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Daily Reads: Questioning the Tortured Artist Complex, the Strong-Weak Female Character and More

Plus: Paul Thomas Anderson and The Valley, and the need to bring back intermissions.

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential
news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Questioning the Tortured Artist Complex. This was a huge year for films depicting tortured or miserable artists, from “Birdman” to “Whiplash,” “Frank” to “Listen Up Philip.” But art isn’t necessarily linked to suffering, and J. Edward Keyes of Wondering Sound talked about how some films showed how this complex hinders art or, in the case of “We Are the Best!,” some films reject it altogether.

Like “The Punk Singer,” last year’s beautiful documentary about Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, the girls in “We Are the Best!” create not because they are in pain, but because it makes them happy, and because they have something to say (even if their message is as defiantly simple as “Hate the sport!”). Klara, Bobo and Hedvig suggest another path to creation, one forged not in agony, but in joy. When the two older men who run the youth center where the group practices get an earful of their performance, they swoop in to helpfully, earnestly “instruct” the girls on the proper, disciplined way to make music. That the scene provides the film’s biggest laughs is a telling indictment. Read more.

2. Bring Back Intermissions. Hollywood is making epic films again, from “Interstellar” to “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” but they haven’t brought back one major staple of the Roman epics of the past: the intermission. Slate’s Aisha Harris suggests that they should give us a break.

I know, I know: Releasing and scheduling a two-plus hour movie is already potentially cutting into profits for distributors and theater owners, since they can’t screen, say, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (150 minutes), “Inherent Vice” (148 minutes), or the final “Hobbit” installment (at 144 minutes, the shortest entry in the trilogy) as many times as they can show “Big Hero 6” (a brisk-by-comparison 102 minutes). But theater owners, at least, can probably make some of that back by selling even more of their ridiculously overpriced concessions. (That’s where the bulk of their revenue comes from anyway—and has for some time.) Patrons will surely be inclined to grab another drink or box of Junior Mints at intermission. And having watched that final act with new snacks and empty bladders, they’ll probably walk out of the theater more satisfied with the whole experience, perhaps more likely to return to the movies again soon—thus, potentially, making up for any losses distributors might face. Read more.

3. Female “The Newsroom” Writer Nearly Fired. Sunday’s episode of “The Newsroom,” which many critics believed suggested that newsmen should assume rape charges are false, didn’t quell too many of the beliefs that Aaron Sorkin has a problem with women. The news that Sorkin threw a female writer out of the writers’ room when she wouldn’t move on from the episode’s troubling aspects didn’t help either. Emily Yoshida of The Verge writes:

In fairness, it’s not as if every building block of Sorkin’s argument is flawed; Don is correct to point out that a site for anonymously naming rapists would eventually be abused by someone at some point. But his solution is never to adapt, to find a way to handle the anarchy and anonymity of the internet and new media. And it’s certainly never to respect a woman’s desire to express herself in whatever way she feels is appropriate. Sorkin is clearly terrified of the internet and the floodgate it opens for non-white-male voices to be heard and taken seriously, and he truly, laughably believes that we’d be better off without it. For Sorkin, the most egregious crime is not the violation of a woman’s body, but the violation of a man’s right to benefit from the status quo — which conveniently includes the daily violation and silencing of women. Read more.

4. Paul Thomas Anderson and The Valley. Paul Thomas Anderson isn’t just a great filmmaker, but one of the great California filmmakers, capturing aspects of the San Fernando Valley that few other filmmakers nail. Grantland’s Molly Lambert wrote about how Anderson documents where she grew up.

“Magnolia’s” prologue takes place at the Bryson Apartment Hotel, a historic building in MacArthur Park that dates back to 1913, which in Los Angeles qualifies as incredibly old. It was designed in the Beaux Arts style and became known as a glamorous destination in the ’20s, before fading into disrepair as MacArthur Park became increasingly run-down over the years. The Bryson played Walter Neff’s home in “Double Indemnity,” and it also shows up in late-20th-century neo-noirs “The Grifters” and “Barfly.” It was designated a historic place in 1983 and received a multimillion-dollar makeover in 1999 that brought it up to snuff. With its rooftop sign and glowering towers, the Bryson is a symbol of L.A. noir, which made it the perfect place to stage the darkly comic opening sequence about a paradoxical murder, narrated by magician Ricky Jay. Read more.

5. Who Killed the Color in “Dying of the Light?” Critics and Paul Schrader agree that the new Paul Schrader film “Dying of the Light” isn’t very good, a film clearly compromised by Lionsgate for its release. Schrader’s cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth is particularly upset, writing in a Variety guest column that the film, which was shot with vivid colors, is now desaturated and generic-looking.

Paul Schrader wanted color to play an unusual, extremely important role in the visual style of his movie. An Expressionistic approach where color doesn’t just represent moods and feelings, but meanings and symbols. This is why he insisted that color should be embedded in the very fiber of the image — using filters on lenses and colored lights — so that we were not merely catching colors on film, but truly sculpting the picture with color. The moment you try to “re-paint” or modify such a thing, it is supposed to crash to pieces. And this is what has happened to “The Dying of the Light” — an unpleasant and tragic demonstration of the limits to the so-called wonders of digital post-production. By surgically eliminating the expressionistic color from the image — the pasty yellow-green of the African scenes, the dense sepia-chocolate of the American ones, and the bluish-green from the European ones — an unknown author has offered the public not only a crippled caricature of everything, but a collection of images deprived of soul, emotion and significance. Read more.

6. The Strong-Weak Female Character. Critics and filmgoers ask for “strong female characters,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean women who are always strong. Tasha Robinson of The Dissolve wrote about how the best new female characters are weak ones.

Amelia in “The Babadook is defined by her weaknesses: her frustration with her difficult, monster-obsessed 6-year-old son Samuel, her grief for her dead husband, her terror of the dark creature manifesting in her house, her encroaching breakdown as Samuel becomes more irrational and sleep becomes a distant memory. In fundamental ways, Jennifer Kent’s horror movie is about a mother coming to terms with her anxieties, her many negative emotions, and the way they feed each other and consume her life. Amelia (like so many other horror-movie protagonists) spends more than half the movie in tears or in terror, or shuddering at the end of her rope. She isn’t a strong woman, but she’s a fascinating protagonist, juggling a difficult balance of grief, need, anger, and fear as she deals with her difficult child, and her difficult situation as a single mother. Read more.

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