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by Rob Horning

26 Mar 2007

It’s pretty easy to mock management theory for its proclivity for taking something that’s fairly commonsensical and presenting it as if it were a miraculous discovery. Amazing but true, but people dislike “change” and resist it! Believe it or not, workers feel “empowered” when their opinions are solicited. And they even like it when you explain to them why they have to do what you tell them in the way you’ve requested, as this WSJ piece by Phred Dvorak (not Fred) reports with wide-eyed surprise.

Management gurus agree that employees are most likely to get on board when they are involved in the decision-making process. In the many cases when that’s not possible, the next-best thing is to make employees feel as if they were involved, consultants say.

I don’t want to even think about what these consultants probably got paid. Dvorak does point out some of the niceties behind this insight, namely, it rarely suit management to have their authority undermined by opening up decision-making processes to criticism.  Management can often justify its existence by conserving and mystifying its knowledge of the systems it has put in place—this makes them indispensable and irreplaceable. In other words, it’s not usually an innocent mistake when you are kept ignorant by a boss, but on the plus side, if you deduce their reasons and start disseminating them, you may very well find yourself co-opted into a management position yourself.

Oddly enough, workers dislike being treated like interchangeable parts being plugged into a system that has no regard for their individuality—and the task of the manager is to overcome this fundamental obstacle. The obfuscating discourse of the pseudoscience of management furthers this end, helping to mask the humanity of those being managed and institutionalizing their needs into the production process—so many 15-minute breaks and ritualized pats on the back, as advised in whatever management guru’s (and they are invariably gurus) book is in vogue at the time. Management theory is useful in that it abstracts interpersonal behavior away from our ordinary human impulses, or tendency to drift toward the golden rule, the categorical imperative or whatever you want to call it, and allows managers to treat other people instrumentally—precisely how the managers themselves would not wanted to be treated. This is not to criticize managers—industrial-scale production and the division of labor forces the integration of a variety of individuals into a unified mechanism, one that requires the surrender of that individuality that elsewhere we are taught to prize and proudly flaunt. Managers have the unhappy task of enforcing that surrender of individuality, of breaking the sad news that you can’t simply do things your own way any more.

The consequences of this surrender of individuality is that workers stage small-scale clawbacks—decorating their cubicles with signs of the person they are outside of management’s clutches. I tend to resist this impulse personally and try to blend into anonymity; it just feels too desperate, like admitting that the battle for my soul has already been lost.

by Bill Gibron

25 Mar 2007

When last we left director Terry Gilliam, he was waging a one man war against THINKFilm and their Region 1 DVD release of his latest effort, Tideland. Angry over the way in which the addled “adult fairy tale” was treated – from a purely technical standpoint – he had called for a kind of boycott. The disagreement was over that most tenuous of digital dynamics, the original theatrical aspect ratio. THINKFilm made a decision – rightly or wrongly – to change the film’s framing from a longer and thinner 2.35:1 (how it played during its short big screen run) to a wider and more ‘open’ 1.85:1. To make matters worse, only the Region 2 version from Revolver Entertainment maintains Gilliam’s original ‘vision’. All other presentations have, for some reason, perverted his compositions.

Some have questioned the filmmaker’s motives in this case, citing various conspiratorial reasons why he would purposefully decide to undermine his own film. Such sentiments were further amplified recently when Gilliam released yet another statement, suggesting that anyone who bought the Region 1 release of Tideland place black masking tape across the top and bottom of the image. He even provided some crude instructions on how to freeze-frame the opening credits and apply the image-blocking material. Instead of destroying our TV sets in such a manner however, SE&L has decided to apply science to a question of tenuous technology. With a copy of both the Revolver release from Region 2 and our trusty THINKFilm’s Region 1 title, we’ve taken screen caps of similar scenes from the film, and offer them up for comparison. Pay close attention to the black bars featured on the overseas transfer. It is the supposed telltale sign that something is amiss with this release.


Jeliza-Rose Meets Dell - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)


Jeliza-Rose Meets Dell - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)


Jeliza-Rose Dreams of Life Underwater - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)


Jeliza-Rose Dreams of Life Underwater - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)


Jeliza-Rose and Dickens Play Dress Up - Region 1 release (1.85:1 aspect ratio)


Jeliza-Rose and Dickens Play Dress Up - Region 2 release (2.35:1 aspect ratio)

From an initial look, it’s obvious that the Region 1 edition provides a minor amount of additional information at the top and bottom of the screen. In the scene where the character of Jeliza-Rose is imagining her life in an underwater world, you can clearly see more of the floating table in the top right corner and make out the base of the pillar in the front foreground. In the sequence where Dickens and our lead share a quiet, intimate moment, more of the man’s leg is visible. In the first images of Dell, all that’s obscured is the top line of the horizon. In fact, throughout the Region 2 version of the film, insignificant moments like this have been cropped. In addition, it’s quite clear that NO information is lost along the left or right edges of the frame. Some websites had complained that, in order for THINKFilm to maintain the compositions created by Gilliam within a 1.85:1 aspect ratio readjustment, the print would have to be digitally “zoomed”. Clearly that is not the case here.

As the result of such a side-by-side comparison, what stands out most of all here is that this entire OAR argument appears to be a case of much ado about principle. As we have seen, the movie doesn’t really suffer from the rather unnecessary reconfiguration. The visuals are still stunning to look at, and THINKFilm has not altered the size of the images to fit its designs. Watching either version of the title will still provide you with the aesthetic intent of the cinematography and art design. What does suffer, however, is Gilliam’s rights as an artist and a man of integrity. His film has undoubtedly been fiddled with, and it appears to be a situation out of his control. What this says about the future of the digital format, and how the creative clashes with the commercial for the sake of some higher ethical standard could be something very concerning indeed. In fact, it could be the beginning of a whole new ‘pan and scan’ style argument – the kind that more or less killed off the VHS format.

When one starts with the basic acknowledgement that Tideland is definitely NOT being offered in its original aspect ratio, two questions immediately cloud the conversation – (1) why was this done, and (2) is it really a circumstance worth committing career suicide over. While the later inquiry may seem harsh, it does hit on the reality behind the reaction by Gilliam. A filmmaker already walking around with a dark cloud of difficulty surrounding his reputation doesn’t need to add further fuel to such a raging character inferno. All throughout the commentary track on the DVD he complains about the difficulties of working independently and how he longs to be back in the mainstream moviemaking fold (at least, he admits, until he gets booted out again). He definitely doesn’t earn any employability brownie points with this kind of schaudenfreuda shenanigans. Or perhaps, it’s a case of whistling past the given graveyard. Gilliam really isn’t anyone’s fool. He clearly knows his already skittish status in Hollywood. Maybe he thinks this kind of goofball grandstanding will endear him to someone looking for an outsider desperate to crawl back in. Either way, he doesn’t lose so much as deflect attention back toward his distributor.

That’s why the first question is a far more intriguing – and lasting – consideration. It seems clear that THINKFilms felt it could marginalize this movie, removing the black bars present on the Region 2 release to “open up” the image. Little else about the DVD itself is different – both versions contain nearly the same exact supplementary features and added content. Maybe they still believe – as company’s like Blockbuster and Disney claim – that audiences prefer home theater images that fill the frame. And since they couldn’t get away with a standard 1.33:1 edition, they instead decided to make the letterboxing as likable as possible. Of course, this remains a mere theory, especially since the Academy screener they sent out in November was also formatted for the 1.85:1 image. If Gilliam is to be believed – and there is always a bit of the carnival barker about this extremely talented man – all of this was done without his knowledge. Whether he even had the right to interfere and demand his original vision be offered is another story for another day.

In the end, it appears that the Tideland scandal – or whatever lesser variation of said word you want to use – boils down to idealism vs. intent. On the pragmatic side, the OAR has been altered, and yet the effect is negligible. On the motivation surface, it seems THINKFilm’s undermined its product by presenting it in a manner that made its creator very angry. No matter how much salt one takes with Gilliam’s basic ‘boycott’ comments, you don’t want the maker of your merchandise calling for a embargo. Visually, you are not missing anything if your purchase the Region 1 DVD. But behind the scenes, away from the camera and the cast, the issue lingers. Was it just a mistake? Was it meant to be a kind of demographically demanded compromise? Was THINKFilm simply out to lunch when they made the decision to handle this already tripwire title in such a manner? The plot thickens. Sadly, we may never have an answer. Leave it to Terry Gilliam and everything he touches to always remain a pleasantly puzzling enigma. 

by PopMatters Staff

25 Mar 2007

Tinariwen
Cler Achel [MP3] from Aman Iman: Water Is Life
     

“Tinariwen’s songs, almost always constructed over five-tone scales and wreathed in handclaps, are propelled by icy-hot guitars over sinuous French and Tamashek vocals. The material sometimes contains recollections of other Malian luminaries, such as Amadou and Mariam, Habib Koité, Oumou Sangaré, and the late Ali Farka Touré, plus New World descendants like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and untold generations of Delta bluesmen. Their lyrics speak of drought and displacement, deceased heroes, and assouf, which like Brazilian saudade can mean longing, nostalgia, and love of home, but also a desert-dweller’s bone-deep craving for open wilderness and solitude. The third tune, Matajem Yinmixan (“Why All This Hate Between You?”), even harbors tantalizing echoes of European troubadour music, which after all evolved from some of the same ancient Muslim sources. On Ahimana (“Oh My Soul”), original founding member Mohammed Ag Itlale (aka “Japonais”), a renowned poet, interprets a style more usually performed by women, paradoxically with no loss of masculinity. Throughout, rangy, cloaked pickers are flanked by a female chorus whose hand drums are spiked by sharp, off-center clapping, shrill ululations, and fervent responses to the men’s singing. Together, they goad one another to heights of fervent experimentation while basking amid hallowed folkways.”—World Village

The National
Fake Empire [MP3]
     

Hail Social
Heaven [MP3]
     

Warning Sign [MP3]
     

Mother Hips
Time-Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear [MP3]
     

TOUR DATES
04/04 | San Francisco, CA
04/06 | San Francisco, CA
04/07 | San Francisco, CA
04/13 | Los Angeles, CA
04/14 | Solana Beach, CA
04/20 | Sacramento, CA
04/27 | Salt Lake City, UT
04/28 | Salt Lake City, UT
05/04 | New York, NY
05/05 | Hoboken, NJ
05/10 | Chicago, IL
05/12 | Minneapolis, MN
05/17 | Seattle, WA
05/18 | Portland, OR
05/19 | Hood River, OR

The Electric Soft Parade
If That’s The Case, Then I Don’t Know [MP3]
     

TOUR DATES
3/28 | London, Shepherds Bush Empire
3/29 | London, The Fly
4/18 | Stoke, The Sugarmill
4/19 | Newcastle, Stonelove @ Digital
4/20 | Dundee, Westport Bar

by Jason Gross

25 Mar 2007

A great article from Michael Geist’s website about a Canadian university conference where the guy between the supremely flawed Digital Millennium Copyright Act admits that the whole DMCA is not only screwed but needs to be scrapped.  Along with this extraordinary admission, he goes on to say that the whole idea of ‘copyright’ needs to be reexamined.

‘The most interesting - and surprising - presentation came from Bruce Lehman, who now heads the International Intellectual Property Institute.  Lehman explained the U.S. perspective in the early 1990s that led to the DMCA (ie. greater control though TPMs), yet when reflecting on the success of the DMCA acknowledged that “our Clinton administration policies didn’t work out very well” and “our attempts at copyright control have not been successful”.  Moreover, Lehman says that we are entering the “post-copyright” era for music, suggesting that a new form of patronage will emerge with support coming from industries that require music (webcasters, satellite radio) and government funding.  While he says that teens have lost respect for copyright, he lays much of the blame at the feet of the recording industry for their failure to adapt to the online marketplace in the mid-1990s.’

Bravo! But is the industry gonna heed his words now?

by Bill Gibron

24 Mar 2007

An elderly couple’s car has broken down along a lonely country road. With their tire flat, the man struggles to change it with little success. Suddenly, a motorcycle gang shows up, a bunch of leather-wearing weirdoes with their sleazy old ladies along for the ride. But instead of harming the aged pair, they proceed to repair their car and send them on their way. While still out for a sometimes illegal good time, this Harley-riding horde is also considerate and concerned for their fellow man. Recognizing that the freedom they seek must be provided to others as well, they only use their bad-ass image to undermine the Establishment.

When the girlfriend of a dead buddy’s brother is assaulted, the police naturally pin the crime on the Club. Turns out, it was a rogue officer that was responsible for the frame-up. With the help of the gal’s frantic father and a local weapons lover who masquerades as a nature-loving sportsman, the town hopes a little vigilante justice will drive the bikers away once and for all. Resolved to clear their name, the clan prepares for a showdown. A funeral for a fallen member provides the perfect backdrop for a standoff, and with everyone loaded for bear, it’s not long before the Northville Cemetery Massacre is in full, fatal swing.

Let’s just call this two-wheeled wonder Uneasy Rider and get it over with, shall we? Like Robert Altman directing a Roger Corman biker epic, Northville Cemetery Massacre defies description as precisely as it plays with certain cinematic classifications. Some sort of counterculture experiment by first-time filmmakers Thomas L. Dyke (his only credit) and William Dear (who would go on to helm Harry and the Hendersons and Angels in the Outfield), this combination of cinema vérité, born to be wildness, and standard cautionary storytelling is one bizarre bit of motorcycle mayhem.

Both embracing and examining the outlaw nature of the chopper champion, Dyke and Dear originally called their movie Freedom: R.I.P. , with good reason. This movie was meant to symbolize the inner corruption among so-called law-abiding citizens, including the police themselves, while striving to show the leather-wearing biker as a righteous dude with an undeserved rowdy reputation. Oh sure, there’s some bar-based fisticuffs, and the movie ends in one of the biggest bloodbaths captured on independent film, but at its heart, Northville Cemetery Massacre wants to draw a distinction between brutality based in the support of brotherhood, and cruelty as a sense of civic duty.

Buried inside all the “us vs. them” underpinnings are class-crossed lovers who just want to get high and roll in the hay. With a voice dubbed by a very young Nick Nolte, our slightly fey hero is an ex-Vietnam vet whose decision to drop out has a lot to do with the treatment of his dearly departed brother at the hands of authorities. His potential old lady is a typical small-town twinkie who’s lost in her own inner world of frilly drapes, romantic phone calls, and sexual assault at the hands of a psychotic sheriff’s deputy. Together, the duo makes an uneasy core for the average audience member. He feels like an afterthought to the whole narrative construct, a drive-in denizen who presents passion pitters with a like-minded weed head they can identify with.

As for the gal, she emanates about as much sex appeal as a socket wrench, and her moments of tasteful toplessness do very little to stir male viewing interest. It would be interesting to see a version of this film sans the lovebird life lessons, one that uses the real-life Detroit Scorpions Motorcycle Club as a foundation for a pragmatic look at how ‘70s society viewed such “gangs.” Instead, we get the gratuitous rape, the sportsman/serial killer who can’t wait to hunt that most dangerous of games, and an ending that’s both perfunctory and profound, questioning all that’s come before while offering little in the way of easy solutions.

For many a seasoned grindhouse fan, this sounds like solid sleazoid stuff, right? Well, the truth is trickier than that. While obviously aimed at an exploitation-appreciating throng, there is a strange, audience adverse approach to Dyke and Dear’s designs. Obviously unable to “direct” the real-life bikers, we get a clashing confrontation of styles and substance, amateur acting accented by professional performers trying to add to the authenticity. Many of the scenes are fascinating free-for-alls, dialogue constantly overlapping and conversations collapsing in on each other. We never really get to know the riders, and their women are pure props, positioned on the back of their Harleys for maximum hot mama effect. But this was probably not Dyke and Dear’s point. With that original title of Freedom: R.I.P. , they were clearly responding to the idea that America was becoming a nation divided along generational lines.

To the conservative clans who held the power, a group like the Scorpions represented lawlessness and defiance. That many of them were actually decent people drawn together by a sense of family that was sadly lacking in a post-‘60s society never really mattered much to those in charge. Bikers were an easy breed to pick on (the Hell’s Angels not helping matters much). By turning them into amiable anti-heroes here, the directors manage the mirror reflection on the culture that so many movies of this kind miss. For those who long for the days of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper puffing their way across a dying America, Northville Cemetery Massacre will be a big, bad, bloody mess. But for those looking for more depth than defiance in their motorcycle storyline, this movie makes a very strong, if rather surreal, point.

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Moving Pixels Podcast: Unearthing the 'Charnel House'

// Moving Pixels

"This week we discuss Owl Creek Games's follow up to Sepulchre, the triptych of tales called The Charnel House Trilogy.

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