Understanding Jacques Ellul, by Greenman, Schuchardt, and Toly, will be of special interest to Metaphilm readers as Jacques Ellul understood cinema as one of the chief tools of propaganda used by the state to distract the masses from that which matters.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Apples and Oranges, but still an interesting comparison…
In honor of TV-Turnoff Week, we suggest you go see a movie.
But seriously, what do you make of these two conflicting reports: Steven Johnson claims, with some pretty good evidence and a nice sense of rhetorical style (blame it on dropping out of graduate school while he could still write!), that contemporary TV shows—by demanding more attention to plot complexity and pattern recognition than ever before—are actually making TV audiences smarter. Hmm, worth considering.
On the other hand, in a piece of original research (with a more aggressive methodology) called the Middletown Media Studies Report from the Center for Media Design at Ball State University, the claim is that folks are consuming 11.7 hours of mass media (of one kind or another) every 24 hours, 5.3 hours of which is a daily TV tube drip feed. Even under convergent multi-tasking conditions, TV consumption still outstrips any other single medium for time spent, and nearly triples the time spent on the second nearest contender, radio. Hello future filmmakers: if you want to have more time in your day—to be, say, a producer rather than merely a consumer of electronic culture—then here’s the obvious message of the medium: turn off your TV. Then again, if you want to get smarter in the sense that Steven Johnson is talking about, then please pass the chips, and don’t touch that dial.
There are subtleties and complexities not fully addressed by either report (but acknowledgment of the complexity is offered by the Ball State report), such as those who watch TV on their web browsers, or those who keep the TV on as background noise or as a “radio with images” that they don’t actually watch, but merely listen to while knocking about the house. For these viewers, one suspects Johnson’s story doesn’t hold up, and yet this increasing habit may at least partially explain why TV viewing is officially rising, not decreasing, under multimedia conditions. Still less touched upon was how much of “TV viewing” was in fact film viewing via the medium of TV (with or without cable, VCR or DVD).
But in case you’re curious, reading this blog entry (and linking over to the various sites referenced here) only requires a fraction of the little over an hour a day you spend online—which is time well spent, isn’t it?
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
David Edelstein at Slate has a nice take on the new movie, Palindromes (“just another Todd Solondz movie,” he says), suggesting it deserves its own rating—not recommended for persons depressed or suicidal. I was struck by his conclusion: “Palindromes is a thesis movie, almost a manifesto for despair, and certainly worthy of the aforementioned NR-DS rating. Except that its bad vibes don’t linger. Have dinner and smart conversation with friends, hug a child, pick up a good book—and poof, life returns with a happy vengeance.”
Good thing. There’s a new child in our home and I’m coming to conclusions that probably occurred to our publisher a decade or two ago. Some philosophies are simply not viable in the presence of a three-month-old baby. And as my wife just said, “despair is self-indulgent.”
Bresson’s Product Placement
Watching Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket this week, I couldn’t help but wonder if the scene in the subway in which we see Michel in front and to the right of a seltzer water billboard that says “L’egalite de Perrier” was a conscious choice or not on the director’s part. If so, it struck me as either the first use of product placement in film, or else, more likely, a nice and (given the way it was shot) subtle means of using “found” media messages as a contrast to the protagonist’s views—in the film, Michel makes a somewhat tenuous argument justifying his pickpocketing by claiming he is part of the elite of society who should go unpunished since they are ostensibly doing French culture a favor by redistributing the wealth. Is this scene the first time in cinema history that the rhetoric of a film’s content is contrasted with the rhetoric of the dominant culture into which the film’s narrative arrives? If Bresson is as all that as many claim him to be, then having the “editorial” of the film world contrast with the “advertising” of the viewer’s world produces an interesting paradox: the viewer comes away confirmed in their intuition that only through film can we really see and then question the dominant cultural ideology, at the same time feeling perplexed, since escaping to the movies is already a fundamental part of the dominant cultural ideology before we enter the theater. I have a vague recollection of a similar moment where a character’s actions/motivations are contrasted on screen by an advertisement they pass by, in an early Buster Keaton comedy (which would be a much earlier example), but can’t place the film or scene. Anyone?
Monday, April 18, 2005
Reading a New York Times article about economic life in Norway, I was suddenly startled, and then realized I was reassured, when the writer dropped a reference to a film that was over 20 years old. Bruce Bawer’s sentence says, “In 2003, when my partner and I took his teenage brother to New York - his first trip outside of Europe - he stared boggle-eyed at the cars in the Newark Airport parking lot, as mesmerized as Robin Williams in a New York grocery store in ‘Moscow on the Hudson.’” Initially, it was startling to think of how long it’s been since the writer has been to a movie, or how odd that his editor didn’t flag this as an outdated (or obsolete) reference point. What I found reassuring, about a heartbeat later, was that it confirmed two of Metaphilm’s chief suspicions: 1.) that online, time is irrelevant and 2.) that a good film, no matter the passage of time, really has become the chief form of cultural shorthand for making a concise rhetorical point—something Walker Percy found to award-winning effect as early as 1961 with The Moviegoer. My third suspicion, and this may just be me, was that many readers probably appreciated Bawer’s sentence despite not having not seen the film in question—and have now added Moscow On The Hudson to their list of DVD’s to rent.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Incredibles and the Right
Speaking of The Incredibles, we got—and are enjoying—the double DVD pictured in our current philm item and lo and behold! The conservatives turn out to have been right, more or less, in their take on the hit film. The DVD extras interview with director Brad Bird and particularly the alternative opening sequence do confirm that The Incredibles has a considered pro-family viewpoint, and Bird was trying to make a quietly radical film.
In the alternative opening, the Parrs are at a neighborhood barbecue and a career-type woman is disdainful of Helen Parr’s staying home with baby Violet. The lines given to Helen, says Bird, are inspired directly by the experience of Bird’s own wife, who postponed her career for a time to raise their first child. Helen offers a passionate defense of motherhood in its more traditional expression.
Of course, Bird is not a culture warrior (thank goodness), and so even for these deleted scenes the “war” metaphor is inappropriate. He comes across in the DVD interviews as a cheerful film enthusiast with a healthy amount of common sense (one wishes Hollywood had more of this type). Given the acrimony in the air these days, his strategy for setting out a story where one’s views will speak out for themselves calmly and naturally is most welcome.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Many of the obituaries and eulogies of Pope John Paul II mention his background as an actor and playwright. I hadn’t realized that he was also a screenwriter at one remove, having written a play, “The Jeweller’s Shop, a reflection on married love, that became a Burt Lancaster film.”
He certainly knew the power of drama and story, and was a living exemplar of the right use of culture to address power. A couple of articles worth reading are from Richard Rodriguez at Pacific News Service and my favorite, George Weigel at Ethics and Public Policy Center/Wall Street Journal (Also see his Scripps-Howard column on understanding the pope from the inside, which goes a long way toward explaining the effectiveness and consistency of JPII’s performance in various roles, not to mention his actions overall).
Further evidence, perhaps, of cinema as the new cathedral, or in this case, of an individual who makes the reverse route once he realizes what the true cathedral is. I am not a Catholic, but I am inclined to agree with film interpreter Thomas Hibbs that “John Paul presented to youth an attractive possibility, that maturity need not mean boredom, that fidelity and responsibility might be wedded to adventure and risk, and that heroic suffering need not quench joy or hope.” Rest in peace.
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