The Roundup: July 29

Cinema

I Killed At the Movies by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club

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I confess that I’ve never watched At the Movies in any of its incarnations, even when Siskel (or Roeper) and Ebert were on it, yet I was fascinated by Vishnevetsky’s account not only of his brief tenure on the show, but of the entire history of the show and why it was set up the way it was, right down to set design and camera angles. It’s about more than just At the Movies, it’s about the business of television. And, of course, it’s a remarkably candid look at Vishnevetsky’s apparent failure in that business without bitterness or even regret, at least not in a negative way.

I never master these skills, because I am the wrong man for the job. When Ebert Presents: At The Movies goes on the air in January of 2011, I am 24, far and away the youngest host in the format’s history. I have improbably beaten out smarter, more qualified candidates (one of whom will win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism) after several rounds of auditions. I’d like to believe that I’m a strong critic and writer and a capable speaker, but I can’t seem to figure out a way to get ideas into broadcast without coming off as a shill or a dick. Frustrated, I fall back on cliches I’d never use in conversation or writing. Christy Lemire, who has extensive TV experience and a more easygoing writing style, is a natural, and I’m the kid who keeps interrupting her.

The Essential Fritz Lang by Greg Ferrera at Movie Morlocks

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Sort of following on Greg’s article I shared last week, about what film should be your SECOND film from major directors – this one ponders the idea that maybe a director’s best-known film isn’t actually the one that’s most representative of his/her overall body of work. He takes Fritz Lang as an example, arguing that M, Fury, and others are more quintessentially “Lang” than Metropolis. I fully agree with this, and it applies to other directors as well. It doesn’t mean Metropolis is less essential in the abstract, just that it doesn’t display Lang’s particular preoccupations quite as clearly as several of his other films.

On an upcoming installment of The Essentials, hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore, TCM presents Metropolis, the 1926 Fritz Lang classic about a dystopian future that was very much about 1926 instead of the future in the same way M*A*S*H was about Vietnam much more than it was about Korea. The movie is easily Fritz Lang’s most well known. It is also quite the essential if “essential” in this case is defined as a movie one must see to further complete an education on cinema, to be able to say, “Yes, I’m a classic movies fan.” But is it essential to understanding Fritz Lang?

The 2014 Halftime Checklist (and Part 2) by Scott Tobias and Noel Murray at The Dissolve

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I’ve seen….two of these films (Captain American and Edge of Tomorrow; both are on Part 2), so I’ve got a ways to go. This is a solid list of the films that should be paid attention to so far this year, though, with the bias towards inclusion rather than exclusion, which is just how I like it. Unsurprisingly, Part 2 is more full of tempting films than Part 1, which only covers January-March, but there are a lot of great-sounding films in both posts.

Two times a year — once around the halfway point, again near the end of the year — Dissolve editor Scott Tobias circulates a checklist of films for staffers to see for best-of-the-year consideration. […] For you, The Dissolve reader, we’ve broken the list down into six categories, which will be spread out over two days: Essentials (i.e. the absolute must-sees), Hollywood: The System Works! (for those occasions when studios accidentally produce something interesting), Auteur Obligations (work by major filmmakers — much of it very good, some below par), Notable Documentaries, Indie Curiosities, and Imported Goods.

The Young Girls of Rochefort: Not the Same Old Song and Dance by Jonathan Rosenbaum at The Criterion Current

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It’s like Christmas for me over at the Criterion blog this week, because their Jacques Demy set has just come out and even though I’m not able to pick it up right now, I can read all the fascinating posts about them. The Young Girls of Rochefort is my favorite (one of my favorite films of all time, in fact), and this is a great essay from Rosenbaum about it and why it’s not always as well received outside of France. Meanwhile, Jim Ridley also has a good piece on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and there are more on Donkey Skin and the rest of the films that I haven’t had time to read yet.

One could even call this film quintessentially French—in its cozy, interactive sense of community, played out at a glassed-in café located at the center of the town’s enormous square; in its characters’ unapologetic and intense love of art (both high and low), without any hint of the American association of art with class, from Maxence’s painting to Solange’s kitschy classical music to Delphine’s ballet classes to Yvonne’s fondness for poetry; and in its giddy, indefatigable élan, crossed with the bittersweet premise that we live according to dreams whose fulfillment lies just beyond our reach.

Scarlett Johansson’s Subversive Vanishing Act by Noah Gittell at The Atlantic

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Interesting article about Scarlett Johansson’s past several roles. I’m not sure I totally buy that she’s choosing these roles on purpose to make a feminist statement, but I think it’s a plausible reading of the roles as a whole. Mostly I’m just glad to see Johansson simultaneously kicking ass and being taken seriously.

So what to make of this gradual vanishing act? Is Johansson simply challenging herself with roles that compartmentalize her talents? Possibly. But there is also a strongly feminist streak running through each of these films. Considering her on-the-record statements about Hollywood’s objectification of women, we might be meant to read her recent work as a unique and powerful statement about an industry and society that make its women disappear.

In Defense of Comic-Con by Devin Faraci at Badass Digest

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I don’t often agree with Faraci on much of anything, but this is a solid piece right here on the magic of Comic-Con. There are also plenty of stories circulating again this year about harassment and even potential assault, and that needs to be dealt with, but there’s a reason that people keep going back and putting up with all the irritating and bad stuff about Comic-Con, and I think Devin hits a lot of it. Enthusiasm is a good thing, and I’m glad to see it even if I’m not as enthusiastic about the same things. The Sundance takedown is probably unnecessary, though – that falls into Devin’s unfortunate habit of being provocative just to be provocative.

But I come to praise Comic-Con, not bury it. Yes, the convention is, at the best of times, a chaotic clusterfuck that is managed with a ramshackle attitude that never ceases to amaze me, but it’s also an extraordinary event that shouldn’t be happening at all, a gathering of many nerd tribes to mingle in one overcrowded, smelly building for four days. Nothing in this debased world is perfect, but Comic-Con at its best has moments that aspire towards perfection, moments about real human connection, sheer enthusiasm and unbridled imagination.

A Few More…

Not Cinema

No Skin Thick Enough: The Daily Harassment of Women in the Game Industry by Brianna Wu

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It’s real, and it happens every day. You only have to follow Feminist Frequency on Twitter for a few hours to see that, and having recently followed Brianna Wu, it’s clear she comes at this from a first-hand perspective as well. See also Online Sexism: What Can Be Done, a follow-up opinion piece by Leigh Alexander that lays out some ways to deal with online sexism that are helpful and actually not always obvious, and The Nightmare is Over: They’re Not Coming for Your Games by Katherine Cross, which discusses the fear a certain population of gamer has of censorship. Polygon is killing it on opinion articles lately.

My name is Brianna Wu. I lead a development studio that makes games. Sometimes, I write about issues in the games industry that relate to the equality of women. My reward is that I regularly have men threatening to rape and commit acts of violence against me. If you are a woman working in the games industry, especially in a public way, you’re going to experience harassment. I imagine telling my 12-year-old self that fulfilling my dream of making games would lead to constant threats. Would she still do it? Would any woman? The problem with sharing these stories in broad terms is that people think men and women receive the same harassment online. They do not. I’m not writing this piece to evoke your sympathy. I’m writing to share with you what prominent, successful women in the industry experience, in their own words.

Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League by William Deresiewicz at The New Republic

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Lots and lots to think about in this article. My kids would probably never get the chance to go to an Ivy League anyway, but the article is worth reading in terms of higher education in general. The quote I’ve included below is about how education is supposed to help you build a “self,” and I don’t disagree with him, but I think with higher education becoming such an expensive proposition usually involving years of student loan debt, it’s hard to justify going to college for anything other than a career. Going for the liberal arts education seems like a luxury most people can no longer afford. The entire system is busted, and I don’t just mean ivy leagues.

Learning how to think is only the beginning, though. There’s something in particular you need to think about: building a self. The notion may sound strange. “We’ve taught them,” David Foster Wallace once said, “that a self is something you just have.” But it is only through the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being—a soul. The job of college is to assist you to begin to do that. Books, ideas, works of art and thought, the pressure of the minds around you that are looking for their own answers in their own ways.

The Virtue of Unread Books by Scott James at Story Warren

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This made me think a ton about a home book library in terms of curation rather than just collecting. I can be a hoarder with books, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I like the ideas this post is giving me for creating a more carefully curated library intended to foster curiosity rather than just snapping up whatever’s cheap at the library sale or whatever has the prettiest cover on the Barnes & Noble 3 for 2 sale.

I explained to my boy that the practice of stockpiling books we’ve already read (his main concern, judging by the inciting question) is way down on my list of library benefits. It’s definitely on the list, but it isn’t the chief end of my book hoarding. Except for the few gems that fit into the “reread as often as you can” category, a library full of previously read books can easily become a sort of in-home monument—vaguely commemorating past accomplishments, having no real present purpose. In contrast, the array of books in our home is intended for ongoing, well-rounded usefulness. They’re there to show us what’s possible, not venerate what’s already been. Even the history books, which are expressly about what has already been, are there to light an inquisitive fuse and point us forward into new exploits.

How the Public Library Turned Me Into a Reader by Claire Fallon at the Huffington Post

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This is pretty similar to my experience growing up. And my own falling off from library usage as an adult. I almost could’ve written this. :)

I was a library brat. My brothers and I would pile into the family van, backpacks bursting with finished reading material, for trips to the St. Joseph County Public Library in South Bend, and we’d come back with fresh bagfuls of selections. Picture books, at first, or even picture books with accompanying audio recordings so we could follow along with the more confident enunciations of the taped reader; later, middle-grade chapter books and YA. Years later, I can still easily picture the young adult section of the SJCPL’s main branch, where I checked out books by Sharon Creech, Gail Carson Levine, Lloyd Alexander, Tamora Pierce, and Karen Cushman — the muted carpet, the gray metal bookshelves, the scuffed plastic book jackets.

False is the New True: Fake News Clickbait, “Blood Feud,” and Why the Truth Stopped Mattering by Stephen Silver at Technology Tell

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So much this. Making stuff up is not the same as satire, which is why The Onion rocks and these other sites that keep popping up and posting fake stories do not.

This week alone, I’ve read that Orange is the New Black was suddenly canceled, that the city of Chicago was officially declared a war zone, and that dozens of people in Colorado died of marijuana overdoses.

None of those things are true; all were reported by “parody sites” that bill themselves as “satire.” But- as Emmett Rensin pointed out in the New Republic a few months ago- the Onion is satire; these sites are not, because they’re neither funny nor making any particular satirical point. Their business model is to use false news stories and false information to draw clicks, and hopefully go viral by getting readers to spread this untrue information.

A Few More…

For Your Listening Pleasure

Iosmetric: A Gaming Podcast – Episode 12: Mech Suit President

Isometric Podcast Episode 12: Mech Suit President

I don’t listen to many gaming podcasts…okay, Isometric is the the only one. Jonathan turned me on to it, and I’m very glad he did. I’m including the latest episode above, but I’m actually still back on Episode 6 myself, since the show is so good I wanted to listen to all the episodes. Most gaming podcasts – heck, most gaming websites – are very guy-centric, whether they mean it to be or not, but Isometric has one man and three women. The guy, Steve, is a gamer without specific ties to the industry, but a very similar perspective to ours, as he also has young children at home. Of the three women, two (Maddy Myers and Georgia Dow) are games journalists, and Brianna Wu is a developer (her company’s game Revolution 60 came out on iOS last week – she also wrote the sexism in gaming article shared above). This range of perspectives gives great insight to everything they discuss, plus they all just have great chemistry together. You can tell they have a lot of fun recording the podcast, and that makes it a lot of fun to listen to. Plus it comes in right at an hour, which feels short but always leaves me ready to jump to the next episode – of course, that’s great as long as I’m behind, but it may become irritating when I’m caught up!

Image of the Week

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Striking Library Posters from the Great Depression. BookRiot found this treasure trove of library posters commissioned from famous and soon-to-be-famous artists by the federal Works Progress Commission.

Videos of the Week

Saturday Morning Cartoons: Popeye vs. Hercules at Film School Rejects. Because who doesn’t want to watch Popeye beat the pants off Hercules?

Assassin’s Creed Unity Real-Life Parkour Run. The post also has a video about how it was made. Basically, four guys running and a guy with a handheld steadicam. Pretty impressive.