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Copying Obama: The Aeshetics of Hope October 30, 2009

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Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070

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anthonywoods

James Perry obama

Above: Screengrab from BarackObama.com; Bill Thompson, running for Mayor of New York this week on Nov. 3rd; Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2008 campaign page; Anthony Woods, who lost his campaign for Congressional House district, CA-10; James Perry, running for mayor of New Orleans in 2010. Any that I’m missing?

The issue of websites borrowing, um, liberally from the aesthetics of Barack Obama’s website is an old one, becoming painfully obvious last year when Benjamin Netanyahu’s website became public, mimicry so shameless, the campaign didn’t bother playing coy:

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

I’ve noticed a number of campaign websites since, especially for black candidates, who also use either the same fonts, color schemes or tone of the Obama homepage.

This all makes sense: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While Obama’s poll numbers are down since his atmospheric — and completely unsustainable — post-inauguration highs, he stills remains popular (Gallup has him holding steady at slightly above 50%, for now), especially in the black community. (more…)

Atom Egoyan: “Artists Don’t Always Do What Their Communities Want Them to Do” October 30, 2009

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Filmmaker Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Adoration) has, over the course of three decades of movie-making, probed such disparate characters as strippers and comedians in provocative and artful ways. Egoyan further demonstrated his artistic curiosity at The Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday during a public conversation with curator Michael Taylor commemorating the recently opened retrospective on modernist painter Arshile Gorky.

The Armenian-Canadian director shared his thoughts on Gorky, also Armenian, after whom Egoyan named his son. Gorky plays a major role in one of Egoyan’s most known films, Ararat, which dramatizes the Armenian genocide, and in Portrait of Arshile, a short film with footage of his son the director made in the nineties. But the painter has been with the director his entire life, from his childhood in Egypt and Canada with his parents, both painters, to his experiences in young adulthood trying to articulate his identity as both English and Armenian.

“We saw these paintings and they had such a profound effect on us,” Egoyan said of he and his wife’s relationship to Gorky’s work. A Gorky admirer, he commented at length about the museum’s retrospective, which runs through January, saying it properly contextualizes Gorky both culturally and art historically. “It’s a defining show.”

The_Artist_and_His_Mother

Arshile Gorky's The Artist and His Mother

Egoyan also premiered a new short video commissioned by the National Gallery of Art, an edited rumination on Gorky’s painting The Artist and His Mother assembled from footage from Ararat. (more…)

The Tender Same-Sex Moment in Levi’s “O Pioneers!” October 29, 2009

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Levi's - OPioneers! (Go Forth) Commercial

Embedded within the rapid stream of images in Levi's brilliant O Pioneers is a tender same-sex moment

Levi’s Jeans “Go Forth” ad campaign (dir. Sin Nombre‘s Cary Fukunaga for the firm Wieden+Kennedy) has been gaining some fans, most notably Slate’s Seth Stevenson. I’m not sure how popular the vid is on YouTube; between all the reposting it might have views in the low hundred thousands. I certainly stopped and paid attention when I saw the first 30-second spot, America, on television. The one-minute version is even better, since it contains the scene of young people protesting, presumably, some kind of Wall Street executive. The use of Walt Whitman’s poetry is great, and the use of his (purportedly) real voice is even better. Having not read Whitman in years, I’d forgotten how idealistic his poems sound. It’s very refreshing. Makes me actually want to read poetry.

(more…)

Babelgum Aims to Bend Genres, Rule Phones This Halloween October 29, 2009

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The_Occulterers_Cast

My first blog post for the Wall Street Journal looks at a few new series on Babelgum:

Looking to build up its roster of Web series, online video site Babelgum, best known to Speakeasy readers for its online and mobile release of Sally Potter’s “Rage,” have announced three new sci-fi and horror comedies.

The site is angling to be a destination for original and independent online video, ranging from avant-garde fare like “Rage,” the political satire of “The Yes Men” or exclusive offerings from indie music darlings Mew, Editors and Arctic Monkeys.

Just out is Hayden Black’s “The Occulterers,” a show about a inept team of ghost hunters touring various haunted houses in search of vampires and other underworld denizens.  Zany humor dominates the dialogue.

Full post at Speakeasy, the Journal‘s culture blog.

For Wanda Sykes, George Lopez, Success Not Guaranteed October 28, 2009

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wanda

UPDATE: George Lopez’s show Lopez Tonight also started strong on TBS (and TNT, TruTV), so it looks like we have hit a temporary POC (people of color) late-night trifecta.

UPDATE: The ratings for Wanda Sykes were good; not, SNL good, though.

UPDATE: Fox has the site up, with promos and such.

With the (apparent) success of The Mo’Nique Show, will Wanda Sykes and George Lopez similarly excel in late night, or will they go the way of other recent shows by comedians of color, like David Alan Grier’s short-lived Chocolate News and CNN’s dull DL Hughley Breaks the News? They’ll have to be edgy and interesting: the problem with Grier and Hughley was they were too soft for a post-Chappelle age.

Posted at Ronebreak:

Today networks are reaching back to the days of Arsenio Hall and giving comedians and comediennes of color late night talk shows. While CNN’s D.L. Hughley Breaks the News lived a short life, mostly because it wasn’t very interesting, BET’s The Mo’Nique Show, premiered strongly two weeks ago.

That success is good news for Fox, which is looking to Wanda Sykes to revive their lackluster Saturday nights, giving the popular comic her own talk show premiering November 7 at 11pm, two nights before George Lopez’s new talk show airs on TBS. Ever since coming out a year ago, Wanda Sykes’ star has been on the rise. Sykes has been a mainstay on television for the last few years, ever since her short-lived sitcom in 2003. She has a big presence now, with recurring roles on The New Adventures of Old Christine and Curb Your Enthusiasm. HBO is now broadcasting her newest standup program, I’ma Be Me.

Full post, with embedded video, at Ronebreak.

Mo’Nique, Shilling and What An Oscar Means October 27, 2009

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UPDATE: Mo’Nique has won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, praising the Academy for putting “the performance” over “politics”! Go ahead, girl!

UPDATE: Mo’Nique has addressed the controversy, saying: “Baby, people gonna talk. It comes with the territory. But didn’t they talk about Jesus? Then they killed him. So, what makes me think I’m so special that they’re not gonna talk about me?” [via Bossip]

ORIGINAL: Quick thought: Shadow and Act has a great post about the small controversy around Mo’Nique’s promoting, or rather not promoting, Precious. Mo’Nique, rumors say, has been demanding money for appearances — she has done some, including, apparently, Oprah — and generally snubbing the process of Oscar-schilling. But getting an Oscar nom, S&A points out, takes more than mere merit:

Being a very competitive business it’s not enough to have an Oscar worthy performance. You have to let the voters know that you’re grateful, humbled and most importantly 1) be someone well liked in the business and 2) hustle your ass off the award. You have to campaign for it for months. That’s what Forest Whitaker did for his Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. That guy hustled to get that award schoomzing, going to every lousy Oscar party and reception, glad handing anyone with even the remotest connection to an Oscar voter and practically doing handstands to get that award. (Jennifer Hudson was fortunate enough to have people to guide her to help her do the same thing) And it also helped a lot that Whitaker is extremely well liked in the business, a professional’s professional and considered one of the nicest guys around. In an industry filled with a–holes, that’s something that stands out

This makes sense. Some people I know have argued that Mo’Nique probably doesn’t see an Oscar as very meaningful, and maybe she’s just too busy with her new show. For a plus-size black women who already has a successful career as a comedian, the argument goes, an Academy Award does not mean much.  This may or may not be true. Certainly Oscar noms and wins have not hurt Queen Latifah and Whoopi Goldberg, two of the highest grossing black actresses of all time (based on B.O. grosses). Jennifer Hudson only did Sex and the City and The Secret Life of Bees after her win, but she’s put out an album and weathered a family crisis; besides, I think it’s safe to say she is a singer first, not an actress, and that the Oscar raised her stardom broadly (cover of Vogue much?!).

Most importantly, though, Mo’Nique needs to realize that an Oscar is about more than her career and bank account. It’s about slowly shifting industry standards of what is acceptable, honorable and marketable. It’s about other black girls — with a little extra — who need role models: imagine what it would be like to have both Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique take home awards (presuming they put Mo’Nique in supporting, which they should)?

Of course, having an Oscar in your pocket gives your career extra longevity; producers love slapping “Academy Award winning” before your name. Even if she only wants to do comedy for the rest of her life. It helps her. But more significantly, it helps all black women.

I’m not one to place the burden of representation on any one actress. If Mo’Nique doesn’t want an Oscar and feels she doesn’t need one, that’s her decision. But she should realize it affects more than just her wallet, and it might even affect that too.

Being a very competitive business it’s not enough to have an Oscar worthy performance. You have to let the voters know that you’re grateful, humbled and most importantly 1) be someone well liked in the business and 2) hustle your ass off the award. You have to campaign for it for months. That’s what Forest Whitaker did for his Oscar for The Last King of Scotland. That guy hustled to get that award schoomzing, going to every lousy Oscar party and reception, glad handing anyone with even the remotest connection to an Oscar voter and practically doing handstands to get that award. (Jennifer Hudson was fortunate enough to have people to guide her to help her do the same thing) And it also helped a lot that Whitaker is extremely well liked in the business, a professional’s professional and considered one of the nicest guys around. In an industry filled with a–holes, that’s something that stands out

“White Collar” White Hot, USA Wins My Love October 27, 2009

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UDPATE (11/4): Mike White confirms to Queerty he and Bomer were lovers. UPDATE (10/31): There’s been some speculation — okay, really, revelation — that White Collar star Matt (Matthew) Bomer is openly gay. Queerty seems certain he is and has been out within the industry (like Anderson Cooper) for years, but now that White Collar is such a hit, his reps (PMK) aren’t confirming. He appears to be dating PMK head Simon Falls: nice snag, Bomer! Queerty has published photos basically confirming their conclusion, because they’re more activist than AfterElton, who won’t publish them. I say: I don’t particularly care about your privacy if you’ve decided to headline a popular show for which you’ll be paid handsomely, but I won’t publish the photos, because I don’t want to be sued. Color me hypocritical. You know my position on this issue — celebrity privacy about sexuality — already.

White-Collar-USA

Matt Bomer plays gaddabout Neal Caffrey

ORIGINAL: Okay, well maybe not white hot. But the 5.4 million viewer premiere of White Collar was more than commendable, besting several network programs in total viewers, including Ugly Betty and Dollhouse. Robert Seidman doesn’t see any point in comparing the premiere to last year’s ratings, and I agree, but it did improve upon The Starter Wife by 50%. The program was sixth overall in last week’s cable ratings, bested by Monk.

I was pretty confident White Collar would do well, despite USA’s reputation as a primarily summer series network and WC‘s scary Friday night debut. For me, it hit all the right notes: escapist, luxe New York locations; good dialogue; attractive people; engaging narratives (however formulaic); and enough pretension — just a hint — to make me feel I wasn’t gorging on rubbish. USA has mastered the art of breezy, mediocre (and cheap!) television. It seems they’re almost playing in the big leagues, the big four, and certainly with the CW. (Though I should acknowledge the different audiences each network is targeting).

It is important to remember USA invested a lot in promoting the series. Promos started airing months before the show aired last week. I remember anticipating it for quite some time.

Whether White Collar has staying power is anybody’s guess, but I know I’ll be watching. As my life becomes more stressful — this semester is particularly rough — I find myself desperately in need of frothy entertainment, particularly on nights when work isn’t pressing.

“The Crew” Season Two Opens and Hilarity Ensues October 27, 2009

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Original at Ronebreak.

TheCrew_Babelgum

The web has been fertile ground for shows more quirky and less genre-specific than what makes it onto television. The Crew, written and directed by young filmmaker Brett Register, is a perfect example of that kind of show.

Best understood as a blend between The Office and Star Trek, The Crew is a comedic romp about the lives of several crew members on a spaceship traveling through space. The idea for the show came from Register, a Star Trek fan, who wondered as a child why viewers never got to see the people who kept the ship running.

“As a kid, you want to be on the ship,” Register said. The ship on Star Trek is supposed to self-sufficient, like a city, but you never see all of its residents. “I thought ‘is it really a city?”…

Full post, with embedded video, at Ronebreak.

Reckless Speculation: Are Women’s Shows Doing Worse This Fall? October 26, 2009

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UPDATE: TVbtN’s Bill Gorman quickly explained why the numbers look this way. Thanks, Bill!

90210-cast_l

So TVbytheNumbers, the best TV blog on the Internets, has published a chart on the returning fall shows that aren’t doing so well, and the few that are (Fox is up, the rest are flat or down). Below is what he has (original here).

Notice anything? I did. Shows I would consider primarily women’s shows are way down (highlighted, in a playful bit of hyperbole, in pink) and shows aimed at or starring men (in exaggerated blue). Perhaps I’m being too reductive, take a look for yourself:

(more…)

“New York I Love You” in Five Minutes October 24, 2009

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Anton Yelchin in Brett Ratner's sequence

I had high hopes for New York, I Love You. My friends know what kinds of movies I fall for easily, and this is it: pretty people, New York City, romance, set in autumn, bourgeouis pretension. I eat it up: You’ve Got Mail, As Good as it Gets, Auntie Mame, All About Eve, the list goes on and on, some are classic, some are good, some are bad. I love it all.

But I found New York, I Love You a bit disappointing. It does everything right visually, and looks as romantic as it should. But it also panders. Let’s turbo review:

New_York_I_Love_You_Wright_Penn

Good: The movie tries to unite the disparate sequences, having characters from different directors cross paths, making it more than a mere collection of sorts.
Bad
: Those sequences do not lead anywhere. No plot, no point, or at least no point in connecting the films.
Good
: Pretty people.
Bad
: Pretty people who almost all live or go to Upper/Lower Manhattan, only a sprinkle in Queens and Brooklyn. No Harlem. No Bronx.
Bad
: Pretty people most of whose lives aren’t terribly interesting.
Bad
: Pretty people who are mostly white, with a couple Chinese. One was Cuban, in the least interesting segment. No other black or Latino people in New York?!
Good
: Numerous characters who hail from outside the United States.
Good
: Lots of meet-cute stories.
Bad: Lots of meet-cute stories.
Good: Well-directed sequences; Mira Nair, Wen Jiang, Shunji Iwai.
Bad: The overused conceit of two smokers who meet on the sidewalk; sorry, Yvan Attal! Anyway, who smokes in New York anymore?
Good: The artsy, oblique sequence by Shekhar Kapur.
Really Bad: No gays! Are there no gays in New York?!!!!

Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q meet on the street while sharing a smoke.

Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q meet on the street while sharing a smoke.

New York, I Love You is mostly pleasurable and sophisticated, certainly more curated and conscientiously produced than Paris, Je T’Aime. But it lacks the diversity of genre and narrative seen in Paris, and it doesn’t leave you with strong feelings, neither amorous nor unsettling.

“Good Hair” Is Shockingly Preachy October 24, 2009

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good_hair

Chris Rock, whose kids inspired the movie, takes mothers to task for relaxing the hair of young children.

It’s easy to say Good Hair is superficial, putting a shiny gloss on a serious issue — it certainly is fun. There are plenty of appearances from celebrities (no, not Oprah or Michelle; they’re not stupid), and the film’s narrative is centered around the glamorous and ridiculous Bronner Brothers show and convention in Atlanta.

Good Hair is not really for people who aren’t invested in the future and state of black people. Sure, it’s entertaining enough to amuse almost anyone — Chris Rock isn’t rich for nothing. But it’s also entertaining because Good Hair is really talking to the black community, asking in a very stark, even censorious manner why black women spend from hundreds to thousands of dollars to support European aesthetics, businesses mostly owned by white and Asian Americans, and which exploits (perhaps) the poverty and religious practices of India. The appearances by Nia Long, who will forever be loved by black women for her role in Love Jones among other films, and the glitz of the Bronner Brothers is all meant to get black people in theatres. Like all Americans, black Americans don’t see documentaries. This documentary, Rock is saying, is too important to not be a hoot. It’s the Michael Moore philosophy.

Good Hair‘s invective is so subtly acerbic that lovable celebrities like Nia Long and Raven-Symoné seem a little silly for spending so much on their weaves (both probably spend tens of thousands a year). The movie goes after the chemicals used in relaxers, the hours of labor needed to install weaves and the dubious origins of the hair black Americans consume so voraciously. Al Sharpton, in many ways the film’s voice of reason (along with the lovely and talented Tracie Thoms), says in quite biting terms that black people literally “wear their oppression on their heads.”

There are moments when Rock concedes straight hair holds greater cultural and economic capital, and that everyone should be able to choose their hair. But it’s clear where his biases lie. In the end, even I,  somewhat knowledgeable about the politics of black hair despite having grown up in a household of mostly men, was surprised at how many good arguments there were for black women wearing their hair natural.

For that reason, Good Hair, getting a lot of love from critics, isn’t really made for mass consumption — most documentaries aren’t anyway, no matter how entertaining. It’s breezy so it’ll make money, but it’s also a breezily preachy lesson aimed right at the heads of black people.

Good Hair hopefully will start the long but necessary process of changing black (and American) ideals of what constitutes sexy, appropriate and beautiful hair.*

*But if you like your hair straight, by all means, more power to you! Weaves and perms are pretty. Knowing the context of that choice, however, is just as important as having the choice in the first place.

Chris Crocker, Somewhere Between Boy and Girl, Proves Me Right October 22, 2009

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Click for Chris Crocker's Boy-Girl Video

Click for Chris Crocker's Latest Video

Nobody is particularly interested in Chris Crocker anymore; maybe he’s been replaced by B. Scott. But I still think he’s fascinating, and kind of a smart performance artist. (I’m using “he” right now because it’s my understanding that’s the pronoun Chris still uses).

In this video, Crocker, whose hair has been growing longer and whose application of makeup becoming more intricate, answers the question on everybody’s mind: are you a boy or a girl? Well, it wasn’t on my mind; I’d always assumed that Crocker was basically somewhere in between. Behold, he proved me right!

“I don’t feel like just boy or just girl…I do not believe that my genitalia defines my gender…My souls defines my gender, and actually I don’t even know that souls have genders. I just know how I feel inside.”

But that’s not what the headline to this post is about. Crocker’s reluctance to deinfe himself as one gender puts him in league with a number of other camp performers I interviewed a year ago for a paper titled, “Camp 2.0: A Queer Performance of the Personal,” now in review at Communication, Culture and Critique (abstract here). My basic thesis was that, because of generational and sociological trends, and the space of YouTube itself, camp performers (“queer” or gay performers working in the decades-old aesethetic tradition of irony and theatricality) were infusing more potent ideas of individuality and “personality” into what was is traditionally a community practice and style. Part of this individuality, this “personal” discourse, is reflected in the rejection of labels like “gay” and even gender terms like male and female.

Britney Houston, a popular music video remixer, told me she identifies as gender queer and appreciates the “is she or isn’t she?” debates that occur in the comment section of her videos. Michael Lucid, an independent filmmaker, rejects the label of drag queen and says he actually sees himself, when he’s on camera, as a husky voiced woman.

What replaces the labels? Performers told me some version of expressing their “soul,” or personality, mediated by presumably real emotions and investments in their own videos and representations. Chris Crocker is perhaps the best example. In his infamous “Leave Britney Alone!” video, Crocker sobs histrionically in front of the camera, in a way so extreme, it seems certainly put on. But Crocker has insisted to this day that his emotions were real. Why? Because Crocker wants us to think of himself as an individual whose soul overrides the categories in which we inscribe him (also because, hey, he really is a rabid Britney fan).

Now, Crocker says that his heart and mind are female, and that’s he’s only grown accustomed to being male. He also says that, while he’s not ready to transition now, he may in the future, and has noticed himself growing — phenotypically — increasingly female. It’s actually an interesting video to watch in its totality, an intimate look at a young person working through his identity in very nuanced ways.

Thanks for the video, Chris! Good luck on your journey, wherever it may lead.

“Precious” and the Fight Against Representation October 20, 2009

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Mo-Nique and Gaboury Sidibe play two very troubled individuals in Precious.

Mo'Nique and Gaboury Sidibe play two very troubled individuals in Precious.

I saw Precious Wednesday (it’s accomplished, bound for Oscar greatness), but I’ll hold off on film criticism and instead talk about what I think the film means, and what I think it does for black cinema, a field I’m still learning about, so I would love comments and suggestions.

My thrust is simple: Precious is another shot in the fight against representation. Yes, “representation.” That big word that still refuses to go away in discussions about culture. Representation is what happens when media — television, film, web, books, music — come to take on cultural meaning. Images come to “represent” various things in society: gender, race, professional positions, etc. Courtney Cox comes to represent older women who desire younger men (Cougar Town); Steve Carell represents the small town businessman (The Office). Everything you see on a screen is a representation. Simple.

What’s wrong? Well, nothing can really represent one thing if it isn’t exactly that thing. Simple again. Not even our politicians can, in an intellectual sense, represent us. They can represent a majority or a plurality, but not all of us. Same with cultural representations. They are always imperfect. Some representations get a pass because they’re “positive,” but getting a complete pass is rare. (It’s still a minority of people who don’t like The Cosby Show, at least until recently. However much it skewed representations of black people, or, as Herman Gray argues in Watching Race, supports a conservative discourse, it’s still a “nice” representation. Most people give it a pass, but not everybody).

I’m getting to Precious, bare with me. (more…)

Where the Wild Things Are…For Hipsters, Kids, Cinephiles or Everyone? October 16, 2009

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WTWTA went after young hipsters viciously through its Urban Outfitters campaign

WTWTA went after young hipsters viciously through its Urban Outfitters campaign

where-the-wild-things-are-spike-jonze

UPDATE: The New York Times has a piece about whether the movie is appropriate for children.

After seeing Where the Wild Things Are two nights ago, I suspected I would awaken Friday morning to check Metacritic and see a big ol’ 80+ rating on the film from critics.

Not so! Okay, it’s a 70. Well within the range of acceptability and good enough to keep it in the Oscar race.

What did I think? I have to say, it’s near perfect. Brilliant. And this is after I’ve been sufficiently numbed by months of promotion, including an aggressive effort through Urban Outfitters and on hip “young” shows like Gossip Girl, buzz from critics at festivals and stories of the studio rejecting it because it’s too artsy. I thought it would actually be easy to hate, given it’s angling for indie rock cred through the music in the trailer. All this set me up for a film so self-conscious of its own pretension it’d be as easy to hate as the hipsters it courts.

Not so! Where the Wild Things Are is pure cinematic id. It manages to capture the spirit of youth, even for those who don’t remember the book, more so than any “family” movie I’ve seen in years.

The film is gorgeous, nearly every shot is lush and carefully constructed, not a frame is wasted. The colors are phenomenal. In what appears to be a rogue move, Spike Jonze worked from a limited palette of browns, oranges and yellows (keeping the film as drab if not drabber than the book), with only hints of brighter colors are strategic moments. This had the effect of making the film’s rosier scenes particularly poignant.

What the movie does most successfully, I think, is take the twee, childlike nature of independent rock today to its necessary extremes. You can’t imagine how well presumably rarefied and intellectual rock works with depictions of the adolescent imagination.

Will families like it? I’m not sure. Certainly Park Slope and Silverlake mommies will be taking their kids, but will suburban families be scared away? No film can make money solely on twenty-something Spike Jonze fans. I think kids would like the movie, which in some ways reminded me and the friend I saw it with of a dressed-down Never-Ending Story, but then again I wasn’t a typical kid. Though there are a lot of atypical kids out there.

In the end, I think the film is for everyone, but, as with the more conventional Slumdog Millionaire, the studios have to market it right to get Americans to take the risk. I have no idea how this effort is going — we’ll see on Monday. I’ve got the message through the “young” and “hipster” routes, what about everyone else?

Whether or not it makes money, Jonze can sleep soundly knowing he made a work of art, and perhaps, time will tell, an important one. (UPDATE: CNN says the budget is between $80 and $100 million, which sounds ridiculous for such a lo-fi film, maybe that includes marketing; either way, not sure if it’s making that back. UPDATE 2: BoxOfficeMojo is pegging the production budget at $100 million, while New York Magazine says its $32 million opening weekend beat expectations. UPDATE 3: Wall Street Journal‘s Speakeasy blog says it was marketed mostly to adult audiences, and is happy with how the film is situated in the market. UPDATE 4: Two weeks in, the film has grossed $56 million, but it’s grosses are dropping at fast rates.).

Who knew a movie so representative of kids’ wonder can feel so emotive and grown-up? Jonze gave Pixar a run for its money.

Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Black Video October 15, 2009

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Many thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

BBTV_Better_Black_TV

rowdyorbit

Tickles_TVWhen new technologies emerge a host of new companies tend to sprout up. Tons of independent radio stations catering to diverse interests before 1970s-style deregulation. Digital technology brought dozens of new channels to television; that same technology fostered numerous production companies making independent TV and films. Now the drive to create original web video — a trend that dates back to the late 1990s, but has gained new steam with broadband and YouTube post-2006 — has attracted  new voices previously unheard. We have corporately produced web series, but also black web series and series made with virtually no budget at all.

Well, that’s great. But how do you distribute and promote all these shows and videos? Anyone can create a video, but if, like my YouTube videos, nobody sees them, then there isn’t much a point. Sure, decently endowed websites now fund and promote web shows. But what about black content, in many cases prone to smaller audiences?

Enter the sites pictured above. (more…)

Black Web Series and New Black TV October 15, 2009

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Tatyana Ali stars and exec produces this new web show directed and created by new filmmaker Julian Breece

Tatyana Ali stars and exec produces this new web show directed and created by new filmmaker Julian Breece

Please see my Black Web Series page for a full and updated list.

So I did a little bit of reporting and found some web series featuring all or mostly black casts! The full story is up at The Root:

A small but growing number of filmmakers, producers and writers are looking to the Web to make black shows on their own terms. Over the last year, a bevy of new shows have come online about the lives of all kinds of black people: gay and lesbian, rich and poor. Sites that focus on publishing black independent Web shows are cropping up as well, including Rowdy Orbit and BBTV (Better Black TV). This month, BET.com will premiere its first original Web series, Buppies, starring Tatyana Ali, directed by up-and-coming director Julian Breece and produced by Ali and newcomer Aaliyah Williams.

No matter what kind of black show you had, nobody wanted it,”creator Julian Breece said of trying to pitch Buppies to the networks a few years ago. “A lot of black people flock to the Web for content …. This is the perfect space to explore black stories that you don’t have the change to do in traditional media.”

Full list of shows with descriptions at The Root. Also, please check out my previous article for The Root on black vloggers on YouTube and my interview with Tatyana Ali on Buppies and review of the show.

I’ll be publishing more on the web series listed below later, and the sites distributing them, so check back. I’m focusing — for the sake of my own sanity — on scripted, fictional (or mostly fictional) series. And please, if I missed your web series or one you like, please let me know. The more I know, the better (and I’ll be sure to update this post with shows I hear of).

UPDATED (12/7): Updated separate list of shows above.

UPDATED (11/9): Add one two more series.

UPDATED (10/27): Added one more series. I promise I’ll start annotating these soon!

UPDATED (10/22): The official site for Buppies is up. It’s great! Click here for more on Buppies.

UPDATED (10/20): Added a series. Look more information soon, as soon as I get time.

UPDATED (10/16): Added two more series. Plus, one of my favorite blogs, Shadow and Act, covered my article!

UPDATED (10/15): With two more shows, keep them coming!

LIST OF SHOWS

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Is Hollywood Really Youth-Obsessed? October 15, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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2 comments

Please comment on the original at SpliceToday!

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Courtney Cox is old, but her show is pretty hot.

UPDATE: Greek made fun of another ABC show! On volunteering to deliver food to the elderly on Thanksgiving, Rebecca said to Casey: “I care about old people: I watch Desperate Housewives.” Burn again!

UPDATE: Some information from The Hollywood Reporter offers some contradicting evidence, looking at the average viewer age of this year’s fall TV shows. It seems your average viewer of scripted television is at least 28, and mostly over 40, so I could be completely wrong with all of this.

ORIGINAL: Everyone says it: Hollywood is obsessed with youth. Movies are made for young people. Television shows are geared towards young people. The conventional wisdom says that young people don’t like to watch old people.

Consider this exchange between two twentysomething sorority sisters from a recent episode of Greek:

Becka: The pledges stayed in for mud-masks and a TV series about old people having old people sex.
Casey: They’re watching Private Practice?

Burn! Yes, the star of Private Practice is, in fact, older than these characters; Kate Walsh turns 43 this week. But that’s not the whole story. While the younger, hotter Grey’s Anatomy is still ABC’s strongest scripted show, Private Practice is more than pulling its own. Grey’s premiere was down this year from last, but Private‘s was way up. And, hey, sorority girls love it!

My point: it’s time to bury the old narrative that Hollywood is only in love with the young. Older actors are actually quite appealing, even stronger draws than their riper peers.

Let’s break it down. (more…)

Web Series and Branded Entertainment October 13, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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5 comments

business_weekTechnology News - BusinessWeek_Aymar_Jean_Christian

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UPDATE: For links to everything I’ve written on web series, visit the web series page.

So my article in Businessweek on branded entertainment and the web series is finally out online! I’m just posting here to provide a bit more context, more than could make it into the article (below). The article focuses on MTV and Verizon’s Valemont and then talks about the market more broadly:

Valemont, with its high-profile premiere and heavy promotion, may give a boost to a budding, scripted, Web-series industry that, in spite of notable early successes, has yet to find a sustainable way to make money. It also underscores how companies can use the gamut of media—including the Web, TV, and online social tools—to pitch brands and products to highly targeted audiences. “This really graduates the format to a new level,” says John Shea, executive vice-president for integrated marketing for MTV Networks Music and another Viacom channel, Logo.” ….

“The brands believe that Web series are a new way to connect with viewers in a more intimate and engaging way than TV enables, even if the audiences are smaller. Companies trying to get their message across need multiple platforms to capture the attention of a multitasking society that’s typically online or on the cell phone while watching TV. “Producers are realizing that old TV broadcasts only capture a small portion of the viewer’s total media habits, especially during commercial periods, and they want to gain more of a piece of the pie,” Kunz says. “This helps both ratings and also the advertisers, who are the real target of producers.”

For the full article, click here or the links above. A big thanks to BusinessWeek Tech editor Tom Giles who really streamlined the article and made it an interesting read.

One of the points somewhat absent from the article was a sense of scope. There are, as I say in my web series guide, probably hundreds, if not thousands, of web series, and while most of those are not getting funding from sponsors, corporations or websites, many are. Valemont, in my opinion, is just one particularly ambitious example of the kind of marketing and distribution that is happening in very creative ways online.

TV-web cross promotions are happening more and more in this space, although mostly, as the article notes, with derivative content (extensions of shows and key characters). NBC vigorously promotes its transmedia extensions on TV. Desperate Housewives has a short series sponsored by Sprint, airing online and during commercials, which isn’t bad; Psych, as mentioned, has one with Mastercard. (PS – Sprint, will you call me? You’re involved with so many interesting digital projects, I want to interview you!)

Also, it should be noted, if it wasn’t clear, I was talking about scripted web series, which are generally more expensive and probably more labor intensive than reality-based shows, like Diggnation or Rocketboom.

Anyway, I’m interested in seeing where branded entertainment is going and if the market for original online content will organize itself around it. Can sponsorship become systematic in a post-network era, as it was in early TV?

What is a Web Series? A Guide and Introduction October 9, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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4 comments
Michael Buckley and his popular YouTube show, "What the Buck"

Michael Buckley's show, "What the Buck," is a snappy daily overview of celebrity current events.

Crackle's new zombie/comedy series, Woke Up Dead

"Woke Up Dead" is a comedy horror series premiering on Crackle in the fall 2009.

"Valemont," MTV's hyper-interactive series from TV to Web

"Valemont" is a web series that premiered on MTV, is sponsored by Verizon and has multiple extensions in mobile and online.

easy-to-assemble

Ikea's web series "Easy to Assemble" is a comic romp set inside its own stores.

What is a web series? To anyone in the industry right now, this post will be elementary. Apologies in advance. But I think for academics and maybe aspiring producers, this might be useful. I’ve had a bunch of hits on my old primer, but it’s rough at best. I’m also posting this so if you’re doing something with web series I don’t mention you can let me know — I want to have the most complete picture possible of this medium.

When I talk about researching web series to friends and colleagues, I often hear: “what do you mean by that?” There are hundreds (thousands, likely) of web series. Here’s my attempt to give people some basic information, based on ongoing interviews with producers, marketers, distributors and others.

Please, if I’m missing something or made an error, comment or contact! I’ll update with new information; I want this to be a resource.

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Me on Jezebel, or “Women Who Don’t Work” October 8, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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2 comments

jezebel_logo

So Jezebel has done a riff on my article in Splice Today (“The Death of the Working Woman?”), and cited it again in another post this week! Thanks, Jezebel!

To be honest, the article was not my finest work. I was merely reacting to some personal observations: there are a lot of productive, innovative and super-talented women working in and outside of Hollywood, and only a few of them get the glam cover treatment of popular women’s magazines. But this wasn’t an academic study, just anecdotal observation; it may not even be true.

I am afraid — and was concerned about this before I sent it in — that the tone of the piece was too condescending. After all, who am I to speak about women, anyway? And what kinds of work am I valuing and devaluing? There’s also the issue of selection; after all, Tina Fey’s landed at least three covers over the years, and Michelle Obama, a great role model, probably has over a dozen under her fabulous belts.

Still, I do think there’s a difference between Kate Winslet and Lauren Conrad, or even Beyonce, who is crazy productive, and Jessica Simpson. But, eh, these are just my opinions, and I’m not an editor, nor am I the target market, so how do I know what sells (or should sell)!

Mostly, I’m conflicted about the article because I try not to police media images too much. Yes, I do it often. Not going to lie. These are fun articles to write. But in general I think it’s kind of boorish, even if exciting and scandalous. I think I came off particularly shrill in the Splice piece, and I’m not one to take such a hard line on the state of female employment. Oh well, c’est la vie. No takesies-backsies.

Oh yes, and I don’t have a problem with stay-at-home moms, if that wasn’t clear. Of course not! That paragraph is a distilled version of an ongoing academic discussion that I’d be happy to have with anyone who emails me.

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