Tag Archives: film

More Than a Riot Going On: A ‘Detroit’-Inspired Reading List

Reactions to Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film Detroit have been polarized, and the considerable backlash may have caused its opening weekend box office to suffer. Bigelow’s films are known for their tightly-choreographed combat scenes and their fictionalization of brutal historical events. In Detroit, Bigelow takes on the story of the Algiers Motel incident, where three young black men—Carl Cooper, Fred Temple, and Aubrey Pollard—were tortured and killed by police officers in the motel’s annex. In the early morning hours of July 26, 1967, a few days into the unrest that would eventually become known as the Detroit rebellion, the three young men, along with many others, took refuge at the motel amid a city-wide curfew. Police forces received reports of sniper fire and raided the Algiers, finding a group of black men socializing with white women. There were interrogations, humiliations, assaults, and eventually murder. No gun was ever found on the grounds of the Algiers, and the police involved were found not guilty on all charges associated with the incident.

Conversation about the film has touched on questions about who has the authority to tell what stories. Bigelow is a white woman from the West Coast who said she knew herself not to be the “ideal person” to make the movie. But she and former journalist Mark Boal, the film’s screenwriter, worked with black academics, historians, and eyewitnesses to ensure a certain level of accuracy in the story. Jelani Cobb, a historian and staff writer at The New Yorker, Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard were among those reportedly consulted.

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Longreads Goes to the Movies: A Reading List

It’s 10:45 p.m., and I’m about to indulge in one of my strangest habits: watching a horror movie, alone, late at night. My cat is nearby, but he sleeps through this particular ritual. There are rules; the lights stay on. I don’t watch movies about home invasions or slasher flicks. Minimal gore, please. I love demon possessions, haunted houses, and paranormal investigations. Tonight, for instance, I’m watching the American version of The Ring for the first time. I perch my laptop on the edge, reach for the soft pretzel I picked up on the way home and press play. The scenes so far are tinged green; it is always raining. There’s an ill-fated Amber Tamblyn, gone in five minutes. There’s Adam Brody, harbinger of death and teen angst. My cat stretches, body bisecting the coffee table. The ceiling fan burns bright, blades in orbit.

What are your movie habits? What films do you return to, over and over? Here are five stories about A League of Their Own, High Fidelity, the films of John Hughes, Ghost in the Shell and, the criticism of Roger Ebert.

1. “‘A League of Their Own’ Stands the Test of Time.” (ESPNW Staff, ESPN, June 2017)

An oral history celebrating the 25th anniversary of the greatest baseball movie ever made, A League of Their Own, a film based on the real-life adventures of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

2. “I Grew Up in a John Hughes Movie.” (Jason Diamond, BuzzFeed, August 2014)

Jason Diamond wrote this beautiful essay two years before his memoir Searching for John Hughes debuted, and it made me want to watch and re-watch all of his films. Diamond’s childhood in the Chicago suburb of Skokie mirrored the neighborhood in Hughes’ iconic teen-centric films, Shermer, Illinois.

3. “Roger Ebert’s Zero-Star Movies.” (Will Sloan, Hazlitt, February 2017)

I finally accepted the fact I wanted to (maybe, possibly) be a Serious Writer the same summer I read Chris Jones’ iconic profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire. Ebert has held a small but significant piece of my heart ever since. At Hazlitt, Will Sloan explores the movies Ebert hated most, where he wonders, “What does it mean when the most famous and widely read American film critic regards a movie as ‘artistically inept and morally repugnant’?”

4. “All Shell, No Ghost.” (Eric Chang, Vogue, April 2017)

On hacking as “a method of seeing,” the parallel histories of Eastern and Western cyberpunk storytelling, and the laziness inherent in whitewashed films.

5. “‘High Fidelity’ Captured the Snob’s–and the Soundtrack’s–Waning Powers.” (Sean O’Neal, The A.V. Club, March 2017)

My first movie soundtrack was PhenomenonI’ve still never seen the movie, but I know every word to Eric Clapton’s lead single, “Change the World.” I can still hear Clapton crooning “and our love would ruuuuuuuule…” I thought Bryan Ferry’s “Dance With Life (The Brilliant Life)” was unspeakably beautiful (still do, honestly). My family listened to the CD on repeat. According to MovieTunes, this soundtrack was “the cutting edge of a collaborative art-form whose time has come.” The exuberance of 1996 stands in stark contrast to 2000—what a difference four years makes!—as you can see in Sean O’Neal’s take on the jaded and vaguely anachronistic High Fidelity and its accompanying soundtrack.

In a League of His Own: One Man’s Mission to Make Moviegoing Fun Again

Launched in Austin 20 years ago by Tim League, the Alamo Drafthouse chain of cinemas has spread to 27 locations and 20 cities, serving up League’s fun, eclectic blend of film, food, and entertainment: a Vin Diesel trivia contest before the screening of The Fast and the Furious. A DeLorean displayed during a run of Back to the Future. Food and drink menus curated for the films. Super-fans dressed in costumes.

But as more people stream movies on their TVs and tablets at home than ever before, traditional theaters face an uncertain future. And League, as Dan Solomon writes in Texas Monthly, believes he can bring us back into theaters — and make moviegoing great again.

In recent years, box office receipts have been high—2015 shattered the previous record, nudging past $11 billion—but much of that profit is based on people paying higher prices. The average cost of a movie ticket has spiked by more than $2.50 since 2004; it is now $8.84. But the number of tickets sold—the number of people going to the movies—has been declining. Except at certain theaters, like the Alamo, which are consistently selling out.

All of which highlights what Tim League and the Alamo Drafthouse are really selling. You can see a movie anywhere, but anyone who’s had to buy tickets weeks or months in advance for the opening night of a movie at the Drafthouse, a movie that will also be playing at every theater in town, knows that, like Marcus Loew, League doesn’t sell tickets to movies, he sells tickets to theaters—to an experience.

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The (Film) Revolution Will Be Streamed

Amazon and Netflix are transforming the way independent movies are made and distributed — with far-reaching effects on an entire culture centered around film festivals, back-room negotiations, and subtle prestige battles. At The Ringer, Sean Fennessey takes a panoramic look at the changed landscape of independent filmmaking, where traditional distribution deals become increasingly obsolete.

Dillard has had to wait for more than 15 months for the public to see his movie. After brokering a deal with Blumhouse and WWE Films, Dillard entered a period when he was forced to resume his life and earn a living while tuning up his movie for its wide release. Few had seen Sleight and so momentum was difficult to come by. Artistic purgatory doesn’t pay.

“Here’s the not-so-glamorous side of independent film: All of my student loans defaulted, all my credit cards went into collections, I went back to Bad Robot to help my friends who are chefs there, to help them in the kitchen,” says Dillard. “So I was doing whatever I could, but I still had to keep so much time open for Sleight, and that process sucks —  like, it really sucks. And that’s nobody’s fault. It’s the nature of a low-budget [movie], where you can’t just pay somebody 85 grand [to fix all your problems].”

There was no such interregnum for Macon Blair.

“It seems to me like a cool way of doing things,” Blair says of his movie’s quick arrival on Netflix. “If the temperature is already up on a particular title to not let it cool off and then have to re-remind people about it nine months or 12 months later, just sort of strike while the iron is hot.”

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How Long Does Barry Jenkins Have to Keep Hanging Out with Damien Chazelle?

Moonlight‘s surprise win on Sunday night was a shared-stage moment, a tantalizing suggestion that we were perhaps living in an alternate timeline. “Did the Oscars just prove that we are living in a computer simulation?” asks Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker, only half as a joke. “Since the advance of intelligence seems like the one constant among living things—and since living things are far likelier than not to be spread around the universe—then one of the things that smart living things will do is make simulations of other universes in which to run experiments.” Read more…

Fifty Shades of Dreck (or, Save Two Hours and Read This Spoiler-Filled Review)

dumpster on fire

Christopher Orr, film critic for The Atlantic, watched Fifty Shades Darker — the second film in the series based on the super-popular Fifty Shades of Grey books — so that you don’t have to. Why bother to read? Because “a movie this bad deserves to have its flaws enunciated clearly.”

Ana explains that she left him following last movie’s whipping in his Red Room of Pain, because “you were getting off on the pain you inflicted.” I feel obligated to note that this is the exact phrasing used by Steve Martin in the song “Dentist!” from Little Shop of Horrors, making Christian literally a knockoff of a parody of a sadist.

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“BRAAAM!”: The Sound that Invaded the Hollywood Soundtrack

Adrian Daub | Longreads | December 2016 | 15 minutes (3,902 words)

 

You walk into a local multiplex a few minutes after the lights have dimmed. You find your seat to the first trailer, some confection involving superheroes or zombies. As the light flickers over you, strings churn from the speakers, interrupted at certain intervals by a massive blast of indistinguishable brass, like an alphorn next to an amplifier.

Does this sound familiar? At some point movies started braying at us like ships lost in a fog, and we have come to accept that as perfectly normal. Variations on this sound sequence — a simple string motif interrupted by sudden bursts of non-melodic noise — are everywhere in film soundtracks and trailers. It is the noise that goes with people in spandex standing in a Delacroix-style tableau, or so Hollywood has decided. It is the sound we know is coming when a trailer intercuts CGI objects slamming into each other with portentous fades-to-black.

The internet and the sound’s creator refer to it as BRAAAM. (If you think you’ve successfully avoided it, here’s a sample). It may sound synthetic, but it’s usually produced with brass instruments and a prepared piano. Although it has its roots in a scoring style composer Hans Zimmer employed for much of the early ’00s, the BRAAAM heard in seemingly every trailer was first recorded for Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, and has been adapted, copied, and even outright sampled ever since. Is BRAAAM something that happened to us, or is it something we, as moviegoers, desired?

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How Winona Ryder Became the Face of ‘90s Nostalgia

It’s not uncommon for artists to be associated with a particular cultural moment: think Hemingway and interwar Europe or vintage Lady Gaga and the onset of the age of virality. What is rare is for a cultural moment to be so strongly linked to a specific artist like the `90s — specifically the first, pre-internet half — are with Winona Ryder.

At Hazlitt, Soraya Roberts digs deep into Ryder’s career to find out why we (or at least a certain subset of “we,” mostly born between the mid-seventies and mid-eighties) struggle to decouple the artist from the period in which she got lodged in our collective psyche.

We cannot see Ryder without seeing the grunge era. In the New York Times Magazine in 2011, Carl Wilson riffed on the “20-year cycle of resuscitation” that had finally turned to Gen-X nostalgia. “In intimate terms, nostalgia is a glue that reinforces bonds of solidarity and shared experience,” he wrote. “And it’s a reminder that it matters not only that an idea or an image was created, but when — that things speak most fully in chorus and counterpoint to other events and concepts of the same era.” As Tavi Gevinson told Entertainment Weekly in 2014, “how I feel when I see pictures of teen Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp holding hands in leather jackets, like, nobody can match that.”

The only person that can come close is Winona Ryder now, because embedded in Winona Ryder now is Winona Ryder then. She carries her past with her. The teen actress who sought to make her own life nostalgic before it had even passed her by peeks out from within the woman Marc Jacobs now imbues with nostalgia — she is a Russian nesting doll of reminiscence. That Winona Ryder’s image makes more of an impression than her current performances — in The Ten, The Last Word, Stay Cool — confirms our culture’s chronic desire to preserve the past rather than accept the present.

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The Broken Pop of James Bond Songs

Adrian Daub & Charles Kronengold | Longreads | October 2015 | 12 minutes (3049 words)

Our latest Exclusive is by Adrian Daub and Charles Kronengold, who recently co-authored The James Bond Songs: Pop Anthems of Late Capitalism (Oxford University Press), a cultural history of the Bond-song canon.

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James Bond fans will remember Madonna’s 2002 “Die Another Day” as the only Bond song to embrace the sound of techno. And they recall it with little fondness. For them, and most critics, the song was insufficiently “pop”: it sounded flat, too synthetic, repetitious, not hooky enough. And lovers of dance music felt it was too pop, too commercial, too voice-heavy. None of these parties thought Madonna was the right person for the job.
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Hollywood Gets Authenticity and the Pentagon Gets Publicity

Jamie Tarabay explored Hollywood’s relationship with the Pentagon in a recent piece for Al Jazeera America. The Pentagon has a devoted “entertainment-liaison officer” who acts as a Hollywood point person and helps decide which projects get Pentagon support (in the form of expertise, equipment, and locations). According to scholar Lawrence Suid, the Hollywood military relationship relationship dates back to 1910 and was “cemented” with the 1927 film Wings. Suid characterizes the relationship as one of “mutual exploitation”:

Suid coined the phrase “mutual exploitation” when he first stumbled onto the U.S. military-Hollywood connection. “I was teaching the history of the Vietnam War, and I couldn’t explain how we got into Vietnam. I could give the facts, the dates, but I couldn’t explain why,” he recalled. “And when I was getting my film degrees it suddenly occurred to me that people in the U.S. had never seen the U.S. lose a war, and when [President] Johnson said we can go into Vietnam and win, they believed him because they’d seen 50 years of war movies that were positive.”

Each side, Suid said, benefits from this arrangement. The U.S. military gets incredible publicity and recruitment advantages, and the film industry gets equipment, locations and authenticity.

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