Dear Matthew, I was intrigued by your idea of watching time. By this, do you mean being hyper-conscious of time? And/or are you suggesting there is a distinctly visual component at work?
While the movie theater experience allows a spectator to lose oneself (the theatre is dark, daylight/darkness is shut out, there are never clocks on the wall), DVD watching rarely occurs without the visibility of constantly advancing digital numbers. Perhaps there is an anxiety here, because while users have the ability to control all the DVD features you mentioned, they often choose not to.
Last night, a few friends and I watched Robert Rodriguez’s Machete on DVD. We waited until all were assembled to press start. We only pressed stop after the credits rolled, not even when one friend had to grab a drink or another had to use the bathroom. This is one way to interact with DVDs, perhaps an effort to forge a less digital relationship with time…
Lisa, thank you for your observations and comments. Breaking up the title screens into two sets provides a useful way to access the film as well as its framing. I also find the assertion that the film contains "not a single frame of documentary or news footage" an interesting component in the way Pontecorvo’s film is presented to its audience. Nicholas Harrison has a piece in interventions in which he discusses what he calls the "documentary realism" of The Battle of Algiers, where he proposes that this disclaimer both invites the audience to view the film as a reliable historical account as well as warns the viewer against making any such attempt.
Pauline Kael’s review in The New Yorker also appears throughout The Criterion Collection bonus features. Along with her comparisons between Pontecorvo and Eisenstein, Kael states in the review that Pontecorvo is "the most dangerous kind of Marxist, a Marxist poet." One of the documentaries included in the three-disc set takes its name from this line - "Marxist Poetry: The Making of The Battle of Algiers" (2004). Perhaps these elements further complicate the relationship between the critical and the political framing of the film.
Thank you again for your comments,
Suzanne, I enjoyed reading your post and Jasmine’s post together, foregrounding a comparison of Khan’s guest appearance on CID and the employment of action film stars as OMB officials. This comparison produces a series of questions, but I am most curious about the popular reception of these star turns (with respect to both the specific videos that you and Jasmine posted and the broader legal, industrial, and cultural reliance on stars as anti-piracy figures.)
Thank you for your post, Brianna. It might be interesting to consider the political framing of the film in relation to its critical framing. In the trailer, title screens announce its Academy Award nominations, its Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival, and its rave review from Pauline Kael in The New Yorker — "The most emotionally powerful revolutionary epic since Eisenstein’s Potemkin!" These credentials are familiar trailer elements. A second set of title screens (and I should note that I’m not organizing these sets according to the trailer’s order of presentation) announces that the film was banned in France in 1965 and screened at the Pentagon in 2003 and that the film contains "not a single frame of documentary or news footage." This final assertion may be the most intriguing, pointing to a slippage between history and film history.
Thank you for your post, Vincent. I find Monika’s question about genre and Matt’s question about cultural fusion to be particularly interesting given the ways that the DVD (or at least this clip) matches the visual repertoire of yoga videos with a voiceover that combines the names of the poses with spiritual instructions rather than physical ones. For example, once the screen yogis assume chair pose, they (and the viewer) are instructed to "resist the desire to come out of this pose as you realize that you can have a beautiful body and a beautiful soul as well." The Tae-Bo videos that Matt mentions have a more comfortable position in the genre of exercise videos (if that is indeed the relevant label) than the Kabbalah Yoga video does because the Kabbalah video is so much more invested in Kabbalah than in yoga. Both seem to exploit these fusions for commercial purposes, but the effects are quite different — with Tae-Bo promising to transform your body and Kabbalah Yoga promising to transform your soul.
With that difference in mind, I wonder how and where the DVD is circulated. I followed your link to the Kabbalah Centre’s website, and I noticed that the DVD isn’t available for sale at their online store. They do, however, have a variety of instructional CDs and DVDs available (covering everything from navigating a career to improving your sex life), and many of these are available in both English and Spanish versions. I found your observation of the tensions between the two lectures on the Kabbalah Yoga DVD to be fascinating, and I wonder if similar contradictions surface in the other DVDs for sale.
Thanks for your observations and questions, Suzanne.
I was also struck by the Diwali reference. Diwali is religious, celebrating the vanquishing of a demon by the forces of righteousness. It is also secular, marking the beginning of the fiscal year. In this clip, we see several such cultural connotations. One of the evil agents of DVD piracy has been vanquished and now we enter a new era of doing business, it seems to be saying. I wonder how audiences "read" this Diwali reference.
I find it interesting that this section of the episode was a bit incongruous with the rest. Is this deliberate top-down propaganda inserted at the request of the Indian government? Or are "public service" messages like this more voluntary on the filmmakers’ parts in order to support public policies or popular sentiments?
Thanks so much for your posts and responses. I am fascinated by this topic and what you are contributing to it.
I’m also interested in the ways the video appropriates genre conventions, blurring the lines between entertainment and information.
In addition, I’m interested in the fetishization of DVDs vis-a-vis the online digital variety. Somehow the crackdown on digital pirates wouldn’t look as cinematic or dramatic if there were no physical objects (i.e. DVDs) to be seized and/or destroyed. The de-materialized nature of this kind of piracy may force opponents into somehow physicalizing future crackdowns (e.g. seizing computers, etc).
The ethnic dimension is also extraordinary here. While there may indeed exist a socio-economic impetus for Moros to engage in piracy, does it really justify it. In other words, are there any alternative approaches to the us/ them antagonism in the global crackdown on DVD piracy?
I appreciate your observations and questions concerning the video.
I wonder whether this kind of Kabbalah-Yoga crossover is indicative of other East/West pop culture videos. I’m thinking of Tai-Bo and others that specifically reference "Eastern" spirituality in its fusion of mainstream popular exercise videos. Part of me feels that this is pure commodification based on essentialist notions of what it means to be "spiritual." Part of me feels that this may be a helpful way of opening up inter-fath dialogues. What do you think?
Dear Monika and Suzanne,
Thanks for your comments. Ferdinand Marcos started the OMB as the Videogram Regulatory Board in 1985, under Martial Law. Presidential Decree 1987 compelled videotape vendors to comply with international IP laws. The link to the USTR isn’t official, but Philippine media gives ample coverage to the country’s placement on USTR lists as a measure of local success or failure in fighting piracy. The films being reproduced range widely, with piracy of Filipino films being unofficially treated more harshly than their foreign counterparts. Nationalist rhetoric comes into play when OMB representatives frame piracy in terms of protecting the local film industry, which has declined for many reasons. Telenovelas from around the region, particularly from South Korea, are among the more popular foreign works being pirated. However, Hollywood cinema and even more obscure, European titles from distributors like Criterion make the rounds in the pirate stalls, leading some to observe piracy markets’ contributions to cinema literacy among young Filipino filmmakers. I’ve heard that a couple of Pinoy auteurs whose films circulate via international film festivals, rather than through local distributors, have spoken to pirates about distributing their works, to provide greater access to a mass public.
The raids are government-led; however, the OMB includes members from the private sector, consumer organizations, and academe. The affiliation of the Australian in the clip isn’t clear; he seems to act as a general stand-in for foreign criticism. I’m not certain about the role of informants. Often, raids take place at distribution sites, with look-outs assigned to watch for trouble. Stalls are designed to be broken down and hidden quickly in case of raids, and I’ve heard stories of customers being locked in the stalls with the vendors as they wait for the raid to pass.
Though the clip doesn’t give much context to the "characters" involved in the raid, the star is then OMB chair Edu Manzano (in the black and white striped button-down shirt). At one point, when he corners the vendor and starts screaming at him, he uses his star-status to communicate with one of the suspected pirates, yelling in Filipino, "If I’m your idol, you’d better listen to me!" One aspect of piracy culture in the Philippines that merits further study is the role of the OMB chairs’ star status in faciliating the raids.
I really enjoyed your selected clip and response. Following up on Monika’s questions, to what extent do you think the raids are carried out for the benefit of the U.S. Trade Representative (to avoid trade sanctions, etc.)? Are they always government-led? If so, what is the role of the Australian producer shown in the clip? Is Filipino nationalism ever used in the anti-piracy rhetoric?
It’s interesting how the raid videos attempt to dramatize and cinematize what is essentially a very uninteresting story of breaking in, confiscating discs, and making arrests. For example, unlike in the U.S. television show Cops, we don’t get a sense here of the personalities of the enforcement agents or the pirates.
Are the local independent films also sold in the pirated market? Would you say, following Brian Larkin’s work on Nigerian video-films, that local film production in Manila has benefitted technically or technologically from the well-established pirate markets?
The piles and piles of optical discs shown at the end of the clip give an interesting texture to the clip. Does the destruction of the discs ever become part of the pedagogical IP efforts in Manila?
thanks again, suzanne