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Posts Tagged ‘movies

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself”*…

 

Chiang

 

Traditional “good vs. evil” stories follow a certain pattern: the world starts out as a good place, evil intrudes, good defeats evil, and the world goes back to being a good place. These stories are all about restoring the status quo, so they are implicitly conservative. Real science fiction stories follow a different pattern: the world starts out as a familiar place, a new discovery or invention disrupts everything, and the world is forever changed. These stories show the status quo being overturned, so they are implicitly progressive. (This observation is not original to me; it’s something that scholars of science fiction have long noted.) This was in the context of a discussion about the role of dystopias in science fiction. I said that while some dystopian stories suggest that doom is unavoidable, other ones are intended as cautionary tales, which implies we can do something to avoid the undesirable outcome…

A lot of dystopian stories posit variations on a Mad Max world where marauders roam the wasteland. That’s a kind of change no one wants to see. I think those qualify as doom. What I mean by disruption is not the end of civilization, but the end of a particular way of life. Aristocrats might have thought the world was ending when feudalism was abolished during the French Revolution, but the world didn’t end; the world changed. (The critic John Clute has said that the French Revolution was one of the things that gave rise to science fiction.)…

The familiar is always comfortable, but we need to make a distinction between what is actually desirable and what is simply what we’re accustomed to; sometimes those are the same, and sometimes they are not. The people who are the happiest with the status quo are the ones who benefit most from it, which is why the wealthy are usually conservative; the existing order works to their advantage. For example, right now there’s a discussion taking place about canceling student debt, and a related discussion about why there is such a difference in the type of financial relief available to individuals as opposed to giant corporations. The people who will be happiest to return to our existing system of debt are the ones who benefit from it, and making them uncomfortable might be a good idea…

How we may never go “back to normal”—and why that might be a good thing– Halimah Marcus‘ (@HalimahMarcus) interviews the estimable Ted Chiang.  Read it in full: “Ted Chiang Explains the Disaster Novel We All Suddenly Live In.”

* Albert Camus

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As we put it all into perspective, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that Star Wars was released.  An epic space opera directed and co-written by George Lucas, it was both a box-office and critical success.  The highest-grossing film ever at the time (until the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982), it is, when adjusted for inflation, the second-highest-grossing film in North America (behind Gone With The Wind).

The film won 6 Oscars for a variety of technical achievements.  As film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his book The Great Movies, “Like The Birth of a Nation and Citizen Kane, Star Wars was a technical watershed that influenced many of the movies that came after.”  It began a new generation of special effects and high-energy motion pictures.  The film was one of the first films to link genres together to invent a new, high-concept genre for filmmakers to build upon.  And, with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, it shifted the film industry’s focus away from the personal filmmaking of the 1970s and toward fast-paced, big-budget blockbusters for younger audiences.

The film has been reissued many times and launched an industry of tie-in products, including novels, comics, video games, amusement park attractions, and merchandise including toys, games, and clothing. The film’s success led to two critically and commercially successful sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and later to a prequel trilogy, a sequel trilogy, two anthology films and various spin-off TV series.

220px-StarWarsMoviePoster1977 source

 

 

Written by LW

May 25, 2020 at 1:01 am

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today”*…

 

Kids

 

One of Lapham’s Quarterly‘s  amusing– and remedially instructive– collection of elder laments tough the ages… The worrisome fashions of younger generations: “Kids These Days.”

* Hesiod

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As we Boomers say OK, we might recall that it was on this date in 1430 that then 18 year old Joan of Arc was captured.  A heroine of France for her role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War, she had claimed to have received visions of the archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination.  In 1429, the unanointed Charles VII sent Joan to the Siege of Orléans as part of a relief army.  She gained prominence after the siege was lifted only nine days later, and became both a rallying point and a military leader.  Several additional swift victories led to Charles VII’s consecration at Reims– a boost to French morale that helped pave the way the way for the eventual French victory.

But in the meantime, on this date in 1430, Joan was captured by the Burgundian faction, a group of French nobles allied with the English, and handed over to them.  She was tried by the pro-English bishop Pierre Cauchon on a variety of charges.  After Cauchon declared her guilty, she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431, dying at nineteen years of age.

In 1456, a Catholic inquisitorial court examined the trial, debunked the charges against her, pronounced her innocent, and declared her a martyr; Joan was canonized by the Church in 1920.

200px-Joan_of_Arc_miniature_graded source

 

Written by LW

May 23, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter”*…

 

maltesefalcon

 

The term “film noir” is typically credited to French critic Nino Frank, who apparently coined it in a 1946 essay published in the magazine L’Écran français to describe four American crime films: John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Otto Preminger’s Laura, and Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet.

“These ‘noir’ films no longer have anything in common with the usual kind of police reel,” Frank wrote. “They are essentially psychological narratives with the action—however violent or fast-paced—less significant than faces, gestures, words—than the truth of the characters.”

The films in question grew out of the hardboiled detective genre birthed by novelists like Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. Notably, two of the movies Frank wrote about—Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet, based on novels by Cain and Chandler, respectively—were set in Los Angeles, a city whose glamorous reputation became laced with stories of crime, scandal, and corruption…

Laced with corruption in the 1940s and ’50s, LA became the birthplace of a literary and cinematic style: “13 of the best noir films set in Los Angeles.”

* Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), The Maltese Falcon (in the sequence pictured above; source)

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As we celebrate the gum on our shoes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1929 that the first Academy Awards presentation was held.  The brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, the awards were meant to to unite the five branches of the film industry, including actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers.  As Mayer explained:

I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them … If I got them cups and awards, they’d kill to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.  (source)

270 people attended the ceremony, which was hosted by Douglas Fairbanks and held over dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel; tickets were $5 (about $74 in today’s coin).  12 awards were presented in 15 minutes: the award for Outstanding (now “Best”) Picture went to Wings.

It was the only Academy Awards ceremony not to be broadcast on either radio or television.

220px-1stOscars_1929 source

 

Written by LW

May 16, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Civilization impairs physical fitness”*…

 

pilates-03-873x1320

American opera singer Roberta Peters (second from right, on table) works out on strength training equipment as her trainer, Joseph Pilates, stands on a table beside her. Also in the room are PIlates’ wife Clara (right) and her own, unidentified trainee (standing), February 1951.

 

By the early 1930s, Pilates was challenging the norms of physical culture in New York, advocating for holistic movement and upending ideas that athletic mastery — whether throwing a baseball or standing en pointe — could be achieved solely through those sports alone. He shaped a new vision of the body; abdominal muscles were not merely a source of core strength, he explained, but the basis of respiratory control, and while most trainers focused on major muscle groups, he sought to activate the equally important connective musculature to lengthen the entire body. At the same time, Pilates began teaching expecting mothers. Conventional medical knowledge long forbade exercise for pregnant women, but that started to shift as many women found the exercises helpful in regulating breath and regaining muscle tone.

On any given afternoon in his studio, you could find an eclectic crowd, from Broadway actors and ballet dancers to lawyers and housewives, all breathing rhythmically as Joseph or Clara led them through various exercises: the pulling of ropes atop structures that resembled patient beds at Knockaloe, measured twisting of the body, extensions of the arms and legs, and circular motions from the hips. For some, the practice was integral to their careers; for many, it simply offered a curious respite from the world, a place to feel their bodies engaged in measured, reciprocal movements at a time when the strains of the Great Depression, and later the terrors of the Second World War, fell over New York and the whole country. Indeed, there was comfort in the opportunity to tend to one’s body as an anatomical creation with underlying principles, and dubious clients were often convinced by Joseph’s playful analogies. “Take a horse,” he’d often say to patients. “If a man wants to race him, he keeps him in top form. He makes the horse move. Why not keep humans in top form, too?”…

Interned during WWI, circus entertainer Joseph Pilates used found materials and his fellow prisoners as his test lab, and imagined an exercise system that would captivate millions: “The Acrobatic Immigrant Who Invented Pilates in a Prisoner of War Camp.”

* Joseph Pilates

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As we bear down on breathing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that The Motion Picture Production Code was instituted, imposing strict guidelines on the treatment of sex, crime, religion, and violence in film in the U.S.  Popularly known as the Hays Code, after Will H. Hays, who was the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA, AKA the Motion Picture Association of America) from 1922 to 1945, it had become largely unenforceable by the late 1960s, and was abandoned, replaced by the MPAA rating system.

Motion_Picture_Production_Code source

 

 

Written by LW

March 31, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The theatre is certainly a place for learning about the brevity of human glory”*…

 

riot

 

In May of 1849, at the now-demolished Astor Opera House in Manhattan, a riot left… 31 dead, and more than 120 people injured.  It was the deadliest to that date of a number of civic disturbances in Manhattan, which generally pitted immigrants and nativists against each other, or together against the wealthy who controlled the city’s police and the state militia.

The riot resulted in the largest number of civilian casualties due to military action in the United States since the American Revolutionary War, and led to increased police militarization (for example, riot control training and larger, heavier batons)…

There’s something both grimly funny and profound… about the riot; it seems to express the madness of American history. A mob of thousands attempted to storm a theater over a performance of Macbeth, the National Guard had to be called up, 31 people were killed and more than 100 wounded all over the personal jealousies of two vain and insecure actors, an Englishman with aristocratic airs named William Macready, and an American, Edward “Ned” Forrest, who seemed to his audiences to embody a new democratic energy…

The Astor Place riot combined two of 19th-century America’s favorite pastimes: going to the theater and rioting. This was especially true in the period after the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828, who was swept into office on a wave of raucous populism and expanded suffrage to all white men. Jackson’s inauguration was very nearly a riot itself: a horde of drunken men packed the White House, destroyed furniture and overturned the food laid out. The crowd could only be lured onto the lawn with the promise that more whiskey-spiked punch would be served outside. The violence peaked in 1835, when the country saw some 147 riots, according to David Grimsted’s American Mobbing: 1828-1861: Toward Civil War...

The remarkable true tale of the competing Shakespeareans who (literally) drew blood: “The most fascinating riot you’ve never heard of.”

* Iris Murdoch

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As we agree that all the world’s a stage, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that James M. Cain’s stage adaptation of his 1934 novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, opened on Broadway.  Cain had hoped to have the novel adapted as a movie, but the Hays Office (the Production Code Administration, the Motion Picture Industry’s self-policing moral authority) deemed it too steamy for the screen.

Cain’s play ran only 72 performances.  But it was adapted as a motion picture the following year in France (by Pierre Chenal), then in Italy in 1943 (by Luchino Visconti); finally– emboldened by Paramount’s success with Cain’s Double Indemnity (which had raised many of the same moral concerns)– MGM moved ahead.  Its 1946 production of The Postman Always Rings Twice was a huge hit, and is now considered a film noir classic.

Postman source

 

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard”*…

 

neighbors-keaton

Neighbors. Dir. Edward F. Cline/Buster Keaton. Perf. Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton. Metro Pictures, 1920.

 

As he migrated from vaudeville stage to movie set, [Buster] Keaton realised the comedy itself did not need changing, though the opportunities afforded by the camera could extend the world in which the spatial interplay he had developed since childhood took place.

“…the greatest thing to me about picturemaking was the way it automatically did away with the physical limitations of the theatre. On the stage, even one as immense as the New York Hippodrome stage, one could only show so much. The camera had no such limitations. The whole world was its stage. If you wanted cities, deserts, the Atlantic Ocean, Persia, or the Rocky Mountains for your scenery and background, you merely took your camera to them.”

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning —and constant, unexpected repositioning— of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time —and real-place— rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form…

An appreciation of that greatest of all silent comedians: “Buster Keaton: Anarchitect.”

* variously attributed to actors Edmund Keane, Edmund Gwynn, and Peter O’Toole

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As we take the fall, we might send delighted birthday greetings to Stanley Donen; he was born on this date in 1924.  A Broadway dancer (who befriended a young Gene Kelly), Donen followed Kelly to Hollywood as choreographer, then a director– of such classics as On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), both of which starred Kelly who co-directed.  Donen’s other films include Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954),  Funny Face (1957), Indiscreet (1958), and Charade (1963).  Credited (with his rival, Vincent Minelli) with having transitioned Hollywood musical films from realistic backstage dramas (a la Busby Berkeley) to a more integrated art form in which the songs were a natural continuation of the story, Donen is highly regarded by film historians.

One might note a kinship between Keeton’s astounding physical relationship to his surroundings and that of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Fred Astaire in Donen’s films…

Stanley_Donen_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

April 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho”*…

 

121214-bruce-willis-die-hard-christmas-mn-1435_a4aad44d627fd4dbaa0ec5480cfa35dc.fit-2000w

Ok, enough bickering and fighting. Let’s settle this once and for all in the only way I know how – going into a topic in way too much detail.

As we prepare to enter the year 32 ADH (a.k.a. After Die Hard), the world is gripped by a constantly nagging question.

No, it’s not “Why does everyone call Hans Gruber and his gang ‘terrorists’ when they were clearly bank robbers?”

Today we’re going to use data to answer the question “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?”

Along the way, we’re going to test Die Hard’s Christmas bona fides against all movies in US cinemas for the past thirty years, using a variety of methods…

Stephen Follows tackles a perennial poser: “Using data to determine if Die Hard is a Christmas movie.”

[Image above: source… which also weighs in on the Die Hard question.]

* Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), reading what John McClane (Bruce Willis) had written on a dead terrorist’s shirt

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As we just say Yippie-Ki-Yay, we might recall that it was on this date that Phileas Fogg completed his circumnavigation of the globe in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.  (As the book was published in 1873, the putative year of the journey was 1871 or 1872.)

In 1888 American journalist Nellie Bly convinced her editor to let her attempt the feat.  She completed her round-the-world journey in 72 daysShe completed her round-the-world journey in 72 days.

220px-Verne_Tour_du_Monde

First edition of Verne’s tale

source

Your correspondent is headed into his annual Holiday hiatus; Regular service will resume on or around January 2…  Meantime, many thanks to all for reading– and Happy Holidays!

 

Written by LW

December 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

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