Thursday, November 29, 2012

Twilight, Women, and Hollywood

The release of Breaking Dawn – Part 2 brings the Twilight series to a close and that is cause for relief for both Twilight’s fans and critics. In an article at Empire, Helen O’Hara argues that, whatever the quality of the films and their problematic gender politics, the success of Twilight marks a pivot point for Hollywood filmmaking that will lead to more movies primarily aimed at female audience and featuring lead female characters. O’Hara writes:
What we might also see thanks to Twilight and a string of female-focused hits is Hollywood beginning to treat women like a demographic that matters at all in blockbuster films. As an example of how this can work, you might have noticed in the past few years that more and more blockbusters are globe-trotting to China or Russia (for example: Battleship, The Dark Knight, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Karate Kid, The Darkest Hour and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon all feature scenes in one of the two) because China and Russia are now important markets for Hollywood blockbusters. Following that logic, if women become a valuable demographic for the studios, maybe we'll see women in male-targeted action movies or thrillers not simply defined as Wife, Girlfriend or Mother. Maybe the character composition of these films will change from a statistically unrepresentative 25% female (or so) to a more-like-it 50%.
It is premature to declare that Hollywood has pivoted to women. In 2012 we have seen a handful of major Hollywood films led by female characters: Breaking Dawn, Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, and The Hunger Games. But within Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking, women are largely absent from lead roles. Consider the biggest hits of this year: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, Skyfall, Ted, Madagascar 3, and The Lorax. The women of these films are generally limited to thin supporting parts and their roles are generally marginalized in the drama of the story.

It is also important to keep in mind that the arrival of women on Hollywood’s radar has been declared before. In 2008 it was noted—and celebrated—that four of the top twenty grossing films were female led. Interestingly, this came a year after Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov decreed that “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead” because of the financial failure of female led films in 2007. In the four years since 2008, the number of female-led motion pictures in the top twenty slots of the yearly box office has remained steady, with about three films per year. Looking at four years before 2008 that number ranges from one to three pictures. Clearly there has been an improvement but it’s nothing worth bragging about.

It is also important to remember that, although the quantity of female-led films may increase, the quality of those roles matters as much if not more. As pointed out in the hoopla over the 2008 box office, most of the female-led movies of that year were about women trying to get men to like them. In that regard, not much has changed since 2008. And for every picture like The Hunger Games, there are many more films like Project X, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and Bachelorette. The Hollywood marketplace as a whole is stacked against quality female roles.

But as O’Hara points out, Hollywood may be forced to consider female viewers for the same reason they are being forced to think about audiences in international markets. Hollywood has always followed the money and studios will produce whatever they believe will make viewers show up on opening weekend. That’s reason enough to be cautiously optimistic even if it does not give me back the ten hours of my life that I wasted watching the Twilight series.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tony Kushner on 'Lincoln'

MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes recently included an interview with Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner. The interview discusses the way the filmmakers framed and condensed history and how the movie may parallel current events.

Part 1

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Part 2

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

James Bond Retrospective

2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Dr. No, the first picture in the James Bond film series. Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema surveyed the franchise, including some of the “unofficial” Bond films. What follows is a brief survey of James Bond from the character’s literary origins to his current incarnation in Skyfall.

I. Literary Origins
The roots of James Bond are found in the real life adventures of Ian Fleming. Fleming had worked for the British Intelligence Service during World War II and drew on his experiences to create the James Bond character. Demonstrating how a character can begin in one place and end up in quite another, Fleming originally envisioned James Bond as a bland and uninteresting character to whom interesting things happen. The name “James Bond” was actually taken from the author of the bird watching field guide Birds of the West Indies, since Fleming concluded that “James Bond” was the dullest name he had ever heard.

Fleming’s first James Bond novel was Casino Royale, which was published in 1953. After Casino Royale, Fleming continued to produce one Bond book per year until his death in 1964. Additional books were published posthumously in the two years following his passing, resulting in a total of fourteen James Bond books authored by Fleming. Starting in 1968 other writers were authorized to continue the stories of James Bond in original books and tie-in novels to Bond films. Between 1981 and 2011, thirty-three James Bond novels were published, with multiple books sometimes coming out in the same year. Other spin off books were written as well including the Young Bond series and The Moneypenny Diaries.

II. Dr. No
In 1959, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman purchased the film rights to all the James Bond novels except Casino Royale, whose film rights had already been sold to another party. Producers Broccoli and Saltzman established Eon Productions and set about making the first James Bond feature: Dr. No. Sean Connery was cast in the Bond role, and although Connery was not the filmmaker’s first choice, his casting is now considered one of the great assignments of an actor with a character. Far from the boring, blunt instrument of Fleming’s novel, Sean Connery’s James Bond was the epitome of cool, a mix of rapier wit, masculine violence, and suave sexuality.

The music score from Dr. No is primarily credited to John Barry but the iconic James Bond theme was written by Monty Norman. Norman was let go during the post-production process when the filmmakers were unhappy with the body of his score but liked his James Bond theme. Retaining Norman’s theme was a wise decision as it is now one of the most widely recognized pieces of music in the world.  The music suggests danger, mystery, and sexuality and the trifecta of Ian Fleming’s literary creation with Sean Connery’s performance and Monty Norman’s theme conspired to create one of the most memorable and iconic characters in this history of the movies.

III. From Russia With Love
Dr. No was released in 1962 to a mixed critical reaction, including negative reaction from novelist Ian Fleming, but the film did well enough to warrant a sequel: From Russia with Love. It was a bigger success than Dr. No both critically and commercially. Very importantly, From Russia with Love began the tradition of devising a radio-friendly pop song associated with the title. These songs became a key element of the James Bond brand and a cornerstone of the marketing of the films.

IV. You Only Live Twice
You Only Live Twice was the fifth James Bond film and upon its release Sean Connery announced his intention to abandon the character.  This installment was notable in that it used the title of the Ian Fleming novel but not the plot, a trend that would continue throughout the series as the character drifted further and further from the scope and tenor of the novels. You Only Live Twice also included Bond villain Blofeld, played by Donald Pleasence, a much imitated character who was the inspiration for Dr. Evil in Mike Meyers’ Austin Powers films.

V. Casino Royale (1967)
In 1967, the same year that Sean Connery left Eon Productions’ James Bond series, the franchise had one of its most unusual installments. The rights for the original Bond novel, Casino Royale, had initially been sold to producer Gregory Ratoff in 1955. After Ratoff’s death, the rights transferred to producer Charles K. Feldman. Feldman initially attempted to mount a joint venture with Eon Productions but was never able to come to an agreement with Eon producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Instead of making a straight adaptation of the source novel, Feldman decided to make a James Bond parody that incorporated the psychedelic styles popular in the late 1960s.

Casino Royale was a calamitous production. The very design of the movie invited a degree of chaos, since it is divided into chapters each directed by a different filmmaker. But the production was severely impaired by drama between cast and crew. Casino Royale included a number of heavyweight talents from that time including Peter Sellers and Orson Wells and the two men did not get along. Sellers was particularly difficult to work with and parted ways with the production before all of his scenes were shot. This, combined with script rewrites and other delays, resulted in cost overruns that doubled the budget and the film’s debut was postponed.

Casino Royale was released in 1967 and it was a commercial success although not a critical one. Orson Wells suggested that the box office success of Casino Royale may have had more to do with an effective marketing strategy and a poster that featured a naked, tattooed lady, rather than anything in the film. Looking at Casino Royale decades later it is absurd, erratic, and often incoherent. But at the same time it also an interesting souvenir of the psychedelic era.

VI. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Despite the departure of Sean Connery after 1967’s You Only Live Twice, Eon Productions moved ahead with the James Bond series with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. George Lazenby stepped into the lead role but he would only star as Bond for this film.

Aside from featuring Lazenby’s single Bond performance, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was also distinguished by its music. The James Bond films typically included a song that lyricized the film’s title. Composer John Barry realized that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was quite a mouthful and didn’t lend itself to a title song, so the film primarily featured score although songs were written for the film including “We Have All The Time in the World,” performed by Louis Armstrong.

VII. Diamonds Are Forever
After George Lazenby’s single performance as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Sean Connery returned to the role for Eon Productions with Diamonds are Forever. Connery has made no secret that he was essentially bribed back to the role with a very significant paycheck.

Also returning to the Bond series was singer Shirley Bassey performing the title song. Bassey had previously recorded the track for Goldfinger and would later participate on Moonraker. She remains the only singer to provide multiple songs for the James Bond series.

VIII. Live and Let Die
Live and Let Die was the first Bond film to star Roger Moore. Although Sean Connery is popularly regarded as the best Bond and he certainly set the tone for the series, it’s the Roger Moore films that really sealed the popular image of the character. During Connery’s tenure, the James Bond stories were a mix of detective work with occasional action. The Moore films took the series is a fantastic direction with elaborate gadgets and a much more campy tone.

One of the interesting elements of the James Bond series is the way in which the character has proven pliable to the times. Although the basic elements of the character remain the same, the stories and situations have changed to reflect other cinematic trends. The villains of early Bond films directly and indirectly embodied the fears of Communism. Live and Let Die was made amidst the blaxploitation trend of the early 1970s and it incorporated urban settings and African American characters, including the first black Bond girl, played by Gloria Hendry. 

IX. The Man with the Golden Gun
The next film in the series, The Man with the Golden Gun, was the last picture to be co-produced jointly by Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. After The Man with the Golden Gun, Saltzman sold his stake in the Bond franchise to United Artists. This began the gradual corporatization of the character which would lead to legal complications in later years.

X. For Your Eyes Only
As the James Bond series entered the 1980s, a decision was made to pull back from the fantastical direction that the series had drifted toward, seen most obviously in 1979’s Moonraker, in which 007 was sent on a mission in space. For Your Eyes Only returned to the source material by combining plot elements from Ian Fleming’s novels Live and Let Die, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Notably, For Your Eyes Only was the last Bond film to be distributed solely by United Artists, which merged with MGM soon after the movie’s release.

XI. Never Say Never Again
In the early 1960s, James Bond novelist Ian Fleming developed a script for a potential Bond film with producer Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham. This script, to be called Longitude 78 West, was never made. Fleming then took the idea and turned it into the novel Thunderball, which was subsequently adapted into a film by Eon Productions. McClory filed a lawsuit against Fleming but resolved the issue through a deal with Eon in which McClory would be able to adapt the Thunderball novel ten years after the Eon film was released. When the decade had passed McClory pursued his adaptation of Thunderball but was stonewalled by legal injunctions. Eon Productions claimed that McClory has the right to the story of Thunderball but not to the James Bond character. After several more years of legal wrangling, McClory not only produced his version of the film but was also able to enlist Sean Connery to return for his final performance as 007. The Thunderball-remake was titled Never Say Never Again, a title suggested by Connery’s wife as an in-joke regarding the actor’s previous declaration that he would never play Bond ever again.

As a result, the year 1983 saw the release of two James Bond films: Eon Production’s Octopussy starring Roger Moore and Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery. The filmmakers of Never Say Never Again took note of Eon’s marketing strategy and included a title song for their picture performed by Lani Hall.

XII. The Living Daylights and License to Kill
Roger Moore completed his time as James Bond with 1985’s A View to a Kill. But Bond was back two years later with The Living Daylights staring Timothy Dalton. Dalton had originally been considered to replace Sean Connery in the late 1960s and again the early 1980s to replace Roger Moore, but in both instances Dalton walked away from the offers. When Dalton did finally accept the role, his films were a departure from the lighter and campier pictures that had distinguished Moore’s films. The Living Daylights and License to Kill took a harder edge and at the time of their release they were criticized for their violence. A third film with Dalton was planned but a legal dispute between Eon Productions and MGM stalled the production and Dalton resigned from the role.

XIII. Goldeneye
Once the legal disputes between Eon Productions and MGM were settled, the Bond series continued with actor Pierce Brosnan taking over the role in Goldeneye, released in 1995.

When production of the James Bond series resumed in the mid-1990s the filmmakers found themselves confronted by a new challenge. The original James Bond source novels had been Cold War-era spy fiction and the films to this point had directly or indirectly been about the Communist threat. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War it was unclear if James Bond still had any cultural currency. Fortunately action pictures of the 1990s had a decidedly apolitical tone as compared with the post-Vietnam action films of the Reagan-era like Rambo or the post 9/11 films of the next decade such as The Bourne Identity. During the 1990s, the ideology of the action film took a backseat to rollercoaster thrills and that is exactly what the Bond films of the Pierce Brosnan era delivered. In a way it was a return to the campier style of the Roger Moore Bond films but executed in a way that would appeal to an audience raised on videogames.

XIV. Die Another Day
The last Bond film of the Pierce Brosnan era was Die Another Day, released in 2002. Although it had a successful box office run, the film was very much an encapsulation of everything wrong with the action genre in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The picture had rampant product placement and it used action scenes as a distraction from the absence of a plot instead of the payoff to a carefully told story.

The James Bond films have on occasion rankled governments and religious organizations. Notably, the early James Bond films were criticized by the Vatican for their violence and sexuality while the Kremlin labeled them capitalist propaganda. Die Another Day received criticism from Asian countries. The North Korean government disliked the portrayal of their state and South Korean Buddhists boycotted theatres over a lovemaking scene near a statue of the Buddha.

XV. Casino Royale (2006)
After Die Another Day, the James Bond series required another reinvention. Taking a cue from the style of The Bourne Identity and following the trend of prequel and origin stories like Batman Begins, the James Bond series returned to the beginning with an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s original novel Casino Royale. Casting Daniel Craig in the lead role, the 2006 version of Casino Royale injected the Bond series with a fresh approach while maintaining the basic appeals of the character. The films of the Daniel Craig era are distinguished most by a palatable sense of both mortality and morality. Daniel Craig’s 007 was by far the most human James Bond of the film series but other characters, including the villains and the women, are also complex and compromised players in the action.

XIV. Skyfall
After the disappointing Quantam of Solace, the Daniel Craig era continued with Skyfall, which was unique both within the James Bond series and among contemporary action cinema in general. The James Bond films have generally avoided depth or emotional resonance. Bond has consistently been a flat character; he does not change much within or between films and he is typically unflappable and without weakness of character or fortitude. The James Bond of Skyfall is a complex and damaged character who must overcome personal demons and other challenges. The emphasis on character is part of a larger project of making Bond relevant for a post-9/11 audience that was begun in 2006’s Casino Royale. Skyfall continues that very aggressively and the film shows a self-awareness and intelligence about life in the age of international terrorism.

References and Further Reading
Those interested in further information about James Bond should check out the following:
  • James Bond and Philosophy edited by James B. South and Jacob M. Held
  • The James Bond Bedside Companion by Raymond Benson
  • License To Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films by James Chapman
  • The Politics of James Bond: from Fleming's Novels to the Big Screen by Jeremy Black
  • Wikipedia: List of James Bond Films
  • Wikipedia: List of James Bond Novels and Stories

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

James Bond on Sounds of Cinema Nov. 25th

On November 25th, Sounds of Cinema will survey the James Bond film series from Dr. No to Skyfall. The episode will feature music from a variety of films in the series, including "unofficial" entries like the 1967 version of Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again, as well as a full review of Skyfall.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Winona State Lecture on Nov. 14, 2012

I will be presenting as a part of Winona State University's Athenaeum Series at 1pm on November 14, 2012. The lecture is titled "Do Film Critics Matter?" and will be held on the second floor of the WSU Krueger Library. Here is the description of the lecture from the Athenaeum webpage:
Today film criticism finds itself at a crossroads. For most of the history of cinema, film criticism has been limited to a select few but with the advent of the internet, digital forces have democratized film criticism, flooding the market with new voices. And as digital sources erode print media, many film critics are finding themselves out of work. Simultaneously, films that are panned by both traditional and digital critics do extraordinarily well at the box office. This presentation will look at the change in film criticism and speculate on its value and function for the future.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Movies for Veteran's Day

Today is Veteran’s Day so here is a look at some related films. For this list I’ve chosen films that focus less on combat and more the lives of soldiers after the war.

The Best Years of Our Lives
Three World War II veterans return home and struggle to adjust to civilian life.

Born on the Fourth of July
Directed by Oliver Stone, this film tells the true story of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran who became a major figure in the anti-war movement.

Coming Home
Hal Ashby’s film focuses on a woman in a love triangle between her husband and a soldier who suffered a paralyzing combat injury.

Dead Presidents
An African American Vietnam veteran adjusts to life at home but economic desperation pushes him toward a life of crime.

The Deer Hunter
This film examines the way the experiences of the Vietnam War impacted people from a small industrial town.

The Great Santini
Based on the novel by Pat Conroy, this film focuses on a military family with a domineering father played by Robert Duvall.

The Hurt Locker
One of the few films about the war in Iraq to actually penetrate the public consciousness, The Hurt Locker tells the story of a bomb squad and the impact of a culture of war on the individual.

The Messenger
A wounded soldier is assigned to a Casualty Notification Team and is partnered with an experienced soldier who instructs him on the procedures of his job.

A documentary about American soldiers stationed in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. The film includes interviews with the solders as they reflect on their service.

Stop Loss
A veteran of the Iraq war completes his tour of duty but is forced into re-enlisting. This film is notable since actors have become stars including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Channing Tatum.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Is the Fantasy Bubble About to Burst?

I've recently come across two pieces about the state of Hollywood studio movies. Neither one is very optimistic but both are worth a read.

David Denby has written a piece for The New Republic about the emphasis on superhero and fantasy entertainment in Hollywood and how the single-minded focus on popcorn cinema is pushing all other films out of the studios' slate of releases. It is a lengthy piece but an important one. Here is a relevant excerpt:
Yes, of course, the studios, with greater or lesser degrees of enthusiasm, make other things besides spectacles—thrillers and horror movies; chick flicks and teen romances; comedies with Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigl, and Cameron Diaz; burlesque-hangover debauches and their female equivalents; animated pictures for families. All these movies have an assured audience (or one at least mostly assured), and a few of them, especially the Pixar animated movies, may be very good. The studios will also distribute an interesting movie if their financing partners pay for most of it. And at the end of the year, as the Oscars loom, they distribute unadventurous but shrewdly written and played movies, such as The Fighter, which are made entirely by someone else. Again and again these serioso films win honors, but for the most part, the studios, except as distributors, don’t want to get involved in them. Why not? Because they are “execution dependent”—that is, in order to succeed, they have to be good. It has come to this: a movie studio can no longer risk making good movies. Their business model depends on the assured audience and the blockbuster. It has done so for years and will continue to do so for years more. Nothing is going to stop the success of The Avengers from laying waste to the movies as an art form. The big revenues from such pictures rarely get siphoned into more adventurous projects; they get poured into the next sequel or a new franchise. Pretending otherwise is sheer denial.
I don't entirely agree with Denby's argument, as movies about fantasy and myth are not inherently without meaning. Films like the original Planet of the Apes, the Harry Potter series, and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy offer storytellers and their audiences a metaphor through which to deal with valuable or challenging ideas like race and class issues, growing up, and urban blight. But Denby is right that most fantasy films aren't trying to be more than just acceptably entertaining (see: The Avengers) and most studio films evade anything in the text, subtext, or filmmaking that is potentially innovative or challenging. He is also right on the broader point: blockbuster entertainment has crowded everything else out of the way and filmmakers interested in producing smaller, smarter, or more challenging films often have to struggle against the Hollywood machine to get their projects made and onto the radar of viewers.

A similar argument was made by Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski in an interview at The Huffington Post. Tykwer and The Wachowski's, whose film Cloud Atlas opened recently, explained that the emphasis on superheroes and spectacle might come to a forced end:
Do you think Hollywood doesn't give the audience enough credit to keep up with layered, ambitious storytelling?

Tom Tykwer: In particular they don't when it comes to movies that are being made for the big screen. If you want to raise a certain budget for a more spectacular experience on a large canvas, it seems it has to be connected to PG-spectacle. A superhero film. What really started missing a while ago was large-canvas filmmaking with substance. Something to discuss and revisit. Films that stay with you -- that become friends in your life. Films that you want to find other things out about. Something else to discover on your second and third viewing. That has moved to television or a certain type of art house movie. It is really struggling to survive on the big scale on the one we attempted to do.

Andy Wachowski: There's a supply-and-demand thing working there in Hollywood. The studios are making these big spectacles, but the audiences are going to see them.

Lana Wachowski: It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Andy Wachowski: Soon the audiences will stop going to see them -- and they will. We think it's hysterical that the studios are basing all of their films nowadays on superhero sequels, when just 20 years ago you saw the collapse of the comic book industry because they did the exact same thing. So, at some point, people are going to stop going to see [these movies] and the whole system will reinvent itself as something else.
The predictions of Debny, Tykwer and the Wachowski's may already be coming to fruition. In 2012 we saw the box office failures of John Carter and Battleship as well as the under performance of The Amazing Spider-Man, Dark Shadows, and Men in Black 3. The success of movies like The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers may be enough to sustain interest in making these films for the same reason that the occasional lottery winner keeps the public buying tickets. But the fantasy bubble may burst and soon and when it does the studios will scramble to find a new source of revenue. When that happens it could bring about a resurgence of American film as it did in the 1970s or it could decimate the Hollywood studio system.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Political Films

On the off chance you haven’t gotten enough of electoral politics or (more likely) you are looking for an alternative to election night coverage and the cable news dissection that will follow, here are some films with political stories and subjects.

All the President’s Men
The story of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward breaking the Watergate story and subsequently bringing down the Nixon administration remains one the essential political movies.

The American President
This film tells the story of a widowed president who gets romantically involved with a lobbyist. The film plays like a dry run for The West Wing, as it was written by Aaron Sorkin and shares some of the same cast members. The film includes Sorkin’s droll banter but it also suffers from his obtuse speechifying.

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
This documentary about the career of Lee Atwater, a Republican political operative and the campaign chair for George H.W. Bush, is a terrific story of ambition and hubris. The film reveals how Atwater was among the primary architects of contemporary political campaigns.

This comedy about a Democratic senator suffering a mental breakdown has a raucous performance by Warren Beatty. Bulworth’s cultural references and racial politics are very much of 1998 but it remains an amusing and intelligent film.

Duck Soup
The Marx Brothers took on the absurdity of war in one of their best films. Fans of Saturday Night Live and The Colbert Report should check it out.

This dark comedy about a high school student government election gone awry has terrific performances by Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick and it is among Alexander Payne’s best films.

The Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin’s reworking of “The Prince and the Pauper” is a classic piece of political satire.

Ivan the Terrible
Sergei M. Eisenstein’s two part film was originally supposed to be three parts but Joseph Stalin hated the second part so much that Eisenstein was forbidden from completing it. Nevertheless, the surviving films are impressive work by one of Russia’s most important directors.

John Adams
This made-for-HBO miniseries has a grand scope but an intimate focus, telling the life story of John Adams and his family set against the formation of the United States. Other founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin also figure prominently in the drama.

The Lion in Winter
This story of King Henry II and his dysfunctional family is a classic of its genre and features a haunting score by John Barry.

Meet John Doe
Although it was made over seventy years ago, this film is as relevant now as it was then as it deals with media-created celebrities and political movements.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Another Frank Capra classic, this film is often cited as one of the director’s most uplifting and inspiring works but there is a cynicism underlying it.

Oliver Stone’s biopic of the 37th president is among the director’s best work, possibly his masterpiece. The picture is not a hatchet job; in fact, Stone paints a very sympathetic portrait of Richard Nixon, casting him as a tragic figure.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism
Liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald examines the effect of Fox News on the media landscape and how “infotainment” impacts political discourse.

Directed by Barry Levinson, this documentary follows members of the Creative Coalition during the 2008 election while also exploring the overlap of entertainment and politics.

Oliver Stone is not usually recognized for his humor although films like Natural Born Killers, The Doors, and Scarface (which he wrote) all have quite a bit of comedy in them. W. is the closest Stone has come to a full on comedy and its contemptuous portrayal of George W. Bush contrasts with Stone’s more reverential portrait of Richard Nixon.

The War Room
This documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign is a very popular and respected documentary that did much to turn James Carville into a media personality.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

'V for Vendetta' at Winona State on Nov. 5

The Winona State University History Association is sponsoring a screening of V for Vendetta at 7:30pm on November 5, 2012 in the Somsen Auditorium on the Winona State campus.

Although I gave a mixed review to this film at the time of its release (you can find the review in the archive) , V for Vendetta has become an important motion picture. The Guy Fawkes mask worn by the hero has become an international symbol for resistance movements, popping up everywhere from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street. V for Vendetta is also interesting to screen at this particular moment since the film was adapted by The Wachowski's, whose film Cloud Atlas has recently opened, and the themes of revolution, identity, and consciousness run through their work.

Check out this video from the time of V for Vendetta's release, in which pundits debate the merits and political message of the film. Note: the following video includes spoilers.