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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Elly Kedward, Evan Chan, Publius, and Elvis: Media Marketing in the Internet Age
There are few who have truly taken advantage of the internet as a marketing medium. Indeed, it's quite possible that such endeavors would not bear fruit (and as we shall see, even a compelling campaign doesn't indicate success), but previous attempts at such advertising have proven very involving.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a new independent movie called Bubba Ho-Tep. Apparently, this caught the attention of the Art Director of the film, who had been asked to "search out websites who might volunteer some space to put up an ad" for the new film. He sent me an email, and asked if I wouldn't mind putting up a small ad for his film. Of course, this being an independent film, they have no money for a traditional marketing campaign, despite the obvious cult appeal and securing a theatrical distribution, so they turned to the internet. They found folks like me, who were already getting the word out about the film, and asked us to do a little more. Its an obvious step, and I was impressed that the fillmmakers have recognized the potential of the internet as a marketing medium. Naturally, I'm happy to oblige, though I have yet to decide just what form my promotions will be. Oh, sure, I'll plaster up a few Bubba graphics and whatnot (see, there's one down below). I'm sure that's all they're hoping for, and at this moment that's the best I can do... and yet... I see potential here.

This could be so much more than just an image and link alongside gushing fanboy praise. I know what you're thinking: Just what the hell is he talking about here?

***

I'm talking about Elly Kedward. As the story goes, this 18th century Maryland woman was found guilty of witchcraft, banished into the forest during a particularly harsh winter, and presumed dead. The following winter, however, over half that town's children disappeared. Ever since then, whenever anything out of the ordinary happens in that area, people blame Elly Kedward. Several children have gone missing, some bodies have been found, and in 1941 an old hermit named Rustin Parr confessed to killing 7 children in the forest, telling authorities that a voice in his head ("an old woman") commanded his actions. In October of 1994, 3 student filmmakers traveled to the area to make a documentary about the local legend. They were never heard from again, though their film equipment and supplies were discovered in the forest.

I am, of course, talking about The Blair Witch Project. The movie was made with approximately $30,000-$50,000, it had no script, it starred unknown actors and was made by unknown filmmakers. On top of that they used very little film, even resorting to videotape for a good portion of the movie. The only way they could get away with such things would be if people wanted to see their shoddy looking film, and to do this they tapped into the marketing potential of the internet. Drawing on their well thought out mythology and legends, they brought the story of the Blair Witch to you first, so that you'd be intrigued. They sold people on the concept of the film before the film was even released. Indeed, several people were even fooled by the site, believing all the information to be true. Using the relatively inexpensive internet, they created demand for the film. People ran to theaters to see the shaky, blurry exploits of 3 unknowns, and the film was a massive success. Of course, it was more complicated than that, and the web was not solely responsible for the film's success (indeed, much of the hype around the film drove people to the website), though I do believe it had a lot of impact.

Another example is Evan Chan. In the beginning, all anyone knew was that Evan Chan had been murdered. Elaborate clues were peppered throughout Web sites for fictitious people and companies. In the Spring of 2001, thousands of people banded together on the internet to solve the mystery. This "internet game" was devised by the producers of the film A.I., and a Microsoft team continually updated game sites with plot twists and character development. Clues were buried in HTML code, audio files, and email messages. The game's creators monitored the progress of players and used feedback to shape the game's content. The game created a groundswell of interest among the computer geeks of the world, but it was a subtle effort. Indeed, it took a while for the game to even be noticed. The game's relation to the movie was only tangential, and when the film was released, many found the game more absorbing than the much-anticipated movie. None of the game sites directly referred to the film, and no one knew the game had anything to do with A.I. until nearly a month after it had started. It took a while before Warner and DreamWorks even acknowledged that the game was a promotion for the film. The soft-sell had a lot to do with the game's success. As a member at Cloudmakers.org put it: "Someone kept the commercials out of it, kept the hype down, kept us curious by not shoving answers at us." Again, its not entirely clear what impact the game had on the film. Though hundreds of thousands of people had stumbled upon the game, the number of active players was estimated to be around 7,000, hardly enough to make a difference at the box office. Then again, the amount of news media coverage the game had generated probably benefited the studios. At the very least, the game is an extremely interesting experiment in internet marketing...

I'm not sure whether or not this qualifies, but there was a rather strange phenomenon surrounding Pink Floyd's 1994 album The Division Bell. A self-described messenger named Publius began posting to the Usenet group alt.music.pink-floyd through an anonymous service. The posts were cryptic and ambiguous, and spoke of what became known as the Publius Enigma:
AS SOME OF YOU HAVE SUSPECTED, "The Division Bell" is not like its predecessors. Although all great music is subject to multiple interpretations, in this case there is a central purpose and a designed solution. For the ingenious person (or group of persons) who recognizes this - and where this information points to - a unique prize has been secreted.
The mysterious posts continued on an irregular basis, often containing cryptic clues and puzzles, sparking immense discussion among fans as to the "true" meaning of The Division Bell. There were many who doubted the authenticity of Publius, and to this day, I don't think the puzzle has been solved, nor has it been completely discredited. There was some discussion of a solution being offered, and accepted by Publius around 1997 - but the circumstances were strange, and you could easily take it to be an "exit strategy" for Publius, or to be a hoax unto itself. Even with the solution, no one knows what the "unique prize" is, as the winner conveniently botched his success(!?). And if it really was the solution, it was very lame, in my opinion.

In all likelyhood, the entire exercise was just the band (or at the very least, someone close to the bad) screwing around. I have no idea whether or not this has helped sales of the Division Bell; indeed, given that it was aimed at diehard fans, it probably hasn't. But it is a good example of how to keep interest in a product for extended periods of time, as it seems to have taken on a life of its own.

***

It could be argued that all of the above examples are unsuccessful, and to be honest, I'm not sure I disagree. But at the same time, all of the above are profoundly interesting phenomena, and they exemplify the absorbing potential of the internet. It remains to be seen as to whether or not such grassroots marketing efforts can be truly successful. If the above examples are any indication, we could be in for some interesting campaigns in the future.

Will the Bubba Ho-Tep campaign grow into something that takes a life of its own? What role will I play in this campaign? Time will tell...
Posted by Mark on August 31, 2003 at 11:47 PM .: link :.



Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Come Sail Away
Cruises really are wonderful vacations. I just returned from one, so, in an effort to induce massive jealosy in my readers, I figured I'd give a rundown of all the glorious events which occurred during the past week. I went on a cruise to Bermuda on the Celebrity line a few years back, so I'll be using that as a comparison. This time, I went to the Southern Caribbean on the Royal Caribbean line.

Getting There: The ship sails out of San Juan on Sunday, so you'll need to arrange a flight (uh, unless you're Puerto Rican, I guess), with all the shiny happy security details that implies in the post 9/11 airline world (it also jacks up the price of the overall vacation a little - my cruise to Bermuda left out of New York and so I didn't need to fly). We decided to go early and spend Saturday in San Juan. Given that we were staying at the Ritz-Carlton, this was a most pleasant experience and an excellent start to the vacation. I would highly recommend looking into this option as it was surprisingly inexpensive, and it really is a top notch resort with a fantastic private beach, a huge pool (which was great way to wash off sand), a nice little spa (which I didn't use, but looked great) and some good dining options (I had some Sushi, and was much pleased).

The Ship: Our ship was called the Adventure of the Seas and it was truly awesome (in every sense of that word). All the standard cruise-ship amenities are there: shuffleboard, food and drinks around every corner, pools, showrooms etc... but there are also quite a few uncruise-like activities such as a roller blading track, miniature golf course, ice skating rink, and rock climbing wall. There is this thing called the Royal Promenade, which is a sort of main-street of the ship, with a bunch of shops, bars and cafes (some of which are thankfully open all night). There's a Johnny Rocket's on board as well, just in case you were in the mood for a retro burger joint.

Food: The food was excellent. The main dining room was modeled after the Titanic's dining room, with extravagent settings and twisty staircases. For those who have never been on a cruise its difficult to explain just how great the dinners are. There is a different menu every night (each one has a healthy choice and a vegetarian choice as well, in case you were worried:P) and if you are ever torn between ordering two appetizers or entrees or deserts, they'll gladly bring them both out for you. Generally, we only ate dinner there (though I did manage a few lunches, which were surprisingly good), breakfast and lunch were had at the Windjammer Cafe and Caribbean Grill, a buffet that is usually open and provides a low-key alternative to the formality of the main dining room (I never did that though, as I enjoyed the main dining room). Celebrity is known for its superb dining, and Royal Caribbean did a good job but came up just a little bit short (still excellent though).

Entertainment: There is always something to do on a cruise ship. Always. Every day, you get an itinerary of all the things that are going on that day, and you've usually got a lot of options. Every night there is a show in the theater (some nights, there is an Ice Show, which is especially interesting when the ship is moving). Generally, though, I found myself in the Duck and the Dog British pub, doing stuff like this (for the uninitiated, that thing we're drinking is what's known as an Irish Carbomb). There was a guy playing guitar there every night, and he was awesome (his name was Mark O'Bitz, I can't find anything about him on the net though...). He played all week, and pretty much the same people came every night, so by the end of the week we were all having a blast. A couple of the passengers even got up and sang a song or two. The song that ended up being the cruise's theme was Come Sail Away - one of the passengers always got up and sang it, and he was absolutely marvelous. The whole bar got into it. It was great!

Ports: We docked at 5 ports during the week:
  • St. Thomas: Nice island, good beaches, and cheap booze. It was raining a little bit on this day, but it was still a good time.
  • St. Martin: One of the supposed great things about a cruise is shopping. Generally, you can get certain items down there much cheaper than you could back home, and St. Martin is apparently known for great shopping. The big items that everyone seemed to be looking for were cameras and watches, both of which were "cheap" (I guess it would be better to say severely discounted, as a $600 Movado watch that normally sells for $1400 is a great deal, but still way too much for a watch imho). Nice beaches too (as if that's a surprise).
  • Antigua: Another staple of Caribbean islands is the amount of harassment you encounter just walking around town. You can't walk two inches without being asked if you need a cab (this was the same in St. Martin as well, but it was worse in Antigua). We ended up getting one good driver, who was funny as hell. He had these custom horns on his car, so when he was driving along he would press them and it would say "MOVE OVER!" really loud. Pedestrians would turn and look quizzically, and some even moved out of the way. It was funny. At the beach, some guy with aloe plants started harassing a lady friend of ours and some random cab driver tried to act like he worked for the beach and charged us for chairs (which were free). We also did a snorkeling thing here, which was nice... I met an Air-Force guy who had just gotten back from Iraq there, and I promised to buy him a drink later. He was very grateful and he said I was one of many who had offered. I've heard a lot of good things about Antigua, and it really was a great island, but I think we just hit a bit of bad luck with the locals...
  • St. Lucia: It was raining a lot when we got there, so I ended up not doing a lot. A few friends took a bus tour, and they said it was a beautiful island, but they really need to build some tunnels and straight roads. Apparently, they filmed one of the Superman movies here, though I couldn't figure out which one or what scenes...
  • Barbados: This ended up being our favorite of the islands. Its a beautiful island, and the locals weren't nearly as annoying as they were in other places. We went to Malibu (a beach where they make the infamous rum) which was awesome (despite a run in with the Barbadon Coast Guard), and we also went on the Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise. The Jolly Roger excursion is what is called a "booze cruise" as they immediately start serving rum punch, and by the end, I was feeling pretty darn good. The Jolly Roger is a fairly common excursion, as it was on several of the islands we visited. If that's your bag, I recommend it (it seemed to be a lot more crowded on Antigua, but I liked that our ship wasn't bursting with drunk people)
Again, Barbados was almost everyone's favorite island, but they were all a lot of fun. The only bad thing about the ports was that we were only at each one for one day; there is so much to do down there, but you had to be back on the boat by 5 pm. The Bermuda cruise was nice because you stayed at port for at least a day and a half, so you could get off the boat at night or even see the sunset at the beach (rather than at sea, which is still beautiful).

BINGO and Degenerate Gambling: Another cruise staple: BINGO! Alas, despite playing several sessions of BINGO, I did not win. I did, however, win a raffle! I got my choice of 6 paintings. I ended up choosing a painting by Anatole Krasnyansky. Its called Venice Yellow Sunset.

I like to gamble, and I finished almost every night on the cruise at the Casino. I ended up doing surprisingly well, though I think I might be developing a problem (just kidding, I was shocked at my restraint during the week. Whenever I was up by a certain amount, I walked, which is only way you can win at gambling in a Casino). I played a lot of blackjack, but my game of choice ended up being Roulette, which I had never played before. It was a lot of fun, but it is way too easy to drop lots of money...

Returning Home: Not much to say about the return, other than the airport security in Puerto Rico was very impressive. They were quick, efficient, and thourough (I even had to run my shoes through the x-ray machine with my carry-on).

So there you have it. I could probably go on and on and on about other things I loved about this cruise, but I'm not that cruel. If you have a vacation coming up, check out the cruise option (unless you get sea-sick).

Update 11.23.03 - Added a link to the painting. Also check out the comments for the profound effect Mark O'Bitz has had on many people's lives!
Posted by Mark on August 27, 2003 at 11:11 PM .: link :.



Friday, August 15, 2003

Set an open course for the virgin sea
In a few days time I'll be embarking on a much needed vacation, so I won't be around to post this Sunday and possibly the next. I had planned to leave a few posts here to fill the void, but Road Runner decided to cut out on me last night and has only just come back...

While I'm out cruising the high seas, you might want to check out some of the other features here at Kaedrin. Tandem Stories are a form of interactive storytelling in which each successive paragraph is written by a different author (or by alternating authors). We've been playing around with this stuff for years here at Kaedrin, so take a look at some of these:
  • Raindrops : I started this story just so everyone would have something to do while I was gone. Intern George McGraves loves the rain. Today, he'll find out just how much the rain likes him, with the help of you!
  • The Fantabulous Adventures of Mark and Bill - This is series of sit-com-like tandem stories that chronicles how a misguided programmer, Mark, gets his wife back with the help of Bill Gates. I just started off part 4, where Bill Gates and Steve Jobs confront each other in an ice cream shop, so have at it!
  • The Rebel Fire Alarms - Kaedrin's first and arguably, best, tandem story. Unfortunately, you can no longer add to this one, but its an interesting read. A menacing presence has invaded the Hickville University campus with only a small band of misfits to stop it. Malfunctioning fire alarms are only the tip of the iceberg as our heroes quickly find out that there is much more at stake than just Hickville U. Hijinks ensue.
There you go. And, of course, you could always have a chat in the forum with the regulars (they don't bite... hard). Have fun, and I'll see you in a week or two...

Update 8.24.03 - I'm back!
Posted by Mark on August 15, 2003 at 03:39 PM .: link :.



Sunday, August 10, 2003

The King Lives!
Cult films are (generally) commercially unsuccessful movies that have limited appeal, but nevertheless attract a fiercely loyal following among fans over time. They often exhibit very strange characters, surreal settings, bizzarre plotting, dark humor, and otherwise quirky and eccentric characteristics. These obscure films often cross genres (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc...) and are highly stylized, straying from conventional filmmaking techniques. Many are made by fiercely independent maverick filmmakers with a very low budget (read: cheesy), often showcasing the performance of talented newcomers.

Almost by definition, they're not popular at the time of their release, usually because they exist outside the box, eschewing typical narrative styles and other technical conventions. They achieve cult-film status later, developing a loyal fanbase over time, often through word-of-mouth recommendations (and, as we'll see, the actions of fans themselves). They elicit an eerie passion among their fans, who enthusiastically champion the films, leading to repeated public viewings (midnight movie showings are particularly prevalent in cult films), fan clubs, and active audience participation (i.e. dressing up as the oddball characters, mercilessly MST3King a film, or uh, jumping around in front of a camera with a broomstick). Cult movie followers often get together and argue over the mundane details and varied merits of their favorite films.

While these films are not broadly appealing, they are tremendously popular among certain narrow groups such as college students or independent film lovers. The internet has been immensely enabling in these respects, allowing movie geeks to locate one another and participate in the aforementioned laborious debates and arguments among other interactive fun.

One of the first examples of a cult movie is Tod Browning's 1932 film, Freaks, which was deliberately made to be "the strangest...most startling human story ever screened," and featured real-life freaks as circus performers. Perhaps the most infamous cult film is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a 1975 film which inspired a craze of interactive, midnight movie screenings where members of the audience dress up as any of the garish and trashy characters and sing along with the music.

Sometimes a cult film will break out of its small fanbase and hit the mainstream. Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life didn't become popular until many years after its initial release. Repeated television showings during the Christmas season, however, have become a holiday tradition.

Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and Frances Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now are all considered to be classics of modern cinema today, yet were all largely ignored by audiences at the time of their release.

Most cult films don't fare that well, though I can't say that bothers anyone. Their unpopularity is generally considered to be a part of their charm. They're strange beasts, these cult films, and their appeal is hard to pin down. They're often very flawed films in one way or another, yet they strike a passionate chord with specific audiences, and their flaws, strangely, become endearing to their fans. Outsiders just don't "get it".

This doesn't just apply to movies either. Many authors don't become popular until after their deaths (Kafka, Lovecraft) and many works are initially shunned, but eventually pick up that devoted cult following through word of mouth and interactive fun and games. The Lord of the Rings was massively unpopular when it was published, but a small but extremely devoted fanbase grew, and it wasn't too long until people were creating role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons based in part on Tolkien's enormously imaginative universe. D&D itself garnered a cult following of its own, as has role-playing in its own right. Lord of the Rings is now immensely popular, and its stunningly brilliant movie adaptations by cult filmmaker Peter Jackson (known for his disgusting work in Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, and Dead Alive, among others) which have met with both popular and critical success.

***

One of my favorite cult films is the cheesy 1979 horror flick, Phantasm. Several years ago, as I first began to explore internet communities, I realized that I needed a "handle," as it was called. I was watching said horror flick almost every day at the time, so I chose tallman as my handle, despite the fact that I do not resemble the nefarious Tall Man present in the Phantasm films (and that, uh, I'm not tall). It is inexplicably one of my favorite films of all time, and it is a dreadful movie. The effects are awful, the acting is often laughable, and the plot is incoherent at times (especially the ending). But I still love the film; I cherish the creepy, surreal atmosphere and to this day, the Tall Man haunts my dreams (nightmares, actually). The bad effects and acting make me laugh, but there are some genuinely brilliant moments in the film, and the unreality of the ending actually serves to heighten the tension of the film, providing an eerie ambiguity that lasts long after viewing the film. The film has its moments of brilliance as well. The score is especially haunting, and the mortuary sets, when combined with director (and producer, and writer, and cinematographer, and editor, and did I mention that cult filmmakers are often fiercely independent?) Don Coscarelli's talented visual style, are stunningly effective.

Like many cult films, it has become a cinematically important film, sparking the rise of surreality in many horror films from the 1980's (most notably A Nightmare on Elm Street, which lifted the ending almost verbatim).

Another favorite cult hit is Sam "For Love of the Game" Raimi's (er, I guess that should be Sam "Spiderman" Raimi's) Evil Dead films, featuring the coolest B-Movie actor ever, Bruce Campbell. Raimi's inventive camera-work and Campbell's gloriously over-the-top performance make these films a joy to watch.

The reason I started this post, which has gotten completely out of hand as I've laboriously digressed into the nature of cult filmmaking (sorry 'bout that), was because of a new film, destined for cult success, in which Phantasm director Don Coscarelli and Evil Dead actor Bruce Campbell join forces.

The new film is called Bubba Ho-Tep, it looks like a doozy. Based on a short story by cult author Joe R. Lansdale, tells the "true" story of what became of Elvis Presley (he didn't die on a toilet) and JFK (he didn't die in Dallas). Oh, did I mention that JFK is now black (THEY dyed him that color; the conspiracy theorists should love that)? We find this unlikely duo in an East Texas rest home which has become the target of an evil Egyptian entity ("Some sorta... Bubba Ho-Tep," as Campbell's Elvis opines). Naturally, the two old coots aren't going to just let Bubba Ho-Tep run hog-wild through their peaceful nursing home, and so they rush forward on their walkers and their wheel chairs to save the day. Its got that mix of the absurd that just screams cult film.

The trailer is great, and it features some of those trademark Coscarelli visuals (which I never realized he had before, but he does. Its tempting to throw out the term Auteur, but I'm way too subjective when it comes to Coscarelli), music that sounds suspiciously like the Phantasm theme, and Campbell's typically cheeky delivery (including Elvis-fu, complete with cheesy sound effects). I can't wait to see this film. Alas, it doesn't look like its coming to Philly very soon, but I'm hoping it will eventually make its way over here so that I can partake of it in all its B-Movie glory. The King lives!
Posted by Mark on August 10, 2003 at 11:08 AM .: link :.



Friday, August 08, 2003

Villainous Brits!
A few weeks ago, the regular weather guy on the radio was sick and a British meteorologist filled in. And damned if I didn't think it was the best weather forecast I'd ever heard! The report, which called for rain on a weekend in which I was traveling, turned out to be completely inaccurate, much to my surprise. I really shouldn't have been surprised, though. I know full well the limitations of meteorology, and weather reports can't be that accurate. Truth be told, I subcounsciously placed a higher value on the weather report because it was delivered in a British accent. Its not his fault, he can predict the weather no better than anyone else in the world, but the British accent carries with it an intellectual stereotype; when I hear one, I automatically associate it with intelligence.

Which brings me to John Patterson's recent article in the Guardian in which he laments the inevitable placement of British characters and actors in the villainous roles (while all the cheeky Yanks get the heroic roles):
Meanwhile, in Hollywood and London, the movie version of the special relationship has long played itself out in like manner. Our cut-price actors come over and do their dirty work, as villains and baddies and psychopaths, even American ones, while the cream of their prohibitively expensive acting talent Concordes it over the pond to steal the lion's share of our heroic roles. Either way, we lose.
One could be curious why Patterson is so upset that American actors get the heroic parts in American movies, but even if you ignore that, Patterson is stretching it pretty thin.

As Steven Den Beste notes, this theory doesn't go too far in explaining James Bond or Spy Kids. Never mind that the Next Generation captain of the starship Enterprise was a Brit (playing a Frenchman, no less). Ian McKellen plays Gandalf; Ewan McGregor plays Obi Wan Kenobi. The list goes on and on.

All that aside, however, it is true that British actors and characters often do portray the villain. It may even be as lopsided as Patterson contends, but the notion that such a thing implies some sort of deeply-rooted American contempt for the British is a bit off.

As anyone familiar with film will tell you, the villain needs to be so much more than just vile, wicked or depraved to be convincing. A villainous dolt won't create any tension with the audience, you need someone with brains or nobility. Ever notice how educated villains are? Indeed, there seem to a preponderance of doctors that become supervillains (Dr. Demento, Dr. Octopus, Dr. Doom, Dr. Evil, Dr. Frankenstien, Dr. No, Dr. Sardonicus, Dr. Strangelove, etc...) - does this reflect an antipathy towards doctors? The abundance of British villains is no more odd than the abundance of doctors. As my little episode with the weatherman shows, when Americans hear a British accent, they hear intelligence. (This also explains the Gladiator case in which Joaquin Phoenix, who is Puerto Rican by the way, puts on a veiled British accent.)

The very best villains are the ones that are honorable, the ones with whom the audience can sympathize. Once again, the American assumption of British honor lends a certain depth and complexity to a character that is difficult to pull off otherwise. Who was the more engaging villain in X-Men, Magneto or Sabretooth? Obviously, the answer is Magneto, played superbly by British actor Ian McKellen. Having endured Nazi death camps as a child, he's not bent on domination of the world, he's attempting to avoid living through a second holocaust. He's not a megalomaniac, and his motivation strikes a chord with the audience. Sabretooth, on the other hand, is a hulking but pea-brained menace who contributes little to the conflict (much to the dismay of fans of the comic, in which Sabertooth is apparently quite shrewd).

Such characters are challenging. It's difficult to portray a villain as both evil and brilliant, sleazy and funny, moving and tragic. In fact, it is because of the complexity of this duality that villains are often the most interesting characters. That British actors are often chosen to do so is a testament to their capability and talent.

Some would attribute this to the training of the stage that is much less common in the U.S. British actors can do a daring and audacious performance while still fitting into an ensemble. It's also worth noting that many British actors are relatively unknown outside of the UK. Since they are capable of performing such a difficult role, and since they are unfamiliar to US audiences, it makes the films more interesting.

In the end, there's really very little that Patterson has to complain about, especially when he tries to port this issue over to politics. While a case may be made that there are a lot of British villains in movies (and there are plenty of villains that aren't), that doesn't mean there is anything malicious behind it; indeed, depending on how you look at it, it could be considered a complement that British culture lends itself to the complexity and intelligence required for a good villain we all love to hate (and hate to love). [thanks to USS Clueless for the Guardian article]
Posted by Mark on August 08, 2003 at 09:36 AM .: link :.



Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Drawing Lines in the Sandbox
As 160,000 coalition troops stormed into Iraq last March, thirteen artists (some military, some civilian) were commissioned to depict coalition forces in action. WSJ.com (their link requires a paid subscription, so I am relying on pull quotes from other blogs) reported:
Sgt. Jack Carrillo and Staff Sgt. Michael Fay went for the U.S. Marine Corps. Their assignment: to depict fellow Marines in action. "During the tank battles, I was out there drawing," Sgt. Carrillo says. "When you are out there and you're under that duress, your art picks up a certain freshness and vibrancy." On his second day in-country, "our Humvee flipped over in a night firefight and all my watercolors and paints were just trashed." So he produced more than 200 pencil sketches depicting everything from slain enemy soldiers to the time "our whole battalion was food-poisoned in Baghdad."
Here are all of the USMC Military sketches for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As Sylvain Galineau notes, any art with respect to the military is generally regarded with distain in most art circles, which only makes these artists more intriguing. Since I can't read the article I can't see the specific details but from what I understand, the civilians were outfitted in body armor and khakis, but were armed only with a paintbrush (or charcoal). These men risked their lives to produce art that is detested by most of their colleagues. I'm not too familiar with combat art like this, but this is truly intriguing.

Apparently, combat art has been around since people began using the burnt end of a stick on cave walls to recount their hunting exploits for future generations. Since then, combat art has depicted WWII and Vietnam, and I'm sure countless other conflicts.

Sgt. Jack Carrillo actually commented at Chicago Boyz and left a link to all USMC Military sketches from the war, which look great. I did some other checking around, and I found this pdf article which also mentions Carrillo and provides a brief introduction to combat art...Generally, the task of capturing combat events in a visual form is left to cameras (which were also active during Iraqi Freedom), but Operation Iraqi Freedom was the first time an active-duty Marine was assigned to a combat zone with the explicit mission of capturing combat events on paper with graphite and charcoal. [thanks to Chicago Boyz for peaking my interest]
Posted by Mark on August 05, 2003 at 07:43 PM .: link :.



Sunday, August 03, 2003

Bullet Time
Usually when I need something to post here, I send my chain-smoking monkey underlings on a mission to find me some interesting links or to research a particular topic. I went slumming in the Hamptons this weekend, so I released my legion of loyal simians on the task of comparing and contrasting postwar Germany and Japan with the current U.S. occupation of Iraq. This is what they came up with:
  • The Star Wars Kid (warning, there is a sound clip on the first page): This is so damned funny, though when you read what happened after, you really gotta feel sorry for this kid. Basically, this 15 year old kid made a video of himself pretending to wield a double-bladed light saber, a couple of other kids found the video and posted it on the internet, where it promptly spread and a series of remixes has appeared. The best is the Star Wars Kid 2.0 version, which is absolutely hilarious. But the kid was obviously overwhelmed by the the constant mocking and derision he received; it was so bad that he dropped out of school and entered a psychiatric institute.
  • Strong Bad's Emails: This is some funny crap. Basically, its just this character who answers emails, but it, too, is really damn funny. There are a ton of emails too, and its updated every Monday... I especially like the guitar one, and the dullard one, and... er, they're all good. Check them out... Also, its always nice to see people using flash for something appropriate. Of course, they're using Flash for the entire site (which is also funny, by the way) but, as I've ranted about before, personal humor sites like this are one of the acceptable uses of flash.
  • Rumsfeld Accuses Saddam of Camping: Saddam is such a lamer.
  • Since we can't buy and sell terrorist acts on a futures market anymore, checkout Rinkworks' Site Market Game, where you can buy and sell Rinkworks features and make money...
As you can see, my chain-smoking monkey servants spent the weekend drinking all my beer, urinating on my possessions, and otherwise goofing off. Seriously though, I do plan to write something about the troubles of postwar Germany and Japan, so stay tuned... In the mean time, enjoy the above.
Posted by Mark on August 03, 2003 at 09:48 PM .: link :.



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