Film Reviews: July/August 2007


| July / August 2007

Media Literacy: The Movie: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: Resistance and Repression in the Age of Intellectual Property

When video killed the radio star, '80s rockers inundated televisions with a male fantasyland where hourglass-figured nymphomaniacs outnumbered their idols ten to one. Capturing more than 160 of these images, communications professor Sut Jhally produced the critique Dreamworlds: Desire/Sex/Power in Rock Video. It was passed around women's studies and communications departments before attracting the gaze of MTV's lawyers, who cried copyright infringement and demanded that Jhally recover each tape. He refused, claiming protection under fair use laws allowing anyone to co-opt others' creations for educational critique, and MTV backed down. But Jhally was just rearing up.

In 1991 he founded the Media Education Foundation, a nonprofit that has steered dozens of documentaries on race, gender, politics, consumerism, and the media itself into thousands of classrooms. The latest offering, Freedom of Expression, has Ivy League law professors and media critics expounding on copyright law's encroachment on America's cultural output. What saves the film from visual monotony--most commentators are filmed in front of bookshelves or potted plants--are the pop-culture clips embedded throughout.

2 Live Crew's spoof of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman" exemplifies the 1994 Supreme Court decision that parody, even poorly done, is worthy of legal protection, while a scene from the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom in which a cell phone ringing to the Rocky theme--the moviemakers paid $2,500 to use it, after talking the price down from $10,000--highlights the ridiculous lengths to which corporations will go to keep their products under lock and key, and the pains artists and educators must take to avoid costly litigation. -Kristen Mueller


THE BRIDGE

(Koch Lorber; on DVD)



Suicide remains an enormous taboo, rarely discussed publicly and widely forbidden--which is what makes Eric Steel's elegiac documentary The Bridge all the more engrossing. During 2004, Steel and his crew propped up their cameras on or near San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and captured nearly all of the 24 fatal leaps that took place that year. Imagine enjoying a pristine, picture-postcard view of the famous bay when, all of a sudden, you witness a distant splash beneath the bridge: Instantly, the landscape goes from tranquil to macabre. Is it unethical for the film crew to observe people killing themselves? Does the movie perpetuate the bridge's status as the world's most popular suicide destination? Maybe. But The Bridge is laudable for its sensitive examination of human anguish, interspersing stories of survivors, friends, and family members who have experienced this most sorrowful of killers. -Anthony Kaufman


L'ICEBERG

(First Run Features; on DVD)