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

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Monday, Nov 19, 2012
Perfectionist or pariah, cad or creative genius, Alfred Hitchcock is, was, and remains a cinematic legend... one that's perhaps too big to encase in a single, celluloid statement.

He began in Britain, working his way up from title card designer for silent films to director, over the course of five frustrating years. Then, various production and financing snafus delayed his eventual status as one of England’s motion picture best. Over in Hollywood, producer David O. Selznick was looking for new blood, and based on his UK rep, the unknown was signed to a seven year contract. Thus began his time in Tinseltown, a four decade redefining of who he was and would eventually be known for. By the end, he was a true auteur, the Master of Suspense, and an unfairly dismissed, Oscar-less superstar. But who was the “real” Alfred Hitchcock. Which of the many rumored personalities did he offer to his cast, crew, and confidants when the media wasn’t manipulating his future myth?

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Friday, Nov 16, 2012
Sam Mendes’ tough, relationship-focused Bond film is really about leadership in extremis, with towering and isolated icons fighting tooth-and-nail to keep society together amidst the growing chaos of modernity.

Whatever romanticism was left in the hoary old Bond franchise, in Skyfall Judi Dench’s M does her best to put a bullet in it. The standard opening chase sequence sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a motorbike over the roofs of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul before putting him onto the top of a speeding train to do battle with an assassin who gunned down an MI6 agent and stole a datafile holding the identities of covert agents. First, M instructs Bond to leave his wounded cohort behind. Then, since agent Eve (Naomie Harris) can’t get a clear shot to take out the assassin without also risking hitting Bond, M tells her to fire away anyway. Result: one big bloody hole in Bond’s trim suit coat and one escaped assassin.

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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012
Are these the real number ones, or just excellent pretenders to an impossible throne?

So…we’ve come to the end. We’ve reach the top, the cream of the crop, the upper most of the topper most. Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed the links - both pragmatic and poetic - of the 15 films featured on the overall and director’s Best of List as compiled by the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound Magazine. We run the gamut from ten to one, debated the causal as well as the creative connections between these often divergent titles. We’ve even tried to figure out how certain works warrant their placement, while others suddenly stumble and fall. Nowhere is this more intriguing than within the two films that ended up in first place.

The displacement of Citizen Kane by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo remains an eye-opening rejection of old school Hollywood, a veiled attempt by the “new guard” to guide the critical conversation away from movies made in the earlier part of the artform to things more ‘modern’ and by assumption, meaningful. Granted, Kane came out in 1941 and Vertigo landed a mere 17 years later, but that’s several legitimate lifetimes for those making such aesthetic determinations. That Orson Welles’ masterpiece could last as long as it did at the top of the charts signals something that the James Stewart/Kim Novak vehicle has a few decades to equal.

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Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012
How did 'Citizen Kane' and '2001: A Space Odyssey' end up as the "second" best films of all time? According to Sight & Sound, it's popularity vs. prescience.

A famous football coach once said that “winning isn’t everything…it’s the only thing.” Another member of the pigskin profession argued something similar, that is, that you “play to win the game.” So what does it mean to be number two? What does it say about who you are and what you represent when there is one better than your tired and tried self? Well, some argue for comfort in defeat. After all, you’ve bypassed many significant others to get to the point where you can actually taste the ultimate triumph. You just missed by a single mark. Others settle for the moral victory, recognizing that everyone can’t be first and everything can’t be measured in placements and plaques. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of plastic trophy ‘participants.’ We specialize in crowning the winners and lamenting the losers. It’s who we are, or at the very least, seem to be.

So it’s interesting to view the films sitting just below the top on Sight & Sounds’ 2012 Best of Film List (general and directors only). In one case, we have a long standing champion finally dethroned. In the other corner is a competitor that has slowly worked its way through a couple of different placements over the years. Granted, 2001: A Space Odyssey has only been eligible since the 1972 listing, and since then, it’s bubbled beneath the Top 10, moved from said number (1992) to number six (2002), only to stay in said position this year. It’s the directors who drove it to number two in 2012, after 20 years of basically ignoring it. As for Citizen Kane, it’s been number one since 1962 (in 1952, on the first list Bicycle Thieves held that position, with no mention of Welles’ seminal work). This year, another film finally beat it.

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Wednesday, Oct 3, 2012
(B)oth Citizen Kane and Tokyo Story symbolize the essence of years misplaced. They argue that the wistful memories of the past only propagate disappointment in the present.

Call it bigotry or some manner of predetermined prejudice, but cinema seems to steer clear of the elderly. No, old people appear in many movies, their recognition often reduced to inappropriate humor, dramatis catalyst, or handkerchief fodder. In fact, film fails the oldster so frequently that when a movie comes along which celebrates or deconstructions such maturity—Cocoon, Away from Her, Michael Haneke’s Amour—we tend to go overboard with our praise. The problem, of course, is that the current cinephile demographic, a contingency made up of online know-it-alls, wannabe journalists, and stuck-in-the-mud stalwarts, don’t support stories that center on the aged. Instead, they tend to bray with the herd, harrumphing over the constant bows to youth while championing same in reviews and mainstream retrospect.

So it’s interesting that as we move toward the top of the Sight & Sound‘s Best Films list for 2012 (both the general and the directors’ selections), we find two films at number three that focus almost exclusively on the end of life. In the perennial pick for Greatest of All Time—Citizen Kane—we watch as a dying man utters some mysterious last words. The rest of the film is a quasi-mystery remade as part character study, part epic example of the American dream in disarray. Charles Foster Kane, our William Randolph Hearst substitute, grows from a boy of privilege to a mighty newspaperman. Along the way, he learns that money doesn’t solve problems, that friendship can’t be finagled or bought, and that love comes quickly and exits just as quietly. In between, power and corruption lead to loneliness. By the finale, our elderly icon is wandering his massive mansion, depressed and defeated.

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