All entries for January 2009

January 06, 2009

BD Live.

Writing about web page http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/05/technology/05bluray.html?ref=business

The New York Times give something of a preview to the Consumer Electronics Show, which starts on Wednesday in Vegas.  "Nearly two million square feet of convention hall will be stocked with the latest mobile phones, portable music players, digital cameras and expensive flat-screen televisions."  I don't know much about the event, but I expect it involves a lot of dudes in suits and shades telling anyone who will listen that they represent the next big thing. 

This article focuses upon the challenges facing Blu-Ray in the market.  A central difficulty is how to tell audiences that Blu-Ray is significantly better than DVD (because, well, I'm not convinced that it is).  One of their strategies is to introduce a 'BD Live' service:

Analysts say they expect companies to announce more support for a feature called BD Live (as in Blu-ray disc live), which lets people download additional material from the Internet and interact with friends in text chats that appear on the television while playing a movie.

I often find it annoying enough when I get distracted by a real thing when watching a film.  Let alone a chat box unexpectedly intruding upon the experience.   This feeds into a model of how audiences consume films as digital media that is often propagated in discourses - as one of many 'competing elements', to borrow Aylish Wood's phrase, jostling for perceptual position.  I haven't used XBox live all that much, but in my experience it is less interesting for the social opportunities it provides and more so for how it enhances collaborative gameplay.  I want to talk to people so we can figure out how to shoot these zombies up, not so they can tell me about their day - I have friends to do that with.

It could be interesting to imagine how such a BD Live feature could be used to create collaborative, real-time film criticism - like a user-initiated director's commentary, a phenemenological commentary.  This seems to be more thought and imagination experiments though, as I imagine the appeal and utility would be novel but short-lived.





January 04, 2009

the sunday suplex 04/01/08

Some Sunday links to tide you over.  Built like my ideal newspaper.

2009 Resolutions for Film Criticism - Aaron Hillis et al - Hillis has taken over GreenCine Daily, and is employing a quality over quantity approach.  This is a podcast featuring him, and three other critics from New York.  There's nothing revelatory in it but it's interesting and entertaining (although the fact that they keep talking over each other might imply one thing that is wrong with film criticism, and all human discourse).

New New World: An Exchange, A Conversation, An Epigraph - Ryland Walker Knight & Keith Uhlich - Haven't listened to the podcast yet, but the exchanges about Malick's The New World are quite wonderful.

'August: Osage County' - Michael Billington & What To Say About August: Osage County - Mark Espiner - for context to my latest entry.

PS In A Podcast - I haven't listened to it yet, but my friends Pete Smith and Paul Savage are both funny and have a new podcast

Preview: Sengoku Seventh Battle - Jordan Breen - The sport section.  Entertaining event, and Breen as always got me psyched up.  Read this, and then find the fights on YouTube.

And, things to do this week: The University Drama Society are putting on 'Elephant's Graveyard' by U.S playwright George Brant at the Arts Centre Weds to Sat.  It's a new play that hasn't been performed in Europe before, which is unusual for the drama society but makes it all the more exciting.  

There are also some short runs of interesting films at the Arts Centre this week; I hope to be able to check out Rivals by Jacques Maillot, and Choke by Clark Gregg.

And, the last couple of days, I've seen listening to The Skints self-titled e.p, 'Come All You Madmen' by The Briggs, and 'Sketches of Spain' by Miles Davis & Gil Evans.

Have a good Sunday.



This is the way the world ends.

Hot damn, 2009 has gotten off to a good start.  I would hate to spoil the play for you, so if you're planning on seeing August: Osage County don't read further; I'm immediately interested in surprises and endings.

There were some moments in August: Osage County (by Tracy Letts and Steppenwolf theatre company), which I saw at the National Theatre last Friday, of collective audience response that rivalled any shared experience I can recall in a theatre or a cinema.  I'm more accustomed to such palpable communal responses in a comedy club, where most people laugh at the same time at the same thing and feel like they've shared something.  And there's a lot of shared laughter in August, there are some hilarious moments.  Yet the collective responses go beyond this: shared surprise when Ivy (Sally Murphy) and Little Charles (Ian Barford) embrace for the first time outside the front door; shared repulsion when Steve (Gary Cole), the youngest daughter Karen's confident fiance who wears shades indoors like a dot-com millionaire (although he's clearly a wannabe at best), slowly groping the neck and face of fourteen year old grand-daughter Jean (Molly Ranson); shared horror when it slowly becomes clear just how few secrets people are able to keep from the hawk eyes of matriach Violet (Deanna Dunagan - in the performance of a lifetime).  These responses testify to the pleasures of a communal audience experience; a lot of work can only elicit such extreme social reactions if someone's phone goes off.

It is an enormous work with more ideas and references than I or anyone could hope to immediately comprehend in full, many of which are specifically tied to place - the 'Plains', and more generally America.  To this extent it aligns itself with an excellent tradition and history.  Rose, who I saw the play with, said afterwards that the only thing she could think to compare it to, in terms of size, was Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.


                                                    august osage county

One of the play's big ostensible themes is power and control.  One of the play's signature moments is at the end of Act 2 when eldest daughter Barbara (Amy Morton), after a monumental (at least to an outsider) family feud over dinner, screams 'I'M RUNNING THINGS NOW' - a moment that is referenced, and turned back in on itself, later by Ivy when she says 'You did say you were running things now'.  Violet appears to have acquiesed to this hostile takeover of power, yet in the endgame we see that in her head she never relinquished control.  For Violet, knowledge is power.  Particularly secret knowledge.  Time and again she makes others aware that nothing happens in her home that she doesn't know about: she prides herself on this declared omnipotence, no matter how hard people try to operate undercover.  It is however a particular brand of knowledge; perhaps it could be described as all evidence and no comprehension, or perhaps knowledge about everything else apart from one's self.  She stores and locks knowledge away (perhaps the lock-and-key of the safety deposit box is a good metaphor for this), not thinking to share it for a common good in case it loses its exclusive sheen and can be less effectively used as a weapon of power.  The idea is that those who claim to know everything are missing out on more than they care to realise.  

This made me think about Douglas Pye's keynote presentation at 'Continuity and Innovation' at Reading University last September, in which he praised Tommy Lee Jones's characters in No Country for Old Men and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada for acknowledging the limits of their own knowledge (and juxtaposing it against a quotation about knowledge from Donald Rumsfeld).  Perhaps like Rumsfeld, Violet is a character who doesn't see the limits of her own knowledge - which builds her up for one large dramatic fall.

And the fall is astonishing.  In its final moments, the play switches key into a more dreamlike state.  As the lights gradually diminish Violet stumbles around the almost-empty house, almost crawling up the huge flight of stairs, and finds Native American housekeeper Johnna (Kimberly Guerrero) in the attic.  Violet counts those who have left, repeating 'They're all gone', whilst Johnna sings a nursery rhyme (one of the play's distinguishing dramatic devices) 'This is the way the world ends'.  It sounds corny, but I found it beautiful.  Together, the two voices put a defining exclamation mark on an enormous piece of work.  

There's more I want to say about this play, and certainly much more in it than I'm aware of.  I want to write about how second-generation cinephilia is referenced and what functions it fulfills.  I want someone to tell me about the significance of Johnna, and the history that her presence in the household recalls.  I want to find out more about the T.S Eliot references that begin the play, and glide around the house.  I've read somewhere that many people find something in this play that rings uncomfortably true for them; if there was anything, it was the attitudes of Barbara and (particularly) her husband Bill (Jeff Perry), the two professional academics.

And I can't see this production again - I'll have to work from memory, and the naked playtext.  This is the closest thing to old-time cinephilia that I have experienced; I can't just grab a DVD from the shelf and re-visit or clarify this experience.  And for me that makes it exciting, but it also makes me anxious that the memory will slip away and I'll be left thinking 'What was that play about?  I remember I liked it...' before long.    



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