Scott Ellington's Blog

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Half in the Blog

Twenty-four fluid ounces of Corona is like a semianual (re)treat because I’ve never been much of a drinker, and I probably should have spent the morning meditating on The Unexpected, because pretty much every possible “t” has been dotted and every available “i”‘s been crossed since I set off this afternoon primed for Brown Pelicans and Forster’s Terns, and ultimately, kitesurfers (‘long about 1600) when the wind kicks up on a fairly glorious veryearly Autumn afternoon.

But like I said — The Unexpected — resulted in practically zero birds, zero wind, and by 1800, when I’d snagged an extralarge WomboCombo, along with the aforementioned mini-jug of Corona and who’d a thunk it?   Baklava! was sitting right there at the supergrocery.  So, arriving a casa, I hauled all my paraphernalia thither and picked up the mail, noting my NetFlix envelopes — which turned out to disinclude Babylon 5 Season 3 Disc 4.

I noted earlier in the afternoon that anything I happened to have that happeneds to have a strap on it got snarled or otherwise entangled on a windowcrank or a shiftlever or a whatnot shelf or an ashtray or any old thing kids make at sleepaway camp one waaaylongago Summer.  So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that Babylon 5 Season 3 Disc 4 (apparently) involves missing episodes called Ship of
, Interlude and Examinations and War Without End Pt. 1 .  Tying into the WomboCombo, all 24 ounces of Corona and Babylon 5 Season 3 Disk 5, that is, War Without End Pt.2, I discovered that the temporal paradox that appeared in Season 1 (in which Sinclair was introduced to Zathras on the temporally intermittent Babylon 4) figured prominently into a plot that has me so thoroughly turned around that I’ve got no clue which way is up…but three muted cheers for the boneheaded folks from planet Minibar.

Undaunted, I’m downloading the three missing episodes from iTunes while blithering and giggling like a junkyard dog, but not without noting that Zathras is probably my hands-down favorite character, at par with Garibaldi and the more-recent renditions of Ivanova, because he’s looking around and spelunking in Babylon 4’s brown section for appropriate tools and materials to effect repairs on the White Star’s time machine and vocalizes each evaluation with a wholly unnecessary sentence that puts inappropriate tools in their places.  “Time is not short.  Time is infinite.  You are finite.  Zathras is finite…nice tool.  Won’t help.  Nice tool, though.”, and wonderful junk like that.

That’s 1.5 missing episodes presently downloaded since starting dinner and including this blithering.  I’ll be caught up in no time.  Is no time finite?

On a more serious note, the fair use exception to copyright restrictions, as outlined in a couple of places I’ll site when I’m less half in the bag, don’t even step in the general direction of the promotional defense of media scholars and educators lifting stills and clips for purposes of demonstration/illustration of principles taught to students.  And I don’t know why that is.  If the alliance of motion picture and television pimps (AMPTP) can claim in the course of a writer’s strike that the internet’s utility to networks and studios is under study and all web distribution is “promotional” (non-revenue producing), then I don’t understand why watercooler-conversations-on-steroids (moderated by media scholars and educators) is generally presumed to decrease the commercial value of the intellectual property of the corporations and individuals who own the IP.  Liken it to “buzz”, and demonstrate the utility to studios of introducing perenial loss-leaders to a brand new, innocent, nationwide audience of media students.  There’s no need to prove transformative whatever if teachers are helping these stingy bastards sell their shit.  No doubt I’ve missed some important legal point, and I’m also losing my buzz.

There goes the completion of the download of Interludes and Examinations, with a mere 48 minutes to the point at which I can begin to watch the start of the two-part temporal paradox episode (if I start watching Ship of Tears now, I’m only 96 minutes away from continuity with the episode that is now only 36 minutes from completing its download) that got me so confused that I knew exactly what to do.  This is me begging your pardon for wasting your infinite.

26 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Fidgetal Culture

Dr. Thorburn’s intoductory remarks underline the arbitrary separations that:

  1. prejudicially divorce high and low culture from one another, and that
  2. make the future SEEM so different from the past that looking to  history for insight only happens in retrospect.

It’s probably accurate (enough) to say that digital technology/culture actually had a beginning, and that we’re presently ploughing though its middle.  If the end of folk and digital culture is written anywhere (other than the totally-suspect Book of Revelation) it spoils this entire season of metareality technovision.  Where this interesting, modern era fits in a halfassed, arbitrary category-system: comic, action/adventure or dramatic…? remains to be determined by somebody who jumps the gun by anticipating its end and defining the character of this age based on the arbitrary insertion of a delusional barrier.

“Modern” life is just like a massively-multiplayer ongoing television serial (for excellent reasons), and the showrunners’ identities are assigned retrospectively by wallflowers in subsequent eras, often for underscrutinized reasons.

Last night I caught a few minutes on television of a PBS documentary called The Sixties, in which a number of fascinating speculative conclusions were drawn, that:

  • The new&improved “less ruthless” Robert Kennedy’s presidential candidacy in 1968 was significantly shaped and tempered by the 1963 assassination of John Kennedy and Bobby’s literary introduction to Albert Camus.
  • The revolutionary movement in 1968 was global and thwarted in America by the murders of MLK and RFK, transforming boomers and our sympathizers from a generation dedicated to profound political and social change (back) into an enormous mass of addicted freaks who instantly became nostalgic for what might have been.
  • Had Richard Nixon refused to appear on LaughIn, his paper-thin 1968 victory over Hubert Humphrey might not have happened.  As though 40 years of conservative political dominance in America stems from vastly improved candidate marketing practices.  Half of that sounds to me like it’s absolutely true, but the other half sounds like an alibi.

This documentary was narrated by Peter Coyote, whose previously-discovered penchant (San Francisco is a city of seven square miles, and 24fps is Ed’s legacy) for mouthing intriguing nonsense leaves me less than confident in the speculative conclusions scripted by the documentarians.

I don’t have an insatiable appetite for the study of history, but the comforting appendices and soothing conclusions afforded by better students than me (and narrated by Peter Coyote) should facilitate a hunger for much closer inspection of arbitrarian rhetoric and a brand new lust for the constant discomfort and fidgeting of living culture; folk, digital, media, commercial, “modern”…because the fat lady’s singing is probably always going to be some arbitrarian’s hallucination.

25 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Possession and Duplicity

These are two contemporary films that pull in opposite directions: 

Duplicity is the complex, convoluted love story of a couple of awful shits reduced (by choice) to finding themselves so entirely unloveable that the only other person capable of fashioning a life together with them is an utterly untrustworthy mirrorimage of the covert-operations scumball each of them has become.

Possession brings together two young, jaded, malcontented, 2002 academics whose mutual interest in an illicit 19th Century liaison takes them from their stale complacency to the gradual discovery of an incandescent obsession that exceeds the tight, repressed, Victorian focus of their common interest into the bold adventure of shaking off their respective dreads and making a life together.

I disliked everybody in Duplicity (with the sole exception of the character portrayed by Tom Wilkinson) from start to finish.  That’s despite the fact that I admire the Gilroys tremendously for their ability to tell enormously complicated stories.

Neil Labute’s individual sensibilitites were far less evident to me in Lakeview Terrace, but his Possession commentary radiates a very deliberate, oldschool austerity that dwelt on the stillness of camera, emphasis on the actors’ conception of character, and the creation of a film bent on physical authenticity that leaves the audience knowing more about the narrative than the characters who lived it.

The difference between these two films is most evident as each concludes; with the comparatively staid academics utterly reborn and revitalized, and the shits beginning to realize how completely they got screwed. 

By the end of Possesson, Paltrow and Eckhard have exemplified and demonstrated a remarkable range of human imperfections, many of them unspoken, compassionate projections that replicate for the audience the process scholars (and audiences) employ in transforming negative capability into positively meaningful elements of universal, experiental art.

Roberts and Owen, conversely, bring a few persuasive speeches through to the end of their story that’s barely about the power of  their deeply disguised affections for one another, and mostly dedicated to the multiple whining engines of glorified self-interest that actually drive the film.  Duplicity adheres to The Great Man Theory of Everything if greatness is measured in degrees of harm.

These two films find the fork in The Conversation like a surveillance camera that eventually moves to follow action.  I prefer the choices Labute made that seem to be more conscious of the mental and emotional life of an audience scenting story than the Gilroy approach in Duplicity which was quilted from swatches of various timeframes to deliver an icy vision of people inclined to freezer-burn.  Not that the excellent performances needed thawing, it’s the original what-if premise that’s simply unbearably cold.

Years ago, I caught the first five minutes of the first episode of Babylon 5.  The gala, ambassadorial setting nearly made me puke.  Now, because of Henry Jenkins’ interview with J. Michael Straczynski, I’m taking another look, and impatiently awaiting NetFlix’ delivery of the remainder of Season 3.  It still isn’t much to look at, but the story is infinitely more engaging, complex and fascinating than a peek at the pilot betokened.

23 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Remedial Entertainment

Struggling to follow along with various discussions of transmedia entertainment, I’ve come to think of this inevitable trend as “remedial”. 

I was deeply surprised a few years ago to find, while participating in a couple of Firefly forums, that I was  rubbing virtual shoulders with profoundly conservative Browncoats, whose interpretations of the beloved text (we’d all studied scrupulously and thoroughly admired) reflected political views that were diametrically opposed to mine.  I was shocked that I’d never noticed that my unspoken assumptions about government, personal responsibility and junk like that weren’t shared by 100% of the Whedon-loving community.

A little research led to the realization that my reading of Whedon’s liberal intent onto the material was no more valid than the libertarian and reactionary readings of people I’ve always tended to visualize as rednecked mastercriminals.  Define evil.  Nope — try again.

The simple fact that a single property has the power to draw together wildly divergent audiences under a common banner is the primary reason I like to call this stuff remedial; it facilitates healing of the bleeding, hostile chasm that prevents adherents of opposed political agendas from talking to one another with good ol’ indispensible civility.

Remedial also applies, in another sense, to my personal history (in the 80s and 90s) of having dropped the habit of reading, going to movies, watching television, and feeling plugged into contemporary culture.  I was busy failing to teach myself to draw for 15 years, pretty much 16 hours/day.  So when I was loaned the Serenity DVD for a weekend in 2005, I (reluctantly but spontaneously) devoured the film four times that Saturday afternoon before racing out to Tower Records to buy myself a copy and snag the season of Firefly…which blasted open my perceptual doors to a great many unexpectable things and scads of additional “branded” purchases over the past few years.  “Branding” has absolutely nothing to do with the studio (20th) that owns the IP, nor the FOX network that botched&cancelled the 2002 broadcast presentation (my money’s on Sandy Grushow for that unforgivable series of blunders). 

Since 2005, I’ve been engaged in an autodidactic bonehead crash-course in media culture, trying to catch up (to the communal worldview of an audience and writer-director who’ve been paying attention to stuff I stopped watching for a couple of decades) by following some of the vaguest and most ill-concieved treads of association imaginable.  A comprehensive list here is impracticable, but among my most peculiar trains of thought are examples of deranged rumination that led me to see the operative as Paladin (in Have Gun – Will Travel) Season One, and Tom Whedon (father of Joss) has a few things to say in the special features of the DVD re-release of The Dick Cavett Show:  Comic Legends.  Although, looking for Reaver-spoor in Texas Ranch House is more wishful thinking than common sense.  I’d estimate 75 pounds of better choices amassed in the past four years.  I’ve even made a chart of the ideas I wanted to pursue across dozens of properties that have nothing to do with 20th nor FOX, except coincidentally.

The thing is that the casual loan of a DVD four years ago ignited in me a hunger I didn’t know I had, and the hunger still burns fairly brightly.  I didn’t know one could read by the light that hunger gives off.  So…long after “the death of print”, I’m reading more now in a week than I read throughout the 80s (except for three bewildered passes though The Photoshop v2.5 Bible, before I had a computer) and injecting annoyingly irrelevant remarks at Henry Jenkins blog:

for example.  And even though I usually feel like a Special Ed student at the back of a class designed for the best&brightest pupils, the informality of my remedial education doesn’t seem to prevent me from participating, yet.  Perhaps it’s just a lack of common decency.

Early in Convergence Culture, Professor Jenkins differentiates communication platforms from media.  I suspect that the differences between these two closely-related phenomena are easily and frequently confused, and that that confusion impedes a clear understanding of the role the transmedia movement will play in healing a divided and mistrustful Union.

It’s just preliminary thinking on my part, but I think certain platforms effectively target particular communities. 

  • Radio (now often called audibooks at iTunes) is probably far more appealing to people who don’t see or don’t read than books and graphic novels are. 
  • Radio leaves a lot to be desired by the deaf as a means to communicate nuance. 
  • Silent films (in particular) with their frequent use of intersitial text, but all movies and television that condense exposition with printed verbiage don’t really keep illiterates optimally engaged — likewise, subtitles. 

The point of this (my exercise in transparent stupidity) is to suggest that transmedia (in this example, trans-platform) entertainment presents any one singlularly immersive world of engaging content from as many platforms as is feasible in order to attract to that media property the largest audience possible.  If I knew more than I do about videogames, I’d lump them in here, as well.

From this perspective, perhaps Bob Iger sanctioned Marvel to draw the nuclear family together again.  Pixar attracts everyone in the family to a seat under the Disney entertainment umbrella, except the leather-jacketed, disaffected rebel, who’d rather be out raising hell or clubbing than joining in family night at the multiplex.  Remedial entertainment from a vertically integrated, transnational conglomerate that’s hellbent, Buy’nLarge, on grabbing Up the attention of the entire family with wholesome family entertainment, whether they want the entire Disney-ethos package, or not.

On the subject of enumerating “platforms”, I’ll probably stay fairly fuzzy and confused until I can learn to differentiate traditional classroom education from other forms that strongly resemble it.  Stand-up comedy is often indistinguishable from modes employed by classroom teachers.  So I’ll pull out all the stops and stop blithering entirely, once I’ve suggested that remedial edutainment is desperately needed in the necessary evolution of the dying discipline of journalism, our government’s holiest and most-reviled limb.

…except for one more thing and that’s that X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t just kick ass, it pulverizes it — and Lynn Collins brought all the juice to her role as Kayla Silverfox, Wolverine’s girlfriend, that came with her to Portia in The Merchant of Venice.  We’re talking bout the quality of mercy, here.  Vaporized it.  Jackman, Schreiber, Kitsch and Reynolds! Nobody phoned this one in.

18 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Random Harvest

This is an amAzingly moving film.  It’s built on ideas that groan beneath the incredibly awkward weight of

  • battle-induced amnesia,
  • lives that reboot in fugue-states, and
  • utterly unbelievably convenient conversations and coincidences that bear no relation anything other than plot devices. 

Despite these fatal flaws (and hosts of extremely idiosyncratic characters who advance the story one or two ticks and promptly disappear) this movie really rocks with relentless pace as it lunges through innumerble series of powerful emotional states…to leave me on one ear.

Greer Garson and Ronald Colman were exceptionally adept at spoken English, but far more importantly, each of them brought an invisible and tenacious grip to the clunky material that inflected their lines precisely to render completely authentic moments in synchronous concert.    They impart affective english that communicates spin to the bone.  This film is a wonderful, profoundly engaging testament to movie stars and radiant acting.

I have a quibble.  Colman’s shell-shocked amnesiac character appears a few moments into the film.  In light of more recent films I’ve seen lately, I wish he’d played Smith as though he were a consummate gentleman slowly recovering his lifelong composure from the inexpressible monster he’d discovered in himself at war.  Smith is played, instead, as the victim of external forces beyond his control and not as the author and audience of inescapable actions witnessed and perpetrated in the ungentlemanly theater of war. 

It’s a slight, but significant difference that would lend weight to the unintended violence he metes out to the women who will penetrate the fog of him later and repeatedly throughout the breadth of the film.  His fuzzy impressions of inestimable damage he’s done to those he’s loved are precisely correct, and the distance he preserves from everyone is neatly cloaked in the guise of an elegant, capable, kindly English gentleman.  Jekkyl/Hyde sans fantasy bullshit.

The film is laden with rich and insightful opportunities for Colman to have made the beast more recognizable within the scope of his character.  Lydia’s bad penny remark at the homecoming breakfast table, delivered exactly one hour into the film, is an ideal opportunity for Colman to have demonstrated the kind of rapier-like sardonic wit for which British intellectual aristocrats are very justly infamous.  Her self-interested, arrogant ignorance of the toll exacted of war veterans makes this moment eminently suited to the complex demonstration of Charles’ merely physical resemblance to the man who went to war and the enormity of experiential difference between the original and the returning prodigal.  Still, it’s only a quibble.

Kitty’s profound maturation is performed by an actress I don’t yet recognize, but the strained plausibility of her transformation from adolescent to knowing woman is remarkably exemplary of that self-same wonderful grasp of material exhibited by the leads.  The entire tale hinges on underspoken communications, like kilted Paula in her music hall dressing room exuberently inching her chair (and her super-abundance of LIFE) closer to the damaged Smith while flying past emotional stops that range across vast continuua.  It’s an unbelievably satisfying adventure, just watching these actors work far beyond the confinements of a groan-inducing, yet fascinating script. 

I enjoyed the daylights out of this one!

Don’t google Susan Peters if your heart is even a little bit brittle.  She’ll wreck you.

05 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments