All entries for January 2008
January 19, 2008
Contemporary British Directors: Paul Greengrass
Paul Greengrass has had a history of working at the cutting edge of documentary and also writing making firstly with the Granada World in Action TV documentary series. Although he should not be regarded as politically radical his career has been one which has sought to make liberal democracy become more transparent and it appears as though he sees the role of media as making a powerful contribution towards this. His treatment of events in Northern Ireland, his contribution to the Spycatcher book, which tore into the British establishment in the 1980s. His documentary United 93 underpinned the power and determination of ordinary people who will sacrifice themselves for others in the face of a totalitarian terrorism expressed on this occasion by the despised Al Quaida. Most of his early work has trodden where many other filmmakers and creative people have feared to tread. As as John Patterson in The Guardian puts it:
Five years ago, Paul Greengrass was an avowedly political, low-budget British filmmaker working within the documentary-style tradition that constitutes the core - the deepest, oldest thread - of British cinema; now he's a big-name director making kinetic, visceral Hollywood movies that are eagerly awaited at multiplexes worldwide. Ultimatum, budgeted at $125m (£62m), looks set to become one of the biggest hits of the summer. Funny how things turn out.
Greengrass went to school in Kent, winning a scholarship to Sevenoaks School, and started his film-making career with a super 8 camera he found in the art room. He made a series of animated horror films, using old dolls and bric-a-brac props. He went on to Queens' College, Cambridge, and then, inspired by the story of Woodward and Bernstein's uncovering of the Watergate scandal in All the President's Men, decided to become an investigative journalist. (Guardian overview of Greengrass).
He worked with the "World in Action" (ITV, 1963-99) - TV documentary series. The series itself gained a reputation for being cutting edge and hard hitting often being more controversial and less mainstream than the main BBC competitor of the time which was Panorama. As Greengrass commented in a Guardian interview:
I arrived there 1978-79. The great days of World in Action had been the 1960s and it had lost its way somewhere, somewhat, in the mid-70s, but the onset of Margaret Thatcher gave it this tremendous new lease of life. (ibid)
During the 1980s, Greengrass also co-authored the controversial book Spycatcher with former MI5 Assistant Director, Peter Wright. The book, which detailed Wright's attempts to ferret out a Russian spy from the ranks of the British intelligence agency, was banned by the government and held from release until 1988. In the mid 1980s Greengrass met the controversial filmmaker Alan Clarke who had made Scum and had had a strong influence upon his thinking. Greengrass has also been influenced by the realism of Ken Loach particularly Kes and also Peter Watkins’ controversial documentary The War Game.
It seems as though Greengrass’s film Resurrection (1989) taught him a lesson about drama and film making which allowed him to break with the strongly social realist mode of his previous work enabling him to film an event which it wouldn’t be possible to witness – a brutal mock court martial. It allowed him to take his aesthetic approach to a different level. The film was nominated for a Golden Bear winning some jury awards at the Berlin Film Festival.
We were using the dispassionate, observational documentary eye I had developed, if you like, on recreated events, and the collision between the two allows you to get at a bigger truth than you could by using just the one approach or the other. (ibid).
From Gritty documentaries to Hollywood Action Adventure with an Edge
For many followers of Greengrass who seemed to be following a path well trodden by many British directors working within a social realist mode it came as a great surprise when Greengrass was chosen to direct the Bourne Supremacy (2004). It was so successful - apparently netting $175 million in the box-office that he directed the Bourne Ultimatum (2007). It hasn't won Greengrass friends everywhere as a summariser from the Independent on Sunday noted in an interview with Harold Pinter and Time Out magazine which was scathingly critical:
I saw a film, The Bourne Ultimatum," Pinter begins, "and I thought: Fucking hell! This guy is clearly the strongest man in the world. He can beat up about 12 people in about 35 seconds and kill half of them.
"The whole thing is totally unreal. I was stupefied by it, it was so lacking in intelligence." He adds that he sat in the cinema "seething, thinking: What am I doing here, being bombarded by this sound? It knocks you out."
The interviewer pointed out that Oscar-nominated Greengrass is considered a master of dramatic realism.
"Paul Greengrass?" replies Pinter. "I saw Bloody Sunday, I also saw United 93: that fellow is no chump."But: "I've never been able to write a film which I didn't respect, I just can't do it."
John Patterson in the Guardian was rather more sympathetic to the project than Pinter and in doing so comes to a position which finds cross-overs between auteurism and genre cinema almost identifying a British hybrid genre of the 'political-realist action-action thriller':
Bloody Sunday may be political and tragic, but it's also an action-movie manqué. Indeed, the idea of a left-progressive action-movie director isn't even that novel: in Britain it's almost a mini-tradition. Peter Watkins is an action director without compare - witness Culloden or Punishment Park. And no one shot mayhem and violence more compellingly than Clarke. Given such forebears, the move from Bloody Sunday to Jason Bourne is an entirely natural and seamless one. (My emphasis; Guardian ibid).
Patterson has a point for it is clear that Pinter has little notion of the action adventure genre and in this sense we can point to the subversion of the sterotype.
And instead of the usual boringly indestructible, mindless right-wing macho man in the lead, the left-leaning Matt Damon plays the isolated and existentially solitary Bourne as a man whose memory may have been erased, but not his sense of morality or his essentially liberal strain of patriotism. It's all subtly embedded within a framework of thrills and violence, but it's there none the less. Greengrass wouldn't be Greengrass if it wasn't.
Whilst Pinter from a more realist mode is right to criticise the impossibility of Bourne being able to whisk aside several hardened CIA operatives just like that this is merely a convention of this type of film. This can be seen in films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It is a dramatic device for when Bourne meets the Arabic operative sent to kill him in a hand to hand he only just makes it similarly he only survives the car chase by chance. Here he is taking on his own kind the super-killer of which he is the Ur-figure gone wrong. As a political thriller there is a long tradition of defending the supremacy of the American political system against corrupt methods which would ultimately undermine the very raison d'etre of the United States Constitution itself. This appears on John Gresham novels and films and older films such as Clear and Present Danger dealing with drug cartels. Although not directly dealing with an American theme these kind of highly secretive undercover operations by states are also critiqued in films such as Spielberg's Munich.
What Greengrass brings to this more American sub-generic category is a decidely British aesthetic which arguably has its heart in European cinema itself. Greengrass brings a gritty realism which belongs to the tradition of the British gangster-heavy (Chibnall) tradition which hasdeveloped thought films such as Brighton Rock, Get Carter (made by Mike Hodges who also worked for World in Action), The Long Good Friday. All of these involved corruption of some sort usually amongst police and local government. Greengrass is well placed to deal with higher level governmental corruption because of his involvement with the Spycatcher affair. all those British gangster films are strong on a sense of place. This is an aesthetic that Greengrass has brought wioth him. One can compare the car chase scene in the Bourne Ultimatum with the ridiculous street shoot out in Heat, to gain a real sense in the difference aesthetic which as Patterson notes is one which is a:
... patented newsreel-style, quasi-documentary, highly organic aesthetic - non-professional casts, few effects or soundstages, lots of hand-held and SteadiCam, much wobble and blur, extremely long takes, cut together in sequences often made up of hundreds of microscopically attenuated shots -... (ibid)
In the Guardian interview with Patterson Greengrass comments that he sees the Bourne character as analagous to Patricia Highsmith's Ripley character becuase there is a duality:
I love Matt in it. He's not only a brilliant actor, but also brilliant in that part because he's a wonderful player of duality - you think of [Tom] Ripley and other parts he's played. You don't know which side of that duality he's on at any moment. And that's Bourne: a duality, a killer who's redeemed himself, the man on the run with a dark past, so he's perfect. You couldn't ask for a better actor in the part than Matt.
I don't think that this is a good analogy at all because Ripley is an entirely amoral opportunist. The comparison revolves around the issue of individual agency. Ripley sees an opportunity and takes it and gradually becomes involved in murder and then serial murder and his character declines. Bourne is an allegory for the honest truly democratic USA which has literal agents within who are suborning the true nature and aims of the country. Bourne represents this tension, this duality. We know he has truly broken with this dark instilled past when he fails to kill the other super-agent at the end of the car chase. When this person is positioned to kill Bourne a little later he lets him go asking why Bourne failed to kill him. Here the conversation allows for self-reflexivity for it is a question which many americans including their military are asking themselves: is what is going on in Iraq just? Are we making things better or worse? By what authority are we here? Given the CIA information about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was the excuse for the USA to go to war and for the British Government to follow suit despite there being no clear evidence then means that we can see the Bourne Ultimatum as an allegorical critique of American foreign policy.
It is this lack of recognition by Pinter of the necessity to work within popular genres in order to subvert them if one is able to amount any critique at all within the American cinematic system. It is a reading that will have flown over the heads of many viewers of the film inevitably but audiences have many ways of viewing a text.
Other recent non cinema work
The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999). ITV Documentary. Directed by Greengrass.
Omagh Channel Four TV Documentary. Greengrass was the producer and writer of this.
The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007
The Bourne Supremacy,2004
Bloody Sunday, 2002
The Theory of Flight, 1998
The Sweetest Thing, 1995
Guardian: Hollywood's Favourite Brit
Independent on Sunday. Noting Harold Pinter's disgust at The Bourne Ultimatum
An interesting comparative review by the well respected David Tereshchuk who was actually at the Bloody Sunday Event reporting for the BBC
January 18, 2008
Can We Escape Facebook Stories Right Now? (or Facebook even?)
Whatever else it is, Facebook has become the thing to discuss almost everywhere. With social networking sites taking the teen generation by storm - most of my students at thiws level subscribe to at least two- social networking is a social phenomena that seems set to stay and develop. Those who laughed at Rupert Murdoch for investing in MySpace are certainly laughing on the other side of their face by now. I have to say here the delightful naivety of those teens who subscribe to MySpace and think that "Tom" is the owner makes it worth teaching media studies as the surprised faces realise that they are subsribing to the business empire that owns The Sun and yes The Times. But I digress because the new enemy on the block perhaps far more unpleasant than the right wing anti-BBC stance of Murdoch are the hard-core youngish neo-conservatives who really own Facebook exposed by Tom Hodgkinson in the Guardian earlier this week whilst today the BBC has posted a story on the dangers around privacy concerning Facebook.
Is Facebook Providing a Challenge to Alternative Systems?
...you could have a Facebook account, and I suspect that this swamps number 1 or 2. For social networking within the academic community, Facebook is all-conquering, and we observe a startling number of students who have a Facebook account before they arrive or get one soon after they start. And if you already have a Facebook account then it's not immediately obvious that you need another place to write about what you're doing, or another place to share your photos (hence the precipitous drop in the number of photos uploaded; they've all gone into Facebook instead).
With social networking being the new media phenomenon of the moment with every teenager wishing to have 'creds' subscribing to at least one (and often more) social networking accounts, and with Facebook specifically being the 'flavour of the month' traffic and enthusiasm for the less measured sort of social interactions on some other sites may be being reduced. The above quotation from a discussion on Warwick Blogs being a case in point.
Facebook along with other more established social networking sites are excellent examples of 'New Media' institutions becoming established. Either, as in the case of My Space (courtesy Rupert Murdoch), being owned by rapcious established entrepreneurs or as in the case of Facebook by rapacious new entrepreneurs. The key shift in media provision by the owners is the relaince upon User Generated Content to allow everybody participating in one of these media environments to gossip about each other. It saves employing gossip columnists aprt from anything else.
As social networking develops and matures it may well be that certain audiences start to move to different social networks which have a different demographic base. Facebook has clearly developed a target audience significantly different to Bebo. If this continues to develop then the advertising core behind these sites will start to become more social network site specific. Arguably there is a shift of Lifestyle magazines onto the net with the added advantage for the owners that they pay little or nothing for content provided by the users instead. (Here the net effect of the net is to increasingly push responsibility towards the users - think banking - and provide an environment). Perhaps social networking sites will increasingly focus upon specific demographic factors but provide a global audience for these common factors. Thus social networking could start to provide a huge boost for social and cultural globalisation which has to date still been more of an economic phenomenon.
Where is it all going?
For cultural studies this raises issues of continuing hybridisation which is something that is probably being researched already. This kind of thing is likely to move into 3D virtual world's as they develop beyond the R & D stage into full media environments.
Personally I have little doubt that an increasing amount of shopping for a variety of goods will move into virtual 3D environments such as Second Life. This will require a much more efficient broadband infrastructure than currently exists. This week's Economist has written a useful comparative article on the development broadband networks and useage in the World's more developed countries.
Easy access to cheap, fast internet services has become a facilitator of economic growth and a measure of economic performance. No wonder, then, that statistics show a surge in broadband use, especially in places that are already prosperous. The OECD, a rich-country club, says the number of subscribers in its 30 members was 221m last June—a 24% leap over a year earlier. But it is not always the most powerful economies that are most wired. In Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland, over 30% of inhabitants have broadband. In America, by contrast, the proportion is 22%, only slightly above the OECD average of just under 20%. (Economist Jan 19th - 25th, 2008)
Oddly on this analysis the USA is going to have to get its act together in terms of communications infrastructure. social networking popularity is only a low level phase in the development of Web 2.0. The issue is the development of interesting online environments which large numbers of people are going to be comfortable with and 3D environments are going to be the places to be. whilst some will be fantasy areas there will be a lot which are more like mirrors of the everyday in which leisure, value added services and business transactions will take place.
Of course one set of statistics only gives a very narrow framing of what is happening. As the US has the largest population in the above table then there are presumably a larger number of subscibers hence the mass customer / audience base to encourage future developments. The BBC story on the Broadband digital divide is relevant here. Given the high cost of installing cabling networks clearly cities are going to become well served. In america with huge areas relatively sparsely populated there could be serious social divisons based around access opening up - to add to the other ones. Interstingly pysically small but quite dense populations such as Denmark and the Netherlands with a more social democratic committment to service provision to citizens are likely to gain significantly from high speed broadband development. No accident that they are already the countries which are most developed in this respect.
The Net Effect
One can only be speculative at this stage and comment on emrgent trends. Currently social networking is new exciting and gobsmacking because people can suddenly publish something and find a global audience, until a very short time ago unimaginable for an individual. Now mainstream media will increasingly be developing environments now the user generated thing is becoming established. what sort of environments people will want isn't yet clear but the current phase of Facebook et al is probaly only temporary. The question is what will the Rupert Murdoch's profits from MySpace advertising be reinvested into: 2nd Life or something similar? You can bet he is watching the audience data closely!
As for the infamous Facebook, well I buy into Hodgkinson's arguments. I thoroughly dislike the fact that they keep information about you and you can't cleanly unsubscribe. They are also very snotty if you do try and shut down an account. I advise my students to approach it very cautiously. They push everything thay can to the limit in the search for audience and the corresponding advertising contracts, Beacon and now "Scrabulous" as minor entrepreneurs trade on other brands.
As for information and data privacy this is a serious breach of human rights and thankfully regulation is catching up!
several reasons to join me on Warwick blogs and forget Facebook!
Social Graphs (Up date September 2008)
An advert which appeared next to this page about Social Graphs led me to check out the term. I discovered a useful article on the Facebook hype from the Economist last autumn which explained exactly how social networks such as Facebook didn't in fact add network value, unlike postal and telephone networks. The latter operate under something called Metcalf's Law. The article seems to bear out my scepticism for this phenomenon:
But unlike other networks, social networks lose value once they go beyond a certain size. “The value of a social network is defined not only by who's on it, but by who's excluded,” says Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley forecaster. Despite their name, therefore, they do not benefit from the network effect. Already, social networks such as “aSmallWorld”, an exclusive site for the rich and famous, are proliferating. Such networks recognise that people want to hobnob with a chosen few, not to be spammed by random friend-requests. (social Gragh-iti, The Economist Oct 17th 2007)
It comes as no surprise that the rich and powerful want exclusive social networks. Virtual reality appears to be mirroring social reality. Well who would have imagined that?
January 11, 2008
Globalisation & Representation in European Cinema: Hub Page
(From BBC Website April 2007)
This page is a hub page which can direct you to specific films covered in this blog which have as one of their core themes the representation of the processes of globalisation and migrant labour which may be legal , 'illegal' or undocumented or varieties of slavery including sex trafficking. There will also be a range of useful external links provided. The focus films are currently mainly British ones with some exceptions. Sadly there seem to be few current European films dealing with these issues although of course they may be 'out there' but just not well distributed. The availability of these will be monitored and added to this page as and when they are released / discovered. Whatever else there are a fantastic number of stories of human endurance, stoicism, tragedy and success out there. It is time these were represented far more strongly and effectively than they are and also they should be represented with some recognition at the meta level of what has created these conditions in the first place. Links are also provided to useful pages or references about trafficking, migrant labour, Shock Therapy etc.
A Paucity of Representation
On a Google search of a couple of terms I'm rather surprised that there is very little work on the web concerned with the representation of the processes of globalisation in particular cinemas and their outcomes at the level of narratives either fictional or more documentary style. British cinema is barely touched upon with the only recent film with any serious coverage being The Last Resort by Pawel Pawlikowski in a PDF of an academic conference held under the auspices of the Migrant and Diasporic Cinema in Contemporary Europe research group. Many other subjects which came up through the search focused on such things as the domination of global cinema by Hollywood, a process which has been happening since the end of the First World War so is hardly news.
What this particular page is concerned about is not the responses of Hollywood's 'other' ie the now, to my mind, inappropriately named World Cinema to this economic domination, although it is of concern. Rather I was hoping to find serious work linking the underlying processes of politcal economy and the global flows of migration into Europe and attempts to represent this process. In the conference refered to above there was a useful looking body of work developing around recent Italian cinema. Sadly I'm not familiar with most of the films mentioned and haven't seen them promoted here however I will be checking them out. Even as late on as 1997 in a city like Vilnius in Lithuania one could see many beggars often old and with bad disabilities out on the streets in desparate straits. in the process of gaining nascent democracy the price was being paid by the weakest in society.
Amongst others an entrepreneurial streak was established, cowboy economies ruled, various criminal gangs grew up and gang murders were frequent. A range of dodgy companies trading in cross-border deals with Russia in metals started up. These countries became entrepots for sex trafficking and migrant labour now being sucked into the burgeoning and quite deregulated economies of countries like Britain.
Globalisation: The Neoliberalism of Thatcher & Reagan
When discussing globalisation it is obviously a huge concept to come to terms with. I'm taking globalisation to mean the development of a dominant discourse of neo-liberalism which started with the nearly simultaneous election of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979 / 1980 after the crisis of capitalism in the 1970s which saw the rate of profit sink in both countries and other leading Western economies, furthermore the 1970s was a decade of severe industrial strife as well as other political upheavals in Europe. Globalisation went on for about a decade which saw the enforced collapse of the Soviet Union through a door that was already half open. To get to this point required the breaking of the trade union movements in Britain and the USA through a process of deindustrialisation in these countries and the installing of an infrastructure which could develop an informationally based economy. At the same time the Soviet Union which was the main external pole of resistance to gloablisation came under increasing pressure. Undoubtedly the war in Afghanistan in which the current Taliban and al Quaida networks were supported by British and American special forces training helped to sap the energy of Soviet forces who were a relatively untrained conscript army at least as unwilling to be fighting as a lot of young Americans in Vietnam.
Shock Therapy & Diaspora
A core part of the strategy of the Anglo-American axis of power after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 - a symbolic and real signifier of the collapse of the Soviet Union - was the institution of the so-called 'Shock Therapy' economic regime in the former Soviet block. This prioritised an effective destruction of the economic infrastructure of these countries which were often internally linked by creating a range of tarrifs which made it impossible for the old system to function as effective economic competition for Western economies. It also opened up the system to takeovers by Western companies.
The system of Shock Therapy also managed to wipe out the savings many people had made which were held in Roubles. The collapse of the Rouble which became almost worthless meant disaster for many older people in the ex-Soviet Union such as the Baltic States as well as people under the influence of the Soviet regime in countries such as Poland. At the same time the welfare system which had ensured that everybody had housing, health and work largely fell apart. The newly emergent states were unable to afford anything like this.
Of course this doesn't explain other sources of cheap labour pouring into Southern Europe from Africa or into the United Sates via Mexico. Historically massive phases of economic expansion have sucked in labour from other parts of the World. Migration into Britain to build the transport infrastructure in the 19th century largely came from Ireland, the railways system in the USA was based upon Chinese labourers. Post-war European expansion was fuelled with labour from different parts of the world depending upon the imperial past: Britain from the West Indies, India and Pakistan; France from Algeria and various African colonies; Germany had its Gastarbeiter system using labour from Turkey, Spain, Morocco and the then Yugoslavia.
On this basis one can either argue that the growth of capitalism as an economic system is a form of globalisation which is a direct response to the collapse of empire as a result of the 20th century 30 Years War 1914 - 1945 or as I have done here take it as the outcomes of a specific moment in which the years of 1979 / 80 were a key political turning point which allowed the establishing of a truly globalising economy with a series of outcomes one of which is mass diasporas into the more advanced economies.
Representing Globalisation the Strength of British Independent Cinema
In general the repesentation of the multi-faceted aspects of globalisation have been weak however it is argued here that British cinema has been possibly the best national cinema in representing the underlying political economy of globalisation as defined above. Some of the work of Ken Loach has been concerned with the de-regulation of British industry and the dodgy outcomes of economic liberalisation from the early 1990s until now. Riff-Raff, The Navigators and It's a Free World have certainly covered many of these issues as they have unfurled underpinned by the director's understanding of political economy. Ae fond Kiss also saw Loach take on board the issue of ethnicity and identity very directly. Independent British cinema has certainly been strong on both the concerns of migration and diaspora and also on the issues of hybridity and the changing cultural identity of Britain in recent years. Arguably it could have been stronger but that is an issue well beyond the desires of individual filmmakers who have done an excellent job in the face of an industry which provides little in the way of marketing and promotion, distribution and exhibition.
I consider that the issue of representing ethnicity in British cinema frequently relates to the period of pre-globalisation in films such as East is East. The waves of immigration into the UK predated globalisation on my working definition and representation and ethnicity can often relate to several generations of British people and the hybridity stemming from that embeddedness. The representation of ethnicities from temporary migration and recent migration as a direct outcome of globalisation are treated differently although there are clearly crossovers and overlapping as in the case of the representation of those who are British but become caught up in post 9-11 resistance to globalisation as represented in films like The Road to Guantanamo.
Other contemporary British films which deal with the issues of Globalisation currently include:
11-09-01; Collected shorts including Ken Loach. A series of responses to 9/11
For an overview about these films and their contribution to contemporay British cinema please go to Representing the World Locally.
Non-British Films Representing the Forces of Globalisation
Lily 4-Ever: Lucas Moodysson (Sweden, the economic Shock Therapy regime helps promote Sex trafficking to better off Western Economies)
Cache: Michael Haneke (France) (An allegorical tale of French repressed memory of the murdurous treatment of Algerians in the 1960s)
Code Unknown: Michael Haneke (France) (The breakdown of communications in the contemporary world)
Babel ( 2006) Alejandro González Iñárritu (Japan/ Mexico / USA). Another powerful allegory of miscommunication and such things as arms dealing. At Cannes 2006 many lauded the film as the first great film about globalisation.)
Shock Therapy and its Consequences in Transition Economies (Requires institutional access)
Mervyn King as reported by the Daily Telegraph on the way wages have been kept down by immigrant labour.
From a different political pespective The Worker outlines its case on Migrant Workers and their exploitation
The UK signs a European Convention on trafficking. Will regulation finally catch up with the situation?
January 10, 2008
What is Web 2.0?
Well Sean Carton below has a thing or two to say about it with a raft of other elements before this final bullet-point whic is a powerful statement:
Web 2.0 is about doing stuff on the Web that can't done in any other medium. Functionalities that have generated so much Web 2.0 hype are all things that wouldn't be possible without the Internet. Period. Much of Web 1.0 tried to shoehorn old media models into the new technology, often with bad or even disastrous results. All the bad thinking of the past decade or so revolved around the misperception that the Web is "like medium X, only different." The Web isn't TV with clicking. It isn't print with the ability to link and embed multimedia content. Podcasting isn't radio you can download. Sean Carton,
January 09, 2008
2012: Going Digital
There is no doubt that a lot of companies have got their eye on 2012 becuase in the UK at least this is going to be the year when a brave new world of digital abundance is launched. The opening up of high speed broadband networks offering high speed video downloading will probably change our concept of the mobile phone which is already turning into a mobile entertainments machine which occasionaly functions as a phone.
This brave new world will be be ushered in by an Olympic fanfare which will provide instant real time content for what will by then be 5 or 6 G wireless telephony doutless played on an "iMulti" which will look like a Kleenex as it unfolds its super hi tech screen. It won't of course be able to keep up with the new broadband networks but it will be fast by today's standards.
In the meantime the devices that are about to become popular amongst the computer commuters is the ultra-mobile PC like the Toshiba one below which will give you a good experience of the Olympics live when on a bus or train or on the move, alternatively, you can play World of Warcraft or be in the depths of Second Life:
about the size of a paperback book and equipped with the latest in wireless technology the best thing is to get a microheadset rather than earphones and you can have a phone as well. Once the airwaves have been opened up in 2012 the cost of high speed wireless telephony is set to drop dramatically and we will go from a subscription based payments system to an advertising driven one. Of course some of us would like to see a larger license fee being paid to the BBC in order to be able to provide a service of this nature at very low cost without the price of advertising. The pusilanimous New Labour government has enforced cut-backs at the BBC despite its world beating record at delivering new digital services. Public Service Multicasting is an important issue in the unfolding new media age.
Where Digits go Advertising Follows
As can be seen from the report summary below advertising futures is developing a 2012 strategy now. It's only four years away and planning and contract negotiation needs to be well under way already. Consultancies and policy research organisations like Jupiter see below are already working on this:
The launches of Google's mobile search sponsored-links program and Blyk's ad-funded mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), combined with release of best-practices guidelines from the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), highlight growing interest and hope generated by nascent mobile advertising revenues.
Which audiences can marketers and advertisers target through nascent mobile media?
How much revenue will mobile Internet advertising generate in 2012? (My emphasis on the question loads is the obvious answer!)
Which tactics should mobile operators and media sellers deploy to foster advertisers' uptake of mobile marketing?
Wherever you are there's an advertiser waiting to pounce. Are people spending all this money to have great new communications technologies just to have it spoiled by continuous adverts? Support Public Service Multicasting now. Write to your MP and show your dissatisfaction with the 'New' Labour treatment of the BBC!
Convergence moves on:Xbox will host BT's TV service
This BBC story about XBox from Microsoft linking up with BT's online services is a significant development and an important link up in a week which has seen a blow to Microsoft's X-Box and its support of the HD-DVD standard with Bluray seemingly taking a lead in this area however if you look at my comment about if they don't hurry up online services will make both DVD based systems a bit redundant seems to have been a well-placed one. Here we look at the process of technological convergence which often means that large companies are doing specific deals with other ones in order to try and get ahead in the market place. No single company has technological dominance across the board.
What Consumers are probably being offered:
On-demand films and sports content from the BT Vision service will be available via the Xbox games console from the middle of this year.
Desparately Seeking Audiences!
As usual media organisations are desparately seeking new audiences and reinvestment or repurposing of existing technologies is always a likely way forward:
Sales of BT Vision have been somewhat sluggish according to critics, with BT signing up around 100,000 subscribers since launching in November 2006.
How far is the X-Box developing into a domestic entertainment hub?
Whilst it is likely to make the broadband service gain a higher profile for BT customers must sign up for a 12 month BT Broadband contract. Unlike BT's own V-Box the X-Box is unable to deliver recording facilities because of hard-drive limitations. However as BT are patently aware of this is seems reasonable to presume that some sort of add-on external video recording hard drive will be made available at a reasonable price. For those household s sporting an X-Box or three then it will presumably be marketed as an attractive service for them. As a core marketing strategy of the X-Box Mind you watch this space if a recession starts to take hold, there are straws in the wind about the Chinese economy !)
Did Sony Pay Warner? If so How Much?
Whilst this week's Economist thought that it was 'game over' for HD-DVD I'm not so convinced. Certainly announcement's were pulled at the hugely important Consumer Electronics Show (CES) by Toshiba / Microsoft but that is hardly surprising given the brilliance of Sony's timing of the announcement. Yes I said Sony's becuase I don't believe for a moment that Warner weren't heavily bribed to make not only this default to Blueray but also to make the timing of the announcement to try and deliver a knockout blow against Toshiba / Microsoft. Toshiba had already pulled off the same trick but their timing wasn't perhaps so good:
Paramount, which had supported both formats, abandoned Blu-ray last year after Toshiba offered it tens of millions of dollars in marketing incentives. (See Economist link above)
At the root of this game is Microsoft. It's X-Box has a much larger base in the domestic environment than Playstation 3. Whilst the Economist points to twice as many Bluray discs being sold in 2007 this is not very many. They are still very expensive. flooding the market with cheap players and ensuring that HD-DVDs are readily available in rental outlets at a low price could still put Sony in the shade. Sany Vaios with Bluray are still very expensive and the technology was hugely expensive. Toshiba / Microfst still have some cards to play!
January 05, 2008
Blu-ray versus HD-DVD: An eye to the future!
This format war between two sets of industrial giants one gathered around Sony and the other around Toshiba has been chundering on for over two years. As a result any consumer who remembers as far back as the Betamx - VHS battle which Sony eventually lost,- was a case of better technology being sidestepped by better audience and market development strategies from the VHS people. This was financially very irritating for Betamax buyers myself included. Like lots of other people I've no intention of buying into either Blu-ray or HD-DVD as a single player burner until things are sorted out. The same situation has been rumbling on between SACD and DVD-Audio. As a result people have stuck with CDs.
Perhaps one of the exceptions to this rule of the audience staying away until a universal system is established is the iPod. On the whole the iPod is the 'killer' technology and machine which has gained a firm market dominance. But it can play MP3s which are slightly lower quality than AAC so that's an important issue. The iPod buyer has universal access the Blu-Ray / HD-DVD disc player buyer has not. Apart from the cost nobody wants yet more boxes cluttering up the place. If they leave it any longer faster download speeds will make them both redundant! So let's look at the latest story on this competition. The Financial Times of the 5th of January thinks that a company the size of Warner Bros which is coming down on the side of Blu-ray might make the difference.
The FT Story
Warner, one of Hollywood's largest studios and its leading player in home video, had been publishing its new high-definition DVDs in the Blu-ray format and in the rival HD DVD one pioneered by Toshiba.
Blu-Ray.Com (Obviously an entirely unbisaed company) is crowing:
Warner has announced that they will be switching to support Blu-ray exclusively. Warner has been supporting both formats since they were launched, but recent talk from top executives suggested that Warner couldn't continue down that road much longer, and that the all important holiday sales would help them make a decision. With Blu-ray winning every week in high definition sales this year, Warner has decided that The Future is Blu.
"The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger. We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers, and most importantly, consumers," Warner Bros Chairman and Chief Executive Barry Meyer said in a statement.
A Blue-ray player. They do hold a lot more date than HD-DVD so there is a distinct technological advantage here.
The New York Times has also made a more objective account of the situation:
Behind the studio’s decision are industrywide fears about the sagging home entertainment market, which has bruised the movie industry in recent years as piracy, competition from video games and the Internet, and soaring costs have cut into profitability. Analysts predict that domestic DVD sales fell by nearly 3 percent in 2007, partly because of confusion in the market-place over various formats.
They go to point to the Betamax / VHS analogy I drew attention to (well I was a Betamax owner!). This is a core point for any media student studying audiences and institutions within the media at whatever level. Audiences are not stupid. Thay want equipment that is going to be universal. Previously both Sony and Toshiba had big names behind them and both have a good lap-top market. As the NYT points out Toshiba still have support but the pendulum is definitely swinging Sony's way! People want to be able to lend and borrow each others records CDs DVD etc. or buy a new machine without having mountains of the software becoming outdated. With Warner on board, Blu-ray now has about 70 percent of the market locked up; Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox, MGM, Lionsgate and, of course, Sony have all been backing Blu-ray. The Warner announcement comes after a marketing war in the USA in the run up to Xmas:
Consumers were inundated with marketing from both sides during the recent holiday season. Wal-Mart, as part of a temporary promotion, offered Toshiba players for under $100. Sony and its retailing partners, including Best Buy, responded by dropping prices on Blu-ray players, although not to the same level. Blu-ray players can now be purchased for under $300.
Well Toshiba could chuck them into its cheaper laptops to be used as HD-DVD burners that would tempt a lot of buyers and keep them in the game perhaps? Their official response was that they were 'quite surprised' by Warner's decision. Well very disapointed anyway!
With rumours flying about of large sums being offered to Hollywood studios this sounds as though it has been a pretty dirty game. I'm wondering who has got the Chinese and Indian markets tied up though. Increasingly the game is being played ona global basis, both have large cinema audiences and film fans. somehow I don't think the fat lady is going to sing yet.
Mind you I'm biased we've got 2 Toshiba laptops in the house then the Telly is Sony that's consumerism for you. I don't suppose any of the films I like will come out in either of these formats at an afordable price anyway. Perhaps the real story of the moment regarding technology which is really going to move the world on or not in this case is the fact that Intel seems to be messing up the One Laptop Per Child Campaign! Occasionally its good to keep things in perspective. With most people in the world not having a telephone let alone a computer what is Intel up to? Will there be a FairTrade computer chips campaign from AMD?
Let's defeat the digital divide: after all "we have the technology" !!
January 04, 2008
Kinoeye Reference Hub Page
As the Kinoeye film and media blog develops a range of reference pages are being made available. You may wish to bookmark this page to be able to quickly refer to what is currently available at any time.
Reference pages will include: bibliographies glossaries, chronologies, convenient list of directors, actors etc.
National Cinema Hub Pages
In depth individual explanations of terms
Glossary of Documentary Film Terms
From the Kinoeye Reference Section
Aleatory techniques. Aleatory technique is when the element of chance is incorporated into the film making process. Action and sound may not have been planned or scripted. The British film maker Humphrey Jennings was renowned for this. Even in fiction films this technique has been used. Jean-Luc Godard used improvisational interview techniques with his actors which questioned the distinction between acting and being and also the division between documentary and fiction.
Cinema Verite. A type of observational film which uses available light, fast film stock, handheld lightweight cameras, portable sound recording and a minimum of other equipment to record profilmic events. Aleatory techniques are very important to this style. The style became widely known after being introduced by the anthropologist / filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Jean Morin in Chronicle of a Summer (1961). Rouch saw the camera as a participant in the unfolding of events which makes cinema verite quite different in approach to Direct Cinema. Rouch believed that the camera functioned as a psychological stimulant which although it altered behaviour in front of the camera arguably revealed deeper underlying truths about personalities. Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) can be understood as a precursor of this approach. The camera did boast of its own presence and influence upon the profilmic events. The Sorrow and the Pity (1970) by Marcel Ophuls can be seen as another example.
City Symphony film. This developed as a sub-genre of documentary film. They are often abstract films loosely structured around the theme of the day in the life of a city. The use of montage provides a sense of rhythm and movement. Rien que les heures (1926) Alberto Cavalcanti was shot on the streets of Paris. It was the first of the ‘City Symphony’ films made in Europe during the 1920s and preceded the better know Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) by Ruttman. It was very influential amongst the documentary movement at the time. Man With a Movie Camera: Dziga Vertov (1929) is far more than just an impressionistic view of the city. The film is an optimistic perspective on the importance of industrialisation and modernisation. Vertov also brings in a strong element of reflexivity in which the film is shown as being made as well as showing the audience and the place of exhibition.
Crown Film Unit. In August 1940 the GPO Film Unit was remaned the Crown film Unit directly under the Ministry of information thus becoming a directly propaganda organisation. Many of the films were made by Humphrey Jennings as well as Watt and Jackson. After the war documentaries were stil made but the energy, belief by government and and social consciousness had dissipated. The Unit was closed in 1951.
Direct Cinema. A type of observational documentary practice which developed in the USA during the 1960s. Profilmic events were recorded as they happened without rehearsal or reconstruction. Unlike cinema verite the practivce sought to be as unobtrusive as possible giving rise to the term ‘Fly on the wall’ coined by the film-maker Richard Leacock. Stylistically they feature long takes and minimal editing and try to keep a chronological structure to preserve profilmic events as effectively as possible. Subjects are allowed to speak for themselves and the camera observes ho0ping to record a privileged moment which will display the truth of the person behind the words.
Documentary. The term was invented by John Grierson when reviewing of Flaherty’s Moanna (1926). Any film practice that has as its subject persons events or situations that exist outside the film in the real world also referred to as non-fiction film. The first films ever shown to the public were documentaries exhibited by the Lumiere Brothers in 1895. They were very popular for some some with travelogues being especially popular. As editing techniques developed fictional narrative films gradually eclipsed documentaries. Documentary then survived inside the institution of cinema as newsreels. Pathe News began these in 1910 and soon other major companies began making them. Nanook of the North: Robert Flaherty (1922) was the first ever full length feature documentary. It demonstrated that fictional techniques could be used in a documentary.
Few full length documentaries have ever been made. Woodstock : Michael Wadleigh (1970) was one that managed to be distributed in mainstream cinemas. Documentaries differ from fiction because they refer to the historical real. The documentary theorist Bill Nichols describes the pleasure derived from watching documentary as ‘epistephilia’ or knowing about the real world. Fiction film cannot substitute for the hooror of an on-screen assassination or the explosion of the space shuttle challenger or the planes flying into the world trade centre. There is no need to suspend disbelief. Initially for many the fact that real events were caught on camera meant that documentaries were somehow unbiased. Nowadays it is widely accepted that documentaries are biased, as a result those seeking more objectivity take more concern with how the subjects of the documentary represent themselves. Blandford, Grant and Hillier (2001) argue that documentary isn’t a genre citing Nichols who comments that:
Documentary as a concept or practice occupies no fixed territory. It mobilises no finite inventory of techniques, adresses no completly known taxonomy of forms, styles, or modes’.
Nevertheless on the arguments that Neale uses to describe 'Art Cinema' as a 'genre' by virtue of its exhibitionary and distribution target audience, documentary with all the sub-generic forms has a more powerful case to be described as a genre. Interestingly Bill Nichols himself has included two articles on documentary including one by himself under 'Genre Criticism' in his seminal Movies and Methods Vol 2 (1985).
Empire Marketing Board (Film Unit). Existed to market the British Empire. John grierson headed the film unit between 1928 - 1933 when the whole board was wound up. It produced nearly 100 short films including The Drifters (1929) by Grierson himself and also Industrial Britain 1932) by Robert Flaherty. The Public Relations head Tallents went to the GPO and took Grierson and the film unit with him.
Ethnographic Film. Anthropological documentary that seeks to present and describe other cultures with a minimum of interpretation and ideological distortion. The first feature film usually considered as a foundational ethnographic film was Nanook of the North: Robert Flaherty (1922). However it romanticised the Inuit people. This type of approach to documentary film making can often be seen as condescending by representing indigenous people as ‘exotic others’.
Fast Film Stock. This describes how sensitive the emulsion is to light. Fast film stock is more sensitive to light and is rated at 400 ASA and above. Slower film stock can start as low as 50 ASA. Fast film was very useful in low light conditions and shooting could take place without artificial lighting. The disadvantage of this was that the film would look grainy compared to slower speed films.
Free Cinema Movement. This was a short lived movement in the late 1950s in Britain which tried to develop a different approvoach to documentary cinema. It had a powerful effect upon the British New Wave feature films which emereged soon afterwards. It was founded by Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson. The term was used to designate a number of documentary films they made during the 1950s. The ideals held in common were that documentary films should be made free of all commercial pressures. That they should be inflected with a humanistic and poetic approach. This gave the work of Humphrey Jennings over that of John Grierson. Both anderson and Reisz were critics for the film magazine Sequence . The magazine criticisd British documentary for being conformist and feature filmmaking for its lack of aesthetic innovation. They also criticised the monopoly practices of British cinema. They also criticised the predominant genres of war films -which seemed to glorify war and avoid the horrors - and weak comedies. Their own shorts were largely self-funded although some grant money from the BFI was forthcoming. Ford UK was also a significant source of funding. Ford commissioned a series of documentaries ‘Look at Britain’. Free Cinema was responsible for Every Day Except Christmas : Anderson (1957) and Karel Reisz’s We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959). These filmmakers believed in representing working class culture as it was lived. The editing was very rhythmic dliberately connoting Jazz which had become an important part of working class subculture. Stylistically these 3 directors were smilar and 4 out of the 6 films they made had Walter Lasally as the cinematographer. The directors they were influenced by included John Ford, Marcel Carne, Jean Cocteau, Jean Gremillon, Humprey Jennings, Jean Renoir, Vittorio de Sica and Jean Vigo.
GPO Film Unit. This started under Grierson in 1933 after the Empire Marketing Board was wound up. It became the main institution to be associated with documentary film in the 1930s. It had a wide brief only some being linked directly to the Post Office. The films were heavily influenced by montage alongside a committment to representing ordinary people. It was propagandist in so far as it existed to serve the needs and purposes of the state. After Cavalcanti joined the unit there was also experiment with sound montage. Tensions arose between exponents of developing new forms and those who emphasised a more straightforward aproach. Later 1930s films tend to be less experimental than the earlier ones. There was also the development of drama documentaries. Many of the Unit’s conceptions were based around a similar public service principle to the BBC. In 1937 Cavalcanti took over the unit. In 1940 the unit was renamed the Crown Film Unit under the Ministry of Information.
Handheld Camera. Rather than using a tripod, dolly or crane the camera operator had far more flexibility and mobility. Images produced handheld weren't stable before the development of the steadicam. This created a certain look and feel usually associated with cinema verite and Direct Cinema both of which sought to follow profilmic events as they happened.
This Steadicam system allows film makers to significantly reduce the unstable feeling of handheld cinematography. Handheld photography can now be used as an artistic device to impart a feeling of reality for the viewer. A good example of this is the sequence in Saving Private Ryan where the American troops are pinned down on the beach by Nazi gunfire as they launch the invasion of France.
Observational Cinema. This is a type of cinema in which the camera follows the profilmic events as they happen intending to reveal truths about these events. Ethnographic film, cinema Verite and Direct Cinema are all types of observational cinema. The question of whether and how much the film exploits, manipulates or documents the social actors are central. The films are seen as relatively truthful as they aren’t constrained by the technological limitations of older equipment which required dramatic reconstruction and a voice of god narrator.
Portable Sound Recording. Sound recording of location sound remained a problem until the 1950s when the break through in electronics which saw the development of the transistor meant that locational synchronised sound and filming was possible. This encoured styles such as cinema verite and Direct Cinema. The Swiss Nagra sound recorder was very popular with the French New Wave.
Profilmic Event. This is a theoretical term for the reality in front of the camera which is photographed. In observational documentary such as Direct Cinema / Ethnographic Cinema / Cinema Verite film makers aim to preserve the spatial and temporal integrity of these events (what is filmed) as much as possible
Voice of God Narration. The term has developed to describe the use of voice-over in documentary films. It is often used to describe the voice-over style used in Grierson produced documentaries. The voice is usually male, disembodied and omniscient. This style has been rejected by documentary makers in recent times as it is considered as being patriarchal, ethnocentric and manipulative. Personal voice-over is often used as in Roger and Me (Michael Moore, 1989)
Other Kinoeye glossaries include:
January 03, 2008
British Directors: Joe Wright (1972-)
Joe Wright in a short career has proved to be highly successful director of heritage style costume dramas based upon literary adaptations. Atonement (2007) opened the 64th Venice Film Festival making Wright the youngest director ever to have had a film opening this festival.
Wright was trained at St. Martins art school in London now Central St. Martins University of the Arts London. He has been identified as dyslexic and left school with no qualifications. His dyslexia was comensated for by an excellent ability within the field of visual communications and the strength of his painting and film making skills exceptionally won him a place in the prestigious St Martins to study fine art and film He won recognition making a short film for the BBC and directed the highly successful historical drama series Charles II: The Power and The Passion for the BBC which won the 2004 BAFTA TV award, Best Drama Serial. This helped him to get film contracts for the historical / heritage / costume drama genre films Atonement and Pride and Prejudice.
The Charles II TV Series is also available:
Filmography (Feature Films)
2005: Pride and Prejudice