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

 
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Monday, Jun 24, 2013
The term "homegoings" refers to cycles, the movement to a place where those who passed before you are waiting, and also where you will wait to embrace those coming after.

At work, Isaiah Owens splits his time between tending to the living and the dead. As tells his story in Christine Turner’s terrific documentary Homegoings, this funeral director—who knew what he wanted to be since he was a boy—brings you along, the camera close as he shares memories with survivors, helps them make arrangements, and then takes care of their loved ones, tenderly and compassionately. Bent over a corpse, his figure obscures your view. He wears blue medical gloves, as he injects “liquid tissue,” which he describes as “probably a first cousin to Botox,” one of many literal and metaphorical connections he draws between living and dead bodies. This lady is 98 years old, he observes, adding, “I’m going to need some Crazy Glue.” Later scenes of Isaiah at work show more, a face being made up, fingers being arranged, watery-red fluid swirling beneath a body toward a drain.


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Wednesday, Jun 19, 2013
Even when his students are forced into emotional difficulties, arranged marriages or hard labor to support their families, Amlan Ganguly persists, believing they can find their way out of the slums of Kolkata.

“Salim used to tell me, “Shikha, there’s a place I go, where they teach art and stuff. Like puppets you make dance on a string.’” Remembering when she first heard of the school inside the brickfield, Shikha Patra slows down and glances up. “So I asked him,” she goes on, “‘Where is that?’” The little girl is remembering an early encounter with a student at Prayasam, a child-driven community organization located in the slums of Kolkata. Her surprise and curiosity soon give way to belief, when Shikha begins working with Amlan Ganguly, the community’s founder and primary counselor and teacher. As you come to see in Revolutionary Optimists, Maren R. Monsen and Nicole Newnham’s remarkable documentary premiering on PBS this month as part of Independent Lens, Ganguly brought to his project in 1996 passion and commitment, a determination to help the kids find their way out of poverty and into futures with hope, grounded in creativity and love and hard work. As impossible as this may seem at times, even when his students are forced into emotional difficulties, arranged marriages or hard labor to support their families, he persists. This is the extraordinary balance the film manages, celebrating the efforts at Prayasam and the successes, while never losing sight of the crises that define daily life for the kids growing up in the Kolkata slums.


See PopMatters’ review.



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Tuesday, Jun 18, 2013
According to the sicario, many unrecovered bodies are buried in safe houses, backyards and city buildings, places he can't recall or never knew. He may be lying. And he may not.

“The job of a sicario is to do away with the victim immediately, either with a bullet, a knife or a blow.” As he speaks, the hooded subject of El Sicario—Room 164 writes in a notebook, a numbered list of the weapons he names. “Quick and lean,” he continues, “So that the victim feels nothing more.” In answer to his own question, “How?”, he begins to draw a childlike outline of a car and to explain the difference between a professional sicario and an imitation sicario. Where the pretender fires dozens of bullets at a car—here he stabs at the page, bullet-dots all over the car he’s drawn—the real thing takes aim, needing only one shot to get the job done.


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Monday, Jun 17, 2013
Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall spend a year with David Kato, tracking this bold gay rights activist's efforts and confidence, his infectious good humor and his terrific charisma.

It took David Kato some time to discover his calling, his identity as a gay man in Uganda and, beyond that, as a courageous fighter for gay civil rights. As he recalls in Call Me Kuchu, he came to his self-understanding when he left Uganda, briefly, in 1992. On arriving in South Africa, he remembers, he stayed at a YMCA. “I saw these men on the street,” he says, and when he asked what they were selling, wondering whether it was “gold or diamonds,” he was told they were selling themselves. He was further surprised when he learned that these men sold themselves to other men. “I said, ‘For what?’” Here David exaggerates his response, cocking his head to the side. “I said, ‘Ahh.’ And I’ve always wanted men, so I went to the street.” Returning to Uganda, he cofounded SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda), and took up a series of public and legal campaigns against various sorts of homophobia, particularly concerning newspapers outing and targeting individuals. The filmmakers, Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, spend a year with Kato, tracking and commending his efforts and confidence, his infectious good humor and his terrific charisma.


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Monday, Jun 17, 2013
Even as the film looks at intersections between art and experience, it also notes their sometimes devastating distinctions.

“I can only make about four steps forward before I touch the door, and if I turn in an about face at any place in this cell, I’m gonna bump into something.” As Herman Wallace speaks, you see a black screen at the start of Herman’s House. Angad Bhall’s documentary goes on to make visceral, if not precisely visible, the small space this Angola prison inmate describes. Living in solitary confinement for over 41 years, the 71-year-old Wallace corresponds throughout the film with artist Jackie Sumell, who has made it her life’s project to build the house Herman has imagined, the house he might move to when he’s released, and also to make public his cruel and unusual punishment with gallery installations, a series of replicas of his tiny cell.


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