The Roundup: October 13

Cinema

It’s Time to Stop Freaking Out About Movies We Haven’t Seen by Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve

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Preach it, sister. The entire hype cycle needs to die down, from over-enthusiasm to pouncing on every bit of non-news to especially what Tasha is talking about here, getting riled up about every little thing about a film that we hear might possibly be going in a direction we think is wrong. I admit I got a little upset over the Into the Woods thing, but guess what? I was wrong, and I knew I was wrong. Just wait it out and judge the film by itself, not our idea of what it might be based on snippets of information that may or may not be true. (Of course, it would help if film sites would stop reporting this BS like it’s news in the first place.)

But more often than not, people who get worked up over pre-release Internet reports about films are quite literally getting excited over nothing: over false “facts” and vague fears. The environment of outrage on the Internet tends to build echo chambers where theories, misinterpretations, and outright hoaxes get repeated, encouraged, and taken as gospel. The excitement of being in on a prolonged, sweaty group attack on a not-yet-existing film can blunt the excitement of actually seeing the films when they come out.

Fritz Lang’s Game-Changing Man Hunt by Wade Sheeler at The Black Maria

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I’ve been working my way through Lang’s filmography, but I haven’t gotten to this one yet. Sounds like I need to get on it soon! (A couple of paragraphs of this in the middle seemed spoilery; I just skipped them and went on.)

Lang is without a doubt, one of the great architects of film noir as well as the superspy genre, starting with his Dr. Mabuse trilogy, through the astoundingly exciting Spione! (1928). When he fled Nazi Germany (in an oft told tale, following the offer to head up Germany’s Filmed Propaganda department by Goebbels himself) he came to the US, and had to, basically, start over. He was Germany’s genius, but in the States, he was little known. Throughout the 1930s he struggled to find projects that inspired him, or that he was able to leave his signature, and already oft imitated, style. Man Hunt finally gave him that opportunity.

Horror-Movie Marathon: The Brilliant, Not-So-Scary Classics by Joe Reid at The Atlantic

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I tend to not have much patience with the “but it’s not scary!” attack on classic horror films, as if “scary” were the only criterion by which to judge horror films, so I’m thankful that this piece isn’t really that – it’s acknowledging that they’re not that scary (which is fair) while still pointing out how unsettling and downright good they can be.

Here’s the thing with the horror classics: They’re not that scary. They can be disturbing, of course. Or unsettling. Or artfully macabre. They can still be great movies. But their ability to frighten on an elemental level may well be lost to the intervening decades, papered over by our collective raised tolerance for adrenaline. So what, then, is the point of a marathon of horror classics? […] The value of a movie like Nosferatu (1922, directed by F.W. Murnau) is, for horror fans, akin to the value of knowing the circumstances surrounding the Declaration of Independence. The fact that 90-year-old movies can’t still frighten in the way they once could is made up for by how unusual and unsettling silent films seem today. The broad gesticulations of the acting, the shadowed negative space in the corners of the frame, and the fact that movies look absolutely nothing like this anymore—all of this gives the film an undeniable air of gothic malevolence, even during the most benign scenes. This is the quality that makes Max Schreck’s proto-Dracula such a singularly creepy creature.

9 Current Movie Trends I Hate by Peter Sciretta at SlashFilm

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I also am very tired of all of these things. Unfortunately, most of them don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Somehow this “everything is connected” attitude is supposed to give the character more weight, and in return, make the audience more invested in their relationships and struggles. But this “everything is connected” storytelling makes it all feel too convenient, too obvious. It’s funny because screenwriters never want story beats to feel too coincidental or else the events and successes feel unearned, or like the result of a Deus ex machina. But the opposite is also true, and this is my feeling with “everything is connected”.

I’m a fan of stories where the guy or gal in the wrong place at the wrong time gets sucked into an unexpected adventure. For instance, the first Die Hard movie. Sure, maybe he has a certain set of skills that will help in this journey to make it interesting. But it isn’t pre-ordained.

Hollywood’s Deco-rators: Cedric, Hans, and Van Nast by Susan Doll at Movie Morlocks

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I’m a huge fan of the art direction in 1930s films, which is mostly art deco style – here’s a fun little rundown of the basic facets of art deco and some great images of it in the movies.

Art Deco and Hollywood fit together like hand in glove. Originally known as Modernism, Deco emerged in the 1920s, depicting and capturing the fast pace and modern lifestyle associated with the Jazz Age. This unique linear style began in the mid-1920s with ornate zig-zags and geometric shapes then quickly evolved into the stripped-down curvilinear forms of Streamline Moderne in the 1930s. Other styles of the time included Bauhaus and the International Style. The catch-all phrase Art Deco was not coined until the 1960s to refer to most of the styles of this era.

Not Cinema

What is Gamergate and Why? An Explainer for Non-Geeks by Jay Hathaway at Gawker

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Sigh. GamerGate. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve gotten a lot of this, because as much as I kind of really hate it, I can’t stop obsessively following the situation. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may just want to run now. If you want to stick around, start with the “What is Gamergate and Why” article. It’s a pretty good and straightforward rundown of what’s going on in gamer circles these days, which GGers claim is about ethics in journalism, but has manifested itself in numerous threats against women in gaming. This has been going on for a couple of months now, but it’s hitting a fever pitch right now, and my Twitter stream is full of not much else. It may seem like a niche issue, but this Deadspin article suggests that it’s really the new face of the culture wars, as its proven to be quite the rallying cry for people hanging onto the status quo with all their might. There are a TON of articles on this right now, and the non-gaming media is starting to cover it as well. Linking them all would be superfluous, but here’s a great one from game critic Carolyn Petit (subject of her own mediastorm last year when she gave Grand Theft Auto V a 9/10 but mentioned its poor treatment of women in her Gamespot review), complete with a journalistic statement that all games sites should adopt. GamerGate is really an extension of outrage and entitlement culture, which Destructoid posted about well a few months ago, and the undercurrent of misogyny plays out on social media, which seems less and less safe every day.

Gamergaters demand to be seen simultaneously as a 70-million-strong market force, too big for the industry to ignore, and as a persecuted minority. They warn advertisers it’s “racist” and “sexist” when a gaming site dares to point out that most angry gamers are young, white, and male. At the same time, they argue that angry, young, white males are those sites’ “target audience,” and writers offend them at their own risk.

It’s ironic, then, that #Gamergate is also spamming advertisers with links to Leigh Alexander’s highly controversial piece arguing that the stereotypical gamer is no longer the only audience available to the industry.

Kings of Pain: On Gender and Power in Shadow of Mordor by Carolyn Petit at A Game of Me

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Even taken at face value as a critique of journalistic ethics and bias in reviewing, GamerGate doesn’t have much to stand on. In the conversations I’ve seen and had with them about criticism in general, they argue for objectivity in reviewing (not bringing your opinion into a review, which is absurd), and especially not bringing in an “agenda” (by which they mostly mean feminism). My reaction is there will always be reviews you don’t personally agree with, and approaches you may not as well, which is a good reason to either read them and accept there are viewpoints other than yours, or don’t read them and don’t bother people who want to (their reaction is to try to get Nintendo to boycott a site that posted such a review of Bayonetta 2). Just as an example, here are three pieces about the newly released Shadow of Mordor. The one linked above is Carolyn Petit’s post on her own site, focusing on the way women are treated in the game (i.e., not well). This one from Daniel Friedman at Polygon talks about the Nemesis system and how much it improves the gameplay in Shadow of Mordor. Ben Kuchera at Polygon also talks about the Nemesis system and how other games should adopt it as well. What we’re seeing here is three takes on a game, two of which focus on a specific gameplay system, and one of which focuses on a content issue from a feminist viewpoint. The thing is, these viewpoints are BOTH IMPORTANT, and neither one negates the other. Carolyn says she found the gameplay fun, but it wasn’t enough to overcome her issues with the content. That’s perfectly fair, and this is why we have multiple people writing about a game from multiple viewpoints. So if you find a review or article isn’t what you want to hear about, read a different one. This is not rocket science.

This isn’t what I wanted to write about Shadow of Mordor. I bought the game because I have an interest in Tolkien’s world and because, while the game is clearly lifting ideas and mechanics wholesale right out of other games, it also appeared as if it might have a few neat ideas of its own. I would love to be celebrating the game right now. But I can’t. It honestly never occurred to me when I started playing that it might be, in its treatment of women, the most exasperatingly cliche, troubling video game narrative I’ve encountered in some time. I assumed that women would be largely absent, which wouldn’t be great, of course. But instead I got a game that goes out of its way both to repeatedly use women as victims whose fates are really only tragic because they leave an enduring suffering in the hearts of men, and to suggest that those women who are foolish enough to think that they can play a part as leaders and people of action in realms that are largely the domain of men have another thing coming.

Late to the Game: Bioware’s Mass Effect by Sarah Ingram at The Mary Sue

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Back in more fun gaming news, Sarah Ingram at The Mary Sue is playing through a bunch of older games (she did Dragon’s Age Origins before this) and writing about them. Reading about her playthrough of Mass Effect made me want to play it again SO BADLY!

The Citadel looks amazing, like a buzzing city in among the stars. I wandered for a while, got totally lost, and tried to talk to just about every single person, including my favorite new aliens, the Elcor. Oh my God they are the cutest and gentlest and I just want to cuddle them and have them tell me bedtime stories. And anytime the Ambassador says “chastising rebuke” I squee out loud and pout. Such an adult.

When It Is Diversity That Needs to Be Justified by Alyssa Rosenberg at The Washington Post

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This is in response to this interview with Mathew Klickstein, so read that first. It’s pretty astounding, really, how little Klickstein is willing to interrogate his displeasure at seeing an Indian kid on Nickelodeon. Rosenberg’s response is right on, pointing out that saying “there’s no reason for this character to be Indian” inherently begs the question “what would be the reason for him to be white?”

Maybe there is “no reason” for characters on a children’s cartoon — or on a show aimed at grown-ups, like the CW’s “The Flash” — to be Indian or African American. But there is not much of a reason for a lot of fictional characters in stories not concerned with race to be white, either. And if we are going to lay down a marker that requires artists to justify the race of their characters, it ought to apply to white ones, too. Our storytelling might end up richer and more specific for it.

Will Self and the Plight of the Pearl-Clutching Serious Reader by Brenna Clarke Gray at BookRiot

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Apparently Will Self wrote a thing in the Guardian about reading and literary culture and the internet and stuff. I read it, and while it has some interesting moments, it’s pretty all over the place, and Brenna Clarke Gray jumps into those cracks with both feet, suggesting that the kind of reading that Self attributes to “serious readers” is not quite as dependent on serious reading and especially print reading as he thinks. Related: A really interesting Slate article on reading insecurity, and a missive from the Telegraph that reading should be joyous, not a duty.

I… ok. Yes. I mean, that’s why we love reading, certainly. But is that really an experience only for “serious readers of serious literature”? I have had my mind cleave to the page as I work through Chekov and Shakespeare and Munro, yes. But also when I lose myself in well-constructed fantasy or deeply evocative romance, two genres that I can’t imagine Self equating with seriousness.

In fact, let me go a step further. Isn’t this how we experience story, in any form? As I lie on the floor listening to an audiobook, am I not relapsing in a wordsea, perhaps one even more profound and immediate than the one on the page? When I stand as a groundling did and watch Henry IV unfold on the Globe Theatre stage before me, am I not lost, abandoned, and absorbed in language? Do I need the page and the text — two things essential to Self’s discussion here — for that experience?

Etsy’s Trying to Fix Tech’s Woman Problem. Why Aren’t You? by Ann Friedman on Medium

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This fits in with GamerGate to some degree, as many of the women targeted are also outspoken proponents of women in tech, but this article focuses purely on the employment numbers and mentality of women in the technology industry; it’s very well-researched and puts out a lot of good things to think about, both in terms of what’s causing some of the problems, and what some possible solutions might be.

This is where it starts to get really complex and frustrating. These problems start out as things that sound concrete — like the number of computer-science degrees or the structure of early-stage startups — and end up squarely in the realm of the cultural. Girls don’t get interested in computer science because they have few role models and because more bombastic male students suck up all the oxygen in the classroom. Start-up founders hire the friends they made at MIT, and those friends like to hang out together and share certain personality characteristics. Everything relies on informal networks, the gut feelings of investors, the deep-seated biases of founders, and other intangibles.

The 1928 College Thesis That Predicted the Future of News by Derek Thompson at The Atlantic

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Apparently the Buzzfeedification of news has been in the works for a very long time. It’s interesting that the internet actually allows for the niche market again, but clearly going after everyone is seen to be preferable.

In the late-1800s, there were papers for every “class, sect, and political group,” Gallup said. Local journalism in that time was easy to do. When each writer was a member of his own audience, he could trust that anything interesting to him would be of equal interest to his readers. But as newspapers got bigger, journalists were suddenly writing for massive crowds that included every class, sect, and political group. Suddenly, journalists were writing for people they didn’t know at all.

A Few More

Image of the Week

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Maps of Modern Cities in the Style of J.R.R. Tolkein

Video of the Week

Restoring the Umbrellas of Cherbourg. A bit of an older video (from a few months back when Criterion released the Jacques Demy box set), but I finally caught up with it and really enjoyed it.