November 22, 2012

Feature Presentation:
The Invisible Children of Ho Chi Minh City

It has been too long since I last featured a film on this blog, and I wanted to make amends after a rather difficult November.

So tonight, while many in the States are perhaps still in the midst of their Thanksgiving feasts, I offer those who tend to look beyond national borders a 15'27" slice of Vietnamese street life courtesy of Radio Free Asia: The Invisible Children of Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnamese dialogues with English subtitles and narration).

Watch it, and good luck with holding back the heartache (I couldn't).

©2012 Radio Free Asia / Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Give thanks for all you have, but remember those who aren't as fortunate as you.

September 20, 2012

In Memoriam: Mela (2011–2012)

The box that was launched with so much promise in 2011.

Tonight, I am lighting a memorial candle for Mela.

I don't know how many of you adopted the Indian movies and live TV "on demand" service when it launched last October, but I for one felt a deep sorrow when the service quietly shut down last Saturday 15 September.

Several weeks ago, Mela had been forced to shut down the recently–shrunken live–streamed TV part of their business (on 30 July) after Dish Network locked up exclusive rights to as much Indian television as possible in order to put the competition out of business. At that time, we received an e–mail message announcing the end of Mela TV (and with it, the loss of programming mostly in Telugu but also some content in Tamil and Marathi).

Then came Saturday 15 September. I was staying overnight with a friend in New York City, and decided to find a movie worth streaming on my Android, using the app that Mela had created for a small selection of their library. Tap. Up came the Mela splash screen… and then a dialogue box announcing that the service had closed and thanking me for supporting Mela Movies. (I went to Google Mail to see if they had sent a message officially announcing Mela's shutdown. Nothing.)

I streamed only five minutes of news on RT and then went to bed.

It was very hard to sleep, because of two words: "How come?"

When Mela was officially launched in late August of 2011 (the box above would ship a while later), it was celebrated as a 100% legal way to see masala movies and live TV from some of India's regional networks (Maa, Jaya TV, Raj Television, Sun Network, and other smaller providers). Eros International, Yash Raj Films, and Shemaroo Entertainment, three of Bollywood's big players, signed on to provide a huge part of Mela's movie library. And Abhay Deol, fresh from appearing in the hit Zindgai Na Milegi Dobara, became the service's first (and, as it turned out, only) celebrity endorser.

All of that should have guaranteed good times for a long while.

I was one of the early adopters of Mela, and so I got the set–top box at the top of this post. To be sure, it had its limits (one app for YouTube, but none for Vimeo), and initially I wasn't sure if our regional cable/media gorilla Cablevision would raise a fuss (they didn't). After two months, I was using Mela practically every day. It was fascinating to see how TV is done in India (and what habits each broadcaster has), and I became a fan of J Movie (Tamil–speaking Jaya TV's channel for older Tamil flicks), Raj Digital Plus (again for their Tamil movie shows), and Marathi–speaking Saam TV for Limbu Timbu (thankfully, you can watch past broadcasts of the street game show on YouTube).

I never did get to stream every movie that Mela had rights to (how could anyone?), but there were some special movies I'll remember, such as the three films they got from director Murali Nair (Ladli Laila, a/k/a Virgin Goat, especially comes to mind).

When Mela later abandoned its own set–top box and joined the line–up on Roku, it took some getting used to. The TV offerings had been cut down dramatically (lots of Telugu TV, but only two Tamil channels, including Sun TV). Mela had separate TV and movie apps in Roku's Channel Store. But it was nice to see the widescreen offerings take full advantage of my 16 x 9 widescreen HD television, and the sight of more titles in Bengali and other regional languages was a good sign.

Then came 30 July, when a new exclusive (in more ways than one) deal with Dish Network's streaming service, Dish World, took effect. Suddenly, Mela was out of the live TV business. (Not everything migrated to Dish World: They have yet to add the Raj networks to their offerings.)

Meanwhile, Mela still had the movies–on–demand side of the business, but it wasn't without its issues. Roku had removed Mela Movies from their Channel Store, which left the Intel Macs and powerful Windows and Linux boxes, not to mention the iPads and Androids blessed enough to do Wi–Fi. (Those with existing Mela subscriptions could still access Mela through their Roku boxes, but only if they didn't remove the channel.)

During this time, a few things happened that made me wonder if Mela had a future. The Walt Disney Company had practically bought out UTV, which was a stunner in itself. Then Eros International launched its own streaming service, Eros Now, and their logo was scrubbed from the Mela website (as was the one for Yash Raj Films). Shemaroo and Shree International did offer what they could in terms of big ticket titles (The Dirty Picture and Hate Story, respectively), and we did get some PVR Director's Cut titles (such as The Forest and Good Night | Good Morning).

But apparently, it wasn't enough.

It didn't help that some big movies that were promised Mela subscribers (the last one being Jism 2) were suddenly yanked at the last moment — a clear sign that filmi producers clearly had their share of cold feet. (And then there was the expected Hollywood summer onslaught: Jism 2 was outgunned in the States, bookings–wise, by Sony's useless Total Recall remake. Score one for the video pirates.)

Put simply, getting the big boys on board and committing titles to Mela was key, especially if they wanted to make good on combating video piracy in a positive way. And the truth is that, unless India's many "woods" could do an about face and open up to the idea of making a service like Mela the destination for everything filmi… well, so much for the cause.

It didn't happen.

Ergo, we filmi fans are stuck with the effin' discs. (For cost reasons, I downsized to un–subtitled but legit orginal VCDs this Spring.)

To be sure, Mela itself could have done much more than just gun after big ticket movies and the occasional art house or B–movie item. Their website could have taken serious cues from Fandor and MUBI and learn how to be both social network–interactive (Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr e.g.) and a source of information and commentary on Indian cinema and television. Look at Fandor's Keyframe and MUBI's Garage and you'll see how far Mela could have taken things, so they could rise above the usual filmi gossip and thus initiate a serious and ongoing conversation about how India, with its many states and languages, views visual entertainment.

It should have happened. It can still happen, depending on what Mela's successor turns out to be.

In planning for the Service to Come After Mela, I would also look as such non–Indian services as DramaFever and MNET, which target Korean pop culture fans (DramaFever also offers Chinese–speaking content). I would also make certain that Roku, Boxee, and all sorts of mobile devices are part of the plan, all at once, for maximum impact.

And another thought: Forget about YRF, Disney–UTV, Fox Star, Eros, and the rest of the big boys. Focus on smaller films, and work to help people understand why those films matter. Encourage new filmmakers, DIYers, students, and the like to share their work, even the shorts and the documentaries. Let them and their audiences engage in discussions and shares, social network–style (MUBI's Garage e.g.). Partner with Vimeo, which has apps for Roku and Google Android (among other things). Invite sponsors of like mind to play a role: MUBI has a deal with Lomography, which resulted in an elegant MUBI-styled version of the Lomokino.

Get the drift? Make us care about Indian cinema, including the kind we rarely see.

I should say at this point that I made the investment in a Roku XS this year, not only because Mela made the move to Roku, but also because I can finally access RT (I also enjoy RT Documentary), the English service of Al Jazeera (via Roku Newscaster and Livestation) and New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD). I'm also a paid user of Pandora, and Fandor, which is the best I could ask for since the gutting of Bravo many years ago. So there's no question that the Roku's gonna stay.

I only wish Mela could have done likewise. But what can you do? Time to let go, and wait to see what will hopefully be capable of taking its place.

And that's all.

To paraphrase Ram Gopal Varma: "Topic is over."

August 12, 2012

Jeslyn Wheeless on Just One Story…

It took longer to finish than I expected, but here at last are all three Jeslyn Wheeless episodes of Just One Story… recorded on 7 August 2010 (and joined here by her trusty musician son Ben on the first two). Do enjoy.

“The Name” is from the book The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales
(Random House–Schocken Books, New York, 1978, reprinted 1997).
©1978, 1997 Diane Wolkstein. Used with permission.

Videos ©2010–2012 Jeslyn Wheeless c/o Philip David Morgan / Rosegarden Media and Entertainment.

Creative Commons Attribution Non–Commercial No Derivative Works License

July 13, 2012

Making a measured response

Is this what it's come down to?

[The following is cross-posted from the Rosegarden Television website.]

If nothing else, than 2012 will go down for Rosegarden as a year marked by cinematic waste.

This year we saw three films exactly — Wim Wenders’ 3D feature Pina (in honour of the late German choreographer Pina Bausch), the Oscar–winning A Separation, and Ram Gopal Varma’s somewhat disappointing Department.

While it’s too soon to write off the whole year — we still want Iron Sky (which finally has a North American agent in Entertainment One) and Patang, for example — the amount of energy, nonrenewable resources, money and human talent wasted on the rest of this year’s lineup so far is rather depressing to us.

How depressing?

Enough to seek relief in discontinued Video CD (VCD) and DVD video disks of older Hindi and Tamil movies from a 14th Street store in Manhattan.

Enough to hole up with a Roku box and subscriptions to Mela, MUBI, and Fandor.

And enough for us to carefully consider how we will make our first feature movies.

We know already what they will be about. And we know why we want to make them.

It’s only a matter of when.

June 24, 2012

Taking a deep breath

Artwork for You Don't Belong ©2011 Overdose Films, Ltd.

Yes, Spandan Banerjee's recent feature about how music tends to travel and change has reached my desk (via DHL, oddly enough).

I hope to get a review written and posted soon (most likely after dealing with a huge workload this week).

I also have Iron Sky on pre–order and hope to review the Region 2 PAL DVD this August on the first available chance.

On the Rosegarden front: The iMac used for post–production will need to step up to Lion (and then Mountain Lion) because the latest upgrades for iMovie and other Apple apps won't work with Snow Leopard (dang). Also, I'll need to renew my Vimeo+ account. Rest assured that the Just One Story… episodes will start flowing out more regularly afterwards.

It's going to be quite a Summer at the Rosegarden this year, no doubt.

[UPDATE 2012.09.02: I'm still waiting for my disc of Iron Sky; is it possible that orders from the States are being re–routed to EntertainmentOne?

A review of You Don't Belong should appear sometime early or mid–September.

Oh, and yes: the Vimeo+ account has been renewed. So that's out of the way.]

June 11, 2012

One hectic June

Once again, please excuse the silence — a lot has been happening lately.

And yes, because it's storytelling time again in New York's Central Park, the Rosegarden Mobile unit has seen some action. Two Saturdays in a row thus far, with another session set for 23 June.

Could we be back next month and in August? Too soon to tell, but two dates in September have already been locked down. You'll see the results eventually.

Oh, yes, and the Rosegarden logo just got a tiny makeover. Nothing drastic, mind you. Just a background change.

And now if you can excuse me… I've got a client video to get edited shortly…

May 18, 2012

Why this Ashok Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Ashok Kumar di?

It's bad manners to read somebody else's diary.

(Cross-posted from the Rosegarden Television blog on Tumblr)

Bear with us here…

Earlier this year, one song from India — “Why This Kolaveri Di?” — spread like wildfire throughout India and in cyberspace.

Not as fortunate was the movie it was made for, called 3 (three).

The dust–up that resulted in the recent blocking in India of websites as different as Vimeo (why??) and the Pirate Bay has only made matters worse (and not just because we use Vimeo). And it raises troubling questions about the delicate relationship between fans and producers (and we wonder if some could in fact be both, in this age of Creative Commons, DIY film making, and yes, Vimeo).

Look at it this way, as per Lawrence Liang:

Apart from  the questionable logic of the film makers turning fans and enthusiasts against their own film what we  probably need to do for the future is to think of how  the investment of ‘excessive energy’ allows us to make claims of ownership and limit the hackneyed argument of a film being the private property of the film maker. This is a domain which necessarily takes us away from the usual focus either on the language of rights or even the language of openness and what we need is a  Political language of Passion and Enthusiasm which can supplement the existing languages of denial and access. The excessive response of the film makers in securing this order and in the blocking of the websites is plainly disrespectful of the excess that they thrived on just a few months ago.

Have a read, and feel free to respond. We need to talk about this.

[UPDATE 2012.6.22: The BBC reports that the blockage has ended. Finally.]

April 23, 2012

Meet the newest member of the Rosegarden family

Yes… it's a Lomokino.

Sometimes to go forward, you need to go rewind.

Our first shooting tests will happen in May or June, when we return to New York City.

March 19, 2012

Music Time: Possimiste

One more music video for your Monday (it's rare for me to share two), because it was released today along with the song.

Behold "Clockworkbird" by the faerie who signs her work as Possimiste:

©2012 Possimiste.

Spread your wings and fly!

Music Time: Luthea Salom

Yes, Mondays are no fun. So let's try to make this easier to deal with. Maybe this official video for Luthea Salom's song "Be Me" will do the trick:

©2012 Luthea Salom.

There. Feeling better?

One, my darling, come get upscaled

“One, My Darling, Come to Mama” from The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales (Random House–Schocken Books, New York, 1978, reprinted 1997).
©1978, 1997 Diane Wolkstein. Used with permission.
Video ©2010–2012 Diane Wolkstein / Cloudstone /Philip David Morgan / Rosegarden Media and Entertainment.

Here it is: the last Just One Story… episode to get upscaled to 720p HD.

For those new to this one: Diane Wolkstein is seen here with a poignant story from her collection The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales (1978). The most amazing thing about this story is the fourth — and intentionally forgotten — daughter’s capacity to forgive her mother for the injustice done to her as a child.

But why say more? Just enjoy.

March 10, 2012

Spring–ing ahead

A lot is happening at Rosegarden House in the next few weeks, and this is a brief time out to get it all out in the open.

First, the Dianne R. Carr episode of Just One Story… — "Dragon Days and Rabbit Ways," recorded in May of 2010 — is back now at 720p HD. Just make yourself comfortable first before pressing play.

"Dragon Days and Rabbit Ways" ©1990 Dianne R. Carr.
Video ©2010–2012 Dianne R. Carr / Philip David Morgan —
Rosegarden Media & Entertainment.

And now for the rest of the news…

The Just One Story… will be put on pause after Wednesday 14 March, because of the anticipated invasion of one nephew and two nieces from Southern California (Antelope Valley, to be exact) for ten days of sight–seeing and getting quality time with my Mum and Dad. Chances are quite good they will be sleeping downstairs in the basement, thus blocking almost all access to the iMac used for post–production of all Rosegarden Television content. That means that any new videos or remastering of old ones will have to wait, in part, until after the kids head back out West.)

And then comes April… on which the wraps will stay for a while longer.

But trust me: We will be back soon afterward.

A happy Spring 2012 to everyone.

February 17, 2012

Just One Story... A Taoist Tale

Yes… Just One Story… is slowly coming back to life. In higher definition (720p). And ready for Internet TV.

If your Internet TV or VOD device can pull in Vimeo content, you're good to go.

So here is a refreshing of our very first episode, made in November 2009:

©2009–2012 Diane Wolkstein Media and Entertainment.
Creative Commons License

To refresh your memory, this episode featured the celebrated Diane Wolkstein, recorded in live performance at New York's Orchard House Café, telling a Taoist tale from Lieh Tzu (The Huainanzi) that begins with the simple act of a farmer's horse riding off. All the farmer can wonder aloud is "Who knows what the future will bring?"

There. Your memory has now been refreshed. Now it's time to refresh your ears and heart for a world of story. Enjoy.

January 19, 2012

Coming Attractions: Good Night Good Morning

For those of you still smarting from Puja Jatinder Bedi's Ghost (see the previous post) or who had the sense to keep clear, your patience is about to be rewarded with this weekend's simultaneous theatrical / IPTV stream release of Sudhish Kamath's Good Night Good Morning, opening tomorrow.

Seema Rahmani (Loins of Punjab Presents) and Manu Narayan (Bombay Dreams) co–star.

I really like this trailer, which is part hommage to the old–style Hollywood previews of way back when:

Courtesy Sudish Kamath and PVR Pictures.

Who's got popcorn this time?

January 17, 2012

First-Run Review: Ghost (2011-2012): Rest in pieces

Ghost (2011 production, 2012 release)
Starring Shiney Ahuja, Sayali Bhagat
Directed by Puja Jatinder Bedi
Produced by Bharat Shah
Mega Bollywood (Private) Limited
DVD: Venus
VOD: Mela

CFBC: not declared in VOD presentation, but likely A (Adults only —
religious blasphemy, adult themes, intense graphic violence)

WARNING: Trailer embedded below is for adult audiences only (please see above).

Statutory Disclaimer (Before We Begin…):

I wish to state before diving into the following review that I screened this film — which was simultaneously released to theatres in India and VOD (video on demand) services — via Mela, a United States–based VOD service for South Asian (Indian) audiences. Mela was launched last year to deliver both movies–on–demand and Indian television broadcasters as different as Doordarshan, Sun Network, Maa, UTV, Raj Networks, and Jaya TV among others.

One of Mela's goals is to convince their target audiences — Indians living abroad, Bollywood fans, and the like — that they don't have to go to video pirates in order to get their first–run filmi fix. Indeed, Puja Jatinder Bedi's Ghost, which opened in Indian cinemas on Friday 13 January, was made available to Mela viewers on-demand the same weekend — the first of, I am sure, many to come in the months ahead.

I have also been informed that the cut of the film under review is the same that moviegoers in India saw, right down to the last frame.

Finally, I want to make it abundantly clear that Mela is above all else an open window on Indian media and entertainment, both good and bad. It is about something for everybody, no differently than what a legacy media company (Cablevision, Verizon, Comcast does for its subscribers. And Mela deserves support and praise for delivering on its promise of "pure entertainment," as their slogan makes clear. Those who've had a taste of Bollywood and want more should seriously consider Mela; they will soon discover another world of pop culture they may not know exists.

And with that out of the way…

©2011 Mega Bollywood (Private) Limited.

It is almost incredulous to believe that Bharat Shah, who once helped support Ram Gopal Varma's move to Bollywood (remember Satya?), would want to even invest one rupee into Puja Jatinder Bedi's Ghost, which can now declared the first true filmi bomb of the New Year.

And that is hard enough to swallow.

To be sure, it'd be easier for me to write this off as the sort of picture that has one breaking out the Criterion Collection's Region 1 DVD of Nobuhiko Obayashi's 1977 House (ハウス) or hit VODO online for the torrent of Carlo Ledesma's The Tunnel.

But then, both House and The Tunnel are films that actually respect their audiences.  Puja Jatinder Bedi's Ghost (which needs to be tagged with the director's name to avoid confusion with the Hollywood blockbuster of the same title) doesn't even bother caring. Indeed, it won't matter if the viewer is a practicing Christian (as are some of the characters), holds Southeast Asians or women in high esteem (one nurse of Southeast Asian birth meets her doom before the main titles kick in), or expects a coherently–told story. Bedi's Ghost, quite simply, will offend anyone who fits into any or all of the above.

And is that ultimately what Bharat Shah wanted? After all he did for Ram Gopal Varma? Was he serious?

First off, even minor Ram Gopal Varma can be amusing (Contract e.g.), but here we are in the hands of someone who can't even summon a little inner RGV. All Bedi seems capable of doing is to crib like mad from so many past creature features — the omnibus Creepshow, Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist, the Ringu or Ju–on franchises, the Steven Spielberg / George Lucas—made Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom™, and so on. (The opening titles, themselves a complete mess without declaring the film's title, include a subtitle–style come–on for accepting Christ Jesus that unfortunately seems to have been indirectly inspired by — it hurts to utter the name — Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Except that the object of worship isn't a moose or a llama.)

And we have not even dealt with the plot — such as it is.

Basically, a string of gruesome murders in which the victim's heart is savagely removed, à la Spielberg and Lucas, is bad enough to put a call out for a supposedly hotshot detective (yeah, right), who himself, midway through the film's second half, can't help but make this a personal matter (despite what his superiors say as a warning)… because, sadly, he is a witness to one sadistic act — and the victim of another, albeit minor by comparison, which blanks out part of his memory à la, of all things, Ghajini (except that recently–disgraced actor Shiney Ahuja is clearly no Aamir Khan).

If this review seems messy, it's because Bedi's film is even more so. When this Ghost isn't ripping off Tobe Hooper, Steven Spielberg, or A.R. Murugadoss, it's offering up a head nurse (Sayali Bhagat) in clearly hospital–unsuitable attire and a cross swiped from pop idol Madonna's collection, a suspicious father figure who can't accept his son being a detective, some item songs that only drag the film's pace and running time (and one of them could have been spun off into a 60–second spot for Mercedes–Benz — that's how anonymously bland Mr. Ahuja is here), and an Aussie Christian woman who in flashback marries our hero… only to be subject to "like Jesus" sadism that could have been swiped straight out the 20th century European sado–masochistic exploitation movie catalogue.

Courtesy T–Series /Super Cassettes Industries, Ltd.
©2011 Mega Bollywood (Private) Limited.

This is a Bollywood horror movie? Shall we revisit the Ramsay Films catalogue?

(Reportedly, the Government of India's Central Board of Film Certification demanded some scenes be trimmed from the film. Although the digital print that Mela obtained isn't preceded by the expected rating card, I assume that it was given an "A," or adults–only, rating.)

Yes, I know, as a Creative Commons campaign made abundantly clear, that "creativity is built on the past." Certainly Puja Jatinder Bedi understands this very well, as anyone else would, like A.R. Murugadoss, Ram Gopal Varma, Nobuhiko Obayashi, Steven Spielberg, Shaik Nasir (Malegaon ka Superman) or for that matter Damon Packard. But if his Ghost is any indication, Bedi is not in league with any of them — certainly not even Damon Packard, whose ability to rework plundered material into something completely distinct and intriguing is beyond question (Reflections of Evil makes that perfectly clear, but so do Space Disco–One and Tales from the Valley of the Wind).

Of course, Bharat Shah is welcome to discover this for himself. May I suggest that he invite Mr. Packard to make his next film in India — and then fund the whole project from script to simultaneous theatrical / home video / VOD release?

He would certainly learn something.

[UPDATE 2012.06.11: I've meant to update this post following the release of Venus' DVD and several changes at Mela — including the gradual shrinking of their Indian TV offerings and the move away from their own set-top box to Roku, the iPad, and so on.  I was used to having channels as different as Maa Movies, Raj Digital Plus, and Jaya TV's J Movie on tap, and I'm not financially ready to add a rival VOD service just to get them back. On the other hand, I can understand why the changes at Mela — especially when it's clear they want to make movies their priority, as do Fandor and Mubi. Hopefully, like Fandor and Mubi, Mela will be able to set their sights higher without the extra baggage of streaming TV that can be done elsewhere.]

January 15, 2012

We interrupt this broadcast...

… to bring you a General. Internet. Strike.

We wish this was just a joke.  But on Wednesday 18 January, it won’t be.

On that day, many of your fave Internet sites and portals — including (but not limited to) Reddit, Mozilla, Tucows, Free Press, all of the Cheezburger Network, and even Rosegarden Television — will be inaccessible due to a general strike in protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), on which the United States Congress has scheduled a vote for Tuesday 24 January.

We at Rosegarden are against this proposed legislation (and its companion bill in the U.S. Senate, the Protect IP Act, or PIPA), which would have devastating consequences not only for the Internet as a whole, but also for those who are its many users (like you) and those who rely on an open Net for creativity and communication.

It is bad enough that a Great Firewall of (Mainland) China exists. We do not want one on North American soil.

You can join in the strike by 1) accessing the official Strike Against SOPA site and asking your fave site or portal to black out on 18 January and 2) adding your own site to the list.

And please plan accordingly for the rest of the day. Maybe get out of doors, visit with loved ones face to face if you can… you get the idea.

Are you in?