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

 
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Thursday, Apr 5, 2012

“It was just impossible to explain. How do you explain God? How do you explain love?” When she left Hollywood back in 1963, Mother Prioress Dolores Hart remembers, her friends and colleagues were perplexed. And yet, she knew then, when she was a 24-year-old rising movie star, that she was doing the right thing. As recalled by the Oscar-nominated short documentary, God Is the Bigger Elvis, she had appeared in a couple of films with Elvis Presley, 1957’s Loving You and 1958’s King Creole. She had money and fame, a bright career future, and a fiancé, but still, she became a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in western Connecticut. The film tells the story simply: Over a series of glamour shots, the Mother Prioress recalls her unexpected opportunity to play opposite Elvis (after she appeared in 1947’s Forever Amber as a child), and then her efforts to find satisfaction in the earthly pleasures that followed. She appeared in movies with Brando and Beatty, Jeff Chandler and George Hamilton, and yet, she found herself yearning for another sort of life. The film includes as well interviews with Dolores Hart’s fellow nuns, who all describe the perfect harmony of their cloistered experience at the Abbey. They eat in silence, they laugh at jokes and toast with wine. The Mother Prioress tends to her parrot Toby and dedicates herself to contemplation and instruction, praying and hearing confessions. “My role is to help the person find hope,” she says, “If you can find hope, you might find faith.”



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Monday, Apr 2, 2012
Scenes of a Crime insists that police process -- their assumptions and tactics -- is crucial in any system of justice, a point also underlined by the currently unfolding Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida.

“It was important to us to have a very clear understanding of what the audience’s experience would be,” Grover Babcock tells Filmmaker Magazine. “We wanted to play with the energy that the audience would be investing in the story in terms of where the tension was, what their suppositions were, and where they thought they were headed.” Just so, the documentary he co-directed with Blue Hadeigh, Scenes of a Crime leads viewers through a complex and increasingly distressing investigation, less of an original crime—here, the death of an infant—and more of the many “crimes” that follow, as the child’s father Adrian Thomas is put through a barrage of interrogations that lead detectives to believe in his guilt.


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Monday, Apr 2, 2012

Scout Finch appeals to everyone. Wise and immature, tomboyish and vulnerable, she’s recognizable even to people who didn’t grow up in segregated Alabama, who didn’t have a scary next-door neighbor and who didn’t have an awesome dad like Atticus. The continuing resonance of Scout’s story is the subject of Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird. Airing on PBS’ American Masters, the documentary features a series of interviewees, many quite famous, who describe their sense of likeness and commitment to Scout (James McBride: “She sees the world through child’s eyes with an adult’s understanding,” Oprah Winfrey: “I fell in love with Scout, I wanted to be Scout. I thought I was Scout”). Harper Lee is less available. She retreated from public life soon after the famous film based on her only book was made. She remains rather perfectly the writer whose intentions aren’t performed, for an interviewer who’s asking or an audience who’s projecting. Even as people speculate, imagining both questions and answers for her. Her 99-year-old sister Alice, still a lawyer in the firm their father helped to found, explains Lee’s absence as a choice. “As time went on, she said that reporters began to take too many liberties with what she was saying, so she just wanted out… She felt like she gave enough.” Hey, Boo isn’t asking more of her. But it can’t quite leave her alone, either. 


See PopMattersreview.


Watch Harper Lee: Hey, Boo on PBS. See more from American Masters.


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Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012

“Why are you doing a piece on Ron Galella?” asks Chuck Close It’s true that, on one level, Leon Gast’s excellent documentary takes paparazzo Ron Galella as its subject. But on so many other levels, it uses him as a way to ask more resonant questions—about celebrity and class, obsession and delusion, the blurred definitions of public and private. In the film, which screens 6 March at Stranger Than Fiction, followed by a Q&A with Leon Gast, Galella tells stories about himself. He’s providing a service, he’s making a living, he’s doing what he loves to do, he says. Galella himself may be most famous for the legal case brought against him by Jackie Kennedy: she argued that he harassed her children and she won. “Why did I have the obsession with Jackie?” Galella asks himself, for Gast’s camera. “I analyzed it: because I had no girlfriend and she was my girlfriend in a way.” As an analysis, this seems glib, but it may be perversely telling as well. But if you understand all such explanations as still more stories—about Gallela maybe, but more plausibly about the culture that produces him—then you might imagine he’s been told this story and now tells it back.


See PopMattersreview.



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Monday, Mar 5, 2012
Documentary Channel celebrates Women's History Month with a series of films.

Documentary Channel celebrates Women’s History Month with a series of films. This week’s offerings include Pink Skies and Carpet Racers. The first film concerns the ongoing struggle against breast cancer, focused through “Jump for the Cause,” a group of women skydivers who perform mass dives for money. In 2009, 181 women from 31 countries joined in a jump to raise almost $1 million for breast cancer research. “Don’t be a victim,” says the group’s instructor, “Be the hero.” Just so, Gulcin Gilbert’s film asserts that the best cure for breast cancer is prevention, a point underlined by researchers more than once here. “We live in a very toxic environment,” says Dr. Lauren Swerdloff near the beginning of “And we are able to handle some toxicity. But the environment is probably getting more toxic, more rapidly, than most of us are able to handle it.” To battle that trend, individuals need to watch out for themselves, rather than hoping that government agencies and corporations will come up with answers. The energy, drive, and earnestness of the women skydivers seems a model of pressing ahead in the face of disappointment and difficulty.


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