Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Cinema

I finally saw Terence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011). I almost saw it in a theater, which would have been preferable, but for various reasons, I did not. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It's some kind of weird mix between a 1950's family character study, 2001 A Space Odyssey and even a bit or two from Francois Truffaut's Farenheit 451. It is not to be entered into lightly. It is "poetic" in the sense that some films are: the main points of the movie are "surmised", not spelled out. The parts regarding Brad Pitt's character and his family are very "understandable" and straightforward. The rest of it is not.

And that's where the 2001 reference comes in. Part of the film lingers on what seem to be primordial excretions near the beginning of the creation of the cosmos. And much of the film continues in that vein as our planet finds a way to sustain life as we know it, from the earliest forms thru the dinosaurs and beyond. And of course the whole thing is informed in that Malick-y way: long unbroken tracking shots, asides to the sky, trees and other natural phenomena, a methodical, unhurried approach to "story-telling", a complete antithesis to the current Hollywood approach.

A week after I saw it, I watched another film I had wanted to see for years: Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966). I remember first hearing about Tarkovsky sometime in the 70's, and saw Solaris at the time. I liked it okay, but didn't get all the "fuss". Of course, his reputation had already been made with Andrei Rublev: for those of you who are unafraid of facing a three and a half hour mainly black and white Russian film, this is marvelous. In a strange bit of synchronicity, it became all too apparent where much of Malick's "inspiration" must come from. Rublev is divided into about seven "parts", most of them NOT about the very real artist Andrei Rublev; he is a peripheral character in many sections. It takes place in the early 17th century, and the Prologue is about a man who is trying to take a flight in a very primitive hot air balloon while a large group of what appear to be peasants try to stop him. And then it goes places I never expected it to go, and because of some of those places, the Russian government "banned" it for 20 years or so. A lot of it moves like molasses, incredible tracking shots involving the most fascinating actor's faces, and cutaways to the Russian sky and landscapes. The film moves along from around 1600 to about 1624, and there are titles that tell you what year you're in and who a lot of the people are, but it's a film of magnificent parts, that actually do come together towards the end, but in an oblique and non-literal way.

These approaches to shooting scenes remind me of several shots in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will be Blood -  gorgeous, uninterrupted tracking shots that require incredible choreography and the co-ordination of many people, actors and tech crew alike. It is the yin to most modern film making's yang, wherein fast cuts and incomprehensible "action" sequences add up to nothing except the illusion of craft. This week's recommendation: slow down and sink in to The Tree of Life and Andrei Rublev. But have some "expectation" of what lies ahead, lest you run shrieking from the experience. Be open and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Leashing the Clouds

The legislative Big News this week, apart from the approaching budget deadline, is the beginning of the congressional discussions around the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and IP Protection acts, which attempt to hold disseminators of unlicensed copyrighted material liable for that material, with, for the first time in a non-peer-to-peer setting, the assumption that ignorance is not an excuse. The high-profile target of this attention is YouTube, whose self-policing has apparently been inadequate relative to the perception of content distributors like, for instance, the media giant Viacom. A central question: can entertainment be profitable in the information era? And the subquestions: is it possible to reduce the accessibility to unlicensed distribution on the internet? or is it possible to monetize it more effectively, effectively enough to make it worth a content producer's while?

One blogger weighed in on the debate with this question in distilled form: How will you gauge SOPA's success (if it passes)?  The thread of responses is fascinating, and kind of a triumph of discourse in the flame-heavy webisphere:

When the internet is ... controlled entirely by the companies which can afford to pay for laws, then the success of SOPA will have been fully realized

With SOPA, there is great potential that [it may become] harder to find stuff, harder to obtain it, and more effort and risk comes into trying to get it, [and] the soft middle will start to lean back to legal sources.

Why can't I give money directly to every musician I like, instead of paying the labels and leaving virtually nothing in the pockets of the artists?

They learned a lesson from Napster. Going to court won the battle, but they still lost the war. ... This bill is about shutting things down faster, before people's perspectives can change.

Right now, The Pirate Bay, Rapidshare, Filesonic, and dozens of others operate in PLAIN SIGHT, and ONLY that wacky legal loophole of separate links and hosting keeps them all from being shut down.

You'll ... get a lot more sharing of physical media, and make better hackers and hacking programs, since people will have to hack their own software.

Youtube appears thus far to be operating on its seed capital.  Great example, guys.

if you are not vary tech savvy, the cost of infringement scares you because you do not know how to get around it and avoid it. Those people tend to take the easier, safer, convenient route, which is to pay for everything

US Movie revenue:
1995 = $5.29bn
2011 = $9.98bn
Worldwide Live Music / Concert Revenues:
2006 = $16.6bn
2011 = $23.5 bn
Worldwide Music Industry Revenues:
2006 =$60.7 bn
2011 =$67.6 bn
Worldwide Music Publishing Revenues:
2006 =$8.0 bn 
2011 =$9.4 bn

so i am guessing these figures will continue to go up as they have done (surprisingly, without SOPA), or maybe go down after SOPA??

I also see you don't voice any concerns regarding collateral damage. This bill is taking a "nuke the ant hill" approach to pest control. Your going to be taking out quite a few friendlies with this one, I think the pirate culture is going to build on that one and although you will see a short term gain, your going to get hammered in the end.

.I will now look into what Ron Paul is about.I will vote for any who does not fit in with the Big Money Political Marriage.I will also try and do a lawsuit against this SOPA as I am a musician who gives away my ART FOR FREE !

If Services like Netflix, and I would add Hulu, Spotify, Pandora etc to that, have already started the process of turning the soft middle from piracy, why do we need SOPA? Why not just create more services that are "easy, work, easy to find stuff, easy to download it, all automated and simple"

Unfortunately I think their only measure of success is simply passing the bill. Whether it actually changes anything seems irrelevant. It's all a big show of power at the public's expense.

Ironically the tech community bought these over reaching measures on themselves by rejecting ANY copyright based potential business models for the future. That left the old school copyright based industries no choice but to fight for its survival. You guys should have compromised and used your "intellect" to incorporate the new with the old - instead you said "screw copyrights"

In most cases, the entertainment industry has gone back a second time to the negotiating table after the business achieves some level of success and either:

a) jack up licensing rates to where neither the distributors go out of business and nobody makes money, or 
b) demands that the usefulness of the technology be curtailed (features removed [e.g. hulu], or more release windows)

Almost every instance makes it look like the entertainment industry has less interest in making money, and more interest in controlling everything.

 Instead of spending billions trying to hold back the flood the money should be investing in embracing new technology and finding new ways to generate revenue while providing customers what they want...

I went to google and entered cars 2, all of the links on the front page were to legitimate content, but none of them led me to a site or location where I could pay for and download the movie.

If the MPAA or the RIAA were to spend even 1/10 of the money they have spent on lobbying, litigating, "re-educating", etc. building a quality, useful, legal service then we wouldn't be having this conversation.

With entertainment like this, who needs Pirate's Bay?

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Anniversary Remembered

"Here's a thing that is hard to imagine: being so inventive a writer that when you die, the language is impoverished. That's what Wallace's [death] did...It wasn't just a sad thing, it was a blow." John Sullivan

I don’t often add books to my “Best Novels” list. The more you keep reading, the more the “thrill/joy/epiphany” of literary discovery happens less and less. You get jaded. You know what you like, even if it’s a broad spectrum, and you stick to it. I do try new authors, and I very often enjoy them, but it’s rare that one bursts out of the pack. I’m too old. I’ve read too much. So how the hell did Infinite Jest land on my desert island Top Ten?

September of this year was the third anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death. At that time, my familiarity with his work started and ended with some of his non-fiction essays. And I read them in the magazines they appeared in, not in the collections. So thru the years I’d stumble across one of his essays, not really knowing who he was, and I was hooked – the intense, unrelenting drive to get to the subject’s core, to question everything, especially commonly held cultural “beliefs” (including his own), the loopy sentences that are always fascinating, the moments of “holy shit” stop your reading right now and marvel at what was just written, not in a “show-offy” way, but in an elegant, what an amazingly well constructed who is this guy way. I understood that he had also written a thousand page novel that the “elite” had canonized, but no way was I going to take that trip.

I don’t remember where I first saw the news that he was gone. Probably Salon. At that point, I was interested enough to dig a little deeper, in that “curious about this guy but he was no hero” sort of way. And a funny thing happened. As I began to read what people were saying about him, I was absolutely amazed at the emotional depth of the comments. His students (he taught at Pomona College) were almost uniform in relating how incredibly generous he was as a teacher, especially for being such a Literary Big Deal. His readers seemed heartbroken in a weirdly personal way. Comments were genuinely heartfelt across the board. I was intrigued. Could this be real? Maybe I should give his phone book a try.

Shortly thereafter, a coupla years ago, someone started a site called Infinite Summer and challenged people to take three months and read the novel, and Spencer said he’d join me if I did it, and we both read it, and there you have it. And now here I am, just giving DFW a little shoutout after his sad anniversary, and recommending to anyone who will listen: go read Infinite Jest. Check out the Infinite Summer site first; it’ll help you with some very worthwhile “tips”. The book is hilarious, terrifying, thought-provoking, melancholy, beautifully written. It’s a sci-fi story about tennis, addiction and family (among other things). You’ll be doing yourself a great favor.