Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Thursday, Oct 4, 2012
The film underscores importance of Civil Rights workers' memories today, as US citizens contend with increasing efforts to restrict basic rights -- to vote, to work, to have access to education and health care.

“I wondered for many years, I don’t know how long, why was I there at that crucial moment.” The Reverend Samuel Kyles, best known as Billy, pauses. “I knew it was more than coincidence. I just didn’t know what.” Forty years later, Kyles says, he still doesn’t have the words for what he experienced on 4 April 1968. Standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, he watched as his friend and fellow preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, was shot and killed. Contemplating that event, as well as those that led to it and followed, Kyles appears serene, though hardly complacent. His recollections form the basis of The Witness: From The Balcony of Room 306, airing 4 October on the Documentary Channel.


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Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012
The athletes -- all men -- describe their great wealth and their bad choices, their excessive consumption of cars and women and jewelry.

“These players compete in everything,” says Herm Edwards, “That’s why they’re successful.” And according to Broke, it’s also one reason why some are unsuccessful when it comes to keeping hold of their fortunes. Re-launching EPSN’s brilliant documentary series, 30 for 30, Billy Corben’s documentary is essentially a series of interviews with raft of players, agents, money managers, and even a coach (that would be Edwards), recounting the effects of money on their lives.


The film takes on the bling-blingy look of Master P and Cash Money’s CD art from the early ‘90s, with bills and cheesy fire effects as backgrounds. The athletes—all men, from the NFL, NBA, and MLB—describe their great wealth and their bad choices, their excessive consumption of cars and women and jewelry. Former small forward Jamal Mashburn puts it this way: “Those fat rope chains people used to have on their necks were the only way that they could say they were successful.” This sounds short-sighted now, and that’s his point, that kids from poor backgrounds believed they needed to show their new wealth, and as they did so, they essentially threw their money away. “We were draped… that was the word… we were draped in ‘jewry,’” remembers former wide receiver Andre Rison (he also remembers here being engaged to Lisa Left Eye Lopes, who infamously burned down his house, a vivid literalization of the film’s cautions).


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Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

The bodies in the cemetery in Culiacán, Mexico are numerous. Many of them died young, victims of Mexico’s drug wars. Gang members and police officers, bystanders and wannabes, the dead appear sometimes in reports on the TV that the cemetery’s watchman runs at night, by way of a makeshift antenna. He listens and you hear that some 11,000 have been killed this past month alone, some 21,915 so far during Felipe Calderón’s presidency. You come to realize, late in Natalia Almada’s superb El Velador (The Night Watchman), that the year is 2009. It’s a year when Arturo Beltrán Leyva has been killed, “the capo of capos,” gone. But the process goes on, the deaths accumulate, and debts, so vigorously pursued, remain unpaid. The film—airing 27 September as as part of PBS’ terrific POV documentary series, and online starting 28 September—offers impressions of death and life too, shots of mausoleums under construction and children playing as their mothers clean gravestones. It also poses questions, focusing on the expansive land of the cemetery, so soon to be filled, the workers who do fill the empty space, on the sky and ground littered with structures. All serve as memorials to lives and deaths.


See PopMattersreview.


Watch El Velador (The Night Watchman) - Trailer on PBS. See more from POV.


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Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012
Frontline reveals the complexities and agonies of a battle waged in a city, where parents and children try to go about their daily lives.

“We have no discipline, and this is one of the fundamental problems,” observes Abu Muhammed. “They don’t follow directions; we make plans and they don’t abide by them. If they follow 15% of the plans, that is great.” A rebel leader in Syria, he’s trying to coordinate disparate forces in the ongoing struggle for control over Aleppo. As he rides through neighborhoods where battle frontlines change by the hour, he delivers ammunition and a series of plans to an assortment of fighters, “the Islamists, the Jihadi, the secular, the village based units.” Abu Muhammed is at once determined and matter-of-fact. He keeps track of how many bullets and bombs her has in a ledger, he keeps in contact with his soldiers by cellphone.


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Monday, Sep 17, 2012
During the 1960s and '70s, Gottlieb was at once an oddity and a perfect comic persona, refining his "stand-up tragedian" act in nightclubs and on TV.

“I would like to point out that for me this is a very, very strange experience.” No kidding. The speaker is a marionette of Theodore Gottlieb, and as he may or may not be looking into the camera, you’re more than aware of the strangeness of this experience. “Frankly,” the puppet goes on, “I don’t know what I’m dong here. Frankly, I don’t know what you are doing here.” You may have an idea about this, at least in the sense that you’re watching the aptly titled film, To My Great Chagrin: The Unbelievable Life of Brother Theodore.


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