July 31, 2014

Now Playing

(Reviewed June 30, 2014)

An austerely beautiful film by the Anglo-Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski that could hardly be a greater departure from his earlier My Summer of Love

Under the Skin
(Reviewed May 14, 2014)

A memorable portrayal of an interplanetary seductress disguised as a disguised Scarlett Johansson

The Other Woman
(Reviewed May 6, 2014)

An often funny revenge fantasy for wronged women which either doesn’t know about or can’t allow itself to show its more serious side

Le Week-End
(Reviewed April 11, 2014)

An unfunny comedy whose reason for being appears to be a celebration of the extravagant self-pity of its central character

ENTRY from July 24, 2014

The other day Ann Hornaday, film critic for the Washington Post, had an interesting piece in the paper, inspired by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, in which she asked why, much as she admired the film, it fell into a now-familiar pattern of "darkening" in movie adaptations of stories and characters that began life in comic books or the equivalent. "Dawn’s funereal tone," she wrote, "seems to be the norm these days, especially for reboots of legacy franchises that, in their efforts not to succumb to sentimental nostalgia or trivialized camp, succumb to amped-up carnage and inflated self-seriousness instead." She suggests several reasons why this might be so, among them the fact that "they flatter the sensibilities of studios and the executives who greenlight these projects, reassuring them that their core competency — raiding their and others’ archives for valuable ‘pre-sold’ source material — can be one of gravitas and meaning, rather than simple repurposing of pop signifiers."

A less charitable — and less jargony — way to put this would be to say that the studio heads who fondly imagine they are in the business of producing something called "art" are naturally embarrassed about devoting their time and talents to such flimsy, childish rubbish as superheroes and talking animals and so seek out ways to dignify it in their own minds. "Dark" suggests to them that they are making something like the real movies that Hollywood used to make before the cartoon takeover in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, the other reasons Ms Hornaday cites — that, for example, "darker" cartoon projects attract big name actors and directors as well as audiences of people who expect to take their cartoons seriously— seem to me to boil down to the same reason. Grown up people need something suggesting seriousness, however implausibly, to cover their embarrassment about spending time and money on amusements they know are really only suitable for children, if for them.

Nor is this urge limited to those adapting the comics to film. The attempt to give a factitious seriousness to something that is fundamentally unserious goes back to the earliest days of the comics themselves, as Michael Cavna’s celebration of Batman’s 75th birthday in yesterday’s Post makes clear. Bob Kane, Batman’s creator, took his drawings to an artist friend named Bill Finger, says Mr Cavna, "who sharpened and darkened the look of ‘the Batman.’" More darkening became necessary after Adam West’s camp TV Batman of the 1960s. This, according to Glen Weldon, quoted by Mr Cavna, was undertaken by Dennis O’Neil whose "decision to introduce a note of obsession saved Batman, and indirectly the comics industry, by offering a masculine ideal with whom [capital-N] Nerds could identify, and cherish."  Full Entry

Media MadnessMy book Media Madness, is available for order from Encounter Books. Less a polemic than an attempt to understand the origins of the mass media’s folie de grandeur, the book is a warning even to those who are deserting the big networks, newsweeklies and large-circulation dailies not to carry with them into the more attractive world of niche media the undisciplined habits of thought that the old media culture has given rise to. To order this book, click here.

Honor, A HistoryAlso available, now in paperback, is Honor, A History, which was first published in 2006. A study of Western cultural artifacts, from the epics of Homer to the movies and TV shows of today, it is focused on explaining why Western ideas of honor developed so differently from those elsewhere — and especially from the savage honor cultures of the Islamic world. The book then goes on to trace the collapse and ultimate rejection of the old Western honor culture from World War I until the present day and to suggest the conditions that would have to prevail for its revival.

Recent Articles

Dean of Contradictions June 9, 2014.
The savage, satiric, sympathetic Swift — From The Weekly Standard of June 9, 2014 ... Full Article

Bad words May 31, 2014.
Literary decorum is obviously on the way out in the media, but must that mean there is no longer any such thing as news not "fit to print"? — From The New Criterion of May, 2014 ... Full Article

Among the Supremely PC May 31, 2014.
Hollywood’s idea of morality and religion, like its idea of everything else, boils down to self-congratulation — From The American Spectator of May, 2014 ... Full Article

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