Neutral Milk Hotel

Neutral Milk Hotel combines many different categories of music into one. As discussed earlier in class, indie music groups tend to mix up many different genres to make their unique sound. Neutral Milk Hotel has a folky feel as well as rock-style instrumentals and electric pop sounds interspersed in between. Along with their unusual sound, they present their album as a complete project creating an entire experience that is different for everyone. These aesthetic differences make Neutral Milk Hotel’s album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, stand out as indie.

From an institutional viewpoint, because they chose to isolate themselves from producers that would want them to clean up their sound, the end result was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. Because it was not as easily accessible as most of the music being produced at that time, it was more personal and offered everyone different experiences. The political lyrics also played an important role in setting their group apart from the rest. And their ability to preserve the sound the way they wanted was an important aspect in their production.

These hallmarks, of what we consider to be indie, are shared all throughout music, television, and movies. Each music group we studied didn’t have a typical sound, they all isolated themselves either by using different ways of recording and producing their music, and everyone had the opportunity to do their own thing. We have found that maintaining autonomy has been a significant part of how indie is classified as indie.

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Ken Burn’s Style

For our groups project, we want to use still images as well as video. To make the picture more interesting, there are different styles we can utilize. The Ken Burns effect is a type of panning and zooming effect used in video production from still imagery. The effect makes a photo appear as if the camera is panning or zooming across the image. If your group is using iMovie for your video essay, this article is very useful in explaining how to modify the Ken Burns effect.

The comforts of syndicated television

Though syndicated television may be considered “fringe” to TV professionals, it holds a special place in the public’s hearts. We have all had days where all there is to do is watch TV. Before the times of Netflix and DVR, all there was to watch was live television. I remember watching reruns of old cartoons when I got home from school, talk shows with my mom during the day, and game shows with the family. I have definitely been a “fringe viewer” of syndicated television many times. And though it doesn’t always push the boundaries as we know independent texts normally do, It is independent.

Syndicated television is considered independent as it is produced and distributed independently of major corporations. Though unlike indie films, syndicated TV doesn’t push aesthetic boundaries. This is because there are aspects of stability and reliability in television that people have come to expect when wanting to watch syndicated television shows like talk shows and familiarity in reruns. “Syndication has remained vital to many corners of the media industry during this period precisely for delivering the one factor lacking virtually everywhere else in the industry: stability…The primary reasons for this stability are the programs themselves, which, after a tumultuous wave of bold and often exploitative ventures in the 1990s, have settled into a hegemony of tried-and-true, anti-controversial genres and programs.” (56)

Syndication plays an important role in today’s television market and people’s lives. It brings familiarity and stability that everyone can enjoy. There are some syndicated programs that do push boundaries as well. They do this in such a way that still appeal to audiences. As stated in the article, “by experimenting with techniques that extend the visual range of the format and further capitalize on their personalities’ interpersonal skills to guard against format exhaustion.” (71). Such techniques are helpful in pushing boundaries and moving forward with the trends of current television.

Orphan films and their role in the indie industry

The term “orphan film” describes a broad variety of film including lost works or works abandoned by their owner or copyright holder. Examples of these may include: newsreels, silent films, experimental works, home movies, documentary films, political commercials, amateur footage, advertisements, educational films, and ethnic films. The growing interest in these films is due to their rich value as cultural and historical artifacts. According to Wikipedia, “Documentarians, filmmakers, historians, curators, collectors, and scholars have joined forces with archivists because they deem orphans not only history documents, but also evidence of alternative, suppressed, minority, or forgotten histories.”

What makes any film independent? Just as we have been studying in class, independent films are considered independent on levels of production, distribution, and exhibition as well as qualities such as aesthetics, theme, and function. Because orphan films are forgotten/neglected pieces of history and culture, we can assume they are independent based on their production and distribution and through their aesthetic qualities. Such qualities could include structure and form, which I am assuming would be fairly different from such movies we are used to in our theaters.

When studying orphan films, it is important to consider whether they function more significantly in the independent film industry or are they more valuable in a historical sense. I would argue that the importance of orphan films, such as ethnic films of previous times, would serve more purpose in a museum or art house as opposed to introducing them back into the film industry. Another important element to consider is the history of these films before they were orphaned. Such as how they were “produced, distributed, and exhibited as part of a larger nontheatrical network and as active participants in alternative cinema cultures.”

 

Sex, Lies, and Aesthetics

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As discussed in the Perren reading, sex, lies, and videotape revolutionized the independent film genre.  Before the movie’s 1989 release, American independent cinema was largely defined by what it wasn’t. It wasn’t concerned with big budget aesthetics, it didn’t conform to narrative convention, and it definitely wasn’t tied to the commercial notions of Hollywood’s studio system. Indie films before the release of sex, lies, and videotape gained critical acclaim and niche audiences, but few, if any, were able to translate this reception into commercial success.

Then sex, lies, and videotape premiered at the 1989 US Film, and captured the attention of Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax. Weinstein then went on to move the film into a competition at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Incredibly enough, the film won the Palme d’Or, beating out stiff competition such as Spike Lee’s influential film, Do the Right Thing, making Soderbergh the youngest director to ever receive the prestigious prize. More important, though, is what Soderbergh’s victory meant for the future of independent cinema. (source)

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As we discussed in class, economic constraints can have an affect on a film’s aesthetic quality. This is seen in sex, lies, and videotape by the use of home video as a tool to convey different themes and ideas throughout the film. Because of the popularity of home videos and hand held cameras during that time period, the movie was relevant therefore more marketable. “The styles, subjects, and talent that defined the quality indie scene of the early 90s have now been incorporated into the Hollywood system…these films continue the traditions established by Miramax in the late 80s and early 90s: aesthetically and topically challenging films can be commercially successful with skillful marketing.” (Perren 38).

Sex, lies, and videotape inadvertently proved that the gap separating the independent from the mainstream wasn’t quite as large as it once seemed. In fact, it was completely bridgeable. “Indie” was no longer synonymous with “commercial failure,” and “art house” was no longer box office poison. It was a shift that would forever define the future of Miramax, and American cinema itself. “While Miramax led the way in transforming Hollywood aesthetics, economics, and structure during the 90s, the company as now become a crucial part of the system. It remains to be seen what the next sex, lies and videotape will be – and what as yet unidentified company will help drive its success.” (Perren 38).

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Winter’s Bone: analyzing the narrative structure

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As we are learning in class, indie cinema has become an important part of mainstream American culture. Indie filmmakers are “revitalizing American cinema by creating sophisticated and challenging narratives that have provided a much needed alternative to an industry that at times has become less concerned with producing quality films than in orchestrating the next mega blockbuster.” (Murphy 2).  Part of what makes these films independent is their unconventional narrative structure. As Murphy details throughout the introduction of his book, writing a script fit for Hollywood production has become rather formulaic. Described by Field, Walter, and Seger, commercially successful scripts all have three acts: where act one establishes the premise of the story, act two (the longest act) develops the character through some sort of conflict, and act three resolves the conflict. There are also specific points throughout the script where events occur to keep it interesting, referred to by Field as “plot points”. Also most major Hollywood movies focus around a goal-driven protagonist.

In Winter’s Bone, I analyzed the narrative structure using the formulaic methods of Field, Walter, and Seger’s three part act as opposed to McKee’s more structural methods.

Because Winter’s Bone is an adapted screenplay based off of the book written by Daniel Woodrell, the narrative follows conventionally written scripts with different acts. I consider this narrative to have three major parts, with a goal-driven protagonist just as described by Field, Walter, and Seger. Though there are aesthetic differences such as the bleak setting and dynamic characters that swim through a haze of futility and moral deterioration that would distinguish this film as indie.

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As Murphy concludes at the end of his introduction, some screenplays contain elements of both classic Hollywood and art cinema. Murphy states, “in order to gain either financing or commercial distributions, independent films must walk a fine line between novelty and convention, which is why the successful ones contain elements of both.” (Murphy 24). So though Winter’s Bone is considered a popular independent film, it’s narrative structure has elements of a typical three act Hollywood drama.

 

Keep Austin Indie

Coming from Austin, I have been exposed to many different types of independent texts which peaked my interest in independent media. Austin is a city full of rising independent music artists, filmmakers, and video game designers. It is a wonderful place for independent artists to showcase their work.

One of the things that make Austin unique is South by Southwest, a set of film, interactive, and music festivals and conferences that take place every spring. It started in the late ’80s as a local music festival, and has grown into a premiere launching point for up-and-coming music acts, under-the-radar movies, and promising tech start ups. Because of its reputation, the biggest names in entertainment and tech now flock to Austin each year as well. The film festival, for one, “boasts the most varied and never-ending line-up of the year,” says Movieline, with low-budget documentaries and big studio releases. On the music front, indie bands hoping for the big breaks intermingle with big-name acts.

SXSW has featured some notable films this past year including: V/H/S/2, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Spectacular Now