A Serious Man and the State of Film Criticism

The days of Hollywood living and dying by the sharp edge of a critic’s pen are long gone. Now even Twitter is becoming a better predictor of box office success rather than the once powerful sway of a critical thumb. In a recent study by HP Labs [pdf], the chatter from Twitter is out performing market-based forecasts. The audience is putting more stock in their social graphs to help them select movies instead taking heed of the professional prognosticators. Peer recommendations are useful for impromptu decisions at the multi-plex but for real film buffs, nothing beats a deep dive into the work.

While some newspapers have shuttered critics in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, actual film criticism is doing just fine.

Serious and informed discussion of film and film theory is flourishing on sights like /Film The Auteurs and Filmspotting. Roger Ebert has found a new audience via Twitter for his standard bearing missives. Over 7 Million people read Ebert each month online. No longer restricted by space, he has found that what the audience desired is a longer engagement.

Film Criticism can serve to bring us inside the filmmaker’s vision by examining the clues between the frames. When done as a celebration of the art form, Film Criticism leads us deeper into the work, helps us understand the full picture.

A fantastic new trend in criticism is taking advantage of media to explore films. Dana Stevens [Twitter] of Slate has launched Dana’s Home Theater, a great example of going deeper with film. Dana examines one of my favorite movies by the Coen brothers – A Serious Man.

Thomas Doherty of The Chronicle of Higher Education has a different opinion – The Death of Film Criticism

What’s your take? Are you finding growth in film communities and online discussions? What are your favorite spots to talk about film?

Meta World of The Johnny Cash Project

About ten years ago, Cowboy Jack Clement and I were talking about his film archives. Cowboy Jack, producer of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis among others is quite the film buff. He would often carry his camera to some pretty strange places and capture wild historic moments. Jack shared about one memorable time with Johnny and a trip to a cemetery. Mr. Cash wanted to make sure Jack rolled film as he approached a headstone. The particular grave site they were visiting was that of the Carter Family’s patriarch A.P. Johnny turned to Jack and declared that he had never had a smoke with A.P. and promptly laid on his back on his grave to have a chat about life. Cigarette in hand, Johnny went on a journey of sorts with a man who had impacted his life in so many ways.

I pictured what that moment looked like but until today I had never seen it. Enter The Johnny Cash project: “A Living Portrait” to the Man in Black. The global art project allows you to draw on top of randomly selected frames for the video of ‘Ain’t No Grave.’ Users contribute their frames and are added to the timeline of the video. My randomly selected frame? #927 –

The Johhny Cash Project

Un-compacting SXSWi

We came, we saw, we converged

Now that I’ve had some time to decompress and think about the takeaways from SXSWi, a few things keep coming up about our time in Austin. First, 2010 SXSWi might be remembered not so much for the so-called ‘location-wars’ between Foursquare and Gowalla but as the moment when the Apple lost its shine. The bleeding edge techies were talking more about being set free from the locked-down iPhone world with the emergence of Android powered smart-phones being proudly displayed in palms everywhere. Perhaps it’s the rebel spirit of the gathering, but Apple, once the gleam in all of our eyes, has been revealed as a hard wire direct into the iTunes cul-de-sac. The Android marketplace is rapidly filling the gapping holes left from slow approvals by Apple. The Android marketplace is teeming with wild and sometimes half-baked ideas, not all of which are completely safe. It reminds many of us as the early days of the social net in general where an idea could lead to launch in a blink of a neuron. Many of my fellow geeks seem to be re-energized by an open market not bottle-turtle-necked from atop an all-seeing perch. Yes, we buzzed on about the iPad and the possibilities of a new medium for film and television but gone was the sheer dominance of iPhone carrying techies.

Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins and I spent the majority of the week Tricasting in HD from TexasCoworking and were fortunate to be joined by a pretty amazing line-up of guests coming in and out of what we called The Cube. What emerged from the conversations was a thru-line of fine-tuning social channels rather than more disruptive ‘shiny new toys.’ There wasn’t another Twitter launch or the ‘next big wave’ this year but a refinement and substantial improvement of the social rails we’re currently riding.

the hope of a better social dashboard

knowmore Co-founders, Julian Gutman, (formally of Google)and Joseph West (formally of Akamai) have assembled an A-Team of big thinkers to tackle the problem of social info overload. Launching in Q2, knowmore, believes they have a better way of serving up all the data flowing at us from Twitter and Facebook. Their emphasis is on creating a better experience through instinctive user interface design. With the inventor of XMPP/Jabber, Jeremie Miller and former Principal R&D Enginner for Digg, Wes Augur aboard, knowmore has a lot of us keeping our eyes on them. TechCrunch has a nice write-up on their stealth-launch.

Dag Kittlaus, Co-founder of Siri sat down with us to discuss the ‘voice’ of the personal assistant that’s quickly become one of the most talked about apps for the iPhone. Without getting too anthropomorphic, Siri adds a little humor and attitude to natural language processing algorithms. They were selected as the Most Innovative Web Technology in the Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator contest during SXSWi. Right before going on the air with us, I got the best news of all from them- Siri is coming to Android soon. Watch a demo video of Siri in action.  Read Write Web has a nice overview of Siri here.

Robert Scoble, Francine Hardaway, Joseph Jaffe, Chief Interuptor of Powered.com and Rizzn had a robust discussion about sponsored tweets, blogs, shows. It was an open round-table talk about the need to monetize content better. Getting the chance to spend some time with Francine is always something I look forward to. She is a great teacher and a wonderful example of sharing from the heart without worrying about stepping on a few toes. Serendipitously, two of our sponsors for the week included Rackspace and Powered.com. No one is sure of how or when more advertisers will recognize the value of strategic sponsorships within the blogging/ live streaming universe, but we think the value of deep engagement like this will only grow.

Wolfram|Alpha‘s Managing Director,Barak Berkowitz and Schoeller Porter, Product Manager talked to us about their expansion plans and we got a chance to congratulate them on winning ‘Best in Show’ and ‘Technical Achievement’ awards at SXSWi. Previous winners include Twitter, Hulu and Flickr. The computational knowledge engine is freakishly smart. This was my fanboy moment of the week, getting to engage with the Wolfram|Alpha team had my brain buzzing for the rest of the day.

Louis Gray came by The Cube to download what he was seeing around the festival. Louis is not only a kind and good man but one of the best tech analysts around. He imparted this wisdom to us: ‘Soon we won’t be talking about Social Media, just like we don’t talk about telephones, it will just be.’ Louis is more than an early adopter, he helps those who are building these connecting communication tools see what IT is before most.

Thanks to NewTek, we even got a chance to make a little history at SXSWi by helping to produce the first live HD presentation of TWiT with Leo Laporte. Leo continues to be the gold standard for me in net-casts and it was a joy watching him soak in all that was a true spring break for geeks.

It became more obvious over the week that we need better discovery and search tools for live webstreams. Nova Spivak and Sanjay Reddy are prepping their launch of Live Matrix which promises to be a smart guide for live scheduled web events. They are adding smart tags to content that could lead to the next evolution in live programming. Given their track record, I’ll bet they’ll figure out a clever solution soon.

The entire weeks worth of The Cube was streamed live via Justin.tv, a service I was really impressed with. They have built a strong delivery platform and are actively engaged with their community. We can’t thank them enough for showing us such great support. You can dive into The Cube from Austin by visiting our page. I agree with Randall Bennett of Justin.tv when he says ‘we really don’t know what form live streams will take, the opportunity is wide and the limits are few.’ We enjoyed the hands-on approach and kindness from the great team there and especially want to acknowledge all the hard work by Neha at Justin.tv.

The Cube is about bringing smart nodes together and giving big ideas space to grow. This started with Scoble telling me a few years ago to create a TED Conference everyday of my life. I’m grateful for all those mighty thinkers who were kind enough to say yes to the conversation.