversity expands the possibilities of storytelling and filmmaking, and NPR saw that in effect at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

Normally, the author Bilal Qureshi points out, film festival narratives tend to be dominated by one black film that has to stand in for the entire black experience, as Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation seemed poised to this year. But this year, TIFF had what Qureshi calls "its blackest edition ever" that "[pushed] back against the idea that Hollywood can only absorb one black story at a time." In fact, the filmmakers and organizers have shied away from labeling films "diverse" because, with the lineup they've assembled, there's no reason to pigeonhole non-white filmmakers.

We hope this becomes the new normal for film festivals. Hopefully we can expand the conversation about diversity in film past just its absence to what it looks like in practice.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What last night's Emmys mean for diversity on screen

via Yahoo

Last night's Emmy Awards highlighted the diversity of the nominees and winners, especially in contrast to this year's widely derided Oscars. The 2016 Emmys featured shows, stories, and artists from a wide spectrum of race, gender identity, and disability. Plus, we're happy any time Key & Peele wins an award. Nooice!

The Chicago Tribune published a great summary of why this year's ceremonies were different and how that different mattered creatively. Featuring an increasingly higher numbers of non-white nominees doesn't just capture the country more accurately; it also leads to greater diversity in subject matter, and the huge range of shows at the Emmys – including Master of None, Mr. Robot, and Orphan Black – reflects how media changes when you bring in new perspectives and voices. (There's also the added benefit that diverse representation may help ratings.)

If the Emmys are a sign of the general direction television is heading, diversity in perspective, representation, and talent are intertwined and growing. Take note, film!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

If you want to understand the Emmys, start with Mad Men

The Emmys are tonight! We love a celebration of the best of television as much as anyone, but as with any award show, remember that the nomination process is highly political and probably reflects the tastes and temperament of the voting body more than an objective measure of quality.

It's interesting to see what Emmy voters broadly consider to be the most prestigious shows. The number-crunching wizards at FiveThirtyEight took a shot at quantifying the types of programs the Emmys love to nominate.

Generally speaking, sci-fi, fantasy and period dramas get nods for the technical awards. Late night comedy mops up for writing. Guest appearances on Law & Order will get you a nomination for acting. And right in the middle of all this is Mad Men, a show with a nomination pattern that matches the average Emmy show almost exactly. Unsurprisingly, that's one of the most award-friendly shows in the last decade.

That article is super stats-wonky, but the point is that the Emmys have their own predictable tastes and politics. A show like The Americans is more likely to appeal to Emmy voters than Bob's Burgers, even if Bob's Burgers is wonderful and terrific.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Every Frame a Painting looks at the surprisingly unmemorable state of modern film soundtracks

Every Frame a Painting continues to be one of the best online film criticism video series. Usually the channel looks at editing and composition, but this time, creator Tony Zhou turned his sights to a very difficult film question: why are modern film soundtracks so uninspiring?

Zhou puts forward a cohesive argument, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as its focus. Over the last twenty years, movie soundtracks have become background music that matches rather than sets the mood of what's happening on-screen. That's not inherently good or bad, but it's less memorable than the fanfares and character themes from older blockbusters.

The video spends much of its time addressing a bigger concern, the use of "temp music" in editing. During production, films are often scored with placeholder music from other composers, frequently soundtracks from other movies. Increasingly, rather than starting from scratch, filmmakers ask composers to match the placeholder music, resulting in a soundtracks gradually sounding identical and borrowing the same generic structure and composition.

Speaking unobjectively, we hope that turns around. We understand why tone-setting scores have become popular, but Alan Silvestri's Back to the Future music is far more lovable than his work on The Avengers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

SOC's Media that Matter series kicks off with Thank You for Playing

Every semester, SOC's Media that Matter film series highlights social issues as captured on the screen, from race issues in America to the ethics of food. It's a very AU film series in the best way, and often, the screening includes a discussion with the filmmakers. Last semester, the series included a screening of Best Picture winner Spotlight and an interview with then-Boston Globe editor Martin Barton.

Media that Matter starts again this Wednesday with a screening of Thank You for Playing, a documentary about the development of the video game That Dragon, Cancer – an autobiographical game by Amy and Ryan Green about caring for their infant, who was diagnosed with cancer. That Dragon, Cancer is a raw, emotional experience to play, and Thank You for Playing looks at the people who chose to tell their story through an unexpected medium.

The screening begins at 6pm on Wednesday, September 14th, in the McKinley Building's Forman Theater; the film will be followed by a discussion with the filmmakers led by AU Game Lab's Lindsay Grace.

Monday, September 12, 2016

What does a filmmaking class from Werner Herzog look like?

We just love this picture so much. Credit to sarkos on Tumblr.

Last year, the startup company MasterClass began offering six-hour online video lectures hosted by luminaries in their fields. You can learn about acting from Kevin Spacey or signing from Christina Aguilera, complete with assignments to complete on your own. We don't know how genuinely useful these courses are, but our eyes were caught by a filmmaking class led by Werner Herzog. What on earth would that be like?

Jesse Andrews at The Awl took the leap and watched Herzog's class, and if it wasn't completely instructive, it was at least, in his own words, "frankly insane." He recommends "spend[ing] a night in the forest" and takes his screenwriting advice from a drunken bus ride where he wrote Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Still, Andrews says he offers solid advice, such as how to be close with your actors (or control them?) and the importance of reading.

It's certainly not a traditional film course, though, with section titles like "Disorient Your Audience." Herzog's film skills were self-taught, and this sounds like an honest-to-goodness reflection of his approach to filmmaking – helpful or otherwise.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

See Queen of Katwe for free TOMORROW!

One of the great perks of living in a major city is getting to see movies before they come out. This week, we have free passes to see Queen of Katwe, the upcoming biopic about Ugandan chess player Phiona Mutesi, weeks before it hits theaters! The screening is tomorrow, Monday, September 12th, as 7pm in Friendship Heights.

To redeem your pass, visit and enter the code 625515. You can redeem a pass for one or two people. These screenings are always intentionally overbooked to ensure a full house, so plan to show up early to ensure you get a seat.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Do some TV shows work better un-binged?

So today, a contentious issue came up in Media Services: one of our staff members gave up watching HBO's Deadwood. One reason it didn't click, they thought, was that episodes might not play as well when watched one after another. Unlike some shows with slowburn stories that make sense to watch in extended sessions, maybe Deadwood flowed better with a week between episodes.

We tried to figure out if there was some consensus or scholarly thoughts on this subject, and of course, opinion is split. On the one hand, Grantland once made the strong argument that binge-watching "allows you to completely ‘immerse’ yourself in the world of your new favorite show." "By binge-watching," they say, "you are spending quality time with the characters, forming a deep emotional connection with them."

On the other hand, NPR's Fresh Air points to The Jinx as an example of how rationing out a show through serialization gives the story more time to breathe. "Embracing new technology doesn't mean abandoning old storytelling forms that work," David Bianculli says.

Screenrant has similarly mixed thoughts. Some binge-watched shows benefit from a compressed narrative, but that sacrifices the opportunity to let those shows percolate between episodes.

Obviously, watching a show on DVD with a week between episodes is an artificial constraint, but changing the time dimensions in how you watch something does seem to have an effect on how it's received. And kudos to you if you have the power to hold back that long.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Can someone give Mr. Robot a lamp?

from the trailer for season 4 of The Americans
Current great television dramas are dark. We don't just mean in terms of content, like Mr. Robot or the extremely tense The Americans. They are, literally, dark.

Vulture's Kathryn VanArendonk wrote a great column about this phenomenon and how this impacts our perception of the shows. VanArendonk compares Halt and Catch Fire and Silicon Valley: both shows are set in the same sunny California region, but because Halt and Catch Fire looks constantly gloomier even in daytime, it registers as a more serious show. This problem compounds itself. We associate bright colors with comedy, and so dramas are rarely brightly colored anymore. Compare this with Mad Men even a few years ago – or any of the USA Network's former crime shows with extremely bright skies.

This seems like a problem from the same well as the orange-and-teal color correction of blockbuster movies. Audiences want dramas and comedies, and the presentation of those genres becomes polarized and exaggerated.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

New Acquisitions - September 2016

With the first week of classes almost in the bag, we have the Labor Day weekend to look forward to. And with a tropical storm possibly bearing down on us, what better way than to escape a long, stormy weekend than grabbing a few movies?

We're continuing to add new films to our collection that classes are using this semester, but we're also getting more blockbusters, critical favorites, and historically significant movies – like BellaDonna of Sadness, a Japanese animated film that has never been available since 1973.

Other interesting titles this month include ESPN's riveting documentary series OJ: Made in America; Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead; and The Mermaid, the highest-grossing Chinese movie ever. (And we also got the extended cut of Batman v Superman, which runs a whopping three hours.)

We could go on and on this month, but we'll just let you read the list. Follow the link to see what's new for September...