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December 21, 2003

Today’s Verizon v. RIAA Roundup [7:13 pm]

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Home-made, Idiosyncratic DVDs of TV Shows [6:56 pm]

From the NYTimes - A DVD Face-Off Between the Official and the Homemade — something we won’t get to see once the broadcast flag hits our hardware……

In the nostalgic memories of the Internet fan base, “Firefly” quickly became that sentimental fetish object: the brilliant series cut down before its time. A Web site called Fireflyfans.net continued to thrive; episodes were passed around via file-sharing programs. And this posthumous fan base waited expectantly for the show’s vindication: what has become television’s afterlife, the collectible DVD. Just in time for Christmas, that package finally arrives, a complete “Firefly” boxed set with all the goodies: three episodes never shown on network television, plenty of juicy extras, a melancholic mini-documentary on the show’s production, and commentary tracks by the show’s creators, its cast, even its costume designer — a permanent record of a series that once would have dissolved into network history.

But for the true completist, there’s another option out there: a handmade DVD created by Philip B. Gaines, a graduate student in digital media at the University of Washington. On this small, white two-disc set, Mr. Gaines puts forth his own idiosyncratic take on “Firefly,” scrolled over montages of stills and short excerpted scenes. His production includes episode summaries and visual mini-essays on subjects like “irony” and “violence.” He timed his project to piggyback on the official “Firefly” DVD (released by 20th Century Fox Home Video), touting his production on the geek-news site Slashdot.com. His discs are a charmingly ungainly valentine to the show — more experiment than true collectible. But they do offer a glimpse of a new possibility, the fan’s-eye approach to the television DVD.

[...] Movie geeks have already begun producing such tracks, ever since the film critic Roger Ebert’s rabble-rousing column on the subject for the online magazine YahooLife.com in February 2002. “I’d love to hear a commentary track by someone who hates a movie, ripping it to shreds,” Mr. Ebert wrote. “Or a track by an expert who disagrees with the facts in a film. Or a track by someone with a moral or philosophical argument to make. Or even a Wayne’s World-style track from dudes down in the basement who think `The Mummy Returns’ is way cool.” Mr. Ebert suggested that interested fans simply record their own tracks on MP3’s and post them on the Internet — legally providing alternate soundtracks for existing DVD’s.

[...] As for Mr. Gaines, he imagines his small “Firefly” set as a kind of first entry in an enormous future library — a future, he speculates, in which fans will act more like scholars. True enthusiasts will collect a whole library of DVD’s, he suggests: the official version, one or two commentary tracks by critics, and a selection by a particularly entertaining set of fans. How would such projects support themselves? Here, Mr. Gaines begins to verge into science fiction territory: someday, he suggests, interested patrons might offer to finance particularly excellent DVD commentators. “I worship art, almost literally,” he explained cheerfully. “You know, I want to sit there and talk about it. A great show like `Firefly’ just seemed like a perfect match to me: it deserves this kind of treatment.”

Update: (12/23) see Mary’s writeup - Homemade DVD vs. Official Release

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Napster Runs for President in ‘04 [6:48 pm]

That’s the title of a Frank Rich piece in today’s NYTimes discussing the Dean campaign. His essential point is that the record industry missed (and continue to miss, IMHO) the point of the Internet, and their businesses have suffered. The parallels with the conventional political establishment are easy to make, given Dean’s rise over the last six months.

I am not a partisan of Dr. Dean or any other Democratic candidate. I don’t know what will happen on Election Day 2004. But I do know this: the rise of Howard Dean is not your typical political Cinderella story. The constant comparisons made between him and George McGovern and Barry Goldwater — each of whom rode a wave of anger within his party to his doomed nomination — are facile. [...] This litany of flaws has been repeated at every juncture of the campaign this far, just as it is now. And yet the guy keeps coming back, surprising those in Washington and his own party who misunderstand the phenomenon and dismiss him.

The elusive piece of this phenomenon is cultural: the Internet. Rather than compare Dr. Dean to McGovern or Goldwater, it may make more sense to recall Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. It was not until F.D.R.’s fireside chats on radio in 1933 that a medium in mass use for years became a political force. J.F.K. did the same for television, not only by vanquishing the camera-challenged Richard Nixon during the 1960 debates but by replacing the Eisenhower White House’s prerecorded TV news conferences (which could be cleaned up with editing) with live broadcasts. Until Kennedy proved otherwise, most of Washington’s wise men thought, as The New York Times columnist James Reston wrote in 1961, that a spontaneous televised press conference was “the goofiest idea since the Hula Hoop.”

Such has been much of the reaction to the Dean campaign’s breakthrough use of its chosen medium. In Washington, the Internet is still seen mainly as a high-velocity disseminator of gossip (Drudge) and rabidly partisan sharpshooting by self-publishing excoriators of the left and right. [...]

For all sorts of real-world reasons, stretching from Baghdad to Wall Street, Mr. Bush could squish Dr. Dean like a bug next November. But just as anything can happen in politics, anything can happen on the Internet. The music industry thought tough talk, hard-knuckle litigation and lobbying Congress could stop the forces unleashed by Shawn Fanning, the teenager behind Napster. Today the record business is in meltdown, and more Americans use file-sharing software than voted for Mr. Bush in the last presidential election. The luckiest thing that could happen to the Dean campaign is that its opponents remain oblivious to recent digital history and keep focusing on analog analogies to McGovern and Goldwater instead.

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