MEDIA - Film/Radio/TV/Web - September 2001

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Sunday September 30

FORCED SUBTLETY: As America struggles to avoid persecution of its Arab citizens in the wake of the September 11 disaster, a film festival in Boston is seeming awfully timely. The "Festival of Films From Iran" provides a unique look at the film industry in a nation where heavy censorship and strict moral guidelines are the rule. Boston Globe 09/30/01

ALL ABOUT THE PRODUCT TIE-INS: Two blockbuster movies are about to come out - installing the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises on the big screen. But aside from questions about whether or not the movies will be any good, are the merchandising issues. There are billions (yes that's with a 'b') at stake. The Telegraph (UK) 09/29/01

Friday September 28

HELPING OR EXPLOITING? "Do movies distort our views of past events? Or do they do a service by arousing our curiosity to find out what really happened? At the moment, it's hard to imagine Hollywood making a movie based on the events of Sept. 11. But the industry track record shows it is merely a matter of time." The Christian Science Monitor 09/28/01

Thursday September 27

EMMY AWARDS TO BE LOW-KEY: The TV awards show, postponed from September 16 to October 7, will be a dress-down affair. No glamorous outfits, no red carpet. And because of the changed schedule, the new complications of cross-country travel, and doubts about the appropriateness of awards at this time, several nominees and winners may not be there either. New York Post 09/27/01

FILMING RESUMES IN MANHATTAN: For the first time since September 11, New York City is issuing permits for filming in Manhattan; filming in the outer boroughs began last week. Several commercials and at least five feature films are lined up, along with the 13 TV series which film there regularly. New York Post 09/27/01

THE REALITY OF ENTERTAINMENT: It used to be that the media had to apologize for faking reality. Now it's the other way around. BBC is trying to deny that it's setting up "a new department dedicated to factual entertainment programmes." BBC 09/25/01

Wednesday September 26

WHAT MOVIES DO: Do violent movies reflect society or influence it? A long-pondered question. "Apart from their profitability for producers, simplified treatments of disturbing topics give audiences a feeling of togetherness in a world that's sometimes too scattered and confusing for comfort. This can have a calming effect, but it can also promote negative attitudes of prejudice and xenophobia." Christian Science Monitor 09/26/01

Tuesday September 25

MEANING ON THE SCREEN: Director Wim Wenders on reality and fiction on the screen: "Of course cinema and reality are two different things. But the insight that what we saw was real does not change the phenomenology of the situation: We sit in front of the television and watch. To begin with, they are both just images. And for many people, the real dimensions became clear only after several days. At the beginning, the division between fiction and reality was extremely blurred." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 09/24/01

SCREEN TEST: "Using test audiences to see how a film plays during editing has long been standard practice in Hollywood. Traditionally, Australian film-makers have filled screenings with collaborators, advisers and trusted friends without formally measuring their response. This is partly a reflection of the industry's defiant independence from Hollywood commerciality; partly scepticism about using market research to improve films; and partly a reflection of limited budgets for test screenings and correcting problems. But faced with the ever-tougher challenge of competing in cinemas, test screenings are becoming more frequent." Sydney Morning Herald 09/25/01

CHANGING HOLLYWOOD: "Everywhere you look in Hollywood since that tragic day, the entertainment landscape has been transformed, as if ripped asunder by a massive earthquake. People have come to work feeling like jittery sleepwalkers, especially after the studios received FBI warnings late last week that they could be possible targets for terrorism. Nearly every studio has been postponing films, giving them face lifts or tossing scripts out the window." Los Angeles Times 09/25/01

Sunday September 23

INDEPENDENT FAILURE: Independent film producer Shooting Gallery was hailed as one of the most innovative, successful indie producers. Founded with $7,000 in 1991, Shooting Gallery epitomized the ethos of guerrilla filmmaking, in which hustle and chutzpah-and artistic freedom-made up for lack of financial resources." But with a string of successes and awards, how did the company lose $70 million and go bankrupt? Los Angeles Times 09/23/01

Friday September 21

STAR CLUSTER: Tonight's two-hour A-list celebrity telethon to benefit the rebuilding and victims in New York is involving cooperation in the entertainment industry on an unprecedented scale. Dozens of stars are involved and "more than 31 cable channels, including FX, TNT, Discovery and BET, will air the program." Organizers hope to raise $30 million. Los Angeles Times 09/21/01

  • FROM A SECRET LOCATION: "We're not even disclosing where the show is going to be done. There will be no audience, no commercials, and no press. ... It's a very special thing, dedicated for a very special reason, and not to be commercialized." San Francisco Chronicle 09/21/01

NOT WILD ABOUT HARRY: Christian fundamentalist attacks on Harry Potter increase. "Primarily, there's the suggestion that Rowling is promoting occultism, witchcraft, mysticism, and 'magick,' or sorcery, in her books. The Potter books, 'placed in a culture that glorifies, promotes, and markets witchcraft to teens, especially teen girls' - Buffy, check your pager - 'can translate into involvement with the occult.' Boston Globe 09/20/01

DISASTER RELIEF: It's amazing how many movies feature the World Trade Center, how many songs have references that now seem inappropriate. "The news profoundly affected our movies and TV, just as in small, weird ways, TV and movies influenced the coverage of the events themselves." The Guardian (UK) 09/21/01

WHEN REALITY INTRUDES ON LAFF TRACKS: How will characters in tv sitcoms deal with the World Trade Center tragedy? "One option is to continue with a simulation of a New York City that no longer exists. The other is to move into some television version of the new New York City. Last week's tragedy seems too big, too powerful, too overwhelming for anyone – even TV characters – to escape." Dallas Morning News 09/20/01

REALITY INTRUDES: "Now, as life begins to return to something approaching normal, Hollywood has a dilemma: Does it return to its traditional offerings of blood-and-guts movies while the country is still hurting? And another question: Will TV shows featuring terrorists and bomb threats still play? Complicating all this is the fact that business plain stinks for just about everyone in media these days." Businessweek 09/21/01

COMING OF AGE: One Hollywood producer suggests "This could be a coming of age for our nation. It depends on which way we go. I'd like to see us start looking at the process of recovery, and if entertainment has any job, it's to put this suffering in a kind of context and prepare people for what's next." Christian Science Monitor 09/21/01

HARD TARGET: "The Federal Bureau of Investigation notified the major film studios in Los Angeles yesterday that one of them could be the target of a terrorist bombing if the United States attacked Afghan targets." The New York Times 09/21/01

THE GREAT PREDICTER? "Nostradamus" was the top search word on the internet in the past week "Net surfers scoured the Web for information on the 16th-century soothsayer after a widely circulated e-mail hoax suggested he had predicted the tragedy. Top-ranked Nostradamus and other terms related to the terrorist attacks have been the most requested search items on the Web indexes Google, Lycos and Yahoo! over the past eight days." National Post (Daily News) 09/21/01

Thursday September 20

NEW HEAD OF BBC, WITH STRINGS ATTACHED: "Gavyn Davies, the former Labour donor who was yesterday appointed BBC chairman, vehemently denied he was a 'Labour crony' and urged ministers to appoint a Tory deputy to preserve the corporation's impartiality. Resigning his Labour party membership, he said the traditional 'mix' at the top of the BBC should be maintained. But the Tories were furious, declaring the process an 'insult to people's intelligence'." The Guardian (UK) 09/20/01

NO TIME FOR FUN RIGHT NOW: The host of a Canadian TV show which pokes fun at the differences between Canada and the United States has withdrawn his nomination for a Gemini award, saying "this is a time to offer unconditional support to Americans." CBC 09/20/01

THE MEANING OF LIFE: A new seven-part series Evolution is hyped as " the most comprehensive and far-reaching examination of evolution to date." It's also a milestone for public television. "Evolution is a dizzying tour that takes us all over the world and packs its engaging episodes with food for thought. It’s an Achievement. But even eight hours can’t do more than scratch the surface when it comes to explaining the change over time of all living things." Boston Phoenix 09/19/01

THE SOPRANOS WILL KEEP ON SINGING: A US judge in Chicago has dismissed a lawsuit which claimed that the TV show The Sopranos was defamatory to Italian-Americans. He said the group which brought the suit had no basis for suing, because it had suffered no injury. "He also ruled that the HBO-made show had a constitutional right to air its depiction of a fictional New Jersey family of Mafia members." BBC 09/20/01

Wednesday September 19

VIOLENCE SELLS: Are American movie-makers too good at producing violence on the screen? "We have to face the question of violence as our country's cultural touchstone. If it's not our native tongue heard in the movies that we send around the globe, then it's the language we speak most ardently. The graphic image of the White House exploding in Independence Day has a frightening quality, and in hindsight, since the Bush administration has said the White House was a target of the terrorists, perhaps suggested the way to unlock the door to our national nightmares — a horror-movie symbolism that shows the power of a grand gesture." The New York Times 09/18/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Tuesday September 18

NY W/O TV: The World Trade Center disaster knocked 10 New York TV stations off over-the-air broadcast, because the stations' transmitters were located on the towers. "At least four will resume transmissions from the relatively remote - and shorter - Armstrong radio tower on the Palisades at Alpine, N.J. Two other stations are installing transmitters and antennas atop the already-crowded Empire State Building - the original home of New York's TV stations until the taller World Trade Center was completed in the early '70s." New York Post 09/17/01

SANITIZING THE CRISIS: Clear Channel Communications, one of the world's largest media companies, has circulated a memo to its radio stations across the U.S. "suggesting" the removal of some 150 songs from station playlists in the wake of last week's attack. Program directors have been left to wonder what could possibly be objectionable about the Beatles' "Obla-Di Obla-Da" or Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World." St. Paul Pioneer Press 09/18/01

NOT SO PERFECT AFTER ALL: Satellite radio has been touted as the medium's savior: convenient, marketable, and oh, that clear, digital sound! But, as it turns out, the signal has trouble reaching rural areas. And big cities. The FCC is trying to help. Nando Times (AP) 09/17/01

Monday September 17

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL PRIZE: The film Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet wins top prize at the Toronto Film Festival. "The final press conference - usually a sit-down brunch with much applause and laughter - was a conventional press conference, attended mostly by Canadians and a few stranded travellers, and felt less like a celebration than a funeral reception." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 09/17/01

  • TORONTO TROUBLE: Last week's terrorism deflated the Toronto Film Festival. With transportation down, "the result was massive trouble for the festival's guest office and for major hotels. Some festival guests couldn't get to Toronto; certain films had to be cancelled because prints did not arrive; and many festival guests who were already here found themselves unable to leave town." Toronto Star 09/17/01

AUDIENCES RETURN TO MOVIES: "Cinemas were relatively empty on Friday as many Americans watched events on television news, but on Saturday cinema audiences returned." BBC 09/17/01

THE POWER OF IMAGES: "As several columnists have noted, these attacks stem in part from a disgust with the modern world, with the huge and potentially crippling cultural impact our music, our mores and, inevitably, our movies are having on the traditional ways of life these people are committed to preserve at all costs. They see our films as infecting their world, changing their children's attitudes, in ways they find abhorrent. Given all that, what can be said for film in these terrible days?" Los Angeles Times 09/17/01

Sunday September 16

BBC COMMITS TO ARTS: The BBC replies to charges that creating an arts channel dumbs down the broadcaster's commitment to arts programming. "BBC1 is going through a transition - for the better. It is now, and will remain, the showcase channel for the best programmes on the BBC, including arts. This is not lip-service, it's a serious commitment." The Observer (UK) 09/16/01

REEL DECISION: The Toronto Film Festival weighs whether to finish up the festival or cancel. "Movies reflect the world around them, and so do film festivals - even when that world is plunged for a time into chaos and the dark. Was it right to continue an event that celebrates art and entertainment, in the midst of real-life madness and death?" Chicago Tribune 09/15/01

WHEN TORONTO IS THE BRONX: Hollywood is drawn to filming projects in Canada by the cheap Canadian dollar (and government tax incentives). But rarely do the scripts call for Canadian locations, so Vancouver masquerades as San Francisco, Toronto as the Bronx, and... Saturday Night (Canada) 09/15/01

Friday September 14

BBC'S NEW CULTURE CHANNEL: The BBC is granted three new channels, including "BBC4, a new channel devoted to culture, the arts and ideas, and two new children’s channels." The government's culture minister says that BBC4 is "a distinctive, well defined service intended to create a forum for debate." The Times (UK) 09/14/01

  • Previously: ATTACKING BBC ON ARTS: Has the BBC abdicated its responsibility for arts programming? One critic thinks so: "Proms attendances are going up and just try to get into the Tate Modern on a Saturday afternoon - but that is not reflected on BBC One." BBC 09/12/01

THE UNCERTAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ART AND LIFE: For the past three days, the script for reality came out of a Hollywood cataclysm movie. But, "The world is a more complex place, more like a John le Carre novel with shifting truths than a Hollywood movie of good guys and bad guys." And the people who anticipated reality with special effects are finding that their make-believe world too is changed forever. Boston Globe & BBC 09/13/01

LET THE BAD TIMES ROLL: The terrorist attacks have provoked some changes and delays in plans for violent movies and TV shows. But how long will that last? "Few producers, actors, or outside observers expect Hollywood to holler 'Cut!' In fact, some believe cinematic treatments of violent episodes such as terrorist attacks may actually increase." It needn't be that way, of course; it's possible to hope for "something that travels thoughtfully beyond the panoramic rubble, and obvious individual and collective pain, to greater universal truths that define us as a society." Boston Globe & Los Angeles Times 09/14/01

Thursday September 13

NETWORK DELAYS SEASON: NBC TV delays next week's scheduled debut of its fall TV season. 09/12/01

  • TERRORISM SUDDENLY ISN'T SO ENTERTAINING: Hollywood wonders about postponing release of action movies and TV shows that feature terrorist stories. "Sony Pictures removed a trailer from theaters and the Internet for the adventure Spider-Man because of a scene in which a helicopter carrying fleeing robbers gets trapped in a giant spider web strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center." Nando Times (AP) 09/12/01

ATTACKING BBC ON ARTS: Has the BBC abdicated its responsibility for arts programming? One critic thinks so: "Proms attendances are going up and just try to get into the Tate Modern on a Saturday afternoon - but that is not reflected on BBC One." BBC 09/12/01

  • Previously: THE ARTS GHETTO: The BBC declares that niche broadcasting is the road to the future. So arts programming - better, more arts programming - ought to get its own digital channel. Critics are skeptical: "Whether we watch highbrow programmes in droves or not, we prefer them to be available to all, not hived off to the other side of the digital divide and held up to ransom." The Telegraph (UK) 09/08/01

HOW TO USE THE BUZZ GENERATOR: A research firm claims that properly deployed Internet marketing could increase box-office receipts by $15 million per film, and could as much as double book sales. "Marketeers understand that the internet and word of mouth can help generate buzz, but they don't know how to foster it to extend awareness of a product beyond its initial release." screendaily 09/12/01

THE NEW BIG THING IN COLLECTIBLES: All right, it's not really big. It's not really art, either. It's a Hollywood Oscar - a very hot item on the auction circuit. "An Oscar won by movie composer George Stoll has been bought at auction by Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey for $156,875 (£106,972) - seven times more than expected." It's also seven times more than was paid for the composer's German viola. BBC & Nando Times 09/13/01

Wednesday September 12

POINTS OF REFERENCE HARD TO COME BY AFTER ATTACK: Over and over on Tuesday, reporters and witnesses were forced to describe the chaos in New York following a horrific terrorist attack as being "like something out of a movie." CNN interviewed author Tom Clancy, and more than one witness cited the 1998 movie The Siege to describe what they were seeing. "The power of pop culture never seemed so real – or so terrifying." Dallas Morning News 09/12/01

SQUARING A TERRIFYING REALITY WITH THE TV NATION: "And what will TV and the movies do now with their storytelling? To take the most trivial example -- and yet so much of creative life will seem trivial for a long time to come -- how will the producers of Sex and the City or Law & Order create a fictive New York that in any way corresponds to the world that has just been overturned?" The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 09/12/01

Tuesday September 11

WATCHING ONLINE: Downloadable movies are about to be practical. "A new format, DivX, makes it possible to compress any film down to about 600MB - small enough to fit on an ordinary data CD but still high enough quality for comfortable viewing. For people with broadband connections, watching films online is within reach." Will movie companies be any smarter about digital downloads than music producers were? The Telegraph (UK) 09/11/01

RADIONEXT: "Satellite radio is to start broadcasting in the U.S. on Wednesday, backed by major car manufacturers. It promises 100 channels of digital radio ranging from modern jazz to comedy to 24-hour news for a monthly subscription fee of $9.99." BBC 09/11/01

THE OTHER ACTORS' STRIKE: So the dreaded Hollywood actors' strike planned for earlier this summer was averted, and everything was fine in the world of performer/producer relations, right? Wrong. "The final countdown to a possible strike by UK actors over pay and conditions is to get under way on Tuesday... [and] threatens to bring the UK film industry to a standstill." BBC 09/10/01

THAT'S PRONOUNCED "O-LEE": "A big-budget movie about the life of Norwegian virtuoso violinist and composer Ole Bull is to be released in 2005 to celebrate Norway’s 100 years of independence. . . Bull was Norway’s first international star, a Paganini-type womaniser who prompted hysteria with his playing all over Europe and the US." Gramophone 09/11/01

Monday September 10

VENICE WINNER: The grand prize at this year's Venice Film Festival has been won by an Indian film, Monsoon Wedding. "The film, directed by Mira Nair, is a comedy about an extended family reuniting from around the globe for an arranged marriage in India's capital, Delhi." BBC 09/10/01

Sunday September 9

THE ARTS GHETTO: The BBC declares that niche broadcasting is the road to the future. So arts programming - better, more arts programming - ought to get its own digital channel. Critics are skeptical: "Whether we watch highbrow programmes in droves or not, we prefer them to be available to all, not hived off to the other side of the digital divide and held up to ransom." The Telegraph (UK) 09/08/01

TAKING THE RISK OUT OF INDIE: Independent film used to be the domain of risky fare that wasn't commercially hit-worthy. But now "the indie domain now takes in everything from edgy, offbeat fare to genre flicks (sci-fi, horror and thrillers) to star vehicles that could just as easily be released by major studios—and often is by their 'art-house' distribution arms." Is there still room in Indie for risky work? Los Angeles Times 09/09/01

ROGER DOES TORONTO: The Toronto Film Festival is one of the world's busiest. Roger Ebert tries to sort it out: "The opening three days are so insanely front-loaded that critics go nuts trying to map out their schedules; they stand in the lobby of the Varsity, crossing screenings off their lists." National Post (Canada) 09/08/01

Friday September 7

DIGITAL RADIO IN THE UK - NO SALE: Technically and artistically, digital radio is a terrific idea. Economically, not so. The former director of radio at the BBC explains that "listeners really believe that radio is free. The average UK household owns five radio sets, scattered around the house or in the car. We might just conceivably be persuaded to pay a slight premium to replace one of them — but all five? No thanks." The Times (UK) 09/07/01

SO GOOD SHE'S BAD? Pauline Kael was a great film critic. But was she so good she was bad for film? "The long-term result of such an influential critic ignoring so much worthwhile foreign work is that just about every other mainstream critic has followed suit. This has dampened the desire of filmgoers to see foreign movies (since they rarely hear about them), with the upshot that distributors - who pay more attention to critics than you might think - are much warier of picking them up than they were in the 1970s." The Guardian (UK) 09/07/01

ANOTHER LAYER IN THE "WHAT IS ART" CONTROVERSY: Within the world of art, there's a debate about just where to put electronic arts. And within the world of electronic arts, there's a debate about whether or not games should be included. Either way, some of the games are winning prizes as art. Wired 09/07/01

MOVIE STUDIOS INVADED BY HUMAN BEINGS: After a summer of films starring monsters, cartoons, and bombs (literal and figurative), we may be coming into an autumn filled with movies starring real people. Many of whom can act. Christian Science Monitor 09/07/01

BEATING HOLLYWOOD AT ITS OWN GAME: "You want to know the Christians' biggest mistake? Not recognizing the neutrality of media. You don't like the movies they're showing downtown? Then make some of your own." And not just tiny-budget sermonettes. We're talking epic thrillers, with 8-figure budgets and big-name performers. The splashiest and so-far most successful of them are based on the apocalyptic Book of Revelation. The New Yorker 09/10/01

COURT UPHOLDS EBAY ON COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT: A federal judge has ruled that the Internet auction company eBay "was not liable for copyright infringement because bootleg copies of a Charles Manson documentary were sold using the site. The judge said it was the first case to test whether a Web site has a 'safe harbor' if people use the site to sell items that infringe on copyrights." Nando Times 09/06/01

Thursday September 6

OLD HABITS DIE HARD: From Birth of a Nation through Gone With the Wind, Hollywood was accused of fostering racial stereotypes. But hasn't the big West Coast Fantasy Factory learned its lesson? Not really. Minorities are still underrepresented in the movies, and "the lack of minority images in the movies is even more destructive than the stereotypes. When minorities do appear, critics say, they tend to be in the background, or cast as expendable sidekicks to white male star." NPR 09/06/01

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, TELL A STORY: There's good news and bad news about the increased capability and lowered costs of special effects in the movies. The good news is, small companies can now compete with the big ones. The bad news is, companies big and small are subordinating story to technical wizardry. "I think it's very important to have a message. Storytelling is not just 'this happened and this happened and this happened'." Wired 09/05/01

FASTER THAN A SPEEDING CENSOR, MORE POWERFUL THAN A CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE: To the list of those unseen factors which influence television programming, you now can add the insurance underwriter. Many of the "reality" shows put participants at risk - less than it seems, but risk nonetheless. And "one thing that is certain is the approval of insurance companies can be crucial to the decision behind whether or not to include a certain stunt in a show." ABC 09/05/01

Tuesday September 4

AUSSIE FILM BREAKS: The Australian government is promising $90 million in aid plus tax credits for investors of movies shot Down Under. "The announcement is intended to reassure the local industry, still reeling from last month's Tax Office ruling that outlawed tax-minimising investments in the hit films Moulin Rouge and The Matrix, among others." The Age (Melbourne) 09/04/01

MAD AS HELL AND CONTINUING TO TAKE IT: Has the entertainment industry become so dedicated to appealing to the lowest common denominator that it is dragging the nation's critics down into lowbrow hell? "I find myself constantly reading favorable reviews of lousy films. . . written by estimable critics who have been around a long time and who, 10 or 15 years ago, wouldn't have had any patience with any of these movies. But like everyone else, critics have been conditioned to give in and go along -- or be branded a 'drag' and left behind." Sacramento Bee 09/04/01

Monday September 3

THE MEANING OF (ELECTRONIC) ART: The Ars Electronica Festival is a "mecca for Internet artists, computer-music composers and others working in the digital realm." The Festival awards a prize for best electronic art. But what exactly qualifies as digital art? Software code? Music? Videos? It's a question even the artists are confused about. The New York Times 09/03/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Sunday September 2

TV, TV, AND MORE TV: This week Canada gets 47 new cable TV specialty channels. But the available audience is small, the cost is high, and many wonder how much consumers will be willing to spend on niche offerings. "The CRTC may have approved 283 digital licences, but no one knows exactly if or when they will make it to air." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 09/01/01

ART OF PUBLICITY: Some of the most powerful people in the film business are publicists - they manage stars and the press, trying to make the numbers (a polite way to say 'money') work out. And they'll go to any lengths... The Globe & Mail (Canada) 09/01/01