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Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access — New Video Trailer

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Click here to see the trailer for my new book, Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access.

Film stocks are vanishing, but the image remains, albeit in a new, sleeker format. Today, viewers can instantly stream movies on demand on televisions, computers, and smartphones. Long gone are the days when films could only be seen in theaters: Videos are now accessible at the click of a virtual button, and there are no reels, tapes, or discs to store. Any product that is worth keeping may be collected in the virtual cloud and accessed at will through services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant.

The movies have changed, and we are changing with them. The ways we communicate, receive information, travel, and socialize have all been revolutionized. In Streaming: Movies, Media, and Instant Access, Winston Wheeler Dixon reveals the positive and negative consequences of the transition to digital formatting and distribution, exploring the ways in which digital cinema has altered contemporary filmmaking and our culture. Many industry professionals and audience members feel that the new format fundamentally alters the art while others laud the liberation of the moving image from the “imperfect” medium of film, asserting that it is both inevitable and desirable. Dixon argues that the change is neither good nor bad; it’s simply a fact.

Hollywood has embraced digital production and distribution because it is easier, faster, and cheaper, but the displacement of older technology will not come without controversy. This groundbreaking book illuminates the challenges of preserving digital media and explores what stands to be lost, from the rich hues present in film stocks to the classic movies that are not profitable enough to offer as streaming video. Dixon also investigates the financial challenges of the new distribution model, the incorporation of new content such as webisodes, and the issue of ownership in an age when companies have the power to pull purchased items from consumer devices at their own discretion.

Streaming touches upon every aspect of the shift to digital production and distribution. It not only explains how the new technology is affecting movies, music, books, and games, but also how instant access is permanently changing the habits of viewers and influencing our culture.

Wheeler Winston Dixon, James Ryan Endowed Professor of Film Studies and professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, is coeditor-in-chief of the Quarterly Review of Film and Video and the author of numerous books, including A History of Horror, Visions of the Apocalypse: Spectacles of Destruction in American Cinema, and Film Talk: Directors at Work.

“Dixon has written a lively, opinionated, and detailed up-to-the-minute dispatch on the current state of the moving-image media as they experience a period of rapid transition marked by instability and uncertainty regarding the future of viewing and exhibition practices. It is a timely and urgent contribution to current scholarship in the constantly evolving discipline of media studies.”—David Sterritt, author of Screening the Beats: Media Culture and the Beat Sensibility

“Dixon’s book offers a cogent overview of the history of digital film production and its impact on traditional filmmaking. His work is more than just a historical map of the development of digitalized filmmaking, but also a socio-cultural and psychological study of how digitally formed film will (and does) impact viewers. Streaming will make a significant contribution to the field, as no scholar has yet looked at digital cinema and its impact on the socio-cultural experience of viewing film.”—Valerie Orlando, author of Screening Morocco: Contemporary Film in a Changing Society

Film/Television/Popular Culture
May, 2013
184 pages ∙ 6 x 9
ISBN 978-0-8131-4217-3 ∙ Cloth $69.00x
ISBN 978-0-8131-4219-7 ∙ Paper $24.95
ISBN 978-0-8131-4224-1 ∙ PDF
ISBN 978-0-8131-4218-0 ∙ EPUB

Forthcoming from The University Press of Kentucky

Philip Glass’s New Opera: The Perfect American

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Click here, or on the image above, to see a clip from Philip Glass’s new opera, The Perfect American.

As Seth Colter Walls reports in the Browbeat section of Slate, “for the next 83 days, Medici.tv will be presenting a TV-quality broadcast of the recent Italian premiere of a new opera by Philip Glass. Titled The Perfect American—and adapted from Peter Stephen Jungk’s novel of the same name—it’s a tale of Walt Disney’s last days, in which the media titan slips in and out of what we might call empirical reality.

In it, Walt Disney, while supervising the team that is building one of the Animatronic American Personages that have become part of his parks’ public lore, gets into a debate with his Robot Lincoln—about the scope of Honest Abe’s liberalism, and whether it properly extends to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and the bearded hippie set.

The schism between the robot and Disney’s technicians stems from the surprising fact that the animatronic Lincoln seems to have a mind of his own. And so the developer team brings Lincoln to Disney, who tries to convince the robotic president that they both belong to the same class of Iconic American. (‘We’re folk heroes, Mr. President. But we have enemies …’)

Not getting quite the response he wants, Disney tries another tack, by asking (among other things): ‘Martin Luther King, Eldridge Cleaver, is that what you wanted? Doesn’t that go too far even for you, Mr. President? The black people’s march in Washington; would you really agree with that?’”

As the liner notes for the world premiere of the opera at the Teatro Real de Madrid add, “The Perfect American is a fictionalized biography of Walt Disney’s final months. We discover Walt’s delusions of immortality via cryogenic preservation, his tirades alongside his Abraham Lincoln talking robot, his utopian visions and his backyard labyrinth of toy trains.

Yet, if at first Walt seems to have a magic wand granting him all his wishes, we soon discover that he is as tortured as the man who crosses his story, Wilhelm Dantine, a cartoonist who worked for him, illustrating sequences for [the film] Sleeping Beauty. Dantine is fascinated by the childlike omnipotence of a man who identifies with Mickey Mouse, and desperately seeks Disney’s recognition at the risk of his own ruin.

Walt’s wife Lillian, his confidante and perhaps mistress Hazel, his brother Roy, his children Diane and Sharon, his close and ill-treated collaborators, and famous figures such as Andy Warhol, all contribute to the opera’s animation, its feel for the life of the Disney world.”

Typically brilliant stuff from Philip Glass, who has a long tradition of composing some of the late 20th and early 21st century’s most engaging and innovative music. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this remarkable, original, and compelling piece of work.

Click here, or on the image above, to see the entire opera The Perfect American.

Death of The Moguls Radio Interview with Mark Lynch

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, watches rushes in his screening room.

This afternoon, I had the good fortune to talk with Mark Lynch for his NPR show Inquiry from WICN radio, on my new book Death of the Moguls. In the 1930s and 40s the great Hollywood studios were ruled by a small group of men who had complete control over which films got made and what stars got to appear in those films. These moguls rule was absolute and together they had a feeling of “absolute immortality.” They were the real gods of Hollywood. But after they died, the era of the classic Hollywood studio also came to an end and the studios lost their individual identities. Here, I get a chance to talk about the book with Mark Lynch; we ran out of time just as we were getting started! Hope to do it again.

Click here, or on the image above, to hear the entire half hour show.

Ridley Scott — Frame by Frame Video

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

I have a new video out in my Frame by Frame series, edited and directed by Curt Bright, on the filmmaker Ridley Scott. You can view it by clicking here, or on the image above.

As Wikipedia notes, “Sir Ridley Scott (born 30 November 1937) is an English film director and producer. Following his commercial breakthrough with Alien (1979), his best-known works are sci-fi classic Blade Runner (1982), Thelma & Louise (1991), best picture Oscar-winner Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Matchstick Men (2003), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), American Gangster (2007), Robin Hood (2010), and Prometheus (2012).

Scott is known for his atmospheric, highly concentrated visual style, which has influenced many directors. Though his films range widely in setting and period, they frequently showcase memorable imagery of urban environments, whether 12th century Jerusalem (Kingdom of Heaven), contemporary Osaka (Black Rain) or Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down), or the future cityscapes of Blade Runner. Scott has been nominated for three Academy Awards for Directing (for Thelma and Louise, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down), plus two Golden Globe and two BAFTA Awards. He was knighted in the UK 2003 New Year Honours list. He is the elder brother of the late Tony Scott.”

Follow this link to the video.

Hollywood Moves to The Web

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Hollywood’s theatrical fortunes continue to decline, as the ever-reliable Brooks Barnes reports in The New York Times, but it seems they have a fix on how to move to the web, and make it pay.

As Barnes reports, “Movie attendance hit a 16-year low in 2011. Star wattage continues to dim. DVD sales keep plunging. Almost none of the films being honored at Sunday’s Academy Awards have struck a mainstream nerve.
Yet Hollywood has a noticeable spring in its step. After all, it’s not the music business.

Instead of Hollywood suffering its own Napster moment — the kind of digital death trap that decimated music labels first through the illegal downloading of files and then by a migration to legal downloads almost solely through iTunes — several deals announced this month have it feeling more in control.

While studios still consider piracy a huge problem and feel stymied by Silicon Valley (and Washington politics), they nevertheless control their content. And now the Web is coming to them.

Google is developing a home entertainment device and several media companies have announced plans for new online streaming services. Taken together, the moves mean no supplier will have a monopoly over the distribution of films and television on the Internet. With more buyers comes leverage, and higher prices for content

‘The mood has shifted from,”Oh, my God, our business models are broken and we’re going to be cannibalized” to something resembling euphoria,’ said Peter Guber, a former chairman of Columbia Pictures who is now chief executive of the Mandalay Entertainment Group, which has interests in movies, TV and sports. ‘Studios see a robust, accelerating online market.’”

It makes sense; with admissions at a 16 year low, the viewers have to be somewhere, and unlike the music business, it seems that Hollywood has figured this out in time for a variety of reasons.

Read the whole piece here; more evidence of the ever changing landscape of cinema.

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.

The Art of the Modern Movie Trailer on NPR

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to read the whole transcript of the story on NPR.

Brent Baughman of NPR interviewed me recently, along with some other folks who work in the industry making what are known as “trailers” or “coming attractions” for films about to be released. It’s both a science and an art, blending marketing and creativity to get people out of their houses and into the theaters, which is proving increasingly hard to do in the era of pads. cellphones, and laptops; even television is outmoded.

People would rather stay at home and stream a film instead of going out to the movies; this is why only the most mainstream films now get a national release. The more thoughtful films get a “select cities” release in New York, Los Angeles, and other major markets; at the same time, the film is unceremoniously dumped into video on demand, either on television or the web, at sites such as Amazon, Netflix, and numerous other locations.

All of which makes getting people to actually “go to the movies” all the more important for major studio releases, which cost upwards of $80 – 100 million to make on average, and another $12-25 million or so to market. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

“[The] trailer for the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol features the actor Lionel Barrymore (Drew’s great-uncle), speaking directly into the camera about this charming new film. Leatherbound book? Check. Pipe? Check. Armchair by the fire? Check. The whole thing is so clearly not the savvy, heavily focus-grouped work of a modern trailer house that it’s hard to imagine it ever worked.

Early trailers, says film historian Wheeler Winston Dixon, were all like this. Very comfortable — and often full of over-the-top superlatives, like the trailer for Gone With the Wind. “‘Never so tremendous!’” Dixon says by way of example. “‘The screen’s greatest achievement!’ One critic at the time said it was the supreme example of writing so as never to be believed.”

Compare that with something like last year’s trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, which set a record for downloads in 2011. “The shots are shorter and shorter and shorter, and more fragmented,” Dixon says. “There have been a number of studies that demonstrate that the average length of a shot in a film have been shrinking every single year, because audiences absorb information faster — and there’s also a sense that you don’t want to bore them.”

You can read the entire interview, and see the trailers as well, by clicking here, or on the image above.

Michel Gondry’s 2 Minute Remake of “Taxi Driver”

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

There’s been a lot of talk lately about a possible remake of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver (1976). Lars von Trier was attached for a while, then Scorsese even floated the idea of doing a 3-D remake, perhaps just as a whim; but in the meantime, director Michel Gondry has stripped the whole project down to a two minute bare-bones recap, which is at once brilliant and also very funny.

You can view it by clicking here, or on the image above.

Force of Evil (1948)

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil is one of the greatest, and bleakest of all noirs. Made in 1948, just before Polonsky became yet another victim of the HUAC Blacklist, Force of Evil boasts a stellar cast, including veteran heavy Thomas Gomez, the always dependable Roy Roberts, noir specialist Marie Windsor, and is toplined by John Garfield in one of his most memorable roles, as a mouthpiece for the numbers racket who tries to make a quick killing, while keeping his brother, who runs a small time policy office, out of the way of the big boys. Based on the novel Tucker’s People by Ira Wolfert, and immaculately photographed by George Barnes, this is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and ultimately horrific tales of greed, deception and betrayal ever brought to the screen. And it’s only 78 minutes long.

You can see the entire film by clicking here, on or the image above.

Streaming Media — “Prime Time all the Time” per NPR

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

A fascinating discussion on the impact of streaming media on the NPR website for their Talk of the Nation show, moderated by Tony Cox; in essence, what they’re saying is what I’ve been arguing for years; the advent of complete, anytime, on-demand streaming video, music, and text means that any time is prime time, and that we aren’t slaves to the networks anymore when it comes to scheduling. As far as content, though, that’s another matter. There’s still 500 channels and nothing on, if you know what I mean.

Read the transcript, and/or listen to it here.

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 numerous books and more than 70 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.

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In The National News

National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of topics in the past month. Find out more on the website http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/