Music

Ticketmaster makes the concert experience easy... for millionaires

After tear shedding over declining ticket sales and revenue, Ticketmaster has a new idea. Instead of making tickets cheaper so that they're more affordable and will attract more people (which they tried), you'll now need to mortage your house or sell your car for a seat: Letting the Net do their bidding.

This isn't the first time that the kind, thoughtful, user friendly people at TM have floated this idea. It initially came up in 2003: see Ticketmaster Auction Will Let Highest Bidder Set Concert Prices. That experiment didn't pan out very well but since other efforts to coral people into gigs isn't working, TM decided it was time to dust off this chesnut and stick it to the fans yet again.

So in addition to all the (in)convenience charges (which can add up to half the ticket price or more), they'll now let the bidding market determine how much to pay for premium seats, which is great for anyone with a six figure or more salary but pretty bad for the rest of us. As a recent Slate article revealed, as it is now, many tickets aren't even available to the public, instead going to fan clubs, promotions, record companies, VIP's, etc.. Now in addition to all of that, regular fans are going to have to fight over a more expensive pool of tickets left over. As overpriced as many arena shows are now (i.e. Stones, McCartney, Madonna), they're about to shoot through the roof in price. Rather than scalpers or agents getting the profits, Ticketmaster will now profit from what is in-effect a legalized form of scalping- speaking of which, how are you going to enforce such laws now if TM is doing it officially?

Though they say this is for premium seating at shows, it's obvious that this is a slippery slope and that it's going to get worse. You'll have a smaller group of people fighting over the best seats, which leaves an even smaller group of tickets for everyone else to fight over. Sure enough, when this smaller pool of cheaper seats becomes more sought after, rest assured that TM will throw them open to bidding also. Also, if this is now official TM policy, then it's going to be much more widespread since all the good seats will now have to be throw open to bidding (unless they're give-aways).

The end result will be that shows will become less and less available to most people. Just as drivers have to cut back on other things to afford gas nowadays, fans will have to make the same decisions with concerts- if you have to spend 2-3 times as much for a single show, you'll have less money to afford other shows, which means that some big concerts are going to make a lot of money while other shows suffer in terms of sales. As it stands, that's what's been happening now anyway- a handful of artists have been doing well with touring while many other artists suffer. A trend like ticket bidding is going to make this problem worse and not better. The ones who'll suffer aren't just the fans but also many 2nd and 3rd tier acts whose audience won't have any money left over to see their shows now. And since bands make most of their money from shows (as opposed to royalties), this is going to hit them pretty hard.

Minus the convenience charges and some of the free-bee give-aways, the system we have now is much better than this new legalized-scalping system. Don't expect a weak-kneed do-nothing Congress to step in and stop them and even Pearl Jam has learned that they have to play ball with TM. The only thing that could reverse this trend would be if fans decided that they didn't want to play TM's game. That's easier said than done 'cause if you're a real fan, you'll do whatever you can to see your favorite act. Just as economists predict there is a price ceiling for gas when consumers finally decide to cut back (approx. $5/gallon, they figure), we'll now see if there's going to be a similar ceiling for ticket prices.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

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"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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