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

 
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Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014
Moments lost, careers not taken.

In 1947, Susan Hayward starred in two films produced by Walter Wanger. Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, a critical and popular success, scored her first Oscar nomination. The Lost Moment, based on a Henry James story, flopped in a big way; it was the real smash-up. No surprise that Hayward thereafter eschewed literary period items and concentrated on spunky heroines in gritty contemporary stories. The film’s failure may also explain why it’s the only film directed by Martin Gabel, who served as associate producer on the other film. It’s possible that we lost a very interesting director, as we can judge now that Gabel’s film is on DVD and Blu-Ray in a very good-looking print—these are lost moments, indeed.


Tagged as: the lost moment
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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
For most of us in the West, it was television and the work of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass that made stop-motion animation an aesthetic given.

It’s origins can be traced by to 1897 and a film called The Humpty Dumpty Circus. There the technique was used to illustrate a collection of toys and stuffed animals coming to life. Famed film maestro George Melies used it for many of his films while Willis O’Brien popularized it with efforts such as The Lost World and King Kong.


It was George Pal, however,  who brought the concept to the kiddies—so to speak—creating a collection of celebrated “Puppetoons” that cemented the approach as part of the family film ideal. For most of us in the West, however, it was television and the work of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass that made stop-motion animation an aesthetic given. Though they made a few feature films, their broadcast classics like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and Here Comes Peter Cottontail turned an entire generation onto the then dying artform.


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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
Instead of playing with the anticipated and the preconceived, Kevin Smith takes a intriguing premise and circumvents our expectations.

It was the moment every fan was waiting for. After turning their previous work into a multi-million unit selling classic, the announcement of new material was met with the typical pop culture pandemonium. There was even something called “a video” to support the song, a chance to see the band actually recording the tune with help from USC’s marching band.


Yes, 35 years ago, Fleetwood Mac unleashed the title track to their album, Tusk, to a bemused and confused audience. Those expecting the crystal clear commercial appeal of the group’s Rumors, were instead stuck by a strange, surreal bit of primal percussion matched by writer Lindsey Buckingham’s menacing vocals. It was unlike anything the band had done before.


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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
The Maze Runner reminds us that an interesting idea, told well, can trump any number of artistic or aesthetic issues.

Fans of the book are going to be flummoxed. Instead of a faithful adaptation of James Dashner’s successful 2009 novel, the makers of The Maze Runner have decided to par away the wheat from the shaft, creating a compelling dystopian “what if?” that may not answer every question it proposes, but certainly gets significant mileage out of the premise presented.


There’s a lot to digest initially, with sci-fi babble names for certain elements and a real revisionist Lord of the Flies vibe to the ambiguous adolescent male community being carved out of this unusual circumstance. But once first time feature filmmaker Wes Ball dispenses with all the set-up, we are left with an inherently intriguing idea, to wit—what’s behind those massive walls, what is “the maze”, who created it, and what are those awful noises the kids hear howling through the night.


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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
This is one of the best films about the lingering effects of dysfunction that's been made.

There’s a line in the terrific new film, The Skeleton Twins, where Kristin Wiig’s melancholy Maggie tells her suicidal sibling Milo, played by Bill Hader, that life isn’t about success. “Few people are stars,” she suggests, “The rest of us are just walking around wondering how our lives got so bad.”


For these mentally unbalanced offspring, each attracted to both the danger and the depression of living outside the lines, there’s no need to speculate. He blames her for something that happened back in high school. She argues that his lack of support, and their distant, distracted mother, has brought about an obvious discomfort about who she is.


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