Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Free Yourself From the Cult of Marlon Brando. Yesterday, Daily Reads linked to The Atlantic piece about the decline of under-40 American actors by Terence Rafferty. The piece has gotten a lot of positive and negative attention on social media and in print. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody argues that it’s time to take another look at American actors and to free yourself from the cult of Marlon Brando.
The best American actors have been overlooked, by critics and peers alike, and Rafferty, in repeating that error today, replicates the misjudgments of years past. As he laments the decline of training — along with what he considers a concomitant decline in “American culture,” which, he says, “isn’t providing a high level of sustenance right now” — Rafferty invokes another spectre that haunts the current cinema, the cult of Marlon Brando. Imbued with serious theatrical training, Brando is cherished for his theatrical impersonations, as in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “On the Waterfront,” and “The Godfather,” when, in fact, his greatness is in his person, and shines through most clearly and forcefully in roles that depend least on impersonation — “Guys and Dolls,” “Last Tango in Paris,” and the Maysles brothers’ documentary “Meet Marlon Brando.” Brando was great not because of his theatrical training but despite it. He was trapped in artifice through most of his career, when his mere presence was itself one of the most charismatic and original ever filmed. Brando himself was a living work of art, and most of his famed performances aren’t gilded lilies but gilded paintings. He was pushed to be overpainted, overvarnished, overdecorated, and only a few films of his get close to the true depths of his character — because the technical and theatrical side of his talent was, for the most part, the one that got praised and rewarded, the one for which he was hired.
2. James Cameron’s Tribute to Composer James Horner. On Monday, Oscar-winning composer James Horner died in a plane crash at 61. Horner is responsible for many beloved film scores, but his work his director James Cameron is especially notable. His scores for “Aliens,” “Titanic,” and “Avatar” perfectly establish the respective tone and are some of the most identifiable elements of each film. Over at the Hollywood Reporter, James Cameron pays tribute to the late composer. (Cameron talks to Entertainment Weekly about Horner here.)
When I was doing “Titanic,” he had just done “Apollo 13” and “Braveheart.” I thought, “I don’t care what happened, I want to work with James.” We had this very cautious meeting where we were falling all over ourselves to be polite. We laughed about it so much in subsequent years. But we developed a very transparent means of communication which made for a great working relationship. He totally committed himself to the movie. He blocked out his schedule and sat down and watched maybe 30 hours of raw dailies to absorb the feeling of the film. I asked if he could write some melodies. I believe that a great score really consists of something you can whistle. If that melody gets embedded in your mind, it takes the score to a different level. I drove over to his house and he sat at the piano and said, “I see this as the main theme for the ship.” He played it once through and I was crying. Then he played Rose’s theme and I was crying again. They were so bittersweet and emotionally resonant. He hadn’t orchestrated a thing, and I knew it was going to be one of cinema’s great scores. No matter how the movie turned out, and no one knew at that point — it could have been a dog — I knew it would be a great score. He thought he had done only five percent of the work, but I knew he had cracked the heart and soul.
3. How Minions Destroyed the Internet. If you’re wondering what Minions are, you’ve probably seen them before. They’re the tiny yellow little henchmen in the “Despicable Me” films that look cute and say cute things. Well, it also turns out that Minions are one of the best sources for memes on the Internet. The Awl’s Brian Feldman explores the Minion meme and what it says about the Internet and society.
Minions have been engineered to be everything and nothing at once. They are not sexual, but they can develop romantic interest. They are androgynous but have distinctly male names. Their language is a hodge-podge of others. Their bodies have both a slender skinniness and the curves of fatness. They all need corrective eyewear. So, really, we know frustratingly little about Minions, but do note enough signifiers which trick us into believing they are substantial. They are paper-thin archetypes that we cast our own ideas, aspirations, and worries onto. What I’m trying to say is: Minions are the perfect meme…Actually, wait. Let me revise that. Minions are bigger than memes. I don’t have a word for it. Are they the übermeme? The word “meme” means many things to many people (for instance, it is often incorrectly used as a synonym for, like, the fifty-sixth definition of “macro”), but in general, a meme is intrinsically bonded to a certain, often very granular emotion. Socially Awkward Penguin is tied to social awkwardness, Sweet Brown’s “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” is linked to being too busy, the facepalm is about being very disappointed, cereal guy is about being in the middle of eating but also wanting to add your two cents, the song “Friday” is about trying your best and failing but still having fun, etc. Even certain franchise characters espouse a specific view (Sonic the Hedgehog: nineties edgy raditude, Shadow the Hedgehog: shitty early aughts raditude). The new Pixar movie,”Inside Out,” takes this “one character-one emotion” structure to its logical conclusion. But Minions are not tied to any central emotion. They occupy an odd middle ground as a specific piece of intellectual property unbound from a specific feeling or worldview. Minions are sarcastic, honest, smarmy, snarky, playful, mean, and downright sour depending on the need.
4. How Pixar’s “Inside Out” Finds Sadness in Joy. Pixar’s newest film “Inside Out” is set in a 11-year-old girl’s brain, which is controlled by anthropomorphized emotions, like Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. “Inside Out” tells the story of how growing up means coming to terms with negative emotions, and how they can be sources of joy and comfort. Slate’s Dan Kois examines “Inside Out” as a parent and its revolutionary message to children.
Joy, it turns out, is no heroine, though the movie cannily presents her as one at first. She’s our shiny and sweet narrator, and she clearly loves Riley with all her heart. In fact, the movie’s sophisticated narrative structure encourages us to cheer for Joy even as it gradually becomes clear that what Riley needs most —what all children need most as they grow older—is for Joy to fail. Not every moment of Riley’s life can be exultant. Not every memory in Riley’s banks should be uniformly joyful, or uniform at all: Part of growing up, the movie reminds us, is gaining access to more complicated, multicolored emotions. And so for Riley to be healthy and happy — truly happy, not “joyful” — Joy needs to shed her aversion to Sadness, the co-worker she understands the least, and embrace the role that even negative emotions have to play in a truly good life.
5. “The Virgin Suicides” Is a Window into Sofia Coppola’s Fixations. The Dissolve’s Movie of the Week this week is Sofia Coppola’s debut film “The Virgin Suicides about five sisters in 1970’s Detroit. Genevieve Koski gives the keynote address for the film and how it establishes Coppola’s pet themes she’ll explore throughout her career.
“The Virgin Suicides” manages the neat trick of staying faithful to its source material — Jeffrey Eugenides’ popular debut novel — while simultaneously reflecting its director’s unique viewpoint. Coppola adapted the novel herself, and was almost certainly drawn to the material because it meshed with her interests and sensibility. But as with all her subsequent efforts, much of what happens in “Virgin Suicides” happens between the lines of dialogue and plot. Coppola is a visual filmmaker first and foremost; with the possible exception of her most recent feature, 2013’s “The Bling Ring,” her films are almost perversely light on dialogue, and heavy on dreamlike, meditative imagery — window-based and otherwise — that suggest more than they tell. It’s an intuitive, internally focused style of filmmaking distinctive from her father’s formal, wide-scoped approach to epic stories. It’s not difficult to read Coppola’s favored themes as an outgrowth of her privileged upbringing, or her stylistic approach as a rejoinder to her father’s — many have done just that when grappling with her idiosyncratic filmography. But regardless of its deeper roots, Coppola’s filmmaking style has blossomed into its own lovely, distinctive organism, and it found first bloom in “The Virgin Suicides.”
Tweet of the Day:
President Obama is quoted as saying the Confederate flag “belongs in a museum.” The President went on to question why it had to be snakes.
— Erik Charles Nielsen (@ecnielsen) June 20, 2015