Thursday, April 27, 2006

Vocational Media Courses

Preparing for an event discussing vocational media course in schools and colleges, I'm becoming increasingly aware of the 'market pressure' for new courses and the way they are exploiting government policy towards 14-19 education. Last summer I was alerted to the threat of DiDA -- ICT courses at Level 2 that include digital media production. Is anybody in a position to say how these are working in schools and if media teachers are involved?

Now comes a suite of'iMedia' qualifications from OCR offering more digital media production qualifications at Levels 2 and 3 as part of ICT provision . Where Edexcel goes, OCR must follow, it seems. It was disturbing to see a reference to 'media education' in relation to these new qualifications. 'Media techniques' yes, but they do not cover any media education key concepts. iMedia website.

Finally, I've been reading about 'Vocational Advantage', an idea for supporting centres wanting to develop vocational courses in schools at KS4 coming from Edexcel in partnership with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT). Media is one of the first areas to be supported. See flyer here.

Edexcel is owned by Pearson Education and seems to be getting ever more entrepreneurial. DiDA involves selling a lot of Macromedia packages at huge discount to schools. Par for the course I guess these days. It's time to look closely at what is going on.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Looking Over Brokeback Mountain

I'm intrigued by the success of Brokeback Mountain. In fact, it has to some extent restored my faith in audiences. Several of the people I have discussed the film with are not fans of the Western and were surprised when I suggested that Ang Lee's triumph was to so skilfully make use of the conventions of the Western genre – and specifically those of what some have termed the 'Twilight Western'. This term can be used to describe either Westerns set in the dying days of the 'Old West' (i.e. 1890-1910) or in the post-1945 period when the Western lifestyle began to feel more and more out of tune with contemporary America. In the main, Twilight Westerns have been produced by Hollywood (and independents) since the late 1960s, although earlier examples include The Lusty Men (Nicholas Ray 1952) and Ride the High Country (Sam Peckinpah, 1962).

I've been running an evening class with the title 'Looking Over Brokeback Mountain' at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford for the last few weeks. So far we've watched The Last Picture Show (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1971) and extracts from a range of films including Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948) Johnny Guitar (Nick Ray, 1953), Hud (Martin Ritt, 1962), Junior Bonner (Peckinpah, 1972), Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1985) and The Ballad of Little Jo (Maggie Greenwald, 1993).

We've discussed gender in the Western in both the traditional 'mythologised West' and the more realist 'Twilight West' and this week we look at a little-seen Twilight Western, Stephen Frears' 1998 film, The Hi-Lo Country. I wonder how it will look in 2006 after the success of Brokeback? Billy Crudup and Woody Harrelson play the two young men, but this time they fall out over Patricia Arquette.

The course has also prompted me to read Annie Proulx's short story collection and I've enjoyed all the stories so far – I'm saving up the Brokeback story for the last week of the course.

Digital Projection

Although I haven't yet (to my knowledge) seen a digital print as screened under the UK Film Council's current scheme for improving access to 'specialised films', I have seen demos and they looked impressive. This week the Film Council announced that 50 projectors had been installed in UK cinemas as part of phase 1 and that 190 more are scheduled for phase 2 starting May 2006. I know one is being installed at Pictureville in Bradford so I look forward to seeing what it can do. Anybody got any feedback on digital screenings at their local cinemas?

The Film Council press statement (as reported in Screen International 13/4/06) suggests that the predicted problems were evident in Phase 1, but that they are being overcome. The biggest problem is that distributors need to make both digital and analogue prints during the long transition period. 25 films have had digital prints made in the UK so far. The second issue is compatability of equipment and prints. The Film Council concedes that some fitted projectors need upgrading to what is now being touted as an industry standard – JPEG2000 (see the Digital Cinema website ).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Is youth culture dead?

Interesting post by Mark Ravenhill in today's Grauniad: "I am down with the kids". His argument is that youth no longer can control its own popular culture with parents downloading The Arctic Monkeys and playing the latest videogames. Ravenhill, who has been doing interviews for his 'teen' play Citizenship, thinks that there is nothing for youth to 'own' anymore. Bizarrely he suggests that what youth needs is a form of National Service – not to give them a "short sharp shock", but to provide them with a chance to get together and discover things that their parents wouldn't like – to become rebellious again. He argues there is little chance of that in middle-class youth culture and points to the colonisation of black culture by white kids looking for something that their parents won't understand.

Ravenhill is on to something, but I'm not quite sure what. He makes me think of an article by Joe Eszterhas in Rolling Stone in the 1970s in which he argued that the 'baby boomers' of the late 1940s would control popular culture for the next 40 years until they died out – not just because they were such a populous generation, but because of the conjuncture of changes in society, in the economy and in popular culture that took place in the 1960s. Eszterhas has been proved correct in many ways – witness the extraordinary amount of coverage of the recent tour by Bob Dylan. As the age profile of Europe in particular shifts upwards, we might see a split in popular culture with the 30 and 40-somethings looking to stay 'young' and embracing 'youth culture' as something still appropriate for them, whilst 50 and 60-somethings stick with what's left of the 'Counter Culture' and its heroes.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

New Media Studies A Levels

It's not that often that I change my mind during arguments/debates. I tend to spend a long time developing new ideas or attitudes, so I was intrigued by the debate about 'coursework' and 'practical work' for A Level Media Studies on the OCR Exam Board mailing list for media teachers. It is being driven by a wide range of positions, often (but not always) cogently argued. I find myself agreeing with both those who want to expand coursework (my own general position) and those who are worried about too much 'production work' and not enough core theory. There is still time to join in the debate by registering and visiting the mailing list (see link).

Spike Lee: Inside Man

Spike Lee certainly upsets people. I can understand the charges of misogyny and even the complaints of those who can't cope with any kind of expressionism or melodrama. I can agree that he is an uneven filmmaker, but surely it's obvious that he's one of the most important filmmakers in Hollywood? Not to Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. I've never come across a reviewer so annoying as Bradshaw. He's obviously intelligent and perceptive and seems to have seen a wide range of films, but he has no sense of judgment. One star for Inside Man and dismissal of 25th Hour. Nuff said!

Inside Man
is terrific entertainment. The cast is to die for – I think I could cope with anything that put Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster in the front line and supported them with Chiwetel Ejiofor, rapidly becoming a Hollywood regular. I was also impressed with Clive Owen – thankfully not to be wasted on Bond films.

Is Inside Man more than 'just' an 'entertainment'? It struck me during the film that it seems to draw heavily on the treatment of suspects at Guantanamo. The plot means that a large group of hostages in a bank heist are dressed in 'coveralls'. The police are unable to distinguish the 'witnesses' from the 'crooks' and ship them off in a bus. Given jokes about Bin Laden and a Sikh witness' complaint at being addressed as an 'arab' and the references start to pile up. Added to this Spike has chosen as opening and closing music the song 'Chaiyya Chaiyya' written by the maestro A. R. Rahman for Mani Ratnam's Dil Se. Dil Se features Sharukh Khan as a journalist who falls in love with a 'freedom fighter' from Assam. To add further significance, the version of the song that closes the film includes the Coventry rapper Panjabi MC delivering lines in a distinctive West Midlands accent. If you've seen the Revolution Films production of The Road to Guantanamo about the Tipton Three it doesn't take too much to make the connection.

I've no idea whether this is what Spike intended, but it worked for me. Panjabi MC is the third UK creative talent on the roster. Chiwetel manages something approaching an American accent, but Clive Owen, like the rapper, is distinctively British – weirdly noone comments on this.