Saturday, September 23, 2006

Zinedine Zidane: A Twenty-First Century Portrait

This is 90 minutes (of course) of sheer hell when I saw it - even for my football (if Burnley counts) consultant who I took with me - so boring, at times, that a collective gnawing of arms seemed tempting to suggest. However, it was interesting in its attempt to profile an iconic modern footballer (its release almost as fantastically timed as his head-butt to generate useful publicity).

The film-makers have art/arthouse credentials, and there is an intense focus on his every move, following throughout the match (Real Madrid/Villareal). He obliges the directors by being sent off near the end - but even this has a strangely passive quality that infects all the action, since he gets randomly involved in someone else's argument.

It's coming round to The Cornerhouse on 29th September. I'm definitely going to send any of my students who are thinking of doing the Sport and the Media research option (OCR, similar to AQA's Independent Study) - not because I don't like them (!) but because I think it has enormous potential for discussion as far as sport and celebrity is concerned. Having seen Sam Taylor-Wood's portrait of Beckham in National Gallery (a really, far superior analysis of sports celebrities AND our relationship to them), the Zidane film is limited in its own 'intelligence' but something they can use as a case study.

I notice on imdb that it's compared to 'Football as Never before' about George Best - I wonder whether there are any other useful companion pieces this new film could be put with?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Digital update

Seems I was a little unfair re the heat output of these projectors -- turns out it was the ventilation system in the box that was at fault. Having completed two screening events using the projector, I can see that there are some 'running in' problems. The projectionists are taking some time to come to terms with the machine. Each film, which arrives on its own disk drive, needs to be loaded and can't be activated without a separate security key -- the return of the 'dongle' that used to bedevil desktop computer users!

Actually loading and preparing the projection script for a new film takes a fair amount of time. More or less 'real time' for a feature on on 'HD' and more than 'real time' for a JPEG2000 film. There is not so much physical work for the projectionist compared to 'making up' a 35mm print. Once the loading begins, it is more or less automatic, but it does mean that late arriving digital prints could be a problem. As someone who has often been faced with a print arriving on the morning when I have an event starting at 10.30, this is not good news. At least with a 35mm print, you could get something onto the screen in the next hour or so, but the digital print has to be fully loaded. It's these 'little things' that are really important when it comes to actually using the prints. On the other hand, once loaded it is ready to go whenever you need it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Digital Projection Box

Squeezed into a projection box last week to get my first look at one of the JPEG2000 digital projectors installed in cinemas as part of the UK Film Council's Digital Screens Network.

What a monster! If your idea of digital media is an iPod or a tiny digital camcorder, you are going to be shocked. It's big and squat and worst of all exudes enormous amounts of heat, requiring its own ventilation system. (I understand there are two different models, so this might have been the bigger of the two.)

What used to be a 35mm film in several large metal canisters is now a small black box housing a hard drive. A film 'print' is now 60-70 Gb of digital data (i.e. about ten times more data than a DVD). It still needs to be 'prepared' by the projectionist for screening, so perhaps they won't be made redundant quite as quickly as we feared.

I couldn't stay to watch the print, but it seemed to cope alright with my laptop presentation. As I left, the projectionist commented on the one advantage digital prints clearly offer – every screening is potentially the same. There shouldn't be any scratches, visible reel changes etc. I'm sure this is a good thing but I'm already nostalgic for those old scratchy prints when, on a third or fourth viewing, you could look forward to spotting the scratches.

Watching the detectives

Several years ago I enjoyed a fantasy in which English Literature disappeared from school curricula and was replaced by something much more inclusive. When I saw some of the suggestions in the English Orders (I'm talking about 2000?), I could see the possibilities of different kinds of work, investigating genre fictions across media. I thought it might be fun to study Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins as authors and explore both their influence on crime fiction and the adaptations of their work in films and on the stage.

Fat chance, eh? The thought police seem to be on the prowl again, attempting to restrict what KS4 students read. If Film and Media students can study Pirates of the Caribbean and sitcoms, why can't literature students study crime fiction or science fiction? John Mullan has recently had a couple of interesting Guardian pieces exploring Ian Rankin's Fleshmarket Close as part of the Guardian's Book Club. It's OK to do things like this at degree or postgraduate level -- why not at 14 or 17?

Studying genres in literature would enable students to learn more about narrative structure, about typing and about social context. (I think I've learned a lot about different milieu from reading crime fiction.) I suspect that the range of reading students do at school is narrower than it needs to be.

The other great advantage of genre fiction is that it can be universal. I've enjoyed crime novels written in many languages. Having read most of the wonderful Henning Mankel novels from Sweden, I enjoyed the Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo's The Devil's Star this summer. A good translator allows access for readers of popular cultures across the world and I think I could argue that this is as important as introducing students to foreign language cinema. And why stop at crime? A good dose of vintage 1950s P.K. Dick would be good for most students.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna: New Bollywood?

I love Bollywood, but I’m a real starter when it comes to knowing about the films, so it would be great to hear people’s responses to Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. (Director: Karan Johar). I remember Lagaan seemed to promise the first Indian cross-over success, but KANK is far more modern. Not your typical Bollywood product, it's set in New York and deals with divorce and infidelity. The characters drink and there is a definite lack of the trademark Bollywood music and dancing, given the ‘hero’ is an injured football pro. Any musical numbers are modernised and often set in discos.

I’d made a mental note to discuss it with my students who are Bollywood fans, but saw (Screen International 1/09/06) that is has had the biggest box office opening in territories other than India, for a Bollywood film. It has some of the brightest stars of Bollywood, such as Shah Rukh Khan, not for the first time tackling a quite unsympathetic hero. The film is pretty tortuous - there’s loads more dialogue than usual – and some of it pretty dreadful!

I’m not sure how far it represents a true Bollywood film for the global market though – although it seems it might be targeted at younger viewers. It certainly is different from Johar’s 2004 film Veer Zaara (which had three out of the four leads) which was far more traditional, particularly in gender representations.

I’d love to know how it fits in with other, earlier Bollywood or how younger people (i.e. students) have responded to it? Or any other films that people think make ‘westernised’ Bollywood, for the global market? (I’m thinking particularly about A2 Film and Media options re World Cinema, and for teaching institution, generally?)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Media Exam Results, August 2006

I'm not sure why, but it has been more difficult to find the whole range of media results this year. They weren't listed in all the papers. I eventually tracked them down on the website of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

I've aggregated all the listed exam results and come up with a figure of around 136,000. This includes GCSE, AS/A2 and GNVQ Intermediate/VCE. These are all the film and media qualifications which report in August. It doesn't include the vocational qualifications from BTEC (National Diplomas etc.) and City & Guilds which might take the total up to 140,000 plus. We'll include a full analysis in itp next month, but here are a few 'headline' findings:

GCSE Media is forging ahead with a massive increase this year of more than 20% up to 57,521 from 45,685

AS (film and media) is up by around 4% from 41,309 to 43,018

A Level (film and media) is up by nearly 10% from 28,261 to 30,964

The increase at A Level follows on from a big AS increase last year. Perhaps the surge at GCSE will have some impact on AS next year?

The gender splits are interesting. The general commentaries don't seem to notice that Media Studies has been one of the new subjects that has attracted young women in large numbers. At GCSE the gender split is roughly even, but at AS and A Level, the female entries are clearly ahead of male entries. At 16, more girls than boys opt for AS. As a consequence the percentage of "all male entries for AS" taking Film and Media is actually higher than the percentage of girls (4%) -- even though the number of girls taking Film and Media is actually higher. At A Level, the figures suggest that overall the number of boys progressing to A2 is less than for girls. In Film and Media, girls maintain their 3.9% of the total A2 entry, but for boys it drops to 3.8%.

Any surprises in these figures?