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by Shipra Gupta
June 2, 2014 10:44 AM
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#LongReads: Maya Angelou, Angelina Jolie and the Desire to Transcend

Angelina Jolie at the London premiere of 'Maleficent'

Rapid fire is the publishing world's new normal, but inspiring long-form content is not a thing of the past. Enter #LongReads: a weekly post containing what we believe to be five of the most compelling pieces of long-form, entertainment-related content circulating around the web.

This pieces selected for this week's edition of #LongReads focus on the theme of transcendence. Transcending life, death, time, memory, personal identity, political identity, cultural identity and even social identity. 

"Maya Angelou, Writer of Many Talents, Dies at 86" by Hillel Italie

Written for The Associated Press, Hillel Italie's obituary has been republished and repurposed hundreds of thousands of times since it was first ran on Thursday, May 29th, a day after Angelou's death. Although it is normal practice for publications with subscriptions to The AP to republish verbatim from the wire agency's database, Italie deserves to be recognized with more than just a byline for constructing such expressive piece of prose in Angelou's memory. 

READ MORE: Remembering Author Maya Angelou's Film and TV Career

His descriptions of the 20th century literary legend strike a balance between a distinct, assured point-of-view and endless possibility. "Tall and regal, with a deep, majestic voice," Italie writes, "she was unforgettable whether encountered in person, through sound or the printed word." In the version published on The AP site, which is the one that we link to above, Italie ends the piece rather abruptly -- as if he had more to say. Rather than drawing up a conclusion with a magnificent flourish, Italie opts for the choice that is stylistically unsettling, yet also emotionally satisfying as it seems to support the idea that Angelou still lives on in more ways than we can count.

"Writing Almost Feels Like Method Acting" by Joe Fassler

Molly Antopol, who released her debut collection of short stories entitled "the UnAmericans" back in February of this year, spoke with The Atlantic's Joe Fassler about how Grace Paley has influenced the way she approaches her own writing. Antopol expressed deep admiration for how Paley was able to weave a political sensibility into her narratives without seeming pontificating. "I love how Paley’s stories, in this way, start off with intimate domestic situations that spin out effortlessly into a more global arena," says Antopol. Incorporating ideology seamlessly into a character proves to be a difficult task for most writers, no matter the medium. According to Antopol, Paley's ability to successfully construct characters with a distinct political sensibility stemmed from her belief that a writer should write about what he or she knows least. The challenge that comes from not knowing, argues Antopol, provides a freedom as well. By getting pushed out of her comfort zone, she says, "I’m forced into having empathy for everyone—even someone who I’d normally be upset with, or feel wronged by." Assuming this birds-eye point-of-view, Antopol seems to argue, assists with the construction of a more cogent narrative.

"Angelina Jolie’s Perfect Game" by Anne Helen Peterson

Anne Helen Peterson's critical analysis of Angelina Jolie's carefully self-styled public image can be seen as a sort-of companion piece to the Amy Nicholson piece for L.A. Weekly that we included in last week's edition of #LongReads. In contrast to Nicholson -- who argues the disintegration of Tom Cruise's image directly correlated to the explosion of the blogosphere and the viral video culture -- Peterson centers her discussion on Jolie's public image within the context of People Magazine and Us Weekly, as well as the ensuing, outrageously expensive bidding wars between the two rival tabloids over celebrity photo rights. Peterson places a microscope to Jolie's public life over the past 10 years in order to draw out a distinct ideological and theoretical analysis, situated carefully within the sociocultural context of Hollywood history and tabloid culture. “Jolie’s image,” Peterson argues, “thus combines a successful career, motherhood, engaged philanthropy, and active sex appeal: the very height of having it all, but in a way that reflects a distinctly transnational, non-U.S.-centric identity.” 

Although Peterson acknowledges that Jolie's identity may not appeal to "conservative American moviegoers," she points out that "progressive Americans and the global market at large" find it very attractive as it offers them multiple points of entry from which to engage. Peterson is also keenly aware of how her piece may come of as flattery, for she makes a concerted effort to examine Jolie's relationship to privilege -- noting how the starlet is hyper-conscious of the luxuries fame has afforded to her. Citing one of Jolie's recent interviews with NY Daily News, where the reporter asked her if she felt guilty for working and not having enough time for her children, Peterson notes how in Jolie's response, "Instead of attempting to make herself seem 'just like us,' she acknowledges the gap; instead of empathizing, or comparing her struggle to others’, she underlines just how difficult it is not only for most of her fans, but most of the world."

"Damon Lindelof Promises You His New Show Won’t End Like ‘Lost’" by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

According to Taff Brodesser-Akner's profile of Damon Lindelof, the "Lost" co-creator is still recovering from the fan backlash that followed the conclusion of the cult series. After four years, Lindelof will finally return to television as the showrunner on HBO's upcoming summer drama, "The Leftovers." Having seen the pilot, Brodesser-Akner calls "The Leftovers" the "spiritual cousin" of "Lost." However, he is quick to point out that the former is different from its predecessors in many ways. While specific differences between the two shows are not highlighted within the piece, Brodesser-Akner seems to suggest that differences between the two shows stems from the dichotomy between network and cable shows. "Lost," as Lindelof says at one point in the article, was not supposed to be a success -- it became a success by accident. Lindelof, who was only 30 at the time, brought on Cuse to help him run the show after J.J. Abrams left to direct "Mission: Impossible III." And as Brodesser-Akner writes, Cuse and Lindelof "were sure what they were doing was weird enough that it would be this bizarre half-season series -- a cool DVD gift set for nerds." 

When the show turned out to be a critical and ratings hit, however, Lindelof and Cuse were caught by surprise. Suddenly, they had to churn out 22 original episodes over the course of just a few months. Add in the constant uncertainty of cancellation and you've got a disaster waiting to happen. On "The Leftovers," however, Brodesser-Akner notes that Lindelof and his team of writers have taken their time with worldbuilding -- a luxury pace that comes specifically with working in cable, which, Brodesser-Akner seems to argue, stands in stark contrast to the frenetic pace of the network production model that set up "Lost" as a ticking time bomb.

Lukas Moodysson, Amateur Punk by Colleen Kelsey

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's new film, "We Are The Best," opened in a select number of U.S. theaters on Friday. Set in the 1980s, the film is a punk rock youth drama and a departure, as Moodysson notes in his interview with Colleen Kelsey of Interview Magazine, from his characteristically dark cinematic meditations. Moodysen's conversation with Kelsey is both ideological and psychological as they discuss the punk movement and the emotional development of children at length. When asked why he decided to center the story on children, Moodysen specifically cites an "openness that reacts very strongly to things." This "openness," he argues, for the most part, only exists in children. "Sometimes when you get older, you react much less," he says to Kelsey, "That's also a reason why a lot of young people get hurt because if you're open, you're more subject to being hurt by things." This psychological observation ties into a comment Moodysen makes later on about the punk movement, where he notes how "In retrospect, punk has always been painted as fantastic," when in fact the movement's anarchic and violent sensibility actually reflects the youth's tendency toward "openness" in order to communicate a deep-rooted anxiety and discomfort with oneself.

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