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

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jan 7, 2009
by Randy Haecker
Pictures by Randy Haecker.
caption

James Allan of Glasvegas


caption

Glasvegas


caption

No, it’s not Joe Strummer. It’s James Allan from Glasvegas.


caption

Rab Allan, Caroline McKay, James Allan and Paul Donoghue of Glasvegas


caption

James Allan gives a hand to the crowd.


caption

James Allan and Paul Donoghue of Glasvegas


caption

Glasvegas


See more of Randy Haecker’s photos on Flickr.


Tagged as: glasvegas
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jan 7, 2009

Yes, SE&L has been a little lax in its updates the last couple of weeks, what with awards season screenings and end of the year Best Ofs to contend with, but we will be back. After a short, well earned vacation, our staff will start off 2009 by offering a couple of new features - “Off the Shelf”: a look at DVD titles we’ve purchased but never played, and “Signature Statements”: films by producers, directors, stars, and significant crew that mark their lasting cinematic legacy. We’ll also continue our irreverent, sometimes controversial commentary on all things cinema. 


On Monday, 12 January, we will return with another “Leftoverture” update (a round up of un-reviewed specialty titles from December), a peek at Dragon Dynasty’s 2 Disc Super Cop DVD, a look ahead at the most anticipated films of Spring 2009, and a discussion about directors who could really use a career renaissance. Things will get back to normal within a few days, a Friday Film Focus and the typical weekend look at the latest digital offerings a weekly given.


So while we rest up and recharge our critical batteries, free free to click on any of our categorical links and check out our efforts from blog posts past. You’ll be glad you did.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jan 7, 2009

What impact will the recession have on our cultural preferences? Social psychologist Terry Pettijohn, who has done a great deal of research into the subject, offers “the environmental security hypothesis”:


Our perceptions of environmental security influence our social preferences and what we find most desirable during different social and economic conditions. Uncertain and threatening times cause people to consider their safety and security, leading them to adjust their preferences and make decisions that are more adaptive. More meaningful, mature themes and items should be preferred during these difficult situations to help mitigate the threat and uncertainty. When times are more certain and less threatening, themes and items related to meaning and maturity should be less necessary; therefore themes and items related to fun, celebration and expression of carefree attitudes should be preferred. This general pattern of preferences may help explain the popularity of music and artists across changing social and economic conditions.


Seems plausible enough. But I am having a hard time assimilating that finding to my own tentative exploration of Depression culture, which consisted of watching Gold Diggers of 1933, easily one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and not merely because of the extravagantly surreal Busby Berkeley production numbers. One movie is hardly a representative sample, I know, but when thinking of this film, “maturity” is not the word that comes to my mind. The film tracks how out-of-work showgirls manage to get back to Broadway and land wealthy husbands, and certainly it seems to shoot for “fun, celebration and expression of carefree attitudes.” All the characters are virtually one-dimensional typecasts (“the ingenue,” “the flapper,” etc.) There’s barely any conflict to speak of, and the problems the women face tend to solve themselves almost immediately upon being recognized. They are out of work for all of five minutes after the opening showstopper—Ginger Rogers singing “We’re in the Money,” including one verse in Pig Latin (this is highly upsetting in a way that’s hard to describe; as it transpires, it feels like you’re going aphasic)—and that problem is resolved in one scene by what’s basically a deus ex machina. There is some mention of hard times, but the plight of the “forgotten man,” struck by the Depression and struggling without a social safety net, is represented in the film almost as an afterthought in a somber dance number sung by Joan Blondell. Instead, the bulk of the film is taken up with the free-spending courtships conducted by the rich suitors who buy $75 hats and such, and nights out on the town at Stork Club-like speakeasies. And then there’s “Pettin’ in the Park,” a number featuring midget actor Billy Barty in a diaper, cracking open a showgirl’s tin bustier with a giant can opener.


In other words, the movie is pure escapist fantasia rather than an effort to signal that mature leaders are in charge to guide the country through troubled times. (I can’t even begin to imagine a country run on the same logic as this film.) The meaning of the movie, if there was one for Depression-era moviegoers, must have been a kind of reassurance that at least one industry still existed that would spare no expense and would not stop short even of nonsensical excess in its efforts to blow its audiences away. For the duration of the film, viewers could forget about restraint of any kind, before returning to deal with the inescapable economic constraints that afflicted most of them.


But Gold Diggers of 1933 now seems determined most not by its socioeconomic context but by its being made in the medium’s infancy. It seems like a filmed variety show, more like Donnie and Marie than a movie proper, and the shows within the show only multiply that effect. The indifferent pacing seems completely arbitrary, and the idea that a plot needs a conflict is foreign to its dramaturgical approach. It’s all about immediate gratification; rather than delaying the pleasure to enhance it, the film just keeps trying to out do itself with elaborate stage numbers. It was probably much easier to go over the top when their wasn’t much history behind that kind of spectacle, and the “top” wasn’t that far to go.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jan 7, 2009

They say you should never take an ink pen to a book. My mother would faint at the very idea. I’ve always argued with her (and others), though, of the bite-sized pieces of history lost if we all subscribed to that idea of books as sacred, untouchable artworks.


I write in my books. I do it all, from notes in the margins, to underlines, highlights, and even phone numbers if I absolutely have to (ie. am reading on a bus and that book is the only paper I have). I’m happy to do it, and I get a strange thrill when my secondhand books feature those very same scribblings. I feel like the next bearer in some great literary torch race. From reader to reader, taking notes as we go, each pointing out to the next just what it was about A Thousand Acres or Lord of the Flies that captivated us so (my secondhand copies of those books are filled with red pen comments and multi-coloured flouro highlights). 


Better, however, than the notes and the markings throughout are those two or three-line inside jacket cover inscriptions when books are passed on as gifts. As much as I enjoy finding those inscriptions when book shopping at Saint Vinnie’s, I always feel slightly sad for the giver that their great gift has ended up with a peeling one dollar price tag in a thrift store. Did the receiver, I wonder, not like the book? Have they read and re-read it and feel it’s outlived its use? Did the reader ... die? So many questions, so much history.


We, as book recyclers, don’t know the giver or the receiver, but we can relate. We can look at the title of the book and know very quickly why it was handed over—Bridges of Madison County to an unrequited love, perhaps? Maybe Sophie’s World to a friend needing to see the bigger picture? And often the inscription will intensify our ability relate with short words of wisdom: “you need to read this book” or a line of Xs and Os.


I thought it might be fun to have a look at those bites of history, those moments marking a book’s move from one reader to another.


For our first post, I picked two key inscriptions, the first inside Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, and the second from Conversation in the Cathedral by Mario Vargas Llosa.


Back in my first year at university, a friend handed me Illusions as a gift. Not a new copy bought just for me, but their own copy, with the words, “No, it’s okay, I’ll find another one”. Apparently, I needed it then and there. I went on to discover that such an idea was a major part of the book—what we really need, the universe will always provide. Sean-oh, in Christmas of 1980, very likely needed messages of inner strength and self-belief. There’s not much to this inscription on first glance, but look more closely and you’ll see the sunlight-like rays beaming from the word “love”, an extra expression of fondness just right for such a book.


As for Margie’s Christmas message to Kate, now that’s a little more mystifying: “Here’s to some successful duck rescue missions in ‘94”. Talk about a piece of history. Here’s a dedication you don’t normally see—just who is this Kate and what birds is she out rescuing? And why Canvesation in the Cathedral and not, while we’re on the subject, Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull? I haven’t read the Llosa book, and there may very well be ducks in the cathedral. Whatever the case, it’s a magical moment that reminds us that readers are all types of people, and that books as gifts transcend standard occasions and sentiments.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jan 7, 2009

The day before their supposed Final Show Ever at Madison Square Garden on August 7, 2008 (a hyped-up moment to cap the already hyped-up Improbable Reunion Tour), the Police recorded an appearance on Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (airing Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel). Costello strives to get at the crux of the group’s musical chemistry through individual interviews with Andy Summers, Stuart Copeland, and Sting, but the episode ultimately revolves around their tenuous relationship, breakup, reformation, and second breakup.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.