Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Posts Tagged ‘academy awards

Dont Not Look Back

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It’s a rare feat that I’ll sit down and watch the entire Academy Awards ceremony end to end, but that’s exactly what I did last evening. 

I didn’t have an opinion one way or the other about Seth McFarlane as emcee going into the evening, but after seeing the reports of his apparent Twitter lynching, I’m sure glad I stayed off social media for the most part during the event.

Of the entire evening, I have to say I was laughing way out loud in my living room at the sock puppet rendition of the Oscar-nominated Flight. Coke sniffing, tequila swilling sock puppets flying a plane upside down?  All they needed was the Pets.com sock puppet to fly in save the day (although we saw how well THAT worked out for Pets.com!)

I thought McFarlane struck a fine balance between properly insulting the Hollywood clerisy and appropriately celebrating the film arts.

On which topic, I wanted to debrief on a particularly notable celebration, the Honorary Awards, one of those awards that were awarded prior to Oscar night. This year, one of those awards went to D.A. Pennebaker, a pioneer and downright legend in documentary filmmaking circles.

Arguably, Pennebaker’s work, and the work of those he influenced, has had a resultantly more powerful historical impact than many of the celebrated filmmakers in attendance last evening.

Pennebaker, along with a small cohort that included the likes of Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, Albert and David Maysles (and a handful of others) in the form of Drew Associates helped to create the notion of cinema verite, or “truth in film.” In 1960’s Primary, Pennebaker and team documented John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey’s campaigns in the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic Primary (and which resulted in one of the most famous “stalking” shots in cinematic history of then candidate JFK). 

With this film, Pennebaker and crew also demonstrated the power and impact that could be brought about with the synching of film and sound (using the then relatively-new Nagra tape sound recorders) on the move — that is to say, where the documentary filmmaker could “follow” their subject in the field.

Pennebaker has also been a pioneer in making a record of musical performance, starting with his filming of Bob Dylan’s 1965 English tour, entitled Dont Look Back, but also other important artists including Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie.

Dont Look Back was the first draft of the basic script for music videos nearly 20 years before they exploded onto the scene with MTV. 

And love him or hate him for it, Pennebaker helped paved the way for what came to be known as “reality TV” — one could pretty easily connect a straight line from Pennebaker’s cinema verite work to Cops — although Pennebaker’s contributions to the documentary medium have been much more substantive in terms of subject matter and thoughtfulness, and it’s a shame that the medium hasn’t evolved more broadly with the promising foundation that Pennebaker and his associates laid down fifty plus years ago.

If you’re interested in checking out his work, I would certainly encourage you to screen Primary and Dont look Back. There’s also Monterey Pop and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

And, of course, that ever campaign-insider flick, The War Room, which took us inside the first Bill Clinton presidential campaign “war room,” where the likes of James Carville and George Stephanopolous worked to keep the Clinton campaign spinning and vibrant. 

To steal from that early campaign slogan: “It’s the documentary, stupid.” 

Written by turbotodd

February 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm

The Artist

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I’ve not had time to see all the films nominated for “Best Picture” for this year’s Academy Awards, and will, in fact, be flying up to Toronto next Sunday as this year’s Oscars are set to be awarded.

Will "The Artist" win this year's Oscar for "Best Picture?" Perhaps a more important question, what will companies around the globe do to avoid becoming victims of their own industries' transitional equivalent from silent to talking motion pictures?

Why is it that I’m always on a plane during these big events?  Three weeks ago it was the Super Bowl.  Reminds me of the time that Spain was playing Germany in the UEFA Euro soccer finals in 2008. I was flying back from Madrid to the States, and there were all these poor Spaniards stuck on the plane as Germany played Spain for that once every-four-year title.

The good news was, Spain won (for them…I don’t want to start any internecine football blogging wars here).

I did get out to see one of the nominated films this weekend, Michael Hazanaviciu’s “The Artist,” a mostly silent film focused on the late 1920s and early 1930s which explores the transition from silent to “talky” pictures.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie and plan on doing so, stop reading now!

I mean it…I’m about to spill the beans!

Actually, there aren’t a lot of beans to spill.  The movie plot could just as easily haven been taken out of the radio-to-TV transition, or the broadcast-to-cable transition, or even the search-to-social network transition.

Meaning, that change is universal and inevitable. And those who choose to protect the business models of the past and to ignore the potential of those of the future are doomed to history’s sidelines.

In “The Artist,” George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the silent movie star of his time, but as he meets up-and-coming but still fledgling actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) his movie studio, Kinograph Studios, led by Al Zimmer (John Goodman), Valentin fights the rising tide of “talkies,” and soon finds himself going bankrupt during the Great Depression as silent films go the way of the dinosaur and his own last-ditch attempt at self-financing one last talkie is a failure.

It’s not without some irony that this film is, largely, silent. Yet in its own unique way, it demonstrates the power of visual storytelling, seeming to explain why silent films had their day — that a good story is, in fact, universal, no matter the manner in which is related.

As its viewers experience, it’s not until the very last scene of the film that we finally hear George Valentin speak at all, as he explains with a heavy French accent that he will do yet another take of a scene with his new co-star, Ms. Miller, “with pleasure.”

He’s had his epiphany, his denouement is complete, and Valentin seems set to become a part of the future he once denied, only this time more as dancer than actor.

He has, in short, evolved.

The object lesson in all this?

In some ways, it’s akin to Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, in which the author outlined the opportunity and challenges of disruptive technologies and innovations.

Clayton’s basic thesis suggests that a disruptive technology is “an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network.”

If the introduction of “talking” motion pictures’ and subsequent disruption of the silent film market doesn’t fit this definition, I’m not sure what does.

This transition, of course, didn’t come without some pain, experienced both by the motion picture industry at large, and a variety of its “players.” Actors such as the fictional George Valentin (but also scores of silent motion picture actors ranging from Theda Bara to Mary Pickford to Charlie Chaplin) were impacted by the transition, often when their voices didn’t match their silent film image.

But technical challenges also abounded: New mikes and cameras had to be developed to prevent pick-up of the grinding noise that silent film cameras made as the film moved through the sprockets, and the industry had to find a way to synchronize voices properly, considering the sound head on a projector is about 10 frames away from the projected image.  Even new sound-proof sound stages had to be built, as did squeak-proof dollies.

But, ultimately, the industry and many of its players did adapt, and in the process generated a variety of  new opportunities for newly required vocations (sound editors, boom operators, voice actors, and on and on).  But, many also fell by the wayside.

As for “The Artist” and whether or not a silent movie in the year 2012 can win an Oscar for “Best Picture,” keep an eye out on the evolving social sentiment leading up to Sunday’s awards ceremony, for which IBM has partnered with the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab to bring you the Oscar Senti-Meter where we follow the Twittersphere action day-by-day.

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