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Archive for January, 2012

Little Red Riding Rabbit

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

In the middle of Winter, we could all use a laugh.

Click on the image above to view Little Red Riding Rabbit, a 1944 Bugs Bunny / Warner Bros. cartoon, which riffs on the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood in an engaging manner, especially in its depiction of Red herself, who is presented as a teenage “bobby boxerwith, as Wikipedia notes, “an extremely loud and grating voice.”

In this version of the story, Red is bringing a basket containing Bugs Bunny to her grandmother’s house. Naturally, a wolf is tailing Red, and hotfoots it to Grandma’s house, using a shortcut. Grandma is conveniently out of the house, working the night shift at a defense plant, so the wolf jumps into her bed in disguise. When Red arrives and delivers the basket, the wolf unceremoniously kicks Red out the door, and tries to catch Bugs, but the rabbit continually eludes the wolf for the rest of the cartoon.

But Red refuses to give up on her role in the cartoon, and repeatedly barges back into the house to declaim, in somewhat dimwitted fashion, her dialogue from the original story,  screeching “Uh, HEY GRANDMA! WHAT BIG TEETH YA GOT!” and “Uh, HEY GRANDMA! THAT’S AN AWFULLY BIG NOSE FOR YOU — TO HAVE!,” as both Bugs and the Wolf grow more and more annoyed. I’ll leave it to you to enjoy the surprise ending of the cartoon, just one of the many classic Merrie Melodies churned out by Warner Bros. during the height of the studio era.

Red is voiced by Bea Benaderet, by the way; the wolf by the gruff-voiced Billy Bletcher, while Bugs is handled by the multi-talented Mel Blanc, who gets a voice credit here for the first time in the series. Isadore “Friz” Freleng directed from a script by Michael Maltese; animation was handled by Manuel Perez, Gerry Chiniquy, Virgil Ross and Richard Bickenbach. They don’t make them like this anymore; pop culture with a distinct World War II flavor. Enjoy.

New Book — Death of the Moguls

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Here’s the cover of my latest book, Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood, from Rutgers University Press, published Fall, 2012.

“In this accessible and engaging history of the moguls who made the studios successful through sheer force of personality, Dixon does a terrific job of getting inside the heads of the bosses who built their studios into major entertainment factories.” —Barry Keith Grant, Brock University

Death of the Moguls is a detailed assessment of the last days of the “rulers of film.” Wheeler Winston Dixon examines the careers of such moguls as  Harry Cohn at Columbia, Louis B. Mayer at MGM, Jack L. Warner at Warner Brothers, Adolph Zukor at Paramount, and Herbert J. Yates at Republic in the dying days of their once-mighty empires. He asserts that the sheer force of personality and business acumen displayed by these moguls made the studios successful; their deaths or departures hastened the studios’ collapse. Almost none had a plan for leadership succession; they simply couldn’t imagine a world in which they didn’t reign supreme.

Covering 20th Century-Fox, Selznick International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, Paramount Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, Republic Pictures, Monogram Pictures and Columbia Pictures, Dixon briefly introduces the studios and their respective bosses in the late 1940s, just before the collapse, then chronicles the last productions from the studios and their eventual demise in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

He details such game-changing factors as the de Havilland decision, which made actors free agents; the Consent Decree, which forced the studios to get rid of their theaters; how the moguls dealt with their collapsing empires in the television era; and the end of the conventional studio assembly line, where producers had rosters of directors, writers, and actors under their command.

Complemented by rare, behind-the-scenes stills, Death of the Moguls is a compelling narrative on the end of the studio system at each of the Hollywood majors as television, the de Havilland decision, and the Consent Decree forced studios to slash payrolls, make the shift to color, 3D, and CinemaScope in desperate last-ditch efforts to save their kingdoms. The aftermath for some was the final switch to television production and, in some cases, the distribution of independent film.”

WHEELER WINSTON DIXON is the James Ryan Endowed Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His many books include 21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (co-authored by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster), A History of Horror, and Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia (all Rutgers University Press).

Paperback: 978-0-8135-5377-1

Cloth: 978-0-8135-5376-4

E-book: 978-0-8135-5378-8

The Strange Case of Angelica by Manoel de Oliveira

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer for this magical film.

At 103, when most of us are either retired or departed, Manoel de Oliveira is stronger than ever as a filmmaker. He made this gorgeous film, The Strange Case of Angelica, in 2010, at the age of 101. Here’s the trailer; this is a gorgeous, deeply felt film, with more than a touch of Oliveira’s usual humor.

A young photographer, Isaac (Ricardo Trêpa) is summoned to the home of a rich landowner, to photograph his daughter, Angelica (Pilar López de Ayala) who has just died, shortly after being married, and is lying in state with a serene smile on her face. To Isaac’s shock, when he looks through the viewfinder of his camera, Angelica seems to return to life, and smile at him warmly, though no one else in the room sees this. When he returns to his small room in a boarding house where he lives, Isaac develops the photos, and once again sees Angelica seemingly beckoning to him from the beyond.

What happens next is a sublime mystery, which I won’t reveal here, other than to echo the words of Jim Hoberman, Manohla Dargis, and numerous other critics; the film is a masterpiece, one of the most deeply felt films of recent memory, and a splendid antidote to the junk being churned out by the major studios.

The DVD of The Strange Case of Angelica also contains Manoel de Oliveira’s first film, Douro, Faina Fluvial (Labor on the Douro River, 1931); a documentary on Oliveira’s work by by Paulo Rocha; and an interview with Oliveira shot during the production of the film, entitled Absoluto, in which Oliveira contemplates the moral bankruptcy of modern cinema, rattles off a list of his favorite directors (including Godard, Bresson, Kiarostami, Welles, Ford, and numerous others), and deplores the “brain washing” that is currently taking place with the “forced consensus” of mass media.

All in all, The Strange Case of Angelica is a gorgeous film, which you absolutely should not miss if you have any love for the cinema at all; available in DVD or Blu-ray; take your pick. Oliveira has the distinction of being the oldest continually active filmmaker in the history of the cinema; he is also, thankfully, one of the greatest, whose work, amazingly, only improves with age. The Strange Case of Angelica is a romantic, thoughtful, absolutely transcendent work — please see it without delay.

The charm of The Strange Case of Angelica lies in the way it balances this mysticism with a thoroughly secular sense of the business of everyday life. Not that any of the nonsupernatural occurrences that surround Isaac — the Greek-chorus chitchat among his landlady and her friends; the steady work in the fields and olive groves; the rise and fall of empires and economies — are exactly banal. The world as seen through Mr. Oliveira’s lens is as fresh as if it had just been discovered and as thick with secrets as if it had always existed.

Of course, both things are more or less true, and Oliveira’s film has the added virtue of feeling entirely original even as it evokes a number of rich literary and cinematic traditions. As a ghost story, it owes more to Henry James’ psychological curiosity than to Edgar Allan Poe’s sensationalism, but it is also indebted to the various kinds of realism that flourished, in film and in novels, in the early and middle decades of the last century. Finally, though, it exhausts comparison, even to other films by this director, who has both done everything and is just getting started.” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times 12/28/2010

A Modest Proposal: Apple Should Buy Hollywood

Friday, January 27th, 2012

As Erick Schonfeld notes in TechCrunch, instead of constantly dealing with Hollywood for programming content, why doesn’t Apple just buy the studios, and take control of the entire process from top to bottom?

We’ve already had one example of this, when NBC bought Universal rather than pay the licensing fees for the Law and Order franchise; this is the next logical, if somewhat dispiriting, step in the process — and, of course, majority control of NBC/Universal was subsequently acquired by Comcast. And Apple certainly has pockets deep enough to do this: they have $96.7 billion in cash just lying around, piling up interest, waiting to be put to use.

As Schonfeld writes, “Apple wants to bring Hollywood into people’s homes in an entirely new way. Hence all the chatter lately of a real Apple TV in the works. However, before TVs can become more than a hobby for Apple, there is a major roadblock it must get past. The reluctance of Hollywood to license its best movies and TV shows at the price Apple wants to pay.

In that light, all the cash Apple has been hoarding and building up for years now becomes more intriguing. Its staggering piles of money now total $97.6 billion, to be precise. What are they going to do with all that cash?

One thing they could do is buy their way into Hollywood. Think about it for a second. Today, Apple could literally buy Time Warner ($38 billion market cap), Viacom ($29 billion), and Dreamworks ($1.6 billion) combined, and still have $30 billion left over. If it waits a few more quarters it could snap up News Corp ($49 billion) as well. Only Disney, which is worth $70 billion, would take a while longer to save up for.”

Well, this could certainly happen, but I shudder to think of the consequences if it does. Certainly, the conglomerization of the studios in the 21st century as mere ancillary arms to tech giants is nothing new, as Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and I documented in our new book, 21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation, and the studios long ago ceased to be independent entities, run by creative despots who viewed the cinema as both a business and an art form.

The studios today are run by disinterested business people, make programming to order, prefer pre-sold projects to original ideas, and keep an eye relentlessly on the bottom line. The days when the legendary head of production Irving G. Thalberg of MGM could suggest that certain films should be done simply for art’s sake, as loss leaders for more commercial projects, are long gone.

A world in which only mainstream, multiplex movies exist would be death of individual thought, and the ultimate, hegemonic triumph of Adolph Zukor’s grand dream of vertical integration, where everything from production, to distribution, and exhibition, is controlled by a single entity, as Tim Wu details so trenchantly in his brilliant book The Master Switch.

But it seems the logical step for Apple. With that much money to fool around with, why not? From a business point of view, of course. As for a creative enterprise, well, that’s going to be left for the DIYers at the margin, as it always has been, and always will be — the people who effect real change, and create new work in the face of corporate control.

You can read Erick Schonfeld’s entire essay by clicking here, or on the image at the top of this page.

Digital Storage vs. Film Storage – Which is Cheaper? Which is More Stable?

Friday, January 27th, 2012

You can read Michael Cieply’s thought provoking article by clicking here.

As reported by Michael Cieply in The New York Times a while back, films that are “born digitally” — that are digitally produced, edited, distributed and projected — are never really fixed in any solid state medium. They’re just pixels and electrons that have to be moved from one platform to the next.

As Cieply wrote in 2007, “Time was, a movie studio could pack up a picture and all of its assorted bloopers, alternate takes and other odds and ends as soon as the production staff was done with them, and ship them off to the salt mine. Literally.

Having figured out that really big money comes from reselling old films — on broadcast television, then cable, videocassettes, DVDs, and so on — companies like Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures for decades have been tucking their 35-millimeter film masters and associated source material into archives, some of which are housed in a Kansas salt mine, or in limestone mines in Kansas and Pennsylvania.

It was a file-and-forget system that didn’t cost much, and made up for the self-destructive sins of an industry that discarded its earliest works or allowed films on old flammable stock to degrade. (Indeed, only half of the feature films shot before 1950 survive.)

But then came digital. And suddenly the film industry is wrestling again with the possibility that its most precious assets, the pictures, aren’t as durable as they used to be.

The problem became public, but just barely, last month, when the science and technology council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the results of a yearlong study of digital archiving in the movie business. Titled The Digital Dilemma, the council’s report [offered this] startling bottom line: To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master.

Much worse, to keep the enormous swarm of data produced when a picture is ‘born digital’ — that is, produced using all-electronic processes, rather than relying wholly or partially on film — pushes the cost of preservation to $208,569 a year, vastly higher than the $486 it costs to toss the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs and annotated scripts of an all-film production into the cold-storage vault.”

That was in 2007. Now, in 2012, just five years later, everything is digital. But the problem remains the same. There are more movies being made than ever, but they’re not being shot on film — they’re digital. How are you going to archive them? What do you do when a digital platform is phased out, as DVDs now seem to be heading for their final spin?

The most practical solution might well be to simply make a fine grain photographic negative of all the film’s original materials and bury in it in vaults — cheap, easy, and reliable. Some preservationists suggest that film buried deep in cold storage vaults can last for hundreds of years without a problem.

Can you say the same for a digital production?

Five Directors: “How Do You Know If You’re Any Good?”

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Here’s a great little clip from the Los Angeles Times‘ Envelope Directors Roundtable series, in which five directors discuss how they evaluate their work on a daily basis, and also what they think of criticism of their work, as moderated by Oliver Gettell.

The directors are Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), George Clooney (The Ides of March) and Stephen Daldry (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close).

Daldry seemingly doesn’t even know how to approach the question; Clooney talks about the difference between being an actor, and being a director, and observes that of reviews, if you get fifty positive notices and one negative one, you’re going to forget all about the praise and focus only on the lone dissenter; Alexander Payne says that he lives with perpetual bi-polarism (“Some days I am Orson Welles. Other days I am the worst loser, impostor, know-nothing, wannabe filmmaker in the world. I believe both with equal conviction”); Hazanavicius thinks that you really can’t judge your work objectively on the set, because who knows what it’s going to look like “four months later in an editing room”; and Scorsese views the whole thing with a certain air of Olympian detachment, observing that “If you read the good [reviews], you might believe those, and if you read the bad ones, you certainly believe those. At a certain point, you’ve got to work.”

You can see the whole clip from the interview– it’s only about 4 minutes long — by clicking here, or on the image above.

Hammer Studios Restores Its Classic Films

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Bray Studios, for many years the home of Hammer Films.

Click on the image above to go to Hammer’s official website.

Hammer Films, arguably the most important studio in the history of Gothic horror films, and home to directors Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, Val Guest and many others, has begun an ambitious plan to bring their many of the classic films in their archive into the Blu-ray era, working in conjunction with Studiocanal and others. As Nancy Tartaglione-Moore reports, “legendary horror studio Hammer has announced a global restoration project for its library of films. In partnership with Studiocanal, Pinewood and other international players, more than 30 films will be revamped in HD for Blu-ray and other new media supports. Hammer’s original U.S. production partners, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount, are also participating in the project. The first title to be released is Dracula Prince Of Darkness, which will go out in March in the UK. The studio was founded in 1934 and went on to make such titles as The Plague Of The Zombies, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Witches and The Mummy. Since 2008, it’s been a division of the Exclusive Media Group. After ceasing production in the 1980s, Hammer returned to features in 2010 with Matt Reeves’ adaptation of Swedish hit Let Me In. This year, it will release Daniel Radcliffe-starrer The Woman In Black.”

Excellent news! You can read the entire story by clicking right here.

Frank Borzage’s “Green Light” (1937)

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer from Green Light.

I’m not usually much of an enthusiast for “inspirational” films, which often seem forced and insincere, but for as long as I can remember, Frank Borzage’s 1937 medical drama Green Light has had a claim on my heart and mind. Perhaps it’s because Borzage — one of the greatest, but yet one of the most historically neglected directors — is at the helm of the picture; perhaps it’s the strength of Errol Flynn’s portrayal of idealistic doctor Newell Paige, who takes the rap for another doctor’s malpractice, convinced that in the end, the truth will come out, and exonerate him at last. There’s also Margaret Lindsay and Anita Louise, both fresh and appealing in the film, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s quite believable role as Dean Harcourt, a radio evangelist who dispenses remarkably sound advice, exhorting his listeners to pay heed to the “traffic signals” of human existence.

Some days, the film argues, you get a green light, and you can just get up and accomplish whatever you wish; other days, a yellow light, for caution; and sometimes, a red light, which forces you to stop and consider your situation – and you must wait, and wait patiently, until the green light signals that you can continue your journey.

As Elizabeth A. Kingsley notes on her website, And You Call Yourself A Scientist!,Lloyd C. Douglas was Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church of Akron, Ohio, during the 1920s. He became a published author of non-fiction works during that time and then, having moved to Los Angeles in 1926, he began writing fiction, telling stories that illustrated his own passionate belief in the need for faith, and of the benefit to the many that comes through the self-sacrifice of the individual. Douglas’s first novel, Magnificent Obsession, was an enormous best-seller; it would eventually be filmed twice, in 1935 and 1954. A number of Douglas’s other novels would also become films. His most frequent interpreter was Frank Borzage, and anyone who has any knowledge of the director’s career will have no difficulty understanding why.

As is the case with Douglas’s novels themselves, there is no cynicism in Frank Borzage’s films, and nary a breath of irony. When his characters talk about “God”, they mean it; when they talk about “love”, they mean that, too. His films deal primarily with men and women who can recognise each other’s souls; who struggle not just with love and passion – although there is plenty of that in Borzage’s work; refreshingly, he never shied away from the sexual aspects of love – but with issues of dedication, of loyalty, of self-sacrifice and self-denial. They are intense, romantic, and utterly sincere – and they have, consequently, an almost unparalleled ability to make modern audiences squirm with discomfort.

His most frequent interpreter was Frank Borzage, and anyone who has any knowledge of the director’s career will have no difficulty understanding why. As is the case with Douglas’s novels themselves, there is no cynicism in Frank Borzage’s films, and nary a breath of irony. When [Borzage's] characters talk about “God”, they mean it; when they talk about “love”, they mean that, too. His films deal primarily with men and women who can recognize each other’s souls; who struggle not just with love and passion – although there is plenty of that in Borzage’s work; refreshingly, he never shied away from the sexual aspects of love – but with issues of dedication, of loyalty, of self-sacrifice and self-denial.

Green Light, perhaps the least known of all the Lloyd Douglas adaptations, is nevertheless a classic example of the author’s work. It tells the story of Newell Paige (Errol Flynn), a rising young surgeon whose career is destroyed when he takes the blame for his mentor, Dr. Endicott (Henry O’Neill), who botches an operation and causes the death of a patient. Paige’s heroic gesture leads to further heartbreak when he falls in love with Phyllis Dexter (Anita Louise), the daughter of the unfortunate patient, only to have her recoil in horror from, as she believes, the man who killed her mother. The film follows Paige as he struggles up from the depths of despair to the salvaging of his sense of self-worth; and finally, to his gaining of both love and faith through, in typical Douglas fashion, an act of near-fatal self-sacrifice.

Much of Green Light, particularly the first half of the film, is taken up with debates over the nature of faith, and the eternal versus the here-and-now. In this, the medical profession, in the shape of Newell Paige and the nurse who loves him, Frances Ogilvie (Margaret Lindsay), faces off against the positively saintly Dean Harcourt (Cedric Hardwicke), who was the human inspiration of the doomed Mrs Dexter (Spring Byington), and who later helps Phyllis Dexter to work through her feelings of anger and hatred against those who caused her mother’s death. Unusually, Green Light is the story of a man who finds God through science.”

In times of trouble, I always find Green Light serves as a useful corrective to whatever the current problem might be in my own life; for years, I had to rely on a copy I taped from TCM, but now, at last, the film is available from Warner Archive on DVD, and when I found that out, I immediately ordered two copies. It’s a beautiful, deeply felt, utterly sincere film, and one which Errol Flynn was pleased to be in, as it marked his first “modern” role, after the swashbuckling antics of Captain Blood (1935) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). But Green Light, for all its merits, wasn’t a resounding commercial success, and so Flynn was soon pressed back into service in period pieces, forever the dashing action hero. Yet in this film, we can see a side of him that’s simply not on display elsewhere; Flynn’s Newell Paige is a real, fully drawn character, and under Borzage’s inspired direction, Green Light still packs a punch even in these jaded times, and is well worth viewing.

Frank Borzage directing Spring Byington and Errol Flynn in Green Light

James Mason – “Before I Forget”

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see James Mason as the mystery guest on the July 29, 1956 episode of the classic television show What’s My Line?

I’ve been reading the actor James Mason’s long out of print autobiography, Before I Forget, and I must say it makes for fascinating reading.  I can’t recall a more self-deprecating book about anyone’s life, in which Mason frankly admits that he was a “cad,” and takes great delight in chronicling the many failings of his life on both a personal and professional level.

I’ve already blogged on his infamous Thunderbird wine commercial, but here are a few additional details to add to the story; not only did he actually write the sardonic ad copy for the 30 second spot, but he insisted that it be shot in Cadaques, Spain, where he was filming Juan Antonio Bardem’s production of Les Pianos mécaniques, so as not to interfere with his schedule.

Very well; a 35mm sound film crew was dispatched from the United States to shoot the commercial, a considerable undertaking in 1964, but Mason took great delight in the fact that he had neglected to tell the crew that, in his own words, “the roads approaching Cadaques are narrow and unfriendly,” and was not in the least surprised when the heavily-laded equipment truck failed to negotiate a bend in the road and “went over a precipice,” completely destroying the equipment.

The crew, fortunately, had managed to jump clear as the truck headed for the cliff, and eventually turned up at the hotel, in torn and soiled clothing, where Mason was properly solicitous, and arranged for the crew to use the 35mm equipment from Les Pianos mécaniques the next day, which was a Sunday. Filming took place in a large banquet hall in the hotel where Mason was staying, right off the main lobby, and even under such trying conditions, after a hard day’s work, the unit managed to get the commercial completed, and left with the film. For his labors, Mason was paid a mere $10,000, which he desperately needed at time, having just gone though a rather traumatic divorce.

Yet that’s not the end of the story. When the ad agency cut the film together, they felt that while Mason’s performance – in which he studiously avoids taking one sip of Thunderbird wine – was perfectly fine visually, his voice didn’t “sound quite so happy or enthusiastic as they would have wished.”

Would Mason agree to postsync his dialogue? Yes, of course he would, for an additional fee, and the work was accomplished in a London sound studio, with the quite remarkable result that “my voice was as chipper as as that of a contestant in a BBC guessing game. So that what you got eventually on the screen was a jolly eruption of idiotic sales talk oddly issuing from a glum actor. I had several happy days [doing the commercial] but I doubt I sold much Thunderbird.”

Mason was also notorious for agreeing to participate in projects and then backing out, such as the Academy Awards telecast in 1955, when he was nominated as Best Actor for George Cukor’s A Star is Born (1954). Contacted by the producer of that year’s telecast, the distinguished director Jean Negulesco, Mason readily agreed to appear on show, but admits candidly in his autobiography that “I was lying. I had no intention of being at the rehearsal or at the show itself. But I did not wish to discuss his programme nor to argue with him; it would have put us both in a bad humour.”

And so, as he planned, when Oscar night rolled around, James Mason was nowhere to be seen. Lauren Bacall ran into the actor a few days after the ceremony (Mason lost, as he suspected he would, which was the reason he didn’t want to turn up in the first place), and called him “a cad. She was right, of course.”

All in all, a rather astonishing man, and a very individualistic actor. Despite his idiosyncratic behavior, Mason enjoyed a long and extremely successful career. And yet, as Mason told his biographer, the late Sheridan Morley, shortly before Mason’s death in 1984 – as recounted in Morley’s excellent biography of the actor, James Mason: Odd Man Out (sadly also out of print) – “to be a successful film star as opposed to a successful film actor, you should settle for an image and polish it forever; I somehow could never quite bring myself to do that.” But perhaps that’s precisely why his performances are so memorable.

Now Your Television Will Watch You

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Click here for a demo of this new system; note the camera, watching you, prominently displayed on the top of the television.

The gentleman above is giving an audience demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a few days ago of a new device that he thinks you’ll want in your home very soon; a television that watches you.

As Nick Hide in CNet writes, “In the kind of dystopian insanity that would have George Orwell banging his head on his keyboard, Samsung’s newest Smart TVs watch you . . . the Korean manufacturer’s latest tellies recognise your voice and gestures with a built-in camera and mic.

The camera can interpret simple gestures — move your hand around to control a cursor and clench your fist to ‘click’ — and even the different faces of your family members. You can associate permissions with various faces, so if your wee one turns on the telly they’ll only be able to watch CBeebies.

Voice recognition means you can tell your TV which channel you want to watch and change volume, among other functions, which sounds like a really useful feature for people with disabilities, those who’ve lost their remote . . .”

And as Michael Learmonth notes in Advertising Age, “front-facing cameras are everywhere on laptops, tablets and phones. If the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was any indication, [which ran from January 10-13, 2012] they’re about to become ubiquitous on TVs as well.

New TVs from Samsung and Lenovo used the show to introduce TVs that recognize you and others in the room, automatically logging you into Facebook and pulling up your favorite channels or websites [emphasis added]. Lenovo’s TV lets you use the camera as an ID service that blocks access to certain content or channels if a child is in the room. For Samsung’s 7500 and 8000 series TVs, all you have to do is say ‘Hi, TV,’ when you walk into a room for the TV to turn on and know who’s there.

As one can imagine, this is all very exciting to the world’s biggest advertisers, many of whom saw these new applications for the first time this week when they toured the show floor. These are the execs who spend billions on TV advertising but really don’t know who’s in the room when their ads air — or whether their intended audience is busy with a mobile phone or tablet anyway.

‘Is anyone watching? This is why advertisers are so excited about front-facing cameras,’ Frank Barbieri, exec VP of emerging platforms at Yume, told a group of ad agency execs and clients during a tour. Yume powers advertising on smart TVs from Samsung and LG.

Many people in the living room are multitasking with other devices. ‘We’re paying for that,’ said Rex Harris, innovations supervisor at SMGX, a unit of ad agency holding company Publicis Groupe. ‘If you’re looking at other screens, then you’re not paying attention. We would like to know if we’re getting accurate impressions.’

Consumers stand to gain too, according to Mr. Harris [emphasis added]. ‘The idea is, if the ad is more targeted to you, you will get more value out of it,’ he said. ‘When your device knows where you are and knows what you like, it will be a more valuable experience for you.’”

Right. Just imagine when this becomes the new default television system; Orwellian beyond anyone’s possible dreams. Automatically logs you into Facebook via facial recognition, watches you watching the television, and keeps tabs on you if your attention strays to something like reading a book.

The scariest thing for me is that I predict that most people will simply fall in line with this, convinced that it’s the next big thing, and convinced that it makes them part of a virtual community. Nonsense – this is simply advertising and data mining at its most intrusive, and anyone who agrees to this system becomes a target for a totalitarian regime.

About the Author

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. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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