Episode 185: Decorative Arts

The Overthinkers tackle entertainment and technology.

Matthew Wrather, Peter Fenzel, and Mark Lee overthink public infrastructure, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, and the intersection of entertainment and technology.


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Further Reading

Marketing Myopia by Theodore Levitt

Sliders, Sliders, Sliders

Golden Globe Winners 2012: Full List

Duck Tales, “Too Much of a Gold Thing,” part 1 (TV) vs. Duck Tales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, Part 1 (MOVIE)

City Water Tunnel No. 3, New York, NY, from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (PDF)

Friends of the Los Angeles River

The Delta Terminal, formerly the Pan Am Terminal at JFK (also this), but oops.

Decorative Arts at the Met

12 Comments on “Episode 185: Decorative Arts”

  1. Leigh #

    Great episode. Fenzel, that was the most polite (yet complete) takedown of Tebow I could imagine, and it was glorious to hear.

    I don’t think we need to save The Movies. And I think The Movies are full of it. The fact that a bunch of their different revenue streams (rentals, DVD sales, etc) are not as lucrative as the movie companies would like them to be does not necessarily mean that the industry is in peril. Ticket sales are still quite high, and a large percentage of films are making their money back on theater grosses alone. Economically, it feels like if a movie turns a net profit of exactly $1, it should be an unqualified success. And that tiny profit margin is all that is required to keep the film industry afloat. But that kind of margin is not enough to maintain the big profits the shareholders require. Downloading and streaming are not affecting the companies’ ability to break even, they’re affecting the companies’ ability to grow their profits quarter over quarter.

    So the question is not “How we can save The Movies?”, it’s “How can we maintain the levels of profitability that the entertainment industry has become accustomed to (and rightly deserves)”. The Movies can and will save themselves.


  2. Chris #

    Regarding Tebow, I don’t think most of the ardor surrounding him isn’t related to him at all. It has much more to do with the media’s reaction to him. In a way, he has stepped into Brett Favre’s shoes as the media golden boy who can do no wrong and who gets far greater credit than he deserves, in particularly purple prose to boot.

    Admittedly, in my section of the world of sports fandom, perhaps it is different than in, say, sports talk radio world. The real issue from my perspective, as an advocate of advanced sports metrics and pragmatism in lieu of meaningless stats (like quarterback wins) and tired cliches, is that Tebow genuinely is not a good quarterback. He actually was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league both passing and running, in total value and in per play value, and there is no such thing as “being clutch.” Me and like minded fans are just waiting for the reality to start unveiling itself to the general fandom, much like with Vince Young back in the day. Also, Jack Morris doesn’t belong in the Baseball Hall of Game and Tim Raines does.

    I had actually heard Episodes was a toothless, cliches Hollywood satire, but honorable men can differ.


    • Joseph FM #

      I ahve to admit, regarding Hugo, the the best part of the movie by far was seeing those old Melies films – the state of the art, as it were, in the 1910s –

      All you need to know to guess what I think of Tebow is that I’m the lone Floria State alumnus in a University of Florida household. But I do love (by which I actually mean I dislike but am ruefully amused by) that y’all talked about Tebow for about 3 minutes out of an hourlong podcast, and yet he is dominating the comment thread. Does this say something about the relative importance of movies and American Football in the public imagination at this point…or is it just that it’s January, which is both the playoffs and a typically weak month for movies?


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      Aha. I see the misunderstanding. Episodes is not a Hollywood satire; it’s a satire of the British, many of whom talk funny.

      Seriously, though, I’m not exactly sure what kind of “teeth” people expect television shows to have. Generically, many of the shows that we call satire are actually farce, since they’re not really aimed at any kind of social improvement and simply revel in the ridiculousness of the characters or premise.

      Take Arrested Development, a show that gets called a satire a lot. What, exactly, is being “satirized”? Alcoholic mothers? Incest? Magicians? Did anyone really not know those things are bad?


      • Rob #

        True, Arrested Development doesn’t seem like a satire when broken down to individual, discreet components (specific characters, plots, etc.), but it works on a satirical level insofar as it comments on ideas of meritocracy and capitalism as a way of skewering the American aristocratic elite.

        Alcoholism, incest, and so on can be played for laughs in a lot of different contexts, both satirical and non-satirical. In Arrested Development, these things are not sources of humor in and of themselves but rather the ways in which they portray the Bluths as representative of the American social elite; aloof to the point of amorality, with each individual concerned only with advancing his/her own agenda and entirely unconcerned with functioning as part of any social group.

        Keep in mind the show started in 2003 where a lot of news coverage was dedicated to things like the Enron scandal and similar stories of corporate malfeasance. Through humor, Arrested Development examines the conditions that create such behavior and critique the meritocracy-based underpinnings of capitalism. In short, if the Bluths paint even a somewhat accurate picture of the American elite, the idea of America as driven by merit-based success doesn’t really hold water.


  3. Anthony Abatte #

    I’m curious if anyone knows anything about the book that Hugo was based on, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” http://www.amazon.com/Invention-Hugo-Cabret-Brian-Selznick/dp/0439813786/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326761696&sr=1-2

    I flipped through it in Barnes & Noble only moths before I was aware that a film was being released. It’s mainly black and white illustrations and very interesting.

    I never read it and went into the film thinking it was a family film about the kid in the train station. I was pleasantly surprised when the homage to film became clear. The 3D didn’t feel overdone and the old time film footage was great to see in the theater. I felt like I was watching the early works of the 20th century.

    Some films need to be seen in theaters. I love movies and Hugo was one that none of my friends had an interest in but I’m glad I saw it on the big screen where it was meant to be.

    I think the film industry can benefit from better trailers. Some reveal too much and others, (Hugo and Rango) don’t represent the final product. Rango looked terrible to me and after hearing several people speak highly of it, I watched it and loved it. Hugo looks like a family film but the complex story will bore kids. I’m glad that trailers didn’t ruin a lot of the scenes from the third act though.


  4. Erigion #

    I think the biggest difference between movies and TV shows is, like that kid from Super 8 was screaming about, production value. Even then, unless the movie is a big budget blockbuster or sci-fi film, the gap between the two mediums is growing smaller and smaller. The cinematic “feel” of a movie is cheaply and easily attainable now that there are DSLRs that can shoot movie quality 1080p/24fps for a few thousand dollars. On the other side, movies have introduced the shaky-cam which is supposed to introduce realism or whatever in the shot but makes the end product feel less movie-like. Of course, nothing can beat a $300 million budget when you want crappy robots fights with a bunch of bad plot and dialogue.

    Regarding the Tebow hate, Chuck Klosterman wrote a great article about it: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7319858/the-people-hate-tim-tebow


  5. Gab #

    The somewhat discussion of movies based on television series got me thinking, what are the different motivations for making a movie based off of a series, and how are those differences reflected in the product that hits the theaters? I’ll admit I haven’t seen every TV-based movie, but from the ones I’ve seen, they spring from two core motivations: Love of the series on the part of its creators (or someone involved in its filming), or desire to use the franchise/ brand name for profits. When it’s the former, they’re usually extensions of the plot, filling in gaps or showing where characters have gone to since the series ended (Serenity, the last X-Files movie); and when it’s the latter, it’s more like a stand-alone, longer episode (the Duck Tales movie; the first X-Files one). I’m probably wrong, but this makes me wonder what’s going to happen with the Arrested Development movie versus the Netflix series that are both coming up sooner or later. Okay, pointless rambling done now.

    I wonder if this need to “save” movies is a recent thing, or if perhaps our parents thought the same thing when they were our age(s). Has the quality of film as a whole genuinely gone down, or is there something else going on? What about volume: Are there just more movies being made in total, but the proportion of bad to good is still basically the same? Is there a decrease in the proportion of movies made recently that could be considered “good”? Are our expectations higher now, and if so, why?


    • Dan #

      I think question ties perfectly into my go-to example for movies that feel like movies and movies that feel like TV shows – Star Trek.

      The original series movies, love ’em or hate ’em, feel like MOVIES. The pacing of shots is slower, there are more long shots, and in general, the stories play out with arcs that seem to occupy the entire movie-length run time.

      Compare that to the TNG movies, all of which feel to me like 2-hour TV episodes. The just don’t have the scale of the TOS movies.

      It could be that the reason for this is what Gab brought up – the TOS movies were made after a long hiatus from TV presumably because of an interest in the property itself. The TNG movies appeared almost immediately after the show went off the air.

      The first two TOS movies were also directed by cinematic directors, Robert Wise and Nicholas Meyer. The first two TNG movies were directed by TV directors. (One of whom was Jonathan Frakes)


      • FCDruid #

        The funny thing is, I’ve been watching TOS recently, and most of the episodes do feel like 50-minute movies. The universe doesn’t get destroyed every week, but the Enterprise is in mortal danger more often than not.

        But I think the podcast really nails how movies are presented as something special, a break in the ordinary routine, whereas television is part of that routine. I guess that’s why TV doesn’t air much on the “special days” you talk about (Friday and Saturday).


  6. josh #

    @gab: if I understand it correctly the need to “save” movies is coming primarily from the technological changes, the HBO business model innovation, and the dominance of the multi-plex (i.e. distribution). TV is now capable of delivering more cinematic experiences, thus executives think feature films have to “add value” by doing things TV cannot: 3D, CGI blockbusters, brand recognition with franchises, remakes, sequels, higher production value movie versions of TV shows, etc.

    That and they’re panicking about filesharing and videogames taking people’s entertainment dollar. (but I think the filesharing panic is mostly a put-on).

    This is all a repeat of the “aspect ratio” debate that was mentioned in the podcast. Widescreen aspect ratios and technicolor were Hollywood’s original answer to the threat of television the same way they’re pushing 3D now.

    So ultimately Hollywood is feeling kind of embattled. Their receipts were down last year and, as Fenzel pointed out, they don’t really know what it is that they’re selling.


  7. Denis #

    I think that within the podcast there was a lot of time dedicated to trying to drill down to a single raison d’être for movie. Surely movies don’t serve just one purpose. This may be why there is a need to keep making new movies, if they were just about telling a story then the movies that have already been made would , perhaps, satisfy that need (particularly as there are only seven of them… stories not movies that is); however, they are not just about that. They’re also about giving attempting meaning to the world we live in; and providing novelty; selling pop corn; &c. In order for movies to survive they need to establish what combination of these core purposes they want to / can meet.

    Anyway, after too much rambling, I get to raison d’être of this post: my $1 movie. A man walks into a bar. The End.


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