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National University
Editor's Note

Iíve been listening lately to Max Richterís very good new album, 24 Postcards in Full Colour. If you donít know his work, Richter is an Edinburgh-based composer in the minimalist Philip Glass and Michael Nyman vein whose music often marries itself to other forms of content. His album The Blue Notebooks sets his music against readings by Tilda Swinton of Franz Kafka and Czeslaw Milosz while the following CD, Songs from Before, features Robert Wyatt reading texts from Haruki Murakami. Like a lot of modern neo-classical composers, Richterís music sometimes sounds as if it should accompany a film and, indeed, heís been scoring movies too Ė most recently the Cannes Competition entry Waltz with Bashir.

In the past Iíve liked Richterís work even as Iíve sometimes felt that his collaborators carried a bit too much of the weight in the collaborations. Iím liking his new record a lot more, however, and I think the concept behind the album is part of the reason. You see, Richter is not calling his new release an album Ė he says that its 24 pieces are just a collection of ring tones. He writes on the recordís website, ďThinking about how we listen to music now, with the range of options available, I wondered why it is that the ring tone medium has so far been treated as unfit for creative music or... ĎWho says ring tones have to be so bad?í Actually, there are lots of reasons why this medium is interesting Ė it is very immediate, personal and democratic Ė it can easily be used as a way of expressing our thoughts and feelings, to tell stories, and to connect people Ė which is one of the things music does best.Ē Richter goes on to say that the album is just one possible ordering of these 24 pieces, which, by the way, are lovely and haunting short compositions for piano, strings and electronics, and that a future performance of this work will feature the audience, who will have downloaded the songs as MP3s on their phones, playing the pieces in response to text alerts from Richter.

I suppose one could just come across this new album by Richter and enjoy these short pieces on their own, but their power is greatly elevated by knowing the concept behind them. Of course, enhancing music through extra-musical ideas is nothing new. There was the program music that flourished during the Romantic era. More recently, there were Steve Reichís political tape-loop experiments, or Stockhausenís use of national anthems as a basis for electronic composition. John Zorn, in his Spillane, created a work structured by the scenes, characters and narrative tropes of Mickey Spillaneís crime novels. And then there was Brian Enoís experiment with ambient music, particularly his Music for Airports, which reminds me a bit of Richterís work here. When Eno released that seminal album of piano and tape-loop composition, he specifically stated that it was intended to be listened to in an airport Ė an often tense environment in which the listener, consciously or not, is contemplating his own mortality.

24 Postcards in Full Colour puts a 21st century spin on some of these ideas. Honestly, I doubt anyone will actually use these short pieces as ring tones. But by thinking about them as ring tones, the listener reacts to them in a different way. Ring tones are intended to be comforting, amusing or simply functional intrusions into our everyday life. The more technologically attuned among us can assign different ring tones to different people we know, or, perhaps, change ring tones regularly, making them, when listened to later, audio mementos of earlier times. My Blackberry ring tone is perfectly ordinary Ė itís the one that sounds like a normal telephone ringing Ė so Iím not one someone whoíd go to these lengths. But when listening to Richterís record and thinking about the compositions as ring tones, I add layers of personal interpretation to these short compositions. They start to remind me of people I know, or, while listening to a piece, Iíll think of what moment in my life it might be appropriately linked to. The tracks become scores for memories. So yes, 24 Postcards is just an album but itís one that because of its concept Iím experiencing and critiquing differently. And for Richter, by embracing the idea that these are ring tones and not songs or compositions he was able to change his own way of looking at his work, putting less emphasis on sustaining compositional ideas over time and placing more emphasis on what is allusive and fragmentary Ė values that are perfectly suited to short-form work delivered instantly and electronically.

What does any of this have to do with film? Well, while listening to this record and thinking about these ideas I began to ponder again the issue of movie form and content in the internet age. Iíve written about this many times before, but itís still baffling to me why so few filmmakers are trying to create original work for the web. Perhaps part of the reason is that the things directors and screenwriters have been taught are so important in a feature film Ė the evolution of character, story arcs, theme and subtext, a three-act structure Ė are simply not what we should be thinking about when devising work intended to be screened on the web, or on our mobile phone, or delivered via our in-boxes. Maybe to unlock our creativity we need to shift our own paradigms. To forget that we are making films and to think of them as something else. If we sent a video message to a friend, what would it look like? What video might play in one of those digital picture frames in the sets of any one of our screenplays? If the protagonist of your screenplay had a Facebook page, what video might play on it?

Changing gears entirely Ė but not really, because Manny Farberís great strength as a teacher and film critic was to make us watch movies in a new way Ė Iíll note the passing of one of the 20th centuryís great thinkers about the movies. Manny Farber died on Tuesday, and we posted a 2005 piece by Barbara Schock in which she lovingly details the incredible pleasures and insights she gained from studying in his class. Please take a moment and check it out.

See you next week.


Scott Macaualy

Though Azazel Jacobs is no stranger to the indie film world with previous films Nobody Needs to Know and The GoodTimesKid playing at major festivals and championed by critics (and he's the son of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs), his latest film Mommaís Man brings him to another level of notoriety as the film was one of the best reviewed at this year's Sundance. The film follows Mikey (Matt Boren), a young husband and father who visits his parentsí home while on a business trip in New York and doesnít want to leave. A tender story of the struggle to give up our adolescents, the film has an added emotion as Jacobs uses his real parents Flo and Ken and filmed at his childhood home in Lower Manhattan. Click here to read our interview with the director.


In the documentary I.O.U.S.A., Patrick Creadon examines the increasing federal debt and the consequences it has on all Americas. Known for his breakthrough doc Wordplay, Creadon not only dissects how the government dug a hole that will take generations to get out of (if at all) but also turns the camera on ourselves to show that we too are to blame as years of maxing out with little savings has crippled the economy. Though there is a lot of doom-and-gloom in the film, there are surprising light-hearted moments and Creadon also highlights some solutions we all can implement immediately if we'll only readjust our spending habits.


This week on the blog, Scott Macaulay gathers the blogsphere reaction to the legal battle Warner Bros. and Fox are having over The Watchmen, remembers Manny Farber and learns more about the rerelease of Metropolitan on (pictured left).

To read more posts from our blog, click here.



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This article, written by Bergen Swanson, originally appeared in our Winter, 2002 issue

YOU'VE DONE IT! The screenplay you've been slaving over for months has finally been optioned by an edgy production company noted for offbeat films. Or, the movie that has consumed your life for the past two years has been picked up by a noted distributor. Emptying out your savings, selling your comic book collection, sleeping on friends' couches - it's all been worth it. But then the unthinkable happens. The company that bought your film or script files for bankruptcy, and your project gets thrown into legal limbo, possibly never to see the light of day. read more

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