Those who gain power from the existing institutions love when art is made “highbrow” and separate from the masses. The documentaries made by the Maysles Brothers and Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County USA were not seen as a threat because they lingered in the art house/film festival scene. Michael Moore has always been a different creature, and the reactions from those in power show us they feel threatened by his work. Why is that?
I really feel sorry for adults who think the United States of America is good for anything. How privileged & wilfully ignorant one must be to hold onto those myths in the face of stark reality. There’s not one single moment we can pinpoint as the event when it all went to shit, just mile markers of misery along the way. One of the most significant points in the nation’s history was the election of Ronald Reagan. The American public had already been suffering an extended period of intentional governmental failure and corporate takeover of what had previously been for the public good. The ascension of Reagan and his accompanying religious right-wing zealots secured America’s final descent into Hell, a pit each successive president has made sure we’ve stayed in.
Chinese Horse c.15,000-13,000 BCE Lascaux Cave, nr. Montignac, France
In the cinema, it is not uncommon to hear filmmakers cite paintings as part of their inspiration. It makes sense because film is primarily a visual medium, so the same elements of design & aesthetics present in painting are going to apply to movies. I only ever took basic art history classes in high school & college and know that I should be building my knowledge and understanding of this form. I want to appreciate visual art beyond moving pictures & comic books, so I’m starting by doing this series. In Looking at Art, I will pick a painting or sculpture and spend some time just looking at it, allowing myself to think about it & ask questions. Then, I’ll share some background information on the piece and wrap things up by synthesizing my questions and the facts.
Infinity Pool (directed by Brandon Cronenberg) – 27 January
Possessor was one of the most unflinchingly brutal movies I’d seen in a long time, so I now approach Brandon Cronenberg’s work partially cowering but intrigued. The official synopsis of the picture is very vague, telling us it’s about a couple who are wealthy and young enjoying a vacation at an all-inclusive resort. However, outside the grounds of the hotel is something perilous & violent, a cultural collapse. If this is anything like Possessor, expect zero sentimentality from the director and visual effects that will melt your brain. Stars Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård.
Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: Spider-Man No More (2018) Reprints Amazing Spider-Man #39-52, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3-4, and Not Brand Echh #2 Written by Stan Lee Art by John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Marie Severin
Steve Ditko was gone and with him ended the first era of Spider-Man. This second era wasn’t going to be a downturn in quality, though. Stan Lee brought in artist John Romita whose style would become the standard for how Spider-Man was presented even outside the comics for decades to come. Romita’s art is different from Ditko’s. Where the former artist portrayed Spider-Man/Peter Parker as a spindly, almost spidery lanky fellow, Romita bulked the character up a bit. His muscle mass increased, but not too much, and the glasses disappeared. This wasn’t a Spider-Man who was a 90-pound weakling anymore. However, he was still an outcast to a degree. His dual identity was even more of a problem going forward as Peter tried to engage in serious adult relationships. The power and the responsibility that followed plagued every chance Peter had at happiness.
Grey Gardens (1975) Directed by David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer
In Harlan County, USA, we were reminded of the recent history of the ongoing war between Labor and Capitalism. It’s easy to forget how close we are to profound historical movements and that these conflicts never ended; they merely changed shape. The Gilded Age, one of the most horrific periods for Labor, was not as far back as we like to think, and in The Maysles’ Grey Gardens, a woman born during that period is prominently featured. History doesn’t have a stopping point; one moment flows into the next and carries humanity forward, and with it comes many of the unacknowledged problems of those eras, mixing with the issues of contemporary periods. Cultural detritus lodges itself into the culture’s psyche and leads to horrors. The story of the Beales is a horror story like that, neglect and the decay of beautiful things.
Harlan County USA (1976) Directed by Barbara Kopple
Like sand, our memory of history in the United States slips so easily between our fingers that we have forgotten far more than we remember. In this way, film is an act of preservation, the attempt to secure moments in our past in a manner that words cannot. The story of the American worker is one that was ground down almost to nothing in the hands of the Reagan Administration and on into the Clinton Administration, Bush Jr, Obama, Trump, and now today. Many promising new unions are being formed, and it is clear younger people want to embrace that collective strength that is far more potent than the individualism that only leads to ruin & alienation. Barbara Kopple understands the importance of unions and who leads them, which brought her to Harlan County, Kentucky, in 1973.
Salesman (1969) Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin
Cinéma vérité is a style of documentary filmmaking. It was developed by French philosopher Edgar Morin and his equally French collaborator Jean Rouch who made movies as an anthropologist. In turn, these two gentlemen derived the idea from Kino-Pravda, a series of 23 newsreels produced in the 1920s. Kino-Pravda translated from Russian into English as “film-truth,” with the intent to capture life unstaged & unperformed, simply as it happens.
Cinéma vérité is often referred to as the “observational style” of documentary filmmaking. There are rarely staged interviews; instead, the director and/or camera operator might have a conversation with the subject, and often their portions are pared down as much as possible so that the subject is the focus of all action. The goal is that the truth of the subject is revealed through what they say, akin to talk therapy in many ways, having them go through the actions of their life, resulting in their commentary on their own actions and then the realization of the meaning of their life. Or the reverse, the subject comes to no realization, but the audience expands their understanding of the human experience through observing a person in their natural environment.
December 2022 saw another 6,000+ views/month. For the year, PopCult clocked over 39,000 total views, showing 117% growth in views from 2021. For more on that and other changes coming to PopCult, check out The State of the Blog 2023. Onto the schedule for January.
New Movie Reviews
Film Series Schedule
Jan 2 thru 16 – The Great American Documentaries, Volume I
Salesman, Harlan County USA, Grey Gardens, Streetwise, Roger & Me, Hoop Dreams, American Movie
Jan 18 thru 27 – Overlooked Films of the 1990s Part 1
Living in Oblivion, What About Bob?, The Fisher King, Arlington Road, A Simple Plan