Category Archives: Film

The art of craft, digital screens, and a surgical fail


Terry Gilliam, the only American in the Monty Python crew, is one of our favorite directors. As the creator of such films as Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Brazil, Time Bandits, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Gilliam offers a unique, visually complex, and often dystopian take on the existential crises of the age.

In his latest film, 2013’s The Zero Theorem, Gilliam filed a remarkable scene that captures perfectly our addiction to all those portable screens we carry, you know, the ones now proven to play a causal role in blindness due to macyular degeneration.

One scene from The Zero Theorem perfectly captures out digital addiction, and while we were unable to find a copy in English, language isn’t all that important. Just watch and you’ll see what we mean. And if you have to sprechen the Deutsch, so much the better:

But when it comes to adverse health impacts caused by our fixation on screens, their dampening effects on personal interactions and blindness may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Is our digital addiction literally handicapped surgeons?

Roger Kneebone is a trauma surgeon with eclectic interests. In addition to heading London’s Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science, he also runs the Royal College of Music–Imperial College Centre for Performance Science.

Kneebone has just raised a major ruckus with a shocking claim, one that hints of a looming healthcare crisis.

From The Times of London:

Trainee surgeons do not have the dexterity to sew up patients because they have spent too much time in front of screens, an expert has said.

Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College London, said schools should ensure that pupils received a rounded education, including artistic subjects that forced them to use their hands.

“It is a concern of mine and my scientific colleagues that whereas in the past you could make the assumption that students would leave school able to do certain practical things — cutting things out, making things — that is no longer the case,” he said.

More from BBC News:

“It is important and an increasingly urgent issue,” says Prof Kneebone, who warns medical students might have high academic grades but cannot cut or sew.

>snip<

Prof Kneebone says he has seen a decline in the manual dexterity of students over the past decade – which he says is a problem for surgeons, who need craftsmanship as well as academic knowledge.

>snip<

“A lot of things are reduced to swiping on a two-dimensional flat screen,” he says, which he argues takes away the experience of handling materials and developing physical skills.

Such skills might once have been gained at school or at home, whether in cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that’s broken, learning woodwork or holding an instrument. Students have become “less competent and less confident” in using their hands, he says.

“We have students who have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge,” says the professor.

And still more from Quartz:

We use smartphones so much, they have given way to terms like “text claw” or “cell phone elbow”—both popular names for cubital tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome—as well as “smartphone tendonitis.” That said, there is also evidence that smartphones and the requisite increase in thumb-and-finger use are making our brains work harder. That’s no help to surgeons who need the medical students lithe and supple.

While we await independent scientific verification of Kneebone’s assertion, we suspect he’s onto something.

And if he’s right, it may just be the tip of a much vaster iceberg.

Quote of the day: Charlie Chaplin v. Trump


Charlie Chaplin,  arguably one of the two greatest comedians of the silent film era [we rate Buster Keaton as #1], reached his apotheosis in a 1940 film, The Great Dictator, the first of his films shot entirely as a talkie.

Charles Silver, Curator of the Department of Film of the Museum of Modern Art, sums up the film’s importance:

The Great Dictator is the product of extraordinary synchronicity and an unprecedented convergence of historical and artistic forces. By this happy accident, we find the century’s most emblematic popular artist testing his gifts against the man who embodied the greatest threat to civilization, human freedom, and, in fact, art in recorded time. It is not an overstatement to refer to The Great Dictator, as David Robinson does, as “an epic incident in the history of mankind.” In its confrontation with the cosmos—and its deeply felt intent to alter the state of human affairs with a mere piece of art—the film stands alone on its very special pedestal of aspiration.

Chaplin plays two roles, one as Dictator of Tomania Adenoid Hynkel [note the initials], and the second as a nameless mustachioed Jewish barber rounded up for ethnic cleansing by the dictator.

The film pits the barber, his inamorata Hannah, and a renegade Tomanian pilot against Hynkel, his sidekicks Garbitsch [Goebbels] and Herring [Hermann Goering], and fellow tyrant Benzino Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria.

Captured in a roundup of Jews, the barber is dispatched to a concentration camp, while simultaneously Hynkel suffers amnesia from a boating accident and the barber dons Hynkel’s distinctive garb [replete with the insignia of  Double Cross, a comedic substitute for the swastika] to make good his escape, only to be mistaken for the Hynkel, who’s back in the camp and identified as the barber.

In the end, the barber, as Hynkel, finds himself taking to the microphone for the film’s concluding scene in which he delivers a passionate speech, an excerpt of which is our Quote of the Day:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

Here’s a video of the full speech:

And if you’ve not seen Chaplin’s classic, here’s the film in its entirety in HD:

The medium has a message, and it’s inequality


From Walter Benjamin to Marshall McLuhan, cultural critics have focused their attention on the impact of media as machines for the reproduction of cultural products.

It was Benjamin, that brilliant exemplar of Weimar Germany’s greatest thinkers, and a founder of the Frankfurt School, who in 1936 in his most famous essay made a seminal observation about the motion picture:

The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means of this apparatus, man can represent his environment.

Or, as McLuhan titled the first chapter of his most famous book, The Medium is the Message.

And that begin the case, what is the message of today’s film, the medium that introduced mass audiences to the moving image, a medium shaped by corporations in search of profits in an ever-more-complicated mediascape.

Two new studies from the University of California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reveal sobering new insights about the state of today’s American films, and their message is anything but inclusive, as reflected in two charts, the first from “Inequality in 1,100 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race/Ethnicity LGBT & Disability from 2007 to 2017,” and the second from “Critic’s Choice? Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Film Reviews Across 100 Top Films of 2017” [click on the images to enlarge]:

Examining the sad state of diversity on the silver screen

First up, the key findings from the report on diversity among those who make movies:

Annually, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative conducts the most comprehensive and intersectional
investigation into inequality in popular films. We catalogue every independent speaking or named character shown on screen for gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability as well as a series of contextual variables across an 11-year sample spanning 2007 to 2017. We also assess inclusion behind the camera, examining gender of directors, writers, producers, and composers and the race of directors. In total, 48,757 characters and 1,100 movies have been evaluated for this report.

Key Findings

Gender. A total of 4,454 speaking characters appeared across the 100 top films of 2017, with 68.2% male and 31.8% female. This translates into an on screen gender ratio of 2.15 males to every one female. The percentage of females on screen in 2017 was only 1.9 percentage points higher than the percentage in 2007.

Only 19 stories were gender balanced across the 100 top movies of 2017. A gender-balanced cast refers to a story that fills 45% to 54.9% of the speaking roles with girls/women. The percentage of gender-balanced movies was higher in 2017 than in 2016 and 2007.

Thirty-three films in 2017 depicted a female lead/co lead. The percentage of female leads in 2017 was nearly identical to 2016 [34%] and 2015 [32%] but represents a notable increase from 2007 [20%].

Only 4 movies were driven by a woman of color. All four of these women were from mixed racial/ethnic backgrounds. This number deviates little from 2016 [3] or 2015 [3]. Thirty movies featured a male 45 years of age or older at the time of theatrical release whereas only 5 films depicted a female in the same age bracket. Only one movie was led by a woman of color 45 years of age or older across the 100 top films of 2017.

Female characters [28.4%] were far more likely than male characters [7.5%] to be shown in tight or alluring apparel, and with some nudity [M=9.6%, F=25.4%]. Females 13-20 years old were just as likely as females 21-39 years old to appear in sexy attire or with some nudity.

A total of 1,584 individuals worked above the line as directors, writers, and producers. 81.7% were male and 18.2% were female. Of 109 directors, only 7.3% were female. Only 10.1% of writers were female and 18.2% of producers.

Only 4.3% of all directors across 1,100 movies were women, with 2008 the 11-year high mark during the sample time frame. Assessing the total number of unique female directors, a full 43 women have helmed one or more top-grossing films in 11 years.

Out of 111 composers across the 100 top movies of 2017, only 1 female worked. No more than two female composers have ever been employed per year during the 11 years studied. Only 1.3% of all composers across 1,100 movies were women.

A full 43% of all speaking characters on screen were girls/women in female-directed content [8 movies]. In comparison, only 30.9% of all on screen roles were filled with girls/women under male direction.

Race/Ethnicity. Of characters with an ascertainable race/ethnicity, 70.7% were white, 12.1% Black, 4.8% Asian, 6.2% Hispanic/Latino, 1.7% Middle Eastern, <1% American Indian/Alaskan Native, <1% Native Hawaiian, and 3.9% Mixed Race or Other. Overall, 29.3% of all speaking characters were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. In comparison to the U.S. population [38.7% underrepresented] and underrepresented movie ticket buyers [45%], film still lags behind.

Forty-three films were missing Black female characters, 64 did not include any Latinas, and 65 did not include one Asian female speaking character. In contrast, only 7 films were missing white females.

Underrepresented characters in movies from 2017 were least likely to be shown in action/adventure films [28.1%] compared to animated [34%] and comedy [35.6%] films.

Of the 109 directors in 2017, 5.5% were Black or African American. Only one of the Black or African American directors working last year was female. Of the 1,100 movies studied, only 5.2% have been helmed by a Black/African American director. Only 4 Black or AfricanAmerican women have worked in the top 100 movies in the years examined, representing less than 1% of all directors.

The percentage of Black characters in 2017 films increased by 41.8 percentage points when a Black director was behind the camera then when the film did not have a Black director. Of the speaking characters in movies from 2017 with a Black director, 18.5% were Black females, compared to just 2.5% of the speaking characters in movies without a Black director.

In 2017, 4 Asian directors helmed one of the 100 most popular movies—all of these individuals were male. This translates to 3.7% of the 109 directors working in 2017. A mere 3.1% of all directors were Asian or Asian American across 1,100 films and 11 years. Asian female directors are nearly invisible in the sample—of the three slots held by Asian women, two represent the work of Jennifer Yuh Nelson on the Kung Fu Panda films.

LGBT. A total of 4,403 characters were evaluated for apparent sexuality. Of those, 0.7% [n=31] were Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual. Over half of the LGB characters were Gay [51.6%], while 29% were Lesbian and 19.4% were Bisexual. In addition, there was not one transgender character who appeared across the 100 top movies of 2017.

There has been no change over time in the depiction of LGBT characters on screen since 2014. Out of 400 popular films from 2014 to 2017, only one transgender character has appeared.

A total of 81 films did not include one LGBT speaking character. Examining films missing LGBT females reveals that 94 movies were devoid of these characters.

Over half [58.1%] of LGB characters were male and 41.9% were female. LGB characters were
predominantly white [67.7%], while 32.3% were underrepresented. Only 8 characters of the 4,403 examined were LGB teens.

Continue reading

And now for something completely different. . .


Or is it?

Following up on our previous post about the removal of Confederate statues from New Orleans, here’s the story of another sculpture, a delightful animation that depicts a severe case of alt-reality, and the use of force to ensure its acceptance.

It’s very like the world Donald Trump sees himself inhabiting.

From the archives of the venerable National Film Board of Canada:

“E”


Program notes:

Under the guise of a pretty fairy tale, this animated short makes a strong political statement. Animated paper cut-outs enact a drama in which a dictator imposes his delusions on his unfortunate subjects. The humour is black and, despite the absence of dialogue, the message is crystal clear.

Directed by Francine Desbiens, Bretislav Pojar – 1981.

Radiation levels signal nuclear crisis at Fukushima


blog-china-syndrome

On 16 March 1979, Columbia Pictures released a new film starring three of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The China Syndrome told the tale of a nuclear reactor accident in California, threatening to trigger a meltdown of the reactor’s radioactive core that would cause it to melt through the containment vessel into the earth below, threatening a massive radiation release as the superheated uranium made contact with the groundwater below.

The movie’s release was perfectly timed, thought the studios didn’t know it.

On 28 March 1979, just 12 days later, a reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island plant suffered a partial meltdown, the nation’s first highly publicized reactor accident [although, as we have noted before, a potentially far worse disaster had happened in California twenty years earlier], sending ticket sales soaring.

And now, as new evidence of soaring radiation and a hole in one of the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi reactor complex [previously] is making The China Syndrome look more like prophecy that just a simple Hollywood blockbuster.

Soaring radiation surpass lethal levels by many times

We begin with this from the Guardian:

Radiation levels inside a damaged reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station are at their highest since the plant suffered a triple meltdown almost six years ago.

The facility’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said atmospheric readings as high as 530 sieverts an hour had been recorded inside the containment vessel of reactor No 2, one of three reactors that experienced a meltdown when the plant was crippled by a huge tsunami that struck the north-east coast of Japan in March 2011.

The extraordinary radiation readings highlight the scale of the task confronting thousands of workers, as pressure builds on Tepco to begin decommissioning the plant – a process that is expected to take about four decades.

The recent reading, described by some experts as “unimaginable”, is far higher than the previous record of 73 sieverts an hour in that part of the reactor.

A single dose of one sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea; 5 sieverts would kill half those exposed to it within a month, and a single dose of 10 sieverts would prove fatal within weeks.

Robot finds evidence the core escaped the reactor

And now for the China Syndrome angle.

There’s clear evidence the core melted through the containment vessel.

From the Japan Times:

Tepco also announced that, based on its analysis of images taken by a remote-controlled camera, that there is a 2-meter hole in the metal grating under the pressure vessel in the reactor’s primary containment vessel. It also thinks part of the grating is warped.

The hole could have been caused when the fuel escaped the pressure vessel after the mega-quake and massive tsunami triggered a station blackout that crippled the plant’s ability to cool the reactors.

The searing radiation level, described by some experts as “unimaginable,” far exceeds the previous high of 73 sieverts per hour at the reactor.

Tepco said it calculated the figure by analyzing the electronic noise in the camera images caused by the radiation. This estimation method has a margin of error of plus or minus 30 percent, it said.

An official of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences said medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation in their work.

Radiation so high it kills robots

The really scary part of the story from Japan Today:

The latest discovery spells difficulty in removing the fuel debris as part of decommissioning work at the plant. The government and TEPCO hope to locate the fuel and start removing it from a first reactor in 2021.

The debris is believed to have been created as nuclear fuel inside the reactor pressure vessel overheated and melted due to the loss of reactor cooling functions.

In the coming weeks, the plant operator plans to deploy a remote-controlled robot to check conditions inside the containment vessel, but the utility is likely to have to change its plan.

For one thing, it will have to reconsider the route the robot is to take to probe the interior because of the hole found on the grating.

Also, given the extraordinary level of radiation inside the containment vessel, the robot would only be able to operate for less than two hours before it is destroyed.

That is because the robot is designed to withstand exposure to a total of up to 1,000 sieverts of radiation. Based on the calculation of 73 sieverts per hour, the robot could have operated for more than 10 hours, but 530 sieverts per hour means the robot would be rendered inoperable in less than two hours.

And to conclude,. . .

Lest you be worried,, here’s a little cheering up in the form of an full page advertisement from Newsweek, published way back on 12 October 1964:

blog-news

Trumplandia ™ surrealism: She said/he said


Merle Streep, an actress who has received three Oscars, nine Golden Globes, and so many other honors for her acting prowess that it would be impossible to list them all in the modest space we have, won the Cecil B. DeMille Award [basically a lifetime achievement honor] at last night’s Golden Globes ceremony.

And she used the occasion to make a memorable speech, an indictment of President-elect Donald John Trump.

Here it is:


Needless to say, President Pussybrgrabber [already inaugurated to that position], did what he always does,

He tweeted his response this morning [and we’ve added a bonus tweet at the end]:

blog-trump-tweets
So is he lying?

Well, consider the reason Trump had to discredit New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski.

Back in November 2015, Trump said “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

But that was a lie. Police in New Jersey did disperse a few small rallies, none involving more than 20 to 30 people. Hardly the “thousands and thousands” Trump claimed.

Kovaleski, a reporter for the Washington Post back in 2001, wrote an article for that paper four days after the 9/11 attack, which included this paragraph:

In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.

What drew Trump’s ire was Kovaleski’s daring to question the “thousands and thousands” claim, and Trump claimed that Kovaleski has been forced to retract his original report — a lie.

Here’s a 25 November 2015 clip of the mocking which had drawn Streep’s outrage, via CNN:

Trump mocks reporter with disability

And here’s how the Washington Post reported on 2 August 2016 of Littlefingers’ denial that he mad mocked their former reporter:

Trump now suggests he was just imitating a grovel, but that’s not what he was actually doing.

Instead, Trump is clearly imitating Kovaleski’s disability — the reporter has arthrogryposis, which visibly limits the functioning of his joints. Trump claims he did not know Kovaleski, but the reporter closely covered Trump’s troubled business dealings while he was a reporter for the N.Y. Daily News between 1987 and 1993.

“Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Kovaleski told the Times in November. “I’ve interviewed him in his office,” he added. “I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at The Daily News.” In particular, Kovaleski covered the launch of the Trump Shuttle, spending the day with Trump in 1989 when the airline launched with typical Trump brashness. (Within a year, Trump had to unload the debt-burdened airline because of a cash crunch in his business interests.)

{Trump tweeted umbrage in response.] “All of a sudden, I get reports that I was imitating a reporter who was handicapped. I would never do that.”

Actually, he clearly did, protestations notwithstanding.

A poll and a personal aside

Clearly, Trump is furious, not for his own gross insensitivity, but for the fact that the news media reported on it.

And a week after the August denial, Bloomberg pollsters asked voters what bothered them most about Littlefingers:

More than six in 10 say they are bothered a lot that Trump mocked a reporter’s physical disability, the highest level of displeasure among the issues challenging Trump that were tested.

In the interest of fairness, we should note that we ourselves are afflicted with a malady that has deformed our hands and arms and afflicted joints in the hips and feet, rheumatoid arthritis.

You can judge the effects from this snap of our right hand, in which we tried to hold our fingers straight [they’re normal length; it’s just the best show we could get shooting left-handed]:

blog-hand

In decades of reporting since the malady’s symptoms had become evident, only a few interview subjects commented on it, invariably with sympathetic remarks.

And a parting thought

Say, doesn’t the Constitution require the President to be at least 35 years of age?

Judging by his words and actions, the President-elect can’t be more than 10.

Celebrities launch alternative inaugural festivities


They call it the Love-a-thon; we call it the anti-inaugural.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

For those who are, say, less than thrilled about the incoming president can now make some alternate Inauguration Day plans: A celeb-filled telethon will benefit a few of the GOP’s least-favorite things.

Set to take place on Jan. 20 at the same time as the presidential inauguration, the “Love-a-thon” (as it’s being billed) will raise money for Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Earthjustice, according to CNN.

So far, Jane Fonda, Jamie Lee Curtis, Judd Apatow and others will be taking part in the telethon of sorts and organizers are looking to raise at least $500,000 for the organizations, via crowdfunding company Crowdrise. Those donating money can choose the group their money will go to.

“It’s a really important opportunity to support causes like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Earthjustice, as they gear up to do [critical] work,” organizer Alex Godin told CNN.

The event will take place in New York City and CNN reported the programming will feature comedy skits, music acts and celebrity emcees.

Quote of the day: A filmmaker on Donald Trump


Errol Morris is perhaps the nation’s most prominent documentary filmmaker, and his remarkable films have exposed some of the darkest sides of the nation, ranging from police corruption to the astonishingly arrogant hubris of Donald Rumsfeld, as well as some of the nation’s most fascinating characters. He was also the creator of a famous documentary on British physicists Stephen Hawking, and a searing report on British tabloid journalism.

In 2002, he produced a short documentary for the opening minutes of that year’s Academy Awards presentation, interviewing famous folk about their favorite films.

One of those who appeared before his famous Interrotron was none other than Donald John Trump, describing his love of that Orson Welles classic, Citizen Kane: and the  famous image that dominated its ending:

In October, Anthony Audi interviewed Morris about Trump for a two-part series in Lit Hub [part one, part two].

And that brings us to our quote of the day, excerpted from the interview:

EM: Somehow he identifies clearly with Kane. Kane is Trump. And it’s not the kind of identification that I would make if I were Trump. Of course that issue—if I were Trump, what would I do, what would I think, what would I say?—it’s one of those counterfactuals I’m probably not equipped to address. But, if I were Donald Trump, I would not want to emphasize that connection with Kane. You know, a megalomaniac in love with power and crushing everything in his path. The inability to have friends, the inability to find love. The moral that Trump takes from Kane—I mean, it’s one of the great lines that I recorded. I ask, “Do you have any advice for Charles Foster Kane, sir?” You know, let’s get down to the psychiatric intervention. How can we help this poor man? He’s obviously troubled. How can we help him? Donald, help me out here!

And Donald says, “My advice to Charles Foster Kane is find another woman!” And you know, I thought, is that really the message that Welles was trying to convey? That Kane had made poor sexual choices, poor marriage choices?

>snip<

EM: You know, in Borges’ review of Citizen Kane, he cites Chesterton in “The Head of Caesar,” and it’s one of my very favorite quotes of all time. “There’s nothing more frightening than a labyrinth without a center.” An amazing phrase, which can mean so many things. He of course applies it to Kane. But it’s a world where there is no truth or falsity. For me, it’s a world of randomness, a world of chaos. A world of appearances with no substance. A world really, truly devoid of hope. And I find the review very powerful, actually truly meaningful, given when Citizen Kane first came out and what happened to the world. We forget how charged of a time that was. 1941.

AA: Are we in that kind of moment now?

EM: Like anybody that has half a mind, I feel that the republic is threatened, but this is a deeply internal threat. It’s not a threat from our enemies, from ISIS or ISIL or Al-Qaeda. You know, it’s an internal threat to what we stand for. (If we stand for anything, and I’m not so sure that we do anymore.) I often think about what I call fig leaf democracy. That we want to at least pay lip service to fairness, equality, even if it doesn’t exist, we want to pay lip service to it. We want to acknowledge that it’s a value that should be sought after, even if it can’t be attained. Equal opportunity, fairness, a level playing field for all. Even if it’s an illusory dream, we somehow think it’s part of our social compact, part of what defines us, that makes us who we are. That could also be some horrible self-deception or delusion.

I think the country is on the verge of becoming a disgrace. A disgrace to itself.

Maybe I sound severe, but to elect Trump is saying it’s okay to be self-deceived. It’s okay to say anything you want to say. It’s okay to sort of ignore reality and just make things up as you go along. It’s okay to be irrational, it’s okay to be any pernicious thing you want to be—racist, intolerant, duplicitous. Why not elect Diego as president? Or Richard III?

Carrie Fisher dies, and Disney profits


Every cloud must have a silver lining, goes the old saw, but for Disney, the lning to the cloud of Carrie Fisher’s death is pure platinum.

From the Independent:

Disney is expected to be awarded one of the largest insurance payouts in history after reports it took out a $41m policy on Carrie Fisher.

The company, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012, took out a policy with Lloyds of London to protect it from any losses if the actress was unable to fulfil her contract to appear in the new Star Wars trilogy, trade magazine Insurance Insider reported.

The 60-year-old, who renewed her role as Princess Leia – known as General Organa in the 2015 film The Force Awakens – died in hospital four days after suffering a heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

In her one-woman show Wishful Drinking, which we watched earlier tonight, Fisher mentioned that Disney owns all the rights to her image, and given that they already digitally recreated a younger Princess Leia for Rogue One, Disney doesn’t need her live performance before the camera for the final Star Wars film, so her death represents almost a pure windfall for the company that’s done most to ensure draconian intellectual property laws at home and abroad.

Headline of the day: They want to own you forever


It’s every employer’s dream.

Thanks to digital technology, Hollywood studios are able to resurrect the dead so they can keep toiling for their studio masters even after their corporeal incarnations have turned to dust.

From the London Daily Mail:

Actors rush to protect their image from ‘digital resurrection’ after they have died following eerie Star Wars: Rogue One reanimation of Carrie Fisher

  • Filmmakers are tapping advances in digital technology to resurrect characters after a performer dies, most notably in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Features return of Grand Moff Tarkin, first played by long-dead Peter Cushing
  •  The trend has sent Hollywood actors in the here-and-now scrambling to exert control over how their characters and images are portrayed in the hereafter

Fearful photographers call for camera encryption


While the security-conscious among us rely on encryption to protect our phones and computers, there’s another piece of hardware where matters just as much — the digital camera.

And for journalists, camera encryption can be a matter of life and death, both for the photographer and for her sources.

The increasing intrusiveness of state law enforcement and security makes encryption all the more necessary, and now some of the world’s leading photographers are calling on camera manufacturers to include sophisticated encryption in their hardware.

It’s a call we heartily endorse.

From Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation:

Freedom of the Press Foundation is publishing an open letter to the world’s leading camera manufacturers—including Nikon, Sony, Canon, Olympus, and Fuji—urging them to build encryption into their still photo and video cameras to help protect the filmmakers and photojournalists who use them.

The letter is signed by over 150 documentary filmmakers and photojournalists from around the world, including fifteen Academy Award nominees and winners, such as Laura Poitras, Alex Gibney, Joshua Oppenheimer, and many more.

Documentary filmmakers and photojournalists work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, often risking their lives to get footage of newsworthy events to the public. They face a variety of threats from border security guards, local police, intelligence agents, terrorists, and criminals when attempting to safely return their footage so that it can be edited and published. These threats are particularly heightened any time a bad actor can seize or steal their camera, and they are left unprotected by the lack of security features that would shield their footage from prying eyes.

The magnitude of this problem is hard to overstate: Filmmakers and photojournalists have their cameras and footage seized at a rate that is literally too high to count. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a leading organization that documents many such incidents, told us:

“Confiscating the cameras of photojournalists is a blatant attempt to silence and intimidate them, yet such attacks are so common that we could not realistically track all these incidents. The unfortunate truth is that photojournalists are regularly targeted and threatened as they seek to document and bear witness, but there is little they can do to protect their equipment and their photos.” (emphasis added)

Camera manufacturers are behind the times compared to other technology companies. All iPhones and many Android phones come with encryption built into their devices. Communications services like Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime, plus Facebook’s WhatsApp, encrypt texts messages and calls by default. And major operating systems on PCs and Macs give users the ability to encrypt the hard drives on their computers. Yet footage stored on the professional cameras most commonly used today are still left dangerously vulnerable.

Finding the right way to do provide encryption in their products will take some research and development from these camera manufacturers, and we welcome having a conversation with Nikon, Sony, Canon and others about how to best move forward on this important initiative. However, we are hopeful they will publicly respond with a commitment to building encryption into their products to protect many of their most vulnerable customers.

We’d like to thank Field of Vision, the International Documentary Association, National Press Photographers Assocation, and Sundance’s Documentary Films Program, who we partnered with on this project and who all helped organize this effort. The letter below is addressed to Canon, and nearly identical letters have been sent to Sony, Nikon, Fuji, and Olympus:


Dear Canon,

We, the undersigned documentary filmmakers and photojournalists, are writing to urge your company to build encryption features into your still photo and video camera products. These features, which are currently missing from all commercial cameras on the market, are needed to protect our safety and security, as well as that of our sources and subjects worldwide.

Without encryption capabilities, photographs and footage that we take can be examined and searched by the police, military, and border agents in countries where we operate and travel, and the consequences can be dire.

We work in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, often attempting to uncover wrongdoing in the interests of justice. On countless occasions, filmmakers and photojournalists have seen their footage seized by authoritarian governments or criminals all over the world. Because the contents of their cameras are not and cannot be encrypted, there is no way to protect any of the footage once it has been taken. This puts ourselves, our sources, and our work at risk.

Headline of the day: A Rocky road ahead


From the London Daily Mail:

EXCLUSIVE: Rocky goes to Washington! Trump taps Sylvester Stallone for top ‘arts’ role

  • President-elect Trump has approached the veteran actor for a top arts-related position in his administration, DailyMail.com has learned
  • The Rocky star, a long-time fan of The Donald, is said to be pumped over the job
  • The likely position would be Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that doles out funds to aspiring artists and creative projects
  • If Stallone is formally offered that job, his appointment will have to be approved by Congress
We have exclusive footage of his acceptance:

Star Wars: It’s just another day in Trumplandia™


From teleSUR English:

Neo-Nazi groups on the Internet are calling to boycott the premiere of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” as they feel offended about the themes of the upcoming film, calling it “nothing but a Jew masturbation fantasy of anti-White hate,” reports IB Times.

According to what these white-supremacists have poured into their comments on a forum on the discussion website Reddit, they are upset mostly because “nearly all of the major characters are non-whites and the main character is an empowered white female.”

A similar thing happened before the release of the franchise’s Episode VII “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 2015, when men’s “activists” called on boycott the film because it was starred by John Boyega and Daisy Ridley: a black actor and a woman.

The election of Donald Trump has underscored deep national divisions that have fueled incidents of racial hatred across the United States. There has also been a spike in the number of hate crimes after the vote, according to the FBI.

Poland’s highest court rejects Polanski extradition


We have written extensively about the gross miscarriage of justice in the decision of the Los Angeles Superior Court in its insistence that director Roman Polanski be extradited from Europe to face a longer prison sentence than he already served for his 1976 guilt plea in a statutory rape case.

There was no question of Polanski’s guilt. But there is also no question that Polanski served the sentence agreed to by prosecution and defense attorneys in his 1976 plea bargain, a deal approved by the Judge Laurence J. Rittenband.

Nor can there be any doubt that the judge reversed himself after the director served his time at Chino state prison.

Our previous posts and our appearance in the Marina Zenovich’s superb 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, make clear, the judge backed out after all conditions of the deal had been fulfilled, including that time behind bars,

And even though the judge is dead, the court still insists on Polanski’s return, where he would face the prospects. . .of what? A longer prison sentence than he already served?

There’s no question of Polanski’s responsibility for the actions he admitted, nor is there any question that his flight was a reasonable action, considering utterances by the judge to his country club pals.

A corrupt judge tries to save face

The judge was embarrassed by criticism he received after the deal was finished, and he violated the canons of judicial ethics in consulting at least one journalist [your truly], as well as an assortment of powerful folks at the Hillcrest Country Club, his home away from home.

But the judge’s unethical and probably illegal conduct seems not to bother a succession of elected Los Angeles District Attorneys, who figure they can snatch a few votes by exploiting a celebrity.

In their unrighteous zeal, the prosecutors have already forced Switzerland to place Polanski under house arrest for ten months six years ago, ending when the Swiss high court ruled that extradition “would be in breach of the Swiss ideals of truth and credibility.”

And now the Polish high court has made the same finding in yet another extradition request, upholding a lower court finding that because Polanski had already served the agreed sentence, there was a high probability that he wouldn’t be treated fairly if forcibly returned to Los Angeles.

More from BBC News:

Poland’s Supreme Court has rejected a request by the country’s justice minister to have film-maker Roman Polanski extradited to the US.

Oscar winner Polanski is wanted in the US over a decades-old case involving sex with a minor.

A Polish district court rejected a US extradition request last year.

But Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro revived the case in May, appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court ruling. He said he wanted to “avoid double standards” and that nobody should be above the law.

Polanski grew up in Poland and, although he now has homes in France and Switzerland, he visits his homeland often.

The case has led him to cancel plans to film in Poland.

The Los Angeles Times notes:

The new decision means that Polanski, who resides primarily in France and is a citizen of France and Poland, is free to travel to Poland without fear of being arrested and sent back to the U.S. Though the director was born in Paris, he grew up in Poland, where as a young boy he survived the Holocaust before going on to become an accomplished filmmaker.

Poland’s ruling also means that American officials have virtually exhausted their options in a four-decade attempt to bring the Polanski back to the U.S. In 2010, Switzerland declined the U.S.’s request to extradite Polanski after he was arrested in Zurich the year before on his way to a film festival. The director spent several months in prison and under house arrest.

>snip<

The L.A. district attorney’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Let us hope that this brings an end to case, an end desired by the woman at the center the case and anyone who values the rule of law over whim.

And now for something completely different. . .


For a moment of pre-holiday diversion, a short film from Ignas Meilunas:, and be sure to watch through the credits:

MR NIGHT HAS A DAY OFF

Program notes:

Why the night is changing the day? When you don’t like something, you change it.

A zero budget short story i was asked to do by “Nuits en Or 2016” festival. Done in 21 day in Summer 2016. Shot in Vilnius, Lithuania.

H/T to Metafilter.

Trump’s America and a 1946 educational film


Folks living in United States in the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century might find a bit of irony in this short educational film shown in American schools starting in 1946, the year of esnl’s birth.

Produced in the immediate aftermath of the bloodiest war in history, the Encyclopedia Britannica educational film was created at the start of the most prosperous era in U.S. history, when labor unions boomed, the economy flourished, and the public could learn about their world through a diverse media landscape peopled with intelligent, young, and moderately well-paid journalists.

The film was created with the assistant of one of the nation’s greatest political scientists, Harold D. Lasswell of Yale University, who contributions to his field included a noteworthy study of propaganda and its uses by totalitarian regimes.

Much has changed since the film’s release, as we’re certain you’ll agree, yet its conclusions offer a chilling insight into political, economic, and media environment that has given us President-elect Donald J. Trump:

Despotism [1946, Encyclopedia Britannica Films]

H.T to Boing Boing.

And now for something completely different. . .


And that would be another delightful animation from the National Film Board of Canada.

Today’s offering is a creation of artist Emmanuelle Loslier, who combines live action, origami, stop action animation, and a pun to create an imaginary world on a real Montreal street.

Inspector Street

Program notes:

This short animation begins with a newspaper, discarded on a public bench, whose headlines warn of unusual phenomena. A gust of wind animates the paper’s pages, conjuring strange and fantastical creatures: a bridge that becomes a caterpillar, a steeple turning into a bird, a dome transformed into an octopus. Elemental forces have been unleashed. Skilfully wielding paper cut-outs, origami, and a healthy dose of humour, filmmaker Emmanuelle Loslier plunges us into a fantastical world in which Montreal’s urban landscape has never been so alive.

And now for something completely different. . .


Really, really different. . . and featuring William S. Burroughs, Yoko Ono, Salvador Dali, Ayn Rand, James Joyce, Cthulhu, John F. Kennedy, and many, many more.

Yep, it’s another of those brilliant animations from the National Film Board of Canada, dramatically and delightfully depicting an everyday dilemma.

Click on that gear wheel to ramp it up to the highest resolution you screen will afford and click off that “Annotations” slider to get the full, mind-blowing impact:

Subconscious Password

Program notes:

In this short animation, Oscar-winning director Chris Landreth uses a common social gaffe—forgetting somebody’s name—as the starting point for a mind-bending romp through the unconscious.

Directed Chris Landreth – 2013|10 min

Film’s neglected, distorted portrayal of the aging


Following up on our previous post about inequality in the world of American film comes another study of bias on the silver screen, this time reflecting the neglected and distorted portrayal of folks of esnl’s own vintage.

Again, from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism:

New research reveals few characters aged 60 and over are represented in film, and that prominent senior characters face demeaning or ageist references. These negative and stereotypical media portrayals do not reflect how seniors see themselves – or their lifestyles. These findings stem from two studies conducted by health and well-being company Humana Inc. and the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg. The studies also reveal that aging Americans who are more optimistic report having better health.

Led by Professor Stacy L. Smith, USC Annenberg’s study analyzed the 100 top-grossing films from 2015 to assess the portrayal of characters aged 60 and over. Humana also conducted a quantitative analysis, asking seniors to identify the lifestyle traits that are important when aging, to assess the degree to which these traits describe them and to provide their point of view on senior representation in media. Major findings include:

In film, seniors are underrepresented, mischaracterized and demeaned by ageist language.

  • The findings show just 11 percent of characters evaluated were aged 60 and over; U.S. Census data shows that 18.5 percent of the population is aged 60 and over.
  • Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 featured ageist comments – that’s more than half of the films. Quotes included characters being referred to as “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.” According to Humana’s quantitative survey, seniors report they are highly aware (95 percent), resilient (91 percent) and physically active (71 percent).
  • Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older engaged with technology, whereas 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.
  • Of the senior characters that died on screen, 79.2 percent of deaths were a result of physical violence — such as being shot, stabbed or crushed. This does not accurately reflect causes of death for the aging population, which are heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

But that’s not real life and seniors know it – people aged 60 and over lead active social lives and value internal, psychological strengths.

Continue reading

Charts of the day: Hollywood’s distorted lenses


Today’s Charts of the Day contains lots of charts, and they reflect a concern we’ve long held about the media shaping out visions of life and its possibilities.

Simply put, films, as seen from both the screens we watch and from behind the lens are radically divergent from the worlds we live in.

blog-morleyFilm portrays not the world as it is, but a world designed to sell, both the products they display so lavishly on screen When esnl was a tad, brand name products didn’t appear prominently, or brands were replaced by pseudonyms, most recently aped by the Morley cigarettes consumed so abundantly by The X Files Smoking Man. Similarly, liquor brands in films before the days of product placement were always pseudonymous.

But no more.

And just as the ads designed to sell those well-placed product are peopled with the the young, the attractive, and the nubile heterosexual, so are the films in which they are placed, creating worlds with little placed for those who fail to meet the implicit standards governing the entertainments we crave.

Similarly, today’s films are also dominated behind the screen by a cast of characters bearing little resemblance to the diversity that is the world of Homo sapiens.

Just how divergent are those two worlds is the subject of today’s Charts of the Day.

From the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism:

Though the conversation on inequality in Hollywood is now at peak volume, a new report reveals that little has changed on screen or behind the camera.

Authored by Professor Stacy L. Smith and the Media, Diversity & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the study is the largest intersectional analysis of characters in motion picture content to date. The group examined the 800 top films from 2007 to 2015 (excluding 2011), analyzing 35,205 characters for gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status and – for the first time – the presence of disability. The results reveal that Hollywood remains impervious to change.

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Just 31.4% of all speaking characters across the 100 top films from 2015 were female, a figure that has not changed since 2007. While race/ethnicity has been a major focus of advocacy in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups were 26.3% of all characters. LGBT-identified characters represented less than 1% of all speaking characters. The report includes data on characters with disabilities, who filled a mere 2.4% of all speaking roles.

“The findings reveal that Hollywood is an epicenter of cultural inequality,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founding Director of the MDSC Initiative. “While the voices calling for change have escalated in number and volume, there is little evidence that this has transformed the movies that we see and the people hired to create them. Our reports demonstrate that the problems are pervasive and systemic.”

The research exposes the depth and breadth of exclusion. Of the top 100 films of 2015, 49 films included no speaking or named Asian or Asian-American characters and 17 featured no Black/African American characters. Similarly, 45 films did not include a character with a disability and 82 did not feature a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character.

One bright spot was an 11% increase in female lead or co-lead characters from 2014 to 2015. Even there, however, only 3 of the films featured a female lead or co-lead actor from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. Not one of the males or females in leading roles was Asian, echoing the concerns expressed by prominent Asian and Asian-American actors and others in that community.

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The report illuminates why these inequalities may exist by coupling new data on 2015 films with evidence from the group’s previous reports, reaching back to 2007. Behind the camera, female directors were just 4.1% of those hired on the 800 films evaluated. Women of color were almost absent from these ranks, with just 3 Black or African-American females and 1 Asian female in the director’s chair. Overall, directors from underrepresented racial groups fared poorly. Only 5.5% of the 886 directors examined were Black or African American and 2.8% were Asian or Asian American.

“Despite the advocacy surrounding female directors, film is a representational wasteland for women of color in this key role,” said Dr. Smith. “Advocates need to ensure that their work reflects the barriers facing all women, not just a select few.”

For the first time, the researchers present data on characters with disabilities. The few portrayals that exist—just 2.4% of all characters—are predominantly male, as just 19% of the characters with disabilities were female. There were also no LGBT characters depicted with a disability across the study sample.

“This is a new low for gender inequality,” said Dr. Smith. “The small number of portrayals of disability is concerning, as is the fact that they do not depict the diversity within this community.”

The report provides multiple solutions to addressing what Dr. Smith has previously referred to as the “inclusion crisis” facing Hollywood. These include simple strategies for reaching gender equality on screen within a short time frame—just three years. Other solutions invite prominent Hollywood figures to tackle the problem contractually and encourage institutions to set transparent inclusion goals for achieving change.

“Raised voices and calls for change are important, but so are practical and strategic solutions based on research,” said Dr. Katherine Pieper, one of the study’s co-authors. “The momentum created by activism needs to be matched with realistic tactics for creating change.”

The report is the latest from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative.

Key Findings

Gender. Out of 4,370 speaking or named characters evaluated, 68.6% were male and 31.4% were female across the 100 top-grossing films of 2015. This calculates into a gender ratio of 2.2 male characters to every one female character.  There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of girls and women on screen between 2007 and 2015.

Of the 100 top films of 2015, 32% depicted a female as the lead or co lead of the unfolding narrative. This is an 11% increase from last year. Five of these films portrayed female leads/co leads 45 years of age or older at the time of theatrical release in 2015. In stark contrast, 26 movies in 2015 featured leads or co leads with males 45 years of age or older.

Females were over three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown in sexually revealing clothing (30.2% vs. 7.7%) and with some nudity (29% vs. 9.5%). Girls/women (12%) were also more likely than boys/men (3.6%) to be referred to as physically attractive.

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Female teens (42.9%) and young adults (38.7%) were more likely than middle-aged females (24.7%) to be shown in sexualized attire. A similar pattern emerged for nudity (41.2%, 36.9%, and 24.4%, respectively). As age increased, females were less likely to be referenced as attractive.

Of the 1,365 directors, writers, and producers of the 100 top-grossing films of 2015, 81% were men and 19% were women. Of 107 directors, 92.5% were male and 7.5% were female. This translates into a gender ratio of 12.4 male directors to every one female director. Women fare slightly better as writers (11.8%) and producers (22%) but far worse as composers. Only 1 female composer but 113 male composers worked across the sample of 100 movies of 2015!

Across 800 films and 886 directors, only 4.1% were women. This translates into a gender ratio of 24 males to every 1 female. Only 3 Black and 1 Asian female directors worked on the 800 films examined. Even more problematic, only 1.4% of all composers were women from 2007 to 2015 (excluding 2011). This translates into a gender ratio of 72 male composers to every 1 female composer.

Race/Ethnicity. In 2015, 73.7% of characters were White, 12.2% Black, 5.3% Latino, 3.9% Asian, <1% Middle Eastern, <1% American Indian/Alaskan Native, <1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 3.6% Other or “mixed race.” Together, a total of 26.3% of all speaking characters were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. There was no change in the percentage of White, Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian or Other races/ethnicities from 2007 to 2015.

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Only 14 of the movies depicted an underrepresented lead or co lead. Nine of the leads/co leads were Black, one Latino, and four were mixed race. Not one lead or co lead was played by an Asian actor.

Only three female leads/co leads were played by female actors from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group, the exact same number in 2014. Just one of these actors was an underrepresented female 45 years of age or older.

A full 17% of films did not feature one Black or African American speaking or named character on screen.  This number is identical to what we found in 2013 and 2014. Even more problematic, Asian characters were missing across 49 films.

In 2015, only 4 of the 107 directors were Black or African American (3.7%) and 6 were Asian or Asian American (5.6%). Across 886 directors from 2007 to 2015 (excluding 2011), only 5.5% were Black and 2.8% were Asian.

LGBT.  Only 32 speaking or named characters were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender across the sample of 100 top films of 2015.  This is an increase of 13 portrayals from our 2014 report. Just one transgender character appeared sample-wide, as well as 19 gay men, 7 lesbians, and 5 bisexuals (3 males, 2 females).

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Not one lead or co lead was LGBT identified across the entire sample of 100 top films of 2015. 82 of the 100 top movies of 2015 did not depict one LGBT speaking or named character.

More racial/ethnic diversity was found across LGBT characters than sample wide. Just over 40% of LGBT characters were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.  One teenaged character was depicted as gay across the entire sample and only two lesbian parents were portrayed.

Characters with Disabilities. Only 2.4% of all speaking or named characters were shown with a disability. A full 45 of the movies failed to depict one speaking character with a disability. Most of the portrayals appeared in action adventure films (33.3%). Only 2% of all characters with disabilities were shown in animated movies.

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61% of the characters were featured with a physical disability, 37.1% with a mental or cognitive disability, and 18.1% with a communicative disability. These designations were based on U.S. Census language and domains.

Only 19% of characters with a disability were female and 81% were male. This is a new low for gender inequality in film. Not one LGBT character with a disability was portrayed across the 100 top films of 2015.

The report also highlights many other results on gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability in film as well as simple and straightforward solutions to Hollywood’s inclusion crisis.

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