Tag Archives: journalism

Stop the Presses

Thrust a newspaper into the camera and you’ve got my attention. Or, if you like, include an insert shot where the front page is held taut by two disembodied hands. I’m a sucker for this kind of exposition, even if it is kind of cliché. I just love how much it implicitly teaches me about a film’s world. The whole story can take place in cramped rooms and be acted out by only a few principal characters, but toss in a newspaper and you’ve widened the film’s scope. Suddenly, I know that this world has mass media! Furthermore, I know that it has a reading public to buy and consume that media. And if the front page features photos of those principal characters, I know that the film’s story is diegetically big. I mean, obviously: it’s front page material.

I love this. How newspapers convey a sense of the broader world; how light and shadow bend across their textures onscreen. I love it so much that I collect screenshots of newspapers whenever I possibly can. And I figure that since I’ve collected so many by now, I might as well share some—10, to be specific, from three countries and across a span of 45 years. Look in the fine print and see if you can find 1) a very unlikely weather phenomenon and 2) what looks like a James Joyce reference.

The films, in order: Mario Monicelli’s Big Deal on Madonna Street, Jacques Becker’s Casque d’or, Max Ophüls’ Caught, Robert Bresson’s The Devil, Probably, John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, William A. Wellman’s Nothing Sacred, Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld, Wellman again with Wild Boys of the Road, and Vincente Minnelli’s Yolanda and the Thief


Filed under Cinema

Lost in Termination

In the inaugural piece for her new GQ series “The New Canon,” Natasha Vargas-Cooper writes the following:

Whether reverence for movies from a bygone era is rooted in merit, nostalgia, or neurosis about film being an inferior medium to literature, movies keep pace with social mores of a time and deserve to be free of the tastes and prejudices of people who grew up without Quentin Tarantino.

Am I crazy, or is Vargas-Cooper completely full of incoherent shit? I really want to know! Every time I reread the intro section of her article, I question my sanity a little more. Is it an elaborate prank? Is she trolling her readers? Or does she really believe that “any movie made before, say, 1986 has received its due respect”? Is she just trying to flatter the ignorance of her audience? Or is she trying to look edgy and populist in a way that, as Glenn Kenny rightly points out, is about half a century behind the times?

Mind you, I’m just addressing the article’s first five paragraphs and their philistine manifesto. The rest of the piece, discussing Terminator 2, is pleasantly written and generally inoffensive, hardly appropriate for the first skirmish in a culture war. Where are the bold claims and aesthetic gambits suggested by her introductory bravado? She really just echoes what everybody’s been saying about T2 since it was released two decades ago. Could it be that she’s all bark, no bite? Or that she has no idea what the hell she’s talking about?

Take a sentiment like this: “[I]t’s an obligation that every generation must take upon itself in order for art to thrive: tear down what’s come before and hail our own accomplishments as good enough. Otherwise we exist in a sort of dead time, retreating back to the nostalgic and sacrosanct.” Why, it’s like she took a handful of somewhat iconoclastic ideas, then mashed them together without worrying about whether or not they made any kind of sense!

Because yes: it is good to question received wisdom. (Duh.) But no, it’s not good to “hail our own accomplishments as good enough”—i.e., settle for mediocrity. This seems obvious. Is this obvious? I mean, why would any person with a modicum of critical thinking skills ever want to trash everything that came before the past 25 years, let alone use that desire as a battle cry in a GQ article? (And on what planet does being open-minded cause us to exist in a “dead time”?)

I could go on and on about Vargas-Cooper’s ridiculous bullshit—her reference to nonexistent “purists” who refuse to discuss Paul Thomas Anderson; her framing of the series as a wacky but noble experiment; her apparently belief that militant anti-intellectualism and blatant ageism are radical ideas—but I’d be wasting my breath. The point is that we have enough blind spots as it is; we don’t need to validate them! And for Natasha Vargas-Cooper, the lesson is that you can slaughter sacred cows without slaughtering your own credibility.


Filed under Cinema

Why copy-editing is important

Exhibit A: Entertainment Weekly‘s headline about the prizewinners at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Exhibit B: the profile supposedly for The Fighter director David O. Russell from the L.A. TimesOscar nominees Cheat Sheet. What do they have in common? They’re both from the websites of major print publications, and they both reveal fairly shocking editorial laziness. Granted, I’m just some penny-ante blogger who edits a biweekly college paper, but even I know to double-check the spelling of words in a headline before making it visible to the public. I mean, seriously: the article was about Sundance. But I won’t belabor the point; it pretty much speaks for itself.

The other example is, I suppose, more acceptable, because I don’t know how they go about changing their Cheat Sheet from year to year. Somehow, somebody fucked up and accidentally left behind Tarantino’s information from last year. (Better yet, Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary‘s last name is misspelled in it, too!) However, it’s still pretty disappointing when days pass and, as of this writing, they still haven’t changed it. You’d think maybe they’d glance at their own website once in a while, to check for mistakes like this? EW thankfully changed theirs pretty quick, although as you can see, the URL still says “Sudance.” [Cue sad trombone.]

I’m sorry, David O. Russell, but according to the L.A. Times, you’re just another incarnation of Quentin Tarantino.


Filed under Cinema