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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

As a counterpoint to Zev's thoughtful post over at On Chicago Theatre...

I suggest this article over at Slate, by Bill James trying to explain why we as a nation produce so many great athletes but don't produce very many great writers (or sub in actor/dancer/classically-trained musician/fine artist, etc.). Really... RTWT, I'll be waiting.

I don't disagree with Zev's post at all, btw. I think he points out that the best way to fix things is to actually try ways of fixing him.

I think what James points out that is useful is that, the reason we have so many great athletes is that we encourage them along every step of the way. We're all familiar with the cliche about schools building a new stadium while shutting down the arts departments. But it goes beyond that. The fact is, athletes who show promise are encouraged from a very early age and given the resources to develop their talents so that they can become superstars.

Whereas, in comparison, writers are told to go hone their craft by themselves, get really good, and then come back in 20-25 years.

Or actors are told to go act for free, pay for training, and generally pay their dues before they might start getting something approaching a salary.

I'm not trying to say that the arts don't require hard work, some thankless honing of craft. But athletes work hard too, in high school and college and when they turn pro, at least when it comes to training. And schools and pro/semi-pro teams give them incentives and rewards and acclaim as they develop.

This doesn't mean "support all theatre equally" or "don't criticize bad work". But it suggests that artists and their institutions need to recognize that artists take time to develop, along with mentoring and resources.

Sure, no one would say that America has no good writers or actors or etc etc. But Bill James points out that Shakespearean London was the size of Topeka, Kansas, and gave us Bacon, Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson (and that's just hitting the biggest names).

Even being conservative, that suggests that every small to mid-size metropolis should have a burgeoning literary community, at least two or three small theatre companies competing to out-do each other each season, a couple of chamber music groups or orchestras...

There should be the equivalent of at least a hundred Elizabethan Londons scattered across America. But there aren't. Maybe part of this is a difference in the national character or the modern temperament.

Or maybe part of it is that, from the highest to the lowest levels of the arts, we focus on short-term projects and goals, getting our thing done, raising our money, winning our company praise, just keeping the doors open, instead of thinking about who will join our company in the future, or create the new theatre company that.will replace ours.

Moving forward, that has to be both a subject for discussion and something to put into practice. Self-reliance isn't a bad thing to have, but community is certainly not a bad thing either.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

John Brown's Body is Moldering in the Grave...

Watched Santa Fe Trail (d. Michael Curtiz, 1940) last night and was very disappointed. It's one of those Errol Flynn/Olivia de Havilland swashbucklers, but here Flynn is JEB Stuart, doing his best to restore order to "Bleeding" Kansas and defeat John Brown.

Now, there's certainly a lot to discuss about how the picture gets history wrong (we're talking National Treasure 2 levels of inaccuracy) but what's most disappointing is that the movie just isn't very good. It's Flynn/de Havilland, but they keep getting pushed aside by the need to plug more historical b.s. in. They Died With Their Boots On is incredibly inaccurate, but it manages to give us plenty of romance and derring-do for Flynn. Instead, Flynn barely does anything in the finale of Santa Fe Trail.

Overall, the film is as mediocre as Ronald Reagan's performance as George Armstrong Custer. The movie is at its' most interesting when it totally rewrites history, because then it allows the mind to occupy itself with thoughts of what it changed and why did they change it?

This might make an interesting acid test, though, because anyone defending it as a great movie, from whatever side of the political spectrum, clearly has no love for cinema, only propaganda.
They Died With Their Boots OnThe Adventures of Robin Hood [Blu-ray]

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Trial of Lucullus and/or Jesse Camp...

I watched Aeon Flux, the animated series version, for the first time tonight. The first few episodes are fascinating. I'm pretty sure indie comics tackling genre stories are only now exploring that kind of territory.

However, the legacy of MTV's original programming reminds me of a Brecht piece called the Trial of Lucullus. I'm retelling this mainly from memory, so excuse any errors.

The Roman general Lucullus dies and enters the underworld. The Gods put him on trial to decide whether or not he deserves punishment or reward. The people who he dealt with in life are called before the assembled group to testify for or against him.

A long group of witnesses come forth, who condemn Lucullus for the lives lost and ruined to war, his service in the extension of an imperialist dictatorship, and for pillaging & looting his victims.

On his behalf, a cook comes forth. In the course of his conquests, Lucullus developed a taste for cherries. So he ordered his cook and other servants to bring some cherry tree saplings to plant in Italy. Thus, Lucullus has advanced Western civilization by introducing a new food-source. However, it is not enough on balance, and thus he is sent to hell.

In the same spirit, I am grateful that, for a brief period, MTV gave us The State, Aeon Flux, The Maxx, Beavis and Butthead and Daria. But it in no way makes up for them inflicting The Real World, Road Rules, Rob & Big, Laguna Beach, and Jersey Shore (among a list of others) upon us.

The State: The Complete SeriesDaria: The Complete Animated SeriesAeon Flux - The Complete Animated CollectionBrecht Collected Plays: Four: Round Heads and Pointed Heads, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, SeƱora Carrar's Rifles, The Trial of Lucullus, and two one-act plays (Methuen World Classics)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sci-fi tropes that need to be banned for 50 years...

I had a serious post half-written about how I'm somewhat tired of the sci-fi genre. And then I realized it would probably be more helpful/fun to make a post of sci-fi tropes/plot devices that need to be banned for at least the next 50 years.

Clearly I'm not a governing body with any kind of authority, so, think of it this way. If you are writing something in which any of the following things are used, just think twice about it. Are you really writing something that original?


  1. Despite being the distant future, America still exists pretty much like it does now, both geographically and sociologically.
  2. Despite being the distant future, America's main political/military rivals are still exactly the same as they are today.
  3. Despite being the future, the one world government is run suspiciously like a US-style democracy, and most of the leaders seem to be white and/or male.
  4.  Despite being the distant future with high technological advancement, the roles of men and women are exactly the same. If they are being disputed, it is in the same way they are currently being disputed.
  5. Mankind has encountered only one alien race, and they are monolithically united in fighting us.
  6. The morality of totally wiping out a sentient race is never questioned, or only by a straw man.
  7. Mankind is technologically set back by a disaster. It responds by adapting SCA/medieval political units, with no alterations.
  8. When mankind loses technology and forms a quasi-utopian pre-Industrial society, no one ever requires internal medicine or modern pharmaceuticals.
  9. Despite major technical advances, including mass teleportation, mankind still relies on 19th/early 20th naval tactics for warfare. Especially in space.
  10. The Nazis/Confederates win World War II/the Civil War.
  11. The Nazis/Confederates win World War II/the Civil War with the aid of time travelers/aliens/dragons.
  12. A quasi-fascist strong man is the only one who can save the Future US/Earth from a major threat. Anyone who questions him is completely wrong.
  13. Except for uniforms that look like Iron Man joining a SWAT team, average soldiers are completely the same as the stock types from a World War II movie.
  14. Sexual relations and mores are exactly the same as they are currently.
Ok, this is just a start. If you have more suggestions, leave them in the comments.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"A mother-in-law ought to know where her son-in-law can be arrested..."- The Three-Penny Opera, 1931, d. G.W Pabst

The Threepenny Opera - (The Criterion Collection)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Watch the picture, then. And don't move."

The post below contains my thoughts on Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire. This was one of the films I considered posting about for the Film Noir blog-a-thon, but didn't have enough original thoughts to bring it to a full post.

However, Ed Howard did end up writing a wonderful post about Crossfire. And, luckily for me, one of his thoughts, regarding the fact we know the culprit for the inciting murder relatively early on, plays into some of my thoughts on the performances in the film.

As I argue below, the tension for the film comes not from the mystery of who the killer is, but whether our heroes will let him get away with his crime.

Thoughts below the break...