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No VR at Disneyland – “Don’t Even Think About It”

March 23rd, 2017

When it comes to fantasy, The Walt Disney Company wants the real thing, not VR.

As Paresh Dave notes in The Los Angeles Times today, “Walt Disney Co.’s chief executive [Robert Iger] has no interest in having theme park visitors strap on virtual reality headsets that block out their view and place them inside a digital world.

Smaller rivals, including Knott’s Berry Farm, SeaWorld and Six Flags, have turned to such virtual reality experiences as an affordable way to spice up rides, but Disney CEO Bob Iger said reality-destroying headsets would be ‘ersatz’ at his stable of parks. He’s ordered his team not to even think about it.

Iger, speaking at a USC event in Santa Monica on Thursday, instead talked up the possibility of launching high-tech augmented reality attractions . . . ‘What we create is an experience that is real,’ Iger said . . .

Theme park experts had already speculated that virtual reality headsets would be unlikely at Disneyland. ‘Theme park purists don’t like’ them, Martin Lewison, a business management professor at Farmingdale State College, said last year. ‘They’d much rather go on a $250-million ride at Disneyland than throw a mask strapped to a Samsung smartphone over my eyes.’”

An interesting development to say the least: just say no to VR headsets.

Chuck Berry – All Things Shall Pass Away

March 19th, 2017

One of America’s greatest songwriters and poets, Chuck Berry, has died at age 90.

Chuck Berry, one of the originators of Rock and Roll along with Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and other great R&B artists, has passed away at age 90, apparently as a result of natural causes. Through a long and turbulent life, Berry remained insanely prolific, and for many years criss-crossed the country doing a seemingly endless series of one night gigs with pickup bands at local clubs, after his peak commercial years passed in the early 1960s.

But though he went through many hard times, Berry was above all a survivor, and a poet, hardened by years on the road, someone who realized that he had to take care of himself first  - that no one else could be relied upon, and that, as he often reflected, “all things shall pass away” – that fame, fortune, and even difficult times are all transitory. Something new will happen every day which can change one’s fortunes, one’s life, one’s outlook.

In 1987, longtime fan Keith Richards arranged for Berry to celebrate his life and work on the occasion of his 60th birthday in the film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll (directed by Taylor Hackford), during which Berry, ever the perfectionist when it came to his work, proved uncompromising and even difficult during filming, insisting that everything had to be just right. The film is an amazing and surprisingly unvarnished look at the entire process of making music.

During the filming, Hackford captured Chuck Berry reciting the poem “All Things Shall Pass Away” by Theodore Tilton, as Robbie Robertson gently accompanies him on acoustic guitar. The poem had been taught to Berry by his father, and in this clip, which you can see by clicking here or on the image above, Berry recites the poem from memory, in a deeply moving performance. For someone who had seen so much change during his lifetime, so many people come and go in the rock & roll world, it certainly has a great deal of resonance.

Once in Persia reigned a king,
Who upon his signet ring
Graved a maxim true and wise,
Which, if held before his eyes,
Gave him counsel at a glance
Fit for every change and chance.
Solemn words, and these are they;
“Even this shall pass away.”

Trains of camels through the sand
Brought him gems from Samarcand;
Fleets of galleys through the seas
Brought him pearls to match with these;
But he counted not his gain
Treasures of the mine or main;
“What is wealth?” the king would say;
“Even this shall pass away.”

‘Mid the revels of his court,
At the zenith of his sport,
When the palms of all his guests
Burned with clapping at his jests,
He, amid his figs and wine,
Cried, “O loving friends of mine;
Pleasures come, but do not stay;
‘Even this shall pass away.’”

Lady, fairest ever seen,
Was the bride he crowned the queen.
Pillowed on his marriage bed,
Softly to his soul he said:
“Though no bridegroom ever pressed
Fairer bossom to his breast,
Mortal flesh must come to clay –
Even this shall pass away.”

Fighting on a furious field,
Once a javelin pierced his shield;
Soldiers, with a loud lament,
Bore him bleeding to his tent.
Groaning from his tortured side,
“Pain is hard to bear,” he cried;
“But with patience, day by day,
Even this shall pass away.”

Towering in the public square,
Twenty cubits in the air,
Rose his statue, carved in stone.
Then the king, disguised, unknown,
Stood before his sculptured name,
Musing meekly: “What is fame?
Fame is but a slow decay;
Even this shall pass away.”

Struck with palsy, sore and old,
Waiting at the Gates of Gold,
Said he with his dying breath,
“Life is done, but what is Death?”
Then, in answer to the king,
Fell a sunbeam on his ring,
Showing by a heavenly ray,
“Even this shall pass away.”

–Theodore Tilton

It’s a great way to remember Chuck Berry – an American original, a true artist of rock & roll.

Dorothy Arzner Retrospective in Melbourne – Interview

March 16th, 2017

Recently, I was interviewed on the Dorothy Arzner Retrospective at the Melbourne Cinematheque.

Click here, or on the image above to hear the podcast, and as the site notes, “the Melbourne Cinémathèque hosts a season dedicated to the zesty, irreverent films of Dorothy Arzner, a pioneer female filmmaker whose career spanned the silent era into the 1940s.

Wheeler Winston Dixon is a film critic who has written an essay accompanying the season for the Senses of Cinema online journal on her 1932 film, Merrily We Go to Hell. He places Arzner in the pantheon of early women whose role as pioneers is still under appreciated.”

The interview was conducted by Jason Di Rosso, for his show The Final Cut, and he did a superb job with the editing – cutting in sound bites from several of Arzner’s films to really drive the point home – and the entire event was a distinct pleasure – with a sound link via telephone to Melbourne that was as clear as a bell.

I’m thrilled that Arzner is finally getting some measure of the international respect she so clearly deserves; my thanks to Jason, to Senses of Cinema, and of course, hats off to the Melbourne Cinematheque for making the retrospective an event not to be missed. Now, how about a box set of her work on DVD?

Here’s a chance to see a classic film on the big screen, the way it was meant to be shown.

This Remake Is Generating A Lot of Buzz!

March 15th, 2017

Herbert Marshall and Vincent Price in the 1958 version of The Fly – click here to see the trailer.

As Dave McNary reports in Variety, “Fox is developing a remake of the iconic horror movie The Fly, and is in negotiations with Sleight writer-director J.D. Dillard. Should the deal go through, Dillard would direct the remake from a script that would be co-written with his writing partner Alex Theurer. Blumhouse and WWE bought rights to Sleight at last year’s Sundance Film Festival following its premiere.

The original 1958 movie The Fly, starring David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, and Herbert Marshall, centered on a scientist who mutates into a human insect after a fly flies into his transportation machine. Directed by Kurt Neumann, The Fly was based on a George Langelaan short story.

David Cronenberg remade The Fly in 1986 with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis with Goldblum’s character slowly mutating into a giant insect. It became the top grosser of Cronenberg’s career with more than $60 million at the box office and won an Academy Award for best makeup.”

The Fly is one property that Fox keeps rebooting at regular intervals; not mentioned here is the fact that the 1958 version had two immediate sequels, Return of the Fly and Curse of the Fly. While some people are objecting to a remake of the original film – and remembering that the Cronenberg version was really a riff on the 1958 version – the time might be right for a complete reboot of the franchise, which with the proper treatment could be a compelling film.

This should be interesting; let’s see what happens.

Leslie Reed on The New Book Series “Quick Takes”

March 13th, 2017

Our new Quick Takes series is taking off!

As Leslie Reed writes of our new book series in UNL Today, “ Quick Takes, a new series of short books on popular culture topics edited by University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and Wheeler Winston Dixon, launches March 17 with the publication of Disney Culture by John Wills and Zombie Cinema by Ian Olney. Foster and Dixon . . .will oversee at least 12 books in the series, to be published by Rutgers University Press over the next three years.

‘Gwendolyn and I think about interesting topics that people might want to know about, and then we find the top experts in the field to write about it,’ Dixon said. ‘It’s a bleeding-edge, major book series on pop culture.’

The Quick Takes books have been in the works for about two years. Loosely patterned after the British Film Institute’s Film Classics series, the Quick Takes books will range from 30,000 to 40,000 words, making them pocket-sized and readable in one sitting. Paperbacks and E-books will cost $17.95; cloth copies are priced at $65.

‘They’re free of jargon, direct and accessible,’ Dixon said. ‘We’re aiming at college kids, pop culture fiends and the general public.’ ‘These are topics that are really important in the 21st century,’ Foster said. ‘The series is designed to introduce them to the widest possible audience.’

The first two books have been well received by critics. In Disney Culture, Wills, director of American Studies at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, explores how Disney grew from a small animation studio to a global media giant. Critic Blair Davis describes Disney Culture as a ‘well written and thoroughly engaging overview’ of the Disney Empire.

Olney is an associate professor of English at York College of Pennsylvania, who received his doctoral degree in English and Film Studies from Nebraska. In Zombie Cinema, he explores why the genre has captured the imagination of 21st century audiences. Critic Stephen Prince said Zombie Cinema is a ‘zesty tour through an amazingly prolific and popular contemporary film cycle.’

Future volumes will feature rock-and-roll movies, action movies and comic-book movies, among other topics. Digital Music Videos by Steven Shaviro of Wayne State University in Detroit, and New African Cinema by Valérie K. Orlando of the University of Maryland are due to be released in April. The book series will be showcased at the Society for Cinema & Media Studies March 22-26 in Chicago.”

Thanks, Leslie, for an excellent overview of the series, which promises to be quite exciting.

Cutting The Cord – or Not?

March 13th, 2017

Christopher Elliott just interviewed me for his syndicated column on “cutting the cord” on cable television.

While Elliott doesn’t recommend cutting the cord on cable for everyone, I’ve found it a very useful way to reduce stress, and increase personal time by simpy doing away with television altogether. As Elliott wrote, “when Wheeler Winston Dixon’s cable bills rose to more than $100 a month, thanks to bundling, he looked around and found no other viable cable options.

‘There was no alternative, other than satellite, and all they offered was an introductory offer that would reset to roughly the same rate after a few months,’ says Dixon, a college professor in Lincoln, Nebraska. Finally, he decided to cut the cord. ‘We listen to more music, read more books, take more walks, and have a much happier life,’ he says. When he wants to watch TV, he streams video from Amazon Prime, Vimeo, YouTube and other alternative sources. Problem solved!”

Read the rest of Elliott’s column by clicking here – personally, I’d recommend it!

Sweet and Lowdown: Woody Allen’s Cinema of Regret

March 5th, 2017

Lloyd Michaels has an excellent new book out on the cinema of Woody Allen.

As the publisher, Wallflower Press / Columbia UP note on their website, “Over a career that has spanned more than six decades, Woody Allen has explored the emotion of regret as a response to the existentialist dilemma of not being someone else.

Tracing this recurrent theme from his stand-up comedy routines and apprentice work through classics like Annie Hall, Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Bullets Over Broadway as well as less esteemed accomplishments (Another Woman, Sweet and Lowdown, Cassandra’s Dream), this volume argues that it is ultimately the shallowness of his protagonists’ regret—their lack of deeply felt, sustained remorse—that defines Allen’s pervasive view of human experience.

Drawing on insights from philosophy, theology, psychology, and literature, the book discusses nearly every Woody Allen film, with extended analyses of the relationship films (including Alice and Husbands and Wives), the murder tetralogy (including Match Point and Irrational Man), the self-reflexive films (including Stardust Memories and Deconstructing Harry), and the movies about nostalgia (including Radio Days and Midnight in Paris).

The book concludes by considering Allen’s most affirmative resolution of regret (Broadway Danny Rose) and speculating about the relevance of this through-line for understanding Allen’s personal life and prospects as an octogenarian auteur.”

Lloyd Michaels edited the journal Film Criticism from 1977 through 2015 and has published four previous books on cinema, and this is one of his most ambitious and transcendent works – absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in American cinema, and the fate of the individual talent in contemporary Hollywood. It’s also nice to see that the book is named after Sweet and Lowdown – one of my favorite Woody Allen films, and arguably Sean Penn’s finest performance.

Available now from your local bookseller; a book not to be missed.

Is The Universe Is A Hologram, & Are We Just Illusions?

March 2nd, 2017

According to a new scientific study, maybe our entire existence is just a sort of 3-D movie.

As noted on the website Wall Street Pit, “a group of astrophysicists have found evidence that suggests a holographic universe is just as feasible as conventional theories about the origin of the universe.

As reported by Phys Org, a collaborative study involving researches from Canada, Italy and the UK may have provided the first detectable evidence indicating that our universe may in fact be a ‘vast and complex hologram’. It’s an idea that’s been around since the 1990s — that everything we see around us exists on a flat, 2D surface, but we see everything in 3D because the universe acts like one giant hologram.

To explain the concept better, the common analogy used is to imagine the holographic universe as if you were watching a 3D movie in a movie theater. As movie-watchers, we see images on the screen as having height, width, and depth, even if they’re being projected on a 2D screen. In the case of our universe, it’s a bit more complicated because we can’t just see things, we can touch things too, which makes our perceptions ‘real’.

A holographic universe is a concept that appeals to physicists because it can potentially reconcile inconsistencies between quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Because although Einstein’s theory can explain large-scale aspects of the universe, it breaks down at quantum levels. In other words, it can’t explain quantum mechanics. And that just won’t do when describing what the early universe was like.

According to the researchers, proof for their theory can be found in the Big Bang’s ‘afterglow’ or its cosmic wave background. Through telescopes, they were able to detect a huge amount of data hidden in the afterglow following the beginning of the universe. They then compared this data with data from quantum field theory.

What they found was that their equations appeared to reconcile irregularities between the Big Bang afterglow and quantum physics. And the only explanation for the universe working the way it does is that it must have been a hologram at that time, meaning, during the early stages when the universe was being formed, everything was being projected in 3D from 2D boundaries.

As University of Southampton Mathematical Sciences Professor Kostas Skenderis said: ‘The idea is similar to that of ordinary holograms where a three-dimensional image is encoded in a two-dimensional surface, such as in the hologram on a credit card. However, this time, the entire universe is encoded.’ [See his lecture on this subject here].

What exactly does the concept of a holographic universe mean for us? It might not have a direct impact that we can feel. But if it’s true, it will pave the way for the unification of two conflicting theories — general relativity and quantum mechanics. And that will in turn lead to a better understanding of how the universe began, and how time and space came about. Findings of the study have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters.”

An interesting concept, at the very least- click on the links above to learn more.

Reel Film Day – March 5th, 2017

March 1st, 2017

Support Reel Film Day – films screened the way they were meant to be seen.

As The Alamo Draft House theatre chain announces, “mark your calendars, cinephiles! 35mm film will be alive in all its glory on March 5th — or 3/5. A collaborative initiative from Alamo Drafthouse and Kodak, the first-ever Reel Film Day will champion the beauty of cinema’s richest and most enduring format with celebratory screenings at Alamo Drafthouse and independent theaters across the U.S.

‘There is nothing like experiencing actual 35mm projected film,’ said Steve Bellamy President of Kodak Motion Picture Film and Entertainment. ’I don’t care if it is the greatest 8K projector in the world, 35mm is a radically different thing and there is simply no comparison. Projected film is watching light blast through dozens of layers of color dye clouds and emulsion, 24 times per second.

A film projectionist is a master craftsman and seeing his or her work is akin to performance art. While the world has largely migrated to the utility of video projectors, there is a massive growth in consumers who understand the experience of film projection. This is why theatres projecting film are coming back so strongly and doing so well!’

As a true celebration of the wide-ranging scope of cinema, Reel Film Day programming will be deeply eclectic, featuring classics including Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil rubbing reels with cult favorites like W. D. Richter’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

At press time over 25 screenings are taking place, and it is expected that ultimately hundreds of theaters across the country will join in. No matter the location, the unifying factor is that all films will be presented large and lustrous from 35mm film.

‘Less than 5% of our film history exists in a high-definition digital format,’ says Alamo Drafthouse CEO and Founder Tim League. ‘If you really love film, then join us to recognize, celebrate and support film screenings in independent theaters everywhere. This scrappy group of fellow cinephiles is truly preserving film history. Support your local theater, support 35mm (and 70mm) film on 3/5, the first annual Reel Film Day.’”

‘Nuff said, as Stan Lee would say. Support Reel Film Day at a theater near you!

Moonlight Wins Oscar as Best Picture

February 27th, 2017

In a surprising but welcome upset, Moonlight wins Best Picture at the Oscars.

La La Land had been the favorite going in, and picked up six Academy Awards during the ceremony, but then, Warren Beatty, looking clearly confused, got the wrong card, and co-presenter Faye Dunaway incorrectly announced that La La Land had won the award for Best Picture at the 89th Annual Academy Awards.

But it hadn’t. The real winner was Barry Jenkins‘ groundbreaking indie film Moonlight, a fact that only emerged after several minutes of speeches from the La La Land team, but culminated with La La’s producer Jordan Horowitz graciously stepping forward to clear up the confusion, stating flatly “Moonlight, you guys won best picture. This is not a joke.”

As reported in The Washington Post, Horowitz continued, “‘Moonlight has won best picture.’ Confused gasps and stunned silence from the crowd quickly turned into a standing ovation. He held up the card that proved it: ‘Moonlight … Best Picture.’”

Host Jimmy Kimmel tried to smooth things over with a joke, but Horowitz graciously declared “I’m going to be really proud to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.” And thus a small “picture that could” took on the Hollywood establishment and won, proof that even in a hyper-commercial industry, a film with a message still has a chance in mainstream cinema.

Now, let’s see Moonlight rolled out nationally in a big re-release, with this emotionally charged moment to reach the widest audience possible, after providing Academy Awards viewers with a moment that will surely go down in the Oscar history books. If anything, this will be the one Oscar moment everyone talks about- which can only bring the picture more well-deserved attention.

Moonlight is the Best Picture of 2016 – it’s official.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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