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in Filmmaking
on Mar 8, 2009

Here are a few links that have caught my eye in the past week:

Barack Obama is doing his small part to cut back on federal spending by regifting an AFI box set of the “25 Greatest American Films of all Time” to visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. As The Guardian reports, the British press is up in arms by the chintzy perceived snub, noting that Brown previously gave Obama a pen carved from the sister ship the White House desk is made from and a first edition of a seven-volume Churchill biography. The gift has also turned political commentators into cultural theorists as they parse the possible meanings of the exchange. From The Guardian:

It’s difficult to resist reading political messages into these films. Like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, could Brown have been “a contender … a somebody” if the US Congress had shown a little more interest in his global New Deal? Like Luke Skywalker on the Millennium Falcon, is Brown’s history of support for light-touch financial regulation in the City of London now endangering the mission?

The 25 films also include two from the end of the Great Depression: the Grapes of Wrath (recommended to Obama on this blog a while back) and the Wizard of Oz. Perhaps there is something here. A 1990 paper in the Journal of Political Economy argued it could be read as monetary allegory: in this interpretation the yellow brick road represents the gold standard (a return to which is not US policy).

The set also include three of Obama’s five personal favourites, according to his Facebook page: Casablanca, The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia (omitted are the second Godfather film and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

In a second wave of Sundance ’09 acquisitions, two docs have been picked up for theatrical release. Oscilloscope nabbed Burma VJ, with HBO getting pay cable rights, and Lion’s Gate/Roadside Attractions has bought The Cove. The latter deal features even more partners, with Participant coming aboard to do “outreach to non-profit and community groups” and the U.K. sales co The Works doing foreign with the Quickfire Films Fund.

Interesting discussion between pioneering video artist Dara Birnbaum and the inventive younger media artist Cory Arcangel in Artforum. The two discuss a moment I remember well — a time in which artists felt that emerging technologies would create spaces in the popular culture for a kind of referential pop post-modern art. An excerpt:

CA: I swear I saw your MTV “Art Break” when I was a kid. I was glued to MTV.

DB: You had to be glued to see it, it went by so fast. But I think what’s more significant in all these examples is that one is getting inside popular culture as opposed to the frameworks of institutional art spaces. I used to talk about how Bertolt Brecht would refer to mediums such as the newspaper, radio, or television and how they had the tendency to fulfill themselves and then become overinflated. All of a sudden there are holes within their structures, and then other substances could penetrate. That’s what happened with cable, for instance. Artists believed that they had finally found a spot within which they could operate; holes opened up and they inserted work into them.

CA: I think I’m definitely in a parallel situation today when it comes to the question of context. You made videos and found it interesting to place them in clubs; my videos go on view in galleries, but I’ll also put them online. And just as the galleries weren’t interested in your video work because they thought it was just TV, they weren’t so interested in my work at the beginning. They just didn’t see it as art.

DB: I initially avoided galleries like the plague. I didn’t want to translate popular imagery from television and film into painting and photography. I wanted to use video on video; I wanted to use television on television. A lot of us who went into video at the beginning did so because we thought art shouldn’t be made in limited editions, and in video we finally had an eminently reproducible medium that could get out into the hands of many. It was a populist form, and our great hope was to do something that made it to Kim’s Video store. You know? I didn’t want to be collected. I wanted to talk. Looking back, there were different test runs to promote this way of distribution for artists, but nothing ever truly supported that vision.

Len Klady looks at the uncertain profitability of Watchmen.

Sue Zeidler at Reuters writes about another shoe dropping: with hedge fund-backed studio slate deals underperforming, hedge funds are pulling out, selling their positions to specialty investors who are buying these assets at discounts ranging from 30 to 70 percent. On the one hand, this development signals the belief that film assets have a long-term value. On the other, it points to the fact that another source of movie financing is retreating (not surprising, given the economy). The article says that the next round of studio financing may wind up being asset-backed (meaning, studio film libraries will form the collateral).

A great new feature at Hammer to Nail: The Blueprint, in which a director discusses the specifics of his or her moviemaking process. The debut column features Mike Ryan discussing with writer/director Ira Sachs his 40 Shades of Blue.

Finally, as you may have noted from a previous post, Filmmaker now has a Twitter account. I signed up with more than a hint of anxiety about the process, worrying that the microblogging service was going to become just another attention-distracting time-waster and that I’d get little out of it. So far, though, I’m enjoying it. It’s less frivolous than I thought. This article by Julia Angwin at the Wall St. Journal Online entitled “How to Twitter” does a good of explaining how a brand — a film, a publication, or a pundit — might begin to engage with the platform. Related: Tony H. at Zappos on “How Twitter Can Make You a Better (and Happier) Person.”

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