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

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Apr 12, 2007

Hillary Clinton’s $36 Million Dollar Magic Trick

The staggering amount of money raised so far for Hillary Clinton’s ’08 presidential campaign should be a cause for concern. Her first quarter windfall of $26 million was conveniently leaked to the Drudge Report on April 1st and was intended to convey a stark message to her Democratic rivals. The numbers were officially released later that day and the media frenzy over the primary finances began (John Edwards raised $14 million, while on the Republican side Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani raked in $21 million and $15 million respectively).

Clinton’s early receipts eclipsed all previous records for fundraising in a presidential primary and set a new precedent for aspiring presidential candidates. The $26 million, however, did not tell the whole story of Clinton’s elaborate fundraising mechanism – one that flouts campaign finance laws and attempts to bury her competition in a mountain of cash.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Apr 12, 2007
by Karen Heller / The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Let us, for a moment, table Don Imus’ contemptible language and address the issue of how he and so many other opinionated gabbers came to flourish in the first place.


There is precious little humility or civility left in our national discourse. We don’t have a culture war as much as a breakdown of dialogue. Actually, there’s precious little dialogue. It’s all monologue, on the radio, the television, flooding the Net, with shrill soliloquies of anger, snark-infested humor and uncensored logorrhea that, at the core of it, amounts to more from Me, me, me!


While millions of people tune in to talk radio, they don’t listen. They tune in to be entertained and appalled. They want an aural freak show, the ramblings of an unbridled id. They’re cruising the dial for bad behavior, the kind of talk never permitted at the dinner table or eliminating all chances of a second date.


The issue isn’t a call for censorship. It’s the abandonment of self-censorship. No thought, no matter how stupid, gets left behind.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007


Grindhouse is not a return to the sordid salad days of drive-in b-movies. It is not a careful or accurate recreation of the original raincoat crowd experience. The name is a gimmick, a throwaway cinematic stunt purposely poised to draw in the curious as well as the converted. Sadly, it seems that both will wind up only slightly disappointed. What Grindhouse is, however, is a slam bam smash ‘em up celebration of the freedom given film by the exploitation industry. While the mainstream was sitting back, letting community standards and self-appointed censors determine what could and could not be shown on the nation’s theater screens, producers like those in the notorious business brotherhood, ‘The 40 Thieves’, were blurring the boundaries between the taboo and the marketable. If it weren’t for them, and the outrageous movies they made, the modern film works would be languishing in Eisenhower era conservatism.


You can see the adoration that these filmmakers have for the genre’s expansion of the language of cinema within every frame of this far out double feature. Since directors Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino understand that no one can recapture the actual feel of these fascinating entertainment relics, the next best thing in their mind is to make sure any tribute is terrific. For his infected human holocaust known as Planet Terror, Rodriguez reimagines the zombie film as a combination gorefest and chick flick. We spend so much time with put upon go-go gal Cherry Darling and equally tormented Dr. Dakota Block that the plentiful grue tends to trip up the ample emotional undercurrent. The same thing applies to Quentin Tarantino’s car crash thriller Death Proof. Here, we’re dealing with non-erotic female bonding, with sensational scenes of female empowerment breaking up the otherwise astounding action sequences.


It’s interesting to note that both films feature female heroines and mostly male villains. In the case of Planet Terror, cameos from Bruce Willis and QT himself bring a decidedly paternalist pall over the entire proceedings. Even with Freddy Rodriguez’s machismo man turn as Wray, it’s the girls dealing most of the death blows. Tarantino treads a little more lightly in his film, giving the ladies room to gossip and cruise before turning them against their tormentor. Perhaps even more startling, Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike is a wonderful contradiction in testosterone terms. When he’s able to torment his prey, forcing them to realize the fate that awaits them, he’s all chest-puffing bluster. But the minute he gets injured – or perhaps, a better way to say it is the second someone gets a physical advantage over him – he whines and cries like a sissified stuck pig.


It’s an interesting dynamic to explore, one you’re not used to seeing on the big screen. But this is what Grindhouse is all about – challenging convention, disrupting the status quo and pushing the envelope of acceptable cinematic content. There is a lot of gore here – more than perhaps any dozen so called horror fests could ever hope to achieve. Rodriguez especially loves to pour on the arterial spray, and there are times when torrents of red stuff shoot off across the frame in ridiculous rivers of rot. Credit has to go to all the F/X technicians and stunt people who worked on this project. Tarantino’s first act car wreck has got to be one of the most disturbing destructive images ever captured on film. You feel like you’re looking at one of those driver’s education shockers, the ones that warned you via real dead bodies posed post-catastrophe.


Even more interesting are the performances. Though many critics would have you believe that the cast of both Planet Terror and Death Proof are putting on their purposeful schlock shoes to imitate bad camp acting from the past, this is definitely not the case. Indeed, all throughout Mr. Pulp Fiction‘s flick, we are treated to some of the liveliest work any actress has offered onscreen this year. Rosario Dawson, Jordan Ladd and Vanessa Ferlito are fine in their sly supporting turns. Equally effective are Zöe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stunt double for Kill Bill), Tracie Thomas, and a fierce Sydney Poitier as the main obsession of Russell’s clever creation, Stuntman Mike. From Rodriguez’s end of the spectrum, everyone in his company is banging on ballistic cylinders. It’s great to see Michael Biehn back, as well as Jeff Fahey in a barbequing badass role. But the movie really belongs to Rose McGowen and Marley Shelton as Cherry and Dakota, respectively. They’re the yin and yang of the narrative, the pro and con of a crazy crackpot horror homage.


In fact, the filmmaking here is so stellar that it’s hard to continue referring to these films as Grindhouse features. The exploitation movie had no real artistic aspirations. It didn’t want to be a provider of great action or a bringer of substantial scare. Their movies were all about the bottom line – carefully creating a project and making sure that, even with limited returns realized, a profit would be more or less guaranteed. Here, Rodriguez wants to give you his take on the entire living dead/sci-fi shock genre, while Tarantino is remaking Vanishing Point with vixens. QT is on fire during his film, both his car chases and his conversations crackling with energy and movement. Our Sin City savant is equally adapt at creating onscreen mayhem. The attack on the hospital, and the stand-off at The Bone Shack are astounding (and let’s not even get into the splatter spectacle of the last act helicopter sequence).


And then there are the fake trailers – four in all – and each one is a hilarious joy to behold. First up is the Danny Trejo treasure Machete, a magnificent combination of Charles Bronson badness and Mexicali menace. The shot of our tattooed hero getting hot and heavy with a couple of naked babes is worth the price of admission alone. Then we’ve got Rob Zombie’s ridiculously perfect Werewolf Women of the SS. It’s so much like watching a collection of Ilsa outtakes that it’s frightening. Shaun of the Dead‘s Edgar Wright delivers his brilliant Hammer/Amicus amalgamation, Don’t, and Eli Roth revisits the ‘80s slasher film with the decidedly sick Thanksgiving. Each one of these mini-movies is magnificent, played perfectly by actors perfectly in sync with what the cinematic category demands. With the possibility of a Machete movie going direct to DVD, it appears there will be more to Grindhouse‘s legacy than a pair of amazingly entertaining movies by a couple of maverick filmmakers.


All of which begs the question – why isn’t this superior entertainment more successful? Are people really put off by all the violence? Did the Weinstein’s (the main men behind the movie) make a fatal error in not marketing the movie beyond the film geek demo? Have gals avoided what is probably the most potent girl power proclamation since The Bride battled Bill for reclamation of her life, simply because they think this is some silly slice of jock rock? Whatever the reason, individuals interested in spending three hours under the spell of some significant cinematic art would be well advised to queue up for this masterwork. Unlike the films it fancies, this Grindhouse may have a shorter theatrical engagement than anyone involved initially imaged. The reason for such a showing remains a mystery. But one things for certain – this is a resplendent reminder of why movies are magic – and the forbidden zone trooping talents that created the original pathways to said illusions. 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007

Via kottke.org comes a link to this Stay Free! interview with Giles Slade, author of Made to Break, a book about planned obsolescence. (I wrote about the book before here after reading about it here. The whole thing is worth reading, but these exchanges I found particularly interesting:


STAY FREE!: How did book come about?
GILES SLADE: I came back to North America from teaching in the Arab Emirates after 9/11, and every interaction I had in public was very curt, very rude. I wondered where that shortness developed and ultimately became convinced that it has to do with our attitudes toward material culture.



I thought this was an interesting connection—rather than attribute rudeness and impoliteness to cultural mores and leave it at that, the move to ground our understanding of the mores in material culture seems an absolutely necessary next step. I wonder whether our fixation on efficiency leads us to build in the desire for convenience into our infrastructure, into our commonsense approach to the environments we find ourselves in and how we read them, making that pseudoefficiency hard to resist. And since convenience is so often understood as the elimination of human interaction, does the way our preference for it seems already built in to society then justify to us that ubiquitous rudeness Slade mentions? The expectation and privileging of convenience seems to make things road rage seem reasonable, normal. I rarely pause to doubt my righteous intolerance when someone in front me at the bakery where I get my morning rolltakes a long time to count their change out. I get frustrated when everyone isn’t in as much of a hurry as me, and I feel that’s somewhat a product of living in New York, where haste is institutionalized.


And this:


STAY FREE!: When you talk to people about your book, do you notice a generational divide in how older people and younger people feel about these issues?


GILES SLADE: Yes, younger people don’t want to hear anything negative about the iPod. I might as well put a turban on and grow a long beard. It comes down to the social value of consumer goods as icons. If I’m saying something negative about your tribe’s icon, it’s as if I’m attacking you personally. Also, younger people have much less sense that things should last. I find that really disturbing.


STAY FREE!: It makes sense, though. If you’re born into a world where things aren’t made to last, naturally you won’t expect them to.


GILES SLADE: Sure, but then things less than 20 years old become what we think of as antiques. So your sense of duration, of history, of culture has collapsed and evaporated. If your favorite toys are constantly updated and replaced, how is that going to effect your relationships with people? I think you’re less likely to have lasting commitments to people, to family, to a country, even. There’s a well-known book called Bowling Alone, and I think this is where it comes from. We’ve become so accustomed to things only lasting for a few years we don’t invest in them anymore. We don’t see beautiful things like paintings and rugs as lasting.


If the values are built in to material culture, which is made up mostly of consumer products and embodies consumerist values, then it makes some sense that generations raised entirely within that culture, which has been proliferating steadily, would be protective of it and grow defensive if you imply that there’s something damaged about it. It’s as though you are saying they can’t help but be impaired by the culture they grew up in. But that situation holds for everyone, no matter what generation; it takes a special effort of negativity and critical thinking to escape the biases built in to the society we learn to adapt ourselves to. It’s made easy for us to seamlessly assume the prejudices of that society, and there’s little benefit in resisting that process—just a faith in principles, in the idea that there is some “real” beyond those prejudices worth aspiring to. It’s easy, though, once you’ve adopted that negative attitude (hard to differentiate from cynicism), to assume that it’s harder for the generations after our own to make the same effort, that things have become much worse.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007
by Wendy McCardle [McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)]
In still images from the documentary, Editor-in-Chief Jimmy Young looks over the day's paper.(Courtesy Prince Spells/Centre Daily Times/MCT)

In still images from the documentary, Editor-in-Chief Jimmy Young looks over the day’s paper.(Courtesy Prince Spells/Centre Daily Times/MCT)


Like many Americans, Aaron Matthews said he was feeling let down by the media. He tested his lack of faith by putting a campus newspaper in the spotlight of his latest documentary, The Paper, which had its first airing April 7 at the Philadelphia Film Festival. The film is slated for a national airing on PBS as part of its Independent Lens series that begins in October.


Matthews’ film focuses on the staff of Penn State’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian. It highlights the frustrations and difficulties the staff faces in simply getting the story.


Although the Collegian rivals many campus newspapers, it, like many media outlets, faces declining circulation and disappointment from readers. On a day-to-day basis, its up-and-coming rookie journalists test their morals and beliefs against what is newsworthy, all the while trying to beat the many obstacles that stand in the way of their information.


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.