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Bits and Pieces: contemporary cinema and Summer blockbusters, gender and Science Fiction, President Gore and more June 8, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bits and Pieces.

Sitting at an iMax during the week watching the trailers before “Star Trek: Into Darkness” in 3D I was struck by a comment John Patterson made in the Guardian last weekend. Writing about how Soderbergh’s ‘Behind the Cadelabra’, his film on Liberace, has not found a cinematic release in the US due in no small part due to the craven attitude of the distributors to the fact that Liberace was gay he notes that:

…presumably because they figured the Red States wouldn’t take to its central gay relationship or its queasy 70s Vegas excess. In any case, they had already endured Brokeback Mountain.
That reluctance is sadly reminiscent of the old studios’ near-total reticence on racial matters until the late 1960s, for fear of alienating the Jim Crow moviegoers of the Deep South. Hollywood congratulated itself to death over Brokeback Mountain, years after Will & Grace had put a gay man smack-dab in the centre of the primetime lineup and the American living room. The studios are still like the Republicans on gay issues, actively hostile or paying lip-service of the wrong sort; TV is, like the Democrats, open-minded but not unmindful of expanding the demographics and upping the profit margin. All of which suggests that Soderbergh and Douglas should forget about Oscars and start valuing Emmys, those things they give to Mad Men, The Sopranos and The Wire, and not to fluff like Argo.

And he comes to the conclusion that:

Are we near the moment when the initiative in American film-making passes from movies to television? TV is getting all the respect these days, and absolutely deserves it. While the studios are fixated on tumescent pubescents and the Comic-Con demographic, cable TV is remembering the rest of us, normals and weirdos alike. And, let’s face it, the moviegoing experience has entirely lost any glamour it ever had and become just another fast-food experience.

Watching the trailers for Pacific Rim, Superman and something so useless I’ve already excised it from my memory simply proved his point about the Comic-Con demographic. Now, okay, it is the Summer and that is the time of 3D CGI laden excess – even Star Trek cannot escape being roped into that category, although, although, it has at least the virtue of being part of a cultural strand stretching back five decades now. But it was just depressing to see the man-child/child-man fighting stuff of Pacific Rim (sure, delivered to us by Guillermo del Toro, and with Idris Elba in there too, but even so), and yet another run-through of the Jor-El (it appears that there is now some sort of sulphurous compact that every generation must labour under the weight of its own interpretation of the Superman mythos).

As for Star Trek:ID, well, colour me Cumberbatched, but it was the first time I’d seen 3D that I really liked, and while far from perfect the film itself was more than good enough, and vastly superior to the last few outings of the ST:TNG cast.

If I have a problem it sort of relates back to Patterson’s initial complaint (and it’s possible that due to daily exposure to the cinema and television tastes of the five year old creature at home that I’m more sensitive to this than I might otherwise be because it is chilling how pre-programmed those can be). And having seen in no particular order but all being recent big budget films, the Hobbit, Skyfall, Avengers Assemble, and one considerably lower budget but distinctly genre (and excellent) Cabin in the Woods amongst others it is troubling to report that Cabin and Skyfall seemed to me to be the most adult of the lot. Don’t get me wrong, Avengers was an excellent genre run-through. But… but…

Meanwhile found this during the week, two posts here and here that raise interesting issues about gender balance in Science Fiction.

This is far from academic in the world of SF. There was (rightly IMO) a controversy over the non-appearance of any women SF writers or writers from non-white backgrounds in the The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction. No question that’s a major fail. No Tiptree Jr./Sheldon, no Le Guin, no Delaney, no… well look it’s not as if in 2013 there isn’t a long long list of people to call upon.

Speaking of SF, what of a female Doctor Who? The possibility arrives with the news that Matt Smith, perhaps the best Doctor since Tom Baker, is leaving at the end of the year. I’m kind of agnostic on the issue. Gender determinism in a character who can regenerate appears a little beside the point, and it would make a most interesting experiment both conceptually and in terms of execution.

Just on Doctor Who Smith left at the right time. Short enough that he would be missed and he’d avoid typecasting (one hopes). Perhaps four years was about as much as he could take. There’s been a lot to like about his tenure, and not just him.

Meanwhile, here’s an odd one, from New York magazine from three or so years back, Memories of the Gore Administration.

Ten years ago this month, a Supreme Court ruling ushered in George W. Bush as our 43rd president. We asked five (sometime) novelists to imagine the past decade as if the election had gone the other way. America: This is your parallel life.

It’s kind of fascinating to read some of them, though Glenn Beck’s contribution…


1. Daniel Sullivan - June 9, 2013

I’m not sure how you could do a top ten not to mind a mammoth book without including Le Guin.

And the Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited yearly anthologies of SF, Horror and Fantasy were always good collections of up and coming writers regardless of gender.


WorldbyStorm - June 9, 2013

I’d think it’s almost impossible not to pick women writers and in way, as you say, regardless of gender. There’s just so many great writers who happen to be women.


2. Alan Rouge - June 9, 2013

The trade off for multiplexes and blockbusting flims (which began with Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’ Star Wars) was exactly that cinemas became fast food joints selling overpriced popcorn and fizzy drinks and the extremely exploitative working conditions that go along with that.


WorldbyStorm - June 9, 2013

+1 I seriously blame Star Wars. Jaws, yes, but even that in the characterisation, and I think in particular of the scenes on the boat where they’re talking, seems at this remove to belong to a different world to contemporary blockbusters, though with the seeds of destruction in there too.


3. Alan Rouge - June 9, 2013

I blame capitalism myself!

The cinema industry tends to go into crisis every couple of decades and the response from the American film industry is to blame new technology and to the try and reinvent the wheel.

In about the late 50s or 60s television was blamed for falling numbers of people going to cinemas and part of the response was 3D as well as new formats of presentation such as cinemascope or cinerama – you’ll find old posters advertising new films being projected ‘IN CINEMASCOPE!!’. In the late 70s/80s it was VHS and then 3D returned as well as the aforementioned blockbuster type films. In the recent period it is the internet that is blamed and again, 3D is back with a vengeance and the ‘tie-in movies’ and sequels have just saturated everywhere with things like Twilight, remakes, films based on TV shows, comic book stuff etc. etc.

Multiplexes get their profits from the (fast) food and drink -well, courtesy of the labour that goes in to making and serving the popcorn- though afaik The Savoy in Dublin can make enough money from ticket sales hence why they have a relatively small food stand.


WorldbyStorm - June 9, 2013

Yeah, there is that of course re capitalism.

One of the worst aspects and Patterson refers to this is how narrow the supposed ‘choice’ now is in films in cinema’s. It’s incredibly depressing.


Jim Monaghan - June 11, 2013

They chase the 99% audience. Like music stations where you get say 200 chasing the same 99& demographic not seeing that a “minority” taste is where there is little competition. Our immigrant communities are no longer isolated form their home cultures. Eg there is a shop in Talbot St. with a huge selection of Bollywood.Mind you with widescreen TV the experience is just as good at home. This is why they need to reinvent the cinema as a night out with a connected meal, good pub, music after.


Jim Monaghan - June 11, 2013

And box sets and downloading is destroying traditional TV.


4. Bits and Pieces | The Cedar Lounge Revolution - August 17, 2013

[…] an anthology of SF edited by Mike Ashley which rightly was critiqued and criticised for the exclusively male, straight and white writers contained therein. For the most recent anthology in the series, this on Time Travel, he has taken a different […]


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