The Roundup: January 19

A bit late this week, but in case you missed it, I was busy writing my own posts this week! One about Five Graves to Cairo, and one returning to the American Movie Critics book with Ryan McNeil. So check those out and also, all of these. :)

Cinema

Lights, Camera, Taking Action by Manohla Dargis at the New York Times

r-dargis

The state of women in Hollywood doesn’t seem to be improving very much, and may even be worsening if you compare stats on female filmmakers and characters in 2014 to stats from fifteen years ago. Manohla Dargis talked to a bunch of people who are trying to do something about it with a variety of approaches. She also collected some quotes from female filmmakers about working in the industry here as a supporting document. Meanwhile, Monika Bartyzel used her Girls on Film column last week to discuss the ways that female filmmakers still do need powerful allies.

American commercial cinema has long been dominated by men, but I don’t think there has ever been another time when women have been as underrepresented on screen as they are now. The biggest problem isn’t genuinely independent cinema, where lower budgets mean more opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera. The problem is the six major studios that dominate the box office, the entertainment chatter and the popular imagination. Their refusal to hire more female directors is immoral, maybe illegal, and has helped create and sustain a representational ghetto for women. The barriers that female directors confront are numerous, substantial, structural and ideological, which is why activists are attacking biases on a number of fronts.

How Much Does a Hollywood Oscar Campaign Cost by Stephen Follows

r-FB-Oscar-stats-02

This is just…wow. I’ve already eschewed the Oscars as pretty irrelevant for years, but this is really just the nail in the coffin. The most brilliant and groundbreaking film in the world couldn’t win an Oscar if it didn’t have $10 million in the budget for an Oscar campaign. As a side note, if an Oscar win only nets a $3 million box office bump, I wonder if these economics will last much longer anyway? I suppose the prestige boost is worth something, but how much?

Estimates for the total amount Hollywood spends on Oscar campaigns each year range from $100m up to $500m. True figures are hard to come by so it’s tricky to know what’s true and what is carefully placed rumours by Hollywood friends, enemies and frenemies.

In 2002, the New York Times reported that “the most aggressive studios have mounted campaigns that by some estimates have already cost more than $10 million, easily double what a successful effort totaled only two years ago”. That’s twice the average cost of winning a seat in Congress.

Many non-studio films find themselves priced out of the running.

Do Critics Still Matter? TOH Debates the Future of Film and TV Criticism by Anne Thompson, Ryan Lattanzio and Matt Brennan at Indiewire

r-critics-birdman

I don’t know why reading about the state of film criticism fascinates me so much, but it does, and I liked how this particular conversation has some concrete advice on avoiding the hype and building trust with perhaps later but better-considered pieces.

Obviously in order for any site to succeed online, the editors have to figure out who their readers are and what to give them. Part of it is curation, leading people to a well where there is good fresh drinking water, and building trust and authority. More and more, I find, that originality is the key, thinking up something new and different and not going with the trends and the hot topics of the day.

It’s so hard to resist putting up that sexy new trailer or weighing in on the debate du jour. But going off alone and sweating over something you care about and taking the time to burnish it a little–I know, we bloggers are always in a hurry, often sloppily so–makes all the difference and pays off big time.

10 Classic Movies to Enjoy with Your Kids by Hannah Keefer at Flickchart

r-CourtJester

I’m a big proponent of showing kids classic movies, and here’s a great list to start with!

Not a lot of people show their kids old movies. There’s a misconception that old movies are too boring or too hard to understand, and therefore kids won’t enjoy them. Well, I grew up watching old movies, and, sure, there were plenty I didn’t understand until I was an adult, but there were also several that became instantly my favorite movies.

My seven younger siblings all grew up watching old movies too, so I called them up and asked them what their favorite old movie was growing up. These were the answers I got back.

If Hermione Were the Main Character in Harry Potter by Daniel Dalton at Buzzfeed

r-umbridge

Hilarious.

But Umbridge, there to ensure nobody questioned The Patriarchy, hunted down their secret training room.

“And before you start, Miss Granger, this is not about sexism. It’s about ethics in magic teaching.”

A Film’s Popularity Depends on How Many References Are Made to it in Future Movies by Steve Connor in the Independent

r-10-casablanca2-apv2

On the one hand, this seems pretty obvious, and dovetails off observations Harold Bloom and others have made regarding influence and intertextuality (though of course Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” takes the concept to a slightly different place). That said, I definitely have questions about the methodology in play here. First off, the use of IMDb as a basis is pretty flawed, since the information is likely incomplete overall and only popular films are likely to have the “Connections” section fleshed out and some connections are rather dubious. But even accepting that, in a lot of cases, people are going to reference older films that are already popular, thus making them more popular. It’s a feedback loop with no clear causation. Correlation, yes, maybe, but the article and study seem to be claiming more than that.

Forget the critics, the box office receipts and the Oscars, what really makes a film into a masterpiece is how many passing references it generates in subsequent films made by other directors, scientists have discovered.

An analysis of nearly 15,500 films found that it was possible to predict which ones would be considered among the greatest ever made by looking at how often its themes, images or overall message are picked up by other directors many years later.

The Auteurs: François Truffaut (Part 1) and (Part 2) by Ninvoid99 at CinemaAxis

r-truffaut2-director

Two-part retrospective of François Truffaut’s career, with some interesting tidbits I hadn’t read before. It’s interesting to think of a film like Jules & Jim being a major commercial hit in the U.S. It’d probably barely be released here today.

Jules & Jim was a major critical and commercial hit in both Europe and the U.S. Its success had major ramifications for the film world as several filmmakers cited Jules & Jim as a turning point for cinematic storytelling. The impact of the film was especially evident in the works of American filmmakers during the New Hollywood period of the 1970s.

A Few More…

Not Cinema

Playing the Part: Choice and Meaning in Dragon Age: Inquisition by Austin Walker at Paste

r-dragon-age-inquisition-choice-main

I’ve thought a lot about this aspect of choice and what we mean by “meaningful choices” in games like Dragon Age or Mass Effect. Then Austin Walker went and wrote this and just put everything I was thinking into words. Choices don’t have to have a tangible effect on gameplay/story for them to be meaningful to me. Choices matter because they create the character I’m playing. Here’s another article on the subject, taking off some from this one

Within the first fifteen or so hours of Inquisition, there is a chance that your Inquisitor will be asked to rank their loyalties. Who do they love most: The people of Thedas, the Maker who created the world, or the knights who boldly defend it? “There’s no correct answer,” says the knight who escorts you to the challenge. “The ritual simply shows watchers who you are and what you value.” Depending on what you choose, an enemy’s dialog will change and a forgettable NPC may lose their life. But those are wildly beside the point. The point is to answer the question.

Video Games and the Curse of Retro by Simon Parkin at The New Yorker

r-retro-gaming

Games preservation is really kind of a shambles, so it’s pretty great when hundreds of games turn up playable via emulator on places like the Internet Archive. Parkin brings up a good point, though, that these games aren’t curated or given context at all. I would love to know where to start with all these games, aside from the very few that I remember growing up, and something about where they fit into history, gaming and otherwise. There’s a real opportunity here for game historians and enthusiasts to help preserve not just the games themselves, but the knowledge/history surrounding them.

The Internet Archive, by contrast, makes games readily available—and, crucially, playable—online. (The MS-DOS games run on an emulator that allows a Web browser to mimic the original operating system.*) Still, their social, political, and cultural context remains hidden. Few contemporary explorers of the archive will recognize, for instance, that Wanted: Monty Mole is a riff on the U.K. coal miners’ strike of 1984—you play a courageous mole who breaks the picket lines in defiance of his union leader, a character modelled on the real-world National Union of Mineworkers president, Arthur Scargill. Nor are today’s gamers likely to sense the Cold War paranoia that suffuses Atari’s Missile Command, which reputedly caused its designer, David Theurer, to wake at night in panic sweats.

10 Videogame Writing Trends That Need to Die by Ed Smith at Paste Magazine

r-videogame-writing-trends-main

I don’t agree with all of these (I love me some lore!), but plenty of them are definitely tropes that current games fall into too easily.

Psychology

This one doesn’t apply strictly to games—Hollywood, at the moment, has a poisonous obsession with getting inside characters’ heads. The Nolan Batman films are especially guilty, particularly with The Joker in The Dark Knight, who was sold as a nihilistic poster boy. Action movies and superhero films in particular are bogged down in psychoanalysis. It’s a commendable idea, to elevate the blockbuster above popcorn entertainment, but the efforts are invariably strained. Take a look at the scenes where Harvey Dent and James Gordon are discussing bringing down the mob, and Batman walks in in his pointy rubber suit. Psychology and action rarely combine, and nor should they. Tomb Raider would be fine without all the posturing about Lara’s psyche. Uncharted works great as a straight action title—there’s no need to complicate Nathan Drake or his “backstory.” The key thing to remember is that writing a smart, solid, exciting action script is just as admirable as doing a psycho-drama, perhaps more so.

Gaming While Black: Casual Racism to Cautious Optimism by Jessica Conditt at Joystiq

r-gamingwhileblack

No comment necessary. I tend to write/share more about the representation of women, but the representation of racial minorities in games is just as bad or worse.

Harvey found an outlet to tackle issues of representation head-on, but many black developers and players I spoke to for this piece commented on the resistance they regularly encountered regarding conversations about race in gaming. Freelance gaming and media writer Sidney Fussell summarized the pushback as follows:

“I’ve been writing about blackness and games for about two years now and a huge majority of the negative feedback I get boils down to this: Race doesn’t belong in video games. White commenters tell me racism in games isn’t a problem. Only attention-starved reverse racists, dragging it up for clicks from white-guilt-addled gamers, still want to talk about racism. This is the burden of being a black gamer: I love games, but if I want to talk about them critically, my motives are questioned, my social ties are strained and suddenly I’m a member of the ‘PC Police’ who wants to go around ruining everyone’s fun.”

“It’s [Not] Okay”: How Women Die in Comic Book Movies by Samantha Field at The Mary Sue

r-dark-phoenix-640x384

This is the crux of the thing it’s difficult to get across; a woman’s death to further a man’s journey in an any individual story may work just fine. It’s the fact that we see if over and over and over is what makes it frustrating. This is not the only way to tell a story, and at this point it’s also one of the most predictable, easy and tired ways to tell a story.

While in the context of these stories the individual deaths make sense, these adaptations exist in a larger cultural context. We live in a world where beating women “for their own good” happens every day, where the “stories” of our lives continually revolve around men, and representations of that being endorsed by our media is not helping to build a better society. Comic books and their adaptations, which we are thankfully getting a whole lot more of, can be a powerful tool in shaping our culture’s perception of women, and it’s time that script writers quit relying on the deaths of women to make their stories appear more interesting.

A Few More…

Images of the Week

r-batman-inspire

The Inspirational Side of Superheroes. I love the design on these.

Video of the Week

I know I always share Brandie’s Saturday Morning Cartoon posts. But now I’m sharing them under videos. So…that’s cool.

But the scene that steals the show–and ultimately makes this cartoon an important one in the annals of animation–is a carefully-crafted sequence in which the dog has an uncomfortably close encounter with a sticky flystrip. This scene has become famous over the years, and with good reason. Animated by Norm Ferguson, who had worked on developing the character from its earliest days, the “flypaper sequence” has been lauded by animators and historians for its realistic depiction of a “thinking” character. According to storied Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, authors of The Illusion of Life (considered the veritable bible of animation by many in the field), this single minute-long scene was a groundbreaking moment in the development of animated characters whose thoughts could be telegraphed solely through their movements on the screen, as opposed to relying on dialogue to express their feelings.

This AFI vid celebrating the history of film (but especially 2014) is fun to watch, but kind of irritating to only get films from years ending in “4”; and still nowhere near as good overall as the similar retrospective TCM did in the late ’90s.

  • Thanks for posting my Francois Truffaut pieces!

    • You’re welcome! I’m a fan of Truffaut, but I have a lot of films of his left to see. You’re spurring me to make that more of a priority!

      • Well, I took the chance to see as many Truffaut films as I can thanks in part to Turner Classic Movies doing a retrospective of his work in November of 2013 as I DVR’d a lot of them which made it possible to see all of his feature films (except for Small Change which they didn’t show).

  • Brandie

    Thank you so much for sharing the cartoons! :)

    • Of course! I look forward to your Saturday Morning Cartoon posts every week. :)