30 March 2009

Say It Isn't So: An Example of How Not to Do Business and the Controversy Surrounding the Altered Subtitles for the Commercial DVD/BR Release of LDRKI

OK, first, let me apologize for egregiously acronymizing the full title of the film in question, an abbreviation I would never make unless there were good reason (in this case, a character limit on a post's title); shortening Låt den Ratte Komma In (Let the Right One In) to "LDRKI" is almost as horrendous an offense as the one enacted onto the film by its North American distributor, Magnet, but disonerously in my case an offense that could not have been averted. Magnet however withstands no such excuse and will receive no sympathy for its lack of just recourse from this one impassioned blogger, who this past year elected the film in question the Best of the Year. The distributor's offense? Botching exceptionally the English subtitles/translations of the Swedish characters' dialogue, so that they not only undermine the more profound subtleties of the film's narrative, but also and moreover undermine even the simple ones, like in the pictured (above) example that comes to us via Awards Daily from Icons of Fright. That example , along with many many others, makes it clear that there is a tremendous difference between a best approximate translation and a slapdash superficial rendering, a difference that in the case of any verbally dependent construct means verily life or death, meaning or non-meaning, significance or flap. And to condemn to flap the words of any such esteemed writing as the dialogue of this film is a serious grievance indeed. In response to the public outcry over this aggrieving mess the distributor has issued a semi-formal apology to fans of the work and has promised to produce all future DVD and BR editions of the film with the original subtitles, used in its U. S. theatrical release, which were quite succinctly a comparative Rosetta Stone. However, despite this issuance and this promise to make foreseeable amends to its product, the distributor has refused to consider the vociferous requests for reimbursement or at least free-exchange for those consumers who have already purchased the flawed version of the film to obtain the corrected one. Apparently, as Awards Daily so exactly diagnosed it, Magnet's response was not a real acceptance of responsibility on the distributor's part for what was clearly its own mistake as it was a terse acquiescence to what it makes out to be the unpredictable fancies of certain fans (see excerpt below): The company that simultaneously admits to a blunder refuses to bear the burden of correcting it and rather wants its customers to pay for the cost of correcting the faulty subtitles by rebuying the film at no alleviation to them - a business decision that, like those of so many other short-sighted and self-interested incorporations and institutions these days, was made of an utter disregard for certain groups of clients that are deemed insignificant and a callous and unwavering regard for only one's own bank account and one's own bottom line. Has no one learned anything? Have you, Magnet, not recognized by now that making moves like this one not only damage your extant client base but also encourage other potential clients to think twice about purchasing from you? More importantly, have you not recognized by now that acting exclusively out of self-interest in the business world is what has driven this country into the financial crisis out of which it is now failingly struggling to recover? And, perhaps most importantly, have you not recognized that mature individuals take full responsibilities for their own mistakes and consider pawning such responsibilities off, onto injuriously affected, insultingly involved third-parties is incredibly wrong and demeaning and - frankly - makes the actually responsible parties look like total jerks? How then, I pray you Magnet who I cannot believe have not recognized any of those things, does denying responsibility for what was clearly your error and concurrently asking your customers to accept that responsibility as if it had been entirely their fault look like the right way to go? Really, I'd like to know.
Despite whatever meager recourses you have pledged so far, recognize at least this: by flubbing so spectacularly what could have been an extremely minor lapse in judgement and PR piece-of-cake, you have lost certainly not only me but also many others who would have otherwise been diligent patrons of your business, even despite the fact of how much we all enjoyed the movie whose rights, it is unfortunate, you have the right to distribute. Enjoy you your position on top of permanently lessened revenue.
Readers, you may find a fuller account of this situation and Magnet's translative bungling at Awards Daily (here) and at Icons of Fright (here) as well as some excerpts from those articles and their comments by other readers below:

"We’ve been made aware that there are several fans that don’t like the version of the subtitles on the DVD/BR. We had an alternate translation that we went with. Obviously a lot of fans thought we should have stuck with the original theatrical version. We are listening to the fans feedback, and going forward we will be manufacturing the discs with the subtitles from the theatrical version.
"There are no exchanges. We are going to make an alternate version available however. For those that wish to purchase a version with the theatrical subtitles, it will be called out in the tech specs box at the back/bottom of the package where it will list SUBTITLES: ENGLISH (Theatrical), SPANISH (Magnet, as quoted by John Brase, Awards Daily commenter, 30 March 2009 at 10:57am)."

"I agree with you[, Awards Daily]! It is rotten, and those responsible, from the stupid choice to go with the alternate subtitles when the original was perfectly fine to the refusal to replace the 'bad' copies are guilty of bad business practice all around. It makes one wonder how much Magnet/Magnolia understood the film (or should I simply say, 'film') themselves if they made that choice in the first place. They should have known how the alternate subtitles changed so much of the tone of the film. That they didn’t 'get it' until fans complained speaks volumes about them. They just seem to have been thinking about the quick buck they’d make by releasing 'that Swedish vampire movie everyone’s talking about'. It’s very cynical of them (rosieposie, Awards Daily commenter, 30 March 2009 at 12:42pm)."

"Thanks, rosieposie. I wasn’t directing my last comment at you, either. I appreciate you standing up for the issues I’m raising.

"Comments here at consumerist.com are covering all the angles. At the risk of incorrectly translating their intentions, I’ll try to summarize a few key points.

"1) It’s insulting that Magnolia felt it need to simplify an intelligent foreign film for American audiences by giving us a “See Dick Run” version for a 3rd grade reading level.
2) It’s crass for Magnolia to admit “we know fans are unhappy” and in the same press release say “tough luck”
3) In a few days the correct subtitle files will be all over the web (the movie already is — in standard and Blu-ray) so anybody who wants the movie critics saw last year can get the better version for free — while those who paid retail get the inferior version. Way to discourage piracy, Magnolia)
4) Isn’t one of the touted advantages of BD-Live supposed to enable ethernet upgrades and additional features to pre-existing purchases?
5) How many people who got burned buying this DVD will avoid buying Magnolia discs in the future?
6) There’s a disclaimer before pan-and-scan chop-jobs, apologizing for the movie on the screen not being what the filmmakers intended. Shouldn’t the filmmakers sue over having their movie rewritten by an untalented studio hireling?

"here’s an email address

"You know, we’re not talking about Bride Wars. This is a Tickle-Me-Elmo version of a brilliant movie that made almost every Top 10 lists last year, as close to a modern classic as anything we’ve seen in months. Is it asking to much to give people a DVD that resembles the same movie a few of us were lucky enough to see in theaters or exclusive screeners? So the rest of the movie-going public can have the same experience (Ryan Adams, Awards Daily moderator, 30 March 2009 at 1:03pm)?"

29 March 2009

Featurette: Grey Gardens

HBO has just released a longer featurette, providing some behind-the-scenes footage and commentary, for its upcoming filmic release Grey Gardens (see here), the fictionalized adaptation of the true story of the lives of the Big and Little Edies Beale, aunt and first cousin of former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The featurette, which contains more specifically perspectives from its leading actresses Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore on their parts in the drama, may be viewed on YouTube, here:

Other such teasers/featurettes by HBO for the film may be found at the official website for the production, here.

28 March 2009

Trailer: Where the Wild Things Are (with Theoretical Addendum)

Another exciting preview, the trailer for this year's adaptation of the beloved eponymous book by M. Sendak doesn't fail to be as escapistically fantastic as its literal source. Let's hope the same will be true of the complete product. Click here to watch.

A marketing-related sidebar to this post about the trailer: The use of music in it is particularly interesting, since (a) it is yet another instance (see here and here for the others) of a choice song designed to lift a trailer, whose referential story is already well-known, to a peak of exciting wonder otherwise unattainable for a piece whose referential story has been revealed so much already and since (b), more specifically to this instance, it seems to me to bring the piece a cadence and feeling that would ordinarily not be reserved for films drawn from the children's genre. That is, the cadence and the feeling that the music does bring seem apt to deliver the piece much more strongly to the people of my generation and older, perhaps through their 30s, people who likely grew up with the plot points of the original story as significant episodes in their own real lives and who therefore now have a nostalgic affinity for the story embedded into their minds and inextricably woven into their fascinations with kid-culture, than to the true present-day children, aged 0-10, who may be experiencing the story firsthand now. While such an approach is not entirely new (as the cool factor [for children] given by the activities of people only a bit older than the children themselves is a long played-upon phenomenon [e. g., Saved by the Bell, Gossip Girl, which regularly feature(d) people legally regarded as children in situations considered far more mature and therefore cooler than the situations in which the show's primary audience (i. e., "tweens") does(did)]), I argue, this manifestation of the cool factor defies precedent and seems to eschew having an ultimate audience of children at all after its would-be-ulterior audience of twenty-somethings and other such people in the throes of post-adolescent, new adulthood. For a more grounding comparison, if you find it difficult to believe what I'm arguing so far, see the 2005 teaser trailer for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (2006), which (setting aside the late appearance in the trailer of sex, quarter-life ennui, and rebelliously stylized text and focusing more on the initial presentations [i. e., of running horses, rushing trees, dancing]) I estimate uses similarly tuned music and thus similarly effected action to deliver a product for the appeal of certainly not actual children, but certainly rather such twenty-somethings and related whom I have just mentioned. Furthermore, beyond the cadence and the mere feeling, the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are, when it does picture the adults in the story, pictures them tentatively, through a child's eyes, as if romance, responsibility, etc. were internally perceived unsettling outgrowths of a situation purely external, purely physical and not in any way psychical or psychically representative - a double-sided dynamic, I'm sure, many people in that new-adulthood age-bracket that I've mentioned would not consider elementally foreign from their experiences. Though one may argue that such a claim may be highly subjective and/or highly speculative, I defy that one to prove it untenable. As a last note, it would be interesting to know before what films and in what trailers' company this trailer (for Where the Wild Things Are) is/will be playing; such evidence could also bring still further ground to my theory, if it testified to the coevals of films like Away We Go etc., which (based on my estimations) play on the same double-sided, transitional, and metaphysical topics. (Leave me a comment if you know!) For now, though, the appearance of it, the visual and audial cues and the portrayal of adulthood, may be enough alone.

26 March 2009

Yes, Yes, and Yes: Leading Actresses in 2009

Quickly following up on the heels of my previous post, about one of the prospects for film in 2009 (namely, Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock), comes this new post filled with less thrilling-looking films than thrilling-looking performances, specifically performances by actresses in leading roles this upcoming year, actresses some of whom will no doubt be passionately discussed here at the year's end, January 2010. (For the record, just from the photographs, I have my money on Meryl Streep. Cheers, Meryl!) In brief, with links to the shoal-filled amalgam from which these bits were culled (i. e., Awards Daily), here is a list of these exciting-making performances (in no particular order):

As an interesting, only tangentially related post scriptum, it is worthwhile, I think, to mention, like Awards Daily has, that The Special Relationship does, like last year's late Revolutionary Road did, reunite two actors who have previously played an prominent on-screen couple to a second round of on-screen coupledom and, as such, the film provides an interesting mental venture, that somehow, in a strange, coincidental, and crossed-realities kind of way, the reunion (in this case, of Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore) may provide film-goers with a mind for remembering their previous on-screen marriage (i. e., as Frank and Cathy Whitaker in 2002's beautiful Far from Heaven [Haynes]) a chance to reimagine how else that former marriage may have gone, had circumstances therein been different. Though not fodder for serious debate, since it is generally bad practice to tow in line with actors their entire lists of previously portrayed characters, in this case and in the case of Leo and Kate the matter is certainly food for meta-artistic thought, perhaps about the lives of such characters beyond the borders of the screen and the parts of those people who portrayed them that may linger, as, it would be difficult to deny, the two versions of marriage that those couples share inextricably do lay over one another, as if in tantalizingly perfect cosymmetry. Perhaps there will be a more official post on this matter when I've had a longer period of time to think about it, later. Certainly other historical examples, if such a post were to be done, would have to be breached. Until then, what do you think of it, reader? I'd be interested to know; do leave your thoughts, if you have any, in the comments section below. Thanks and happy blogging!

Trailer: Taking Woodstock

Duly following up on my previous posts on Ang Lee's upcoming adaptation of the book Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life, written by Elliot Tiber with Tom Monte, (see here and here), I bring you now the first released trailer (below) for the film, abridgingly entitled Taking Woodstock and featuring among others Emile Hirsche, Imelda Staunton, and Liev Schreiber. By my reaction, the trailer paints an entirely different image of the piece than that which I had originally imagined myself, but it nevertheless should become an interesting work and at very least one of the reviewed films here this year, at A Year in Film, when it is released later in 2009. Until then, updates on the film, as well as whatever additional previews that may be released, will surely be found here. So stay tuned.

23 March 2009

Theory: On 3-D

So, I'm not sure about whether or not I've mentioned this fact here before, but I am as a cinephile of a degree keenly interested in the discourse surrounding and, of course, the practice of using 3-D technology in filmmaking - and I have been so for quite some time now, ever since I first saw Alfred Hitchcock's beautiful Dial M for Murder (1954) several years ago and learned thereafter that the film was originally shot in part in 3-D, a technology whose potential the great director Hitchcock saw and effectively used to abolish that fourth wall (i. e., the silver screen) dividing the world of the audience from the world of the characters in the film. That is, in Dial M, Hitchcock took perhaps the most poignant moment in the film (i. e., the attempted-murder scene) and his direction for it, especially to leading actress Grace Kelly (whom he instructed to reach out towards the camera as if in pleading desperation upon being strangled), to effectuate an integration of the audience in the moment and the emotions - in short, in the context - of the stirring events of the film itself. By being so beseeched by the leading actress and murderer's victim, the audience then becomes not only a witness to such nefarious events, but also a participant in them, a bystander yes but an accomplice too, a party conscious of the things that are happening, sought after for their resolution, but all the while resolutely unable to intervene. Being so made cohorts with the deed, the audience finds itself in a position uncommon to the tropes of filmmaking from years before 1954 and, indeed, for many years after it, a position that throughout such times could almost exclusively, only be realized in the similarly constructed world of live theater (in which, it is true, the actors may by virtue of their immediate presences play their characters toward members of the spectating audience and simultaneously those spectating members may feel themselves participants, albeit powerless, in the drama they're watching unfold). Though this claim is of course not to say that there have been no other incidences of intelligent and thought-provocative use of 3-D in film than Hitchcock's use of it in 1954, it is to say that, though there have been nary a few, there have been some, a contestation which the filmmakers and filmreporters working in Hollywood today of late seem by their statements somewhat loathe to acknowledge as they stand in the midst of a industry-consuming climate bandying about 3-d as if it had just been invented - well, they being at least the filmmakers of the animated genre and the filmreporters of the Time, Inc. family, for in their latest respective releases they cooperatively rally for cultural excitement over a resurrection of technology long overdue for that technology's unique aforementioned merits but speciously now effectuated (at best) as a largely transparent attempt on behalf of the industry to keep audiences going to the theaters during a climate predisposed by the internet, HD TVs, other On Demand services, and - last but certainly not least - a profound financial struggle to staying within the comforts of one's own home for 2-D entertainment.

"The world is melting down around us - we're not immune to it," [Jeffrey] Katzenberg[, a studio executive for Dream Works Pictures,] says. [.... Adds] Chuck Viane, president of distribution at Disney - which, like Dream Works, is now making all of its animated movies in 3-D[ -] "You want to be able to hold over what's good and properly seat what's new." [....] "In order to bring people back to the movie theaters, we've got to do something exceptional - we have to raise the bar," Katzenberg says of the strategy behind the 3-D surge, "I really believe this could turn the tide Hollywood's way." [....] "Cinema reaches its visual peak 50 years ago," says [Jon] Landau[, James Cameron's longtime producing partner]. "Nothing has improved since then. But we have a responsibility to continue to provide the communal cinema-going experience." In other words, give it a whole new dimension. (Sperling, "3-D Movie Preview" as printed in Entertainment Weekly, #1040 - March 27, 2009)
And why exactly do we want to turn the tide to this Hollywood's way, this Hollywood that has admittedly been keeping the amazing potential of 3-D technology in their financially tight back-pockets for the past fifty years, only to now resurrect it when the cost of enacting it no longer outweighs the (likely) cost of not enacting it? What do we think of keeping financial strictures on technological advancements in general, simply because the leading institutions in the industries in question would take a slight fiscal hit to make such advancements possible? Well, whatever we think, it seems, we don't have much pull here anyway and, furthermore, it would be as silly as Peter's dismissal of a TV executive's acquiescence to produce Peter's animated show in the manner that Peter himself likes on last night's episode of Family Guy to turn the fruits of 3-D down now, when they've finally been given the all-mighty green light. Still, perhaps such facts are worth noting, if only to keep in our own back-pockets, especially if the 3-D chute should begin popping out flicks as puerile and banal as the 2-D ones that preceded them and it should turn out that all 3-D was ever meant to be is another gimmick to sell-sell-sell in the long line of poor excuses to do so that have preceded it - consult your B-horror-movie archives, guys; it's already been done. Learn from your industry's foibles and mistakes; absorb your past and make it worth our present; or, I promise you, the quick pop of more widely spread 3-D imagery in film will be less constant than my (tangible!) bubblegum's.
Stay tuned here; reviews of 3-D films, like Focus Feature's much so far praised Coraline are to come.

20 March 2009

Announcement: Criterion Endocytoses The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Via Awards Daily comes this just terrific news, that late last year's much-nominated release by David Fincher The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is receiving its inaugural DVD and Blu-Ray-disc releases via perhaps the most well-regarded film-distributing house today, a house that holds under its name some of the most celebrated works by the greatest acknowledged masters of film ever (e. g., Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini), The Criterion Collection. Though the Collection's website has yet to reflect the news, the press release and the (above) doctored box art for the film assure us of the veracity of this just terrific claim.

Now you, discerning reader, have probably by now noticed that I've chosen to use the adjective "terrific" twice to describe this news from Hollywood and, indeed, chosen it carefully I have, fully aware of that word's dichotomous and precipitously polar sides. While there are some no doubt out there who favor one of the two possible slants of that word, you my dear reader have no doubt, for the previous history of this blog with regard to the Collection (see here and here) and to that film (see here and here), uncovered that I place myself well on the other side of the coin; and in response to the news, I have only and emphatically to beseech The Criterion Collection itself, "WHAT?!" with full palm to forehead, eyes closed, and vigorous head shake.


17 March 2009

Trailer: Away We Go

Via Awards Daily comes to us this smart-looking little trailer for the early summer release Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes, whom - despite his overly-cosmetized portrait of suburban fracturing that was his late last year's Revolutionary Road - we here still hold in considerably high regard. The film, which features an all-star cast that includes some of the greatest indie actors working today (e. g., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Alison Janney, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara) as well as two solid-looking performances from its leads (i. e., Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski), is co-written interestingly by Dave Eggers, the screenwriter who is also responsible for the upcoming live-action adaptation of the popular children's book Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak, 1964; an adaptation being directed - f. y. i. - by the talented Spike Jones [see his presentation of Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation. (2002)]). The film also quite interestingly has been shot by the cinematographer Ellen Kuras, whose brilliant work on Mr. Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) practically defined the work as an introspective beauty playing on the interstice between the light and the dark. Similarly styled lighting may be seen in this trailer here, for Away We Go, and should no doubt bring not only reminiscences of the cinematographer's earlier work but also natural, aural hues and tones that will embellish and set this new release in a similar border between clarity and obscurity. All in all, I'm very excited about this collaboration and its prospects and eagerly look forward to its release, reported as limited on the first Friday in June. Cheers for summer!

A quick P. S.: The usage of music in this trailer seems directly relevant to the topic of my previous post, on the impact of musical cues in trailers, in which coincidentally the trailer for Mr. Mendes' last work (i. e., Revolutionary Road) is discussed as a primary example. Coincidence much, anyone? I think not.

12 March 2009

The Marketing of a Film: On the Trailer

I've just come across this extremely thought-provocative article in the Notebook section of The Criterion Collection's Auteurs website. The piece, written by Daniel Kasman, concisely discusses some of the finer considerations that occur during trailer-making, considerations that include how the cultivation of rich, ripe, and subjectively appropriate musical cues can often work to defer the otherwise overly informative serialization of clips that has recently become a virtual staple of the filmic trailer. In this train of thought, the article meditates on the potential involved in creating such pervasive and recognized marketing pieces (as trailers) and probes the alternatives that would otherwise exist in such a specialized marketing practice. For easy reference, I have reproduced the article here (below) along with the trailer that it uses as prime example, a trailer that I also have discussed in tread of similar theory: that for last year's late release Revolutionary Road.

The trailer for Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road (2008) is particularly interesting because it utilizes one trend in contemporary trailers—relying on a pop song as a crutch to structure trailer rhythm, connote an aura (and era) from the music, and prompt audience sympathy for the music to carry over to the film—to undermine another trend: long trailers that essentially show every major development in a given movie.

While playing pop music over a trailer may seem an easy and cheap effect (and the use of music in Revolutionary Road is just that), it is the latter habit of contemporary movie trailers that is the most insulting. It is as if producers think all audiences ask from a movie is recognition followed shortly by safety. If you know what kind of movie you are going to see, as well as everything that is sure to happen in the film, paying $12 to see it is not longer a risk for an audience member. This is a scary line of thinking for movie marketing, and forgets a great deal of fantastic publicity campaigns that focused on teases, mystery, and concept over obviousness and constant revelation.

Which brings us back to this trailer for Revolutionary Road, which pretty much shows us the gist of the central relantionship in the film between buttoned down salaryman Leonardo DiCaprio and stifled housewife Kate Winslet. But combining this irritatingly show-it-all attitude with Nina Simone's masterpiece "Wild as the Wind" does something unexpected: it transforms the tone of the montage. Her steady melancholy, rolling slowly, lyrically along its soulful, sombre way, transforms the visuals of the trailer from showing what happens in the movie into what happens in these characters' lives. It is initially a subtle difference, but an important one. Without the song, this trailer shows events, plot points; with the music (and assisted by some clever audio editing and use of dissolves), the trailer shows a mood, a routine—it connotes the film's world but not what happens in it. Thus while seemingly looking like a melodrama whose conventions we all recognize, by the end of the trailer, which shows so much, we realize we actually aren't sure at all what happens in this movie. And that's as it should be. (Kasman, D., "The Art of the Trailer: 'Revolutionary Road,'" 2009)

10 March 2009

Announcement: Grey Gardens on HBO

Another adaptation of the cultishly popular documentary Grey Gardens (1976), a part of The [much here mentioned] Criterion Collection, will be introduced into the cultural stream this upcoming Spring by virtue of the production team over at HBO. The made-for-TV movie, which will feature Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange in the leading rôles of the Big and Little Edies Beale, was filmed primarily off-location, respective to the still-standing Grey Gardens estate in East Hampton, NY, (that is, was filmed in Toronto, Canada) during Summer and Fall 2007. Though HBO, who were late backers of that production, has yet to release an "official trailer" for the piece, there are yet teaser pieces available scatteredly online, pieces that reveal the film to be drawn equally from the double-act structure of the recent Broadway musical adaptation as from the original documentary: encompassing therefore as much a reimagined retrospective of the Edies' life in in the '40s (i. e., in their hey-days) as a recreated portrait of their eventual life in the '70s (i. e., in their by then dilapidated manse Grey Gardens). Such pieces, as the clip (below) and the photo (above), also reveal the extensive costuming and set-decorative efforts that went into the production and into masterfully redressing its scenes which by now have become iconic examples of recent post-modern sociocultural erosion.

Be sure to stay tuned for feature updates and, of course, the inevitable review. :)

08 March 2009

Announcement: Criterion at Harvard!

Yes, it's true: Beginning tonight and lasting through the week, Criterion will be appearing at the Harvard Film Archive at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, to presènt Ciné-Varda: Agnès Varda in Person, a serial retrospective of the filmmaker's applauded work from the early pieces to the late, including the new: "the autobiographical documentary The Beaches of Agnès" (Criterion Current). So, if a local to the Square or - better yet - a Harvard student, stop by and check it out. It is reported that Ms. Varda herself will attend some of the screenings. Happy film-going!