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Month: April, 2015

Star Wars in the Age of Social Media

sw-tfa-teaser-2-02-700x292One of my earliest, most vivid memories of childhood: was exiting the 7 o’clock showing of Star Wars and being astounded that it was still light out as we left the theater. It felt like I had been away for a very long time and had traveled great distances and the harsh light of reality momentarily threw me. My six year old brain experienced total immersion and I was hooked. Another vivid memory I have of my childhood is when my father mistakenly took me to see Bladerunner when I was 11; he thought it was a new Star Wars movie because of the Harrison Ford connection. That threw me as well, but in a totally exciting (what did I just watch?) way – love you dad.

StarWarsMoviePoster1977I went to see Star Wars another 3 times that summer and felt transported every single time. The year was 1977 and there was nothing remotely similar to it in either tone or scope. When it was released, science fiction was a very niche market and Lucas himself believed it wouldn’t have much staying power. 2 years earlier Lucas’ friend Steven Speilberg had invented the summer blockbuster with Jaws but no one could have anticipated what Star Wars would become and that kids like me would go see this thing again and again. All said and told,over the course of my life; I’ve probably seen the film close to a 100 times, with the lion’s share occurring in my youth from an old VHS copy, taped from a television broadcast. The tape finally wore out but my fondness never did.

A70-2036A few years went by after the initial rush and along came The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and they did not disappoint. A few more years went by and Episodes 1-3 happened and they did disappoint. People were really upset; blaming George Lucas for ruining their childhoods. They criticized that the characters were one dimensional, the acting wooden and the dialogue -just terrible. On that last point, all dialogue in Star Wars movies is terrible, it’s kind of part of their appeal. Lucas would be the first to admit that. He revealed recently that he actually constructed them more like silent films; where the visuals heavily out-way the spoken words. Another huge sticking point with fans was; gone were the practical effects and in was the CGI. Episodes 1-3 didn’t feel real enough. I personally missed puppet Yoda (from Empire not Phantom Menace).

Star_Wars_Episode_1_The_Phantom_MenaceEpisodes 1-3 had no other course but to disappoint. The movie landscape had changed drastically since 1983 and nothing could live up to the hype. This was also pre-Facebook, pre-Youtube, pre-Twitter hype. The original trilogy worked best because it looked lived in. Things looked beaten up. Luke said it best in the original film when he first lays eyes on the Millenium Falcon: “What a piece of junk!” As a kid I was confused by this statement, because in my brain I was thinking that’s the coolest thing I’d ever seen. In Episode 1 everything was way too shiny. The other thing that really let people down was the design; the original three are full of really original cool looking things and characters. Stormtroopers just look good, the spacecraft look like hot rods, Darth Vader is iconic menace and so on. The newer films got a few things right like Darth Maul and the two sided lightsaber but all those CGI droids and  alien races -just lame. Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 had proven CGI could work in a film when used strategically but when the band is more focused on the the fireworks than the music, things start to breakdown. Lucas was too in love with the technology. All these things didn’t prevent these movies from making a ton of money and introducing a whole new generation to Star Wars.

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Fast forward to this past Thursday and the 2nd Force Awakens trailer hits the internet. Three days later and it has been viewed over 40 million times, tweeted countless times and added roughly 2 billion dollars to Disney stock value. Hey no pressure. Reading all the content that has been generated over these 119 seconds and two things are certain: people are excited and people are optimistic but nervous they’ll get burned again. Star Wars in the age of social media is an all together different beast than all its predecessors. We are eight months away from its release and the demand is relentless. We live in an instant gratification society where super heroes rule the cinema and our news cycle is 24 hours of instantaneous updates. We consume so much content on a daily basis from multiple sources that our tolerance for cultural pollution has eroded our critical filter. We’re so supersaturated, that things no longer move us. The sentiment that I’m picking up online is that people want to be moved again, feel like a kid again and feel the shock of the new again.  The funny thing is that the shock of the new will come by returning to the old: familiar characters, practical effects and hopefully an emotional core at the heart of it. No real information about the story has surfaced but so far they got the design right, things look cool again. Part of the movie going experience in the age of social media is the power of anticipation and conjecture. Entertaining theories and predictions is just as much fun as consuming the actual artifact. We get to participate in the process in a very minor way and in our hearts we hope our voices have some effect. The Force Awakens has been molded by the sins of our fathers. JJ Abrams is well aware of the tidal wave of fan criticism that was levied on Episodes 1-3 and that helped inform his vision for the new film. Is this how social media really works? Can it help preserve and alter our cultural sacred cows?

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One thing’s for sure, social media will dissect everything surrounding this film up to and after its release. Some will love it and some will be disappointed. Can it possibly live up to the nostalgia machine, or can it evolve and become something new again? I know personally I can’t wait for the lights to go down and hear that familiar John Williams score. Will it transport me back to my youth? Hard to say, my pre-internet brain says possibly, and my post-internet brain says -it’s not the destination, but the getting there, that’s half the fun.

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Films about Art III: Art and Craft

artandcraft_4_custom-a90eff7d7e3e8d07f22e9b14309964bdff637f5a-s800-c85With a little bit of coffee, some pre-cut boards from Lowe’s (‘The Home Depot closed, but Lowe’s is just as good I guess.’) some coloured pencils, paint, photocopies and a priest’s outfit, you too could possibly have your artwork accepted into the collections of some the most prestigious art institutes in North America. It’s been working for Mark Landis for the past 25 years (the priest thing is new- last couple of years). He’s passed off his copies of Picassos, Watteaus, Signacs and even Charles Shultzs into the hands of curators from Illinois to California. In a lot of cases, they’re passed right back, but every once in a while they find their way in. I guess it would be hard to say ‘no’ when someone offers you something worth potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing. See that’s the catch, Mark Landis never asks for a penny; all his transactions are donations. He concocts some elaborate back story about a late sister (never existed) and exclaims that she wanted it to go to the public….. yadda yadda yadda. He has aged the pieces (that’s where the coffee comes in) and faked the providence (auction records, purchase history) and off he goes.

9306764519_6b2c1cebac_mMark has been copying things since he was a kid, and he’s pretty good at it. He also has a few other things going for him that enable him to be successful in his con. For starters, he is the most unassuming person you could ever encounter; no one would suspect this meek soft spoken older gentleman (sometimes priest) was up to something. The other huge factor is that when it comes to forgeries; human nature wants us to believe it’s the real thing. You would think the opposite would be true; that if something is too good to be true than it probably isn’t, but all you need are a few details that seem legit and the seeds of plausibility can grow. No one wants to pass on what could be like winning the lottery. The forger’s greatest asset is our willingness to believe. One last thing that gives Mark Landis an edge for pulling this off is his pension for mischief.

Mark Landis

The film Art and Craft  does a nice job of introducing the viewer to Mr. Landis. He lives in a small cluttered apartment that belonged to his late mother, he has dealt with mental illness his whole life and he really doesn’t reveal what his motivations are. He would rather talk about the influence old television shows and movies have had on his world view than art or trying to fool people. The forgeries are just something he likes to do while watching television and the whole act just gets him out of the house once in a while. Where the documentary falters is in the depiction of the cat and mouse game of how he was discovered and a third act where they mount an exhibit of his work. It doesn’t seem like it would have been too difficult to expose the work as fake. Mark Landis isn’t a master forger by any stretch, he painted over top of photocopies in some cases, uses distressed Walmart frames in others and if you leaned in, you could literally smell the coffee. The fascinating thing about that is: Mark Landis would be the first person to admit it. He does just enough to make it look believable a first glance but the minute you scratch the surface it falls apart.

tumblr_nc3x0mMKlB1tix2hoo1_500In the end, the film’s not great but I liked spending time with Mr. Landis and I hope he never ends up in jail for his actions (because he doesn’t accept money, technically he hasn’t committed any crime) and hey, we all need hobbies.

3.5/5