Film and Media

Roger Ebert (1942–2013)

April 5, 2013
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Roger Ebert (1942–2013)

Rodney F. Powell, our editor for film and cinema studies, remembers Roger Ebert: Alas, Roger Ebert has passed, too soon at 70. The University of Chicago Press has been privileged to publish three of his books—Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert, Scorsese by Ebert, and The Great Movies III. I worked on all three, and Ebert’s professionalism and good humor were always evident. It was also a pleasure to note his passionate advocacy of the printed word—as a voracious reader, as well as an enthusiastic film-lover. Ebert’s celebrity status tended to obscure the fact that was hidden in plain sight throughout his career—that he was, first and foremost, an excellent writer. His ability to recognize the essential in films was matched by his ability to write clearly, concisely, and evocatively about those essential qualities, with a welcoming, unforced ease. He brought those same qualities from his daily reviews to the longer and more reflective essays he wrote for his Great Movies series. And, at his best, there was something more. Like other lasting critics, he could make his readers understand the moral qualities of the works he valued most by revealing how they made audiences think about . . .

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UCP Best of 2012 Staff Picks

December 17, 2012
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UCP Best of 2012 Staff Picks

To catch the wave of year-end lists and Best of the Best citations, we thought to extend our reach beyond the books we publish here at the Press, and ask some of our scholarly tastemakers the works they’d endorse as most praiseworthy in 2012. Not every pick is new and you’ll see some selections here that may not flit across the landscape of other favorites lists—but we’ll be posting the books that made our radar blink all week long, with salutations to the authors, ideas, and publishers (large and small) that keep us coming back for more. *** Today, we’re off and running with picks from Carol Fisher Saller, our assistant managing editor of manuscript editing at the Press, author of The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (Or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself), and editor of The Chicago Manual of Style Online’s Q & A + Rodney Powell, our assistant editor acquiring in film and cinema studies and all-around movie guru:   What the Zhang Boys Know, by Clifford Garstang (Press 53, 2012), is a tender look at the residents of the Nanking Mansions condos in the unevenly gentrifying Chinatown of Washington, . . .

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Rodney Powell on Andrew Sarris (1928-2012)

June 21, 2012
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Rodney Powell on Andrew Sarris (1928-2012)

Andrew Sarris—film critic, teacher, and auteurist foil to fellow critic Pauline Kael—died yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 83. Though it will be hard for anyone to follow up his friend Richard Corliss’s touching remembrance over at Time (this is perhaps the only memorial in recent memory I’ve read where one’s eyes well-up at the use of a carnivoric metaphor, as in: “When I entered that trapezoidal classroom on East Ninth Street, I saw a panda man.”), the Village Voice has assembled a tribute of clips from his decade at the paper, and it’s always worth a visit to Eric C. Johnson’s archive of Sarris’s Top Ten lists from the past fifty years. Though I’m familiar with his criticism, I will admit that much of my interest stems from his feisty takedown of Pauline Kael’s I Lost It at the Movies.  I hope Sarris isn’t rolling over as I write this, but it’s worth mentioning his engagement with two women—not just Kael, but Sarris’s longtime partner, fellow critic Molly Haskell—and the ways in which these relationships alternately contributed to the defense, development, and evolution of his own writings, as the screen went from Welles and Preminger to Godard and Nichols . . .

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder: A Baby Caligula

May 31, 2012
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Rainer Werner Fassbinder: A Baby Caligula

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945–82), hard-living, frenetic (libertine, bourgeois-scourging) New German filmmaker would have turned sixty-seven today, had he survived even into his forties. Strong-armed by the influence of Brechtian theater and Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967), Fassbinder went on to direct forty films and made-for-television performances—though like the Frenchman L. J. M. Daguerre and the American John Waters (puppet theater), Fassbinder’s background was the stage, and it showed. His early work is marked by a static camera and dialogue not conceivably of this world; he goes on the record in a piece later reprinted for Cineaste, where he states: “I would like to build a house with my films. Some are the cellars, others the walls, still others the windows. But I hope in the end it will be a house.” To watch a Fassbinder film is to participate, if only through mediation, in the tailwinds of the director’s cultural persona, his bad-boy whipping-up of a post-fascist, prejudicial German zeitgeist. To cogently locate him politically, and to infer his contributions to post-war, avant-garde cinema nearly three decades after his death, is a bit trickier. Coincidentally, it was almost thirty-eight years ago to the day that Fassbinder’s Martha premiered on German television. . . .

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Jean-Luc Godard: “Film is over. What to do?”

July 13, 2011
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Jean-Luc Godard: “Film is over. What to do?”

The auteur is dead, says Jean-Luc Godard. The future is cut-and-paste movie mashups.* #DearNetflix: Satyajit Ray.** The Odyssey is a sequel to the Iliad, and the second, better part of Don Quixote is a sequel to the first. You can argue that Andy Warhol revamped this idea. Throughout the 1940s, Welles and Wyler wrote articles and gave more interviews, often insisting that their films invited greater participation on the part of spectators. Andrew Sarris’s You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet and the collection OK, You Mugs. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve called the principles norms. Exhibit A is Tamar Lane’s book The New Technique of Screen Writing (McGraw-Hill, 1936). Jurassic Park and The Host likewise trace out several plot strands among a variety of characters. I once asked Kiarostami how he got the remarkable performances in shot/reverse-shot that we see in films like Through the Olive Trees (1994) and The Taste of Cherry (1997). He said that he simply filmed one actor saying all of his lines and giving all his reactions, then filmed the other. In order to pursue this question, the critic needn’t declare Rebecca a great film or a failure. If you declare that There Will Be . . .

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The Academy of Ebert

February 28, 2011
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The Academy of Ebert

While recovering from watching an Academy Awards broadcast helmed by a blasé multiplatform performance artist or two, we got to thinking about Chicago’s own cinematic rex. Or rather, he got us thinking, with a simple Tweet stating the obvious: “Is James Franco the first PhD candidate to host the Oscars?” Of course, we thought! This is probably the only time the Oscars have featured a host who may or may not be a regular at the Beineke Library. But in the middle of trying to read James Franco as a cipher for contemporary subjectivity—whose Method is this? Schneeman, not Strasberg, right?—we had forsaken simplicity. As ebertchicago had so aptly advanced in 140 characters or less: Whoa. The Academy met the academy. But Roget Ebert has long delivered pithy bites of criticism unflinchingly avoidant of the kind of postmodern meta-analysis James Franco probably delivers in his seminar papers. Ebert the man, like Ebert the Twitter feed, requires no introduction. In spite of this, a recent playbill for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Friday Night at the Movies tribute admirably attempted one: Through his decades of Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism, groundbreaking television work with Gene Siskel, acclaimed yearly film festival, and now his . . .

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Sega Genesis presents The Great Gatsby

February 18, 2011
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Sega Genesis presents The Great Gatsby

Full confession: it’s Yoko Ono’s birthday. In a Fluxus-inspired riff, we cribbed knowledge of the odd science that follows below first from the Atlantic and then from Drew Grant’s piece at Salon. Part of a much bigger trend (we use trend skeptically since this sort of thing—video games, the a-r-t remix—has been around at least since the early days of artist-hackers like Cory Arcangel and SF Moma’s 2001 exhibition “ArtCade: Exploring the Relationship Between Video Games and Art”), repurposing new technology (digital coding) in order to transform older technologies (Atari- and Nintendo-inspired video game cartridges) into faux cultural artifacts seems to be all the rage. What got us excited? Old school video game adaptations of The Great Gatsby and Waiting for Godot, naturally. As one writer opined, it’s a particular type of nerd that feels elated at choosing between the Vladimir and Estragon avatars (was “avatar” part of the terminology from the Frogger years?). But there’s a certain euphoria (or better: eunoia) experienced in navigating a pint-sized Nick Carraway through Level 1: Gatsby’s Party, even if the adaptation only skims the surface scenery of the book. Why, we wonder, is this? Edward Castronova pioneered the study of virtual gaming in . . .

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Top Five or Ten: Night of the Living Nixon

November 23, 2010
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Top Five or Ten: Night of the Living Nixon

We couldn’t help but notice a late-arriving review from last week’s NYT‘s Paper Cuts blog celebrating the coming of the newly leaked video game Call of Duty: Black Ops, which features a truly bipartisan dream team (largely resurrected from the dead)—John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Fidel Castro, and yes, Richard Nixon—fending off the zombie apocalypse. Jennifer Schuessler (bless her!) took this fairly brilliant opportunity to pay homage to one of our very favorite Chicago titles, Mark Feeney’s Nixon at the Movies: A Book about Belief. As Schuessler notes, Nixon was voted to the White House the same year as the debut of George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. Coincidence? Oh, who really knows about these things. But one thing we do know is that Nixon probably didn’t watch the film—at least, not cuddled up at home with Pat, arm protectively slung over a visiting Julie. How do we know, you ask? Thanks in part to the knockout Appendix (available on the book’s UCP site here) that accompanies Feeney’s masterful tome, culled from the pages of the Secret Service’s Daily Diary, which records the cinephile former president’s almost daily film consumption, from his 1969 inauguration through his resignation in . . .

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Pablo Boczkowski on pack journalism

September 29, 2010
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Pablo Boczkowski on pack journalism

Yesterday, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab ran a piece discussing Pablo J. Boczkowski’s new book News at Work: Imitation in an Age of Information Abundance. Boczkowski, a pioneer in the field of exploring the effects of technology on the media, takes a look at how the Internet has changed the way the news is both consumed and produced. In particular he examines the phenomenon of how the limitless space and interconnectivity of the Internet has led to a surprising homogenization of news stories. To a degree, the reasons this has happened are fairly simple. Right now it’s likely that while reading this you’re also keeping an eye on the current headlines, whether you’ve got CNN’s website open in another tab, RSS feeds filling up your Google Reader, or Twitter feeding you a constant drip of headlines and links. And if consumers of the news are closely monitoring breaking news, you can bet editors and reporters are even more concerned with what the competition is up to. Boczkowski studied the current state of online news by looking at two papers in Argentina, and there he discovered a new species of newsroom worker, “the cable guy.” Megan Garber at Nieman describes this new . . .

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A course syllabus for the digital age

September 17, 2010
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A course syllabus for the digital age

As culture and technology find themselves increasingly intertwined—for better, or for worse—scholars like Christina Dunbar-Hester, professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers, are finding themselves at the forefront of some of the most complex, yet compelling, inquiry in the humanities today. In a recent article in the Atlantic, Dunbar-Hester has offered up a course syllabus for her PhD-level class on technology and media citing some of the best new books on the topic including several published by the University of Chicago Press. The following is a short list of the UCP titles that she deems required reading for her course: How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics by N. Katherine Hayles In this age of DNA computers and artificial intelligence, information is becoming disembodied even as the “bodies” that once carried it vanish into virtuality. While some marvel at these changes, envisioning consciousness downloaded into a computer or humans “beamed” Star Trek-style, others view them with horror, seeing monsters brooding in the machines. In How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles separates hype from fact, investigating the fate of embodiment in an information age. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and . . .

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