Category Archives: The Roundup


The Roundup: March 11, 2014

My top flips into my Flipboard magazines this week, whether the articles are new or old. Read more of my magazines at my Flipboard profile.


Harlean, Jean, and Serious Mommy Issues: The Truth Behind Jean Harlow by Carley Johnson at The Black Maria


Carley’s personal site is called “The Kitty Packard Pictorial,” and I first “met” her when she asked me (then writing for Row Three) to contribute to a Jean Harlow blogathon she was organizing for what would’ve been Harlow’s 100th birthday. This year would have been Harlow’s 103rd birthday, and it’s no surprise to find a simply wonderful piece about her from Carley. I’ve enjoyed the Harlow films I have seen, but other than broad strokes, I wasn’t that familiar with her life. This focused biographical overview was enlightening and very saddening – and Carley writes with such poignancy that I was in tears by the end. It’s easily the best thing I read this week.

She was a natural comedienne with a gift for belting out the difficult, rapid-fire dialogue that made some of the best films of the mid 1930s truly unforgettable. She was not, even by her own admission, a great actress and because of this awareness Harlow worked hard at her craft and eventually would successfully hone her screen personality into one of the most enduring in motion picture history: the sassy, saucy girl from the wrong side of the tracks. But Jean Harlow’s on screen character belied the real girl underneath. She was not Dinner at Eight’s common-as-the cold Kitty Packard, nor Red Headed Woman’s amoral Lil Andrews. Born Harlean Carpenter on March 3, 1911, she was a shy dentist’s daughter with a heart of gold from a perfectly respectable middle class Kansas City family. She was an actress simply because it was her job and would have been quite happy darning socks for a household of little Harleans.

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The Roundup: March 3, 2014

My top flips into my Flipboard magazines this week, whether the articles are new or old. Read more of my magazines at my Flipboard profile.


Film Preservation 2.0 by Michael Dessem at The Dissolve


I’ve written before about my worries about moving from film to digital, and yes, I have a romantic attachment to film. But on those pieces, I’ve had people point out that digital is good because it will be cheaper and easier to store than giant film reels. It would seem that way, but at this point in time, digital preservation is actually MORE costly, MORE difficult, MORE time-consuming, and MORE prone to disaster than current safety film stock. We need to not assume that digital is a placebo for preservation – there’s a long road ahead as all the technology is worked out to make digital preservation both cost-effective and safe.

As the death of film accelerates, the terms and stakes of the battle are changing rapidly, in ways that aren’t well understood outside the small community of archivists working directly in the field. Digital technology offers a chance for perfect, lossless preservation, but only at significant financial cost, and higher risk of catastrophe. Unless the unique challenges of digital preservation are met, we run the risk of a future in which a film from 1894 printed on card stock has a better chance of surviving than a digital film from 2014.

Gigi (1958): A Defense by Farran Smith Nehme of The Self-Styled Siren


I’m in the habit of backpedaling on my opinion of Gigi, letting myself capitulate to the current trend of considering it a bit squicky and borderline pedophiliac. I did this as recently as last week in this very same column, when I shared an article about the art style in Minnelli’s musicals. But the Self-Styled Siren has shown me the error of my ways. I’m not going to apologize for liking Gigi anymore.

And one question: Why is Gigi, which ends with its vivacious heroine happily married to a rich man who loves her the way she is, a sick-sick-sick movie; while Vertigo, in which the lovelorn female lead tries to turn herself into a fictional character and winds up stone dead, is a “preferable” depiction of male-female relations?

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The Roundup: February 24, 2014

My top flips into my Flipboard magazines this week, whether the articles are new or old. Read more of my magazines at my Flipboard profile.


Brushstrokes: The Art of Vincente Minnelli’s An American in Paris and Gigi by Michael Koresky at Moving Image Source


Vincente Minnelli is known as one of the premiere stylists of the Hollywood studio era, and this article really hones in on how he homaged French art in two of his major films. A great read, and makes me want to rewatch An American in Paris right now. I also like that Koresky acknowledged the inherent ickiness of Gigi‘s plot but still champions it for its music and visual style, which is pretty much how I feel about the film, too.

The climactic ballet, set like the rest of the film to music by George Gershwin, is a state of delirious imagination and metaphorical psychology, and is divided up into six sections, each with its own color and architectural design and conceived to reflect the texture and style of a different artist. Viewed uncharitably, the result is crass appropriation, or even amusement park–like, treating each painter’s work as though a different ride to jump on. Yet Hollywood cinema has never been the domain of purists or elitists, and Minnelli’s intermingling of the highbrow and the populist here creates one of the most ravishing passages in all of American cinema—no matter that it flirts with kitsch.

The Prototype for Alfred Hitchcock’s American Movies by Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects


A classic film’s release on Criterion Blu-ray usually results in some great articles, and this is no different – there have been a bunch of articles and reviews of Hitchcock’s early American film Foreign Correspondent, and this is one of my favorites. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve seen this one myself, and I’m definitely stoked to revisit it. I believe it’s also on the HuluPlus Criterion channel for anyone interested, or of course the new Blu-ray release is confirmed to be gorgeous.

But Foreign Correspondent displays a more direct, linear relationship to what would come in Hitchcock’s subsequent career in Hollywood. If we view Foreign Correspondent as the master of suspense’s first American film “in a sense” (as James Naremore puts it in his Criterion essay), then Foreign Correspondent can be seen as mapping Hitchcock’s own trans-Atlantic trek, forming a bridge between his British intrigue and his Hollywood spectacle. And now is as good a time as any to resurrect Foreign Correspondent’s worthy status as a Hitchcock classic.]

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The Roundup: February 17, 2014

My top flips into my Flipboard magazines this week, whether the articles are new or old. Read more of my magazines at my Flipboard profile.

Once again I must apologize for how far apart these posts have been. I now have a better reading/bookmarking/sharing workflow system in place, though, so we’ll see if I can make them more regular and more timely. This one will not be so timely as I spent the weekend catching up on a month’s worth of articles, but hopefully I’ll be able to highlight a few things of interest anyway.

Contemporary Cinema

On the Death of Philip Seymour Hoffman


The death of 46-year-old actor Philip Seymour Hoffman hit the film community pretty hard. He was widely considered to be one of the finest actors of his generation, an actor who elevated every film he was in, no matter how silly, and when matched with material as good as he was, created indelible characters that will live on forever. There have been a lot of great eulogies and posts about Hoffman. A.O. Scott wrote a great one for the New York Times, of course, but smaller bloggers also expressed their heartfelt appreciation for Hoffman’s legacy, including Ryan McNeil of The Matinee and Lauren H. Brooks of Man I Love Films. Meanwhile, Cameron Crowe reminisced about how much Hoffman added to his famous scene in Almost Famous, and Matt Zoller Seitz reminded us that this is not a time to be holier-than-thou about addiction.

“Mr. Hoffman’s gifts were widely celebrated while he was alive. But the shock of his death on Sunday revealed, too soon and too late, the astonishing scale of his greatness and the solidity of his achievement. We did not lose just a very good actor. We may have lost the best one we had. He was only 46, and his death, apparently from a drug overdose, foreshortened a career that was already monumental.” – A.O. Scott

Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis Have More In Common Than Couch Surfing Protagonists by Noel Murray at The Dissolve


I fell in love with Frances Ha the instant I saw it; Inside Llewyn Davis took me a bit longer to warm up to, but it’s quickly moving up the ranks of most memorable films I saw in 2013. Putting them together makes a lot of sense as Noel discusses it. Somewhat coincidentally, Jessica of The Velvet Cafe wrote about both films recently as well – her piece on Frances Ha delightfully trips along Jessica’s own love of cinematic New York City, while her review of Inside Llewyn Davis is simply one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I’ve read for a while.

Two of the best films released in 2013—the best two, according to my Top 15 list—were about New Yorkers struggling to make a go of it in the arts, finding themselves in a kind of limbo, shuffling from couch to couch as their resources dwindle. They’re sure of themselves, but unsure—or unwilling—to do what it takes to advance their careers. So they live lives marked by one stopgap measure after another, while continually getting bumped back to square one.

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The Roundup: December 7

My top flips into my Flipboard magazines this week, whether the articles are new or old. Read more of my magazines at my Flipboard profile. This one’s been several weeks coming, so I apologize, as usual, that some of the articles are a few weeks old. Hopefully there are some that have slipped your radar.

Contemporary Cinema

Destroy All Monsters: The Awkward Moment When a Movie Star Stops Being One by Matt Brown at Twitch

Whenever a celebrity dies, people take to social media to express shock, sadness, indifference, etc. – but it affects us, even though we don’t actually know the person at all. Matt Brown examines this phenomenon and the phenomenon of stardom itself. See also: Hitfix’s Drew McWeeny takes on the tendency to snark at celebrity death.

A movie star is a person in name only, because their entire role in our culture is to be something else: a brand, an archetype, a projection (literally). An incarnation of Us Up There, where “Up There” is the silver screen and the myriad worlds beyond it. A million iterations of, again, the universe where we won and everything’s great.

And this, of course, is why the absolute worst thing a movie star can do to us is die.

An unexpected celebrity death is the greatest single betrayal of the entire system upon which movie stardom is based. This isn’t the movie star’s fault. The flaw is in various parts of the system; in the glittering fantasy that movie stardom rests upon in the first place, and in the essential fact that as a culture, we’re just really, really, really bad at dealing with the fact that every single one of us really is going to really die. (Really.)

Gravity Part 1: Two Characters Adrift in an Experimental Film by Kristin Thompson at Bordwell on Film Art

Kristin Thompson looks at Gravity as an experimental film with an effective bare-bones story, just enough narrative to make audiences comfortable with it. She situates her analysis within the approach she and David Bordwell have made about classical narrative structures in most of their books (both together and individually), which is an analytic approach I like a lot and I think works well for this film. See also Part 2.

David [Bordwell] and I have often claimed that Hollywood cinema has a certain tolerance for novelty, innovation, and even experiment, but that such departures from convention are usually accompanied by a strong classical story to motivate the strangeness for popular audiences. Gravity has such a story, though Cuarón is remarkably successful at minimizing its prominence. The film’s construction privileges excitement, suspense, rapid action, and the universally remarked-upon sense of immersion alongside the character in a situation of disorienting weightlessness and constant change.

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