Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Spider-man 2

Spider-Man 2

Science, Sexuality, and Other Sticky Subjects

Peter Parker uncovers performance issues in contemporary masculinized science.

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Other Recent Long Stuff

A Serious Man
Sympathy for the Devil
The Maltese Falcon
Neo’s Passport
The Dark Knight
A Copy of a Copy of a Copy
The Dreamers
The Dreamers

Books to Phlog

Book cover of Walker Percy's the Moviegoer at FiftyWalker Percy’s The Moviegoer at Fifty: New Takes on an Iconic American Novel has just been released from LSU Press. This well-received collection of twelve new essays includes a contribution from Jonathan Potter and Read Mercer Schuchardt revisiting “The Moviegoer’s Cinematic References.”

This is the first critical work devoted solely to Percy’s debut novel. Coinciding with the centenary of his birth, this collection offers fresh perspectives that underscore the novel’s ongoing relevance.


Friday, December 31, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite

S. T. Karnick and colleagues at The Reform Club are discussing Napoleon Dynamite. Hunter Baker likes it, but suggests that the film is driven by “early 80’s nostalgia . . . It’s a lot like moving through a really interesting museum.” Karnick himself suggests the film is worth watching since it “does a wonderful job of showing how conservatism works to create social order but ultimately can suppress the creative urges that are the lifeblood of any society and any economy. For a society to function well and create a truly rich environment, there must always be a balance between conservative forces and those for reform.” Sounds promising.

Speaking of liberalism and conservatism, Karnick also has a new piece up on Tech Central Station that is a reassessment of The Bells of St. Marys, which he says has undeservedly lost its reputation as a great film. He views the film through the lens of its treatment of fathers and sons, quite effectively. Makes me want to go and see the film again.

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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Interpreting Susan Sontag

I nearly let pass without comment the notices of the death of Susan Sontag, but Read reminds me that her On Photography and other writings make her an important voice in media studies (“one of few public figures debated alongside Marshall McLuhan at New York cocktail parties,” as one member of the media ecology e-list puts it), so I did a bit more research.

It seems a realistic assessment of her work that it lies somewhere between the mainstream media hagiographies and the conservative pillories (one other good take is here). Her most famous essay is an early one, “Against Interpretation” (wait a minute—we resemble that remark!). A quote from that:

The fact that films have not been overrun by interpreters is in part due simply to the newness of cinema as an art. It also owes to the happy accident that films for such a long time were just movies; in other words, that they were understood to be part of mass, as opposed to high, culture, and were left alone by most people with minds. Then, too, there is always something other than content in the cinema to grab hold of, for those who want to analyze.

As you’ll see in the rest of the essay, there are flashes of brilliance among a good few false dichotomies. But overall, Camille Paglia seems on target with her comment in the brilliant essay “Sontag, Bloody Sontag” (Vamps & Tramps, 1994) that Sontag creates more a collage than an argument. Paglia recommends instead Sontag’s seminal and controversial essay on science fiction films, “The Imagination of Disaster” (also in The Science Fiction Film Reader).

A useful comparison can be made with that poster boy of postmodernism, dean of deconstruction, and master of mumbleness, Jacques Derrida, also deceased this year. Important, but. There’s useful stuff here, but it is self-obscured and much in need of sifting. Still, however you interpret her work and life, may she rest in peace.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Matt Bailey has a review of Metropolis at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, a DVD and video review site. Pretty much sums up my experience: “Metropolis has to be one of the most talked-about and written-about of silent films, yet I find that I have next to nothing to say about it. As visual spectacle, it is perhaps without equal in its era. There is no question that Fritz Lang was a crackerjack conjurer of images, one who continues to influence film technique and style to this day. Yet under the surface (and what a surface!) of Lang’s film churns a narrative that is, at best, befuddling, and, at worst, silly.” A nice, quick read that gets its point across without fuss.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Roger Ebert, Fanboy

Critic Roger Ebert paid his dues and got his start as a writer of science fiction fanzines. He’s got a most interesting guest editorial in the January 2005 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, where he tells some of his story and gives us a history of that now-abandoned medium. Before the Internet, fanzines and their subversive virtual subculture provided an escape valve for many people: “Fanzines were not offensive in any way—certainly not in a sexual way . . . , but I sensed somehow that they were . . . dangerous. Dangerous, because untamed, unofficial, unlicensed. It was the time of beatniks and On the Road, which I also read, and no one who did not grow up in the fifties will be quite able to understand how subversive fandom seemed.” Ebert draws a connection between fanzines and the culture of the Internet: “Someday an academic will write a study proving that the style, tone, and much of the language of the online world developed in a direct linear fashion from science fiction fandom—not to mention the unorthodox incorporation of ersatz letters and numbers in spelling, later to influence the naming of computer companies and programs.” Good stuff.

phlog ::: from editor ::: Link
Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Rebel Sell

What does Fight Club have to do with Updike’s Rabbit, Run? Our fearless publisher is otherwise occupied at present, but he points us to a worthwhile read from Canada’s This Magazine. In “The Rebel Sell,” authors Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter (their book is currently available only in Canada) suggest that movies like Fight Club are not so anti-consumerist as they would have you believe. They draw on the ideas of Thomas Frank: “So here is Frank’s claim, simply put: books like No Logo, magazines like Adbusters, and movies like American Beauty do not undermine consumerism; they reinforce it. . . . What American Beauty illustrates, with extraordinary clarity, is that rebelling against mass society is not the same thing as rebelling against consumer society.” The rebel consumer is just as much a competitive consumer as the average Bobo or Yuppie. It’s all about distinction, and it’s why anti-advertising made “Volvo the car of choice for an entire generation of leftist academics.”

This is a compelling and revealing piece. One caveat: the distinction necessary when speaking of Nietszche seems equally necessary with Heath and Potter: superb description. Seriously questionable prescription. Read for yourself.

phlog ::: from editor ::: Link
Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Explanations are Hell

Andy Ihnatko, computer columnist and humorist, has a great blog post on the trials of explaining Shallow Hal to his mother.  “I was about to sigh the sigh of the ages and patiently re-explain the premise yet again, when I realized that she had, in fact, spotted a logical inconsistency in the film. And I couldn’t simply acknowledge that.” So easy to sympathize. (The title’s great too—“Now do Brazil!”).

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Monday, December 06, 2004

What Makes Them Incredible

Professor Alex Wainer has a piece on The Incredibles on the evangelical website BreakPoint. It (really) needs another level of editing, but it has the signal virtue of addressing a misperception among some critics that has (as you may have noted) frustrated me—the question of whether the movie is Nietzschean / Randian. The important thing to recognize is which Superman is the film’s inspiration—which genre we’re dealing with here. The answer in this case is not Nietzsche’s Ubermensch but Jerry Siegel’s Superman (DC Comics). Alex notes that while Siegel did initially model Superman after the Ubermensch, he quickly moved in another direction to create the now archetypal hero who “fights for Truth and Justice.” It is this tradition that The Incredibles joins. Far from it being Objectivist, Rand, in fact “would have found the whole superhero ethic of putting oneself in harm’s way for the good of others to be the very self-giving attitude she abhorred.” Just so. Credit also to Alex for attempting to encourage consistency with its own ideals within the evangelical community.

phlog ::: from editor ::: Link

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