The Roundup: March 17, 2014

A few days late due to internet problems (I swear, if my blog’s not down, my internet is lately…), but here are some of the best things I read over the last week. And a half.


Being a Feminist is Hard, and Other Thoughts by Stevee Taylor at Cinematic Paradox


A number of articles have popped up in the wake of Lena Dunham’s recent comments at SXSW about the lack of good female roles in Hollywood (as well as Cate Blanchett’s Oscar speech pointing out that female-led movies do make money), and Stevee Taylor’s musings as an 18-year-old who plans to make her way as a filmmaker are thoughtful and important. Voices like hers are vastly needed, and hopefully she’s of the generation that will make the difference Hollywood needs. See also Hollywood Needs a Female McConaissance at Cinema Axis and Dear Lena Dunham at The Matinee.

The “strong female character” is something that makes it so hard to be a feminist. Critics are quick to say that Katniss Everdeen is a great female character because she’s strong, but she’s weakened by her love triangle. As soon as men come into play, females lose their “strength”. Maybe it’s because of an over-saturation of romantic comedies. But, I don’t know, just because I’m a female who might be in love with a guy, does that all of a sudden mean that I’m a weaker human being? Feminism and the “strong female character” seems bent on erasing males. If it’s equality you’re looking for, you may as well show how they can balance and co-exist and stop trying to have them in a power play that’s all based on strength. Weak women are interesting. Powerful women are interesting. Weak women pretending to be powerful are interesting. WOMEN CAN BE INTERESTING. You just need to give them a chance to be interesting.

The Top Ten Films of 1932 by Scott Nye at Movie Mezzanine


With The Grand Budapest Hotel in theaters (with its obvious references to 1932’s Grand Hotel), Scott Nye takes the opportunity to look at the best films from 1932. A few of the usual suspects are here, but also a couple of films I had barely heard of, so all-in-all, a pretty fun list to peruse.

The limited release of The Grand Budapest Hotel this past weekend was catnip for those of us who are fans of either a) Wes Anderson, b) classic Hollywood cinema, or especially c) all of the above. With the film being set predominantly in 1932 (or at least an alternate version thereof), this is a great time to take a look at the best films of that year, when, at least in Hollywood, Pre-Code revelry was in full swing, and any suggestion of “good taste” was treated with a condescending laugh and a pat on the back.

I Wanna Be the Minority: Thoughts on Contrarianism by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee


After writing a less-than-positive review of The Lego Movie, Ryan experienced the rush of traffic and discussion that comes with having a contrarian opinion, but he has some really great thoughts on how contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake is not a really good path to go down. This kind of thing is a large part of why I declared 2014 the Year of Positivity – I do think Ryan’s right in saying that a dissenting viewpoint is necessary for valuable discussion, and that’s one thing I’m kind of eschewing this year (with intentions to come back more balanced next year after this year’s cleanse), but really, the problem is internet discourse that tends toward extremism, ad hominem attacks and forced consensus.

It seems like every passing week, I come across another post that says “This film you all like? This director? Not nearly as good as you think.” Day-in and day-out, another pontiff takes to another podium to declare “Look people! Your emperor has no clothes!!” Sometimes it’s a film that’s generations old, other times it’s a buzz-worthy film that hasn’t even opened wide. Nothing is sacred, nothing is safe. If the crowds are gathering behind a fixed point, someone somewhere feels the need to knock that point off its axis. So what to make of this growing trend?

Whatever Happened to the Comedy Team by Wade Sheeler at The Black Maria


This article has been knocking around my “to-read-later” list for a while, but I finally got around to it and I’m really glad I did (I often give up eventually and just mark everything read). This is a great history of comedy teams in films from the vaudeville days (vaudeville teams that made the leap into films) up to the present day, when comedy teams are not as common but pop up in modified forms.

The idea of the comedy duo was born in the British music halls and American vaudeville stages at the turn of the 20th Century. Their style and material changed over the decades, but once introduced to the new technology of movies, maintained a firm hold on audiences from the silent period through talkies, and continued delivering strong box office returns all the way until the late 1970s, but their appeal soon waned when their “schtick” became virtually extinct. Within the last ten years, the idea of the comedy team has all but disappeared. What happened, and why does this art form, loved for so many years, now seem uncomfortably “corny?” Could it be that what was once considered the “traditional” comedy team still exists, but morphed into a new form that’s not so easily recognizable?

Forests and Trees: Let’s Rethink Filmmakers as Individuals and John Cassavetes as Auteur by Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects


This article is a little more unfocused than I’m used to from Landon Palmer and I don’t think ever quite finds its point as much as I would like (pulling in Cassavetes is an interesting tack but one that I think could’ve used a few more paragraphs to really flesh out), but there are still some very good thoughts nestled in here about rethinking auteurism in the light of studio authorship in the studio era.

Yet we must also recognize auteurism’s structuring power – its ability to create a framework of recognized artists through which it becomes impossible to see filmmaking, film history, and film themselves otherwise. It is nothing new to challenge the assumptions and associations of auteurism (or whatever fragmented versions of its politic – not theory – we’ve inherited), but it has proven incredibly difficult to ascertain what could reasonably function in its place.

A Few More…

Not Cinema

Destroy All Monsters: We Are Not True Detectives by Matt Brown at Twitchfilm


True Detective took the internet world by storm over the past couple of months thanks to its cinema-like production values, strong acting turns by its leads, and mysterious story – that last thing led a lot of people to form outlandish theories about where the story was going, treating it as a J.J. Abrams mystery box, and in turn led to some amount of disappointment in some quarters with the actual finale. Matt Brown covers all this quite well and gets at the failings of seeing every property as primarily a mystery to solve. See also The True Detective Finale: That’s It? at The Atlantic (one of the disappointed reactions), True Detective Didn’t Need Your Theories to Make It Great at Film School Rejects (a similar viewpoint to Matt’s), and CSI: Cinema Scene Investigators at The Dissolve (which covers, in general, this drive to minutely investigate every detail in a film to the detriment of the overall experience).

Having arrived late, however, I missed a lot of the online experience of the show, which – I gathered peripherally – was eaten up by folks trying to “solve” the series’ core enigma, either as mundanely as sorting out who had killed Dora Lange, or as grandly as connecting Rust Cohle’s flat temporal circle to the hidden signifiers of the Yellow King of Carcosa. I didn’t really understand the urge to do so, if only because True Detective seemed to be such a discrete package of information. The series was 8 episodes long and had revealed, long before I started watching it, that this season would be a single, finite package: one story, beginning to end via middle, with no carryover into any potential future seasons.

There’s More to Making Non-Sexist Art Than Not Being Sexist by Noah Berlatsky at The Atlantic


“But he didn’t mean to be sexist” is a fairly common defense when game creators (or writers, or filmmakers, etc.) include stereotypes of women unthinkingly, but the problem is that sexism is systemic to our society. This article does a good job of pointing out how difficult it is not to include any female stereotypes when this kind of thinking is so ingrained in us. It’s not just men that are susceptible, either. Our whole society is trained to think blue for boys, pink for girls, etc. See Anika Sarkeesian’s video about the Ms. Male Character for examples from throughout video game history. To avoid using stereotypes, it’s not enough to not be actively sexist – you’ve got to be actively non-sexist.

The designers intended to be non-sexist, but that intent in itself wasn’t sufficient. They had to work at it. “Shorthands for the feminine kept crawling into our work when we weren’t paying attention—smooth skin, homogenised facial structures, evidence of makeup, you name it.” In the end, “Portraits for some species went through several drafts just to deprogram our subconscious idea of what felt normal and right.” Even at that, they admit, they didn’t succeed entirely. The female goblins in the game still rely on eyelashes and lipstick for femininity.

Why a Deal Between Netflix and Comcast Matters to Gamers by Tracey Lien at Polygon


This is positioned as a gaming article, but really, it’s of interest to anyone who uses the internet and especially streaming media. It’s also a nicely balanced article, not alarmist about the deal, but also pointing some of the potential problems down the line.

The terms of the Netflix/Comcast deal are not publicly known, and while the double-dipping Bergmayer describes has not necessarily happened, he told Polygon that Comcast has the leverage to do so because it is so big and, in many markets, it is the only cable provider. This, he says, is the danger of having so few players in the cable market, so little government regulation, and a precedent of a big content provider like Netflix paying Comcast directly just so it can have a decent service. Current actions may seem benign, but they may not always stay that way.

Reading to Have Read by Ian Bogost at The Atlantic


I tried out the Spritz demo (click the screen here) and found it exhausting – to get what I was reading at the faster speeds, I had to let it run through three or four times, so I’m not sure how that saves any time. This article is pretty negative about the whole thing, and of the way we consume content these days, and I can’t say I disagree – at the same time, I love putting together these Roundup posts but I spend most of the weekend just powering through all the articles in my feedreader to have the content for them, which means I have little time for more leisurely reading, or reading for real understanding. It’s a problem, but I’m not sure Spritz is the answer.

Spritz offers the experience of reading without the nuisance of its mental effects. For Spritzers, comprehension isn’t a lost virtue so much as an unshouldered burden. For today’s overwhelmed content consumers, what could be better than experiencing the sensation of reading without the inconvenience of understanding. If ordinary readings are read to be understood, to be pondered and discussed and reflected upon rather than to be completed or collected, then perhaps it’s best to think of Spritzing as reading that is done to have been read. Indeed, the idea of Spritzing is the apotheosis of speed reading: reading in which completion is the only goal.

Image of the Week

Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde Publicity Photos at Vintage Gal’s Tumblr


More at the link.

Video of the Week

Dancing super-cut! It’s pretty comprehensive, too, sampling the best of the old-school musicals as well as random dancing in modern movies. Some of the juxtapositions are pretty dang funny (Black Swan smash-cut into goofy comic dancing).

And if you missed this incredible video I posted on its own earlier today…don’t. Watch it now. :)