Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. HBO’s Reliance on Brooding Male Stars Is a Misguided Bromance. As “True Detective” passes the halfway point in its season, it’s time for TV viewers and critics alike to take a step back and look at the current state of HBO’s programming. It doesn’t take an expert to see that the channel relies heavily on a certain kind of male performance and stardom to keep their ship afloat. The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli argues that HBO needs to let go of it is brooding male stars.
The spring’s event was the fifth season of “Games of Thrones,” which was preceded by sky-high expectations and new levels of fame for the cast. Then came the accusations of sadistic violence and relentless misogyny. You go rapey once, shame on you; you double down and flame-broil the little girl, we’re reaching for the remote. Then HBO unfurled the second season of its latest Emmys-bait auteur series, “True Detective” (currently airing Sundays at 9 p.m.). Aside from its Hollywood gloss — the first season starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, the second Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn — the show’s in familiar HBO-noir territory, where violence and self-importance pass for depth and meaning. The channel fares better with comedy, even if “Veep” and “Girls” battled fourth-season blues and “Silicon Valley” doesn’t get much buzzy traction. And HBO did shamefully drop the brilliant, genuinely radical “Enlightened” after just two seasons — low ratings don’t hurt guy shows as much as women-led series.
2. “That’s What Happened Between Me and Clark”: Revising Old Hollywood’s Greatest Scandal. It’s well known that in the early days of Hollywood, Clark Gable fathered a child with Loretta Young while he was young. However, after decades have past, it may be time to finally describe Gable’s actions accurately: date rape. Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen reports on the story, sparing no details, and illustrates how life was a series of traps for actresses back in the day. (The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick offers a more skepticl take here.)
The story was successfully concealed from the public, even as it circulated around Hollywood, at a muted level, for years — Young herself didn’t confirm it until after her death, via her posthumously released memoirs, in 2000. The child wouldn’t learn of her parentage until just before her wedding, and Gable never acknowledged her as his own. Meanwhile, Young attempted to reconcile her image as devout and often openly moralizing Catholic, known for implementing a “swear jar” on set, with the persistent rumors of an extramarital affair. Over the course of her decades-long career, she was called a duplicitous liar, a fraud, a hypocrite. Young loved to watch “Larry King Live,” which is most likely what prompted her to first ask her friend, frequent houseguest, and would-be biographer, Edward Funk, and then her daughter-in-law, Linda Lewis, to explain the term “date rape.” As Lewis recalled from her Jensen Beach, Florida, home this April, sitting next to her husband, Chris — Young’s second born — and flanked by Young’s Oscar and Golden Globe, it took a tact to explain, in language that an 85-year-old could understand, what “date rape” meant. “I did the best I could to make her understand,” Lewis said. “You have to remember, this was a very proper lady.” When Lewis was finished describing the act, Young’s response was a revelation: “That’s what happened between me and Clark.” After my extensive interviews with Young’s son, daughter-in-law, and longtime biographer, it seems clear to me that by keeping the secret of her daughter’s conception, Young was doing what millions of women have done before and since: using what little power she had to take back control of her life after it had been wrested from her.
3. Film Writing on the Spam Internet. After The Dissolve closed, one of the loudest complaints made by critics was that there was no website that primarily featured film reviews and not “film news,” which isn’t news at all but just simply reformatted press releases. Every day, it feels like there’s a growing chasm between thoughtful, intelligent film writing and fluffy publicity posts. Filmmaker Magazine’s Vadim Rizov discusses film writing on what he describes as the “Spam internet” and how there are now two categories of film-related material on the web.
Slow and steady film writing vs. ephemeral production mill publicity items: this is an awfully stark binary that leaves a lot of different film websites out of the conversation (and ignores parallels with questions of value on the larger post-Buzzfeed internet, too big an issue for me to tackle here). Obviously the question of whether or not something has “value” is pretty much entirely for the individual reading to be answer, which is where an analogy with Spam comes in. In the Usenet et al. pre-history of the modern Internet, sending and transmitting data cost money, and there was only so much that could be sent at a time. As Finn Brunton writes in “Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet,” “it cost nothing for someone to post a message at their local machine, from whence it would be circulated to Usenet, but it cost other users something to receive it, in money, in disk space, in opportunity cost and in attention.” Small internet communities had to determine for themselves what had actual value. As one Steve Dan Beste complained in a 1982 email, “It is costing us better than $200 a month for 300-baud long distance to copy lists of people’s favorite movies, and recipes for goulash, and arguments about metaphysics and so on. Is this really appropriate to this type of system?” When I read this email, I thought about an obscure thread from 1996 between Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles and critic Mike D’Angelo, who had repeatedly skirmished over Knowles uploading exactly the kind of stills and publicity images that are now regular grist to the content mill. In the dial-up days, these were not trivial things to load, and the argument against them was pretty obvious. Per user Russ Acuri in that thread, “Binaries take up LOTS of space. The phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is an understatement. […] Some offline newsreaders do not allow the user to select what they will read before downloading. Just one binary post added to a newsgroup could easily quadruple the download time and expense for that newsgroup.” Knowles’ hyperbolic counter-argument is a familiar variation of what Brunton summarizes as the “But this is important” rhetorical tack taken in early internet days, when clashing ideas about the appropriate use of limited resources were hashed out between users. “Times change as does the rules that govern man,” Knowles wrote. “Once slavery was endorsed and upheld as a right amongst the superior men. [Editor’s note: !] Then came an enlightenment, a day of reckoning soon followed. There are people thirsting for news. These are news groups. Pictures are news.”
4. Ex-Dissolver Scott Tobias on The Strange Alchemy of “The Honeymoon Killers”. Here at Daily Reads, we’ve been trying to keep abreast of the work of The Dissolve staff after their closing. We’ve featured work by Keith Phipps and Tasha Robinson in the last couple days, and now we have something by Scott Tobias. Over at Oscilloscope Labs’ new Musings blog, Scott Tobias writes about the 1969 film “The Honeymoon Killers,” once described by Francois Truffaut as “his favorite American film.”
The essential fact, and central mystery, of “The Honeymoon Killers” is that it’s a love story. That’s what makes the whole affair so marvelously inexplicable. When Beck and Fernandez were executed at Sing Sing on March 8th, 1951, after being sentenced for three murders between 1947 and 1949, both used their last words to profess their love for each other. (Beck even requested to sit on Fernandez’s lap on the electric chair!) “The Honeymoon Killers” smartly emphasizes Ray and Martha’s relationship as l’amour fou (“crazy love”) at its most extreme rather than attempting to account for it. Why does Martha continue to love Ray despite his record of betrayal, from the “lonely hearts” scam on her to his inability to abide by the terms of their arrangement? And perhaps more curiously still, why does Ray allow Martha into his life? It’s possible that he loves her for accepting him as the scoundrel he is, but she’s a needy, joyless romantic partner and incompetent criminal one. Her jealousy runs so hot that it often sabotages his operations before he can abscond with the loot. There’s some other force that explains their connection and it’s not the film’s responsibility to account for it, other than to make their collective psychosis feel plausible. We cannot know why they love each other, only that it makes sense on some perverse wavelength.
5. A Conversation on Matthew Barney’s Nine-Hour “Cremaster Cycle”. Visual artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney spent eight years making “The Cremaster Cycle,” a series of films (along with photographs, drawings, and sculptures) that function as a fine art installation. Since the cycle is sparsely available on DVD (and it costs a fortune considering that it’s priced like a painting), you can only view the cycle in a museum. Some critics have claimed it’s a masterpiece, others have claimed it’s pretentious drivel. The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman and Alex Needham spent nine hours in the Guggenheim watching “The Cremaster Cycle” and had a conversation about its merits (and lack thereof).
Alex: I feel as though we’d had a pretty rare experience – especially as precious few of the people there with us at 10.30am seemed to be there as we emerged over nine hours later. I felt absolutely exhausted afterwards – while I’m fairly sure I just let a lot of it wash over me, The Cremaster Cycle is challenging. It’s a shame that there’s no easy way to see certain parts of the cycle again, as I’d definitely like to return to some of the films one day – particularly 3, the centerpiece. I guess the fact that it’s a massive, slightly macho labor is part of the concept though – lots of the work it about the will to power and the clash between nature and society – or in our case, falling asleep or leaving to go out in the sunshine versus wrapping your head around a nine-hour art film. But I left hugely admiring the achievement – as an imaginative feat it’s stunningly dense and psychedelic, and I also admired Barney’s physical bravery. Who else would scale the Guggenheim (and it did look as though he was doing it for real) or appear to squeeze their own guts through their butthole on film? That said, after a day in the Guggenheim’s chairs, I felt as though I was quite close to doing that myself.
Tweet of the Day:
Least fave movie discussion: “You found THAT funny?” (sexy, scary). Yeah. Should I defend myself, or persuade you you’re devoid of feeling?
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) July 14, 2015