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

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Thursday, Jul 17, 2014
In Experiment Perilous and Berlin Express, Tourneur is interested in desires and ideals—the optimistic as well as the dark.

Jacques Tourneur, son of the great silent pictorialist Maurice Tourneur, spent some of his career in France, but most of it on Hollywood B-films. He’s most famous for directing Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie for producer Val Lewton, and also the noir film Out of the Past. I think his greatest achievement is possibly Stars in My Crown, a foreigner’s point of view on sentimental Americana, and to my knowledge the only American film between The Birth of a Nation and Storm Warning to feature the Ku Klux Klan; the underseen Way of a Gaucho also demands attention. With the help of an excellent, sensitive, well-researched appreciation, Chris Fujiwara’s Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall, I’m better able to “see” this director’s work, including two RKO productions now available on demand from Warner Archives: Experiment Perilous and Berlin Express.


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Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014
The plot holes in Marion Parsonnet's script suggest that this film, too, is living dangerously.

Jane (Nancy Coleman) is a beautiful spy for the British war effort. In New York, she’s kidnapped by German agents and lands in the hospital after a car accident gives her temporary amnesia—or does it? Her doctor, Michael Lewis (John Garfield), alternates patronising her and hitting on her when she tries to explain the situation, but soon they’re both prisoners in a mansion with a man (Moroni Olsen) who claims to be her father. Running the scheme is the distinguished psychiatrist Dr. Ingersoll (Raymond Massey), proving Hollywood’s then-popular thesis that you can’t trust head doctors.


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Tuesday, Jul 15, 2014
They represent some of the best (and worst) movie metaphors in the history of cinematic speculative fiction. Here's how we rate the Apes' films, from worst to first.

It’s all based on a book by French author Pierre Boulle. In said novel, an interplanetary expedition comes across a planet where apes rule and humans are used for slave labor and experiments. Famed writer Rod Serling took the first crack at the screenplay, though his ideas were deemed too expensive and incendiary to film. Blacklisted scribe Michael Wilson was then brought in to bring the concepts down to budgetary (and moviegoer) limits, and soon a sci-fi classic was born.


Audiences were not prepared for Planet of the Apes when it first came out in theaters. The Civil Rights Movement was reeling from advances and assassinations and Serling’s subtext made the roots of said racism all too real. While further script doctoring decreased some of the more provocative material, the notion of Apes as an allegory for its time remained. It was a box office smash, jumpstarting a franchise which saw four initial sequels, two reboots, one follow-up to same, and even a TV series.


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Tuesday, Jul 15, 2014
In Alain Robbe-Grillet's cinema, one ought to be wary of men who play games.

One doesn’t watch a movie by Alain Robbe-Grillet to follow a story, but to follow a false story. Cobbled from various impulses and ideas, they form pseudo-narratives that either encourage or defy viewers to make sense of their patterns.


In the interview included as a bonus to his 1968 feature The Man Who Lies, Robbe-Grillet explains that he was invited to make a film in Slovakia with lots of resources, that he wanted to create a showcase for actor Jean-Louis Trintignant (presumably for his means his physicality, his capacity for mercurial shifts, his gift for enigma), that a nearby castle (which they could use) had a woman waiting for her brother who disappeared in the World War II Resistance, and that Communist monuments to dead heroes were fabricated to include all kinds of villains as well. From these ideas, and from his fondness for Franz Kafka’s The Castle and Alexander Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, Robbe-Grillet constructed the web of references that form this movie.


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Monday, Jul 14, 2014
As with much art, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes signposts situations we'd otherwise ignore or try to avoid, provides insights, and provokes questions. This film, like all great art, is alive, vital, and transcendent.

We live in troubling times. All around us our examples of our inability to adapt while using technology and its tainted perks as a means of further escape. We claim victories over social ills (racism, economic inequality) where no triumphs truly exist and celebrate those who ride such unrealities all the way to a position of power. In these dark and disturbing days, a film like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes speaks louder than any pundit’s proclamations. As with much art, it reflects the era in which it was made. As with all art, it signposts situations we’d otherwise ignore or try to avoid, provides insights, and provokes questions. This film, like all great art, is alive, vital, and transcendent.


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