Monday, January 12, 2004

Blasphemy, and nine minutes and 33 seconds of names.
Leto writes that "Return of the King was crap. There. I’ve said it. I may, quite possibly, be thrown out of the country tomorrow for daring to utter such blasphemy..." Brave, very brave...

Yes, the hype around LOTR:ROTK goes on,with more awards heading Peter Jackson's way. Now, if you were watching the film overseas, knew nothing about its origins and hadn't read any interviews with cast or director, would you know it was from New Zealand?
Yes, but you would have to stay til the end of the closing credits, to see the caption "Filmed at Camperdown Studios and on location in New Zealand". I'm growing a bit skeptical about the supposed value to our country of the whole LOTR series. Do you recall anyone claiming similar tourist spinoffs when Xena and Hercules were shooting here?
Below is the story of one man who did stay the whole nine minutes and 33 seconds to the bitter end - he was the only person left in the cinema. He just wanted to get his money's worth.

(Taken from the New York Times - I'd link to it, but you have to register to get the content and its a hassle etc etc.... Just seen the Telegraph in the UK has also covered this story, basically an uncredited reworking of whats below)

Who Was That Food Stylist? Film Credits Roll On

They are known as closing credits, but the other day at a movie theater in Times Square, after three and a half epic hours of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the credits did not seem to want to close.

It took five minutes for the names of all the actors, producers, editors, gaffers, grips, best boys, dialect coaches, wig makers and steelworkers to crawl by. Next came the less familiar show-business occupations like stable foreman, horse makeup artist, horseshoer and the two guys in charge of the chain mail.

At eight minutes, the moviegoers still in the theater were watching a scroll of completely inscrutable titles like "wrangler manager" and "compositing inferno artist." Of course, the caterer had to be immortalized, too.

Finally, 9 minutes and 33 seconds after they began, the closing credits came to a close.

John Rodriguez, a subway track worker, was the only person left in the theater. (The cleaning crew had come and gone.) He shrugged.

"I like to get my $10 worth," he said. "I didn't really notice how long they were."

But plenty of people have. Movie credits, which used to last an average of three to four minutes, have joined the list of other things in Hollywood — like egos and salaries — suffering from inflation. Once, moviemakers considered anything longer than seven minutes — the credits for "Titanic" and "Waterworld" were in that range — to be pushing the bounds of propriety and audience patience.

But with the growth of computer animation, union rules, copyright laws and lots of good old-fashioned favoritism, several credit sequences have blown past that old limit.

Companies that make titles say the average, even for regular dialogue-driven movies, has increased to as long as five minutes.

"It just seems to me that there are a lot more menial guys who get credit now who didn't several years ago," said Rick Sparr, a vice president at Pacific Title and Art Studio, one of the oldest title-makers.

"I mean, the guy who unfolds the craft table gets credit now," he said. "It's really out of control."

Not that he is complaining. It is good for business. But he and others in the business have joined many moviegoers in wondering where it will end.

Does the set masseuse really need to be credited? (One was at the end of "The Matrix.")

Does the helicopter pilot? (Most big-budget productions nowadays seem to have one, and the pilot is invariably named, alongside accountants and publicity agents.)

What about the Romanian Army liaison aide and the person described as the food stylist? (Both were named at the end of "Cold Mountain.")

In fact, while questions are being asked, here are two more. Is there a difference between the second second assistant director and the third assistant director, and do all these assistants really have to be named? (The answers to those questions, producers say, are "not much" and "yes.")

"I think it's monstrous," David Thomson, the critic, said. "It's one of those signs of the decadence in our film business altogether."

Mr. Thomson, author of the New Biographical Dictionary of Film, said he still kept his seat until the bitter end, when the house lights come up and most everyone has left, "but only for professional reasons."

"I find it a horrible bore," he said. "Honestly, if you train the horses, you don't need your name up there."

In the early history of motion pictures, credits were nearly always at the beginning of movies and were handed out so sparingly that they rarely took more than two minutes of screen time.

The 1922 vampire classic "Nosferatu," a kind of special-effects vehicle of its day, credited only 11 cast members and 5 others, including the director and cinematographer, and the credits lasted 1 minute 35 seconds.

But by the late 1960's and early 70's, credits had grown so long that filmmakers began to shift most of them to the end of movies, giving them the freedom to grow even longer, especially with the rise of blockbuster movies with special effects and computer-generated imagery.

According to Baseline, which compiles information about movies, the original "Star Wars" in 1977 listed 143 people in its credits. In 1999, "The Matrix" listed 551, including Longy Nguyin, a sports masseuse. Last year, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" listed 559 names, "Finding Nemo" listed 642, and the third installment of the "Matrix" series had 701.

In the world of animation, as just one example to show how the complexity of newer movies involves many more people, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937, the first full-length animated feature movie, listed only 24 animators. The credits for "Finding Nemo" list 52 animators, plus 104 computer-graphics-imagery artists, divided into teams for jobs like "sharks," "reefs," "schooling and flocking" and "ocean."

But "credit creep," as some people in Hollywood have called it, is happening even in movies without multinational teams of computer programmers. In independent film shorts, for example, where many people work without being paid and a screen credit is their only form of compensation, credits can sometimes last a fourth as long as the short itself. In some movies with limited budgets, travel agencies and other companies are sometimes given credit — in essence free advertising in a prestigious format — if they agree to work for less.

And in big-budget movies with powerful stars, the stars often succeed in winning screen credit for anyone who has anything to do with their performances. In "Master and Commander," the list of attendants to Russell Crowe alone reads like the staff list at a small company: his costumer, two hairstylists, a makeup artist, two special makeup artists, a stunt double, a stand-in, a trainer, a dialect coach, a swordmaster, three violin coaches, two assistants and the name of the company that provided his personal security.

The final cut when it comes to credits can be highly arbitrary, especially for extras and performers with little screen time. Consider poor Ted Shred, a stuntman who specializes in fire breathing. Mr. Shred has, in fact, breathed fire on screen in six feature-length movies, including the hit "Charlie's Angels," but has never been credited for doing it.

"I guess the producers sit around and they say: `Well, who can we bump? Oh, let's bump the fire-breather,' " he said. "I don't know why it happens. It's nepotism, man."

Some major studios, like Warner Brothers, are known for working to keep credit creep from occurring. But battles are sometimes fought among studios and producers and directors over which marginal names (in other words, which sons, daughters, cousins, friends, neighbors and business partners) make the cut. In one recent major movie, more than 100 names were cut from the credit list at the last minute by the studio, which felt the credits went on way too long, according to a person involved in the movie, who asked that it not be named.

Mr. Sparr, whose Pacific Title creates the credits for more than 100 movies a year, said he believed that those for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which his company produced, lasted longer than any others he has ever worked on.

"And you can only run it so fast," he said, "because if you run it too fast, it's going to start to strobe."

Mr. Sparr said that in the end he thought inflation of closing credits would be checked only by purely physical limits. When 35-millimeter prints begin to require an extra reel just to accommodate the credits, the cost will probably drive some studios to declare an ultimatum.

"I really don't think it's going to go past 10 minutes," he said. "But I've been wrong before."

Since he has been in the movie business for so long, one last question was asked of him. Does he know what a second second assistant director does?

"It really doesn't matter to us," Mr. Sparr answered. "If it comes from legal and it's the way they want it, that's all we care about. We don't care what it means."

The closing credits for School of Rock, starring Jack Black are great -when I saw it, hardly anyone left the cinema before they finished - Black and his band of schoolkids make up a song on the spot while the credits roll, with Black adlibbing about "hey whose that guy, what did he do on the movie? uh oh, we gotta go, here come the cleaners..." The film is pretty entertaining too, in a candyfloss kinda way.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Namechecked by Tony Blair?
Just been alerted to this by BadPolitics ....

"Mr Blair's curiously downbeat address to the troops contained a slip instantly highlighted by the British media, when he referred to the search for Iraq's weapons of mass "distraction"." Live from Basra, Mr Foot in Mouth strikes again...

Friday, January 02, 2004

Two double oh four in effect.
My new years eve started off with a swim in the sea in the afternoon, absolutely fantastic, then off to Aotea Square for the free festivities in the evening - ended 2003 sitting on the grass in the square listening to Goldenhorse, for free! Thats pretty choice. And to think, John Banks had a hand in that, somehow.

Been catching up on my reading over the holidays, plowing thru Michael Kings excellent History of New Zealand, and I got given Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick for xmas, been dipping into that too. I read a letter in the December 2003 Vanity Fair that got me thinking. It was a response to an article called Saving the Saudis, about the Bush administration helping members of the Bin Laden family and other Saudis depart the US days after Sept 11 2001.
The letter writer, Florence Petris from Las Vegas, expresses dismay that the President helped 140 Saudis leave the US within days of Sept 11, and says "No wonder Osama hasn't been found. He never will be, as long as Bush is in power".
Then again, a few months ago it looked like the US would never manage to find Saddam Hussein. But then he is captured, just in time for Xmas. What a great morale boost to the US troops, to the Iraqi people, to GW Bush back home. Now, a few commentators have picked how convenient this all was, and what are the odds that, just before the US Presidential elections in November this year, they manage to find Osama? I know that seems hopelessly cynical, but Bush's cronies like Richard Perle have just published more suggested plans for regime change, in Iran and Syria. Its got the endearing title of An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.

Howard Dean is a Democratic presidential hopeful who has some interesting fans. Check out, set up by a 28 year old punker who met Dean and went home and set up this website. The Herald published a peice on Dean and his growing support recently. Wired magazine's Jan ish has a good article backgrounding Deans use of internet networking. Heres a slice of it...

It is 83 days before the Iowa caucuses, and I'm sitting at a small table on a private jet above Colorado getting a pure dose of Internet religion from Howard Dean. "The Internet community is wondering what its place in the world of politics is," Dean says. "Along comes this campaign to take back the country for ordinary human beings, and the best way you can do that is through the Net. We listen. We pay attention. If I give a speech and the blog people don't like it, next time I change the speech."

The biggest news of the political season has been the tale of this small-state governor who, with the help of and hundreds of bloggers, has elbowed his way into serious contention for his party's presidential nomination. As every alert citizen knows, Dean has used the Net to raise more money than any other Democratic candidate. He's also used it to organize thousands of volunteers who go door-to-door, write personal letters to likely voters, host meetings, and distribute flyers.

"We fell into this by accident," Dean admits. "I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization."

British scientists are still waiting for a signal from Beagle 2 on Mars. They got Blur to compose a nine-note tune for the unmanned space explorer to send back when it landed. Perhaps they might've been more successful if they'd chosen someone like Brian Eno? Just a thought.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Helen Clark, please explain.
The police in Thailand use missiles. I recently discovered that the plastic casings for these missiles are made in a factory in Auckland, and packed into boxes marked 'missiles'. Does that sound weird to you? Why is our government allowing our manufacturers to get involved in selling arms?

Last night on the street outside our apartment, some drunken fool was playing the bagpipe, about 3am. It was not a pretty sound. Too much xmas spirit.

UPDATE - I got a comment from Coder that NZs arms industry earns more than twice in exports than our wine industry. I will try and verify that information.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Tis the season for creative spelling....
Let's see. There's Lightspeed New Yeah! for Lightspeed's new years dance party, then there's Summadayze Festival, a dance event in jan. They've taken their crazy wacky spelling one step further, with posters advertising individual acts at the event, including one for Groove Armarda (correct spelling Armada). Put my brain on hold and pas me the alcohol.....

What's up with the media beatup on police chases ending in deaths? What about driver responsibility? Two fatal crashes in the last two days, one with a suspected drunk driver (who killed two people, in another car and one of his passengers), another driving dangerously in a stolen car. Are the police supposed to not chase dangerous idiots?

I went to see Return of the King last night. Four word review - It rocks, oh yes. There's the general advice doing the rounds, which I recommend - don't drink any fluids for two hours before, or during the film - its three hours twenty minutes long - and if you have a problem with spiders, don't go. There is a huge freakin' spider in this film.
The Guardian has a good writeup on the experience, commenting on the ditching of footage of Saruman -

"...Without Saruman, it's not good versus evil. It's good versus... a sort of swarming amorphous danger.

...There is no sobering experience of loss, no real sense of the obscenity and tragedy of war and therefore nothing really at stake. That's why it appeals to adolescent boys, and to adults sentimentally loyal to their departed, adolescent selves.

It may seem churlish to remember how shallow The Lord of the Rings is, when the Peter Jackson movies have turned out to be such terrifically enjoyable escapism. I started the series an atheist and finished an agnostic.

With enormous energy and a passionately exacting eye for detail, Jackson has made the regressive-romantic legend live again. He has given the Tolkien myth a turbo-charged rush into the 21st century. It's tripe. But he's made it mind-blowing tripe."

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Close to home
Last night at about 7pm, I was walking down Queen St in central Auckland, when a bunch of cars drove by, the drivers honking their horns and their passengers cheering and waving flags. The front car had an American and Iraqi flag, the other cars had Iraqi ones. There was probably a dozen or so cars, in this spontaneous parade, celebrating Saddam Hussein's capture. They stopped at the lights, kept up the cheers and horn blasts, then drove off to the bottom of town, still cheering.
The effects of the Iraq War seemed like something so distant from where I live (except for puff pieces on local Iraqis by that great humanitarian Paul Holmes), and yet, there it is, driving down Queen St. Local Iraqi's celebrating, just like they did on television.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Heres the News, in American.
Last nights TV news coverage (TV One) of Saddams capture provided some interesting pictures, but was sorely lacking in quality reporting. The local reporters returned to the horrible, overblown language they used during the Iraq War, trumpeting about the formerly defiant leader was now a cowed and broken man; reading online reports yesterday suggested otherwise, as did another foreign report during the TV news.
Reuters reports that several of Iraq's Governing Council were taken to see Saddam. "Shi'ite Muslim leader Adel Abdul Mahdi said Saddam was scornful of mass graves unearthed after the fall of his government which opponents accuse the deposed leader of responsibility.
"When we asked him about the mass graves he said those were Iranian agents and thieves...He did not appear repentant and even justified his crimes," Abdul Mahdi said.

One aspect of the TV new coverage was the lack of any reaction from the Arab world, just scenes of jubilant Iraqis. What I read online yesterday suggests that many in the Arab world were disappointed to see Saddam give himself up, instead of fighting for his life and dying as a martyr, as he had claimed he would.

"For some Arabs, Sunday's announcement of the former dictators' capture was disappointing, because they viewed Saddam as the only Arab leader who stood up to the United States.
According to Arab affairs expert, author and lecturer Abdullah al-Ashaal, many Arab citizens are willing to overlook the alleged brutality of Saddam Hussein because, he says, in some respects they do not see much difference in their own countries.
"They need someone, even if he is a criminal, he should do something against the United States and against Israel," he said. "And, they know Saddam Hussein was harsh against his own people, but they say, Who is not? All the Arabs, all of them are Saddam, but in different clothes. So, I think Saddam still has, in the streets, a lot of support."

There was also an item in the TV news on the possible trial of Saddam. Iraq's governing council recently set up a tribunal to try various former govt officials, and wants to try Saddam before it. As a human rights expert pointed out in the item, the problem with this approach rather than using an international tribunal, is that it would be very difficult to find judges and lawyers in Iraq who were impartial, as they would have worked under Saddam's regime. International tribunals have been used post WWII at Nuremburg, and most recently for former Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic. The catch with an international tribunal is that it would not hand down a death sentence, which is likely to happen under the Iraqi tribunal.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Ace of spades
The US have captured Saddam Hussein - they shaved off his beard (see pics), and did a DNA test on him, just to make sure it really was him, not one of his body doubles. Back Stateside, Rumsfeld tells Bush, but they hold back from announcing his capture, one, to make sure that its confirmed, and two, so that it can come from Iraq, not the Whitehouse first.
Salaam Pax's reaction is on the Guardian's site, he was amazed that Saddam was hiding in Tikrit, as that's such an obvious place for him to be.
What I'm curious about is when did the US Government start collecting DNA samples of world tyrants? Who else have they got on file? Do they have Bin Laden's DNA?

The hut near where Saddam was found "consisted of one room with two beds and a fridge containing a can of lemonade, a packet of hot dogs, an opened box of Belgian chocolates and a tube of ointment. Several new pairs of shoes lay in their boxes scattered around the floor." Livin' large.