Thursday, 22 January 2009

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“I think he’s long-winded because he’s informational.” Said of Joe Biden by young Damon Weaver, but perhaps applicable to the new administration generally. Obama signed an executive order re-viscerating the Freedom of Information Act this morning: The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known. To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law. I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness. Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution. Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency. I quote at length because, like the boy says, the new administration’s informational. Not so informational as to have the text of the executive orders available to the public yet, but it should only be a matter of time. I write “should” instead of “will” because conservatives might be right: all this could be simple showmanship; that is, Obama could be saying his administration heralds a new era of accountability while squirreling away all the important memos with Cheney’s “Treated as Top Secret/S.C.I.” stamp. But this potential criticism demonstrates why conservatives find themselves in a bind: to make it, they must confess that they believe opacity is a virtue; that the President alone—without the advice of the nation’s chief law enforcement officer—decides how informational his office need be. (All such complaints exercise the same double standard that has conservatives wishing Bush had abrogated the powers he’d concentrated in the executive office before he left it. How will they hash Obama’s apparent willingness to return them to their proper place? By changing the topic.) We can expect, then, that cries of the coming socialism will be bolstered by partisan fiskings of the very facts the Bush administration would’ve withheld from the public. While they may acknowledge the facts themselves, their import will be lost on them because...
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Lesson Planning 101: How to teach film responsibly in a composition class (The Dark Knight) Lest you think I'm publishing a long introduction-to-film-studies-type scene analysis for no reason, I had a few English people ask me how I taught film after I posted my syllabus last quarter. So I thought as long as I'm doing it anyway, I might could help a few folk out. I'm not an expert in film theory, so if you're looking for something along those lines, I suggest you head over to yonder blog and consult its illustrious roll. But if you want a workmanlike approach to teaching basic film vocabulary in a composition class, you could do worse. (Albeit not much.) Because I'm one of those cultural studies loons who believe that popular means culturally significant, the film I'm teaching is The Dark Knight. The scene I've tasked my students to analyze begins 1 hour and 24 minutes into the film. My lesson plan begins after the break: Before I begin, one point to keep in mind: Nolan's camera is always moving in this scene. He employs the conversational shot/reverse shot pattern and edits for continuity, but instead of a static over-the-shoulder shot, Nolan's restless camera slowly circles to the left or right (depending on whose back is to the audience), such that it seems as if Batman and the Joker's heads are on a collision course. More on that in a moment. Let me set the scene: We begin with low-key lighting from two visible sources: the lamp on the desk and the lone lit florescent behind Gordon. To the extent that it even is illuminated, the Joker's face is lit from below: The darkness behind him creates an off-screen space that's foreboding, but ultimately shallow. In the shot above, the Joker asks whether he's about to be treated to "[t]he good cop, bad cop routine?" To which Gordon responds: "Not exactly." Note how Nolan frames the scene: Gordon within the door; the door within the walls; the walls by the four corner shadows reminiscent of the initial masking of an iris-out. All the compositional elements contribute to the sense of entrapment. But they do so ironically: Gordon is about to open that door. Cut back to the Joker: Nolan places him on the left side of the screen in a medium close-up. As the Joker leans back, Nolan reframes while zooming in for a close-up: As the camera creeps closer the Joker seems to pick up more of the ambient light from the table lamp. Nolan then deepens the shot without refocusing by having someone turn on the rest of the florescent lights: Nolan deepens the dark shallow space to reveal what we didn't know the diagesis contained: the Batman. The restricted depth of field renders the Batman as a blur, but fast things are blurry and the Batman is very fast. (Emphasizing the blurriness likely accounts for why Nolan chose not to use racking focus here.) The camera remains steady as both characters momentarily exit the frame: Not only does the shallowness make the fast blurry...

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