Eyes on the Fair Use of the Prize

Watch how copyright law is re-writing history, starting with the Civil Rights documentary “Eyes on the Prize,” which has been out of print because of legal trap doors and outrageously expensive licensing fees. Due to the film’s heavy saturation with archival footage and images, its licenses were extremely expensive. The filmmakers could only afford temporally limited clearance contracts. Some lasted for up to ten years. However, after a few years when the first license expired, it became illegal to commercially distribute Eyes on the Prize. It now exists scattered across the V.S.. on VHS in random school libraries. Unless copyright and fair use undergo serious reform, Eyes on the Prize will vanish. So will many other films that have undergone similar predicaments. Not to mention the important projects that copyright intimidates their prospective authors from attempting to create.

Movie directed/produced by jacobs Caggiano, awarded with Fair Use award on the Media that Matters Festival.
licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0

Cloverfield, the mythology continues


We recently went to see ‘Cloverfield’, and were pleasantly surprised. It’s good to find out that an action flick doesn’t need the laughable Bay/Bruckenheimer mayhem to appeal to a large audience. Instead of the usual chest-thumping, combustive bombast, aiming for direct impact (I actually think the score during the credits at the end is meant as a joke, adressing the usual overly dramatic all-over soundtracks in Bay-esque movies) here is a film that is quite effective in communicating the sense of individual fear and tension, in situations where the reality of every day life is crushed in extraordinary ways. There’s only one small explicit reference to 9/11 in the film, but it could have been a subtext with much more weight. It’s the individual, direct perspective in the context of blockbuster cinema that is kind of refreshing (and it’s very much part of our new way of seeing the world, mediated by mobile media and online video platforms) – it’s supposed to be a limitation, given the all-encompassing power of cinema narration, but here it’s very exciting in all its suggestion of the ‘bigger’ event. The camera-image is concentrated on the action on the ground, lifting only once in a while just to catch a brief, fleeting glimpse of the carnage happening around, and that’s what strikes chord, immersing the audience in confusion, anxiety, the sense of not-knowing. Of course this is Hollywood cinema, and unlike the ‘Blair Witch’ project ‘Cloverfield’ is a big-budget film, and although it looks like it’s shot in guerilla style, including jump cuts, creating a feel as if it was all edited in-camera (I praise the makers for that), it’s scripted in every detail. So, as the story unfolds – leaning on the obligatory love plots between people looking like H&M models – the dread and anticipation are being build up, and towards the end it’s sort of sad to get to see the ‘bigger’ picture (well yes, there’s a monster in a bad mood goin’ around town, and you get to see the thing in close-up). The film is succesfull in engaging the audience from the start – actually even long before it came out – so it didn’t really have to follow that narrative logic.

But anyway, some mysteries remain, leaving lots of opportunities and even clues for (unavoidable) sequals (or who knows, versions that provides another perspective on the same events). New myths are being created on the internet, where according to some the overarching story of Cloverfield takes place. The internet was actually the place where the story was established, long before the movie came out, and looking back on the previous months of online mythology creation, it’s really brilliant, a wet dream not only for marketeers but for story-tellers as well. Sure it’s essentially a viral marketing stunt (as for ‘Lost’, or ‘Snakes on Plane’), but even more so it serves as a the source for the backstory, bringing, in the footsteps of ‘Blair Witch’ a new dimension to the so-called ‘faux documentary’ tradition in cinema. Using a combination of subjective, mobile camera perspectives, news formats (lots of Cloverfield newsflashes are circulating on the net) and networked media bridge the space between the camera and the event, screen and viewer, reality and fiction, resulting in a dynamic that’s even more effective than television in penetrating, even overtaking the everyday environement of the audience. The first online video teasers, followed by many sites that were specially created, like the fake MySpace profiles for all the characters, as well as the references to fake companies (Slusho, Tagruato, Tidowave), brought about an immense wave of reactions of people who desperately tried to piece together the mystery, getting fed new clues as time went by. And apparently, according to sources like http://cloverfieldclues.blogspot.com (this guy has actually been interviewed by several traditional media as a “Cloverfield expert”) the clues are still coming (on sites like 01-18-08.com), unfolding new mysteries (where did the monster come from? is there more than one? what was that thing you see falling in the ocean in the last scene of the film? What is the meaning of the sounds you hear after the end credits? Damn, I didn’t even NOTICE these clues). For people who’d like to keep on deciphering: check the video diaries on jamieandteddy.com (focusses on a minor character in the movie), the “Chuai” news footage (provide insight about “attacks” before New York), the Kishin manga that appeared out of nowhere (that is supposedly a prequel to all of the events) and especially: when you see the film, keep a lookout for cameos of characters and logos, and please don’t forget to stay till AFTER the credits. The mythology continues. More than ever.

… And new ones are created. JJ Abrams (producer of ‘Colverfield’) is working on the new ‘Star Trek’ episode (scheduled for 2009). The first teaser just was “leaked” online. And yes, it works.

UPDATE: The ‘subjective POV’ format is spreading like a virus. Just heard about the recent Spanish movie (REC), directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, in which a TV reporter, following a few firemen for a reality show, ends up surrounded by zombies. An American version is already in the works, working title: ‘quarantine’.

The movie has an interesting viral ad, focussing on audience reactions:

Arthur Lipsett Soundtracks

I was just having fun with sound at first. One day I joined two scraps of sound together and they sounded interesting. I began collecting scraps of sound from the wastage…. It was initially a sound experiment – purely for the loving of placing one sound after another.
–Arthur Lipsett on ’very nice, very nice’

The soundtracks of some of the films of the legendary Canadian filmmaker Arthur Lipsett have just been remastered and released on Vinyl. Although Lipsett (who committed suicide in 1986) has been categorised as a “found foutage” filmmaker, the vision of his work is pretty much based on the juxtaposition of (found) sound and image (”I cannot tell whether I am seeing or hearing – I feel taste, and smell sound – it’s all one – I myself am the tone.”, he wrote). In his collages, in which he evokes his “complex, tragic-comic view of the world” (William C. Wees), sound becomes a subversive agent of the image, allowing a critical reflection on what is being shown. This juxtapostion creates after-images which carry over as sonic bridges to other sequences.
The importance of the sound, as instructions for observing and critiquing the images, is highlighted by this LP, which illustrates Lipsett’s highly structured system of field recordings, loops, speech and music. It proves all the more that Lipsett was really a postmodern bricoleur avant la lettre, rearranging the debris of the cultural past. (fragments are available here. The LP is published by Global A, the label owned by archivist Johannes Auvinen, better known – for those into Acid/House – as Tin man)

At the moment we’re composing some programs for the upcoming Courtisane festival in Ghent, which will probably feature some of Lipsett’s work.

Michael Baker wrote a nice piece on the sound-image relationship in Lipsett’s film ‘Very, very nice’. btw: If the video posted here (21-87) rings a bell: it was referenced several time in George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ films (also in ‘THX 1138:4EB’ and ‘THX 1138′). (For freaks only: Princess Leia’s cell aboard the Death Star is number 2187. THX 1138 took place in the year 2187, and Maggie McOmie’s character in it dies on the coded date “21/87.” Also, as the legend goes, one of the sound samples in Lipsett’s film, a conversation between Warren S. McCulloch, a pioneer of artificial intelligence, and Roman Kroitor, a cinematographer and director who helped develop the IMAX film format (”Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us…”) helped shape Lucas’ ideas about ‘The Force’. How about that, huh). Stanley Kubrick was also a big fan, and asked him to make the trailer of ‘Dr. Strangelove’. Lipsett declined, but his influence is clearly visible in Pablo Ferro’s brilliant trailer:

share – it’s fair!

The European Green party has just launched the site iwouldntsteal.net in response to the media industry’s lobbying efforts on sharing media. It has a funny video in which they make fun of the ridiculous clips (you see them when you rent a DVD) in which copying, dowloading and sharing (of copyrighted material) is compared with stealing. On the site it says: “The media industry has failed to offer viable legal alternatives and they will fail to convince consumers that sharing equals stealing. Unfortunately, they have succeeded in another area – lobbying to adapt laws to criminalize sharing, turning consumers into criminals. They argue that their laws are necessary to support artists but in reality all they’re protecting is their own profits.”

Also download the inspiring video Steal This Film – Part II has been released a month ago. Boing Boing writes: “Part II is even better than part one — it covers the technological and enforcement end of the copyright wars, and on the way that using the internet makes you a copier, and how copying puts you in legal jeopardy. Starting with Mark Getty’s (Chairman of Getty Images) infamous statement that “Intellectual Property is the oil of the 21st century,” the filmmakers note that oil always leads to oil-wars, and that these are vicious, ill-conceived and never end well. This leads them to explore the war on copying — which ultimately becomes a war on the Internet and those of us who use it.”

Apparently, Part 2 is already a great success with over 150,000 downloads in the first 4 days. Interestingly, people are being very generous with their donations, which have already passed $5000.

Jamie King, producer of the film gives the following explanation on his blog: “Over 90% of people donating are deciding to go over the artificial $15 threshold we set. But I don’t think people literally ‘want that gift’; I think they want an excuse to be generous!”

Media & Memory / Article


Isn’t it strange how history has been replaced by technology…?

From ‘Eloge de l’amour’, Jean-Luc Godard (2001)

I just finished an article on media and memory for a forthcoming publication on media culture in Flanders and Belgium, partly based on talks I heard and had during the ‘Media, Memory and the Archive’ conference we organised at Argos (October 6 2007, see elsewhere on this blog). It’s based on the paradox between the idea of the prosthetic, networked memory, promised to us by the ubiquitous surveillance and sousveillance technologies (including the ‘life-logging’ trend that we can see coming up in projects like ‘what was I thinking’ (MIT), Lifeblog (Nokia), MyLifeBits (Microsoft), questioned in artists’ projects like Lucy Kimbell’s ‘I measure therefore I am’ or Ellie Harrison‘s ‘Eat 22’ and ‘Gold Card Adventures’) and the inherent variability and instability of these technologies. The essay is basically a exploration of the way these new memory and communication technologies have changed our relation to the world and the past, and the way social memory is constructed. It argues that variability and flux are the new norm and perhaps even, for a whole new generation out there, the main condition of creativity. Memory institutions have to learn to cope with these new paradigms, and try to combine formal (institutionalised) with informal strategies (as in oral media, or the way games are kept alive via communities such as MAME). Like John Sobol recently wrote on the iDC mailinglist: “Loss is only real if you feel you that you have something to lose.”…

The article will be published on this blog