Photo Book Review: Instant Stories, by Wim Wenders

Wim wenders instant storiesWim Wenders was long a fan of the Polaroid, reveling in the instantaneous nature of these photos, and their uniqueness, the fact that there was only one copy of them. He shot lots of Polaroid photos, and his foundation recently went through many boxes of old photos to organize them. This book is the result of that organization, and also serves as a catalog of an exhibit held in London at The Photographers’ Gallery. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

But you won’t buy this book for the quality of the photos; this isn’t a book of photos, but a book of stories with photos as illustrations. Wenders recounts his early film career, from the first film he was involved in, an adaptation of Peter Handke’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, through the 1980 film, Lightning over Water, after which he stopped shooting Polaroids.

Read the rest of the article on my photo website.

Is There Such a Thing As Too Many Netflix Movies? – The Ringer

Quick, which one of these is your favorite?

The Polka King; 6 Balloons; Amateur; Love Per Square Foot; Game Over, Man!; The Outsider; Come Sunday; Mute; Irreplaceable You; Happy Anniversary; Roxanne Roxanne; Dude; First Blush; Seeing Allred; The Open House; I Am Not an Easy Man; Benji; A Futile and Stupid Gesture; Step Sisters; Take Your Pills; Blockbuster; First Match; When We First Met; Mercury 13; The Cloverfield Paradox; Kodachrome.

Those are the 25 original films released by Netflix in 2018. How many have you seen? How many do you recognize? Can you spot the one I made up?

This article looks at the reasoning behind Netflix’s push to release new, original movies. In many cases, you won’t have seen, or even heard about these movies, unless you diligently pore over the latest releases.

By the end of this year, Netflix will be the single biggest original movie producer in America, far outpacing Disney, Warner Bros., and the rest in terms of sheer quantity. Maybe one will even compete for Best Picture next year. But does it matter if no one has ever heard of most of these movies?

It’s hard to fathom Netflix’s content strategy. Big-name series, like House of Cards, certainly draw viewers, but the days when I would look closely at their “original” movies has long passed into the distance. Many if not most are uninteresting, and I look at them now as I look at any other movie.

One of the examples in this article stands out:

Kodachrome is emblematic of the morass of Netflix movie offerings. Neither comedy nor drama, neither special nor terrible, neither quotable nor truly forgettable, it is the embodiment of so much we consume in 2018; it’s just sort of … there.

Interestingly, I watched Kodachrome the other night, after stumbling on it way down the “Recently Added” section. I quite liked it. It’s part road movie, part rom-com, and, while it’s predictable after a while, I enjoyed Ed Harris’s performance (his grumpy old man persona made me wonder how he would fare as King Lear).

The problem with this article, however, is one of ignorance; not that the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but that he’s in the United States, and doesn’t realize how international Netflix’s strategy is. I don’t know if US Netflix viewers can see all the Spanish, French, German, Finnish, and Turkish movies and TV series that I see here in the UK. Netflix’s strategy is global, and while this writer may pooh-pooh a list of movies he doesn’t pay attention to, it’s very possible that in certain markets these movies are popular. I have not noticed all of the 25 movies he lists at the beginning of his article, but I have certainly spotted a number of them (and, in most cases, decided that they are not for me).

While the problem with Netflix may be that there is too much content, but is that everyone’s problem? For many users, they may find just what they want to watch. Remember, Netflix’s algorithm knows what you like, what you’ve watched, and what you’ve finished. So while you may not see all 25 of those movies, Netflix will present to you the ones that it thinks you’ll watch. You’ll watch a couple, and you’ll keep your subscription active.

Source: Is There Such a Thing As Too Many Netflix Movies? – The Ringer

The BBC Should Broadcast More Theater

This weekend, the BBC broadcast a filmed-in-theater production of Hamlet, starring Andrew Scott, and filmed at the Almeida Theatre in 2017. This seems to have been very popular, judging from reactions in the press and on social media. Why don’t they broadcast filmed theater more often?

Live theater broadcasts have become commonplace in the UK, with productions from the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company beamed to cinemas several times a year. The NT Live series presents about one production a month – sometimes live, sometimes “encore” productions that they filmed in previous years – and the RSC broadcasts their Shakespeare productions, four or five a year, and has done so since 2014. (The first RSC live production was in late 2013; Richard II, starring David Tennant.) And another series, Cinema Live, produces the occasional play, along with music and dance productions.

These cinema broadcasts – part of what is called “event cinema” here, which includes operas, concerts, etc. – are now a staple of cinema viewing, but they are expensive. Tickets cost around £20 (depending on whether one is a member of a cinema, and some cinemas charge more or less depending on the event), meaning they are out of reach for many people. In addition, they tend to sell out quite early, so people who only hear about them near the time of the broadcast can’t even get tickets.

An article in the Guardian today discusses how well Shakespeare “translates to the small screen,” and suggests that if Will were alive today, he might be a show runner. This article discusses not just theater being filmed, but also other adaptations of Shakespeare plays, such as the recent Hollow Crown series of history plays, and the forthcoming King Lear, with Anthony Hopkins leading a constellation of stars.

But why not just film more plays in the theater and broadcast them on TV? The BBC being a public broadcaster could make these broadcasts more frequent than the few times a year, and they could range from Shakespeare to comedies, from musicals to popular theater. After all, theater companies such as the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company receive a fair amount of public money; why can’t they give back with some of their existing films so the general public can see theater in their homes?

While the RSC releases DVDs and Blu-Rays of their filmed productions, so anyone can buy them, and, presumably, libraries can stock them to loan, the NT Live productions sit gathering virtual dust in an archive. None of them are released on disc, and the only way anyone can view them is to visit the National Theatre’s archive, which isn’t very practical for anyone outside of London.

The quality of these filmed productions is impeccable; there’s a great deal of know-how and technique that has been developed in recent years, so these films aren’t just a couple of cameras switching between long views and close-ups, but are rather well choreographed presentations of the plays. They make theater come to life in a way that, while different from being physically present, is still powerful. As a regular theater-goer – often selecting front row seats to be as immersed as possible – the films are certainly different, but they are their own from of production, which can be often as good as being in the theater. (Better, if all you can get are the cheap seats.)

The main question for theaters is whether these live broadcasts cannibalize ticket sales. With the current RSC production of Macbeth being broadcast to cinemas on April 11, it’s clear that this is not the case. The production, starring Christophe Eccleston, is sold out for its entire run through September in Stratford-upon-Avon, and for its shorter run in London. Quite the contrary; it seems that, in many cases, these broadcasts get more people interested in the theater, potentially selling more tickets to the actual productions. The National Theatre had a revival of Amadeus last year, and this was so popular that they’ve brought it back again this year. The NT Live broadcast certainly didn’t reduce the demand for tickets, and may have actually helped sell more.

In the end, it’s about providing TV audiences with a variety of programming. There’s plenty of low-brow fare: weekend comedies, soap operas, reality shows, murder mysteries, and the like. Would it be that hard to broadcast, say, one filmed play a month? It’s certainly not a question of cost; it’s much less expensive to film a stage production than it is to reproduce the same play in a studio or on location, or to shoot a TV movie. The technology exists, is widely used, and there are production companies who have a great deal of experience. It’s probably more a question of the BBC not wanting to seem “elitist,” as if presenting theater on TV would be a bad thing.

As a regular attendee of theater productions, I would welcome this. I would love to see not only the NT Live and RSC productions on TV, or productions like this Hamlet, but also original productions from smaller theaters. Let the TV watching public discover the riches of theater in the UK.

Theater Review: Macbeth, by the Royal Shakespeare Company

Given the price of theater tickets, it’s not uncommon to depend on reviews to help make your decisions. In my case, living just outside of Stratford-upon-Avon, I get tickets for all the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions of Shakespeare plays, and many, if not most, of the other plays they perform. (Though after having been disappointed by a number of plays in the Swan Theatre, where they present works by Shakespeare’s contemporaries as well as recent plays, I’ve decided to sit out a number of them.) Many people trust the opinions of theater critics, perhaps more so than, say, movie or book critics, because of that cost.

But we buy tickets well in advance in order to get good seats, and often all we know about a play is who is directing it; in some cases, we know who the lead actors are. With the current Macbeth, which opened this week, the play was announced (if I recall correctly) last September, with tickets sold starting in October, so we essentially trust the RSC to put on good productions.

And this one is essentially sold out; you may find the occasional return, but the draw of Christopher Eccleston in the lead role and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth was enough to provide the best sales the RSC has had, most likely, since another ex Doctor Who (David Tennant) played Richard II in 2013.

When previews started for Macbeth, I heard some distressing comments from some RSC-loving acquaintances: people who are generally upbeat about all RSC productions were very down on this play. Some greatly disliked it, and others felt it was weak overall. The press hasn’t been very kind; press night was Tuesday, and good reviews are scarce, with the majority coming in – on the standard scale of five stars – at two or three stars. I don’t recall seeing so many negative reviews of an RSC show since the 2016 production of The Two Noble Kinsmen.

At the same time, the National Theatre in London is running its own Macbeth (it turns out the play is on the GCSE curriculum in the UK this year, which explains why there were so many teenagers in school uniforms at the theater last night) which has also been savaged.

Of the four big plays – the others being Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello – this one is my least favorite. I’ve often found it a bit confusing, and it’s a very subtle balance to get a Macbeth and Lady Macbeth that work well together. For example, a version with Kenneth Branagh that was broadcast to cinemas in 2013 was visceral and powerful, but I didn’t care for Alex Kingston’s Lady Macbeth (curiously, another Doctor Who alumnus).

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Episode #93 – Simon Vance on Narrating Audiobooks

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxIf you’re an audiobook listener, you will probably recognize this voice. We welcome Simon Vance, one of the most widely appreciated narrator of audiobooks. He discusses what it involves to record audiobooks, and how the audiobook industry works.

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #93 – Simon Vance on Narrating Audiobooks.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.