contact

“Contact” Movie Review

In the film “Contact” an astronomer (Ellie), considered fringe by many of her colleagues, discovers a radio signal transmitted deep in space, in essence, discovering alien life.
As the film opens, is clear to see that Ellie is pursuing her life’s dream: contacting intelligent life in space. However, soon after arriving to a large antenna in Central America, her project is shut down by the National Science Foundation (a federally funded program) who sees her work as frivolous. Steadfast, she lobbies for private funding and finds it with an eccentric billionaire who believes in her passion. It’s after this that she makes a breakthrough. On the verge of the government once again “icing them out”, she discovers a mysterious transmission flying through space, hurdling toward Earth.

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Simon Pegg

Simon Pegg Opened His Big Mouth and Made Nerd Nation Upset

Pegg at CCApparently actor Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Star Trek, Mission:Impossible) made some controversial comment regarding the current “nerd culture” being used to infantilize our society in order to keep it under control. The preoccupation in popular culture today of entertainment originally targeted to teenagers and their juniors.  Specifically comic books & video games and their film adaptations, cosplay and their conventions, and the more recent explosion of re-makes, re-boots and re-imaginings of favorite childhood memories is all keeping current social national-global conversation fixated on fantasy rather than reality.

Here is Pegg in his own words:

Recent developments in popular culture were arguably predicted by the French philosopher and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard in his book, ‘America’, in which he talks about the infantilzation of society. Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in, inequality, corruption, economic injustice etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth? A time when we were shielded from painful truths by our recreational passions, the toys we played with, the games we played, the comics we read. There was probably more discussion on Twitter about the The Force Awakens and the Batman vs Superman trailers than there was about the Nepalese earthquake or the British general election.

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booker-t--the-mgs-4e084a4244f78

Lessons from Motown: How music smashes cultural barriers and unites us all

After 7 years in college and grad school studying the subject and almost 20 years learning to be a performer and composer, I am still completely fascinated by music and its impact on society.

It’s a necessarily abstract art form, yet it can evoke vividly specific emotions and memories. It can be entirely wordless, yet effortlessly tell elaborate stories and carry incredible drama. It’s inherently ephemeral, yet a single concert can haunt a person for a lifetime.

I’m not usually one to quote poets, but in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

Well said.

I think it’s because of this universality that music fosters a level of inclusiveness far ahead of every other aspect of human culture. Unlike the visual, film & television, and other types of performing arts, creating great music all but requires a blindness to everything that isn’t about the sound.

To make this point a little more meaningful, I want to play a little game. I’m going to ask you to listen to some great music. Then I’m going to ask you what may seem like a few really dumb questions. Okay?

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boyhood

Boyhood: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Downfall of American Civilization

boyhood-arquetteY1_2963900cAfter all the accolades it’s been receiving and the good word-of-mouth from family and friends, my wife and I were pretty hopeful about a great night-in watching the multi-Oscar nominated film Boyhood streaming for rent on our Roku.  Aside from the fact that the editing of footage shot over a 12 year year period was extraordinarily seamless, I was utterly disappointed in the outcome of this kid’s story.  Make no mistake, the film is well crafted, the acting engrosses you and the movie moves pretty well for 2 hours and 45 minutes. That said, it’s unclear to me if director Richard Linklater intended all along to present a purely fictional story about a broken family who struggles to keep it together with little to no help from asking extended family, friends or a power greater than themselves or if it just evolved that way over the course of its 12 year production because it mirrored a life close to him.  Because if the 18 year old man we windup being left with at the end of this film is any indication of what our society is inheriting now, than we are truly screwed.  With this film, Linklater may have just wound up delivering the penultimate anecdote of what is to be the story of the downfall of American civilization.

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Literature You Should Know: Sidney’s Defense of Poesy

In the wake of the English Reformation, Puritan leaders began denouncing forms of entertainment they considered sinful, especially theater and poetry.  When one former playwright addressed an anti-theater treatise to Sir Philip Sidney, Sidney responded with An Apologie for Poetrie (later retitled A Defense of Poesy), the first work of its kind in English literature.  Sidney’s arguments about the purpose of poetry—by which he meant all forms of creative writing—still resonate for content creators who want to smash cut our postmodern culture toward a healthier direction.

Sir Phillip Sidney
Sir Phillip Sidney

Sidney applies the term poetry broadly because it derives from the Greek verb poiein, “to make.”  He points out that many poets don’t write verse, and many people who write verse don’t deserve to be called poets.  More modern forms of prose and scripted fiction would therefore also fall under the heading of poetry in Sidney’s view.  For him, creativity is the hallmark of poetry, far more than any given medium or genre.

Throughout the Defense, Sidney presents the thesis that poetry’s purpose is to teach and delight, and especially to teach by delighting.  Writing for a Renaissance audience, Sidney draws most heavily on classical literature, but he also hints at the Puritans’ hypocrisy with examples from Scripture.  When it comes to virtue, he argues, philosophy can present dry rules and history can furnish plain examples, but only poetry can combine the rule with the example in a way most people will enjoy.  And enjoyment is the key to convincing people to apply moral lessons to their own lives.  Sidney notes that even cultures that don’t have historians or philosophers still learn from their poets and storytellers.

Yet the message isn’t the only reason creative writing is worthwhile.  Sidney states that poetry’s the highest of the written arts because it’s the only one in which the author makes something new out of nature rather than recording what’s in nature.  As such, he argues, it’s also the highest expression of the imago Dei, the image of God in which all humans are made.  Because we’re created in the likeness of the Creator, the Author of history, what could be a more fitting human activity than making up our own stories?

Sidney then addresses the Puritan arguments against poetry, quickly dismissing those that are only mockery and agreeing to disagree with those who say that poetry’s a waste of time.  To the charge that poetry consists of lies, he points out that a lie affirms a falsehood to be true; scientists and historians can’t always avoid getting their facts wrong, but a poet never claims to be writing anything but fiction.  (And we all know how many documentaries and textbooks are riddled with errors and outright lies!)  Then there’s the objection that Plato banished poets from his republic, to which Sidney replies that Plato was really talking about poets who misused poetry to present harmful opinions of the gods.

apology-for-poetry-or-the-defence-of-poesy-sir-philip-sidneyThe one objection to which Sidney grants any credence is that poetry can be, and often is, abused to encourage the audience to embrace vice rather than rejecting it.   This debate continues today, whether we’re discussing the sexual content of television or music, railing against pro-statist movies, or arguing whether violent video games encourage violent behavior.  The problem, as Sidney sees it, is not “that poetry abuseth man’s wit, but that man’s wit abuseth poetry.”  He distinguishes between two types of poetic imitation:  eikastike, “figuring forth good things,” and phantastike, “which doth contrariwise infect the [imagination] with unworthy objects…. But what!” he adds, “shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious?”  Even what we call fantasy—The Lord of the Rings comes to mind—can be eicastic in Sidney’s sense in that it encourages virtue.  Lines do need to be drawn; the trick is drawing them in the right places.

Later, Sidney notes that a large part of the problem with English poetry is that it’s badly written by classical standards, regardless of the content.  Nor is the quality problem limited to verse; he gives examples from plays and even sermons.  Conservatives, especially Christians, have been having this same discussion for years—since so much pop culture is dreck, is it enough to support good content, regardless of writing quality?  The solution, I think Sidney would argue, is to create better works, good writing that teaches a good message… or, as Mary Poppins put it, the “spoonful of sugar [that] makes the medicine go down in a most delightful way.”

It’s a Smash Cut Culture

Do we need a new blog on culture?  Well, did we need a new pope?  I think both questions answer themselves.

Webster’s defines “smash cut” as… well, Webster’s doesn’t have “smash cut” in it.  The first suggestion it lists in lieu of “smash cut” is “Siamese cat,” but that’s just silly.

Naturally, Google has a definition:  “A smash cut is a technique in film and other moving visual media where one scene abruptly cuts to another without transition, usually meant to startle the audience.”

Which isn’t so silly.  Because Hollywood is going through an abrupt change that, rather than startling the audience, seems to be scaring the bejebus out of the movie studios and TV networks.

This probably isn’t news to you, but digital technology, which now runs the gamut from production to distribution, has revolutionized the film and TV industry (just as it upended the music business earlier).

Used to be that you needed a battery of refrigerator-sized movie cameras, miles of celluloid film, hanger-sized sound stages, and battalions of crew members to shoot a movie, along with editing suites with bulky equipment that would literally cut and splice together reels of film.

And then, you needed to make thousands of physical copies of these big reels of film and ship them all over the country simultaneously for opening weekend.  And you had to spend tens of millions in TV advertising to get the word out and butts in the seats.

Now?  You can shoot an entire movie with a handheld HD videocamera and a few hard drives that could all fit inside one suitcase.  You can edit the whole thing with nothing but a laptop.  You can distribute your finished product to hundreds of millions of potential customers with literally the touch of a trackpad button and a WiFi connection.  And you can market the whole thing for free with a Twitter account and Facebook page.

Of course, there’s no guarantee you will have the same level of viewership or gross income that the studio movie will garner.  But the playing field is more level than it has ever been before.

Of all of these changes — the lowering of barriers on production, post-production, marketing, and distribution — the most radical is distribution.  The studios were the ultimate gatekeepers on what movies were shown in theaters and sold in video-stores (remember those?), what songs played on the radio, what shows got on TV.  But while they continued to zealously patrol those gates, the walls around those gates have been crumbling.

Gil Scot-Heron was right, in a way — the (digital) revolution will not be televised.  Rather, it will be blogged, podcasted, YouTubed, Tweeted, Vimeo’ed, Pandora’ed, Amazon Primed, and Netflix streamed.  Studios can only stand by (like record-company executives before them) as their business models go the way of the dinosaur.

While the studio system certainly had its advantages and its triumphs, both artistic and financial, it was often hostile to those who didn’t share their paternalistic, coastal-elite point of view.  Having connections –familial, political, or school ties — were crucial to breaking in.  This fostered a group-think mentality, while those with other perspectives were largely locked out.

As Hollywood’s monopoly on the means of distribution fades, other points of view will break through as people outside the system begin to create.

Smash Cut is a group blog that seeks to liberate our culture from Hollywood’s stale, hidebound world view, encouraging more diverse voices and views.

But likely more often than not, we will simply write silly posts and capsule movie reviews, pointing you to the things we like (or warning you off things that we don’t like).  We want to hear from you, so we welcome comments.

We want this to be a conversation.  We will often disagree with each other — which is good, because as I said, we want to see/hear a diversity of ideas and views.  You will not find a lot of groupthink here.  In fact, we are all in firm agreement to avoid groupthink.

Like a Paranormal Activity movie, change is scary but simultaneously thrilling.  The changes underway in the Hollywood system provide tremendous opportunity to those who felt cut out of the old-boys-network because they weren’t willing to surrender their independence of thought.

Fresh new voices are emerging, and there’s no rule that says they must parrot the same tired Hollywood point of view.  We for one can’t wait to hear what they have to say.  And this blog gives us a chance to throw in our own two bitcoins from time to time.