Oscars & My Netflix Queue


The Oscars was a good opportunity to update my Netflix queue (Photo courtesy of AP)

The Oscars was a good opportunity to update my Netflix queue (Photo courtesy of AP)

I found myself watching the Oscars last night and jotting down movies that I wanted to add to my Netflix queue. I am at a desperation point in my subscription and need new material. I have seen everything in my queue and only  have black and white movies as well as obscure documentaries that I crib from The New York Times DVD column every Wednesday. Now I like highbrow movies and enjoy the condesension I shower on someone who defends Paul Blart: Mall Cop  but I also feel the need for something more modern, more entertaining, more colorful than A.O. Scott’s The Passion of Joan of Arc DVD pick. Yeah, that one is in my queue. Time for new blood!

  • The Duchess: What I gathered from the Oscars is that is is a historical costume piece. In honesty, I have no desire to watch it but I know I’ll get bonus points with my wife when she discovers it in the mailbox.
  • In Bruges: I have qualms about adding this to my Netflix queue. I might watch it and love it but will I be able to correctly pronounce Bruges at an elite social gathering. “Oh, I saw a great movie on Netflix. It’s about hitmen in … BRU-JI. Movies and the correct pronunciation of their titles must not reveal the true idiot that you are.
  • Man on Wire: This is a documentary about a high wire artist that won best doc feature. The subject of the film, Phillipe Petit, impressed me when he did magic tricks during the acceptance speech and balanced the Oscar on his chin. Now, the activist in me quietly cheered when Sean Penn went out on one of his Leftist rants in his acceptance speech but what I really like to see is someone who appeals to my infantile self and starts busting out Houdini on the Oscar stage.
  • Legend of the Lost: I am banning this 1957 John Wayne Western movie along with any other Sophia Loren flick from my queue. Watching this aging movie queen at the Oscars was like looking at a particularly garish drag queen. She and Mickey Rourke could duke it out in the Scary Contest.
  • Slumdog Millionaire: I loved this movie and will watch it again. I should have known it was my Oscar favorite when I found myself in Taj Mahal before the show. After wolfing down the Indian buffet, I tried to impress the waiter by saying “Jai Ho” when he handed my the check. My cross-cultural excitement bubble was burst when he gave me a look like he had no idea what I was talking about. I then noticed that he wasn’t even Indian. Oh well, I’ll save this Hindi phrase for victory next time I go to a Japanese Steakhouse. Maybe they’ll understand — Michael Barnes


Image provided by the New York Post and AP

Image provided by the New York Post and AP

The uproar over the New York Post chimp cartoon reminded me of the protests and death threats following cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in European newspapers several years ago.

What these scandals teach anyone involved in the visual business is the power of the image. We will not get into the politics of these cartoons but explore the amped-up feelings these images spur and how they push a visual journalist to be responsible for their content. You have to consider not just what you think what your images invoke but how others might react. Specifically, others that do not share your cultural and socioeconomic norms. 

I watched a news program last night where the cartoonist of the chimp piece felt the animal in the cartoon was not representative of President Obama but more likely that of House Speaker Pelosi. Now whether that is credible is for others to debate, but here an artist aims for one thing when a large swath of the country reads another meaning into his work. Perhaps he should have been more aware before he picked up his pencil just as you, a visual journalist, need to be hyperconscious of what you’re representing before you press record. — Michael Barnes

This is the first post  in a regular effort on this blog highlighting interesting videos about Iowa and local matters in particular. I’ve combed YouTube and Google and pulled out interesting fare.

In the video below, a teen rants on his webcam about all the reasons why Iowa sucks from defaming movie stars born here to slamming local monuments. Videofix does not feel that Iowa sucks (although we didn’t like the flood) and we encourage viewers to send in a comment on why Iowa rules and where this testy teen can go! — Michael Barnes

Image released by Universal Pictures courtesy of AP

Image released by Universal Pictures courtesy of AP

After seeing Ron Howard’s Academy Award nominated film Frost/Nixon, what struck me was how just how under fire TV journalist David Frost was with the Nixon interviews following Watergate.

Many have commented how the film humanized Nixon. The disgraced President is seen as a political fox. He likens the interviews with Frost to combat and easily wins the early rounds. After Frost battles back and rattles the former President in the final interview, a more nuanced portrayol of Nixon emerges. The man confesses that he is uneasy in social situations and clamors for Frost’s “lightness” with people. The last shot shows Nixon at his home looking out over the Pacific, framed in solitude with the fading sun washing away in the sky.

The quirks and idiosyncracies of Nixon could fill hundreds of books and they probably have. As stated, I was more interested in the journey of Frost. He is portrayed at the beginning as a dilettante and vapid Lady’s Man. When Frost decides to interiew Nixon and pays him $600,000, none of the American news networks will do business with him because they feel Frost compromised his journalistic ethics and bought a source. Frost is forced to seek out other investors to buy air time and syndicate the four interview installments himself.

In one hilarious moment, Frost leaves an interview with Nixon and goes hat in hand to a lawn maintenance company to pony up to the show. From interviewing giants to schlepping lawn widgets, Frost is desperate to keep the whole thing afloat. This stress brought the current state of journalism into view for me. Journalists and the monolithic media companies that own their newspapers or TV stations are equally under pressure to get the story and keep costs down. With advertisers fleeing newspapers, staffs are being cut, papers are for sale and a running tide of commentary fills the opinion pages on how to stanch the blood flow.

Back to the film. Following a drunken phone call from Nixon, Frost is determined to fight back. He digs in and scores a triumph when he gets Nixon to confess that anything he did wrong was not illegal because Nixon was President at the time. With statements like that, Frost’s interviews with Nixon were a giant success. When broadcast in 1977, the premier drew 45 million viewers, the greatest audience yet for a political interview on television. Frost also walked away with a cool $1 million in profit. Not bad for a journalist hawking lawn products!

The lesson to be learned for modern journalists fighting the decay in the present industry is to stick to their gun and fight for an idea that might be seen as unconventional. We might not all interview a former President, but we need to fight for the opportunity to produce trailblazing work when no one believes in you and the pressure is on.  — Michael Barnes

Let Them Watch Dirt!

I have a great video. It’s worthy of a Pulitzer.

A cute kid (who just happens to be a flood victim) is painting over the anti-Culver, anti-Halloran graffiti on his newly remodeled house in the Corridor. He is almost finished but can’t reach up to brush over the CULVER IS A DOOFUS higher up. Suddenly, Air Force One lands and President Obama leaps out and hoists the kid on his shoulders to help him finish. Obama puts the kid down and the kid tells him, “Yes I can!”

I’m swearing to you, I have all of the above on tape! I have a probing interview with President Obama about flood relief in E. Iowa. and even a clip of Gov. Culver promising to do more.

The problem is, no one will watch. The public is too busy watching a former nursing building get demolished. It’s a predicament. Shoot high quality video and the dirt (see, literally, below) always wins out.

I watch my traffic like any other good videographer would. Most of the eyeballs go to videos about snake rescues. Forget the moving video on the flood victim. We want gore, destruction and dirt!

I can hear people cursing me as a snob, but imagine you’re an auto worker … auto workers are not snobs. I should amend this to imagine you’re a auto worker or newspaper journalist if both are even around anymore …

As an auto worker, you spend your days on the line putting together well built, highly functional American sedans with a flair for (gasp!) design. You exit the factory proud of your company’s product only to see  a 2009 Neo-Pinto dealership go up and do rock-’em, sock-’em business. What about your high quality sedans? Sorry, sucker, Pintos win! Particularly online.

So please rescue me from the bathos of this post and write a comment. Why do so many people enjoy schlock online? Am I cabernet-drinking elitist snob? Meanwhile, enjoy the destruction and dirt below — Michael Barnes Continue Reading »

Is Music Heresy?

Some people consider using music in a news-ish video to be heresy. They argue that it emotionally tugs at the viewer in all the wrong ways and strays from journalistic objectivity. Angela Grant of the News Videographer argues these points on her popular blog.

I disagree. I think music, if used well, can shape the narrative. In these struggling times for newspaper video (any news video!) creating a music collage can add needed energy and attract young viewers who are accustomed to ripping jolts music as they shuffle thru their MySpace pages.

In the video below, I wanted to open the piece with a musical montage to show high school life. The video is about Pledge Day at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, IA. The school organized a series of activities to build team-work and cooperation in an effort to reduce bullying and intimidation. I went with a reggae song because I liked the mellow feel and felt it was appropriate for young people. I only used 30 seconds of music in the piece to open it. In the past, I have done entire videos with music over them — really music videos.

What’s your opinion on music in news videos? Does it help build a mood in a piece or is it an annoying distraction? Tell us in the comments section below! — Michael Barnes


Photo by Jan Mehlich

Photo by Jan Mehlich

A colleague referred me to washingtonpost.com’s On Being multimedia series.  Basically, it is one-person interviews on an interesting topic that illuminates and reveals the person in front of the camera. The Gazette is planning a similar series in launching Iowa.com where we interview Iowans and present their voices. People, occupations and interests discussed — all Iowa-centric.

I bring up On Being because it is an amazing series of interviews. One man discusses what makes him “particular,” another woman talks about cutting and a mother and her developmentally disabled son talk about family life. The interviews are simple. The subjects are shot behind a white backdrop. The range of emotions the interviewer elicits is superb. I will conduct some of these interviews myself for Iowa.com and hope to make them equally compelling.

From a technical point of view, the camera angle changes frequently breaking up the tedium of just one shot. This means, however, that the interviewer had to stop and restart the subject or get them to repeat information for the new angle. Getting good information from just one vantage point is difficult enough; changing things around without the subject getting annoyed or bored is impressive.

Interviewing is the most difficult task of being a Video Journalist or a regular journalist for the matter. With video, people are reluctant to go on camera and frequently make guarded statements. Getting a subject to open up and be candid is truly difficult. When shooting a story, often the interview is secondary. You spend all your time and energy on taping visuals that tell the story. When you get to the interview, you often rely on the prosaic “tell-me-who-you-are-and-what-happened.” Frequently, just getting someone to go on camera is a major triumph!

As stated, I hope to achieve similar results with Iowa.com. If you are an Iowan and have interesting point-of-view or anecdotes about the Hawkeye state, let me know about you in the comments section below. I promise not to bite during the interview! — Michael Barnes