Singin’ in the Rain: The Technical and the Timeless

By Jessie McAskill

I like to imagine moviegoers seeing a talking picture for the first time. The union of pictures and sound into a seamless experience is a seminal moment in the history of movie magic, and I harbor some jealousy toward the generation of people who experienced that revolution first hand. After the resounding success of The Jazz Singer in 1927, it’s no surprise that talking pictures quickly became the new normal. Two films that stand the test of critical time and represent this shift from dramatically contrasting viewpoints are Singin’ In the Rain (1952) and Sunset Boulevard (1950).

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Picasso, Crumb, and the Gift Shop: Capturing Creation on Film

By Juan Ramirez

For much of the 20th century, many accounts would have us believe, artists and their critics were scrambling around trying to define what constitutes art. At the turn of the century, rapidly emerging technology and whiplash-inducing modernization had stretched the narrow parameters of “fine art” past its limits and provided enterprising artists a stunning, possibly boundless, new frontier. This outpour of innovation and boundary pushing led to an increased awareness of the individuals behind the work, as the public sought to put a face to every new movement and vanguard. Thus, the role of the auteur, the all-encompassing artist in full control of their vision, as well as the act of individual creation, were exalted to the point of celebrity.

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Behemoth: No Salvation In Prophecy

By Yangqiao Lu

Consciously conducting a transformation of one’s style can be a tricky and risky business for any artist, and an audacious one too. In competition at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, Behemoth, directed by Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhao Liang, is a performance of such. The film borrows from the dream method and architecture of Dante’s Divine Comedy to enter the monstrous industry chain of Inner Mongolia, and in doing so contemplates the ongoing natural and humanitarian disasters in China. From the investigative curiosity of the HBO series Vice to the sociological concerns of documentary The Land of Many Palaces, the debt-ridden “ghost cities” and their political, economical and social causes and consequences are no stranger to journalism and filmmaking in China and elsewhere. The apocalyptic landscape of collective abandonment has undoubtedly presented a remarkable spectacle within the global circulation of media images. Zhao’s approach to this reality is unique. Starting from soil and motivated by the formidable corporeal presence of migrant workers, the film steadily proceeds through three color schemed stages: the red inferno (coal mines, iron mines, and ironworks), the grey purgatory (hospital), and the blue paradise (the “ghost city” in Ordos). Compared to his earlier works, which are often categorized as “direct cinema” – such as Crime and Punishment (2007) and the epic 5-hour Petition (2009) – Behemoth pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking by simultaneously operating on three plains: documentation, interpretation, and visual experimentation. The result is a stunning cinematic metaphor with a strong personal vision and poignant critique on what he considers the bane of such phenomenal failures of modern civilization: human desire.

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“Superman” – The Animated Wonder of the Iron Giant

By Eli Boonin-Vail

The groundbreaking animation spectacle The Iron Giant (1999) culminates in a well-known climax wherein the titular 60-foot robot saves the sleepy town of Rockwell, Maine by flying into low orbit and absorbing the full brunt of an atomic warhead. As he rockets towards what appears to be a megaton-heavy demise, he scrunches up his emotive mechanical face and announces “I’m Superman.” In the character’s final moments this line reiterates the core connection between the Iron Giant and his companion Hogarth Hughes, a plucky Mainer every-boy who bonds with the misunderstood robot through 1950s pop culture. It’s an emotional scene that launched a thousand prepubescent tears and a formative moment for many millennials who dreamed of telling and drawing stories themselves.

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Arrival: First Contact as Cultural Encounter

By Brandon Irvine

Arrival’s premise, though fairly original as far as movies go, is so intuitively appealing that you would guess it must be derivative: Twelve alien ships have just shown up on Earth, scattered around the globe, and governments around the world are rushing to figure out why they’re here. Our protagonist is Louise, an academic linguist enlisted by the military to communicate with who- or what-ever is in the enormous pod suspended over a field in Montana.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still

By Greg Mucci

To take a line from The Wizard of Oz, “we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.” Except this time, Dorothy’s a newly transplanted alien named Klaatu, Toto an 8-foot-tall steel gargantuan named Gort, and Kansas a post-WWII America. Even though over 60 years have passed since Robert Wise’s monumentally impacting sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still was released, the parallels between then and now are still interchangeable.

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Contact: Aliens and Women

By Selin Sevinc

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact is a rare science fiction movie about humanity’s first attempt at making contact with the Extraterrestrials. The film’s representation of aliens is in many ways unique, but it’s Zemeckis’s approach to yet another underrepresented and often misunderstood species that makes the film exceptional, namely the terrestrial woman.

Twenty years after its release, Contact remains an outstanding depiction of not only a woman scientist, but one who is bright, strong, passionate, ambitious, stubborn, daring, unapologetic and -lo and behold- single and not looking. Ellie, portrayed by one of the ‘90s’ fierce female leads, Jodie Foster, succeeds in a power struggle against an army of men. In her pursuit of the alien contact, she refuses to fit in the stereo-typified consideration of women whose ideas are “deranged,” yet she cannot simply turns her back to them as the men in power are in charge of the funding decisions that make or break her research.

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“I Feel Like We Belong”: Celebration of Geek Culture in Paul

By Victoria Large

Although actor, writer, and comedian Simon Pegg titled his memoir Nerd Do Well, he has frequently voiced a preference for “geek” over “nerd.” In 2007, he defined the difference for talk show host Jonathan Ross, arguing that “geek” implies “an enthusiast” rather than “the specky idiot” implied by the word “nerd.” And indeed, the unbridled enthusiasm for pop culture that defines modern geekdom runs through much of Pegg’s most notable work. The turn-of-the-millennium British sitcom Spaced, which marked Pegg’s first major onscreen collaboration with his real-life best friend Nick Frost, is rife with references to the geek touchstones of the latter decades of the twentieth century: Star Wars, The Matrix, Evil Dead II, The X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name just a few. Pegg and Frost’s big screen collaborations have followed suit: Shaun of the Dead pays tribute to George Romero’s zombie splatter fests, Hot Fuzz affectionately tweaks the buddy-action nonsense of cult films like Point Break, and The World’s End is a comic twist on Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style alien takeover movies. But the 2011 road movie Paul – which marked Frost’s debut as Pegg’s co-writer as well as co-star – is perhaps the comic duo’s most affectionate take on geekdom.

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Maya Deren and the Art of Dance on Film

By Juan Ramirez

Perhaps no other art form is as native and organic to humanity as dance. Preceding the notion of art, our physical presence and movements reveal our most primordial, expressive instincts and amount to the most sublime expressions.  As such, the translation of dance onto film has long mystified cineastes, who grapple with capturing its red-blooded nature without resorting to mere documentation. Despite the hardships, avant-garde filmmaker and dancer Maya Deren innately understood that the filmic space should appropriately match the world of the dance: one that fundamentally blurs the line between “real” expression and poetic creativity, between everyday gestures and rhapsodic movement. Fascinated by the intersection of the two forms, she eloquently elaborated upon her views in her Anagram of Ideas on Art, Form and Film.

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Add Some Here, Take Some There: Adapting George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four

By Tara Zdancewicz

Many people read George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, in their high school or college literature classes, possibly making Big Brother jokes about the teachers who assigned the reading. Among the countless minds touched by the book, one very keen imagination was that of filmmaker Michael Radford. Out of a personal passion, Radford acquired the rights to the novel and directed his own adaptation under the same title.

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