The Roundup – March 4, 2015

Cinema

Charles Laughton: The Actor as Artist by Farran Smith Nehme at the Self-Styled Siren

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I’m a big fan of outsize performances like Laughton specialized in; I share the Siren’s disdain for moderns who think it constitutes bad acting.

Or, in some cases, worse than forgotten. “Laughton’s mannered performances are liable to elicit laughter today,” sniffs one writer reviewing Callow’s book. This prompts the Siren to a rare display of temper. Mannered? What could be more mannered than some contemporary actors who wait for the camera to discover each tiny effect as they overact their underacting? (That is, if indeed they are actors; of late the Siren has endured too many nonprofessionals cast by wannabe Bressons.) You can keep that kind of pallid realism, where the goal is to be the closest thing to real life. Sure, it’s close. And real life is being on hold with the airline, or flossing your teeth, or staring into the middle distance while trying to recall whether you took your vitamins. The Siren doesn’t require tedium to be all that accurate.

Birdman vs Boyhood: The Oscar Debate’s Classic Aesthetic Divide by Lincoln Michel at Electric Literature

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I’m certainly more interested in seeing Birdman.

Indeed, these two films might be quintessential representations of a classic debate: should art be dazzling and inventive or should it be stripped-down, simple, and honest? Should the artist be in-your-face with her talent, or should she recede into the background of the work? Should she be a magician or a workman? […] The “magician” school of writing risks pointlessness, while the risk of the “workman” school of writing risks being boring. Plenty of “magician” writers do come up with technical conceits that seem to serve no purpose. Cool, your chapters expand in length according to the Fibonacci sequence and your characters each embody a different animal from the Zodiac… but why? On the other hand, plenty of “workman” realists present the reader with nothing other than the banalities of daily life, fiction as diary entry.

Can Intimacy Save the Movie Musical? by Caroline Siede at the AV Club

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What I’d really like to see are more original movie musicals, but in the meantime, I’ll take adaptations of smaller musicals like The Last Five Years. Of course, I also really like dancing, and those two things seem to be opposed – but only because we have a much narrower view of musicals than we used to.

Most of the movie musicals of the past decade have had similar moments of transcendence, like Jennifer Hudson’s “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” in Dreamgirls or Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed A Dream” in Les Misérables. But there’s also a certain artifice to musical theater that can feel jarring on-screen, especially to those unfamiliar with the genre’s conventions. Swirling around Hudson and Hathaway’s honest Oscar-winning performances are flashy numbers, large ensembles, period settings, and a whole lot of unexplained singing. While The Last Five Years has plenty of the latter (it’s almost entirely sung-through), its intimate focus and contemporary setting remove a level of that musical theater falseness. Jamie and Cathy aren’t following the beats of some epic romance, they’re having sex, attending book launches, Skyping over long summers spent apart, and bitterly arguing about their differing priorities. They may be singing about their problems, but those problems are instantly relatable, which means that even if you don’t like musicals, you might like The Last Five Years simply because it feels so different from the movie musicals that have come before it.

Hollywood Has Always Been Original by Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects

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This piece along with its companion Hollywood Has Never Been Original by Scott Beggs highlight something that apparently needs to be reiterated every couple of years – Hollywood depends on formula and always has, but formula isn’t necessarily unoriginal.

That something may be formulaic does not preclude it from originality, creativity and invention. In fact, the opposite is true: the existence of formula actually encourages invention – if not in Hollywood itself then at least in many of the creatives Hollywood hires – for within formula is an implicit challenge to do something new with it, to take the familiar as a foundation to execute something new, even, occasionally, something bizarre.

Romam Holiday Marked Audrey Hepburn’s Coronation as a Movie Star of the Highest Order by Nathan Rabin at The Dissolve

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I’m greatly enjoying Nathan Rabin’s odyssey through the IMDb Top 250, and he captures a lot of Audrey Hepburn’s appeal here.

Roman Holiday made such an indelible impression on the general public that when they imagine an elegant, graceful princess, it’s likely the image of Hepburn’s Princess Ann springs to mind as readily as real-life princesses like Princess Diana or Princess Grace of Monaco. This was the film that would introduce the Hepburn the world never stop falling in love with: beautiful, winsome, blessed with remarkable gifts she’s all too eager to shrug off, and imbued with a small streak of mischief that keeps her from being too perfect. She’s the woman every woman wants to be and every man wants to marry, the people’s princess, a beauty with both a spark of the divine and a common touch.

50 Weeks to Learn Film by Mark Cousins at BFI

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This hypothetical course in film is completely impractical, but a lot of the ideas from it are positively brilliant and highly thought-provoking not only about film but about how we teach anything.

39. Literal: how to avoid on-the-nose dialogue, story signposting and gong metaphors.

40. Silent: a week not speaking at all. “I tell stories not to speak, but to listen” – Rudiger Vogler in Alice in the Cities.

41. Beginnings: the great openings in cinema, and why they work – Blue Velvet, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Psycho, etc.

42. Costume and story: In the Mood for Love, The Conformist, Jezebel, The Red Desert, Throne of Blood.

43. Recut: re-editing great films that are flawed because of bad pacing or endings, or too many endings, or extraneous scenes – Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Kwaidan, the Brazilian film Limite, etc.

A Few More…

Not Cinema

Want to improve the reputation of gaming and gamers? This is how you start by Claire Hosking at Polygon

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Those of us who play games know the toxic element is a small percentage of people, but that’s not what it looks like from the outside.

I am constantly trying to get people into games, trying to change perceptions, trying to make the medium more accessible. […] The hard part is many people believe all games are infantile, sexist and feature gratuitous violence. The whole of games culture is presented as being insular, defensive, belligerent and even toxic. The bigger problem is that much of game culture lives up to that stereotype.

It’s much harder to want to bring people I care about into the fold these days, knowing they could cop weeks of hate over something as trivial as drawing fan art of a character. We’re not creating new gamers anymore, we’re creating more targets.

How to Make Games for Girls by Stephanie Carmichael at The Mary Sue

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Basically, make good games. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

Now that you have female characters, treat them like human beings

So you’ve sketched a few ideas for some female characters, and you promise to emphasize more to them than their cup size. That’s a good start. Now when you write the story and design the gameplay, try to keep them on equal footing with their male counterparts. If a female character’s importance is limited to delivering the game tutorial, then it doesn’t count. Show them a little more respect than that.

One positive example is Ellie from Naughty Dog’s action-adventure game The Last of Us. She’s not the main protagonist, but she manages to shine in the company of the male hero Joel and supports an identity that wouldn’t crumble to paper shreddings if he stepped off screen.

History As It Can Be Played at Play the Past

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As someone interested in history, games, and education, this was a really interesting piece to read, basically looking at the ways games can help us understand history better not only by being interactive but by actually letting us make decisions in historical settings – changing history, sure, but also deepening our understanding of what making decisions like that would’ve actually been like. There’s a lot of value in thought experiments like this, and it is a great learning model. I do think it needs to be coupled with a strong curriculum of what actually DID happen in history. Related, this article about recent history-based games, including my favorite game of last year, Valiant Hearts.

Thus, it can be argued that digital games allow for a different type of historical understanding. This is an understanding not simply based on facts and figures, but rather on an understanding of process. It puts the player in the position of a historical agent and asks “given the circumstances, what would you do?” It is this ability to offer a choice and investigate the consequences that sets games media apart from traditional historical practice.

Agent Carter and the Joys of a Short Season by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob

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I’ve greatly enjoyed the past few weeks with Agent Carter – given a choice, I’d take more Agent Carter over more Agents of SHIELD, but Dan is right, the short time frame kept the story focused. All of our TV series should really go down to 10-13 episodes. The 22-26 episode model isn’t working anymore.

The eight-episode season premiered in January and had limited time to make an impression. The thrilling part of that approach was the chance to tell a lean and focused story. Co-creators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley (the Captain America films, Thor: The Dark World) didn’t need to add filler. The result was refreshing and didn’t overstay its welcome. To put it simply, it was awesome.

No Boys Allowed: School Visits as a Woman Writer by Shannon Hale

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This is just sad. We see a lot about how girls are excluded from typically “boy” things, but it actually happens the other way just as much – boys who are interested in traditionally “girl” things (when it really doesn’t matter) aren’t just excluded, but ridiculed.

I remember one middle school 2-3 years ago that I was going to visit while on tour. I heard in advance that they planned to pull the girls out of class for my assembly but not the boys. I’d dealt with that in the past and didn’t want to be a part of perpetuating the myth that women only have things of interest to say to girls while men’s voices are universally important. I told the publicist that this was something I wasn’t comfortable with and to please ask them to invite the boys as well as girls. I thought it was taken care of. When I got there, the administration told me with shrugs that they’d heard I didn’t want a segregated audience but that’s just how it was going to be. Should I have refused? Embarrassed the bookstore, let down the girls who had been looking forward to my visit? I did the presentation. But I felt sick to my stomach. Later I asked what other authors had visited. They’d had a male writer. For his assembly, both boys and girls had been invited.

A Few More…

Image of the Week

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A Map of the Literary Genres. I’m already picking up some reading list ideas from this! Click the image for the full version – I couldn’t shrink it down without losing all readability!

Video of the Week

  • Thanks for the multiple links! I’m doing something right if I can appear here twice. I’ve saved a bunch of these articles to read them. I really want to see more with Charles Laughton. He was the most interesting part of both Advise & Consent and Witness for the Prosecution. I’ve seen both of them in the past few years, and it’s great to see him playing such different characters.

    I’m going to bookmark that 50-week course from Mark Cousins for some marathon ideas. That sounds amazing, even if some weeks like nude figure drawing are out of left field. I get what he’s trying to illuminate with this schedule. Learning about film is a lot more than just the obvious basics. Having life experiences is important too.