the candler blog

Extra Thoughts on Listen Up Philip

Movies, Review

I reviewed Listen Up Philip for Heeb Magazine. Initially I wanted to pan the film, but I sat down to re-watch it and discovered how special it actually is. It seems like a chronicle of a few horrible people, but actually it’s a film about how we deal with success.

One thing that irked me on first viewing was the film’s use of voice over. As I mention in my review, this is a knee-jerk reaction. Omniscient narrators are usually a lazy crutch used by writers who can’t build a complex character and structure a narrative at the same time. But that was an unfair assessment. Writer/director Alex Ross Perry’s narrator is there to streamline the narrative, not fix it. We meet our characters in situ and jump right into the meat of their lives. It makes the film almost uncomfortably fast-paced.

And so I came around on this one. I truly love Elisabeth Moss’s performance, though that may be linked to the fact that I feel the closest connection to Ashley, the character she portrays. She also happens to be the only character whose life seems better off by the end of the film, though that’s more a matter of opinion than fact. As I wrote for Heeb, the choice to prefer Ashley “is a personal one though, perhaps linked to my own views of success and artistic struggle.”

That’s the heart of what makes Listen Up Philip such a special work. It offers insight on success (and life) in a mature and introspective manner. I’m glad I didn’t dismiss it because I don’t like omniscient narrators (but generally I still don’t).

Middling

Andy Baio on blogging:

Twitter and Waxy Links cannibalized all the smaller posts, and as my reach grew, I started reserving blogging for more “serious” stuff — mostly longer-form research and investigative writing.

Well, fuck that.

Yup. I want to publish here more as well. And I haven’t been for the exact reasons Andy mentions. So fuck it. Let’s go.

A Primer on Not Being a Music Hater

Criticism, Link, Movies, Music

Great piece by Ryan Gantz on music listening that I think aptly applies to watching movies:

You should feel free to listen to whatever music speaks to you. I do.

But the hard thing about music (and all types of art) is that speak can mean something different for every genre, artist, and album. The emotional, tonal, and verbal vocabulary of heavy metal is almost nothing like the vocabulary of jazz. The intention and cultural contexts differ. The listening experience goals for fans of hip-hop may be at odds with what a classical music-lover wants out of a great symphony.

And that means that it often requires intellectual/emotional openness and very close listening (or, like, dancing) to understand what a piece of music is getting at, what language it’s speaking, what feelings it wants to evoke—even who its target audience might be—before we can fairly judge what’s successful or unsuccessful about it.

Gantz articulates something I try to keep in mind whenever I watch a new film, especially one that exists well outside of my comfort zone.

(via Waxy.)

Fight Club 15 Years Later: Marla, Men’s Rights, and the Internet

Link, Movies

Eric D. Snider, pithy and brilliant as always, for Complex:

To watch Fight Club now, 15 years after its release, is to be amused at how much the Narrator sounds like today’s Men’s Rights Activists and #GamerGate numbnuts.

And later:

What I didn’t fully appreciate at 25 that I do at 40 is that Fight Club doesn’t endorse Tyler Durden’s nihilism, it mocks it. Tyler is an extremist, taking good ideals too far and losing the moral high ground. Peeing in soups and blowing up buildings isn’t rebellion; it’s idiotic and pointless. Tyler Durden’s followers are too blinded by their perceived wrongs and grievances to see that.

Bingo. I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with David Fincher’s Fight Club for this exact reason: the film serves to reinforce the very thing it critiques. The fight club in Fight Club makes fun of male bravado, and yet countless dorm room walls have been adorned with the infamous “rules” as if they were words to live by.

Great art should confront the issues of the day. As Snider points out, Fight Club is still resonating, for better or worse.

The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film

Link, Movies

Every Tuesday in September, my friend Dr. Eric Goldman is co-hosting and curating a screening series on Turner Classic Movies called The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film. I’m sorry I’m a bit late writing about it here, but there are still three weeks left, including tonight, of incredible films. Of the nineteen films in the series, I would say maybe only six or seven (if that many) are well-known to regular viewers of TCM.

My personal favorite part of the series so far has been watching the introductions to the films with Dr. Goldman and Robert Osborne. Yes, there is a novelty to seeing a friend and colleague on television, but there’s more to it than that. Eric brings not only his scholarly perspective to each film; he brings an excitement, almost a giddiness to sharing these films with a wide audience. To hear him talk about these films in the context of both their release and their current status in the culture is a real treat.

Tonight kicks off at 8:00pm EDT with Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, a 1955 film billed as Israel’s first feature. I’ve never seen it, but Dr. Goldman used to show scenes from it in a production class I instructed with him. If the short scenes are any indication, audiences are in for a real treat tonight. Keep in mind: Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer isn’t readily available for most. It’s not streaming or available for download, and the best way to get a disc is through Dr. Goldman’s company, Ergo Media.1 So if you get Turner Classic Movies, you should take advantage of the opportunity to see something a bit rare.

Check out the screening series’ full schedule for a list of films that are a bit off the beaten path.

  1. You can also go through a few third party resellers on Amazon.

The Smartwatch through History: Great Idea, Mediocre Product

Link, Technology

In anticipation of Apple’s big announcement today,1 I wrote a history of the smartwatch for GOOD Magazine:

These major milestones in the history of the smartwatch are a brief tour through the last 50 years of wristwear styles, and a menagerie of both clever and half-clever ideas. With these precedents, can Apple finally get us to strap computers on our wrists?

The Fossil WRIST PDA is probably the craziest smartwatch that actually shipped. (A PalmPilot for your wrist!) Whatever Apple ships, their historical competition isn’t really that stiff.

  1. At the time of publishing this blog post, I still have no clue what Apple is announcing.

30

Announcements

Today I turn 30.

When I was a kid, 30 seemed impossibly old. Everything did. The future was, seemingly, far away. But now it’s here.

As this birthday approached, in my mind I started putting far more weight on it that it deserves. Am I where I expected to be? Did I accomplish everything I wanted to by my thirtieth birthday? And other stupid questions.

This past year has been one of great change for me. Things have not turned out the way I thought they would, but that’s actually a wonderful thing. I have achieved things I never set out to achieve. I live in a place I never expected to live, and I love it. I’ve got the support of family and friends and a lot to be thankful for. Things are good.

Look. Time is a construct, “a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.” We get older every day and once a year make a big hoo hah over it; once a decade we make an even bigger one. If you asked me five years ago what it meant to be in my twenties I wouldn’t have known what to say. Because who cares?

One thing I’m conscious of as I get older is my own cynicism. I’m not the most cynical person I know by any means, but I know that I sometimes come off as someone who only sees the bad side of things.1 That’s something I’d like to work to correct over the next year, the next decade, and beyond. The world is too big and too full of wonder for me to only see the negative.

I’m excited for 30. I’m ready for the next challenge. But thank goodness 40 is a long way off.

  1. Some might call this “being a dick.”

Joan Rivers

Movies, News

I’ll miss Joan Rivers, who passed away yesterday. I can’t really accept, yet, that she’s gone. The thing that really gets me is this: Rivers would have garnered some incredible material from her own death.1 The sadness of losing a legend is compounded by that fact that only her wit could make us laugh about it.

In 2010 I had the great pleasure of attending a roundtable question-and-answer session with her as part of the press blitz for the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.2 It immediately became clear that she was “on,” performing for us in the small hotel conference room on the Upper East Side. She clarified that point, as I noted in my resulting piece for Heeb Magazine:

“I’m a performer. A girlfriend of mine just told me she spent three weeks in Venice taking cooking classes. I thought, ‘I’d fucking kill myself.’ I’d rather go and perform.”

That was Rivers. A comedian to the end. Another choice quote from the film:

“When a young comedienne comes up to me and says, ‘You paved the way for me’… Paved? Paved?!’ You want to say, ‘Go fuck yourself, I’m still paving it.’”

There are so many great Joan moments that others have posted, but one of my personal favorites is still this clip from the documentary, where she takes the viewer into her card catalog of jokes.

There are funnier and more groundbreaking clips, for sure, but what always impressed me was Rivers’ tenacity. Joke-telling is hard work and she became a master not through magic but through sheer grit. She worked incredibly hard to make us laugh for decades. I, like most, had hoped to get a decade more.

That picture up top, by the way, is of my father’s band with Joan in 1991. My dad is on the right. They served as the backup band for two nights for the Jewish Federation in Philadelphia. He has nothing but good things to say about the experience, which he still remembers like it was yesterday. This has been a common refrain in eulogies, obituaries and remembrances. No matter how poisonous her tongue may have been while performing, off stage she was nothing but charming. There’s a lesson there, I’m sure.

  1. Imagine, if you will, what she would have done with the incredible correction in her aforelinked New York Times obituary: “An earlier version of a label that appeared with this obituary on the home page of NYTimes.com misstated the year of Ms. Rivers’s death. It was 2014, of course, not 1914.”

  2. As part of my coverage of the film, I also recorded a podcast with the filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg discussing Joan Rivers.

Junk Netflix Reporting at Variety

Journalism, Technology, Television

This morning Todd Spangler, Variety’s New York Digital Editor, published a piece with the juicy headline, “Netflix Originals ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Watched by Fewer Than Half of Subs, Study Finds.” Two things jump out at me: Netflix does not release viewership and half of all subscribers is a whole lot of people. Oh, and also “Study Finds” feels like a big red flag.

But I’ll bite. What’ve you got, Spangler?

Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix users have ever watched one of the company’s two big originals, according to a new study from research and consulting firm Centris Marketing Science. Centris found that 44% of Netflix members have ever watched “OITNB,” while 31% said the same for “House of Cards.” Among Netflix subs, 94% have heard of “OITNB” and 89% have heard of “HoC” (while 72% of non-subscribers said they were aware of either series). For the study, Centris polled 562 U.S. households from July 17-20.

That’s a small sample and a short time period. Good on Spangler for at least publishing as much. It’s strange though, that there is no link provided to this “new study,” or even to Centris’ site.

So I put in some elbow grease and found that the “study” is actually just an infographic Centris made. Every so often I get form emails from junk marketing companies asking me to publish an infographic that the candler blog’s readers might be interested in. This Centris infographic smacks of that desperation.

Let’s dispense with this right now: the Centris numbers are meaningless. The time period is too small to tell us anything meaningful. It’s an embarrassment that Variety even published them.

What’s more annoying, though, is that Spangler doesn’t even take his bunk conceit and run it against readily available numbers from Netflix. The company puts out detailed and highly readable quarterly reports on their investor relations page, the most recent of which came out on July 21st (PDF), a date that lines up almost perfectly with the Centris “study.”

Netflix reports 36.52 million domestic streaming subscribers. Centris claims 44% of Netflix subscribers have viewed Orange is the New Black and 31% have viewed House of Cards. That would mean Orange is the New Black has been seen by over 16 million subscribers; House of Cards by over 11 million. Here’s Spangler again:

Both “HoC” and “OITNB” recently launched second seasons. By comparison, season two of “Game of Thrones” had an average gross audience of 11.6 million viewers across linear TV, DVR, on-demand and HBO Go. That would represent in the neighborhood of 41% of HBO’s total subscriber base, meaning Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” may actually be outperforming “GoT” relatively speaking.

This is a nonsense comparison. Streaming has expanded a great deal in the two years since the second season of Game of Thrones premiered. For example, Netflix only (only) had 22.02 million streaming subscribers (PDF) back then. Spangler at least admits that Orange is the New Black might actually be a hit. What I don’t get is why the Netflix subscriber numbers aren’t brought up.

Also, why is the headline and the tone of the whole article so negative? If you’re going to make the foolhardy decision to believe the Centris numbers, I don’t see how they point to anything other than great news for Netflix. 16+ million viewers, even if it’s only for part of a single episode, is astonishing.

I think I know what happened here. Centris’ silly infographic paints the viewership numbers as a bland net negative: “Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix subscribers have watched each show.” Wait a second, doesn’t that sound exactly like a sentence in Spangler’s piece? “Despite high awareness, fewer than half of Netflix users have ever watched one of the company’s two big originals…“

Basically Variety published the opinion of a market research firm, copying the lede word for word. Boffo journalism, folks.

Bruce Schneier on NYT Russian Hacker Story

Journalism, Link

Security expert Bruce Schneier isn’t convinced this New York Times piece about Russian hackers collecting 1.2 billion passwords tells the whole story. In a piece published this morning, Schneier points to a Forbes article1 that suggests the Times piece is part of a publicity push on the part Hold Security, the firm that discovered the breach.

More interesting, though, is Schneier’s affirmation that the secure web as we know it is actually working (emphasis mine):

We’re not seeing massive fraud or theft. We’re not seeing massive account hijacking. A gang of Russian hackers has 1.2 billion passwords – they’ve probably had most of them for a year or more – and everything is still working normally. This sort of thing is pretty much universally true. You probably have a credit card in your wallet right now whose number has been stolen. There are zero-day vulnerabilities being discovered right now that can be used to hack your computer. Security is terrible everywhere, and it it’s all okay. [sic] This is a weird paradox that we’re used to by now.

That’s all oddly comforting to me. Anyway…time to change your passwords.2

  1. Schneier quotes but doesn’t link to the article. Forbes has turned into a pretty awful outlet/content farm. They are not above publishing complete bullshit for clicks. That Schneier’s perspective comes from a Forbes piece gives me pause, but I respect his opinion enough to listen up.

  2. It’s times like these I really love 1Password. I use it on Mac and iOS every day. (Affiliate links: I thank you in advance.)