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by Joel Brinkley - McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

17 Apr 2009

In France, newspapers are in trouble, just as they are in the United States. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, wants to give 18-year-olds a free subscription to the paper of their choice.

In America, the news media don’t take financial aid from the government, even when it’s indirect. Still, major newspapers are shutting down, and owners are telling others that the end is nigh. As they say, pending death tends to focus the mind. So let’s focus on this: How can an industry survive if it allows other companies, like Google News, to use its content without any compensation?

At a conference last year, I was chatting with Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, and Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google. Half joking, Keller asked him, “When are you going to start paying for our content?” Schmidt stiffened a bit and declared: “We will pay when everyone pays” - everyone with an Internet site, that is. There’s an impossible standard.

Think back a decade to when the music industry was facing its own pirates, Napster and other Web sites that were sharing music files. What would have happened to that industry if a record-company executive had asked the CEO of Napster a question similar to Keller’s - and then simply walked away when he gave a dismissive answer like Schmidt’s?

“We would be in a world with thousands of pirates,” Johnathan Lamy, a senior vice president for the Recording Industry Association of America, told me. If the RIAA had not sued Napster, “the exciting legal, online marketplace we now have would never have been allowed to get oxygen.”

Online sales now provide one-third of his industry’s income. At best, the music business would be a hollow shell of what it is today.

I asked Schmidt to comment; he did not respond to my e-mail. But he did speak to the Newspaper Association of America last week, and promised: “We can build a business with you. That is the only solution we can see.”

There’s another solution. The courthouse. The Associated Press announced last week that it would “seek legal and legislative remedies” to stop Web sites from pirating AP content. The nation’s newspapers own the AP. Shouldn’t newspapers stand up for themselves? (Google, by the way, does pay the AP for its stories.)

You might ask: Why does it matter? Several studies have shown that more than three-quarters of the news you see, hear or read anywhere is at least derivative of something that originally appeared in a newspaper.

Television news has always been especially dependent on newspapers. Years ago, John Chancellor, who was then the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” told me of his morning ritual: He would pad to his front door and pick up the New York Times, then urgently look over the front page “to see if we had played our stories correctly.” That was a long time ago, but quite recently a reporter for a major network news show told me of her exasperation with her producers’ timidity. They wouldn’t run her stories unless they had been “validated,” by appearing first in the Times or the Washington Post. The point is, without newspaper journalism, the nation would have little original journalism left.

Speaking at Stanford University last week, Keller expressed his own exasperation over Google and other news aggregators.

“I wince as they run long excerpts of our material,” he said. “I’ll leave it to the lawyers to decide if that is piracy. But it’s certainly freeloading.”

Lamy had a stronger view. “If you are a consumer, and if there is no disincentive to go to illegitimate Web sites, then that becomes the cultural norm - a world in which people don’t understand the difference between what is legitimate and illegitimate.”

Newspapers offer aggregators an easy target when they give their Web content away for free. In a previous column, I argued that it’s time to start charging. A robust debate has flowered over different strategies for doing that.

Meantime, Keller said he frequently encounters the lofty ethos of the Internet age: Information should be free! Wouldn’t that be nice. Wouldn’t it be nice if metropolitan newspapers didn’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for their reporting staffs? Wouldn’t it be nice if Keller’s paper didn’t have to pay $2 million a year to maintain its Baghdad bureau? Newspapers provide an expensive product. They deserve to be paid for it.

Keller said executives at his company are poring over precedents.

“We’re looking very closely,” he said, “at what the music industry is doing.”

___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Joel Brinkley is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times and now a professor of journalism at Stanford University. Readers may send him e-mail at: brinkley AT foreign-matters.com.

by PopMatters Staff

17 Apr 2009

Every Little Step
Director and Producer: James D. Stern & Adam Del Deo
Opening: 17 April 2009
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

 

Plot summary: Every Little Step explores the incredible journey of A Chorus Line, from ambitious idea to international phenomenon. Through 15 years of continuous performances from the ‘70s to ‘90s and a revival beginning last year, A Chorus Line has touched generations around the world with stories so poignant, they could only have come from truth. The film compares and contrasts the original musical with the current revival. It investigates the societies in which they’ve debuted, and why the themes are so timeless and universal. 

The film goes behind the scenes with exclusive interviews and footage of the revival’s audition process, revealing the dramatic journey of the performers, and unfolding the story of life imitating art. The real dead-of-night conversations in a dance studio that inspired A Chorus Line were recorded to audio tapes which have been locked away for decades. The filmmakers, James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, were granted unprecedented access. Interviews, then and now, with the creative minds who shaped A Chorus Line and the cast who realized it provide fascinating insights and reveal the truths behind the genesis of the show.  [Sony Pictures Classics]

by Mike Schiller

17 Apr 2009

Note: This is part 2 of a book review I started over a month ago.  Personal life got in the way of good intentions, and I never got around to posting this until now.

“Eight is beautiful”.

This is where The Search for a New Game Machine caught me.  Those three little words capture the ridiculousness, the arbitrarity nature of working for a customer driven by the vision of a single person.  Because, you see, to that single person, the very idea of something like “eight is beautiful” is not even close to arbitrary; it makes all the difference in the world. 

In The Search for a New Game Machine, the processor that would someday run the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox was designed to have six “synergistic cores”—basically, the part of the processor that does math operations—and those would have to be meticulously designed such that they would all fit on a single chip.  When narrator David Shippy presents his final design to Ken Kutaragi, however, Kutaragi is pleased but not satisfied.  He wants eight cores.  His reason?  “Eight is beautiful”.

by Rachel Balik

16 Apr 2009

Much to Your ChagrinAuthor: Suzanne GuilletteAtriaMarch 2009, 432 pages, $25.00

Much to Your Chagrin
Author: Suzanne Guillette
Atria
March 2009, 432 pages, $25.00

For a while it seemed that to write a successful memoir, you must have prevailed against some terrible adversity: rape, drugs, racism, war, or private school. David Sedaris tentatively introduced us to the idea that if you could be funny or dysfunctional enough, your life might be worth retelling. Then Oprah countered to make us believe that only really heartbreaking memoirs deserved the attention of the American public.

Unfortunately, Oprah has had some embarrassments lately. James Frey’s book turned out to be a fake. Then so did Angel at the Fence, the Holocaust memoir Oprah called the greatest love story of all time. Somewhere in between, a privileged woman in California convinced a New York editor that she’d been in a gang for a while and survived to tell the inspiring story of Love and Consequences. Even Motoko Rich wrote a glowing review—and the follow-up article reporting it was a lie.

by Bill Gibron

16 Apr 2009

In independent film, emotion is everything. Since budgets don’t allow for much visual flair, locational variance, or narrative diversity, movies of this nature must rely on people, their personalities, and the feelings that derive from same to get the message across. Most of the time, that’s all said cinema has to offer. Originally released as Rigged, but now renamed Fight Night, Jonathan Dillon’s feature film debut falls into a lot of the standard outsider traps. The cinematography is desaturated to the point of almost nonexistence, and the script (by Splinter scribe Ian Shorr) is so desperate to be a post-modern Million Dollar Baby that it practically exudes Eastwood’s sweat. But if you cast aside the obvious attempts at anti-mainstream grit and faux fictional realism, you find a surprisingly intelligent and heartfelt film. Too bad then that the boxing blocks the audience from really getting to know these marginal characters.

For Michael Dublin, the last few years have been a blur. Since leaving the employment of gangster fight promoter Clark Richter, he’s been trying to hustle matches in the highly illegal underground boxing scene. Unfortunately, his lack of ethics and smooth talk swagger gets him in more trouble that his pugilists can make up for. After a particularly pesky con, Dublin is saved by gritty, no nonsense gal Katherine Parker. Quick with her hands and lethal when need be, our huckster sees instant success. Indeed, within weeks, the newly named “Kid Vixen” is the talk of the lawless scarp circuit. Naturally, Richter is aware of the situation, and does whatever he can to preserve his power. But as Parker continues winning, the heavy can no longer ignore her potential. Dublin also sees dollar signs, but his ex-boss may be about to make an offer he can’t refuse…that is, if he wants to live.

Rigged/Fight Night is as schizophrenic as its two names suggest. One moment, we are watching a waif like young woman beat the ever loving snot out of some roided up Central Casting cliché. She even battles a meat puppet whose cowboy hat becomes an object of comedic personal pride. But then writer Shorr and direct Dillon drop all the backdoor Fight Club junk and actually let the characters talk. What comes out is so intriguing, so against everything else the movie wants to accomplish that you can’t help but be thrown off a little. For all their faults, their complete and utter cinematic contrivance and lack of real world authenticity, Dublin and Parker are interesting, especially when they stop talking shop and start talking…life. Had Rigged removed 10 or 15 minutes of the so-called action sequences and stuck with the story of a small town boy struggling to escape his past with the help of an equally alienated girl, we’d have something special. Instead, Dillon tries to have it both ways, and as a result, he undermines each,

Indeed, the fight scenes require a massive grain of suspension of disbelief seasoning. It’s not that Parker couldn’t contend with some of the beef sides she’s paired against. No, she’s so dominating, so Mike Tyson in her proposed talent that there’s no suspense in what transpires within the squared circle. It’s all choppy edited, thrash power musical scoring, and our duo walking away with fattened wallets. Even when her opponent is evenly matched (the aforementioned spit-kicker), she’s unbelievable - literally. Dublin also offers his own unique set of problems. He’s a fairly inept trickster, unable to get away with many of the scams we see him pull. It makes one wonder how he managed to survive this long, especially with the villainous reach of Richter being so overpowering. Indeed, this is one bad guy who has to be actually beaten…to be beaten.

Since the neo-noir dramatics don’t quite gel, it’s up to the more personal stuff to save Rigged/Fight Night, and it almost does. Indeed, thanks to Chad Ortis’ Tom Cruise take on Dublin and Rebecca Neienswander’s “is she or isn’t she” sexual ambiguity, we are willing to follow our leads through some fairly precarious plotpoints. There is an initial meeting where the two have a jailhouse talk that’s quite effective and a long road trip and eventual bus ride gives them other moments of meaningful conversation. Sadly, the film fails to find the same balance within the ancillary characters. Dublin’s mother is introduced and then almost immediately swept away, while an important woman with whom our hero has a history gets equally short shrift. Sadly, Parker’s past is all inference - talk without a face or performance to help us understand. Even an eventual homecoming is vague.

And then there is the look of this film. Cranking down the color to make everything bleak and monochromatic would definitely work had Dillon understood the first thing about black and white cinematics. Instead, this is a clear case of an almost homemade digital production getting its glare turned off to try and make something visually profound. It doesn’t work. The style by DP Hanuman Brown-Eagle announces itself so often that you get tired of the attention grabbing. Add in the less than effective subplots involving Richter, his link to Dublin, and their last act showdown and you can see where Rigged goes astray. Even with a name change, this is the kind of movie that gives other similarly mounted efforts a real case of the respectability heebie jeebies. You can just see the other filmmakers, desperate to get their dreams off the ground, looking at this overly ambitious attempt and more or less giving up.

Still, there is something inherently attractive about the relationship between our two leads. It’s not sexual - that is made clear many times. It’s also not professional, since only one party to the agreement holds up their end of the bargain. And it’s definitely not spiritual, since neither character has much of a soul. Indeed, the real allure of Rigged (or Fight Night - whatever you want to call it) is the growing connection between marginalized members of society’s fringe. We don’t quite root for Dublin and Parker as much as decide not to root against them and no matter who comes out of the woodwork to threaten their pact, there’s never a real fear that they won’t be there for each other. In a genre that relies on sentiment over most other motion picture possibilities, this movie makes a lot of decent decisions. It’s the ones that don’t work which ultimately threaten its entertainment viability.

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Cage the Elephant Ignite Central Park with Kickoff for Summerstage Season

// Notes from the Road

"Cage the Elephant rocked two sold-out nights at Summerstage and return to NYC for a free show May 29th. Info on that and a preview of the full Summerstage schedule is here.

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