Ask The Zombies in July, or, How Are The Dutch Going To Do at Euro 2012?

In less than two weeks, various qualifying teams from throughout Europe are going to get together in Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012. It’s like the World Cup, but without most of the World. Still, some of soccer’s (which I will call football going forward) greatest stars will be competing for glory.

Now, about the Dutch. Yes, the country is called (provoking visions of clouds and grey veils) the Netherlands or, more quaintly (insert visions of tulips and blonde farm wives in wooden shoes), Holland. But, whether you are a fan or an opponent, they are often referred to as “the Dutch”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dutch met Spain in the World Cup finals in 2010. It should have been the seminal moment of my football-loving/Dutch-cheering life, but (see here for more) I was turned-off by their strategy, which – with the exception of some honest-to-God deserved victories against mortal foes such as Brazil – seemed kind of cynical.

There’s winning and then there’s winning. The Dutch, since the early 70s, have always emphasized beautiful football: flowing, sexy, unpredictable, and effective. Unfortunately, since World Cup 98, that effectiveness came into question as a combination of generational talent turnover (Ruud van Nistelrooy was not exactly Dennis Bergkamp) and some daft coaching decisions (chief in my mind, Louis van Gaal’s decision to squander a two-goal lead against Portugal in the WC 2002 qualifiers) created an existential crisis. Beautiful football wasn’t getting results.

Continue reading

Share

I Don’t Want To Know

As a writer, even though I am not part of any sort of literati, I am still plugged into the lit scene. You need to be if you want to understand the general to-and-fro of any industry you are interested in becoming a part of (same goes for TV, music, theatre, etc..). That said, I must make an admission. I am making this admission because I think there are a lot of people like me out there who feel the same but are reticent to admit it.

Here goes: I don’t take any particular interest in the life of the artist outside of his or her art.

When I read a book, I don’t care if an author comes from the East Coast and studied journalism, had a drug problem and now lives in a shed with a mastiff. It’s not that I don’t care about this author personally, it’s that these facts shouldn’t have anything to do with the book that I am about to read. I should be able to pick up the book, knowing nothing about said author, and be able to read it, enjoy it, be fully affected by it, without substantially missing something due to a lack of familiarity with the author’s biography.

And yet, when you are culturally plugged-in (and by this I mean, you check out industry blogs, trade mags, etc.) there is so much white noise about the artists themselves that it seems divergent from what it is they are supposed to be doing: their work. We can talk about Picasso’s passions, but 100 years from now there will probably only be discussion of his work – your work is the only thing left after you and everyone who knew you has died. And if people are still talking more about you than your work after this point, then I would think the quality of your work was overstated.

Would knowing that Stephen King battled drug addiction offer an insight into some of his writing? Yes. But, my point is that if that insight is necessary in order to fully appreciate a piece of work then there is a problem. The work doesn’t work if you need a biographical cheat sheet to inject context into the material.

I think Bryan Ferry is an fantastic vocalist – and I don’t want to know anything more than that. Nor the details outside a director’s films, nor what inspired the playwright to write her play. I’ve got my own shit going on, thanks very much.

Ephemera is for journalists, fanzines, and those working on their Ph.D. The general public should not feel inadequate if they pick a DVD or book off a shelf, sit down in a theatre, or load a song without being prepared with supplemental information not contained within the medium which contains the work. The work inevitably has to stand up for itself. I write this for two reasons: first, with the likes of the AV Club and traditional print/TV media clamouring to add as much web-based context as possible to every article, there’s a growing sense that – for the everyman – if you aren’t savvy to the smallest details of each artist’s passings and goings, you are nothing but a tourist. Secondly, embracing social media to a claustrophobic degree, we can now read endless commentating on authors reading their work for a live audience!…something no one really asked for outside the publishing companies themselves and perhaps the authors’ parents. Let’s face it: most authors can’t read aloud to save their lives – it’s not their specialty.

There are reasons for digging deeper, but that’s up to the individual. It was interesting to learn more about HP Lovecraft when I reviewed Michel Houellebecq’s quasi-biography of him and his work. What’s funny, however – using that same example – is that when I proceeded to read the two works by Lovecraft contained in that same book, I don’t recall thinking to myself “Ahh – this is where his uncomfortable relationship with women takes shape!”. That’s because the stories were two of his masterpieces, and when you witness a masterpiece, peripheral biographical information is going to gunk-up your enjoyment.

The medium may be the message, but the work contains the words. Outside of this we are left with cultural “bonus features”. Nice to have, but not necessary.

Share

Swirl

I am trying (desperately) to avoid a “boy, it’s been a wacky ride these last few months!” post. It certainly isn’t for lack of things to talk about, news to update you with, opinions to confess/shout.

Thing is, I don’t know who you are. Sure, I know there are some of you who are semi-regular visitors. There are others who happen upon this place by accident (via Blogger or StumbleUpon). There are also those who come here via Google searches, either via my name or – most likely – a book review (which admittedly I haven’t done in, oh, a year or so *). And no, this isn’t going to be a “Matt wittily evading accusations of being a lazy bastard by turning the camera on the reader” post.

I’ve been posting artsy stuff, writerly stuff, industry opinion stuff. I don’t mind the randomness, so long as there’s no fluff. I do mind the lack of output. I wish, for one, that I could post more photographs (which is to say, I wish I had a better selection of photos to post **).

It comes down to the fact that I’ve been working like a dog since May (note: this happens every year that I’m working on a SAW film). When I come out of these periods, I feel like Rip van Winkle: a little dazed, slow on the up-take. Whereas last year this time I started teaching, this time this year I am a student (part-time) †. I have a small (but good) feature and a small (but good and potentially controversial) TV show on my plate from now till February. If funds allow, I also hope to have an editor working with me on my novel, with an eye to approaching a publisher or self-publishing if that doesn’t seem feasible ††. I’m collaborating on a musical.

My plate is full.

– – – 

* which isn’t to say that I’m not reading or that I don’t want to do any more book reviews. I’m reading a lot of non-fiction, thank you. Much of it either out of professional or academic interest. However, if only to improve my Google ranking, here’s a quick book review of Antwerp by Roberto Bolaño: What the fuck was that? (ISBN-13: 978-0811217170)

** another casualty of working so much is my photography. I still have the same roll of film in my camera that I’d loaded in June. I think I’ve only taken 4 exposures since then. Of course, my cellphone camera gets all the fun these days, unfortunately.

† I will be continuing teaching, but for only two terms this year as opposed to three (which was exhausting and… exhausting)

†† It needs a new name, for one thing. And I know this is going to drive me up the wall more than any changes to the actual content of the book.

Share

quote

“Celebrities are not superlatives in our field of expertise. If celebrities that are schnoring in on our field started out trying to do what we do and were held to the standards we started out upholding, a great many of them would’ve never made it.”

Billy West, voice actor (“Futurama”) on the use
of celebrity voice work in animated films.

Share

Work and Therapy

My “day job” in film and television (which often bleeds well into the evening, depending upon what part of the process I’m involved with) is to supervise what is known as “post production” (sometimes hyphenated as “post-production”). This is the rather Deconstructivist (as opposed to deconstructionist) process which involves picture editing (which virtually assembles the footage and sound back into a comprehensible story, if all goes well), sound editing (including sound effects, dialogue replacement, foley – that’s the man with the track pants and high heels – and music), and, depending upon the project, visual effects (whether they be corrective or something more snazzy involving CGI and goblins running down an exploding volcano).

It can all be extremely interesting – even if you’ve done it for years, sometimes you just can’t wait to see the end result – or nightmarishly absurd. It really depends on the project, the people involved, and the budget. Working in post, as opposed to working on the set during production, I get to see the various bits that were shot slowly congeal into what eventually gets delivered to the broadcaster or film distributor. I end up seeing the shows I’m working on many, many times before anyone outside gets to see it once. Regardless of whether it is a sensitive, intelligent Canadian documentary or a Hollywood torture-horror film, they all kind of dovetail into one another. I sometimes wish the sensitive, intelligent people in the documentary were in the horror film. Sometimes I wish the people who work on horror movies were profiled in a sensitive, intelligent documentary.

Big or small, there is a lot of money hanging on any given project, so the pressure put on those, like myself, overseeing the process can be profound. Stress is like alcohol; it can be habit-forming as a motivator, but it can also engulf your better reasoning. Thankfully, I don’t think I’ve worked on a project where I haven’t been able to openly poke fun at it with my peers. Laughter is a wonderful antidote, particularly when you don’t have a creative stake in what you’re laughing at; the important thing is making sure that it isn’t the mirthless, bitter laughter of someone whose sanity has been frayed by deadlines and intermittent bullying. If the latter is your case, you need to step away. Soon.

Share

Cops and Actors

So far this year, I’ve worked on two productions (one TV series and one feature film) which involve people playing cops (detectives, in particular). One thing I’ve noticed on both projects (and in general) is that when actors plays cops they usually take one of two approaches:

1) 60-70% of actors will, well, act. They will play the part, for better or worse.

2) The remaining 40-30% of actors will dredge up some ridiculous “cop” pantomime, based loosely upon what they’ve seen (or remembered) from such seminal TV shows as Streets of San Francisco and films like Serpico. You can identify these actors by their insistence on swaggering up and down hallways, chewing up the scenery, and making any weaknesses in the dialogue that much worse with their ham-fisted delivery, as if they were channelling some sort of Bad Cop Actor deity.

It’s hilarious.

Quite often, there are two cops in any given TV show or film – partners, of course – and chances are, each of them will don one of the two examples listed above. Predictably, as follows the format of scripts these days, the “good cop” will be an actor trying to play a cop. The “bad cop” will be the person constantly slamming binders closed, and yelling things like: “Look, pal – we’re running out of time! There’s a killer still out there!“.

Okay, at least I find it amusing…

Share

Media Linguistics: What the hell?

I was reading the following post on CNN (from Reuters news service):

——

Kenya’s first lady: Abstain, don’t use condoms

Risks anger of anti-AIDS activists in her counsel to young people

NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuters) — Kenyan first lady Lucy Kibaki risked the wrath of anti-AIDS campaigners by advising young people against using condoms, saying they should practice abstinence instead.

——

However, I have to ask: what the hell is an “anti-AIDS activist”? Furthermore, an “anti-AIDS campaigner”?

Aside from the story itself (which is troubling enough), why does Reuters insist on using this ridiculous terminology?

In a similar story on a cholera outbreak in Angola, I see no reference to groups such as Medecins Sans Frontieres or the World Health Organisation being “anti-cholera activists”. Why? Because it’s bloody obvious that the distinction isn’t necessary, unless of course I’m wrong and there is a burgeoning tide of “pro-cholera” and “pro-AIDS” campaigners in our midst*.

Particularly considering how tragically difficult it is to stabilise the AIDS epidemic in certain parts of the world (via basic medicine and education), there’s no need to further complicate the matter with ridiculous qualifiers such as “anti-AIDS” – it only serves to compound an already embattled cause.

* (conceivably, any politician who supports abstinence alone as a means of battling AIDS is probably the closest thing to a “pro-AIDS campaigner” as we’re likely to see)

Share

Context: Reality-TV

I was reading Theresa C’s comment, and felt inspired by her saying how “Un-Reality TV is mind numbing”. I largely agree, and thought that people should know where this medium came from.

Let’s start with some history, because reality-TV, currently trickling down from the peak of its popularity, neither came about accidentally nor without reason.

In 1988, two of the largest television-industry unions went on strike: SAG (Screen Actors Guild of America) and the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America). With a long and protracted labour action underway, television producers (whose job it is to raise money, oversee production, and sell their shows to networks) were left potentially without any means to do their job: produce. They were seemingly hog-tied by the fact that they couldn’t hire actors or writers.

There were three means that evolved by which producers (and networks) could work around this: the newsmagazine program, the daytime talk-show, and the so-called “reality show”. The former was a variation based on existing (and relatively successful) programs such as “60 Minutes“, only with a stronger emphasis on real-time/ENG-style aesthetics (which evolved from the increasing portability of video cameras and the emergence of the one-man newsgatherer technique pioneered by such TV stations as City-TV in Toronto). Utilizing a stronger visual style rather than talking-head interviews, with an emphasis on flow rather than a strict focus on content, both CBS and ABC rolled-out “48 Hours” and “PrimeTime Live” respectively. Eventually, this verite style merged into existing and new 60 Minutes-Lite programs such as “A Current Affair” and “Inside Edition“.

The second way producers diverted the use of actors and writers was creating more daytime talk-shows which, unlike the comparatively tame examples set by Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue, focused on live conflict and on-stage humiliation. Shows like “The Maury Povich Show” and “The Jerry Springer Show” lead the ground in a confrontational and largely exploitational style, utilising supposedly real everyday people as their guests. Of course, real everyday people aren’t consistently exciting, so often the focus was on Neo-Nazis, domestic family conflicts, and, well, idiots.

The last format was the “reality tv show”. The difference between this and the newsmagazine/talk-show formats was utilising a day-in-the-life-of style, where the camera (usually just one) was always on, following its subject, hoping to capture excitement. The progenitor of this was “COPS“, which aired on the FOX network in 1989. COPS, ostensibly a means for producers to side-step using actors and writers, turned into a phenomena from which much of the current streams of reality-TV can be drawn from: intense, outrageous, cheap to produce.

(Note: almost every show mentioned above – with the exception of “A Current Affair”, a show which soon devolved into the same scare tactics and exploitation of its brethren – started as a direct result of the SAG and WGA strikes, circa 1988.)

In other words, aesthetics aside, what started as a way for producers to produce during the labour-action ended up as a cost-efficient way to create cheap programming which the public took to very quickly and the networks gobbled-up: it was engaging, often enraging, and allowed the audience to peer into the seamy side of society from a safe (if voyeuristic) distance.

It was only until recently – ten years after the SAG and WGA strikes – when any modicum of creativity was injected into the medium, when programs such as “Survivor“, “Blind Date“, and “The Apprentice” took the elements of all three of the above mediums and went primetime against ensemble dramas and sitcoms to astounding success.

Of course, every fad must die, and slowly this newest generation of the reality-TV mould is fading away into obscurity, reminiscent of the last days of Jerry Springer when even the most outrageous bullshit didn’t get the ratings it used to. Too many shows, too little fresh ideas, the medium has devolved into self-parody with the likes of The Simple Life” and American Idol“.

Reinvigorated by the success of harder-hitting dramas on HBO (like “Six Feet Under“) the public is coming back around to ensemble drama and network television has responded with a better-than-average crop of programs in response. So what will the next metamorphosis for reality-TV be? Possibly a return to live performance on television, in the style of the great Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason. Ironically, what television started out with in its infancy – an extension of vaudeville and theatre – may come back some 50 or so years later to reclaim our attention. That I would look forward to seeing.

Share

Article: Telefilm in the Hotseat

In the latest Maclean’s magazine, Brian D. Johnson writes a perfect summation of what is wrong with English Canadian filmmaking: not one thing, but several – and most paths lead back to the government-backed, taxdollar-fuelled funding agency, Telefilm. The article in question isn’t available online, so I suggest you purchase your copy at the local store.

Titled “The Lost Picture Show”, Johnson articulates exactly the frustration amongst established and independent filmmakers who’s goal is to shoot commercially accessible films; this stands in contrast to the long line of edgy/anti-hero ridden/low-key releases which have largely gone straight to video with little mainstream acclaim and fewer people who could vouch to have seen them.

As Johnson notes in his interview with Paul (Due South, Men With Brooms) Gross:


‘English Canadian cinema is wedded to an auteur model based on the early festival breakthroughs of some “really terrific filmmakers like Atom Egoyan.” Then [Gross] adds, “It’s been stuck in that mode for a while. Festivals are composed of audiences that you never see replicated in a normal theatre. We’ve hidden behind this intellectual rampart. And we end up in this perverse situation where we assign to any failed film a great deal of intellectual integrity.”‘

As much as I love/support/appreciate the dark, edgy and ultimately hard-to-market work of filmmakers such as Guy Maddin, I admit that it cannot be our only cultural sustenance. We cannot survive soley on a meal of dark introspection (though it makes for such a wonderful – somtimes necessary – dish from time to time).

The thrust of much of the article is the war between producers, distributors (roundly accused by many of taking the money and running), and the English-language arm of Telefilm – whose opaque methods and logic would astound even The Knights of Templar.

As would be predicted, the producers want distributors to take more risk (to discourage the habit of flipping their investment by selling broadcast rights to films and then spending a fraction of their profit on a weak/token theatrical release that no one will see), the distributors want everyone to take more risk, and Telefilm, recently headed by semi-autonomous robot Wayne Clarkson, can only field the disgruntlement by reacting not like the head of a company (as we would expect) but like your typical corporate lackey:


“Is there any issue? Absolutely. Is the present system working? Not to the degree that we all wish it would. Do there have to be changes? Absolutely.”

Great stuff, Wayne.

Some modest suggestions of my own:

1) Non-Quebec film exhibitors must be obligated to devote 10-15% of screen time to Canadian-made features (English and/or French-language). If Can-Con (Canadian content regulations) can apply to radio and television, it makes perfect sense that theatres should shoulder this as well.

2) Telefilm should drop the “envelope system” (whereby a successful film’s producer is granted a no-strings $3.5 million each year for three years to invest as he/she wishes). It only leads to the anemic creative impasse we’ve been stuck with for the past 10 years: the same people support the same people and there is no incentive towards quality or success.

Share

A Blow To Useless Bullshit

I have a link to the Internet Movie Database on the sidebar.

One of the things I try not to foster – one of the reasons this blog is here to provide an escape from – is useless bullshit. By useless bullshit, I mean stories about Tom Cruise, shark attacks, cats in trees, product porn, etc.. We are inundated with it. It used to be that the only place you would find it was on daytime television and the checkout counter at the local grocery store. Now it’s everywhere. It is for this reason (as well as to sponsor critical thinking, etc.) that I started this blog. I’m still not even comfortable saying that I have a blog because so many other blogs are filled with useless bullshit.

Anyhow – I will admit that the IMDB can be a source of useless bullshit from time to time. However, strikingly, they are one of the few widely-read web publications to carry reports on the plight of journalism. In particular, these are found in their mid-day Studio Briefing report. Much is said about how a ‘fake news show’ like The Daily Show can pose more challenging questions than all of the other networks combined. In the same way, IMDB’s Studio Briefing – usually a list of box office reports and summations of TV/film biz news – stands as one of the few places I’ve seen (and I sweep the net’s news sites every day) to carry releases that categorize corruption and manipulation in the media in a way that is decidedly non-partisan. Studio Briefing, for the record, is a syndicated daily report, edited by Lew Irwin.

From today’s Studio Briefing:


Iraqi Journalists Say They’ve Become Targets

The revelation that the U.S. government has paid Iraqi newspapers to plant favorable stories has increased the danger for Iraqi journalists, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi photojournalist told a Reuters forum Wednesday. Appearing on a panel discussion in New York, Abdul-Ahad remarked, “How do you expect decent Iraqi journalists to go into the streets and write a positive story? Everyone would be pointing at them saying, ‘You’ve been paid by the Americans.'” Zaki Chehab of the London-based Arab newspaper Al Hayat remarked that Arab or Iraqi journalists now must work secretly for fear of being suspected of collaboration. Meanwhile, CBS News said Tuesday that the U.S. military has agreed to Iraqi cameraman Abdul Ameer Hussein, who had been held in custody for one year without charge after he was wounded by U.S. forces in Mosul while covering clashes with insurgents for the network in Mosul. After Hussein was cleared by an Iraqi court, guards stated at the courthouse threatened journalists covering the trial, with one guard reportedly shooting a gun into the air, then pointing it at a camera before the journalists scattered.

The fact that this only shows up prominently on a headline-list dedicated to TV/film info is distressing, but I’m thankful that the editorial team at IMDB is carrying it. Kudos.

Studio Briefing also provided another interesting tidbit:

Corporations Placing Fake News on Local Stations, Says Report

Television stations throughout the country, including several in the largest markets, are continuing to air video news releases produced by large corporations without disclosing the source, according to a study by the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy and reported in today’s (Thursday) New York Times.The Center, which monitored news programs on 69 stations over the past 10 months, said that the stations attempted to blend the fake news into their broadcasts by having reporters or anchors read scripts supplied by the corporations that produced the videos and in some instances introduced company publicists as if they were actual reporters. The Center said that it plans to post some of the original video news releases, along with examples of how the stations used them, on its website, www.prwatch.org.

Just goes to show that you don’t have to be the Globe & Mail or CNN to carry something pertinent.

Share