Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. Why We Need More Stories About Struggling Artists. Mia Hansen-Løve’s new film “Eden” follows Paul (Félix de Givry), a minor DJ in the French house scene who tries to take after the then-rising Daft Punk but is unable to capture mainstream success. “Eden” isn’t a film about making it big, but rather a film about the internal struggle of not achieving your dreams. Buzzfeed’s Alison Willmore argues that we need more films about artists who don’t become rich and famous.
There have been plenty of narratives about making it big. Success is satisfying to witness, and how someone goes from humble beginnings to something grander is one of the basic stories we like to tell and be told, almost as much as how two people fall in love. We watch underdogs putting on a show, or writing that first song, or wowing audiences with a performance. We watch biopics about artists who rise, or rise and fall, or who flame out or die young, but who are always important. Hell, “Entourage” sustained itself for eight seasons and a movie on the continuing upward trajectory of Vincent Chase’s Hollywood career, it’s only theme, really, how wonderful it is to be rich and famous. There are magnitudes more stories out there about characters who reach for the moon and are rewarded, even though most people who pick up a guitar or head out on an audition aren’t going to get to follow the same path. Which is why “Eden” offers such an unshakable sort of melancholy in showing how you can love something, and you can be good at it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to love you back, and at a certain point being broke and hungry feels desperate rather than like a signal of creative integrity.
2. Why Proscribing What Art “Should” Be Is Wrong. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about the limitations of comedy in the past couple years. Many people have denounced any type of comedy (or art) that doesn’t reflect a certain brand of values or politics; many have set limits for what art can and cannot say. The Washington Post’s Sonny Bunch claims that we’re losing sight of what art is by placing limits on it.
What is the role of art? Is it, as Lenin and his fellow thinkers believe, a tool to shape minds? Must we reject art that is impure, that comes from sources we hate or preaches messages we find distasteful? I cannot support this; indeed, I strongly reject it. It is a variation on the politicized life, that deeply harmful worldview that demands we consider all aspects of our being by some ever-shifting political standard. I can’t help but think of Kingsley Amis’ snubbing of this view in “Girl, 20.” In that 1971 novel, the narrator, a music critic, is confronted by an editor angry with him for “advertis[ing] these bastards” — “these” being the East Germans. “You do realize, don’t you, that this chap’s only allowed abroad because he’s a loyal and trusted servant of that bloody awful regime?” the editor asks. “Whether I do or I don’t doesn’t come into what I’m supposed to be at,” our hero replies. “The job you hired me for was to cover the most important events, and important judged by musical standards.”
3. Matt Zoller Seitz on “True Detective’s” Second Season. The second season of “True Detective” premieres this Sunday and the reception has been decidedly more mixed than its first season. Many fault series’ Nic Pizzolatto’s writing, the unrelenting grim tone, and the self-parodic focus on Masculinity. However, Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz insists “True Detective’s” second season is brooding, sour, and totally fascinating.
The result often plays like a cousin of “The Wire” as directed by Michael Mann — the kind of series that presents its broken, brooding heroes as if they were characters in an opera about the many different flavors of corruption, institutional and personal. It takes everything so seriously that you have to laugh at it a little bit, then admire it for being true to whatever it’s trying to be and not really giving a damn what you think of it. You’ll probably miss the humor of the first “True Detective” — the needling banter between Cohle and his partner, Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart, that spawned a thousand memes and probably made the graphic violence and philosophical monologues palatable to a wide audience — but the brooding sourness of this one is fascinating in a different way, though it loses points for showing us a world that feels far more familiar than the one showcased in season one. When Ani, Ray, and Paul are drawn together as a unit, it takes a while to establish any kind of chemistry between them, because they’re all variations of the Mann-style, soul-sick badass.
4. Comedy Central in the Post-TV Era. Comedy Central is in the midst of a creative renaissance with brilliant shows like “Key & Peele,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Broad City,” “Review,” and “Nathan For You,” but despite their fantastic programming, they’re also going through a business model crisis. The New York Times’ Jonah Weiner explores the network as it adapts to a post-TV era.
The reinvention of “The Daily Show” looms as an important trial not only for Noah — who became the target of online controversy when several old, impolitic tweets of his were exhumed after his hiring was publicized — but also for Alterman and for Comedy Central itself. The network, owned by the media conglomerate Viacom, is trying to adapt to trends that have changed the television business irrevocably since Stewart began hosting “The Daily Show” in 1999, and the program sits at the center of thorny questions about how best to face the future. Contemporary news cycles can seem to comprise nanoseconds and to unfold as much on social media as anywhere else. And viewers — especially the younger ones Comedy Central wants in its cross hairs — slip elusively among smartphone apps, Xbox consoles, YouTube windows, Apple TVs, bootleg streaming portals, Roku units, Hulu pages, Netflix accounts, Amazon interfaces, torrent clients and, if they even own them, cable boxes. Any traditional media institution faces a version of this challenge, but Comedy Central’s quandary is almost paradoxically acute: What does a television network do when its bread-and-butter demographic — young, piracy-fluent, glued to phones — stops watching television?
5. The Kids Are Not Alright in “The Tribe” and “The Wolfpack”. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding a couple new films, “The Wolfpack” and “The Tribe,” because some argue that the respective filmmakers exploit and objectify their subjects, rendering them freaks to be gawked at rather than embraced by audiences. Word And Film’s Lisa Rosman contends that the kids are not alright in these movies, and that there’s a fine line between “objective filmmaking and flat-out objectification.”
Moselle claims to have discovered the boys when they came flying by her one day on an NYC street – they began venturing outside after Mukunda donned a Michael Myers mask and snuck out of the apartment – but everything about [“The Wolfpack”] seems a little sketchy. She uses no time or name signposts (which would be helpful since these long-haired, oddly striking boys closely resemble each other) and generally foregoes a clear roadmap in favor of long sequences featuring the boys’ creative endeavors. We can presume the family lives off their homeschooling stipend but it seems odd that no governmental supervision takes place. Wouldn’t there be some regulatory examinations? And if this clan is so averse to outsiders, how does Moselle achieve access to their inner lair? The lack of concrete details becomes particularly evident when the boys begin to individuate themselves – getting jobs, finding their own apartments, even landing girlfriends. It’s hard to grasp how these financially and socially deprived kids are now casually achieving what’s tough for any millennial these days.
6. My World of Flops #38: Johnny Deep in “Mortdecai”. One of the best recurring features on The A.V. Club was My Year/World of Flops courtesy of Nathan Rabin, a series exploring the numerous flops in pop culture and discovering whether they’re secret successes, fiascos, or just abject failures. The feature has been on hiatus for the past couple years, but it’s back this week. Nathan Rabin writes about the fascinating, awful “Mortdecai” and the insanity of a mustache driving a movie.
From the moment he first introduces his mustache to the underwhelmed Asian gangsters, the film’s protagonist irritates everyone he encounters. Ideally, narration affords us more insight into a character’s psyche and motivations than dialogue could provide alone. But its extensive use here just means audiences roped in by the film’s ingenious mustache-based advertising campaign have to spend 100 or so minutes inside the mind of an obnoxious blowhard as in love with the sound of his own voice as he is with his facial hair. His mustache may be an inexplicable source of pride and identity to Depp’s character, but everyone else in the film and, let’s be honest, watching the film, finds it ugly and obnoxious, particularly Paltrow, who refuses to have sex with him while he’s sporting it. In another context, this might come off as winning self-deprecation. Instead it feels like the film is understandably annoyed with its lead character, and itself, from the get-go. Yet it feels obligated to go through the motions all the same.
Tweet of the Day:
Pretty sure I’m living in a would-be satirical subplot in a Don DeLillo novel. pic.twitter.com/jGn4ynAYGJ
— Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti) June 19, 2015