Geoffrey Long
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Transmedia extension as super-limited collector's item?
9 artbook
The folks behind the upcoming animated movie 9 have created a "mad science journal" that could be seen a prequel-esque diegetic artifact, insofar as it includes "ink blots, sketches and doomsday prophesies" as well as a whole bunch of information as to how the ragdoll characters of the film came to exist.

According to the article on, "Each book is encased in a uniquely numbered burlap bag, featuring a special forward by Ray Kurzweil, behind-the-scenes art, an extensive collection of stills from the film, commentary from director Shane Acker and producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, and a DVD of the original short film by Shane Acker which inspired the full-length feature."

The catch is that only 999 of these books were made, which strikes me as sort of a tragedy. Such a project seems to be absolutely loaded with opportunities for additive comprehension, so ensuring that less than a thousand would-be fans have access to that enriched experience seems like a missed opportunity. (As readers of my Master's thesis, Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company know, similar art books were released as transmedia extensions for both Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.) Still, in this day and age, I'd be utterly flabbergasted if some version of the same content didn't appear either online or in the inevitable collector's edition of the DVD.


An old dream realized.
The Big Lie That Solves Everything
Thanks to the hard work of my old friend Bill Coughlan and our film troupe Tohubohu Productions, I have recently had an old dream realized.

I am now in the IMDB.

The film that got me there is The Big Lie That Solves Everything, the third short film I produced with Tohubohu and our entry for the 48 Hour Film Festival in Washington, DC back in 2005. I gotta say, four years later and I still love this movie. In a way, it's almost a modern-day mashup of the Bible and Arabian Nights – you can see it in its entirety at the link above, or check out the movie, its trailer and its one-sheet posters at its page on the Tohobuhu site.

At some point I'll have a second film on my profile for my work on the Neil Gaiman Live at MIT - the Julius Schwartz Lecture DVD, but right now I'm totally tickled to be on there at all.

Too. Dang. Cool.


On Literature and Comparative Media Studies.

(Note: I should preface this bit of writing with a warning: what follows is a first attempt to set down some things I've been struggling to articulate for the past couple of years. As such, it may be slightly less than ideally coherent, but hopefully out of it some clarity will emerge.)

What is literature?

It's remarkable how explosive three words can be. "I love you" and "this is war" win out in the big picture, to be sure, but among academic circles (particularly in the humanities) "what is literature" can be almost as provocative. When you start mucking about with anything so heated, it's a good idea to start out with definition, or in this case, seven:

  1. writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.
  2. the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.
  3. the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.
  4. the profession of a writer or author.
  5. literary work or production.
  6. any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills: literature describing company products.
  7. Archaic. polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.

Note that the first four definitions all use variants of the word 'writing', definition six specifies printed materials, and definition seven explicitly uses the word books. (I find definition five to be absurdly insufficient: defining "literature" as "literary work or production" is like attempting to define "milk" as "milky work or production".)

And yet, and yet – imagine the outrageous clamor that would ensue if a professor were to suggest that Shakespeare should be banned from the study of literature, despite the fact that Shakespeare's works were not written to be read, but performed. In other words, Shakespeare's creations were primarily performative, not textual.

Such an argument might go as follows:

Shakespeare shouldn't be taught in literature classes, as his work was performative, not textual.

But clearly the strength of Shakespeare's work is to be found in the poetry of his words. "To be or not to be", "I will break my staff and drown my book" – these phrases have lasted for centuries due to the artfulness of their construction.

Have they? Reinterpretations of Shakespeare's works have been around almost as long as the originals; such a reimagining as West Side Story is still recognizable as Romeo and Juliet, even though it deploys none of the same language.

Perhaps this is due to a second strength of Shakespeare, which is also considered a component of literary studies: the structures of storytelling, such as character creation and plot development. It stands to reason that if Shakespeare's work were primarily performative, what should reach down through the ages are not the words and the structures but the actions, such as the dances Bob Fosse created for West Side Story, or the music by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. While both of these are considered exemplary, they do not fall under the definition of literary.

But why don't they? Music and dance moves can be recorded as written marks such as musical notes or dance charts – why is literature constrained to works of the alphabet? If the definition is, as suggested earlier, "writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features", and music and dance moves can both be written down, then clearly music and dance should be included in literary studies just the same as poetry, novels, history, biography or essays.

But they're not narrative.

Nowhere in the above definitions does the word 'narrative' appear.

Perhaps it should?

Poetry is studied as literature, and it's frequently not narrative. Besides, even if the word 'narrative' was included in such a definition, music, dance, film, comics and video games, robots, mobile devices or holographic television all can be used to tell stories.

But that's not their primary purpose.

It could be argued that telling stories is not the primary purpose of language, either.

Yet still, when we use the word 'literature' it remains associated with text in our mind, with language.

Of the elements I listed, only dance feels like it doesn't use language, and even then it's possible to imagine a dance performance that incorporates text or language through music, spoken words, projected text or a libretto.

Perhaps the answer is to be found elsewhere, then. In his Literary Theory, Terry Eagleton suggests that the study of English literature only came about as a way to inject formative philosophies and ideals into the minds of each new generation. Mythologies, legends, folklore, and religions serve as the literature of a culture insofar as they transmit traditions. This partly justifies the creation of a canon that is to be studied, as opposed to arguing that any text is worthy of study.

While that may be true, it fails to explain why works such as Casablanca exist in both the cultural memory and the tradition of film studies, if not literature: it's incredibly difficult to assign a particular moral value to Casablanca, but it does stand as an important work because of how it exemplifies a particular structure of creation. In the same way that The Searchers is worth experiencing as an example of the Western, or All Quiet on the Western Front stands as an exemplar of the war story.

Yet those do display "ideas of permanent and universal interest", as they both deal with the human experience. Even John Wayne's bastard of character in The Searchers can be instructive to audiences as to the dangers of the damaged.

But these are all films – should they be considered literature?

Perhaps, but a huge portion of their value is also to be found in how they demonstrate what can be done in a particular media form. Casablanca, The Searchers and All Quiet on the Western Front are all memorable for their performances and cinematography as much as they are for their dialogue, their characters or their narrative structures.

Which suggests that they should perhaps be studied in both Drama and Literature departments?

Oh, definitely.

But isn't this too narrow, too exclusive? Shouldn't even Literature students be made aware of the import of the performances and cinematography, if only to draw their attention to how important both factors might be?

Perhaps. But this suggests a need to examine what each media form brings to the table, so that anyone opting to write for a given form knows not only how to create great dialogue, characters and narrative structures, but also how to play to the strengths of a given form.

A comparative literature for media, then?


But isn't that just media studies?

It seems to me that just studying what each media form does well, or just studying the effects of media forms, might fall under the rubric of media studies. The notion of comparative media studies might also incorporate this, but under the understanding that the study of multiple media is to be pressed into the service of examining how stories are told, traditions are conveyed, and culture is created in the same fashion as our traditional notion of literature in each of the myriad forms of media being created, consumed and explored in the 21st century is simply an updating of the definition of studying literature.

So this reading of Comparative Media Studies might simply be considered modern Literature?


That's the conversation happening in my brain lately, which knits together my interests in English Literature, Film, Drama, Art, Literary Theory, Comparative Media Studies and the Media Lab's upcoming Center for Future Storytelling. It also describes the lay of my mental landscape concerning my Ph.D. plans, my plans for future books and how I might someday structure interdisciplinary courses taught inside of a Literature department (or whatever exists in 2015 or whenever I actually become The Good Doctor Long). Thoughts?


The lovely language of the New York Times.

Now I'm a big fan of the gray lady, and I'm also a big fan of long, complicated sentences, but Manohla Dargis should be taken aside and given a strict talking-to for this doozy in today's review of Baz Luhrmann's Australia:

Though "Australia" is narrated by a young boy of mixed race, Nullah (the newcomer Brandon Walters), the illegitimate son of an Aboriginal mother and a white father, who is trying to escape the authorities, and while it opens in 1939, shortly before World War II blasted Australian shores, the film isn't a bummer.

My mother always taught me that, while complexity can be a good thing, the most critical aspect of writing is to not jar the reader out of their flow and make them back up to reread a sentence. I was quite happily zipping along this review until I hit that number, and though I can parse it quite clearly now, I had to reread it twice to figure it out. Yeesh.


Me on Bond.

My campaign to dominate the American media-on-the-media continues in a sound bite I provided for the New York Daily News article called "The Q factor: How the science behind James Bond's gadgets was reinvented". For added awesomeness, I even got the last word on the subject – and the subject is fantastical doohickeys.


An amazing season for media.

I have just discovered that, in addition to Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, Pratchett's Nation, Link's Pretty Little Monsters and Carroll's The Ghost in Love, Louis De Bernieres' new book A Partisan's Daughter hit shelves today.

I yield! I yield! My poor wallet! What else could this fall possibly throw at me?

(Well, there's this, this, this, and this, not to mention this, this, this and this. Arrrgh.)


A day full of awesome. (Mediawise, that is.)

Consider this a public service announcement that Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, Terry Pratchett's Nation AND Jonathan Carroll's The Ghost in Love are out today. TODAY. Go! Stop reading this and go, dammit! Hie thee to a bookstore! Or Amazon!

I could also note that the 2-disc Blu-Ray set of Iron Man is out today, but I suspect that will take care of its own sales figures, thankyouverymuch.

Two additional things I will note, however, is that Jonathan Carroll's has received an astonishingly beautiful makeover, using a palette similar to my own and a design that I wish I'd thought of (and may indeed lift bits of at some point in the future, especially the gorgeous blend of blacks and parchment and breathtakingly beautiful photography); and that Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters is out next week, so you might as well pre-order that while you're clicking away at Amazon. I mean, it's just the efficient thing to do.

(I myself would be clicking away if I weren't so damned impatient. Off to the mall I go ASAP after work, I suspect...)


A pricey summer for culture vultures.

First it was the buy-one-get-one-free sale on Criterion Collection DVDs at DeepDiscount (which concluded as of midnight last night, thank God), but now Apple has launched a $6.99 and $7.99 sale on Classical and Jazz albums. My wallet! My poor, innocent, empty wallet!

I mean, seriously – Hilary Hahn! Yo-Yo Ma and Ennio Morricone! Joshua Bell! Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jamie Cullum and Thelonious Monk! Damn you, Jobs!

Luckily, I already own most of these classics, but there's a couple I'm eyeing cautiously. If those of you in my reading audience pick up nothing else, the Yo-Yo Ma playing Ennio Morricone is a must-have – it's one of my favorite go-to albums whenever I need some great background music for work or writing or whatever.

Oh, well. Think of the money you'll save on gas at $4+ per gallon by staying in and watching movies or listening to MP3s. Yeah, that's the ticket...


On The Dark Knight.

I'll come back to this subject in a week or so, because all the things I really want to talk about in Nolan's The Dark Knight are going to require a decent number of spoilers, and trust me – this is not a movie you want spoiled. It has nothing (well, almost nothing) to do with the ending, but all the little things Heath Ledger's Joker does throughout the course of the film.

That said, I can sum up the basics of my thoughts like so: Batman Begins was an amazing film because it showed how a superhero might plausibly be created in real life. The Dark Knight, however, shows us what a real-life supervillain might be like. We hold up Seven and Silence of the Lambs as deeply disturbing, but they have nothing on this. I'm honestly having a difficult time thinking about the Joker's character in comics or cartoons now, because Ledger's Joker is that damned unsettling.

Go. Hie thee to a theater. Now. Hie, dammit, hie. We'll come back and talk this over later.


A beautiful pain: Criterion Collection sale.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out to all my media-loving friends out there the buy one get one free sale currently going on over at My picks:

Box Sets
Monsters and Madmen (4 films)
Olivier's Shakespeare (3 films)

Akira Kurosawa
Seven Samurai

Frederico Fellini
La Strada
8 1/2

Ingmar Bergman
The Magic Flute
Fanny and Alexander
Sawdust and Tinsel

Mr. Arkadin
Carnival of Souls
Thief of Bagdad

These aren't on the AFI list I've been plowing through in my sort of Film Studies 101 "independent study" but many are classics nonetheless – and I'm also always interested in the artful depiction of magic and wonder, and a number of these are known for doing that really, really well. There are all kinds of other finds on the list – such as The Threepenny Opera, The Third Man, Sullivan's Travels, The 39 Steps, Beauty and the Beast, Brazil, M, Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal, all of which I own; Charade, Withnail and I and Yojimbo, which I don't own but have seen recently enough to postpone their purchase, and Bowie's The Man Who Fell to Earth, which Criterion is putting out on Blu-Ray this fall.

More blog posts are pending – I have all kinds of things I want to write about, including the ITRA Conference and our trip to Greece, as well as my thoughts on a number of recent events in the media universe. Right now, though, I must run off to the lab for a meeting.

One last parting thought: likeminded souls in the Boston area should check out Readercon this weekend, where I'm hoping to meet up with some old acquaintances (like Ellen Kushner and Nick Mamatas) and meet a few of my favorite authors (like John Clute, Kelly Link, and James Morrow). It'll be the first time in the three years I've been here when Readercon falls on a weekend where I'm actually in town, so I'm thoroughly excited to go.

Oh, and one last thing: other likeminded souls in the Boston area should check out the midnight showing tonight of The Dark Knight at The Somerville Theater in Davis Square. That's where all the cool kids will be (namely myself, Laura, Matt and Clara).

Stay tuned!