History at the Movies

Hollywood Takes Liberties with Historical Themes and Events

The world premiere of the 1960 film The Alamo occurred in San Antonio exactly two weeks before the November presidential election. Produced and directed by John Wayne, the quintessential American hero of the screen, the movie retold the story of the 1836 battle that became a rallying cry for Texas independence. John Wayne also starred in the film as Davy Crockett. 1960 was a period of uncertainty in America. Cold War fears encouraged the building of bomb shelters and numerous world crises reminded the public that the global power competition was between atheistic Communism and democratic freedoms. The Alamo gave expression to that conflict.

Hollywood Reacts to Current Trends Rather than History

Taking liberties with historical truth in order to convey a particular message or agenda is as old as the industry. The Birth of a Nation, the first epic film, set the stage for historical inaccuracies that frequently included deliberate attempts to distort the past. The 1939 epic Gone with the Wind continued this trend, eventually grossing over one billion dollars (adjusted for inflation by today’s valuation, according to Parade, March 7, 2010).

Although The Alamo contains several outright inaccuracies, it is the message of the film that conformed to the fears of 1960. Communism was perceived to be an evil force and both major political parties wanted to appear tough in combating it. John F. Kennedy won that election by a slim margin and proceeded to vastly increase the nuclear arsenal. Additionally, the Soviets had conquered space before the United States. In The Alamo, John Wayne talks reverently about the word “republic” and why it is worth fighting for.

Titanic and Non-Historical “History” Movies

The 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic has been the theme of numerous movies, each one portraying events differently and conveying images and concepts pertinent to the time period during which they were produced. The 1953 version, starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck, portrayed an orderly sinking where every man did his duty.

Richard Sturges’ young teenage son gives up his lifeboat seat to an older woman to be with the men; Richard Basehart – a defrocked priest struggling with alcoholism, returns below deck to minister to dying men; Mr. Sturges reconciles with his wife Julia. The film highlighted honor and duty. Even Isidor Strauss and his wife Ida, join those left behind to robustly sing “Nearer My God to Thee,” although Strauss was Jewish.

James Cameron’s 1997 Titanic was also full of messages – as well as fictional characters. A recurring theme is the vast gulf between the super rich and the poor in steerage. Apprised that only half of the passengers would fit into the lifeboats, Cal, the villain, replies “only the better half.” The film was anti-establishment with the final message that only in death will Rose find fulfillment with Jack.

Inglorious Bastards, based loosely on The Dirty Dozen, is anything but historical. The same can be said for U-571. While entertaining, such films undermine the notion that real history is meaningful and important. Real history, however, often lacks the torrid relationships viewers have come to expect. This is what ruined Michael Bay’s 2001 retelling of Pearl Harbor. The 1970 film Tora Tora Toraportrayed the event with much greater accuracy.

Portraying History Accurately at the Movies

Well made and historically accurate films can win awards and make money at the box office. Chariots of Fire won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1981. Gandhi won the following year. Although it can be argued that every historical film may contain some element of factual inaccuracy, most movies cross the border between fiction and truth in a detrimental way. Filming history does not have to include agendas.


  • Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)
  • Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
  • David Lubin, Titanic (British Film Institute, 1999)
  • Larry May, The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)
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Best TV Detective Sidekicks

Favorite Mystery Show Crime Solving Assistants

The devoted assistant has been a favorite mystery character ever since Doyle had Dr. Watson pen Sherlock Holmes’ greatest achievements. Many of television’s best detectives wouldn’t function as well without their own version of Watson. Here are four great TV sidekicks from British and American crime shows.

Sharona Flemming (Monk)

Actress Bitty Schram garnered a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Sharona Flemming, the long-suffering nurse and assistant for Tony Shalhoub’s obsessive-compulsive detective on the USA network series Monk.

As a no-nonsense, divorced mother, Schram’s character provided Monk’s investigations with some much-needed street smarts. Brassy and tender at the same time, she protected her fragile boss without coddling him too much. Her job made it difficult to find romance (Monk always detected her date’s worst qualities), and sometimes she struggled to raise a son while also battling crime. She made a favorable impression on Monk fans that remains strong, even though she starred in only three of the show’seight seasons.

Archie Goodwin (A Nero Wolfe Mystery)

Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People) turned in a talented performance as Archie Goodwin in this stylish A&E network drama based on the Rex Stout mystery novels. The series ran from 2001 to 2002, with Hutton serving as an executive and occasionally directing episodes.

Set in 1940’s New York, the show followed the baffling cases engaged by Nero Wolfe (Maury Chaykin), a reclusive private investigator obsessed with good cuisine and growing prize winning orchids. The dapper Archie typed up Wolfe’s case notes, interviewed suspects, chased down bad guys, and swept damsels in distress off their feet. He also provided entertaining voice-over commentary, giving the show a distinct film noir flair.

Geoffrey Shawcross (Hetty Wainthropp Investigates)

This quaint British mystery series ran from 1996 to 1998 on BBC One and starred Patricia Routledge as Hetty Wainthropp, a genteel, retirement-aged English lady with a knack for solving crimes.

Dominic Monaghan (LOSTV) played Hetty’s boyish assistant, Geoffrey Shawcross, a reformed shoplifter. The likable Geoffrey shared a parent/child type relationship with Hetty and enjoyed chasing down clues with her across the English countryside. He also rented a room from the lady detective and her husband. In later seasons, he developed a romantic relationship with Janet Frazer (Suzanne Maddock), a plucky mechanic who sold him a vehicle.

Burton “Gus” Guster (Psych)

Emmy award nominated actor Dulé Hill (The West Wing) has delighted both viewers and critics with his portrayal of a reluctant crime fighter on the USA network series Psych. Hill’s character fills the classic straight man role opposite James Roday’s super sleuth Shawn Spencer. Spencer is a guy with special observation skills who fakes psychic abilities in order to work criminal cases with the police.

Gus is Shawn’s childhood friend, a cautious fellow who gets roped into helping investigate. The two set up a private eye shop together (Shawn forges Gus’s signature on the lease for the building), and take on cases that stump the official investigators.

Other Notable TV Detective Sidekicks

There have been many other memorable mystery show sidekicks through the years. Fans of The Equalizer will remember Keith Szarabajka’s performance as Mickey, the scruffy, young government agent who aided Robert McCall (Edward Woodward) in serving up justice.

Texas-born actor John Hillerman gave an impressive performance as British war hero Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, on the classic detective show Magnum P.I. And James Read (Beaches) combined humor with charm as Murphy Michaels on Remington Steele, though his character appeared only in season one.

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Best Food Films

Four Romantic Comedies With Cooking and Culture

Many critically acclaimed films take place in a restaurant setting or have cultural cuisine as a running motif. Here are four food themed films that blend romance with humor and drama to create a winning storyline.

Julia and Julie (2009)

A fun food flick starring Amy Adams as Julie Powell, an aspiring writer who takes on an ambitious blogging project. She decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking––all 524 recipes––and document the process online.

Powell’s journey through the cookbook is creatively paralleled with Child’s training in French cuisine in 1950’s Paris. Child is aptly portrayed by Oscar winning actress Meryl Streep. The film does an excellent job of comparing the shared struggles of two women in two different times, as well as linking the art of cooking and the art of romance.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2000)

This cultural comedy follows the life-transformation of Toula (Nia Vardalos), a Greek-American woman who feels trapped by her heritage. At thirty, Toula has resigned herself to a life of loneliness, working as a waitress in her parent’s Greek restaurant. And then Ian Miller (John Corbett), an attractive school teacher walks in for a cup of coffee and Toula yearns for the confidence to introduce herself.

Determined to change her life for the better, Toula attends computer classes, leaves the restaurant for a travel agency, and gives herself a make-over. Of course, she ends up bumping into Ian again and the two start a relationship. Things get complicated when Toula must find a way to endear the non-Greek Ian to her very skeptical family.

Return To Me (2000)

A gentle love story featuring David Duchovny as Robert, an architect who struggles to move on after his wife, Elizabeth, is killed in a tragic car accident. Minnie Driver plays Grace, the young woman who receives Elizabeth’s heart in a life-saving organ transplant.

With her health restored, Grace works as a waitress at her grandfather’s Irish-Italian restaurant, O’Reilly’s. By coincidence, Robert comes to the restaurant on a disastrous blind date. Grace waits on his table and the two feel an instant attraction. Their friendship quickly blossoms into love and provides some much needed healing for both of them. And then, of course, Grace discovers her unusual connection with Robert’s deceased wife.

Big Night (1996)

An absorbing drama/comedy that follows the relationship of two Italian brothers as they run a restaurant called “Paradise” in New Jersey. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) is an excellent chef who refuses to Americanize his cuisine, despite the constant complaints from customers. Primo wishes to return to Italy and work in his uncle’s restaurant, but his younger brother, Secondo (Stanley Tucci) is determined to give “Paradise” a fair chance.

The bulk of the film takes place as Primo and Secondo prepare for the restaurant’s big night—the chance to host a feast for a beloved celebrity. The occasion turns out to be memorable in unexpected ways. Romantic storylines involve Primo’s crush on a lovely florist, and Secondo’s two love interests—the kind and beautiful Phyllis (Minnie Driver) and the married Gabriella (Isabella Rossellini).

Other Food Themed Movies

There are many other food films worth checking into. The low-key 1992 film I Don’t Buy Kisses Anymore stars Jason Alexander as a shoe salesman who falls in love with a grad student moonlighting as a restaurant singer (Nia Peoples).

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart spar over cooking and matters of the heart in the 2007 romantic comedy No Reservations. And, for family movie night, the candy lover couldn’t do better than to watch the classic 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder.

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How to Make the Most of Television Documentaries

TV Programmes can Inform and Entertain but what is Remembered Later

There is so much media available these days that it is often easy to just flit between different programmes all the time. Although this might be entertaining, when it comes to television documentaries that have an interesting subject, it can be beneficial to record or download the programme if knowledge retention is at least part of the reason for viewing. As Barry Gordon, M.D., Ph.D. stated on the aarp.org magazine website: ‘Sometimes the best way to remember something is not to have to remember it at all. If you can, write it down! The worst pen is still better than the best memory. Also, the simple act of writing something down helps engrave it in your memory, and having it written down will also boost your confidence. So when you write something down, you may find you remember it perfectly, and never have to look at your note!’

The Pros and Cons of Digital Age Media for the Television Documentary Viewer

As argued in How to Learn from Television in the Digital Age, the phenomenal advances in media technology over the last couple of decades have provided fantastic opportunities for the consumer.

However, as set out in the introductory paragraph, this can also lead to attention deficits, as competing programmes and mediums lead the viewer to miss some of an interesting television documentary.

Even if attention is maintained for the whole of the programme, a viewer must ask themselves: how much will be remembered the next week or month?

Record or Download Interesting Documentaries

The first action that a viewer can take to increase their potential capacity for memory retention is to tape or download the programme.

Of course, the technology to tape television programmes has been available for decades, but with digital boxes it is now possible to conveniently record straight onto your television, and even capture a whole series with one click of a button.

This means that you can always watch a television documentary to refresh your memory, and improve knowledge retention.

If evidence of the power of repeated viewing is needed, think of the people who know all the gags from Fawlty Towers or Friends: they are unlikely to have only watched each episode once!

Take Notes from Television Documentaries

Of course, watching the same documentary programme over and over again might become a little tedious after a while, no matter how interesting it is.

So, as Barry Gordon, M.D., Ph.D. has advised, maybe it is better to take notes of the most interesting information, and then follow it up on the Internet or in books.

Whether you are interested in animal biology, space physics or human history, television documentaries could be the first step on the road to becoming an expert.

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TV Business Model Explained

How Broadcast and Cable Networks Make Money Differently

The TV business model can seem confusing; it is complicated, but it’s key to understanding the changes taking place in the television industry. One vital piece to understand is that broadcast networks and cable networks are fundamentally different. They make money in distinct ways, though that may now be changing.

Broadcast vs. Cable

It’s important to distinguish between broadcast and cable. A broadcast network is one which broadcasts its content via an over-the-air signal – today these include ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. With the right antenna, anyone can get broadcast television for free.

A cable network is available only by subscription through a cable or satellite provider. Cable networks are further separated into basic cable and premium cable. Basic cable includes ads in its programming. Premium cable – like HBO and Showtime – does not. Fees for premium cable are higher than those for basic cable.

Broadcast Network Business Model

Throughout history and even today, the majority of a broadcast network’s revenue comes from advertisers. In the traditional broadcast TV business model, networks distribute their shows through a collection of local television stations. Networks own some of the local stations, often in large urban markets, called “owned and operated” or O&Os. The majority of a network’s local stations, however, are owned by separate companies; these are the network affiliates. Networks used to pay their affiliates to air their shows, but the payments have become smaller as audiences have shrunk.

Cable Network Business Model

The majority of a cable network’s revenue comes from fees paid by cable and satellite providers. Comcast and Time Warner are the largest in cable, but there are also many other smaller, local cable providers. DirecTV is the big player in satellite.

These cable/satellite providers pay cable networks a monthly fee for each subscriber. According to Broadcasting & Cable, providers pay an average of $.26 for each channel that they offer to customers (“Business model unraveling for TV networks,” 29 December 2009). Some channels cost more, like ESPN which goes for almost $4; others cost less, like MTV2, which goes for a few cents.

In addition to these fees, cable networks also air ads during their programs so they get revenue from advertisers. As of 2008, cable networks were getting 39% of all advertising dollars, an estimated $21.6 billion (Ibid).

These two revenue streams mean that cable networks have fared better during the rough economic climate. Even though advertisers are spending less money across the board, cable networks still get the fees from cable/satellite companies, so they’ve been hurt less than broadcast networks. Fox is an illustrative example; for the quarter ended September 2009, its broadcast network reported a 54% drop in operating income while its cable networks reported a 41% increase. NBC’s Jeff Zucker has told investors “the cable model is just superior to the broadcast model” (Ibid).

Online Revenues

While most believe the future of television involves the Internet, today it’s still a small portion of a network’s revenue. Networks get paid in two ways – by selling their shows for a per episode fee on sites like iTunes or by streaming them with embedded ads on sites like Hulu and their own network websites. 2009 online revenue is estimated at between $350 million and $400 million. It’s expected to grow to $2 billion by 2012. But that’s a small piece of the overall pie given that advertisers spent $34 billion on broadcast ads in 2008. Some networks like CBS refuse to put shows online because they cannot sufficiently get paid for them. Zucker famously likened it to trading analog dollars for digital pennies. The industry has yet to work out the online TV business model.

Broadcast Networks Changing

Broadcast networks and their local affiliate stations have begun following the cable model: charging cable/satellite providers a monthly fee per subscriber. The Federal Communications Commission has legally allowed them to do so since the 1990s, but broadcast networks have traditionally not sought such retransmission fees for airing their shows. That’s changing. CBS began the trend when it split from Viacom; in 2006 CBS CEO Leslie Moonves proclaimed he would get paid for CBS content. To date, he’s been quite successful, getting as much as $.50 per subscriber in its recent round of negotiations. Moonves says this should add “hundreds of millions of dollars to revenues annually” (Ibid).

That’s not the end of the story. Network affiliates – owned by separate companies – are also negotiating fees from cable/satellite providers. But broadcast networks like CBS and Fox would like a portion of those fees; broadcasters only get paid for their O&Os, the local stations that they own. Yet O&Os represent less than a third of their audience. Network affiliates make up the other two-thirds. Broadcasters argue that their broadcast networks are the reason affiliates can demand fees from cable/satellite providers, so they deserve a cut. That remains a contentious issue.

Death of Broadcast?

The difference in payments for O&Os versus affiliates could eventually lead broadcasters to abandon the broadcast model. If they got rid of the affiliate structure and went to the cable model, they’d get paid for the entire cable/satellite audience, rather than a third of that audience. Such a move would force affiliates to become independent local stations that air their own original programming. CBS’ Moonves has called this “a very interesting proposition,” but which “would really change the universe that we’re in” (Ibid).

Such a move would put an end to over-the-air free television as it has existed since TV’s inception. Naturally, regulators would have something to say about this. For now, broadcasters simply want to be paid more for their shows, making the dual revenue stream of retransmission fees and advertising an attractive option.

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TV Retransmission: Cable Subscribers to Pay More

Broadcast Networks Seek Increased Retrans Fees, Dual Revenue

A recent and widely-distributed AP story began with a chilling assertion: “For more than 60 years, TV stations have broadcast news, sports and entertainment for free and made their money by showing commercials. That might not work much longer” (“Business model unraveling for TV networks,” 29 December 2009). Though it may seem dull, those who understand the TV business model see why TV retransmission grabs the headlines.

Fox-Time Warner Cable Retrans Dispute

Retrans issues plagued the end of 2009, crystallized by the last-minute negotiations carried out between News Corp – which owns Fox and FX, among others – and Time Warner Cable. News Corp wanted retrans fees for the Fox broadcasting channel; Time Warner didn’t want to pay them. As a result, News Corp threatened to pull all its channels from Time Warner, beginning on 1 January 2010. This was especially problematic given that Time Warner is the second-largest cable carrier in the country, serving 14 million customers.

Disney-Time Warner Cable Dispute

It’s not an unprecedented battle. In 2000, amidst contentious negotiations between the Walt Disney Co and Time Warner, Disney’s channels were pulled from Time Warner, including broadcast network ABC. When Time Warner customers tried to watch those channels, all they saw was a blue screen with a banner that read, “Disney has taken ABC away from you.” The outage affected 3.5 million Time Warner customers and lasted for 39 hours. The move infuriated subscribers and the company later expressed regret for the way it handled the negotiation.

That battle was not over retrans dollars per se; instead it revolved around terms. According to PBS, as a condition of carrying ABC, Disney required Time Warner to carry Disney’s cartoon and soap opera networks (“Disney Duels with Time Warner,” 2 May 2000). Additionally, they’d have to shift the Disney Channel to basic cable. Time Warner objected, saying it would cost $300 million. A deal was eventually reached on 25 May 2000.

Broadcast Networks and TV Retransmission

In the 2009 dispute, Fox had made it well-known that it was not going to settle. As Forbes noted, at an October 2009 News Corp shareholder meeting Rupert Murdoch announced, “Going forward, we will be seeking retransmission dollars from our distributors” (“Networks Put the Squeeze on Cable,” 21 October 2009). CBS’ Les Moonves ramped up the issue back in 2006, when he told shareholders, “We’re going to get paid for our content by cable operators” (Ibid). He prevailed. CBS has let Wall Street and others know that it’s getting around $.50/subscriber/month from Time Warner. Moonves’ success may have emboldened Murdoch in his demands.

The Fox-Time Warner dispute did not result in a channel blackout. Lawmakers began applying pressure – notably Senator John Kerry and FCC chairman Julius Genachowski – and Fox agreed to a series of 3-hour extensions as the two sides continued to negotiate. They reached an agreement on New Year’s Day. Indeed, Variety proclaimed that “what broke the Fox-Time Warner impasse was the face-to-face huddle and the threat of a political firestorm erupting if they didn’t come to terms” (“Retransmission issues nab spotlight,” 3 January 2010).

Fox Gets Retrans Fees

Early speculation put Fox’s fee at $.60/subscriber/month, but now sources tell Variety that Time Warner will be paying more than $.75/subscriber/month by the end of the deal’s 5-year term (“Fox-TW details emerge,” 6 January 2010). Fox had initially asked for $1/subscriber/month; the last known estimate had Time Warner willing to pay $.30/subscriber/month. The general consensus is that Fox did better than expected.

Most importantly, the Fox-Time Warner deal is viewed as “a key benchmark for a slew of retrans deals to come for broadcast TV station owners in the next few years.” That means that when ABC goes to Time Warner to renegotiate its deal – which is set to expire at the end of 2010 – it’ll have the Fox deal as a precedent. And broadcasters are expected to get tougher about retrans fees. It’s projected that broadcast TV stations got $739 million in retransmission fees in 2009; projected fees for 2010 are $933 million (“Retransmission issues nab spotlight,” 3 January 2010). It’s a significant amount of money.

Higher Cable Fees?

Cable/satellite providers pay TV retransmission fees, not customers directly. For those asking why TV viewers should care, many critics have suggested that providers will increase cable costs as a result. As Nikki Finke put it, “subscribers lost because programming is now more expensive than ever and the cable/satellite companies will pass the increased costs onto the consumer like they always do” (“Who Won Time Warner Cable vs Fox War? (I Know Who Lost: Subscribers),” 4 January 2010).

Whether that’s a foregone conclusion remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented. Retrans may be the savior of the broadcast networks, but it may also be the bane of cable customers everywhere. And there’s more to come. As a TV studio executive told The Hollywood Reporter, “Retransmission consent will be the next big battleground”


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Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Golden!

2010 Film Awards Season

The 2010 Golden Globes are over but before knowing the Academy Awards contenders on February 2nd, there is a third and final step these nervous thespians and filmmakers have to go through; the 2010 Screen Actors Guild Awards. These awards will seal the deal for some and mix up the cards for others. As soon as the Oscar noms are out, the real speculations can begin. Will we see the usual suspects as nominees or will we witness some surprises.? Could Abbie Cornish be nominated for her role in Bright Star? Could Penelope Cruz recieve a second nomination for her role in Almodovar’s Broken Embraces? How about The Hurt Locker‘s Jeremy Renner, does he have a shot at the golden boy?

The Unshakable Ones:

Oscar buzz might be ephemeral but these three actors have more than just buzz, they have unshakable praise.

The first certainty this season is that Jeff Bridges will not only recieve a nomination for his role in Crazy Heart but he will be crowned as best actor, an award that he should’ve recieved for his portrayal of “The Dude” in the now cult-classic The Big Lebowski. Another thespian that sealed the deal is best supporting actor Christoph Waltz. He racked up nom after nom and award after award since the season started and his winning streak is not fading away anytime soon. His win may be a lock, but his category might have a little change in the nominees by adding Alfred Molina.

Last but not surely not the least is the star of the year, the certainty of the season, best supporting actress Mo’nique for her surprising and brilliant transformation in Precious. The other women in the category are going to have to be satisfied with their nomination because Mo’nique has this one in the bag!

The Rise of America’s Sweetheart: Sandra VS Meryl

Pre-oscar award shows might be premonitory but thanks to the Hollywood gods there is still an element of uncertainty when Oscar night comes around. One of the categories that is not set in gold yet is the best actress category. The battle is brewing since the first award show. The fight is between the winners of the Critics Choice Award for best actress; Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep. The apparent favorite Carey Mulligan did not get past the nomination status nieither has Precious ingenue Gabourey SadibeSandra Bullock and Meryl Streep tied at the CCA and each recieved a Golden statuette at the Golden Globes, Streep for best actress in a comedy or musical and Bullock for best actress in a drama. The SAG could probably untie the race and give us a better idea of who will win. Obviously the great Meryl Streep is considered, by many, as a shoe in for the Oscar win but this year has proven to be golden for Sandra Bullock. Box office gold, statuette gold and now the main competition to the leader of all actors; Meryl Streep. Win or loose, Sandra won the respect of her peers and finally, as she said “came to the other side.

Her performance in The Blind Side seem, to some but definitely not me, as banal. This is the reason why so many people were surprised of all the critical acclaim surrounding it. Bullock’s performance was all but banal. She did not scream or cry constantly or overdid it. Her portrayal of Michael Ohers adoptive mom Leigh Anne Tuohy was with no artifice or packaging, it was simple and subtle which made it the more powerful. That’s the source of Sandra Bullock’s appeal and strength. Her natural portrayal of everyday characters is what made her career until now, and The Blind Side is her golden ticket to better, meatier and more dramatic roles.

The Battle of the Exes-Cameron VS Bigelow

The next battle we are privileged to witness is the battle of the exes. Pioneering AVATAR director James Cameron and indie princess Katheryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker are toe to toe in two of the most important categories; best picture and best director. Cameron got the Globe and Bigelow the CCA, the SAG could tilt the race one way or another. (The SAG will vote for The Hurt Locker, the film is more focused on story and actors, the Academy might however side with the megastar AVATAR)

Once lovers and now competitors, the battle is positively personal. The quintessential fight between the blockbuster monster and the little movie that could is well underway and Oscar night might finally put the debate to rest. What is a best movie exactly? Is it the story, the development of characters, the cinematography (real or blue screen), the special effects in it? Will Cameron’s vision take home the gold or will it be Bigelow’s realism? Only Oscar knows!

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Web TV Shows

The Growth of Online Drama

Online dramas come in many forms, series, serials and one-offs, and they offer everything a TV show can and more. Could they be the future of storytelling?

Storytelling has been embraced by each new technology, from theatre to radio to film and television, and now it’s the turn of the internet. It is still early days, but the last few years have seen a boom in dramas made specifically for the web.

The Origins of Internet Drama

Web drama was born way back in 1995 with the launch of US online soap opera, The Spot. Based around the lives of a group of Southern Californian twenty-somethings, The Spot accrued a massive following. What made it so popular was not the video content alone, but the social community surrounding it and the interactivity with characters through ‘character diaries’; all years before the rise of social networking and blogging.

YouTube, Video Blogs and Online Interactive Fiction

However, the current crop of online dramas descend not from The Spot but from the YouTube video-blog (or vlogs) of a sixteen year old girl, lonelygirl15. Or not, as it turned out. After months of speculation and controversy, it was revealed that lonelygirl15 was not a teenager named Bree, but an actress named Jessica Rose and the blog, not true-life confessions but an intricately written drama by three amateur filmmakers from LA.

After their fictional nature was revealed, the lonelygirl15 vlogs morphed from detailing ordinary teenage life to a multi-stranded plot dealing with the occult. They also went from self-funded to being financed by big name brands through advertising and product placement.

Television Drama on the Internet

The internet drama sphere is now extremely busy with examples from all over the world. Several have been transferred to television, often unsuccessfully, as with Quarterlife which NBC cancelled after one episode. Some television series have launched web spin-off series, such as the Battlestar Galactica web serials, The Resistance (2006) and The Face of the Enemy (2008), or in the UK, the animated serial, Doctor Who: Dreamland (2009).

The big Hollywood studios and internet businesses are pumping money into some. Yet, self-funded projects are still experiencing success, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon’s Emmy award winning web serial, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog (2008) and in the UK, Severance writer, James Moran’s Girl Number Nine (2009).

New Storytelling – Interactivity and Alternate Reality Gaming

New web drama is moving away from the video-blog format and is in some cases rivalling the quality of film and TV. Some shows utilise traditional writer-led storytelling, whilst others put audience interactivity at the forefront by allowing them to decide what happens next.

‘Alternate reality games’ (or ARGs) are taking the dramatic form in a new direction, with the Sherlock Holmes and The Dark Knight film tie-ins, 221b (2009) and Why So Serious? (2007) along with charity, the Red Cross’s Traces of Hope (2008), for instance, mixing traditional drama with interactive computer game elements.

Online Drama Series – The Future

As the failure of internet hits to transfer to television illustrates, it is often the interactivity and social aspects of online drama that make them popular. The key to the future success of web drama will be its ability to give us something new and different, to exploit the strengths of the internet as a medium and perhaps take some cues from the computer games industry. Whatever it does, online drama clearly is an exciting new market that is not a replacement of traditional drama, but a new stage in its evolution.

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The Joy of Collecting Soundtracks

Film Scores Are Fun For Movie and Music Lovers Alike

Star Wars. Gone With The Wind. Titanic. Unforgettable movies with unforgettable soundtracks. Great scores can elevate a good film to the level of masterpiece by adding a new level of emotional depth. The shower scene from Psycho would not be as violent and shocking without composer Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking strings, and Indiana Jones’ adventures would seem far more pedestrian without John Williams’ rousing march. Film music, at its best, can be the most exciting part of the movie.


Reliving The Movie Through Its Soundtrack

Purchasing the soundtrack album to a beloved movie is a great way for a fan to relive the excitement of the cinematic experience away from the movie theatre or television. Sometimes a score captures the essence of a film so well that the images on screen and the words spoken by the actors almost seem like a hindrance to the aural pleasures of the music.

Soundtracks allow movie fans to experience the emotion of a great scene over and over without being tied to watching the film itself. The excitement of James Horner’s Avatar or Jerry Goldsmith’s Patton can be appreciated while working out at the gym or completing a late-night essay. Soundtracks allow for a high level of intimacy between an individual and cinematic storytelling at its most visceral form – the symphonic form.

Escaping to Another Time and Place With Movie Music

To say that film score fans collect soundtracks just to relive their favourite scenes from movies is an oversimplification. One needs only to visit the online forums at Filmtracks and Film Score Monthly to see that many film score collectors regularly buy soundtrack albums to movies they’ve never seen before.

Listening to film scores, especially for movies not yet seen, allows the listener to embark on an aural journey of the imagination. Some film scores are very specific in terms of their historic millieu or cultural identity, which can transport the listener to a romantic period in the past or an exotic paradise on the other side of the world. Other scores are less specific in terms of era or geography and can transport the listener to imaginary realms that don’t exist anywhere in any time.

Orchestral film scores, particularly when written in the classical mode, tend to remain timeless and remain relatively immune to the ravages of ever-changing pop sensibility. Star Wars sounds as great today as it did in 1977, but will Britney Spears be as fondly remembered decades from now?


Collecting Soundtracks by Composer

One of the great joys of soundtrack collecting is falling in love with the work of specific composers. By the nature of their job, film composers must be chameleons to a certain degree, able to change styles according to the needs of different filmmakers’ visions. However, the most highly regarded composers of cinema manage to forge a distinct musical voice in their overall body of work.

Some collectors may love John Williams’ epic adventure themes for movies like Superman and Jurassic Park. Others may be fans of John Barry’s romantic work for films like Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves. Soundtrack collecting begets more soundtrack collecting, and hardcore collectors may find themselves enthusiastically searching for lesser-known works by their favourite composers. Collecting by composer becomes a process of continual discovery as the casual fan becomes a dyed-in-the-wool completist. As with all things in life, the fun is in the journey.


Archiving a Piece of Cinematic History With Film Scores

Soundtrack albums allow cinephiles to keep a little piece of cinematic history for themselves, a memento of key moments in moviedom and their unique emotional contexts for the individual. Especially with soundtracks for older films and limited edition releases of scores, collectors play an active role in ensuring that a part of the movie lives on.

Film scores are an important part of cinema’s cultural heritage and deserve to be archived, and releasing soundtrack albums allows the public to become involved in artistic preservation. But above all else, great film scores will always fill the heart and transport the imagination to realms beyond the ordinary. Just dim the lights and press play. You’ll be glad you did.

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