01/20/2021

The Rise of Cable Access 2.0, aka Twitch In The Year 2020

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

NOTE: The following was originally intended for publication two weeks ago.

Back when this blog was updated regularly, January 6th was the date chosen for looking back at the year that was, given how it’s the anniversary of my arrival in New York City. 01/06/2021 is particularly noteworthy, because it marks 25 years, and boy oh boy has a lot happened over the past quarter century (yikes). Even if the past 12 months was a total wash. Well, almost, save for one particular aspect.

Hence the decision to focus on just that and save a proper recap of the past 25 years for later down the road. But then some MAGA chuds decided to attempt a coup, which dominated all conversations. So I figure I’d wait until a new President was sworn in before as expected, basically my greenlight that society hadn’t completely crumbled, to finally share the following (that’s not to say that everyone’s not super distracted).

Also, I just need to get the following out ASAP, even if much of it is somewhat sensitive information; in the end, I guess I just want to be the first one to be on record to name certain names. [UPDATE #1 (01/22/2021): apparently Entertainment Weekly has mentioned one of the things I’ll be discussing, though I have no idea what the exact street date of the latest issue is and if this blog post still technically beats it]

Anyhow, it’s now finally time to turn back the clock, to 11:55PM EST, December 31st 2020…
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It’s New Year’s Eve, the final five minutes, and where am I spending it? At home, obviously, though what am I doing exactly? Waiting for the ball to drop? Of course not (for those wondering, even in the midst of a goddamn pandemic, network television still did a Time Square “spectacular”). For the record, I was waiting for the countdown till zero in Neko Neko, which is the name of Ashley and I’s island in Animal Crossing (though it’s mostly just my wife’s stomping ground; I now have my own island on another system, but I flew back home for the occasion). Yet my Switch Lite was in the corner of my eye, and front and center attention-wise was… Twitch.

ThatWeekInSNL’s end of the year steam to be exact; that night, a bunch of “infamous” episodes were playing, including one that I had been pestering the channel to play: the time Steven Seagal hosted. I was glued to my PC’s monitor, waiting for a sketch that was etched in my mind, even though that episode’s lone airing was also in the corner of my eye (I believe I was preoccupied with reading issues of X-Men that Saturday evening in 1991), which was a sketch that combined Star Trek with The Godfather, with Seagal playing the role of Michael Corleone if he was Vulcan, and terribly so. I was crestfallen as the credits began to ran… apparently I had imagined the whole thing up? It was the last bitter pill that 2020 has served up, but hey, at least I got to finally see the episode again.

It feels like a lifetime ago, even though it’s only been since March, in which the simple act of stepping foot outside to simply grab some toilet paper could legit lead to death. Granted, staying close to home was always part of the plan, before the pandemic ever materialized; in the late 2019 I quit my jobby job to become a full-time grad student. And whereas COVID officially made me a prisoner in my own home, it simply finished the job that the MTA had started, by making any trip to anywhere in the city at best a complete and utter nightmare. But even if I wasn’t cut off from the city, where would I go? The pandemic led to ask “Is New York dead?” and the answer is yes, but it happened a few years earlier, when Grassroots closed its doors for the last time in 2017.

Again, I had grad schoolwork to keep me nice and busy, plus being able to spend extra time with Ashley (who, like all school librarians, continued to be the MVP of the three campuses that she serves, just remotely) meant that the quarantine life was actually the good life in many regards. It also helped that my wife’s cooking is a resturant quality, yet another reason why I wasn’t missing the outside world. Also, where I used to live in Manhattan was populated by racist shitheads who thought anyone who Asian was responsible for the “Kung Flu”, meaning I was equally terrified of getting sick and getting assaulted when going to the store (though as of November, I am now back in Brooklyn, where all that nonsense is behind me). Still, I found myself becoming a bit stir crazy, and… I forget how and when exactly… but for like so many others, Twitch became my primary outlet.

Prior to the outbreak, I didn’t have much of favorable opinion of Twitch. I honestly still don’t, in large part thanks to the “personalities” that primarily represent the platform. An opinion that, true story, directly contributed to the biggest train wrecks of a job interview ever: it was for the role of social media manager, for Twitch once again, and when discussing how I would expand the audience, I addressed the elephant in the room: the super problematic antics of the most popular streamers. Which by virtue of simply acknowledging the problem caused the interviewer (who was fairly high up in the chain of command, and not some HR goon) to fly off the handle and call me an “asshole” before more or less slamming the phone on me.

So yeah, for the longest time, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the platform. Yet shortly after the quarantine first began, about a month, I was already a streamer myself.

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The year prior, during the summer of 2019, saw the debut of Cineville at Wonderville; it was a showcase of unknown, unappreciated, and unrecognized game related cinema, projected in the middle of a hipster bar/arcade. And a variety of logistical challenges (that are frankly too boring to really get into here) resulted in a limited pool of offerings, which led to a shift towards movies that I simply dug, regardless of subject matter. Essentially the FORT90 FILM CLUB, but in real life. The big change took place in January 2000, which resulted in the most successful screening yet, so things were looking great… but then the bar was shut down and everything had to go virtual.

I should maybe state how I always knew in the back of my mind that non-game related activities were taking place on Twitch. I simply didn’t care, until I came across someone using it to show a movie. Which naturally led to the idea of using it as the online home for Cineville; others in my position came to the same conclusion, but I knew my approach would have to be different. So now’s the time to finally come clean: every screening at Wonderville was, how should I say, unsanctioned? I made it a rule to reach out to the rights holder of each film, for their permission if I was told no, then the film would not be screened, simple as that, but if I didn’t hear anything… that’s technically not a no, right?

Also playing a movie sans permission in the real world (in front of a relatively low amount of people) was one thing, but online where theoretically thousands could be tuning in (and with the means to easily record and distribute said illegal broadcast) was a whole other matter. For perhaps obvious reasons, I assumed playing something on Twitch would be comparable to uploading it onto YouTube; doable but not easy, largely due to mechanisms in place, such as bots on the lookout for copywritten material. Though I honestly couldn’t say, because back then, during those early months, it was definitely the wild, wild west for those of us newcomers to the platform and trying to come to grips with how to make it work for our intended purposes. The trickiest part was seeking help; no one was sure where to ask help, largely due to fears of attracting unwanted attention.

The best one could do was look at other examples, which there were far and few between at this point, at least ones that I were aware of; knowledge of streaming channels that show movies and the like has been all word of mouth, still is actually, so if there were a bunch at the time, I was completely unaware. Instead, I waited to see what someone else would do, specifically the elsewhere in Brooklyn microcinema where I had done some guest programming for in 2019 as well, aka Spectacle. By the very end of March, they had launched SPECTACLE IN EXILE, which looked to be the beginning of business as usual, just online. The debut stream had some hiccups, but that was to be expected, as was the warm reception found in the chat (a vital component of the Twitch experience, more on that in a bit), who were elated to see Spectacle back… elated for the return of something they love, before COVID took it all away.

A few additional showings shortly followed, with the key word here being “few”. Again, I was only a guest programmer, so I can only presume the challenges they encountered, based upon my own experiences. Like how it must have been no easy task trying to convince filmmakers to give their blessings for a virtual screening, with no real financial incentive to speak of (whereas they could charge $5 at the door, Twitch has no such mechanism in place). As well as addressing the aforementioned fears of piracy. I was lucky enough, just one person on the behalf of Wonderville, to negotiate a near half of a year’s worth of programming. And that’s not to say Spectacle’s channel was entirely dormant; the rep they earned over ten years as the microcinema representing NYC did result in screenings of stuff that you just can’t find anywhere else. Still, it wasn’t active as I had expected/hoped.

Around this time, March and April, was a real feeling out period; despite all the technical hurdles and headaches that Twitch imposed, which for touched upon reasons had to be overcome by much trial & error, it was clearly still the best option for those of us whose “thing” was sharing movies and tv shows. It’s something that we simply have to do; given how everyone bonds over media of some sort, everyone is also compelled to share what they enjoy with others, either among friends or to make new ones, with similar interests. For some this desire to show off one’s media collection (and to an extent, show off one’s taste in media) was already quite strong, yet it seemed particularly noble during the earliest days of the pandemic, because it felt as if we were also helping to contribute towards the flattening of the curve. (hey, remember when everyone still cared about that? well I still do). With intentions becoming nobler as summer approached.

A number of channels popped up, on my radar at least, and several faded away. Yet quite a few stuck around, and still operate to this very day. Some are largely the same as when they launched, just someone’s vehicle for watching movies with a few pals, whereas others have grown to become much more. A lot has happened over the past ten months since I first embraced Twitch, certain elements have been codified, even if it all largely remains very in the shadows. To this very day, the primary means of discovery is still word of mouth (there are exceptions, which I will detail in a bit, but most channels do their best to stay as low to the ground as possible). Yet, with the new year upon us, in tandem with several real-world happenings, it honestly feels as if the current scene is on the cusp of… either the next big evolution, or completely crashing & burning, even simply petering out. So I figured now was the time to go over my list of Twitch streams that have stood out (as you’ll see, I have more to say about some than others).

One more thing: for reasons that will hopefully become clear, I will not be providing URLs for any streams from this point forward. Sorry, but you can track any of them down if you try hard enough:

QUARANTINE MOVIE CLUB
This list would be incomplete without a mention of what I believe to be the first Twitch account that I started following; without fuss or muss it would screen random movies, at random, largely genre staples, including a few faves of mine. At a certain point I was convinced that the individual involved was someone on my FORT90 FILM CLUB email list. The person who ran it was a total mystery, along with the circumstances behind its abrupt end; its run was short, less than ten broadcasts.

RACER TRASH
If I had to pick an absolute favorite, it would have to be this one, without question. According to legend (as a self-appointed documentarian for the collective, I should perhaps know the straight story, but part of the mystique is the mystery, plus this write up is helping me to identify the questions that need to be asked) a bunch of bored editors from LA formally assembled on May 25th, Memorial Day to be precise, and gave themselves 32 hours to re-edit the live action adaptation of Speed Racer. The end result was racerwave (it also goes by the alternate title of speed vapor), which would become the first of ten feature length productions that the collective would produce throughout 2020, along with numerous smaller “waves”. Yet their second effort, a reinterpretation of Michael Mann’s Heat that’s entitled heatwave, not only represented the next big step towards dethroning of cinema a la the vaporware a e s t h e t i c, it also firmly established what racer trash was all about. Thanks to the influence of something else associated with the aforementioned date: the murder of George Floyd.

Much has been written about the year 2020 already, with plenty more yet to come, yet the most compelling document of said times will always be racer trash’s body of work IMHO. Which puts every long-winded New York Times think piece out there to shame, by saying more about the continued racial inequality and economic disparity that is destroying this country and killing its people (primarily black lives) by “break[ing] movies into waves and mak[ing] them vibe and stitch[ing] what’s left back together”, even when said movies are popcorn flicks like Independence Day and Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, and in a manner that’s far more decisive, genuine, & dare I also say eloquent. Yet what makes each racer trash production especially riveting are the fingerprints of the individual editors, who cannot stop the everyday anxieties and existential dreads that they’ve been carried around throughout 2020 (some are highly specific to residents of LA, such as the California wild fires, whereas the fear of getting COVID is something every person on this planet can relate to) from spilling into their assigned segment of a movie. The self-professed “group of nameless faceless restless editors” is, more than anything else, a self-help group, and their output have been invaluable as it pertains to my own self-care efforts this past year.

But besides all that, each racer trash production is a hoot, tons of fun, a real treat; aside from being highly enjoyable (me extolling the specific virtues of each of the ten mainline offerings, as well as my favorite waves, is best served in a dedicated post) they don’t happen every day. They’re semi-regular, yet there is no set schedule, usually whenever someone feels like it (the collective is headed by one individual, yet several editors helm the Twitch controls), sometimes to celebrate a friend’s birthday. There have even been a few third-party screenings, including myself (the one year anniversary of Cineville at Wonderville was a double bill of racerwave & heatwave). You also don’t know what to expect; after the main event, towards the end of the night when everyone’s tired and loopy, is when the true experiments take place. Like the time draculol (their 6th feature length production) was played at a slightly slower speed of 80%, and alienalienalienalienalien (their 7th feature length production) at a slighter faster speed of 110%, with both on top of each other. Or around the time when the collective was obsessed with Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, so there were semi-regular showings of a VHS rip of David Lynch’s Dune, but spiced up a bit.

But just as much fun as the movies themselves are the interactions with the individuals responsible. Guess now’s a good time to address the most integral part of the overall Twitch experience, and back to my aforementioned disdain for the platform; it’s not just the personalities that largely represent it, but their primary audience. Because nothing makes me feel more uncomfortable and embarrassed about video games than seeing what its primary fanbase, we’re talking “Gamers” with a capital “G”, has to say when there’s a live mic (see: the chat for any E3 livestream or Nintendo Direct). Hence why it’s still hard to believe that the thing I hated the most about the platform would become my primary mode of social interaction throughout the entire pandemic. That being said, in contrast to those belonging to other channels I frequent, racer trash’s chat does closely resemble the type of chatter found in typical Twitch stream, i.e. one that’s filled with video game folk; mostly fast & furious non-sequitur jokes, oftentimes referencing a prior quip or a running gag. No emojis though, thank goodness (in fact they’re virtually absent in all the Twitch hangouts I frequent, save for one). Truthfully a lot of it goes over my head because it is largely the racer trash collective talking amongst themselves, discussing inside baseball, like specific notes regarding a particular segment that is being shown, essentially real time directors (okay, editor’s) commentary. But as someone who loves to be a fly on the wall, it’s great stuff, especially since it also provides a sneak peek into what’s next to “waved”.

Also, after a racer trash screening proper, various individuals will hold “afterparties” on their own individual Twitch channels, which involves watching even more movies; sometimes it’s content that may end up being used for their segment or just something that they’ve heard about and just want to check out (and have invited others to join). I could write at length how far more satisfying it is to hear analysis of a medium from those actually involved with it, as opposed to those who act the part of experts whose only credential is that they have a YouTube channel… but this blog post is already way too long and unfocused as is. So back on track: again, racer trash screenings are not an everyday thing, whereas another Twitch stream has essentially become a daily essential…

MOVIEPASSED
Much of what I have learned about racer trash comes directly from interactions with its members, who are easy to track and also easy to talk with (there’s a website, plus there’s also a Discord, heck they even have a trailer), whereas the individuals involved with Moviepassed are another total mystery, hence why I’ve never had a chance to ask about their origin story. No one else out there has written about them either, which on one hand is surprising, given how prolific and popular the channel is at this point, at least out of everyone I’ll be mentioning. Yet on the other, their sizable average viewer account of around 50 to 100 or so for each stream is a drop in the bucket when compared to the major streamers out there, plus given how all the movies they show (and trust me, they show a lot) are sans permission, I can also understand anyone behind the scenes wanting to maintain a low profile. From what I’ve been able to piece together, the channel was formed by another group of out of work individuals due to COVID, in this case LA based cinema workers.

At first it was to raise awareness for the plight of their compatriots; the daily screenings were essentially daily fundraisers, for entities such as Art-House America Campaign and the Cinema Worker Solidarity Fund. Again, there’s no ticket sales via Twitch, so Moviepassed instead asked that everyone donate their suggested charities. As time went on, the list of charities would expand, to encompass local food banks and LGBTQ related support groups. And as one might expect, towards the of May is when their Instagram account (which is a primary form of passing along their daily schedule) was where on could see how passionate they about the Black Lives Matter movement, which is still fully supported today; before each screening is the intro that’s seen above, and when the channel is off the air, there’s one last parting message via big, bold letters: “DEFUND THE POLICE DEPARTMENT, DONATE TO YOUR LOCAL BAIL FUND, DEMAND JUSTICE, BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

Unlike most other Twitch channels, I know exactly when I began tuning int: July 25th. It was my b-movie broheim, Matt Repetski, who alerted me to a 24 hour long “Virtual SandlerCon”, a Adam Sandler movie marathon (which including the rare extended cut of Jack and Jill). Ever since, I’ve been hooked; each day Moviepassed shows lots and I mean lots of movies, about a solid 12 or so hours’ worth, each built around a different theme. From the latest works to rare works by David Lynch, and from movies that were all directed by “Alan Smithee” to television edits of various theatrical films (with the standout being the TV version of Clifford). Oh, this is where I basically have to tell everyone who has listed the loss of the movie going experience as their number one reason why they hate COVID to basically go fuck off. Granted I do miss going to Spectacle plus Anthology Film Archives, but any trip to an AMC has always sucked and the “traditional” way of seeing a first run Hollywood flick was basically on life support anyway, with the pandemic simply accelerating the march towards (and don’t get me started on prestige movie going experiences, like Metrograph or even Alamo Drafthouse).

At any rate, since discovering Moviepassed, I have probably seen an average of, no joke, 2-3 movies a day, every single day since last July. Some of them are beloved favorites, but most have been films that I’ve only heard about and was thrilled to finally watch, along with films that I had no idea even existed. As for its chat, it’s chock full of fellow cinephiles, all super friendly and (best of all) extremely knowledgeable. I remember one time, during the monthly as this point “TV Parties” (in which various television episodes are screened), during a showing of Pete & Pete, I asked about a movie that I had seen a few minutes of on Short Attention Span Theater (a show from the earliest days of Comedy Central, one largely devised to fill time) back when I was 14. All attempts to find out what said movie had been unsuccessful for the past 30 years, yet then someone in the chat knew exactly what I was talking about, and even found a clip on YouTube of the precise scene in question.

More than anything else, the films that Moviepassed show and the folks who tune in have provided a more than reasonable virtual facsimile of an in-person experience at Spectacle or Anthology, in particular the random social interactions that would take place. Truth be told, it’s somewhat superior, because as well-behaved folks generally are at both places, you can’t avoid the dumbass who wants to show off his wannabe MST3K shtick. Make no mistake, jokes are regularly made during a screening, but one can always turn off the chat. Above all else, everyone is there to enjoy a movie, any movie really; the lack of cynicism towards the medium as a whole is very much refreshing, and a shocking surprise, given all the negatives I’ve stated regarding that particular corner of the internet. Now, that’s not to say to say that it’s totally perfect; the audience on very rare occasions can be prone to performative wokeness. For example, during a recent screening of an episode of Tales From The Crypt, there was a very bad person doing very bad thing. The chat would admonish such problematic behavior… yet for some, it’s as if the character was a real person. Eventually their ire was directed towards the show itself (these were clearly kids not familiar with the show) instead of waiting to… you know… see if said very bad person gets his just comeuppance at the end of the episode.

I must point out how, along with the aforementioned intro and outro, Moviepassed will also insert an extra card before a movie if the subject matter warrants it. If a particular movie features violence against women, not only is an advisory provided, but information for anyone who has been the victim of such trauma as well. A heads up regarding problematic behavior is also given, yet they made sure to note that nothing has been censored, for denying its existence is just as bad as perpetuating it. Across the board, every single channel I frequent presents content as is, and allows the viewer, who presumably are adults, to draw their own conclusions.

MUSEUM OF HOME VIDEO
One of the most notably, distinguishable aspect of this channel is how formally structured it is. As in there’s a set time slot and running time, every Tuesday night for about 90 minutes, as well as consist format, even if the content itself varies from week to week. Describing itself as ”Your weekly found footage celebration… Ninety minutes of pure discovery for archivists, drinkers, stoners and seekers…. a refreshing swim through our ocean of found media”, one episode might include a behind the scenes look at how the early 80′s HBO Feature Presentation intro was created, another might have an informative supercut of The Morton Downey Jr. Show for today’s audiences. Lots of old stuff, sourced from VHS tapes (aka the good stuff), but also plenty of new stuff, ripped from YouTube (aka the not as good stuff). In many ways it’s the one Twitch stream that most closely resembles what I’ve long wanted to do myself for several years now, via FORT90 TV, albeit as a Roku channel (and which I’m finally going ahead on Twitch; more on that later). It’s worth noting how it is intended to represent the burgeoning discarded media “archival” scene; both Museum of Home Video’s host, and especially the special guests each week, push that term quite heavily. To be honest, I’m somewhat conflicted. It’s admittedly a very gatekeeper-ish reaction; does one need to be familiar with Describing Archives: A Content Standard to truly be considered an archivist? And it’s not like the usage of the term is as egregious as those who fancy themselves curators when all they really do is have a Tumblr, or as insecure as YouTubers who insist that they be called “Creators” with a capital “C”.

In the end, I guess it’s a bit of a shock to see young folks treat something that so many have done for so many years, which is horde VHS tapes with pomp and circumstance. Yet many fringe/outsider efforts, especially from the next generation, have a comparable degree of pride & vigor, plus anything that challenges the status quo should be encouraged (to a certain degree, I’m alas part of that camp). Speaking of, all the channels I follow, I tend to leave Museum of Home Video’s chat window closed the most, due to a combination of it making me feeling a hundred years old (I can partly understand the “who dat” as it pertains to someone like Alan Thicke, but Debbie Harry?!?!) along with the semi-regular presence of both the previously detailed cynicism and slacktivism (regarding the latter, and as is also often the case, the participants end up slipping by saying stuff that can easily be construed as classist, ageist, even racist). On a more positive note, it’s the one Twitch channel that consistently has the highest numbers of viewers, of all the ones I frequent (technically it’s the second highest, but the other channel might not even count; will explain in a bit), relatively speaking of course. It’s 200+ headcount is a drop in the bucket, when compared to ones where thousands tune in to watch some goober play Fortnite. That high number was again driven by word of mouth, but unlike all the other channels, there’s also a high degree of visible, comparatively speaking of course. Moviepassed has the aforementioned one lone social media footprint, which is also private, meaning you have to be friends to view the content. Whereas Museum of Home Video is on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, plus there’s a proper website, and there’s even a Patreon.

Hell, you can even see portions of previous broadcasts, over at the Videos section of their Twitch page, which most other users avoid doing, since that’s somewhat an invitation for trouble, since it’ leaves a trail of evidence that copyrighted material has been utilized after the fact. On that note, I initially found its degree of openness to be alarming, specifically when the host first name dropped various sources for his content, which are much revered torrent sites where all my content hails from. But once again, that number of eyeballs is all relative… yet also, on a fundamental level, the more the merrier, especially for any collection of media is community driven. At the same time, the Museum is also the only Twitch channel (among the current generation, which is that write up is all about) to get “mainstream” coverage, from Thrillist, which casually mentioned Moviepassed… I have to wonder what those on that end think, given how they take certain measures to stay on the down-low. But then again, maybe they also realize that this is Thrillist we’re talking about.

FORGOTTEN_VCR
Of all the channels mentioned, it is perhaps the most popular, with a headcount that approaches the 300 mark. As before, there’s a set schedule, one that’s more frequent than Museum of Home Video’s; Forgotten_VCR broadcasts every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. And each installment is as assortment of found footage, again similar to Museum of Home Video, but with a narrower focus. That being Asia’s rich history with the VHS format; a typical mixtape includes the best ninja vs ninja fight scenes from the films of Godfrey Ho, who made a name for himself by splicing together unrelated material to create wholly “unique” martial arts flicks and whose presence is therefore super appropriate, along with vestiges of the glory days wrestling tape trading, when it was the only way Americans could get their hands on puroresu (Japanese professional wrestling), meaning they’re clearly from 3rd gen at best sources, the intros from various home video distributors from southern parts of the continent, and b-roll from various travelogues that are essentially ASMR conduits for city pop enthusiasts.

It’s also a channel that has been around the longest, meaning it appeared well before COVID materialized, unlike all the others on my list. As well as one that is the subject of a shockingly substantive write-up, and from the most unlikeliest of sources; I HIGHLY recommend EGM’s profile of Forgotten_VCR, which unlike Thrillist’s article that casually names a name that purposefully stays out of the limelight (yes, I know I wrote nearly a thousand words on the subject, but despite the shade I also just threw at the aforementioned outlet, this is still a blog that doesn’t get nearly as much traffic), instead offers a meaningful deep dive into the precautionary measures that Forgotten_VCR and like channels must employ to tip toe around Twitch’s policies, as well as a discussion regarding the authenticity of streamers who tap into nostalgia. It’s great stuff, and not just for fellow streamers.

On a related note, Forgotten_VCR’s chat most closely resembles what you’d typically find on the platform. Every single person in that crowd of 300 has something to say, plus they also love to use emojis, a lot. But unlike your typical chat for some E3 livestream or Nintendo Direct, the folks here actually say something that’s worth responding to, but things move along as such a breakneck pace, it’s impossible to hold an actual conversation. Hence why I just keep that chat window closed as well.

THAT WEEK IN SNL
Which I mentioned at the very beginning, and which is a component to a podcast of the same name. Each episode the hosts discuss an old episode of Saturday Night Live, or some other sketch comedy show, which they just watched on Twitch. Among other things, it’s a smart way to be economical with one’s time, as well as view how certain jokes have held up after the fact among it audience. And as a lapsed fan of SNL myself, I appreciate being able to view episodes from back when it was actually good, yet I’m especially thankful that someone who loves the show enough to dedicate an entire podcast towards it is able to nonetheless acknowledge that it is indeed unwatchable these days. Yet the true delights have been the aforementioned showcase of adjacent shows; everything from SCTV to Mr. Show, even You Can’t Do That On Television, but especially Almost Live, a local comedy show that I grew up with in Pacific Northwest.

It’s also the one channel that has really forced me to come to terms with how a certain portion of what I used to enjoy is fairly problematic when viewed with today’s lens. Though must of its was pretty sexist and racist back then, I was just too young and dumb to realize it. So I am again appreciative for an outlet that sheds light on the past in a very neutral, objective setting. Unfortunately, what was once the chat that I used to love hanging out the most, because everyone has such encyclopedic knowledge of the subject at hand, is nowadays the chat that I now have to just turn away, due to the hyper criticism and over analysis. Not so much performative wokeness, though there have been a few isolated instances, just the non-stop dueling banjos of folks showing off their insider knowledge of the SNL writers’ room.

OLD TIMEY COMPUTER SHOW
Along all the channels listed, it’s one of two that runs 24/7 without any interruption. It’s simply a showcase of classic computer and video game related programming: from episodes of the Computer Chronicles to rips of VHS tapes that were exclusives to subscribers of Nintendo Power, as well as plenty of programming from the UK, like old episodes of GamesMaster, and Japan, such as “video magazines” that various publications used to produce (I’m not entire sure how they were distributed, either via VHS or even LaserDisc). If you’re into tech, especially vintage tech, it’s a must have on in the background (it’s also my first go to if whatever’s on Moviepassed is not my thing).

Worth mentioning is how no matter what time it might be, there’s always a minimum of 40-50 viewers, even at 4:30AM EST on a weekday. Yet the chat is a ghost town; whereas others streams have viewers with a compulsion to say something, anything, literally every 15 seconds like their life depended on it, Old Timey Computer Show’s are just there to enjoy the ride. An occasional stranger will stumbles across the channels and ask what such-and-such is all about, prompting a regular to break their silence to answer said question (usually me). And instead of a schedule, every single thing that’s in rotation is listed on a Google Sheet; most are YouTube vids, yet it’s sincerely appreciated in this instance because many times I’ll come across a dead link, due to the source being shut down over copyright violations, meaning the stream has saved it from oblivion.

VIDEODROME TV
Describing itself as “an analog/digital video glitch project”, it’s not like the other channels in which, at the end of the day, is basically someone just loading a video file. True, both Museum of Home Video & Forgotten_VCR are hosted by their respective channel owners, but after their spiel they’re still just hitting the play button. Whereas Videodrome TV is wholly unique performance; it’s somewhat close to what racer trash does, but in real time, via video mixers. It also has, among all the channels listed here (save the next one), the lowest average viewer count, usually just 3 or 4; thankfully Forgotten_VCR, when ending his stream, often carries over his audience (via a process called “raiding”), which bumps that number up to a more appropriate figure.

RETRO WEATHER CHANNEL
Another 24/7 stream, this one recreates the Weather Channel in its original incarnation during the early 90s, meaning it’s just real-time data from the National Weather Service accompanied by smooth jazz. This was yet another always on in the background staple, until one key feature at its attempt at true authenticity drove me away: the announcer who goes “The current local conditions!” and like every 15 seconds. But whenever I do check in, I’m always its lone viewer; the headcount is always just a one.

CATHODE CINEMA
Also known as Cathode TV; remember how I said that Moviepassed was a daily essential? That’s still true, but in recent months it has faced stiff competition, from essentially its cooler cousin. This might seem like a strange analogy, but it’s similar to the Monday Night Wars that pro wrestling fans enjoyed in the late 90s, when they were constantly changing the channel, between the WWF and WCW.

It’s actually an amalgamation of several channels listed: like Spectacle, Cathode is the virtual component of a real-life location, though instead of microcinema, Coaxial Arts Foundation is an LA-based multi-disciplinary media arts org in. And like Moviepassed, a solid block of programming is presented almost every day (their schedule is also on Instagram), though the offerings are far more eclectic; foreign and experimental films have a far stronger presence. The emphasis on video art means it’s also very close to Museum of Home Video’s territory, with other similarities being an especially large online presence and an article written about them as well.

But back to the Moviepassed/Cathode comparison, specifically the size of the audience for both; when I flip back and forth between both, especially during what I consider to be prime time, which is around 8-10PM PST, the combined number of viewers is close to 200. Sometimes one will show an absolute crowd pleaser, with the other having a solid 100+ tuning in, whereas the other will not, meaning there’s like 5 people watching. And sometimes something really good is on both ends, hence why the numbers are evenly split; I’ll often switch back and forth, and funny enough, I’ll notice the same person’s name in the chat on both ends as well.

Tuesday night is perhaps the best night for Twitch programming; in addition to both Moviepassed & Cathode going head-to-head (after the occasional Monday nights off), you’ve got both Museum of Home Video & Forgotten_VCR’s regularly scheduled broadcasts. Each has their own dedicated fanbase, especially the later, with its aforementioned usual viewership number eclipsing both destination film streams; whenever I’ve checked Forgotten_VCR’s chat, aside from VideodromeTV, who likes to hang out there, I don’t recognize any of the other names. Point being, when considers all the numbers, this still is a truly small part of the internet, and perhaps explains why there aren’t countless articles about the current Twitch landscape?

… There are several other channels I follow, mostly random streams that show random 80s & 90s television programming that was jam packed on a VHS tape on EP speed. And I haven’t even mentioned all the ones that were made specifically for Halloween and Christmas content. But the above provides a fairly comprehensive survey what has kept me somewhat sane throughout 2020. And perhaps 2021 as well? Yet, as stated near the top, I wonder what the future holds.

________________________________________________________________________________

When I first began experimenting with Twitch in March of 2020, there were many mysteries, and some questions remain unanswered. Yet a combination of pure observation, along with trial & error, as well as some back & forth with others, certain conclusions have been made. Such as how, there are no real bots, comparable to YouTube. The biggest threat to every streamer are the trolls; one of the first things I streamed was an episode of Concrete TV, which results in a ban for about a week. My initial assumption was the copious amount of nudity, but found myself confused when I saw content on Moviepassed and Cathode that had plenty of butts and boobs. My best guess is that some rando wanted to either be a shit stirrer or was actually offended by the sight of skin, and thus reported me. That’s literally it.

I can’t help but wonder if such an act is rooted in the same hostility that I have encountered when discussing and recommending Twitch to others, not just among strangers on social media but actual people I know in real life. Let’s just say that many who indeed miss going to an AMC, or even worse complain that the abundance of streaming options is somehow inferior to the previous cable television model, have all turned their noses in the air. Hell, one person has even refused to talk to me, ever since I recommended racer trash… though that has more to do with a segment of Vapor Mario (aka their take on the live action adaptation of the Super Mario Bros movie) one that ridicules those minds have been poised by 80s/90s nostalgia.

Unfortunately, such a vitriolic reactions appears to be a contributing factor towards Spectacle’s recent move away from Twitch and the establishment of their own dedicated streaming solution; during the chat of a stress test that took place near the top of 2021, it was mentioned that someone was constantly reporting them to Twitch’s standards and practices. Yet another benefit of them having total control of their signal is how they can sell virtual tickets, and I’m very much excited for the possibilities, and not just because I have a Japanese filmmaker on tap for an in person showing at the Spectacle, with there being no end to COVID in sight.

Till then, I’ll still be streaming, on the behalf of Wonderville primarily. Not only has the FORT90 FILM CLUB been a success, which is the last Monday of each month, the no longer on the back burner FORT90 TV is now helping to fill out the schedule, on all the other Mondays. In the end… instead of attempting some long-winded conclusion about how a video game livestreaming platform of all things became an unexpected solace and strength, as well as a much needed distraction, for a year that will take several more to properly process… here is a Twitch chat exchange involving racer trash’s big boss, which took place during the first few hours of the final day of 2020 (4:56AM EST on 12/31/20, to be precise), towards the tail end of a screening of Vibes Wide Shut, the collective’s unofficial (for reasons that I’m not entirely clear on, at least not yet) 10th feature length production:

abjectworld: “i’m so curious about your workflow and process”

spiffythedog: “there isn’t one”

abjectworld: “hah isn’t that the best”

spiffythedog: “no it’s a nightmare but it yelds pretty good stuff”

fortninety: “alas, that’s been 2020 in a nutshell in certain respects”

spiffythedog: “I suppose so”

[UPDATE #2 (02/06/2021): I can't believe I totally forgot to mention the one single moment from last year that stood out the most, which was a primary motivation for this long ass blog post in the first place... Hey, with so much ground to cover, I naturally had to forget something.

And that is how racer trash's 8th feature length production, a re-edit of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that goes by both cthd & LMBIH ("Li Mu Bai is here"), has a segment that contains footage of the source material's video game adaptation... which was the last thing I did when I was lead designer at Ubi Soft New York.

In the words of spiffythedog once again: “ill say it 2020 was wild”]

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07/17/2020

Review: Special Actors (Japan Cuts 2020)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

JAPAN CUTS 2020 is officially on! And the opening film this year may be the one that many have been legit waiting for their clocks to say 07/17/20 12:00:00 AM, and with good reason: it’s the follow-up from Shinichiro Ueda, whose debut effort, One Cut of the Dead, is a bona fide phenomenon (and which was the best film I saw during NYAFF 2018). All I can say is this: as much as I loved Kinta and Ginji, and perhaps it’s too early to say since I haven’t seen everything on my list, I nevertheless believe that Special Actors will end up being my pick as the best that the fest has to offer… despite how other critics out there have been kinda down on this flick.

The story goes something like this: Kazuto is a wannabe actor who can’t get through a single audition, due to his inability to handle pressure, which results in fainting. This does his jobby job no favors either; despite being a keeper of the peace, he has to look the other way when some drunkard tries hitting on another guy’s gal, who in turn gets punched in the face. Afterwards, Kazuto checks on the drunk idiot, and discovers that it’s his brother Hiroki? He too is an actor and the fisticuffs was part of an act; Hiroki was hired by the guy to demonstrate to the gal what tough stuff he is. Kazuto is then escorted by Hiroki to where he works: the Special Actors talent agency provides actors for special roles found outside of film and television. Like being the new boyfriend for someone trying to break up with a total a-hole, or to make sure that at least someone is crying at some other kind of a-hole’s funeral. Kazuto is hesitant on signing up, yet when Hiroki reminds his bro of that bills that need to be paid, which are all overdue…

The movie officially kicks into gear when a young woman shows up, seeking help. Her sister, who took over the family business of running an inn, after the untimely death of their parents, is also part of a wacky UFO cult. Said cult wants said inn as their permanent HQ, so it’s up to Kazuto, Hiroki, and the rest of the Special Actors to convince sis to not sign on the dotted line and also expose the charlatans for what they are! Saying much else would be entering spoiler territory, but let’s just say that not everything is as it appears… kinda like with One Cut of the Dead,. Yet not really, which seems to be everyone’s hang-up, that it’s not the same exact film as Ueda’s previous effort. Which is an unfair comparison; sure Special Actors is less frantic, because a different kind of story is being told here. One that’s admittedly more conventional, but more nuanced as well. Regardless, there are moments in which Ueda demonstrates that he’s the undisputed master of controlled chaos.

I really hate to beat around the bush, but again, I don’t want to say too much; TBH, in retrospect, I feel that my One Cut of the Dead review did just that. Though I also had no idea that it would set records by making 1000x its budget, plus seemingly everyone has seen it by now, so any such concerns are now moot. Still, that movie’s immense success demonstrated that there’s a legion of zombie fans out there, who were dying for such a fresh and brilliant send-up. And I suppose the tepid response to something that skewers UFO cults shows what little interest there actually is in the subject matter, comparatively speaking, yet some of us have been waiting for a comedy like this one for a very long time. Hence why I was far from disappointed with Special Actors! I also need to throw this out there: certain moments in this Shinichiro Ueda film reminded me of various others by Yoshihiro Nakamura, one of my all-time fave Japanese directors (BTW/FYI: don’t forget to pre-order the long awaited blu-ray of Fish Story next month).

You can view Special Actors, via online rental, from July 17 to 30, by clicking this link.

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07/16/2020

Review: Shell and Joint (Japan Cuts 2020)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

In my previous review, I heaped a considerable amount of praise upon a movie starring a robot and a tanuki who spend the entire runtime of an hour and twenty-four minutes just talking about stuff. Some of it is philosophical, and some of it is absurd, yet all of it is supremely entertaining, fascinating even. I also noted my concern that said description had painted a pretentious picture, but there’s something else I neglected to mention, which is how Kinta and Ginji represents everything I love about Japanese cinema. Well, next we have another film that’s filed under avant-garde by JAPAN CUTS 2020, and it too features a whole lot of talking. No robots or tanuki this time, just people, though bugs are part of the mix. Yet despite many similarities, there are stark differences, and BOY OH BOY does Shell and Joint embody everything I can’t stand about Japanese cinema.

Shell and Joint is the long-awaited feature length debut of celebrated short movie maker Isamu Hirayabashi, and after this, I now have zero desire to see any of his previous, let alone future works. Things start off super promisingly enough with an aesthetic and implied vibe that strongly evokes Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3, with a hint of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The latter especially so, due to the primary setting: a capsule hotel. The film features a considerably large cast of characters, some we see regularly, like the hotel’s receptionists & certain guests, and others who are just one & done. The film’s connective tissue is arthropods; you have one of the aforementioned receptionists reading a book about bugs, a retired Yakuza thug that’s now married and they’re also both beekeepers, a girl who assumes the way to bring her dead stag beetle back is with the Lightening cable that revives her mom’s dead iPhone, a dude in a sauna who goes on and on his sexual exploits that’s actually a cicada in human form, plus a trio of bugs in bug form (they’re actually puppets) to name just a few. Anyhow, arthropods are used to compared and contrast the points made in the multitude of conversations regarding human behavior, animal behavior, the passage of life, the passage of time, the significance of existence, the insignificance of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

So why was so much talking enjoyable in the last movie and not in this one? Like I said, whereas the robot and the tanuki talked about a bunch of different things, everyone here talks about the same damn thing, and in the same tiresome “oh wow, that’s SO deep” manner that’s fine once or twice in a Japanese movie, but it gets grating after the legit thirty-fifth time. Shell and Joint does feel like the work of a director who made a name by embracing the constraints of a short run time, but ends up floundering the open waters of feature length cinema, so the only thing he can come up with is to cram thirty-five shorts’ worth of material into a single vessel… which still could have worked if they’re all about the same damn thing. By far the best part is a segment in which two women ask a third about the products her company makes, which are vibrators, if only cuz the predictable grand statement about the human condition can be excused as drunken nonsense (the one asking clearly had a ton of shrimp and white wine). I should also maybe mention how, in addition to avant-garde, Shell and Joint is also listed under erotic. Thus everyone in the movie is super horny, and it too is super boring, which might be Shell and Joint’s most egregious offense. Did I mention that it’s two hours and thirty-four fucking minutes long? Back to the subject of bugs: at a certain point I became so bored that I fired up Animal Crossing on my Switch Lite to see if I might get lucky by landing on “tarantula island” (I’m in the southern hemisphere, so no scorpions for me, given how it’s winter on my end).

I also need to mention how the handling of the end credits is something I would have normally dug, ut taken with the rest of the movie, it’s just another sign of Hirayabashi trying too damn hard to impress/be deep/be weird/who cares. In the end, I suppose it’s appropriate that the JAPAN CUTS that has one the largest amount of super quality content has what appears to be the absolute worst movie that they’ve ever offered.

Don’t waste your time and instead see Kinta and Ginji, via online rental, from July 17 to 30, by clicking this link.

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