The Roundup: August 27


Zip Zero Zeitgeist by David Bordwell at Observations on Film Art and Of Apes and Men by Max O’Connell at Criticwire


This is a point-counter-point set of articles. I rarely disagree with David Bordwell, as he’s one of my academic heroes and most of the time I’m just sitting at the feet of his blog essays in awe, but this one struck even me as a bit overextended, and it didn’t take long for me to find Max’s response, which articulates many of the same things I was thinking but hadn’t quite put into words. Bordwell is right to point out that a lot of zeitgeist claims are lazy and poorly supported, but saying that certain movies don’t speak particularly well to certain cultural moments (a thing we can see even more clearly in retrospect) is rather strange.


Critics seem to assume that if a film is successful at the box office, it must reflect the audience’s inner life. Yet the sheer fact of a movie’s popularity doesn’t prove that these attitudes are out there. Just because Spider-Man (2002) was a huge success doesn’t mean that it offers us access to America’s national mood or hidden anxieties. People spend time with a piece of mass art for many reasons: to kill an idle hour, to meet with friends, to find out what all the fuss is about. After the encounter, consumers often dislike the art work to some degree, or they remain indifferent to it. Since people must buy the movie ticket before they experience the movie, there can’t be a simple correlation between mass sales and mass mood.


That said, some of Bordwell’s arguments against using films as a lens into the cultural zeitgeist are, frankly, bizarre. Bordwell is correct when he writes that there’s no way that even a film striving to capture a nation’s attitude about a subject can capture all of the attitudes about it, but the best reply to that would be, “…and?” Of course Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” doesn’t reflect everyone’s thoughts about consumerist culture, but Bordwell’s argument that a film trying to tap into the zeitgeist is “really the Zeitgeist as [a filmmaker] understands it” reduces that Romero is tapping into one widely-held attitude about consumerism. The same goes for Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo” movies in the 80s: the jingoistic attitude might not fall in line with the dissenters to Reagan’s foreign policy, but you’d be hard-pressed to say that they didn’t capture something that a great deal of Americans thoughts about the treatment of veterans, the idea that Vietnam could have been won, and that the Middle East was the territory of freedom fighters against the hard oppression of the Soviets (an attitude that would shift in the next decade). Multiple perspectives don’t negate the possibility that art can capture a widespread attitude, and “national psyche” doesn’t mean “homogenous psyche.”

Kirk Douglas Remembers Lauren Bacall by Kirk Douglas in the Hollywood Reporter


This is simply a lovely tribute from Kirk Douglas to Lauren Bacall.

It’s hard to lose a friend, especially one with whom you have shared your dreams and your journey. In the case of Betty Bacall, I also lost my lucky charm — the girl who believed in me enough to talk Hal Wallis into giving me a Hollywood career. That was my first lesson in helping others without looking for thanks. I will continue to think about her whenever I put it into practice.

Circles vs. Lines and the Art of Misdirection in The Hudsucker Proxy by Scott Kaufman at The AV Club


This kind of thing fascinates me – really close look at the recurrent symbolism of circles and straight lines in The Hudsucker Proxy. I enjoyed the film but I didn’t notice all this stuff on a first watch. Now I’m intrigued to look at it again.

The city is composed entirely of hard vertical lines with one important exception: the well-lit clock tower in the center of the frame. If this were another film, the idea that a tension between these lines and circles not only exists, but is actually interesting, would be the kind of abstract talk that turns people away from film theory. But this is not another film, and the Coens want the audience to understand the importance of circles and lines from the opening sequence, in which a man who is all about circles has come to his wit’s—and possibly his life’s—end because he lives in a world made of lines.

It Happened One Night by Brandie Ashe at Wonders in the Dark


I usually link to her columns on classic animated shorts, but this proves that Brandie is always worth reading, no matter the subject or venue. It Happened One Night is a landmark screwball comedy, and she does a great job of pointing out exactly why it’s so iconic and enduring.

It’s safe to say that the payoff of the film, for both the characters and the audience, is the fulfillment of that early (and frequent) promise of sex. From the first moment Ellie lands on Peter’s lap in the bus (“Next time you drop in, bring your folks,” he cracks), to her innocent snuggling against him in sleep as he looks down at her in bemusement, to their convincing and hilarious playacting as a combative couple to fool the detectives on Ellie’s trail, to the moment in the haystack, when both of them first begin to acknowledge their growing feelings for one another … every moment leads to the final scene, as the Wall of Jericho comes tumbling down to the sounds of a toy trumpet.

Nitpicking the Nitpickers by Matt Singer at The Dissolve


When I first read this title, I expected to agree 100% with the article – I really get annoyed quickly with nitpicking movies (and if you do too, don’t read the comments; a lot of them end up in nitpicking mode despite the article) – and in general I do. He’s looking at YouTube video series like Honest Trailers, Cinema Sins, Everything Wrong With… and How It Should Have Ended, which point out flaws in films, usually quite good films, mostly in an effort to be entertaining or to get lots of rage-views. I do actually find some of these pretty funny, though, especially Honest Trailers and HISHE, which strike me as more loving jabs than nitpicks. The line crosses to me when they start claiming that these logical flaws and inconsistencies are enough to make the film bad, which I think they rarely are.

Those 31 words expose the major problem with the series and others like it—including the nearly-as-popular Everything Wrong With… videos from CinemaSins—in what’s become a growing cottage industry of YouTube Movie Nitpicking. To their credit, the best of these videos are slickly produced and crisply edited, and they’re all clearly made by people with sharp senses of humor and obsessive attention to detail. The issue isn’t how these editors do their work, but how they choose their targets.

A Few More…

Not Cinema

Video Games, Misogyny and Terrorism: A Guide to Assholes by Andrew Todd at Badass Digest


This is essential reading [language warning aside]. I would’ve put at the top of the post if my format didn’t have movie-related stuff at the top. I shared Anita Sarkeesian’s latest Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video yesterday, and this piece is in relation to it as well as the serious harassment that’s been leveled at game designer Zoe Quinn over the past week. Current gaming culture, especially online, is toxic for people speaking out against sexism in games, and for women in game development. I have to believe it’s a vocal minority making it so, but they are very vocal and very threatening. Also related: Here’s an article by Jenn Frank from 2013 that’s still extremely relevant and helpful on this topic.

Sarkeesian is the creator of webseries like Feminist Frequency and the excellent Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games, which critically examine the games industry’s treatment of women in its products. As a result, she has suffered literal years of online abuse like denial-of-service attacks, rape threats, Web vandalism, and attempts at “doxing” or distributing personal information online, not to mention unceasing abuse in the form of tweets, emails, and internet comments. Some astonishingly awful creatures even made a video game consisting of nothing but punching Sarkeesian’s face into oblivion. What crime has Sarkeesian committed to deserve this treatment? Merely speaking up about the fact that, y’know, women aren’t portrayed all that well in video games.

No Ifs, No Butts: Spider-Woman and the Comic Communities Problem with Minority Readers by Adam Sorice at The Mary Sue


And it’s not just videogames – it’s comics as well. Women and minority readers are knocking on the clubhouse door and not everyone is happy about it. This article is a response to a backlash to a backlash (still following?) over a variant cover to Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Woman #1, a comic originally pitched to appeal to women, but the variant cover is by an artist known for erotic comics and that comes through in his design, which is…terrible. This article does a great job of pointing out why that matters and why it’s so disheartening for Marvel to do this.

When Marvel announced a Spider-Woman ongoing series, fans of both Jessica Drew and minority heroes became excited for the potential to see themselves represented once again. Instead, Marvel proudly revealed the Manara variant, and minority readers instantly realised “that isn’t me.” We became disheartened because this isn’t just another case of having to dig through all the stuff in comics that isn’t necessarily “for us.” This was meant to be for us. It was aimed at us. When content is marketed directly towards you but the creative direction is so completely wrong, it’s frustrating. When “proper” fans then try to tell you that you’ve no right to be frustrated, it’s infuriating.

Are Indie Developers Facing a Mass Extinction? by Colin Campbell at Polygon


As consumers, Steam sales are the best – getting games for 50-90 percent off list on a weekly basis? Sign me up! But does that plethora of deals come at the expense of indie game developers? Probably. It’s hard for everybody to win in a situation like this. At the same time, selling games at a fraction of normal price is better than selling none at all, which is a highly probable scenario when the Steam store is fairly oversaturated with unknown indie games.

Puppy is best known for retro arcade games like Titan Attacks and Ultratron. Despite significant blowback from critics of his post, Prince is unrepentant. In an interview with Gamesindustry today, he said that the “spiral of price erosion” is damaging small game development teams. “I think the next thing that will happen is there will be a mass extinction event, basically,” Prince said. “There’s got to be a consolidation. Another year of this and a whole load of studios are just simply going to give up because it’s a waste of time. A lot of people are going to have to stop making games because they can’t afford to do it anymore.”

Why Don’t Mad Men Actors Ever Win Emmys by Daniel D’Addario at


Tough to hear that you’re not winning an Emmy because you’re too good (and your show is too good, and your costars are too good), but it’s possible for a show like Mad Men. Goodness knows there are enough times I could point to in Oscar history where too many good performances in a movie have ended up garnering no awards. Thankfully, awards don’t mean anything, right?

It’s perhaps a bit sour grapes-y to argue that the reason that “Mad Men’s” actors don’t win Emmys is because they’re so consistently good — but it’s also true. The show asks its performers to track slow evolutions over time; if Elisabeth Moss or January Jones (both of whom have lost Emmys, too) had big Emmys-clip moments, it would probably feel out-of-place in the context of the show. And unlike, say, Bryan Cranston’s performance in the early, undercooked seasons of “Breaking Bad” or Maggie Smith’s on a fading “Downton Abbey,” no performer stands out as uniquely better than the material. The “Mad Men” actors are, at the Emmys, treated like the furniture in part because they seem as harmoniously coordinated as the show’s well-appointed interiors. No one seems prize-worthy because they all do.

A Few More…

Image of the Week


Galaxy Explorers by James Hance. The Fredricksens from Up as Han and Leia? Yes, please!

Video of the Week

A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film by Tony Zhou. Basically just a few thoughts on the way texting is portrayed in film (and television); no real conclusions drawn, but an interesting amalgamation of the various ways, unsuccessful and successful, that filmmakers have tried to solve the problem of how to show texting.

The Gamescon ID@Xbox sizzle reel – it’s a bit different from the E3 one, with a few more games added in. There are a bunch of these I want RIGHT NOW!