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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

The Battle of the Butt

August 10, 2015 | by

From the theatrical release poster for Cold Turkey.

Before he found success with All in the Family and its spin-offs, Norman Lear wrote and directed Cold Turkey, a cynical 1971 antismoking comedy that is, to date, his only credit as a film director. It’s showing August 13, 15, and 17 at New York’s Anthology Film Archives as part of their One-Film Wonders series, a collection of cinematic one-offs and also-rans.

Cold Turkey has the kind of stupefyingly ridiculous premise we need to see more often in our movies: in a bid for good PR, a big tobacco company promises twenty-five million dollars, tax free, to any town whose residents can stop smoking for a full month. (Their magnanimity earns them comparisons to the Nobel Peace Prize.) The 4,006 residents of Eagle Rock, Iowa, are up to the challenge, at least once their minister—played by Dick van Dyke, typically affable and guileless—goads them into action. Read More »

My Day

August 5, 2015 | by

The Broadway Melody of 1929 won the Oscar for best picture. The highest-grossing film of the year, it was the first all-talk musical, and MGM’s first musical, period. It contained a groundbreaking Technicolor sequence.

Even if you’re not a cinephile, the film’s a great, pre-Code watch. While the acting is certainly dated, and the story somewhat melodramatic and lurid—it centers around a sister-act love triangle—it’s an emotionally and visually satisfying spectacle. Read More »

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

July 20, 2015 | by

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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

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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 »