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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

This Explosion Brought to You By Hand Coloring, and Other News

July 20, 2015 | by

inventorcrazybrainsandhiswonderfulairship1906

A still from Inventor Crazybrains and His Wonderful Airship, 1906.

  • In its early days, America decided to differentiate itself from its oppressors across the pond by giving the language a bit of a face-lift: we borrowed words from other tongues, reclaimed British words that had fallen into disuse, and—this is the really American part—just made a bunch of stuff up. In 1919, H. L. Mencken published The American Language, a lexicon of uniquely U. S. neologisms: “rubber-neck, rough-house, has-been, lame-duck, bust, bum, scary, classy, tasty, lengthy, alarmist, capitalize, propaganda, whitewash, panhandle, shyster, sleuth, sundae, alright, go-getter, he-man, goof. Only in America can you go upstate for the weekend. Here, we engineer, stump, hog, and squat on a piece of land. We’ve stolen loads from Spanish: corral, ranch, alfafa, mustang, canyon, poncho, plaza, tornados, patio, bonanza, vigilante, mosey, and buckaroo. Americans are very talented coiners of words—including of talented, another new one that sent British writers into spasms of horror.”
  • In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, well before Technicolor, films were colorized, stenciled, tinted, and toned by hand, frame by laborious frame. The results were unlike anything on screens today: “Such coloring provided a sensual quality, making moving images seem enticingly tactile … Because each hand-colored print had to be dyed separately, no two copies were colored in exactly the same way. In rare cases, colorists embellished entire scenes. More often, they painted only particular elements—a scarlet dress, golden coins, red-orange lava erupting from volcanoes, or fountains glittering in pinks, yellows, and golds. Mistakes were common. In one frame, dye might drip from a woman’s costume across an arm or a leg. In another frame, a yellow face might revert to black and white, or a brush stroke might slip outside its edges.”
  • Paradoxically, our definition of “difficult” fiction has remained more or less unchanged since the bloom of modernism nearly a century ago: we look for arcane syntax, twisting sentence structures, vast political symbolism. Shouldn’t difficulty have evolved by this point? “We need difficult books like The Wallcreeper: books that refuse to cater to established appetites, that take the risks necessary to reorient our aesthetic and ideological assumptions. Traditional difficulty is an oxymoronic and empty concept, but truly difficult novels should be praised to the skies, especially considering the political obstacles keeping so many of them from the audiences they deserve.”
  • A new edition of Green Hills of Africa—Hemingway’s chronicle of hunting big game in Africa, first published in 1935—reminds of his talents as a stylist and his bizarre, almost religious fascination with the rituals of killing: “if I killed it cleanly,” he writes, “they all had to die and my interference in the nightly and the seasonal killing that went on all the time was very minute and I had no guilty feeling at all.” And he was such a nice guy, too.
  • Today in thought experiments come to life: What if you took a K-pop band and removed the K from the equation? A new project called I’m Making a Boy Band—think This Is Spinal Tap, but with more social commentary and better teeth—has created EXP, the first K-pop band with zero Asian members. The group poses questions “about nationhood, cultural appropriation, and gender roles.” “We get lots of comments saying, Your boys haven’t worked, or, Your boys haven’t endured the training process … We get comments from fans saying, Your boys are gay. In more Western-centric countries, K-pop is seen as flamboyant. The understanding is that if you’re a K-pop fan, you’re used to this soft look. But suddenly, when non-Asians do it, it’s seen as very strange.”

Staff Picks: Coates, Cartels, Caesar, Cigarettes

July 17, 2015 | by

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Covers of Slash.

There are writers you know about and writers you read. Before I heard him speak, Ta-Nehisi Coates was only the former to me—he came to my school and spoke to a packed auditorium about American self-conception, idealism, and his role in dislodging us from it. This week I’ve been sprinting through his amazing new book, Between the World and Me. A mixture of personal and cultural, critical and historical, the book is written entirely to Coates’s son, a teenager today. It seems that nearly every comment on Coates is excerpting him, lauding him, or calling him James Baldwin, and these staff picks are short, so I hope to get away with simply nodding my head. Yes, rewarding and complex; yes, generous and intimate; yes, “race is the child of racism, not the father.” Yes, an easy book to know about, but a better one to read. One of my clearest memories of his speech was the final question and answer. Someone—an older woman, a professor, I figured—stood up to thank him and asked something like “How do we get these young people to listen to you?” “I’m a writer,” he said. “That’s not my job.” —Jake Orbison

gamelifeAnyone who came of age in the eighties or nineties will grok Gamelife, Michael Clune’s memoir about the computer games of his childhood. But I hope others—those who dismiss gaming as merely narcotic or those who regard old games as curios—will read it, too. Clune captures not just the palm-sweating, self-flagellating thrill of early PC games but their talismanic role in the life of the mind. With their primitive, repetitious designs, these games provided a grammar for children, a way of apprehending the world—I remember feeling it myself, that scary, precarious sense of empowerment, the way reality seemed to bend to accommodate the airtight logic of Pirates! or Wolfenstein 3D. Games, Clune writes, teach us the rules for being alive “in a way nothing else can. They teach us about death, about character, about fate, about action and identity. They turn insights into habit. The habits bore through our defenses. Computer games reach us.” His memoir is also a sharp portrait of post-Reagan America, when communism was vanquished, history was over, and the shopping center was enshrined in the national imagination. —Dan Piepenbring 

If the sophistication of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s escape last week from a maximum-security prison isn’t enough to convince you of the influence (and the reach) of Mexico’s drug cartels, then Matthew Heineman’s documentary Cartel Land will. The film focuses on the leaders of two vigilante groups dedicated to fighting off the cartels—one in the United States (Arizona Border Recon, led by Tim Foley) and one in the Mexican state of Michoacán (Autodefensa, led by José Manuel Mireles). Cartel Land makes no attempts to tell a sanitized or digestible version of the truth; it’s rife with ambiguity, complicity, racism, and brutality. But from all the confusion emerges a compelling—and impressively crafted—narrative arc, one in which resistance, in all its forms, takes center stage amid unimaginable, and seemingly unconquerable, corruption. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

We all love war narratives, those Homeric masterpieces that deliver timeless truths—but Sam Sacks’s piece in the latest issue of Harper’s,First-Person Shooters: What’s missing in contemporary war fiction,” takes no prisoners. Sacks admits that “war is hell, but its themes make critics purr”; he bemoans the genre’s “self-involvement,” its nearly identical perspectives “of individual soldiers who can’t comprehend what they’ve experienced,” and its facile emphasis on “personal redemption.” Nearly all contemporary war fiction, he reminds us, has been “cultivated in the hothouse of creative-writing programs. No wonder so much of it looks alike.” His argument is less about war stories and more about competent fiction, the kind that’s lauded for its subject matter and honesty but amounts to simple confession. Takedowns are usually banal, and it’s easy to hit the biggest targets, but this is an important piece: “one of the jobs of literature,” Sacks writes, “is to wake us from stupor. But in matters of war, our sleep is deep, and the best attempts of today’s veterans have done little to disturb it.” —Jeffery Gleaves
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Gluey and Scissory

June 18, 2015 | by

Ashbery_Bingo Beethoven_2014_collage on vintage Bingo board_8.25x7.5in_300dpi

John Ashbery, Bingo Beethoven, 2014, collage on vintage bingo board, 8 1/4" x 7 1/2". Photo courtesy Tibor de Nagy

Our Spring 2009 issue featured eleven collages by John Ashbery, who’s been working in the medium since he was an undergrad at Harvard—roughly the same time he began to write poetry. “One thing he obviously values in collage is its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high-artiness, its resistance to monumentality,” the New York Times says of his art:

His own collages have this character. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career that gain interest primarily—some might say entirely—within the context of that life and career.

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So Big

June 17, 2015 | by

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Detail from the poster for So Big, Warner Bros., 1953.

The other night, as part of their Sterling Hayden festival, Turner Classic Movies aired the 1953 film So Big, an adaptation of Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer-winning epic of the same name. The movie, like its source, chronicles the struggles of a determined Illinois farm woman (played by Jane Wyman) and her more worldly son. The title is an innocuous reference to the little boy’s childhood nickname—but initially Warner Bros. publicists decided to sex things up a bit. Posters displayed a hunky illustrated Hayden look-alike in a passionate clinch with a smaller woman and the tagline, “He stood there so big … she was ready to forget she’d ever been a lady.”

It’s no secret that the fifties were a good time for playing fast-and-loose with the classics. In The Seven Year Itch, famously, filmmakers had plenty of fun with the idea. We see Tom Ewell’s pulp book publisher examining a cover in his office; it’s a paperback edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women featuring four busty, well-endowed twentieth-century dames and the tagline “SECRETS OF A GIRLS DORMITORY!” Ewell scrutinizes the cover art, produces a pen, and decisively lowers each neckline by three inches. Read More »

Sold a Bill of 3-D Goods, and Other News

June 3, 2015 | by

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A still from Bwana Devil (1952), the first color film to appear in 3-D.

  • Jason Segel, who took on the role of David Foster Wallace in the new movie The End of the Tour, discusses how he studied for the role: he watched the Charlie Rose interview, read the collected nonfiction, and, yes, reckoned with Infinite Jest. And yet his grasp of Wallace’s themes feels superficial: “I felt like I was reading a man who was sending out sort of a distress beacon saying, ‘Does anyone else feel dissatisfied?’ ” Try reading Oblivion, Jason. Then we’ll talk.
  • While we’re talking biopics: the old Tinsel Town rumor mill has it that James Ponsoldt may direct West of Sunset, an F. Scott Fitzgerald biopic based on Stewart O’Nan’s novel. “Replete with cameo appearances from such idols as Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Humphrey Bogart, the source novel juxtaposed Fitzgerald’s last gasps in Hollywood with his golden years as a literary celebrity.”
  • Douglas Coupland on Duane Hanson’s sculptures and their unlikely connection to drag-queen culture: “It was only later in life that I realized Hanson was going for realness, a term used by drag queens in competitions when portraying archetypes: rich white women dressed for lunch; high-school football-players getting their photos taken for the yearbook … Hanson’s pieces are right there, equal with you. In some ways, they even feel more authentic than you: they come from an era where authenticity was the default mode of being, an era when reality reigned, and where a word like realness was still only something in an artist’s or a drag queen’s magic bag of tricks.”
  • Meet the newest, sharpest, shiniest tool in the State Propaganda Toolkit™: Internet trolling. A Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency—dig that ambiguity!—hired dozens of young people to disseminate pro-Kremlin remarks around the Web, sometimes even in English. One commenter called himself “I Am Ass”: “Ass had a puerile sense of humor and only a rudimentary grasp of the English language. He also really hated Barack Obama. Ass denounced Obama in posts strewn with all-caps rants and scatological puns. One characteristic post linked to a news article about an ISIS massacre in Iraq, which Ass shared on Facebook with the comment: ‘I’m scared and farting! ISIS is a monster awakened by Obama when he unleashed this disastrous Iraq war!’ ”
  • The new era of 3-D movies has supposedly revitalized a once scorned format—but is anyone really doing anything interesting with 3-D? Even Godard’s feted Goodbye to Language treats it as a kind of meta-gimmick. “I’ve been looking forward to the moment when 3-D emerges as a mode unto itself—not a gimmick or a money-making adjunct to the standard fare but an art form of its very own … With some notable exceptions, the new breed of uppity 3-D seems less like an exploration of the format than an exercise in camp appropriation—a way of punching up at corporate greed and spoofing Hollywood excess.”

Seeing Red

June 2, 2015 | by

Anticommunism at the movies.

pickup-on-south-street-1953

You’re trying awful hard with all this patriotic eyewash.
—Skip McCoy, Pickup on South Street

If you’re feeling polemical, you might argue that all Hollywood cinema is anticommunist: as the central commodity of the culture industry, big studio movies are designed for nothing so much as circulating and producing capital. But if we want to talk Communist with a capital C—you know, where the C stands for USSR—then Hollywood’s anticommunist films are a special and specific genre of flops and farces, a cinematic tradition featuring such classics as I Married a Communist, The Red Menace, Assignment: Paris, and My Son John. (Spoiler: John’s a goddamned Bolshie!)

The fifties saw the heyday of anticommie popcorn flicks. True, the silent era had its Bolshevism on Trial and Red Russia Revealed, and the eighties met with Soviet invasion in Red Dawn and some serious anti-Vietcong violence in the later Rambo movies. But when you wanna see a square-jawed U.S. American call a sweaty creep a commie and slug him in the mouth, it’s the postwar period you turn to. Though most of the era’s anticommunist films were too vulgar and outlandish to survive as anything other than hilarious artifacts—or as evidence of the ever-imperialist, state-serving agenda of the Hollywood apparatus, depending on which side of the bed you woke up on—a few, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street among them, are truly great works of cinema. (Granted, 1982’s Rambo: First Blood—if you excise the last four minutes, when Sly gives a speech crying about how hippies, those “maggots at the airport,” spit on him—is also pretty great.) Both are tense, pulpy noirs, both center around the sale of nuclear secrets, and both take anticommunism more as a genre then a narrative drive. But only one, Pickup on South Street (1953), is being revived this week at Film Forum, in New York. Read More »