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Mcluhan's Wake

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

We all live in Marshall McLuhan's wake. Fascinated by the role technology played in transforming our lives, one of the twentieth century's most famous intellectuals realized, with stunning accuracy, the impact the digital age would have on our social, spiritual, economic and ideological selves. Grounded in McLuhan's last scholarly work, The Laws of Media, the film translates these laws into an illuminating and revealing text, haunted by archival footage and the voice of McLuhan himself. Blending all forms of media including animation and special effects, McLuhan's Wake is a visually dazzling and poetic film, with narration by renowned performance artist Laurie Anderson, and commentary by scholars Eric McLuhan, Neil Postman, Lewis Lapham and journalist Patrick Watson.


Taking Poe's "Descent Into the Maelstrom" as its central metaphor, this documentary about theoretician Marshall McCluhan covers basic biographical ground, but goes further to poetically illustrate McCluhan's concepts about relationships between humans and technology. Strained poeticism interferes with the focus on explanation, but fortunately there is enough footage of McCluhan speaking on talk shows and in the classroom to negate most damage done by cheesy segments of a sailor struggling through a hurricane, for example, or a suitcase floating through the ocean as if from a bad, early 1990s indie rock music video. Narrated by Laurie Anderson among others, McCluhan's Wake asserts that the philosopher's ideas have so infiltrated current mainstream ideas that we are nearly as unaware of his influence as we are oblivious to advertising's manipulative effects. Historically placing McCluhan as a Cambridge grad who by 1962 had become a kind of celebrity deemed "oracle of the electric age," McCluhan's Wake investigates his Laws of Media, or four questions McCluhan applied to any new media in order to reveal its future. The film's experimental segments reiterate McCluhan's fear that in his rebellion against media, he hypocritically exploited television media. Though lengthy digressions bog this film down, it is worth watching for its wealth of information on this thinker who felt that the only way to evade the technological maelstrom was to analyze it.--Trinie Dalton

Special Features

  • Interactive Tetrads – Exploring technology via McLuhan’s Laws of Media
  • "The Descent into the Maelstrom" – Bonus short animated film of Edgar Allan Poe’s story
  • Exclusive interviews with Corinne McLuhan, Eric McLuhan, Neil Postman, Lewis Lapham, Edmund Carpenter, Gerald O’ Grady, Phillip Marchand, Frank Zingrone and Patricia Bruckmann
  • More than an hour of vintage McLuhan audio clips
  • Gallery featuring photographs of McLuhan and some of his aphorisms
  • Original music soundtrack composed by Kurt Swinghammer
  • Hundreds of pages of printable text, including a McLuhan dossier, director’s notes and original shooting script
  • Study guide for McLuhan’s Wake

Product Details

  • Actors: Marshall McLuhan
  • Directors: David Sobelman, Kevin McMahon
  • Producers: Kristina McLaughlin, Michael McMahon
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Disinformation
  • DVD Release Date: January 23, 2007
  • Run Time: 94 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000K7VIKY
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,900 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Mcluhan's Wake" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

There's a full set of subtitles, the navigation is well organized, and it's Region 0 encoded.
P. Hazel
After watching it I couldn't help feeling irritated by the man's ideas and attitude, and I wondered how much of that was because he doesn't get to have center stage.
The narrator, for instance, often speaks very slowly, as though she were addressing the mentally handicapped.
John David Ebert

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Fellowman from Global-Village on May 25, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
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?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. Hazel on April 6, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
'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.
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By G. Mosley on October 7, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
"McLuhan's Wake" is four separate offerings, not one. Sponsored originally by the Film Board of Canada, the film is a project that is educational and illuminating, and this DVD offers not merely the feature film at 97 minutes, but also features on the tetrologies of "Understanding Media" and, most impressively, printable documents, including the shooting script.

Marshall McLuhan is the most important, pivotal, and still rewarding philosopher of communication, technology, and social organization that we have. While scholars enjoyed, for a time, coupling his theories with Walter Ong, S.J., or looking at the autonomous individual through his lens, McLuhan's insights do not end at this. His philosophy is a versatile set of observations and questions, albeit dyspeptic ones, that crack open the meaning of invention itself and what it is to use. However, his work is quite, quite dense, and McLuhan's writing can be impenetrable. This DVD does the best job I have ever encountered of explaining the man's thought even as it offers a biography.

"McLuhan's Wake" is a wake, in that it is a celebration, a reawakening of the dead man's philosophy, and an elegy, and this DVD must be seen.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Anne Nelson on August 16, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I came across this documentary when I was looking for material on McLuhan for the course I teach on new media. When it's good, it's very very good. The heart of the documentary is an explanation of McLuhan's career and theoretical explorations, the best one-stop presentation I've found. There are some lengthy passages elsewhere that are tangential to the film's subject matter. But for people who are seriously interested in the evolution of the media, this is an important work. And the biographical background on McLuhan is absolutely fascinating.
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