17 June 2010

A Film By Any Other Name...

Via Ta-Nehisi Coates, a shock-trailer for a film from the 60s titled "My Baby Is Black!"

Originally titled "Les Laches Vivent d'Espoir" (does this translate to "The Fearful Live In Hope"?), "My Baby..." was a French production with a bit more attempted integrity than the American rubric can possibly allow. Having never seen the film, I am unprepared to judge whether or not it has suffered unjustly from this swap, or if it is still a piece of garbage, but the original French title seems to imply some attempt at sensitivity.

This sort of targeted rebranding is still quite common, of course, and rarely capricious; there's always a profit motive to these alterations. Catherine Breillat's 2001 film "A Ma Soeur" -- literally "With My Sister" -- was renamed, for our amusment, "Fat Girl". This is a rather blunt take on a quietly disturbing film about the destructive tendancies of male sexual desire on maturing girls.

Whenever I hear of this kind of artistic gerrymandering, I can't help but wonder if the people responsible have done so on the basis of a lot of careful scheming or out of sheer fear. Is the potential audience for a film titled "Fat Girl" larger than the audience for "With My Sister"? Are they they completely different audiences, and if so, is one substantially larger than the other? Will the "Fat Girl" hopefuls leave the film disappointed after merely having seen "With My Sister"? Managing expectaions is the name of this ugly game, but perhaps it works to the artist's benefit more often than not.

A few nights ago I watched Leos Carax's 1986 film "Mauvais Sang" - "Bad Blood" - and was surprised to find under the film's title-card the subtitle "The Night Is Young". This title appeared nowhere on the DVD case or in any of the menus however - both advertised the original French. But again I was made to wonder, did "Bad Blood" first appear on these shores as "The Night Is Young"? This would be 1986, you see - the middle of the first decade the AIDS epidemic, which the film makes numerous allusions to. Was this the reason behind the change; the fear that the vague reference to "Bad Blood" might transmit the wrong impression. What sort of mind bubbles with this sort of skittishness, I wonder? And can you make a good living this way?

09 June 2010

Musical Literacy

Bobby McFerrin coaxes the pentatonic scale out of some rather delighted victims:

I've had a few casual, barely informed conversations over the years about the idea of "musical literacy", and more specifically regarding the extent of our innate understanding and feeling for musical forms and ideas and their possible origins -- but i've never bothered to follow through and actually read anything extensive on the subject. It's probably time to change this. Should I start with Oliver Sacks? Something else? Maybe I'll watch more Bobby McFerrin videos first.

04 June 2010

Game Theories: The Last Express

I will always be indebted to Jordan Mechner's 1997 game The Last Express for providing me with the first hard evidence that videogames could look and act as seriously as any film or novel. While the game's presentation is rather clunky by today's standards, the art direction, the real-time conceit, and the quality of the writing all deserve a huge measure of admiration.

While searching for images of this game to accompany a small article I've been writing about the role of narrative in videogames, I came across Mr. Mechner's Vimeo page. It contains this little gem:

Passively watching The Last Express is no substitute for actually playing it, but for posterity's sake this is a nice little memorial to a fantastic and overlooked milestone.