Sunday, April 29, 2012

Going to the Movies in Germany

On Friday night, I went to go see The Avengers because it was surprisingly released here in Germany a few days earlier than in the U.S.  I had only had the choice of watching it in 3D in English or 3D dubbed in German.  Obviously, I didn't choose to watch it dubbed.

I don't really care for 3D movies.  I've seen only 3 that I can think of: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, and The Avengers.  Here in Germany, 3D movies are more expensive to see like everywhere else.  And like everywhere else, you also have to pay for the glasses.  My boyfriend and I used a Groupon deal, and we still had to pay 9€.  Moreover, here in Germany if a movie is over 2 hours long, it's considered "Überlänge," or excessive length (basically, a long movie).  And that means you'll add on another Euro to the movie price.  So for a 3D movie, you're already paying 2-4€ extra because it's in 3D, plus another 2€ for the glasses, and then if it's over 2 hours long, add on another 1€.  Basically, to see a movie in 3D, you're paying an extra 7€, which is around the price of a 2D ticket on discounted days.

Here in Germany, movies that are two hours long are broken up in the middle of the movie and there's a break.  I'm not kidding.  It's like an intermission right at the climax that isn't meant to be there.  Thankfully with the transition to digital projections, the projectionist hopefully tries to pick a less climactic scene to insert the break (around the 90 minute mark), whereas with analog, the break came at the end of the first film roll.  It's slightly better, but not by much.  I ask myself, why the heck am I paying an extra 1€ for the theater to give me a break?  I'll pay them the extra 1€ to keep the movie going and not have a break because it ruins the movie's pacing.

When I saw The Hunger Games a few weeks ago, the break seemed to make sense and was taken right before Katniss goes into the arena.  OK, great, it made sense.  But the projectionist somehow messed up the projection's settings in the second half and the colors were completely desaturated.  I don't think they noticed because they didn't change it.  It annoyed me completely because everything was just too cold, there was way too much blue in the picture.  You might argue, "But in the arena, maybe that'd be better because it's not supposed to be a warm, fuzzy place, right?"  NO.  I want to see the movie the way it was intended.  Yes, I could've gotten up and said to the manager that the colors were wrong, but then I would've missed out on whatever happened.  So either I miss what happens completely, or I deal with crappy colors.  It made me annoyed that I paid for a movie and the projectionist is so incompetent.

That brings me to last night at The Avengers.  After the break, the projectionist couldn't figure out how to turn the picture on.  So there we were, listening to everything that was happening, but not seeing it.  It took the projectionist a good 5 to 10 minutes to realize it.  Then they took an extra 10 minutes to figure it out while we sat there looking at a white light on the screen.  All seemed to work well afterward, and then the picture cut out again.  The projectionist wound up figuring it out and rewound it to the point where it had cut out, but seriously, way to ruin the pacing of the movie and the element of surprise.  I don't understand why I'm paying so much money for a movie when the theater can't do its job and show it right, including the break.  People can choose if they want to go to the toilet or not, or buy more snacks or not.  Why the heck should everyone else have to take a break?  I don't want to have to pay so much money to ruin a good movie.

On a side note, I miss seeing movies with Americans.  Americans react to movies.  For example, when I went to see Bridesmaids, a lady next to me said outloud, "Oh no, she di'nt!" during a particularly gruesome scene.  During X-Men First Class, the guy behind me commented, "Daaaaaaay-mmmnnn," during a climactic and visually impressive scene.  And when I went to see one of the Harry Potter movies at midnight, people cheered and clapped and hooted. None of this ever happens while watching a movie in Germany.  People barely laugh aloud during comedies.  They might smirk or quietly giggle to themselves at most.


Some may think it's annoying when people react to the movie.  I personally have no problem with it as long as it a reaction to what's happening and not some idiot making comments about which characters from the book are on screen (that happened during The Hunger Games. The guy was like, "Oh!  That's Foxface!"  Thanks, I knew that, shut up).  It's part of the experience seeing a movie in the theater with other people, even if you don't know them.  When I saw a Harry Potter movie here on opening day, I cheered ("YAAAY!") when the Warner Bros. logo and the title appeared, and someone actually shushed me.  There wasn't even anything happening on screen.  And can I stress it again: it was opening day of a Harry Potter movie.  Talk about lame.

So yes, whenever I am home in the United States, I go to the movies so that I can get the lovely reactions from the fellow moviegoers.  Not to mention eating buttered popcorn.  I miss that too.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Watching American TV in Germany

A few weeks ago, The Oatmeal posted a comic about streaming Game of Thrones (due to copyright, I can't actually post it on my blog, so go look at it before you read the rest of this).  The essence of the comic is that there is a dilemma to watching shows legally: watch it on Netflix or download it on iTunes, purchase it through Amazon, stream it on Hulu or the HBO site, or just download it illegally.  The dilemma is when the show is unavailable on legal sources like Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and Hulu, and HBO wants you to have a whole subscription in order to watch it.  At that point, you can either wait until Hulu/Netflix/other services has it, or you can download it.

Living outside the United States poses a similar problem.  I myself prefer to choose legal means to consume media and pay for everything because I think that the people involved with the media production deserve to get the money (though yes, I do realize that they only get pennies and it's the executives and other people not actually involved in production that get the biggest portion).  However, it's problematic when shows are a season behind here in Germany because the shows need to be dubbed.

And that's my biggest problem.  I would love to have a service like Netflix here, but the majority of services don't offer the choice between watching something in the original version and the dubbed version.  It's so stupid because it is so easy to have different files with different audio tracks -- look at DVDs!  I also can't buy/rent/stream things through the American Amazon or iTunes because my IP address is obviously from Germany.  I could pay for an American proxy server, sure, but I'm pretty sure there could be some legal hangups there just as much as downloading.  So even if I want to watch something legally, I might have to watch it dubbed if I watch it online.  Otherwise, I have to wait until the DVD comes out and that takes even longer than in the U.S.  DVDs can come out possibly two seasons after it airs in the U.S.  Can you imagine trying to not hear about how Lost ended while waiting for the DVDs?  It was a near impossible task.

Here in Germany, it's not even just limited to watching TV shows.  I can't even watch videos on YouTube that have music in them, including official music videos from the artists.  (Trying to find Lady Gaga's video "Marry the Night" in its entirety was annoying.)  Thanks to GEMA, official music videos can't be streamed over YouTube because it would be too expensive to have to pay for every time the video is watched.  Even for big acts like Lady Gaga.  It just frustrates me that OFFICIAL VIDEOS are even blocked!  It's not like it's some schmuck that uploaded a poor copy of the video.

How is it that in this day and age of interconnectivity we are still unable to figure out connections like this?  I guess part of it is the SOPA/PIPA/ACTA type bills that try to prosecute servers which have uploaded files.  Watching the debates of the SOPA/PIPA bills was simultaneously amusing and sad because none of the sponsors seem to really have an idea how the internet works.  But listening to them also just made me think that copyright laws are completely out of date.  They don't take into account that the world is more connected and that technology is changing the way we consume media.  Copyright laws had problems even back in the day of video tapes and cassettes and yet those are still the same laws with minimal change that are policy.  I think copyright law should be scrapped and rewritten anew and take into consideration that interconnectivity is inevitable.  Not only that, but companies are losing even more money because of these restrictions.  I would like to believe that people other than myself would pay for available services to watch shows in broadcast quality.

Surprisingly, two shows I watch regularly allow people abroad to watch them on their websites: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.  I don't know what exactly their deal is and why they are accessible, but I watch both shows on the sites directly and even sit through the advertisements.  Sometimes the ads are geared towards someone living in Germany, meaning, they're in German, but sometimes they're clearly ads for an American audience for products that don't exist here.  But that's ok.  Because they are available here NOT DUBBED or shortened or anything, I feel that my loyalty to the shows is even more so than with others who refuse access.  So kudos to Comedy Central and Viacom for allowing fans outside North America to watch these shows.  Everyone else should follow their example.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Definitely Not Selling Out

Last weekend, OK Go released their eighth (I think) music video off their album Of the Blue Colour of the Sky for the song "Needing/Getting."  It goes without saying that my anticipation for a new OK Go video is always high, but this video was different because if looked at really quickly, it looks like an ad.  Here's the video:

The car is a Chevy Sonic and the car company liked the video so much, they integrated it into a Super Bowl ad (which you can see here).  The ad is impressive, but not nearly as amazing as the video.  I really don't think I need to say anything about the video; since Sunday, there have been almost 10.8 million views.  Yes, you read that right.  I don't know what the numbers are for their other music videos off Of the Blue Colour... or for "Here It Goes Again," but regardless, that's about 1.8 million views per day.

But what got me thinking was how prominently the car and Chevy's logo are featured in the video.  You could almost argue it is an ad for the car itself.  My thought process went like this:

"But OK Go totally aren't sell-outs."  Pause.  "But what's the definition of a sell-out?  Isn't this the epitome of selling out?  They were in a Super Bowl ad!"  Pause.  "No, they're not sell-outs."

According to Wikipedia, "selling out" is "the compromising of (or the perception of compromising) integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for money or 'success' (however defined)."  Later, it details sell outs in music, citing merchandising and commercialization as characteristics.  Now, how is appearing in a Super Bowl ad, the mother of all commercialization, not selling out?

OK Go left their major label, Capitol Records, so that they could endeavor in their own creative projects, namely, their own record label, Paracadute, and making music videos, uploading them online and not having to deal with the sticky problem of copyrights, embedding, etc.  The band has used corporate sponsorship/support for other music videos previously: Range Rover's Pulse of the City app for "Back from Kathmandu," State Farm for "This Too Shall Pass," Google Chrome for "All Is Not Lost."  But again, "Needing/Getting" appeared in a Super Bowl ad and the car is much more prominent than any of the logos in the previous videos (ok, for "All is Not Lost," the interactive version is only viewable using Chrome).

The reason why I don't think this is selling out at all is because Chevy did not approach the band and tell them to make a video using the Sonic.  The idea is the band's and in order to realize their creative ideas, they need corporate sponsorship.  I can't imagine the cost of producing the video, but hey, if Chevy is going to pay for it and the band gets to have an amazing video, why not?  The Wikipedia definition discusses the compromising of integrity, morality, or principles, and this is obviously not the case with OK Go.  If they need something, why not go to companies with deep pockets who are willing to put the money out for them?  Moreover, the band has had behind-the-scenes videos for their fans because the majority of people ask, "How did they do that?!"  I know I've said this before, but I've liked the band since they released their first album and have seen them grow in popularity.  Lots of people know them and that's ok.  But they make these videos for themselves and for their fans, hence why I think that "Needing/Getting" is still not selling out. 

I think advertising is definitely changing and rather than there being pure commercials, meaning, television advertisements during TV shows, products are being more and more integrated with other visual forms.  What I mean is that commercials don't stand alone anymore; they can be seen online on YouTube.  However, it is not limited there because music videos are generally becoming commercials too.  Yes, they were always commercials for the music they sold, but check out the slew of videos now that include products (Lady Gaga's "Telephone," J. Lo ft. Pitbull's "On the Floor," LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It," etc.)  The products in those videos feel less organic than the Chevy Sonic in the "Needing/Getting" video; the OK Go video would not work without a car, whereas the other videos could function without the product placement.

I have to applaud Chevy for working with OK Go.  For me, seeing a company that wants to support artistic creativity through such advertising is more effective than a funny commerical (see: Honda's Super Bowl ad featuring Matthew Broderick and remaking Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  My reaction: Meh, ok...what car was it again?).  I am far more likely to watch the OK Go video repeatedly (and I have admittedly seen it at least four times already) than the Matthew Broderick ad.  And every time I watch the video, I will see the Chevy Sonic.  That is what I call effective advertising.  For OK Go, it's just another creative music video with the help of a big corporate company, but definitely not selling out.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Going to Concerts Can't Be Bad

Last week, I came across this excellent article from the AV Club about the "importance of catching the music while you can."  Writer Keith Phipps points out that it's not only the threat of  a musician's death that should send you to concerts, but also retirement, the musician's strength varies from year to year, and inspiration may just fade.  Personally, I couldn't agree more.

Paul McCartney in Cologne (16/12/09)
I have seen Paul McCartney four times (1x in NY, 1x in London, 2x in Cologne) and I still constantly wait for him to go on tour.  My boyfriend and other friends always make jokes about it and can't understand why I spent about 230€ on tickets the last time I saw him two days in a row by myself.  But there's something magical about seeing an artist you particularly love and every performance is different.  I figured that he was in Cologne and nobody wanted to come with me (imagine that), so why not spend the 160€ on one ticket?  When else would I ever be able to spend that much money and be that close to one of my favorite musicians of all time?  I also went to the following night's performance but paid for the cheapest seat; the experience was different than sitting up front, but all the same, it was amazing.  I know that Paul McCartney will not live forever and seeing him is one of the few chances I ever get hearing a real Beatle playing Beatles songs.  For that reason, I also went to see Ringo Starr last year, even though I'm not a fan of his solo work.

Oddly enough, I seem to have reached a point in my life where I realize how many acts I have not seen but wish I had, even though I don't see myself as particularly old, nor have I missed many shows.  One of my biggest regrets is not seeing George Harrison while he was still alive, even though I had been old enough to see him.  On the other hand, I guess that's why I've been shelling out money to go see big-name acts; recently I went to see Eric Clapton with Steve Winwood, Bon Jovi, and in May, I will be seeing Bruce Springsteen.  I never considered myself huge fans of any of those artists, but seeing Clapton on the guitar was an unforgettable experience.  Regardless of his age, he can still let it rip.

I have also gone to great lengths to get tickets to certain shows.  Two in particular come to mind: Weezer at Irving Plaza back in the summer of 2002 (I think) when Mikey Welsh was their bassist and the White Stripes' "secret" show also at Irving Plaza (changed to the Fillmore) back in 2007.  In the case of Weezer, their roadie/friend Karl Koch had posted on their website that the band had a surprise for fans that waited outside the MTV TRL studios that day.  (Yes, this was that long ago that TRL actually was important)  It turned out that people in the TRL studio audience got tickets (even though the majority there were 'NSync fans b/c the band was there via satellite or something); otherwise, there was an opportunity to win tickets at a store near Radio City Music Hall.  I wasn't in the audience and had to try my luck winning (which in the end, I miraculously did), but I also ran around Times Square trying to find people with tickets to buy off of, went to Irving Plaza to try to beg my way in, and everything else.  That was the first time I ever saw Weezer and what a great show it was.  However, it's not just the show I remember -- it is the craziness of running around New York City trying to convince someone to let me into the show and how much fun it was bonding with other Weezer fans.  I didn't keep in touch with them, but the camraderie on that day and the pure joy that music could bring will always stay in my mind.

The White Stripes at the Fillmore (19/06/07)
The same goes for the White Stripes' show in 2007.  I had just graduated from college and didn't really want to buy tickets for their arena tour.  I knew they were playing Madison Square Garden, but I couldn't bear the thought of seeing the White Stripes for the first time in such a huge place.  Luckily, they announced a 'secret' show that I found out about reading the Brooklyn Vegan.  Tickets were to go on sale only at the box office at around 10 in the morning on a weekend or something like that.  I decided to take the first bus out from Jersey at around 5-ish and by the time I got downtown, the line went around the block to the Toys R Us on Union Square.  I had told a White-Stripes-crazy acquaintance about it and luckily, he had been in line much earlier than me because he lived in the city.  So I got in line with him and managed to get tickets.  The show was spectacular and we managed to get close to the front.  But again, it's not necessarily the show that I will remember, but the fact that it was the one time I saw one of my favorite bands before they disbanded in a small, intimate venue.  Sure, my parents thought I was nuts for waking up early and waiting 4 hours to get tickets, but I have no regrets.

For me, going to see concerts is certainly about the music, but it's also about the experience.  Whether it is Paul McCartney for the umpteenth time or a newly discovered band I think might be great live, I'm always up for going.  In this day and age, music is ubquitious and yet highly individual, whether it's on YouTube, the radio, someone's cell phone, or an mp3 player.  We cram our headphones into ears to block out everything else and we try to disappear into our own musical preferences.  A concert brings us out of these shells to share the experience with one another.  There's nothing like turning to the stranger next to you and grinning because your favorite song is being played live.