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Mcluhan's Wake
Mcluhan's Wake
Actor: Marshall McLuhan
Director: Kevin McMahon
Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
NR     2007     1hr 34min

Studio: Wea-des Moines Video Release Date: 01/23/2007


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Movie Details

Actor: Marshall McLuhan
Director: Kevin McMahon
Creators: John M. Tran, Christopher Donaldson, Kristina McLaughlin, Michael McMahon
Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Documentary
Studio: Disinformation
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 01/23/2007
Original Release Date: 01/01/2007
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 34min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

"See Your Blind Spot" or "Hear the Music"
Fellowman from Global-Village | 05/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This hour-and-a-half video documentary is engaging and challenging. It's a good introduction into the outlines of Marshall McLuhan's life and thought.

Canadian-born McLuhan is most famous for either originating or at least popularizing two statememts: "the medium is the message," meaning that the means or medium of communication one uses to say something are just as important as what one is trying to say, and the "global village," meaning that electronic communication (telephone, radio, television, and now internet) is bringing everyone into communication with everyone else.

The two main themes brought out by this documentary are:

1) from a paper McLuhan wrote in 1947 at age 36, fairly early in his career as a professor of English literature, about a poem from Edgar Allan Poe entitled the "Maelstrom" which describes a sailor caught in a giant whirlpool who eventually saves himself from drowning through detached observation of the vortex; modern electronic media have become the vortex from which McLuhan would like to show us how to rise above,

and 2) a theme from the work in McLuhan's last decade of life in the 1970s, when he was in his 60s, called the "tetrad" of the "Laws of Media." The four questions or tetrad of questions that can be asked about any media or artifact of man is what does it enhance, what does it make obsolete, what does it retrieve, and what does it reverse or flip into? In the interactive section of the DVD "McLuhan's Wake," the viewer can practice looking for answers to these four questions; for example, the interactive portion shows that electricity enhances visible space, makes obsolete candles and the "mystery" of darkness, retrieves daylight activities, and reverses into a kind of "blindness" either when the illumination becomes all-encompassing or when there is a power-blackout.

These two themes, the vortex of the maelstrom and the tetrads, appear again and again throughout the documentary.

The DVD documentary starts with a hauntingly beautiful and stark animation sequence of the sailor surviving the vortex.

The musical score for the documentary at times alternates between a kind of dreamy, watery world vs. a mechanical beat.

The scenes of common urban life in Canada become the "Everyman" for which any viewer can envision himself in his own enviroment. Also throughout the documentary, though various ideas are illustrated with scenes of life in Canada again, we are shown the multi-racial, multi-ethnic side of Canada--- this draws the viewer into the global aspects and scope of McLuhan's ideas and observations.

"McLuhan's Wake" DVD has many more extras than the typical DVD. The extras alone are worth the price of the DVD. There's a separate 12-minute film interview with McLuhan's widow. For those who want the "pure" McLuhan without having to go through the lens of the "McLuhan's Wake" documentary, the DVD has two half-hour audio lectures of McLuhan. And beyond that, there is a further 6 hours of audio recording of students, colleagues, as well as his son, all speaking about McLuhan.

McLuhan was famous for uttering one aphorism or sound-bite after another. So to leave you with a sample from the documentary DVD "McLuhan's Wake," here are two examples heard there: regarding the "global village," McLuhan says that we "no longer have to be anywhere to do everything," and finally, we hear McLuhan say "Nothing is inevitable provided we are prepared to pay attention.""
Media-Microwaved McLuhan
John David Ebert | United States | 04/17/2007
(2 out of 5 stars)

"If you are completely unfamiliar with the work of Marshall McLuhan, then this might be a good place to start. However, this film is so elementary in tone--sometimes to the point of assuming that the viewer is moronically incapable of grasping big ideas--that it often comes across as insulting to one's intelligence. The narrator, for instance, often speaks very slowly, as though she were addressing the mentally handicapped. This might be all right for a video about sign language or learning the alphabet for three-year olds, but it is decidedly the wrong approach for this subject matter.

Indeed, the director has made quite a few mistakes here, one of which is to weave into the narrative a series of spectacularly bad graphics regarding Poe's "Descent Into the Maelstrom" as an attempt at a leitmotif for understanding McLuhan's work. However, the viewer often finds himself cringing, or scowling,whenever this graphic appears onscreen. Another mistake, and this is a big one, was not to allow McLuhan to explain himself more often in the picture. He is stripped down to the occasional soundbite, and often his voice on the soundtrack will articulate a single sentence which those who are familiar with McLuhan's work know would be greatly illuminated by hearing the sentence embedded within a larger context of elocution. But McLuhan, though he is often onscreen--his frequent appearances on television are shown in quick clips--is never there for long enough to articulate more than a sentence or two, and this does him a great disservice, since McLuhan was the kind of thinker whose ideas are best illuminated by listening to him for long stretches at a time. Consequently, the viewer never really does get a feel for his personality, since one rarely sees him interacting with interviewers for very long. Yet another problem is that there is too little discussion of his ideas. An attempt is made to boil down his thinking into his media tetrads, which he actually only formulated toward the end of his life and which, brilliant though they may be, are not representative of McLuhan's overarching thought about media. There is, for instance, no discussion of the notions of media hot and cool, or cultural implosion, or how artists create counterenvironments to make invisible environments visible.

In short, the film is an ironic confirmation of Neil Postman's critique about the incompatibility of ideas with electronic media, for once ideas are accelerated to lightspeed, they are automatically transformed into infotainment. In celluloid or on televsion, ideas are hi-jacked by images and jazzy graphics which are constantly thrust upon the viewer to engage his attention. As a result, ideas wither and atrophy, while slick, glossy images proliferate, and the viewer is misled into believing that learning is all about being entertained.

The medium truly IS the message.

--John David Ebert
author, Celluloid Heroes & Mechanical Dragons: Film as the Mythology of Electronic Society"
Ambitious, if flawed.
P. Hazel | 04/06/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"'McLuhan's Wake' is the new DVD release of a 2002 film by Canadian documentary director Kevin McMahon. It doesn't have a straightforward linear narrative, but has three main themes that cycle round each other: firstly, McLuhan's use of Poe's 'Descent Into The Maelstrom' as a metaphor for our current situation in relation to the "vortex" of technological change; secondly, McLuhan's 'Laws of Media'; and thirdly, a biographical strand reconstructed in the main from stills and TV clips. Laurie Anderson provides the main narration, with added commentary from the usual suspects: Eric McLuhan, Corrine McLuhan, Neil Postman, Phillip Marchand, Frank Zingrone, et al.

I've watched it twice now and I'd have to say it's flawed. For me, there are two main problems with it: one, the visual images don't always tie in with the ideas that they're supposed to be expressing. A lot of the footage is quite generic and could be about almost anything given the context, although I suspect much of this may be down to financial limitations (it being an independent production). Two, the sound track is mixed quite badly. The interviews are really the backbone of the film and they've often chosen to fade them in and out, which means you lose the end of sentences. Frustrating! Also, the mix leaves something to be desired. The voices don't always sit at the same level and the music is generally too loud.

Having said all that, it's great to have. There are loads of extras: a couple of hours of footage from the original interviews, hours and hours of audio (including two lengthy examples of McLuhan himself talking), and "hundreds of pages" of documents that include the Director's notes, McLuhan biog, shooting script, and--joy of joys--a study guide. There's a full set of subtitles, the navigation is well organized, and it's Region 0 encoded. Not bad for under twenty dollars!

So there we have it. It's not really a critical evaluation of McLuhan's work, but a serious and ambitious attempt to get McLuhan's complex ideas over to a non-specialist audience. If you've never read any of his books and want to know why Wired magazine named a middle-aged conservative and Catholic the "patron saint of the Internet", this is a good a place to start. It would also make an ideal introduction and resource for an undergraduate course teaching McLuhan."