Cut the Cord

?Cut the cord? has become the rallying cry for those interested in abandoning cable television in favor of streaming online video to their phones, tablets, desktops and ??forsooth! ??televisions.

It?s an apt phrase, not merely for its echoes of severing the umbilical cord in the delivery room but for its metaphoric reach into that almond-shaped space in the Venn diagram between baptismal rebirth and outright renaissance.

There are variations, of course. Google indicates that ?cut the cable? is a fraternal twin. It also brings up a blogger who simply calls himself ?John,? who launched Cut-the-Cable.com two years ago. John matter-of-factly identifies his online effort as ?the anti-COMCAST blog and resource site? and admits to having a ?chip on my shoulder? due to the layoff that affords him the free time to take on the ?fat bastards,? which presumably no longer fits his budget. Though his posts are sporadic, they are typically vitriolic and directed at discrediting and defaming the cable giant. Among them is a relatively recent analysis of a Houston news site story headlined ?Comcast Contractor Accused of Raping a Child,? replete with a mug shot.

Whether or not John?s informative if pungent tirades are justified (and they are to anyone who has ever made a phone call to Comcast?s customer service), they?re a bellwether of sorts and he?s not alone. Crystal Collins, the discount doyenne behind TheThriftyMama.com, doesn?t cast cable providers as evildoers, she does provide a gleeful step-by-step guide to cutting the cable, which, depending on your cable consumption needs, she claims can save one upwards of $600 a year. Lifehacker.com also show how to slice and dice one?s media diet, with additional info on where to stream your favorite live television feed.

With all this blogging and flogging of cable companies, cutting their core product might seem to be grassroots movement. However, one should keep in mind the fact that broadcast networks themselves have stoked much of the fervor by streaming their content directly to consumers via their respective websites, effectively sidestepping cable ??their one-time rival turned overlord (adjust a pair of rabbit ears lately? Yeah, didn?t think so).

Moreover, Hulu is a consortium of a several networks ??NBC, itself owns over a 30 percent stake. This is ironic given the fact that Comcast now owns NBCUniversal (the merged version of the network and the studio). However, the Department of Justice mandated as part of Comcast?s acquisition, it ?must relinquish its management rights in Hulu? lest it ?interfere with the management of Hulu, and, in particular, the development of products that compete with Comcast?s video service.?

Comcast isn?t crying since they dominate much of the broadband market (at least locally). To wit, the cable behemoth still profits by the umbilical link through which the data that is, say, Parks and Recreation, comes tumbling. In fact, it?s a completely vertically-integrated strategy.? The revolution is being televised on the Internet, brought to you by the very entity against which you?re in revolt. Sort of like cutting off cable?s nose to stream its face.

Blade Runner’s Sequel Sickness

Certain films are so singular in vision, so spectacular in their realization that they’re fundamentally immune to the disease of sequel-itis, or its often more virulent form, prequel-itis. Among those in this rarified canon are Citizen Kane (of course), Casablanca (duh) and, until last week, Blade Runner.

Whether or not one agrees that the futuristic depiction of dystopian Los Angeles circa 2019 belongs in the company of Welles’ and Curtiz’s respective masterpieces is subject to debate (mind you, it made the American Film Institute’s Top 100 list), but what’s not is that, to a certain generation, Blade Runner is something of a holy relic. And now it’s getting some cinematic siblings.

Original Blade Runner producer Bud Yorkin, who retained the rights to the 1982 flick starring Harrison Ford as a hardboiled detective on the trail of a band of rogue bio-engineered androids, is concluding negotiations for both a prequel and a sequel with Alcon Entertainment, a 13-year-old company perhaps best known for the Sandra Bullock weeper The Blind Side and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

The film deal, reports online industry rag The Wrap, also has a provision for “other projects,” which suggests possible spillover into television (paging J. J. Abrams) and video games.

The original film is an adaptation of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, penned for the screen by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, who, like Dick, has some Bay Area provenance. Who will write the sequel? A computer, perhaps? Meanwhile, producers are said to be shopping for an auteur of similar gravitas to Ridley Scott, who delivered the original in three different edits, no less.

Batman rebooter Christopher Nolan has been mentioned in the trades as a candidate. Nolan’s possible participation makes the notion a bit more palatable; as a card-carrying Gen X-er, he should have a native appreciation for cyberpunk and an understanding that, to many, Blade Runner is as profound a statement of existential yearning as Picasso’s Guernica is about the horrors of war. But Guernica 2: Horse Returns is not coming to a museum near you, so why trifle with an icon like Blade Runner?

In a statement released to the media, Alcon co-CEOs Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove explained, “We recognize the responsibility we have to do justice to the memory of the original with any prequel or sequel we produce. We have long-term goals for the franchise, and are exploring multiplatform concepts, not just limiting ourselves to one medium only.”

But do they know they’re replicants?

Here’s our tribute to the films of 1982…

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Gaming the Story | Insights from The Art of Immersion by Frank Rose

A ringing cake. Sure, it reads like a lost lyric from ?MacArthur Park? but it?s actually a key moment in the history of media, marketing and perhaps even marzipan.

As recounted by Wired Magazine contributing editor Frank Rose in his recently released tome, The Art of Immersion ? How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories, the cake was part of an alternative reality game qua marketing campaign to promote the last Batman flick The Dark Knight, featuring Heath Ledger as the Joker. How a Boston couple found themselves in a bakery asking for a package that contained the cake (and a phone number scrawled upon in icing) is too elaborate to relay, suffice it to say, they (and hundreds of thousands of other participants, online and elsewhere) were enthralled.

When the couple dialed the number, a mobile phone that was stashed inside the cake began to ring. Such was the fiendish genius of the game architects at Pasadena-based 42 Entertainment and precisely the kind of touch the Joker himself might employ. Instructions followed and the couple and several others who?d enjoyed similar interactions with the game eventually went on to a private teaser screening. Throughout, a legion of fans followed and aided the unlocking of various clues online, which drew them further into the narrative of not only the game but the Batman flick as well.

Participatory campaigns, though not yet par for the course, are frequently being baked in, as it were, to extend narrative experiences beyond our screens and into our daily lives. Throughout his book, Rose examines dozens of such immersive entertainments and makes a compelling case that the best way to enjoy a story is perhaps from within. The inadvertent Zen notwithstanding (mine not Rose?s), one way to reach an audience and have them truly internalize a story (and perhaps develop an addictive need to pony up for its various permutations) is to intrude it into their external reality. Or their toilet stall ? that?s what Nine Inch Nails brain trust Trent Reznor did to promote his mid-aughts album Year Zero. A USB drive containing information germane to a post-apocalyptic puzzle that expounded upon the album?s themes was left in a venue?s restroom during a live concert. A young woman discovered the drive and realized it contained an unreleased track, which she uploaded to the web where it went viral. Moreover, the metadata of the track itself was strewn with clues to Reznor?s cryptic vision.

At first blanch, the notion of tracking all the curios and red herrings embedded in these projects might seem exhausting or perhaps only the province of those with OCD. To a rabid fan, however, it?s a portal to a parallel universe wherein they can revel in the creation of their favorite artists, characters and stories. Prior to this shift to transmedia-driven engagement, fan fiction (the unsanctioned continuation of narratives by die-hards) was where acolytes and authors shared an uneasy pas de deux. Now, some content creators pre-figure the audience?s desire for to be ?in-world? in their earliest conceptions.

Like a vampire, however, this can only be achieved through invitation. Fans willingly subsume themselves to the narrative and its myriad points of interactivity (which, increasingly, unfold in a nonlinear manner) such that they essentially become co-authors of the story, motoring it along from rabbit hole to rabbit hole ? uncovering clues and delivering their revelations to their online brethren.

?Stories become games; games become stories,? writes Rose. What?s fundamental and a likely motivator for much of the activity that swarms around TV series like Lost, video games like Halo and pretty much anything under banner ?anime,? is a propensity not just to actively indulge in a fictional universe but to indulge in it with others. As Rose later explains, ?Stripped of the apparatus of advanced civilization and pecuniary gain ? stripped of Hollywood and television and publishing ? storytelling is a simple act of sharing.?

So, don?t be surprised when someone invites you to share some confectionery creative content with them ? like perhaps a slice of ringing cake.

Destroy All Movies (then buy the book)

Of all our cultural franchises on ?philias, it?s the cinephiles, audiophiles and bibliophiles who foster perhaps the most socially-acceptable proclivities and yet, somehow, they?re still left out in the cold of mainstream culture. Fetishists par excellence, they are the true fans, the one?s that remind us that the etymological root of ?fan? is ?fanatic? and all the idolatry, zealotry and evangelism that might suggest. Some fanatics horde warehouses of ephemera related to their passions; others shoot rock stars. The more productive fanatics enshrine their beloveds in encyclopedic exegeses as is the case with Destroy all Movies: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film by Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly, with a forward by punk frontman Richard Hell.

Meticulously executed, the book is a near-500 page is as much a mash note to punks and film as it is to the notion obsessive-compulsive disorder has curatorial upside. Case in point: In the low-aiming high concept comedy Brewster?s Millions (inexplicably directed by The Warriors? Walter Hill) there?s apparently a scene in which Richard Pryor leaves a hotel and in the extreme far right of the frame, a punk with a spiky mohawk is visible for second. Of course, he?s only visible in widescreen home video releases of the film, for, as the authors point out, he?s cropped in the others. Attention to detail such as this demands a redefinition of ?completist.? It?s easier to find credible footage of Sasquatch than it is to track every punk who ever appeared in a commercially-released film and for mere seconds at that. Yet, these guys found them all and if on the off-chance that their neurosis failed them, they invite updates and corrections via their website, PunksOnFilm.com

Those who weaned themselves from the teat of mainstream media in the 80s found quick refuge in such films as The Decline of Western Civilization and Suburbia (both directed by Penelope Spheeris who deservedly garners puddles of ink) but how many saw director Nick Zedd?s They Eat Scum, Geek Maggot Bingo or War is Menstrual Envy? Enough said.

Destroy all Movies (or DAM, as the book refers to itself when in transcribed interviews with the likes of Exene Cervenka, Ian MacKaye and Repo Man director Alex Cox), is a browser?s delight. Not only will it confer punk cred to one?s coffee table, its brief, elliptical entries and occasional interviews with punk film luminaries will make for exquisite bathroom reading (other places in one?s home this book might complement include one?s bedroom end-table and any door in need of stopping ? it?s about the size of a small town phonebook, remember those? Yeah, they went out of fashion like liberty spikes.)

Music on Film

Music on Film, which takes a more agnostic approach to the cultural connection between music and movies, is a pocket-sized, series of scholarly tomes on music-themed films ranging from chestnuts like West Side Story to the chests and nuts faux glam rock of This is Spinal Tap. In the latter release, author John Kenneth Muir draws a genealogical relationship between the lauded mockumentary and the ?comic philosophy that arose in a specific context: America on the Watergate era of the late 1970s.? This is the same font that the most iconic iterations of Saturday Night Live, National Lampoon and a bevy of other comedy troupes would spring, alumnus of which comprise the core of Spinal Tap?s creative team ? director-performer Rob Reiner and his cast of mock-rockers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer.

Though slim, Muir?s book presents copious Tap trivia, most of which has yet to be warmed over on the Internet (score one point for print). Apparently, at one point the creators considered involving a subplot based on a ?backstage Rosencrantz and Guildenstern angle? and some hapless roadies. Another point to ponder is the fact that Reiner had originally intended to portray a character in th eband but bowed out, instead taking a note from Martin Scorcese?s The Last Waltz and instead conducting candid if softball interviews with the musicians.

Throughout both Music on Film: This is Spinal Tap and Destroy All Movies, the question as to whether such expeditions into the depths of cultural arcana are necessary. They are ? in the very least the work of fanatics such as these allows the rest of us can just be fans.