At Last, Dr. No

After too many occasions when I’ve missed the start of the Christmas Bond Marathon, or it’s been checked out at the video store, or I couldn’t remember the name, I have finally seen Dr. No. Thank you Ann Arbor Public Library.

Or more accurately, I’ve seen the first hour of Dr. No. But it’s getting late and I have morning class, so that will have to do for now. It’s instantly my favourite Bond film. It’s the first of them of course. I’ve read most of the books (it isn’t hard, they read just as fast as pulp should) and this is the truest to them. Screw Bruckheimer, that makes for a good movie. Somehow I missed the first reference to Bond as 007, but the first “Bond, James Bond” comes down like a tonne of bricks. And I didn’t have to see this film to know it, but Connery is (yes of course) the best of them. I’ll give Daniel Craig number 2.

(If you click on that earlier link, it will take you to the single highest Rotten Tomato rating I have ever seen.)

After Dr. No it’s inevitably one big, tedious arms race. The extraordinary thing about the Bond franchise is how long they’ve managed to milk actual pleasure out of that scenario. Racism, sexism, colonialism, judo, all the ingredients are there from the beginning, only more fresh. So two thumbs up, then one down to cock the barretta, and then M takes it away from you and gives you this newfangled Walther.

Jason Scott Details His Concerns

Jason Scott is aware and responsive to people’s contrary opinions, but he’s not backing down, not one inch. Instead he’s cranked out an enormous narrative blog-essay on why he feels as he does regarding King of Kong, a story which starts a little after his birth, moves through his adolescence and takes the reader into and beyond the filming of the BBS documentary. In case anyone was unaware, he feels quite strongly about this.

There’s also some interesting tangents about his attitude towards selling products in the age of copying:

“These three items are all you get. No booklet, no inserts, no nothing. DVD, cover, plastic case. The question naturally comes as to why you even need to be buying this physical item at all; there’s absolutely nothing special about it. An ISO and two TIFFs will give you the same experience. And there’s even a bonus: putting this DVD into your drive makes it attempt to install the InterActual DVD player, a software DVD player that, among other things, phones home to New Line Cinema, distributors of the DVD. Oh, that’s excellent, that’s truly awesome. We’re told that we can’t experience the full features of the DVD without installing this software, which I am going to assume for the time being is an utter lie; feel free to correct me if you know differently.

I’m saying a relatively puffy torrent could give you 100% of the experience. This is petty and trivial but it is true. And ostensibly a torrented version wouldn’t ask you to install a home-phoning software DVD program every time you stuck it into your computer. That this does that very thing signals, to me, old-style thinking and cynicism about the audience and their role in the ownership of this DVD, that is, gape-mouthed zombies.”

Arty Facts

Jason Scott had some comments regarding my earlier post about Jason’s severe antipathy towards King of Kong.

I’m reminded of the debate about David Simon’s Almighty Verisimilitude, among other things. Of course Simon’s material is explicitly meant to be fictionalized, but that makes it interesting that he seems to be holding himself to a higher standard of detail-realism than some people seem to want their documentaries to adhere to. So what is a documentary anyway? Obviously, a movie that depicts real events. But almost as obviously, we expect the movie-maker to bring a perspective to the recording, and assume they may be selective in their choice of facts to reveal in the pursuit of that perspective. Documentary maker Jason Scott figures King of Kong went too far when the facts it chose not to reveal seemed to be ones that would actively contradict the narrative implied by the ones it did. And now, over at Jason Scott’s blog, there is some ongoing consideration of those factualities.

The factual truth is only one of two related debates here: is the literal truth revealed or distorted by this particular movie, sure, but also: do we expect documentaries to be about the real world, or do we expect them to use the real world as raw medium to construct an artistic truth? Both apparently.

Here’s Jesse Thorn of The Sound of Young America putting the debate to Ira Glass of This American Life, after he got himself worked up complaining to Jonathan Goldstein (former TAL producer) about the same topic.

Jason Scott Hates “The King of Kong”

Oh no. Jason Scott is spittle-angry about the fantastic movie King of Kong. Jason has some skin in this game, he made BBS: The Documentary (which I have watched and enjoyed in it’s entirety. If you think you would like to watch, for instance, an entire hour of footage of people who used to make ASCII art talking about the ASCII art scene, you would probably love it it too), is now working on GET LAMP, a documentary about text adventure games, and has plans to move onto arcade games as his next Ken Burns triumph. The guy knows geek, the guy loves geek, the guy is geek. And King of Kong is about geek.

I don’t have time to find out if his factual challenges to the film are on the money. My own recollection of the film seems a little at odds with his claims (doesn’t the film’s introduction of Steve Weibe start with the fact that he held the Donkey Kong high score for a time?), but clearly Mr. Scott is more familiar with the movie than I am. Regardless, I’m not inclined to immediately repudiate my appreciation for King of Kong. Scott clearly thinks the movie is a two-trick pony who’s two tricks are making fun of geeks for being geeks, and for Billy Mitchell for being a cardboard villain. I don’t think either charge is entirely fair. Part of what I loved about the movie is that you learned enough about Billy to feel such pain at his transformation into a insidious bully when his personal mythos is challenged by a better player. Part of what I loved about the movie is that the characters are presented as both really really geeky (which, c’mon Jason, aren’t they in real life?) and also really really human.

David Simon’s Iraq War Miniseries

First teaser for the upcoming David Simon/Ed Burns production Generation Kill. Oh boy.

Dan Baum on New Orleans

Before and after my visit to New Orleans, Dan Baum (a middle aged Jewish guy from Colorado, I believe) has been my prime source of information about the post-Katrina crescent city and it’s inhabitants. I’ve finally finished reading his 10 000 word “article” about the political machinations in the year after the storm:

The Lost Year, Behind the failure to rebuild

which the New Yorker published August ’06. It’s a doozy.

I also very highly recommend reading the entire run of his wide and deep “New Orleans Journal” posts. Unfortunately, that link will take you only to a sample of the articles and no matter how I’ve poked and prodded at the website and it’s search interface the only way to work through all the posts seems to be to click on every possible internal link within them. Which is an added shame because some dim light at the magazine decided not to publish any of them in the actual magazine, and the web versions are all that exist. On the plus side, he and his wife are writing a book about several of the New Orleans residents he researched and interviewed for his articles.

Concern About Electronic Voting Is Now Permissible: NYT

The New York Times has an excellent article up about the problems with touch-screen and other kinds of electronic voting:

Can You Count on Voting Machines? — Clive Thompson

(It may require you to register to see it. Bugmenot has lots of NYT passwords if you’d rather not join another database.)

Among the many excellent and balanced points made, there is this:

“The earliest critiques of digital voting booths came from the fringe — disgruntled citizens and scared-senseless computer geeks — but the fears have now risen to the highest levels of government.”

If I read that right, all the people who have been concerned about evoting all these years, for mostly the same reasons as the author addresses, were senseless fringe geeks who only happened to be right in the way that stopped clocks are right once a day. Now however, the issue is blessed by the Grey Lady, and the same concern is permissible and dignified. Oh good.

I can’t help pointing out that Canada has (almost) no history of election irregularities, and generally uses a system that doesn’t even seem to be on the radar of any of the election experts the article mentions. We make an X in an O on a little piece of paper, fold it up, then put it in a sealed box which is shipped to a counting center and counted by people. What’s wrong with that, anyway? Our federal elections are regulated, well, federally, so every province and county gets equally reliable elections, instead of the county-by-county business in the US. Silly old US.

Media Makers on the State of Media

Here’s John Hockenberry, who worked for 9 years at Dateline NBC, on the current state of network journalism:

“You Don’t Understand Our Audience” What I learned about network television at Dateline NBC.

At the moment Zucker blew in and interrupted, I had been in Corvo’s office to propose a series of stories about al-Qaeda, which was just emerging as a suspect in the attacks. While well known in security circles and among journalists who tried to cover international Islamist movements, al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization and a story line was still obscure in the early days after September 11. It had occurred to me and a number of other journalists that a core mission of NBC News would now be to explain, even belatedly, the origins and significance of these organizations. But Zucker insisted that Dateline stay focused on the firefighters. The story of firefighters trapped in the crumbling towers, Zucker said, was the emotional center of this whole event. Corvo enthusiastically agreed. “Maybe,” said Zucker, “we ought to do a series of specials on firehouses where we just ride along with our cameras. Like the show Cops, only with firefighters.” He told Corvo he could make room in the prime-time lineup for firefighters, but then smiled at me and said, in effect, that he had no time for any subtitled interviews with jihadists raging about Palestine.

Here’s Nick Hornby interviewing David Simon, creator of The Wire:

““My Standard For Verisimilitude Is Simple And I Came To It When I Started To Write Prose Narrative: Fuck The Average Reader.”

That’s a good title, and the whole thing is decent, as per usual with David Simon interviews. The dude likes to talk. Nowadays about half the internet is David Simon interviews.

Which brings us back to Average Reader. Because the truth is you can’t write just for people living the event, if the market will not also follow. TV still being something of a mass medium, even with all the fractured cable universe now reducing audience size per channel. Well, here’s a secret that I learned with Homicide and have held to: if you write something that is so credible that the insider will stay with you, then the outsider will follow as well. Homicide, The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill—these are travelogues of a kind, allowing Average Reader/Viewer to go where he otherwise would not. He loves being immersed in a new, confusing, and possibly dangerous world that he will never see. He likes not knowing every bit of vernacular or idiom. He likes being trusted to acquire information on his terms, to make connections, to take the journey with only his intelligence to guide him. Most smart people cannot watch most TV, because it has generally been a condescending medium, explaining everything immediately, offering no ambiguities, and using dialogue that simplifies and mitigates against the idiosyncratic ways in which people in different worlds actually communicate. It eventually requires that characters from different places talk the same way as the viewer. This, of course, sucks.

Also see this from The Atlantic for a dissenting view on Simon the person and the state of his almighty verisimilitude:

The Angriest Man In Television

Notice however that there isn’t a single claim in there that The Wire isn’t the best thing on tv. Not that I watch tv.

And finally here’s kindly David Lynch on the iPhone movie-viewing experience:

Raw Materials for 2-4s and Mickeys

In a few hours I’m gonna do that Canadian music show. I’ll be playing Log Driver’s Waltz (of course), straight from Youtube, so I’m posting it here so I can find it. And now, so can you!

Bonus action: the NFB’s version of the Blackfly Song with Wade Hemsworth. Ahhhhhhhh….. NFB……. what ever happened to that?

And here’s a song that I couldn’t find a playable-quality version of, so I’m gonna have to play a cover:

Playtime Title Artist Album Label
1:07 PM the Blackfly Song Wade Hemsworth Rough Guide to Canadian Music
1:08 PM Snowed In/Cruisin’ Joel Plaskett Ashtray Rock
1:13 PM News Travels Fast The Be Good Tanyas Chainsmoking Blues
1:19 PM B.C. Trees Josh Martinez
1:25 PM Wicked and Weird Buck 65 This Right Here is Buck 65
1:38 PM These Eyes The Guess Who
1:38 PM American Women The Guess Who
1:50 PM Melody Day Caribou Andorra
1:50 PM Good Ol Hockey Game Stompin Tom Connors
1:50 PM No Cars Go Arcade Fire Neon Bible
1:58 PM Sleep is the Enemy Danko Jones Sleep is the Enemy
2:03 PM All Time High C’mon
2:04 PM Fifty Mission Cap The Tragically Hip Fully Completely
2:12 PM Balade a Toronto Jean Leloup Joue de la Guitare
2:12 PM Sisters of Mercy Leonard Cohen
2:23 PM After the Goldrush Neil Young
2:25 PM A Case of You Joni Mitchell Blue
2:31 PM Dirty Town Mother Mother Touch Up
2:47 PM Cowboy Junkies Sweet Jane
2:47 PM Km 19 (Ootsa Lake) Archie Pateman with the Bootscreefers
2:50 PM This Planting Thing Kluskus Uncut
2:53 PM Barrett’s Privateers Stan Rogers Home in Halifax
2:59 PM Ed Special’s Angstgiving

Basement Dwelling Filepunks Make A Movie Famous

Releaselog gives daily reports about movies and games which have recently been copied for distribution over filesharing networks. A few days ago they covered the release of a fairly obscure indie film called Man From Earth. I watched it, and watching it was fun. It’s an ideas film and works pretty well, if you don’t expect too much.

The producer of the film emailed releaselog. But not for the reason you might think.

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Eric D. Wilkinson and I am the producer of a small independent film called “Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth” (our review).

I am sending you this email after realizing that our website has had nearly 23,000 hits in the last 12 days, much of it coming from your website. In addition, our trailer, both on the site and other sites like YouTube, MySpace and AOL has been watched nearly 20,000 times AND what’s most impressive is our ranking on IMDb went from being the 11,235th most popular movie, to the 5th most popular movie in 2 weeks (we are also the #1 independent film on IMDb & the #1 science fiction film on IMDb). How did this all happen? Two words: Torrent / File Sharing sites (well, four words and a slash).

More specifically, Our independent movie had next to no advertising budget and very little going for it until somebody ripped one of the DVD screeners and put the movie online for all to download. After that happened, people were watching it and started posting mostly all positive reviews on IMDb, Amazon and other places. Most of the feedback from everyone who has downloaded “The Man From Earth” has been overwhelmingly positive. People like our movie and are talking about it, all thanks to piracy on the net!

And so on.

In the comment storm that follows, the film’s director adds:

It seems that more than 2000 people have downloaded the film, and the vast majority (I’d say 85-90%) seem to like or love the movie.

Most of these people live outside the US, and so the DVD is not officially for sale in their country, and frankly we have no idea when it will be. Same goes for any sort of TV sale.

So we had the idea (truth be told, my wife had the idea) to pull a Radiohead… to reach out to the online community and say, “If you downloaded this movie and liked it, please buy the DVD; and if you can’t buy the DVD where you live, please send us some money.”

There is a theory of optimal piracy, or actually several theories suggesting that for one reason or another, your total sales will benefit if some people are freely copying your material. Taken to the extreme you get situations like Cory Doctorow and his fellow authors who actively release their books as free downloads, and argue that they reap the rewards in increased paper-copy sales, freelance writing contracts, speaking gigs and so on. Plenty of new bands do the same, releasing some or all of their tunes and hoping for people to talk them up and come to their gigs. As a DJ I sure wish more acts did that, so I could play them when I want to. It’s a sign that you’ve gone serious when you turn off the “download” option on the music player for your band’s myspace page.

In the case of the of The Man from Earth, what strikes me is that the success of an entire film appears to have hinged on the random decision of some random basement dweller to post it and give it a positive review. Releaselog isn’t a professional undertaking, in either the quality or, I suspect, the money sense. Their “editors” are whoever happens to respond when they occasionally post asking for volunteer editors. Thanks to the wonky dynamics of the peer-to-peer gray market, this ragtag posse of international teenagers is the best at what they do, or close enough that 10s of 1000s of people visit their site daily. And if one of them likes an indie film, it’s the “5th most popular movie” in the world, a week later.

Finally, the self-picture the of the producer in front of an internet browser with up, to prove that the email really was from a movie producer and not a 12 year old girl or a dog or something, is a lovely twist on a classic internet meme.

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