Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there’s anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at email@example.com.
Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Horror Films Love Pop Music
Not all synth-based music set against scenes of terror is meant to be menacing. Vadim Rizov, writing at Film.com, examines a few instances where screeching violins take a backseat to a popular song in order to heighten the anxiety at a key point in a horror film. Inspired by the latest film from musician Rob Zombie, Rizov’s handful of picks featuring this phenomenon span three and a half decades.
“All movies have editorial rhythm, of course, but this genre’s especially reliant on precise attention to cutting: the longer a shot during a tense sequence, the greater possibility it’ll end with a) something horrible coming at us from the left, right or back of the frame with no warning b) a sudden cut to something horrible happening. Songs serve as a sonic safety buffer that could be punctuated by sudden noise at any moment.”
Goodbye Cinema, on Jonathan Rosenbaum
One of the most prolific, longest-working critics in the business got the profile treatment this week from the LA Review of Books’ John Lingan. Those who know Rosenbaum from his work in the Chicago Reader might be intrigued to read about his upbringing, living in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and sometimes jamming with the men who would become Steely Dan. Lingan’s interview also delves into Rosenbaum’s experiences as a professor, bringing a worldview of cinema into the classroom.
“To his own surprise, he’s amassed a small but loyal and far-flung following by simply digitizing his own archives. Rosenbaum estimates he’s published ‘well over 8,300 items since the late ’60s,’ and he continues to write. So three to five times a week, a ‘new’ piece appears online, featuring Rosenbaum’s characteristically enormous paragraphs in small type on a brown background. Most of the essays are illustrated by stills that Rosenbaum finds by scouring the web. (He graciously includes female nudity whenever possible.) This homemade HTML affair is one of the great film sites on the Internet: a regularly updated, nonchronological tour through a four-decade career and one of the most movie-soaked brains in existence.”
Last week’s announcement of the passing of Margaret Thatcher inspired a wave of remembrances focusing on the late Prime Minister’s effect on British culture. While many turned to the music world, David Cairns explores for MUBI’s Notebook how the British film community dealt with Thatcher’s policies. As case studies, Cairns uses work from Peter Greenaway, Ken Loach and others to show the spectrum of cinematic approaches from surreal to unflinching.
“Lindsay Anderson’s, brilliant and scathing Britannia Hospital is nearer the mark. Conceived as the Labour government sank under an onslaught of strikes, it was produced as Thatcher came to power and swiftly became the least popular prime minister in history, but came out just as the Falklands War transformed her reputation with a wave of bullish, belligerent patriotism: a poster showing a bandage-swathed figure wielding a Union Jack had to be abandoned, and the movie died a death, ignored by the public and reviled by critics.”
The Paper Chase: On the Origins of Reverse Shot
Starting any kind of publication from scratch is, at best, a risky proposition. Even though a decade of successful and insightful criticism is the proof of their ultimate success, reading Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert’s recollections of the beginnings of Reverse Shot is a fascinating look at loving film and embracing new avenues of discussion. As the two point out in their closing, even though their writing no longer has a tactile component, film criticism on the web still has the incredible potential to be a fulfilling endeavor.
“Our distrust of the web as a proper outlet for what we hoped would be intellectually rooted discussion had less to do with our generation’s ambivalence about online culture (we were the ones who were supposed to ‘make it happen,’ following the slow bursting of the dotcom bubble) than it did our vision of having a place outside of ‘normal’ culture, even outside of time, for our particular discourse. All too often the way we felt about cinema was at odds with the dominant culture’s point of view. In the years before we started Reverse Shot, we’d already felt somewhat safely ensconced in a small, carved-out world of like-minded folk who agreed with us when we asserted that a ‘difficult’ work such as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies was clearly the film of the year, while the Academy seemed fit to give their highest award to a Ron Howard movie.”
Why white critics’ fear of engaging Tyler Perry is stifling honest debate
“The precarious relationship between Perry’s oeuvre and the white critics who have spent the past seven years sprinkling sugar on their critiques of it exposes the larger issue of the dearth of minority voices in film criticism. Say what you will about the New York Press’ athletically contrarian Armond White, he initiates conversations about black cinema that white critics studiously avoid, providing such a rare, unique service that he’s risen to an awkward prominence, in spite of reviews so wacky and left-field, they practically qualify as conceptual art. I don’t have a solution for the lack of diversity in the film-criticism discipline, but it’s a problem that there are conversations around Perry’s work that won’t take place unless a black person initiates them, and therefore almost never take place in mainstream film criticism.”
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