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by Bill Gibron

2 Apr 2009

If it wasn’t for the date, many would have considered it a joke. Then Ain’t It Cool News stepped up and warned readers that they would not be accepting any reviews of it. Soon, the Facebooker and Twitterati were ga-ga over the news. Indeed, it seems that FOX’s first installment in a long rumored X-Men prequel cycle (including looks back at Magneto and others) was leaked to the ‘Net in workprint form. That’s right - X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is making it’s way across illegal torrent and P2P sites all over the world wide web, and fans and fussbudgets alike are worried about the consequences (FOX has subsequently gone into full “cease and desist” mode). Again, it being 1 April when the story broke, this could all be a massive fraud. Others have likened it to the early leaks of Hostel 2, Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, and the foreign market release mess-up that saw Spider-Man 3 hit computers before the big screen.

But the myth turns out to be true. Currently, if you are want to do so, you can locate a copy of the full one hour and forty-six minute movie, complete with FOX logo at the beginning and DVD quality sound and image. The only thing missing? Lots and lots of completed F/X shots (the studio also argues that this is far from the “final” cut). For those who have downloaded it and perused the overall effort, the verdict seems pretty unanimous - Gavin Hood has done a decent job and fans can feel confident in the film. Even with the lacking CG and visual polish, there’s a lot to like about this action-packed prequel. So the question becomes - why all the handwringing. Is FOX literally sweating over the possibility that people won’t turn up in four weeks, satisfied that they have seen an advanced, though incomplete, version of one of 2009’s premiere popcorn titles?

The answer, obviously, is yes…and no. Assuming for the moment that this was not an inside job (or a completely controlled bit of pre-publicity), any studio would be remiss to not take such a leak seriously. The downsides far outweigh any buzz-based up. No matter how good or great the final version is, viewers who’ve taken the time to download the advance will already have an opinion. They will then place such judgment all over the web for the world to see. They will debate the merits and condemn the creative misfires - and all of this will be done without the studio having a single thing to say about it. Even if the advance word is all good, stealing one’s thunder is never beneficial for the all powerful, all dependent hype machine.

Companies like FOX pay multi-millions to marketing pros who plan out a film’s release pattern many, many months in advance. Everything from standard advertising to new, novel viral campaigns are carefully controlled, purposefully plotted, closely monitored, and immediately manipulated should they fail to fulfill their money-making mandate. Even seemingly innocent facets like press screenings and junket tours are offered (or refused) in order to guarantee a certain level - and demeanor - of exposure. Studios rarely, if ever, let the movie do the talking. Film criticism used to be controlled by an Establishment cabal committed to setting the artistic agenda. Nowadays, anyone with a laptop and a vague idea of noun-verb agreement are making such rash determinations. And no suit has survived based on aesthetic merits alone.

So the advanced release of any movie without pre-arranged studio consent is a reason to be concerned. Arguments can be made that someone with a less than honorable motive decided to leak the material to make those behind the scenes look bad. Others have suggested that FOX is so happy with what’s been done with this floundering movie monopoly that they, themselves, have concocted a complex April Fool’s Day prank. Whatever the reason, it’s a risk to let people see anything that’s not 100% complete, especially when there’s multimillions and Summer movie bragging rights at stake. The dispute will always turn on whether the last minute changes being made will affect the ultimate adaptation for better or worse. And then there’s the reality that, if part of FOX’s plan, we’ve all been duped into publicizing something that, as of right now, is really not ready to be seen.

Studios do court advanced word, especially in this age of instant information access. Greg Mottola’s latest, the brilliant ‘80s coming of age comedy Adventureland, has been making the rounds since Sundance, It even screened some three weeks ago for members of the press here in Tampa. PR companies also inundate journalists with screeners, sometimes before the film even has a distribution deal. Harry Knowles and his insider cronies often get films months before they hit theaters. It’s the main reason audiences line up for lottery entries in the annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon and his filmmaker fueled festivals (as in the Grindhouse celebration sponsored by Quentin Tarantino). So companies definitely feel there is a benefit in getting some early fan input. In addition, online script reviews often get producers to rethink endings or possible plot twists.

Of course, the biggest question yet to be answered is whether or not the leak of Wolverine will affect the all important bottom line. Certainly, some who take the time to locate a possible pirate site and then screen the unfinished footage will probably not venture out to the Multiplex, no matter how successful they think the effort is. Others, prepared to rip this revamp apart for no other reason than their ability to do so will uncork their bile in blogs, messageboards, and comment sections everywhere. They won’t be lining up come 1 May either. Purists will probably wait. True cinephiles will argue director’s vision and “the theatrical experience” and avoid anything other than opening day attendance.

In fact, the only people probably not affected by the leak will be those for whom the movies are a casual, Friday/Saturday night slice of entertainment. The next time you take in a major motion picture, look around you. Can you honestly say that the vast majority of the people in the crowd would be aware of, let alone swayed one way or the other, by a movie leaking online? Oh course, if the movie is bad, word of mouth this early will ruin its chances at some kind of universal acceptance - and even the uninformed will listen. But for the most part, they are out for a good time with friends, and no fanboy geek kvetching is going to keep them from hitting their favorite Cineplex.

As the situation plays out over the next couple of weeks, it will be interesting to see where the final assessment falls. Will FOX be happy for the initial positive conclusions, or will a month of hype both good and bad bedevil Wolverine‘s chances at cinematic supremacy? It has always been a risky proposition, considering the bad taste Brett Ratner left in everyone’s mouth after Part Three. As for now, at least one of the questions about Summer 2009 has been answered - studios still shiver when their almighty dollars are threatened. Planned or not, this leak could turn into a deluge before to long. Whether or not it drowns this film’s chances remains to be seen.

by Alan Ranta

2 Apr 2009

My brain just exploded. This is from the long-awaited debut album of LA producer Jason Chung (a.k.a. Nosaj Thing). It’ll itch your glitch and hip your hop. Prefuse 73 was great and edIT has his moments, but Nosaj Thing is what’s next. Keep your eyes peeled for Drift on June 9.

Nosaj Thing - “1685/Bach”

Here’s a taste of his first EP.

Nosaj Thing - “Hello Entire”

by Matt White

2 Apr 2009

In the summer of 1991 I was 9 years old and my musical taste was pretty sophisticated; I had moved on from a second grade obsession with New Kids On The Block and had lately been digging newcomers Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer. Marky Mark was introducing me to funk music, thanks largely to his backing band, the aptly named “Funky Bunch”. EMF were giving me a British perspective and C+C Music Factory kept me in touch with the dance club scene. Yep, I was pretty on top of things when it came to music. But something wicked this way came. A song that would make me forget about everything I listened to before it, that would make me fall in love with rock music. That song was Alice Cooper’s “Hey Stoopid.”

by Rob Horning

1 Apr 2009

Reihan Salam links to this post from Tim O’Reilly, in which he suggests that publishing is becoming like software development—a process involving many authors working quickly (and perhaps patching bugs later). The fact that he is working on a Twitter book seems to underscore the point, though I can’t imagine who in the world would want such a thing. (Sort of like the board-game home version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”)

This sort of thing may indeed portend “the end of authorship,” as Salam titled his post. But I’m a little surprised he didn’t go the Roland Barthes route and proclaim “the death of the author,” and append the Foucaulidan corollary, the triumph of the “author function.” They were commenting on the dubiousness of using authorial intention in assessing the actual effects achieved by a particular text. But technology has made such concerns sort of passe. Authors aren’t being discarded because their works may not say what they intend; instead, relations of production in the publishing industry call for collaboratively manufactured texts to meet corporate goals. Exit authors; enter coders.

Reilly quotes Andrew Savikis:

The more I think about it the more obvious it’s becoming to me that the next generation of authoring/production tools will have much more in common with today’s software development tools than with today’s word processors.
Software developers spend enormous amounts of time creatively writing with text, editing, revising, refining multiple interconnected textual works—and often doing so in a highly distributed way with many collaborators. Few writers or editors spend as much time as developers with text, and it only makes sense to apply the lessons developers have learned about managing collaborative writing and editing projects at scale.

This seems like he is saying that instabooks of the future will have lots of boilerplate in them, and will be constructed along the lines of Mad Libs. Can’t wait for these. Sounds like Orwell’s Ministry of Culture, from 1984, where literature-makers rotated the dials of text-spinning machines to generate timely and appropriate Party-approved entertainment for the masses.

More likely, if books become a digitized commodity, the money won’t be there to produce high-quality ones (and authors all become de facto volunteers). So then we’ll have pseudo-books instead—a cordoned-off collection of curated blog posts masquerading as timely books, distributed online to hand-held reading devices along the lines of Kindle or a netbook. You could already compile one of commentary on the financial crisis. Alongside the collaboratively compiled, rapidly published texts from the publishing industry of the future will be micropublishing, feeding those publishers, things along the lines of blogs and Facebook updates and the like. So maybe it would be more accurate to say authorship will be everywhere and nowhere.

by Jason Gross

1 Apr 2009

While you could buy a copy of the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album in stores on Tuesday, it’s already old news by now.  That isn’t only because it’s been available digitally for sale since March 10th but also because it was also widely leaked before then.  The situation became so serious that the band/label were forced to move up the release date to try to stop the damage.  How much good it does remains to be seen. 

Like any known-entity artist who announces when their album is coming out, there’s always the worry that the material will make it to P2P services before it hits the stores.  As JT Ramsay pointed out, these efforts might be futile.  So is it possible that we might be able to add to the list of music biz rituals biting the dust in the Net age another item, namely advance release dates?

Part of the reason for the advance dates was to get the album out to reviewers who could then have copy ready for their publication, which needed to have the reviews ready weeks or months in advance.  This would help built up hype for the album and get people excited and interested in the record.  But when fans got the chance to nab the music online and not have to wait, what do you think they did?

(As a side note, I remember reading a recent story about a band that was so protective of their upcoming album that they microwaved (destroyed) all CD-R copies that they had once they were done with them.  It worked and the album went on to sell well.  Anyone remember who that was?)

Surprisingly, not every performer reacts the same way that YYY’s did.  When the same thing happened to U2 (for 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and Oasis (their latest, Dig Out Your Soul), they kept their release schedule the same.  When it happened to Lil Wayne for Tha Carter III, he just turned the leaks into his own mixtape.  It definitely didn’t hurt his sales: it was last year’s best selling record.

To add to this headache for reviewers, when Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead did their recent online pricing experiments, they unleashed the music with little warning, sending writers scrambling to come up with reviews quickly.  Of course, fans felt empowered though- they didn’t have wait and hear whispers and stories about upcoming albums or have to troll around Torrent sites to track them down.

Though hoopla for upcoming releases goes back to the early age of vinyl (see Yazoo Records reissues of 1920’s blues singles- there’s some hilarious ads in the CD booklets), it became even more of an event when albums were taken more seriously in the pop/rock world in the mid/late 60’s so that each release was an event.  I myself experience this some three decades later when on April 20, 1992, I camped out at Rocks In Your Head (a now-extinct record shop which was in Soho, NY) to wait for them to get a copy of Pavement’s debut Slanted and Enchanted.

(Another side note: I’d be really interested to hear from some jazz heads about how the respective labels handled publicity for upcoming releases in a pre-rock era)

Despite leaks, torrents and such and bands pleading with fans to stop indulging in this, it’ll still go on.  And so will the ritual of advance release dates though in the Net age, it won’t be months ahead of schedule anymore.  Maybe weeks.  Maybe days.  Maybe hours.  Maybe minutes. 

Think that won’t build any hype?  Just imagine the scrambling that’ll happen when a known-entity band surprises fans (and non-fans) by suddenly posting on their site that they have a new album out even though there wasn’t a hint or rumor about it before.  Blogs, Twitter, zines online sites for music mags will all go nuts posting info about it, sending people flocking to the site to see what’s up.  If that ain’t building up hoopla, then what is?

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Best of the Moving Pixels Podcast: Love Stories in Video Games

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