Friday, January 07, 2011

Camera Obscura: The Beatles Version of Lord of the Rings; Spielberg's New Sci-Fi TV Plans

In the mid-60s, John Lennon was apparently pushing hard to get the rights to make a 'Lord of the Rings' movie and also wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct. It all sounds bogus to me, as Kubrick had not made his special effects opus "2001" yet.

But several folks agree the plan was for John to play Gollum, Paul for Frodo, George for Gandalf and Ringo for Sam. Reports claim that it was Tolkien himself who refused to go along with it. So, in honor of what might have been, the above poster was created and more posters are offered here.

The Beatles were keen on getting some more cinematic efforts underway, including a version of The Three Musketeers and providing music for Disney's 'The Jungle Book". A complete list of other failed film projects is here.


i09 has a full rundown on all the fantasy and science-fiction shows ahead in 2011 here.

Most interesting in my view - two produced by Steven Spielberg. First up, scientists and soldiers flee a dying Earth in 2149 and travel back in time to prehistoric Earth. The series is called "Terra Nova" and set to debut in mid-summer.

The other show is about life on Earth after aliens invade, titled "Falling Skies".

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Your Digital Afterlife

The Library of Congress claims to be archiving all the Twitter posts, but how will your loved ones handle your digital remains? If you want to make sure your digital legacy is handled according to your desires, then perhaps it's time now to start digital estate planning.

One estimate pegs the number of U.S. Facebook users who die annually at something like 375,000. Academics have begun to explore the subject (how does this change the way we remember and grieve?), social-media consultants have begun to talk about it (what are the legal implications?) and entrepreneurs are trying to build whole new businesses around digital-afterlife management (is there a profit opportunity here?). Evan Carroll and John Romano, interaction-design experts in Raleigh, N.C., who run a site called, have just published a tips-and-planning book, “Your Digital Afterlife,” with advice about such matters as appointing a “digital executor.”

And as previously mentioned here - The E-Tomb.

If you've got a wide range of personal videos, photos, tweets, emails, and online writings, would you like a construct created which could speak for you and which others could converse with after your flesh has shambled off the organic stage? Soon, there will be an app for that.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Publisher's Shameful Censorship of 'Huckleberry Finn'

An Alabama-based publisher is making news as their new edition of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" will be censored to remove what they call "hurtful epithets" and to halt "preemptive censorship" of Twain's novel. But the motive is most likely to A.) get publicity and B) sell books.

So no use of the word "injun" and the word "slave" will replace the word most often referred to today as the "n-word". It's a cheap shot at fame or infamy from the publisher, NewSouth Books, which offers a defense here and even has a blog on their actions here.

We may applaud Twain’s ability as a prominent American literary realist to record the speech of a particular region during a specific historical era, but abusive racial insults that bear distinct connotations of permanent inferiority nonetheless repulse modern-day readers. Twain’s two books do not deserve ever to join that list of literary “classics” he once humorously defined as those “which people praise and don’t read,” yet the long-lofty status of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn has come under question in recent decades. In this connection, it seems relevant to remember that Twain habitually read aloud his day’s writings to an audience gathered on the porch of his summer retreat overlooking Elmira, New York, watching and listening for reactions to each manuscript page. He likewise took cues about adjusting his tone from lecture platform appearances, which provided him with direct responses to his diction. As a notoriously commercial writer who watched for every opportunity to enlarge the mass market for his works, he presumably would have been quick to adapt his language if he could have foreseen how today’s audiences recoil at racial slurs in a culturally altered country."


The assumption is that the novels are fundamentally flawed. And it's likewise sad to see educated people and publishers embrace censorship rather than scholarship. By dropping the language the publishers remove and reconstruct the history and the themes of the book, which focused a laser-sharp attention on prejudice and the destruction that prejudice leveled at our nation.

Claims that the changes will halt the books from being banned, to allow for more school-age youngsters to read the books are deceitful. Any Twain scholar worth a dime can offer up Twain's own response to censorship of his work and his response to allowing children to read his works:

I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote 'Tom Sawyer' & 'Huck Finn' for adults exclusively, & it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave."

Such a deft handling of idiotic worries of so-called community standards.

Another defense of the censorship - strike that - another defense of changing the entire meaning of the novel claims:

New South is simply giving educators and other readers the option of enjoying Twain's work without tripping over a derogatory term, especially one coming from its hero."

Wrong. The derogatory worldview Twain presents is precisely what he wanted readers to confront. If you remove the challenging language, what's left? A light-hearted romp across the countryside? If the characters don't address the reality that many in America at that time viewed Jim as sub-human just because of his skin color, then the book's meaning is gutted. If a teacher wants students to read Twain's work absent it's meaning and context, then what is it exactly they are teaching?

And one more note for these alleged "scholars" about what kids today read or are capable of comprehending - the top bestselling Young Adult book last year? The Hunger Games: a futuristic tale where the government selects a boy and a girl from various districts to fight to the death on live TV.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Empty Theatrical Motions of Cable News

I was momentarily perplexed during the holidays watching the alleged news on cable television. Numerous shows - especially those on the CNN which is hemorrhaging viewers - are barely gossip. Their format tends to be A) report some story and then B) get viewers to comment on the story via Twitter or Facebook or email or sometimes by phone. That's news? That's reporting?

An old news axiom says if a reporter goes out "on the street" and gets one person to support something, another to oppose it and a third who has no opinion, then that reporter has submitted nothing as news.

This "what do you think - lets us know" formula has only brought tumbling ratings to CNN, but they continue.

Other cable news outlets - FOX and MSNBC - offer, at best, what I call the Bobblehead Report. An anchor sits at a desk, inserts of two or three other "professional commentators" are added, and you the viewer are left with nothing again. Oh, they argue passionately - one supporting, one opposing, one unsure of anything - offering the viewer another slab of nothing. At best, the anchor then gets a "final word" claiming that "word" finally defines the issue at hand.

At the end of 2010, a report on cable news ratings showed that the O'Reilly Report was the top-rated cable news show, followed by other FOX shows hosted by Hannity and Beck and Sustern, etc etc. But the real story is that the average high ratings of O'Reilly's 3.1 million viewers is pretty low among all cable viewing. The wrestling broadcasts of WWE, for example, tend to be highest, with some 5.7 million viewers, followed by more WWE, NCIS reruns and Spongebob Squarepants.

As I said, I was momentarily perplexed - then I realized that cable news is competing for viewers who watch wrestling (in far higher numbers). So to compete, news has become a verbal wrestling match. Cable news cannot and does not offer information, in the same way that wrestling is not presenting a sport.

Both simply present spectacle as entertainment.

Writer Roland Barthes laid out this scenario - which matches today's cable news business - quite succinctly in 1957:

The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. ... The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees.

"Thus the function of the wrestler is not to win: it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him.

"Wrestling therefore demands an immediate reading of the juxtaposed meanings, so that there is no need to connect them. The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result."

See Also: O'Reilly: "I saved Spongebob single-handedly."

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Camera Obscura: Secrets of IMDb; Seeking Greta Gerwig; Olga Kurylenko Battles Romans

For most of us, the Internet Movie Database has always been there. It has always been the best and most complete movie information site ever. Ever.

And while I've been profoundly grateful for it, I had not really considered how it came to be - until this report last Friday told the tale of Colin Needham, who created the site, still manages it and how it became an industry and a public juggernaut.

Colin is 43, and began the site with information he collected himself in 1990. Today, pros use the site in ways no one foresaw:

I have been told that when people ring up for an appointment with someone important in Hollywood the personal assistant or secretary checks where they are ranked on IMDb before their call is put through."

And Colin, who remains as CEO though he sold the company to Amazon in 1998 for cash and stock (oh, that has to be an stunningly wealthy investment) now walks the red carpet himself.

I took my daughters to the premiere of the new Narnia film in Leicester Square a couple of weeks ago and it was magical. There was snow falling and the stars were all there. I get to play cool dad and introduce my daughters to film stars. When we got into the cinema there were two seats in front of us draped in gold. Two buglers came on to the stage and then the Queen came in and sat down in front of us, it was quite an amazing moment."

Obsessions with movies can bring unimaginable rewards.

Which leads me to the next topic worth sharing.

Go and find the 2010 movie "Greenberg" now. There's much to recommend in the movie, but the real jewel here is actress Greta Gerwig. She's a writer/actress/director and has a hefty indie film resume ("Hannah Takes The Stairs", "Baghead") and in this film she plays a young California girl named Florence who is warm and rather timid and a little she's lost, but agreeable to what is or might be. She connects - and doesn't connect - with her world and with the manic mind of the lead character Roger Greenberg played by Ben Stiller in one of his best performances too.

But this is Florence's movie through and through. And her performance is spectacular, though never demanding. One fine example of her ability her begins with the film's opening, as she is driving through L.A., asking "Will you let me in?" quietly to another car, and sometimes she smiles slightly to herself, eyes bright, scanning her world. And then towards the end of the film, she's driving again, but her entire demeanor is starkly different. Again she asks "Will you let me in?" of another car, but there's no hope in her voice, her eyes are dulled with worry, there are no smiles.

Gerwig has turned in strong work before, but with Florence, she owns the movie and the screen. You'll be hearing much more from her.

Oh and since I'm talking about IMDb and Greenberg, I had noted the movie was co-written by actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, another startlingly fine actress outside the Hollywood mold ... but it wasn't until I was reading her bio on IMDb that I discovered she's the daughter of an actor who I sort of grew up with, with roles in films and TV from "The Blackboard Jungle" to "Twilight Zone: The Movie." Thanks IMDb!


One more current film crush.

That's actress Olga Kurylenko, who's from the Ukraine, and captured my eye in the movie "Hitman", (another performance which pretty much made the movie) and then landed a plum role in the last James Bond film "Quantum of Solace".

The picture above is from 2010's "The Centurion", which was utterly ignored by critics and media, about a small band of Roman soldiers in Great Britain in 117 A.D., fleeing for their lives from Celtic Picts chasing them from their homeland. Olga plays a Pict warrior named Etain who is mute and ferocious. Michael Fassbender plays the lead Roman solider. Silly gratuitous violence? Yes. Action-packed? Oh Yes.