Tagged: Film Industry

The Lousy Archive that is YouTube


I was a late adopter to YouTube. I never liked that it used only Flash to display its videos in its early days, making my over-clocked PowerBook get hot from watching a video. I also disliked the low default resolution of its videos. For years, the typical YouTube video had 360 lines of horizontal resolution, which was fine for watching on the web, but if you wanted to use it for close study, you were almost better off watching a VHS and certainly better off finding a DVD.

Over time, I began using it here and there for quickly locating films I hadn’t seen in years. For example, in my experimental film class, YouTube was useful for compiling a screening list. I could locate films I considered screening, and verify that they matched my memory of them. In this case, YouTube was a wonderful resource for teaching and research.

But today, YouTube reminded me how it can be a terrible resource for teaching and research. As a way to search for a specific video, it’s great. But treating it like an archive will disappoint you. It’s simply too impermanent to use as reliable teaching tool. Some videos are so evanescent—here yesterday, gone today— that they may as well have never have existed on the site.

On a WordPress site for my American Film Industry class, I posted separate entries for two films we referenced in the class. Each entry included a embedded video clip from YouTube. As I went to look for review those entries today, the two clips are gone.

The poster image for a clip from Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? on YouTube.

The poster image for a clip from Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? on YouTube.

The first entry included an embedded YouTube clip from a somewhat forgotten film, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957). The clip was of an “intermission” towards the end of the film, where the lead actor, Tony Randall, breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience. As US audiences of the 1950s abandoned the movie theater for the comfort of watching television at home, this forced intermission reminded audiences of the sacrifices television viewing demanded they make: a smaller picture, radio interference, vertical scroll, and snow. And of course, let’s not forget about the interruptions from advertisers, which are an object of satire in this film about advertising.

Although a poster image for the clip still appears on the blog entry, the embedded clip will not play. The error notice indicates that the clip was taken down because the “video contains content from Fox, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.” Fox does indeed own the rights to the film, as the film was released by 20th Century-Fox and will hold the copyright until the middle of this century. But the clip hosted on YouTube allowed me to use it in accordance with fair use doctrine. My use of the clip was for comment and criticism and constituted only a part of my blog post, albeit an important part. The short clip on YouTube and my associated blog post could even serve as promotion for a forgotten film that could be resuscitated. Depictions of the American mid-century advertising industry might have been exploited some years ago. Instead, the clip was taken down, and the film will remain in obscurity.

I posted the second entry, on Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, to demonstrate the influence of the French New Wave on Bonnie and Clyde. The clip demonstrated the use of jump cuts in the film. As any student of cinema knows, Breathless popularized the use of the jump cut, and it gave young filmmakers of the 1960s a feeling of “breaking the rules.”Arthur Penn used it extensively, most noticeably in the opening sequence of the film when Bonnie Parker is filled with ennui in her room and becomes excited when a stranger comes to her home.

When I went to review the blog post, the clip was gone. YouTube indicates that the “video is not available in your country.” It’s seriously disappointing that the clip is gone because it robs my students the opportunity to see the nine jump cuts in a thirty-five-second sequence. To demonstrate this, I either have to search for another YouTube clip that will be undoubtedly be blocked in the future or resort to circumventing the copy protection on a DVD to extract that clip.

American Film Industry, Fall 2013, Syllabus

Here’s yet another syllabus. This one is for American Film Industry at Queens College.

From the course description:

This course examines the economic history of the American film industry since 1912. We will also focus on the technological and cultural changes of the industry, and pay special attention to how film has responded to successes and challenges of the US film industry and the changes to its business practices.

This is the fourth iteration of this class I’ve done at Queens College, most recently in Fall 2011.

This is the class that almost didn’t happen. As late as last Wednesday, the class was "under-enrolled" at six students. I was told that it would probably have to be cancelled unless enrollments ticked up. Over the three-day weekend, as many as eleven students had enrolled. However, it wasn’t until Labor Day that I received a final confirmation that the class was a "go." That’s when I got to work on updating the 2011 syllabus, and in less than a day, I had this syllabus ready to go.

Jaws and the New Hollywood Industry

While scholars debate when the auteurist New Hollywood movement ended—it was either Apocalypse Now or Heaven’s Gate—Hollywood began to abandon the auteur centered film for the big blockbuster in the mid 1970s. No film represents that shift more than Jaws.

The film’s theatrical trailer sets the tone using the conventions of the horror film. The trailer also mentions the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, which was the basis for the feature film. It was also curious that the film was released during the summer months, which was rare for a high profile motion picture in the 1970s. The fact that the film was about a shark attacking beach-goers undoubtedly resonated with audiences looking forward to summer recreation.

Jaws is also the first major Hollywood film to use television advertising. You can see the television spot below.

The television spot is not only a full minute in length, but it also warns the audience that the film might be “too intense for children,” taking advantage of the eight year-old MPAA ratings. Television ads such as this one ran on national television for a three-day period on an all three broadcast networks, when there were only three channels to watch on television, and bombarded audiences with such advertising. This blockbuster marketing helped to “front-load” attendance in the first weeks of the film’s release.

When is Non-Diegetic Sound Actually Diegetic?

In my American Film Industry class, we voted on what film we would screen for our discussion of New Hollywood, or what I call “The American New Wave.” The class voted, among a list of six films, for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorcese, 1974).

Aside from talking about the cinematography in the film, I mentioned that the use of sound in the film is quite innovative, especially how the film blurred the boundary between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. You can see the mixing of the two in the clip below.

Alice’s cry functions as a sound bridge between her on the telephone and the scene of the accident. This is not something you saw in Classical Hollywood films, certainly not the back and forth between two spaces, but it was an innovative stylistic device in this film.

Cinematography for Emotional Distance

As I mentioned in class, the varied use of focal lengths is another technique that Scorcese manipulates, even in the same scenes. This is in addition to the heavy use of handheld camerawork, which itself was not widely used except in news and documentary filmmaking.

I mentioned that the scene with Alice and Tommy in the motel room in Phoenix contains shots with two very different focal lengths. One is a wide angle lens, which distorts the image to expand the distance between objects on the left and right of the frame. The other shot uses a telephoto lens, which distorts the image to compress the space between foreground and background objects.

Alice Doesn_t Live Here Anymore WIde Angle

The image above is the wide-angle shot, where Tommy on the left appears very distant from Alice on the right. This might have been used to visually represent the distance between the two of them as they fight.

Alice Doesn_t Live Here Anymore Telephoto

In the very same scene, there’s the telephoto shot. Here, they have (somewhat) reconciled as Alice reassures Tommy that she will find a job and that things will (somehow) be okay. The telephoto lens compresses the space between Tommy, Tommy’s reflection, and Alice’s reflection. The framing is of course also interesting as it uses a mirror to put Tommy and her in the same plane and within a common frame.

It’s a rough but touching moment between mother and son.

Influence of New Waves

As we transition from the classical model of Hollywood filmmaking, we should start to notice how filmmaking in the 1960s begins to change from the stylistic conventions of the Classical Hollywood Cinema.

One of the great influences was the European New Waves, especially the French New Wave. One technique that we begin to see in films from the late 1960s, especially Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) is the jump cut.

In the first minute of the clip below, you can see the jump cut in action.

A jump cut is any edit that takes place where the angle of framing is not changed by at least 30 °. I’ve identified several jump cuts in the clip, occurring at the following timecode.

  • 0:04
  • 0:13
  • 0:18
  • 0:24
  • 0:25
  • 0:27
  • 0:29
  • 0:30
  • 0:32

Do you see any other jump cuts? What effect do they have in this short clip?

Hollywood vs. Television in “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?”

One of the reasons I like the film Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is the self-referential nature of the film. Here, the film literally stops the story and breaks into a “commercial break” so that the television viewers won’t be too alienated.

Clearly, this was added to the film version that was not in the stage version. It works to poke fun at the new media of television. It literally represents the philosophy behind making the movies an entirely different experience than television and to win back the audience.

It didn’t work.

Air Talk Surveys the Economics of the Film Industry

As I drove on my recent trip to LA, I heard a segment on the uncertain financial future of the film industry, on KPCC‘s Air Talk. The segment was a very timely assessment of how the Internet and the changing tastes of moviegoers have put film industry in a bit of a crisis mode.

For students in my film industry class this semester, listening to this program should orient them to the issues facing the film industry at this very moment. But by the time we cover Hollywood’s second century in December, some of the crisis may have waned with the big Christmastime boom in attendance.

In either case, the program serves as a good snapshot of the film industry. Some of the issues include:

  • decline revenue from DVD sales and rentals
  • studios “tightening their belts” for “big” budget filmmakers and films
  • consumers and distributors looking to the Internet, albeit for different reasons
  • movie quality and whether audiences will come to bad movies anymore

Have a listen to these reporters and pundits outlining these challenges.