Friday, April 15, 2011

Coffee-Table-Book Films

Thinking back to the few film classes that I've taken during my academic career, I got to thinking about film that are specifically designed and created not so much for plot, or even characters, but rather to make a world into which the audience can immerse themselves. I've decided on a new term for these films:

Coffee-Table-Book Films.
(In a nutshell: Those are films that have very little plot, lots of visual appeal, and build an intriguing world.)

Perhaps the best known director/auteur of these films, who took the idea to an almost absurd level, was
Jacques Tati. With plots like "man goes to office building to do some paperwork...then goes to dinner" or "P.R. promoter takes new car to car show...then misses it" Tati's films are about looking at a cool world and enjoying it's daily progressions. (Worth noting: 1992's "Cool World" is not a Coffee-Table-Book Film, because it's so plot focussed on plot - despite being technically and æstheticly clever.) Stanley Kubrick's later films begin to straddle this line, as does George Lucas' THX-1138. They are mood pieces, but still have their plots in the foreground. "Himmel Uber Berlin" (Wings of Desire) also seems to be right on this line.

There are two things worth noting about Coffee-Table-Book Films. First, they prefigure some of the video games that followed. They invite the individual audience member to explore the world. Myst, Riven and to a much lesser extent Grand Theft Auto and Bioshock have their created worlds in the foreground. The temptation to craft a plot around a first-person-shooter is pretty strong though. And both Grand Theft Auto and Bioshock quickly become about a (contrived) forward narrative.

The second idea, more germane to the topic of media hoaxes and epistemology, it the idea that Coffee-Table-Book Films simultaneously and paradoxically draw the audience's attention to the fact that the film is a technical contrivance, but almost immediately invite the suspension of disbelief in order to explore and enjoy the world that's being both represented and created. There are threads of theatricality to this discussion as well.

While there are many more phenomenological discussions that can be had about these Coffee-Table-Book Films, I'd like to start a list of examples. From this list, I'll create a follow-up posting about the interaction of world-building, plot reduction, audience-contriavance and other connections.

(Please give me more suggestions of films that are and are not Coffee-Table-Book Films. Again, the definition is evolving at this point, so anything goes)

Jacques Tati
  • Traffic
  • Playtime

Peter Greenaway
  • Zed & Two Naughts
  • Drowning By Numbers
  • Propsero's Books
Matthew Barney
  • Cremaster Films
  • Drawing Restraint 9
Alejandro Jorodowsky

Stanley Kubrick

Gottfried Reggio

Fredirico Fellini


Monday, July 12, 2010

The "Official Impersonator"

Andy Warhol didn't like speaking on college campuses or at societies for (frequently self-proclaimed) intellectuals. Instead, he hired an actor to portray him at many of these events. Warhol died in 1987, but his official impersonator was still alive in 2007.

Without using the exact term, both Barnum and Warhol knew that they were operating in an attention economy. Paradoxically, we do. So why are we so bad at garnering attention?

Saturday, April 17, 2010


While giving my presentation yesterday at the BEA Conference at Las Vegas, it dawned on me as to why I like portmanteaux is because they signify something that is still in hybrid. It is language wrapping itself around a new concept using two signifiers...then dropping syllables until we create both a new signifier...and by extension a new signified.

The word seems to have been coined by Lewis Carrol. I also like the idea of "Frankenword" (itself a portmanteau) which is quite literally dripping with semantic intent.

Friday, March 12, 2010

While teaching four classes this semester, and working on program reviews and revisions, it's too easy to loose sight of the reason why we come together in a university: to study, to research, to read, to discuss, to learn.

The Communicative Arts Seminar is that one shining example of students, instructors and others coming together to ask complicated questions and to create a context for the vast sums of information that we encounter every day.

Over the next few months, this weblog will be upgraded and possible moved.

In the meantime it will act as a repository for some continuing research about the collision between "User Experience Design" "Media Pedagogy" "Teaching Live Video Switching" and creating a context.

In a word, it's about "Interface". Or worse, that German word "Schnittstelle" that I stumbled back across while preparing a presentation on social media for the TIVA-DC and BU-CDIA.

Also, it's about using research to create new, relevant content. I hope that's what I did in the video above...and I hope that's what we'll do here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Alan Sokal vs. Alan Turing

If you haven't read excerpts, check out "Transgressing Boundaries"

and you'll see why the most recent computer generated academic hoax just doesn't measure up.


Perhaps because clever nonsense is hard to fake. And reminds us that academic publishing is only as good as the "peers" that review it.

...and that's a large part of the original argument.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hoaxes as Reinvention

One of the public relations stunts that P.T. Barnum executed which was not a hoax was being the first private citizen to send a transatlantic telegram. In a move that would make the yet-uborn Marshall McLuhan proud, Barnum openly admitted that the content of this first telegraph was not important. The medium itself was the message. Barnum was reinventing himself and his personal brand within the early electronic/communication revolution. (coincidentally, Barnum had a 5th cousin who later got rich building telegraphs)

There is a fascinating new book about the collision of science, industrial technology and show business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Madness in the Making

With this in mind, over the next several months, this blog will be mirrored, and eventually moved to my academic website at the Mass Media Department's website at the University of DC.

But between now and then, there will be more posts on this site.