Variety: New Ending for David Fincher’s Adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

As chance would have it, I’m reading Gone Girl right now. So apparently the ending (no spoilers please) in David Fincher’s upcoming adaptation starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike has been changed. According to writer Gillian Flynn, Fincher asked her to change the ending for the movie’s screenplay.

“There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I’d spent about two years painstakingly putting together with all its 8 million Lego pieces and take a hammer to it and bash it apart and reassemble it into a movie.”

The entire article and interview can be found in Entertainment Weekly’s latest issue, including a cover of the two leads that was shot by Fincher.

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Non-2013 Pop Culture I Discovered Last Year

AV Club recently asked their staff writers and regular readers an interesting question: What’s the Non-2013 pop culture you discovered this year? Well, that got me to thinking because 2013 was a pretty unique year for me in (re)discovering some great non-2013 pop cultural artifacts. I thought I’d take the time and share some of them with you.

I am Cuba (Yo Soy Cuba)

When Turner Classic Movies aired this classic piece of Soviet/Cuban agit-prop back in September, I was in awe. I’d read about how revolutionary this  film was, but I had no idea just how much, so watching it for the first time was a revelation. From the beautiful B&W cinematography to the narration, everything in this film is like a prose poem rich with imagery and music. Told in four separate stories, I Am Cuba takes place just before the Cuban Revolution, and, sparingly, though nonetheless sympathetically, tells the stories of four different people––a young kept woman living in Havana, a revolutionary student, a sugarcane farmer, and a man who joins the revolution after his family is killed. But the real star of the film, of course, is its cinematography. The scene in which a camera soars out of a window and over the city streets as it follows a funeral procession is nothing short of amazing. The dizzying camera movements bring you so fully and so completely into the film that the fourth wall breaks down and you are one with the sights, sounds, smells, and, most importantly, people of Cuba.

Forever Changes, by Love

I’d known for a while now about the 1960s rock band Love, headed by singer/songwriter Arthur Lee, a friend and contemporary of Jimi Hendrix’s, but 2013 was the year I discovered their seminal album Forever Changes. Released in 1968, Forever Changes is very much of its time––L.A. acid rock with off-beat, but deeply inspirational lyrics––yet it has a meditative allure that transcends time. I listened to this album almost non-stop over last summer, its songs, such as the majestic “You Set the Scene,” growing on me with each listen.

Mr. Fox, by Helen Oyeyemi

2013 was the year I first heard of Helen Oyeyemi, even though her first novel was published in 2005. Born in Nigeria but raised in Britain, this young writer has quickly made a name for herself in the literary world with novels like White is for Witching, Icarus Girl, and Mr. Fox (2011). Her stories are both literary and fantastic, emotionally resonant yet whimsical. Mr. Fox, for instance, is about a writer, St. John Fox, his imaginary muse, Mary Foxe, and his wife, Daphne. The entire novel is a storytelling competition between Fox and his muse, Mary Foxe, as they deal with the control each has over the other. Oyeyemi’s prose is deceptively simple, belying the density of thought and care in each sentence, but creates a world that is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Twin Peaks 

I first saw David Lynch’s Twin Peaks during its original run in 1990, but it wasn’t until I re-watched the entire series on Netflix over the summer that I really came to appreciate it (I was honestly surprised by what I’d forgotten and what I might have missed out on the first go-round). While fans and critics alike mention its weirdness, its cinematic quality, both in cinematography and music, as well as the murder mystery at the heart of the series––Who Killed Laura Palmer?––what struck me during this re-watch was how honestly it portrayed grief. Few TV series or films examine how absurd the bereavement period can be: One moment you’re singing and tapping dancing as if you’re on top of the world and the next you’re in a blubbering heap of tears. As someone who’s lost her sister nearly ten years ago, I can relate. After the networks pushed Lynch and producer Mark Frost to solve Laura Palmer’s murder during its second season (they had originally intended for it to remain unsolved), the show lost its way and veered wildly into territory that was both wacky (and not in a good way) and ridiculous (one storyline involved industrialist Ben Horne having a nervous breakdown and thinking he’s Jefferson Davis during the Civil War). But the series’ finale, directed by Lynch, more than redeemed itself with one of the most bizarre and freaky episodes to ever appear on TV. Twin Peaks was definitely ahead of its time!

The History of Christmas Movies

Christmas has always been profitable time for Hollywood. Studios roll out their holiday-themed movies along with their Oscar-worthy contentions. Hollywood has been producing Christmas-related films since it began, producing many classic films, from traditional, family-oriented fare to twisted retellings of classic themes. Regardless, Hollywood’s history of the Christmas film has been a tradition that many filmgoers look forward to as they celebrate the holidays.

Ever since Charles Dickens published his novella A Christmas Carol in 1843, his tale of a miserly old man who learns the meaning of Christmas through the nightly visits of three ghosts has been retold on stage and in movies. Hollywood has revisited this classic tale a number of times. The earliest screen version was released in 1913 under the title Scrooge, written by Seymour Hicks, who also played Scrooge on screen, a role he would repeat in the 1935 talkie under the same name. Three other versions appeared in the 1920s, suggesting that Dickens’ classic became a popular holiday favorite for film treatment early on. Another version, A Christmas Carol, was released in 1938 and starred Reginald Owen in the lead role. But the version most film lovers know is the 1951 version starring Alistair Sims. Considered the most faithful screen adaptation, Sims’ Scrooge hits all the right notes as a man whose miserliness was the result of his sister’s death, but who believably converted his thinking after his ghostly encounters on Christmas Eve. While critics say that this version is faithful to the book, it in fact adds some details that take liberty with the storytelling, namely that of the death of Scrooge’s sister, which is not depicted in Dickens’ original version. Still, this scene provides motivational depth to the character and helps the viewers see the humanity beneath his greed. Other large screen versions of the classic include a 1970 musical starring Albert Finney, the 1988 comedy Scrooged, starring Bill Murray, and a 2009 CGI-animated movie starring Jim Carrey.

The E.T.A. Hoffman story The Nutcracker has served as a wonderful source for holiday-themed films. Turned into a famous ballet in 1891 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker tells the story of a young girl named Clara who steps into a magical fantasy world on Christmas Eve. Hollywood has turned to this timeless classic many times over its history. Versions include the 1968 film starring Rudolf Nureyev as Drosselmeyer/Prince, and a 1993 screen version starring Macauley Culkin.

While most Christmas-themed movies tended to be watered-down ideas of faith and belief, Hollywood did churn out biblical-themed films, though they were not necessarily released in time for the holiday season. Movies like The Robe (1953), King of Kings (1961), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and others represented a time when Hollywood released biblical epics on a regular basis. They approached the theme with epic reverence, though they rarely delved into Christ’s actual teachings. In 1964, Marxist atheist Pier Paolo Passolini released The Gospel According to St. Matthew, a far grittier version of Christ’s birth and teachings than the glossy epics Hollywood released before it. By the 1960s, the genre became passé, though Hollywood would on occasion release one every once in a while over the years. One such example was The Nativity Story (2006), starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, which returned to the story of Christ’s birth, this time delving into Joseph and Mary’s story with more depth and realism.

For the most part, Christmas movies dealt with family and faith. Though not necessarily a Christmas film, the 1944 Vincente Minnelli musical Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien, features scenes that take place over the Christmas holidays. These scenes alone make this movie a holiday classic, especially for Garland’s original rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The movie itself is about a family torn between moving to New York or staying behind in their beloved St. Louis. Like many holiday-themed movies, Meet Me in St. Louis is about family and unity in the face of social and economic change. Miracle of 34th Street (1947), starring Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn, is about an old man who gets a job as Santa Claus at Macy’s Department store and insists he’s the real deal. After the man is institutionalized, a lawyer (John Payne) tries to prove in court that he really is Santa. Miracle of 34th Street deals with faith and belief as O’Hara’s character, the store manager, refuses to raise her daughter (Wood) to believe in fairy tales, but ends up believing in Gwenn. The notion of family and traditionalism plays heavily in the movie’s theme with a heartwarming touch. A remake of the movie was released in 1994, starring Mara Wilson in the Natalie Wood role. A contemporary example of this holiday-theme is the Chevy Chase-vehicle National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). NationalLampoonsChristmasVacationPosterWritten by John Hughes, Christmas Vacation revisited the comical Griswolds as their plans for a big family Christmas dinner go awry. But the underlying themes in the film is similar to other movies as the Griswolds overlook family, work and neighborhood differences to create the kind of special Christmas memories Clark Griswold (Chase) remembers as a child.

But the one film which set the standard of family and faith during the holidays is the Frank Capra classic It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Ironically, when It’s A Wonderful Life was released in 1947, it bombed at the box office. It wasn’t until affiliate TV stations began airing the movie, often ad nauseum, that the movie became a classic to generations of film fans. It’s A Wonderful Life follows the story of George Bailey, the son of a small-town businessman who longs to leave his hometown and explore the world. But his dreams are constantly dashed by circumstances beyond his control and he is forced to remain in Bedford Falls to run his late father’s building and loan company. When Bailey’s uncle loses a bank deposit (actually the mean-spirited town miser Mr. Potter took the money), Bailey falls into a deep depression when he is threatened with imprisonment for fraud and contemplates suicide. During his darkest hour, he is visited by the angel Clarence who makes his wish to never have been born come true, helping him see what a blessing his life truly is with family and friends. It can rightly be argued that It’s A Wonderful Life is a screed against the big city and there is no doubt that the conservative Capra included his own biases in the film. Still, the movie’s message of family and friendship is a deeply touching one, and its willingness to explore the darker aspects of humanity gives it a depth that most Christmas movies lack. The scene where Bailey trashes his work station in his home after he learns about the missing deposit alone reveals Stewart’s range as an actor and is all the more effective because of his previous on- and off-screen reputation as a “nice guy.”

Christmas is the perfect vehicle for telling romantic love stories and Hollywood has supplied many classic films that followed in this vein. Ernst Lubistch’s A Shop Around the Corner, released in 1940, is about two Hungarian shop workers (Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan), who unknowingly fall in love through the letters they write one another. Unaware of the other’s identity, the two develop a hostile working relationship until they discover the truth and give in to their feelings. Though the film isn’t necessarily about the holidays, it does set a scene at Christmas as the shop prepares for the season. The holiday season gives the movie its romantic air as both Stewart and Sullivan slowly melt away from their hostility and begin to fall in love. A Shop Around the Corner was remade into the 1998 film You Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the lead roles. Christmas in Connecticut (1945), starring Barbara Stanwyck, is a comedy about a food writer who lies about her reputation as a brilliant cook. When the magazine owner which publishes her work decides that she’ll host a WWII naval hero on her farm, the unmarried New Yorker who can’t cook scrambles to find a way to keep up her charade. In the end, she and the sailor fall in love after the truth is revealed. Christmas in Connecticut is a clever movie that questions our ideas of the traditional roles women played in family and home. The 1947 movie The Bishop’s Wife, starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, is another romantic holiday-themed movie, although one of a different feather; namely angel feathers. Grant plays Dudley, an angel who comes down to earth to help a bishop and his failing church, but winds up falling in love with the bishop’s wife (Young). The Bishop’s Wife is a tender love story about sacrifice and faith as Dudley sacrifices his feelings for the wife to complete his duties as an angel. Penny Marshall scored a hit with a 1996 remake 220px-ThePreachersWife-moviestarring Denzel Washington as Dudley and Whitney Houston as the wife in the aptly titled The Preacher’s Wife. Though the film follows the original, its setting within an African American community presents cultural differences that nonetheless are faithful to the movie’s themes. Other recent movies, such as the British entry Love Actually (2003), starring Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Keira Knightly, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and others, continues the tradition of romance and Christmas as a group of Londoners find, lose, then find love again during the holiday season.

Christmas is for kids. So Hollywood has released holidays films that were targeted to children. The 1934 film Babes In Toyland (aka March of the Wooden Soldiers), starred comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as characters in a Mother Goose rhyme come to life. In 1985, comedian Dudley Moore starred in Santa Claus: The Movie, which was a retelling of the classic Christmas character. Unfortunately, the movie was a critical and box office dud. In 1990, child star Macauley Culkin fared a better reception when he starred in the box office smash Home Alone. Also starring Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, Home Alone told the story of a young boy who is left home by his family over the holidays and is forced to fend for himself against a pair of burglars. The film was a comic take on holiday themes, especially the idea of how the Christmas holidays can inspire loneliness in the absence of family, a theme many Americans certainly can relate to. The Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sinbad-vehicle Jingle All the Way (1996) isn’t a movie that will become a holiday classic anytime soon, but does deal with the way consumerism and commercialism has taken over the holiday. In this movie, Schwartzenegger plays a dad who will go to any lengths to get his son the hottest toy. Though the movie addresses adult themes, it was marketed as a family film.

But one movie that is targeted to kids and has become a contemporary classic since its release in 1983 is AACSCDSDTRK Christmas Story. Based on writer Jean Shepherd’s stories and starring Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, and Darren McGavin, the film is about a little boy’s quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. What makes A Christmas Story special is its simple and nostalgic tone. The movie presents children in a believable way; they’re not interested in brotherhood, love of mankind and all that other jazz; they just want that perfect Christmas present. Director Bob Clark (who also directed the twisted slasher Black Christmas) brings all the right touches to the movie, from the dialogue and wardrobe to even the setting in Cleveland, Ohio, giving it a homespun, Mid-western appeal. Another movie destined to become a classic with kid audiences is the 2004 CGI-animated film Polar Express. Based on the popular children’s book, Polar Express tells the fantastic story of a young boy’s journey to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. The film, which also stars Tom Hanks, is filled with the kind of magic and awe that makes Christmas such a magical and charming time for children and adults alike.

Movies about Christmas haven’t always been about magic and charm. Some have taken a decidedly twisted and bizarre turn. In the 1964 oddball Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, martians come down to earth to kidnap jolly St. Nick to cheer up their own children back home. Featuring a very young Pia Zadora, this is one movie that is so bad Mystery Science Theater 3000 eviscerated it in a holiday-themed episode. In 1974, Bob Clark directed the horror slasher Black Christmas. Starring Olivia Hussey, Black Christmas tells the story of female coeds who become victims of a serial killer over the holiday break.

In 2003, two holiday-themed movies were released featuring actors and directors not otherwise associated Elf_moviewith the genre. In fact, both movies have a fun time satirizing the conventions of Christmas movies. Elf, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Farrell as an oversized elf, is a funny and twisted take on Christmas themes. After discovering his true origins, Buddy the Elf (Farrell) leaves the North Pole for New York to find his father (James Caan), a publishing exec who is going through the motions in his personal and professional life. Elf’s humor plays on the audience’s recognition of familiar holiday themes while contrasting them with a nice dose of irony and cynicism as New Yorkers react to Buddy’s annoyingly holiday cheer. The movie concludes with a cheerful message as New Yorkers help Santa get his sleigh off the ground with a touch of holiday faith. Farrell, a rare comic actor who isn’t afraid of being silly, does a great job of playing the character’s child-like awe of all things Christmas.

The Terry Zwigoff-directed Bad Santa likewise takes familiar themes in holiday movies and turns them on their heads. Starring Billy Bob Thornton as a criminal named Willie who gets a job as a Santa at a department store to steal the store’s cash registers, the movie tells the story of Willie’s friendship with a young, friendless boy who lets him hide out in his Florida home. What makes the movie so twisted is its unrelenting pursuit in showing just how unredeemable Willie is, even after he befriends the young Christmas-loving and lonely kid. When Willie does finally learn a little something about the holiday, it’s done in a way that doesn’t betray the movie’s unwillingness to settle down into mushy sentimentalism.

Regardless of whether the movies honor Christmas’s traditions or prefers a twisted take on the holiday, Hollywood has offered film fans a wonderful variety of films to help you get into the holiday spirit.

Other Christmas Movies

White Christmas (1954)

Gremlins (1984)

Die Hard (1988)

Prancer (1989)

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Batman Returns (1992)

Santa Clause (1994)

Eye Wide Shut (1999)

The Best Man Holiday (2013)

Black Nativity (2013)

President Kennedy: Reality and Myth in Popular Culture

Though it’s been fifty years since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, that dreadful day still has a hold on the American imagination. It is so deeply embedded in our culture that it has taken on the note of mythology. In fact it is our modern-day myth––the bold, handsome president shot down in the prime of his virility, while his wife and throngs of Dallas well-wishers in Dealey Plaza look on in horror. There is something almost classical in its mythology, like a Greek tragedy played out in real life. In an age before 24/7 cable news networks, the actual assassination was recorded not by newsmen but a dressmaker named Abraham Zapruder, whose footage wasn’t released to the general public until a decade later. Under those circumstances, it makes sense that the event ballooned into mythic proportions in the American public. That day was like a blank canvas onto which people painted their own memories or contributed their answers to questions that still remain unresolved. The Warren Commission’s handling of the investigation only sparked more questions, creating a cottage industry of conspiracy theorists who insist that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the lone assassin in Kennedy’s murder.

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Source: channel.nationalgeographic.com

This mythic quality has likewise sparked artistic and literary fascination. Only recently NatGeo aired a bio-doc on Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, based on Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Kennedy, along with a slew of documentaries have aired on TV about the assassinations, Kennedy’s final hours, or bios on Kennedy himself. Stephen King published a novel, 11/22/63, taking liberties with a time travel tale which centers around the assassination. There’ve been other works in the past, including Don DeLillo’s Libra, and Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK, which looks at New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s prosecution of the president’s assassination. The assassination is also heavily referenced in pop culture, such as The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The X-Files, and music videos. The cable TV series Mad Men dramatized the assassination in its second season to heavy anticipation.

No where in recent American history has an event scarred a nation so deeply. In JFK, America had found a model onto which it could project all of its best attributes: youth, vigor, imagination, intelligence. Not since President Obama’s 2008 presidential run, did Americans find similar excitement and transcendence. Yet five years after that historic election, Obama is facing some of the most stringent opposition to his policies and criticisms from the left and the right. Kennedy likewise faced similar criticisms. He experienced a major foreign policy blunder with the Bay of Pigs and had to be pushed to be more proactive on Civil Rights legislation. Yet his untimely and tragic death has cemented not the criticisms nor the mistakes, but Camelot, the image his widow and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy carefully cultivated after his death. We see only Camelot, not the real and very complicated man underneath. The myth lives on in our culture, in our literature, films, and TV, but we’d do well to separate the facts from the myth.

Authoritarianism and Rebellion in Popular Culture

Since World War II, Americans have been caught in a struggle between optimism and faith, fear and paranoia. Distrust toward institutions and authority became the norm during the 1960s as a younger generation began to reject the values and traditions of its elders. Popular culture symbolized this struggle. From Where the Boys Are and Gidget to Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild Ones; from the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” and the Temptation’s “My Girl” to Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy,” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” America was in a state of flux, uncertain of its future. Beneath the struggle was the underlying fear that things were not what they appeared to be, demonstrated by the social and political upheavals of the ‘50s, ’60s, and ’70s.

Hollywood addressed the underbelly of paranoid fantasies as early as 1962 with John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate. Based on the novel by Richard Condon and starring Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, and Frank Sinatra, the film laid the foundation for government conspiracies that would follow only a year later when President Kennedy was assassinated. During the late sixties, a new generation of filmmakers, many of whom were recent graduates of the nascent film school departments, went behind the camera to explore issues that preoccupied the baby boom generation. Countercultural films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde thumbed their noses at the establishment. Anti-authoritarianism was well grounded among baby boomers, particularly through rock and roll, but films began taking the lead and soon a cinematic oeuvre was established, dominating theater screens and generating healthy box office revenues for a cash-strapped industry. Easy Rider of the 1960s and later Three Days of the Condor, Network, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The China Syndrome, and others reflected a distrust toward government and authoritative figures in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate. Even seemingly disparate films like The Godfather Parts I and II, The Conversation, and Taxi Driver, by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese respectively, explored the corruptible nature of power and the gullibility of a public in search of quixotic anti-heroes striking a blow against the “system.”

Science fiction like Colossus: The Forbin Project and Soylent Green used the conventions of the genre to explore totalitarianism, secrecy, and conspiracy. In Colossus, the unity forged between two supercomputers from the United States and the Soviet Union mock the ideal of international cooperation and diplomacy when the very technology the two superpowers designed were used against them to create a totalitarian regime. Soylent Green was a nightmarish take on the mystery meat joke, preceding the concerns of biogenetic foods and engineering. Horror films like Rosemary’s Baby also questioned the same assumptions of our faith in medical expertise.

By the 1980s, due to the success of blockbuster films Jaws and Star Wars, and bloated by the excesses of the times, the auteur movement died. Yet there was an undercurrent of a backlash toward what the films of the 1970s represented––the rebellion, independence, cynicism, conspiracy, and anti-authoritarian attitudes that were the ramifications of the cultural and political upheavals of the 1960s. The ascendancy of Goldwater’s conservative movement reached its apotheosis in the election of former actor Ronald Reagan, who, during the 1960s as governor of California, was a vigilant opponent of the antiwar movement. Successful 1980s franchises like Rambo and Rocky, both starring Sylvester Stallone, the Max Max and Lethal Weapon sequels, as well as conservative-oriented films like Red Dawn, reflected this change. Action films, starring such muscle-bound actors as future California Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, future Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, and others, demonstrated the audience’s lust for hyper-masculinized entertainment featuring as many car chases, explosions, and daring stunt work as Hollywood was capable of churning out. These films had a decidedly conservative and authoritarian bent, though their protagonists were often mavericks who bucked the system. But bucking the system in these films meant breaking laws that were designed to protect civil liberties, all in the aim to “get the job done” and catch the bad guys. A willingness to use force as a means to solve problems or as a form of law enforcement mirrored the “get tough on crime” attitudes of the 1980s.

Unlike film and music, television stayed largely out of the fray. Few references about world events outside the evening news made their way to nightly television shows. Programs such as The Beverly Hillbillies or Gilligan’s Island were lighthearted fluff meant to mindlessly entertain audiences in between commercial breaks. Heavily restricted by commercial interests, television producers had to find subtler ways to address these issues. During the 1970s, iconoclastic figures like Columbo and Baretta bucked the system by fighting the bad guys their own way, but were nonetheless champions of the “system,” rarely questioning authority except as a means to establish an eccentricity of character. They allowed audiences to think they were cheering on characters who were attacking the system, but gave them the comfort of knowing that by episode’s end the moral code that separated the good guys from the bad were still in tact. The system wasn’t attacked because it’s very paradigmatic values were questionable, but because it was too bloated and inefficient to deliver the kind of justice that coddled audiences. Like the films of the 1980s, these shows adhered to authoritarianism, not against it.

It wasn’t until the debut of The X-Files that a television show would address the underlying cynicism and distrust toward our government. The X-Files came two years after Oliver Stone’s film JFK, which sparked more questions and suspicions about the government’s involvement in the president’s assassination. The X-Files followed roughly the same path, revealing in a series of mythological arcs about the government’s cover-up in its knowledge of extraterrestrials and its complicity in aiding a possible alien invasion. Its two heroes, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) worked for the same government that was keeping secrets, but unlike TV heroes of the past, they truly did buck the system in their quest to find the truth. The fact that they were often thwarted from their goal was less a sign of their unwillingness to change the status quo, than from a powerful and untouchable foe that always kept two paces ahead of our heroes. Mulder and Scully’s willingness to seek the truth against all odds earned them the love and respect from audiences for whom such heroes were few and far between in the real world.

After 9/11, though, authoritarianism returned as more Americans began to trust the government in its war against terrorism. Americans were now asked not to question the government. Those who did so were met with outright punishment. After comedian Bill Maher contradicted conventional wisdom when he claimed that the nine Saudi nationals who hijacked planes and flew them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center weren’t cowards, then White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warned that “Americans…need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that. There never is.” Maher’s long-running ABC television show Politically Incorrect was canceled shortly thereafter.

Debate and dissent were enemies of the state in this new era. When Natalie Maine of the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the president while overseas, stating that she wasn’t proud that Bush was from her home state, her comments set off a backlash against the band in the largely conservative country music community. The Dixie Chicks later released an album that addressed the backlash. Hip hop artists the Coup released an album not long after 9/11 that featured the bandmates on its cover setting off a bomb outside the WTC. The cover and the CD were created before the events of 9/11, but that didn’t mitigate the criticism the band had gotten over it. Hollywood, on the other hand, offered to lend its hand in creating work that validated this new authoritarianism. A slew of films released during this period replicated the sense of fear and paranoia in American society, not toward an authoritative government, but toward the unknown, using horror and comic books as a means of validation. Films like the Saw franchise, as well as remakes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, were nicknamed “torture porn” for scenes that eroticized the torture of mostly female characters by the films’ villains. These films allowed audiences the chance to experience their worst fears about terrorism in the safe environment of a movie theater (though ironically, when news of the CIA’s use of waterboarding at black sites like Abu Graib became known, these movies took on an entirely different interpretation in hindsight). Comic book movies became a cash cow for Hollywood as Americans flocked to see their favorite superheroes vanquish evil and bring order back to the world. Like those TV iconoclastic renegades who fought evil while thumbing their noses at authority, comic book heroes, like Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, were vigilantes bucking a system that had grown too bloated to do the job right. Therefore, it isn’t a coincidence that three months after the U.S. invaded Iraq, President Bush landed a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier and announced “Mission Accomplished,” mimicking the comic book heroism of the big screen. Heroism and a faith in the authoritarian father figure found its ultimate representation in Jack Bauer in the Fox TV series 24. His willingness to use torture and to break the rule of law became a model among Republicans on how the War on Terrorism ought to be fought.

Another interpretation of authoritarianism––albeit a nobler and more liberal version––came in 1999 when NBC premiered its popular series The West Wing, the first primetime drama to directly explore the lives of the people who work in government, specifically the White House. Though the series was supposed to follow the men and women who work on the president’s staff, it quickly included its fictional president, Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen), among its regular cast. Aaron Sorkin’s drama presented a romanticized version of politics with the Bartlet administration representing the ideal rather than the reality of governance. The president was presented as a father figure, though a very flawed one. Its second season ended with a presidential scandal: Bartlet, his wife, and close political allies kept the president’s MS a secret from his staff and the national public. Unlike real life political scandals, The West Wing allowed viewers to see how an administration and its staff professionally, emotionally, and legally tackled theirs. As viewers, we emphasized with Barlet as he worked to restore his public standing, even though he lied about an issue that voters had the right to know about before entering the ballot box. President Bartlet validated the notion of a benign and enlightened authoritative figure, one who used government to positively affect American lives. In this way he was the polar opposite of George W. Bush and became a fantasy onto which many liberals latched following the disastrous 2000 presidential election.

Yet elsewhere on television, a different vision of government, authoritarianism, and rebellion was taking place. While The West Wing sought to romanticize institutions, cable television sought to demolish them. They also created indelible anti-heroes that not only bucked the system but often won. In the same year of The West Wing’s debut, HBO premiered its runaway hit The Sopranos. Starring the late James Gandolfini, The Sopranos redefined television and made anti-heroes a perfectly reasonable subject for series treatment. Each season, viewers were left with the question of whether Tony Soprano, the head of a New Jersey crime syndicate, was either going to get “whacked” or arrested by the Feds for his crimes. And each season, Tony got away. The series’ finale was the ultimate “fuck you” to audiences who wanted the moral order to be neatly put back in place. In an era where Americans were still awaiting news that Osama bin Laden had been captured or killed, Tony’s escape from karma was not only anti-authoritarian, but rebellious as well. The Sopranos proved that American society was the system that needed to be rebelled against, especially when it came to pop culture.

Another series that was the antithesis of The West Wing was also an HBO cultural milestone. The Wire, while not as popular as The Sopranos, likewise rebelled against cultural expectations in a number of ways. The series took place in Baltimore, featured a cast half of which was African American, and attacked issues that were rarely addressed in mainstream media: the war on drugs, poverty, racism. The series offered an unsentimental look at institutions and their indifference toward the people who worked within them and who were often subject to their care. Each of its five seasons tackled different aspects of these institutional divides, whether it be the police and drug trade, labor, politics, public schools, and the media. Where The West Wing sought to validate the role of institutions to positively affect people’s lives, The Wire revealed the ways in which institutions destroyed them. Yet unlike the rebels of the past who fought against the law or fought within the law to “get the job done,” The Wire offered no such palliatives, for even its own rebels––be it Det. Jimmy McNulty, Maj. Bunny Colvin, or Omar Little––became casualties of a system that treated individuals as mulch for its survival. In its way, The Wire was deeply anti-authoritarian.

Following the success of The Sopranos, HBO and other cable channels began churning out series with anti-heroes as their subjects. FX’s The Shield, AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad, Showtime’s Weed, and others featured anti-heroes as their protagonists. The popularity of these programs perhaps brought to bear the squeamishness many Americans were starting to feel in the post-9/11 era as the War on Terrorism gave rise to warrantless wiretapping and the infringement on civil liberties. Their characters fought against systems that forced them into boxes, often breaking the laws or committing extralegal actions in order to prevail. They provided a catharsis for audiences who wearied of the boxes they were being forced into.

Breaking Bad’s Walter Walter (Bryan Cranston) became an ersatz spokesman for workers who found themselves unemployed in a capitalist system that continued to flourish after bankrupting the American economy and receiving a bailout at the workers’ expense. Following the election of President Barack Obama, he also prefigured the tea party which, angered over a political and social system that was marginalizing them to a perceived victimhood, rose to prominence in reaction to Obama’s electoral win. White, both a victim of the private health insurance industry and the economy, fought against that perceived victimization by turning his natural talents as a chemist into cash gold in the meth industry. The series was a critique against white male privilege even as it allowed audiences to vicariously follow his exploits and quote him endlessly. When the series ended, White had gotten his just desserts, but not before beating the system that marginalized him and taking control of his own destiny. In that sense, Walter White ironically symbolized the American dream in all its connotations, revealing why anti-authoritarianism will always play an important role in American pop culture.

Movies About Food

MV5BMTgzOTA5OTc0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzkxNDA5._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_Cooking is an aesthetic and visual pleasure. That’s why cooking shows are so popular. Even for those who don’t like to cook or can’t boil water to save her life, watching cooking shows can be a joy because the process about creation is far easier to depict visually and to understand than any other art form. Sure, there’ve been movies about writing, painting, and music making, but cooking is so nakedly upfront in its process that filmmakers have perfected the art of making movies about cooking with far more success. Over the years, some of the best movies about art have had to do with cooking.

But movies about food and cooking have been more than simply about process. They have also been used as a way to reveal how food creates bonds. There is an intimacy inherent in the way we use food to define relationships. The act of eating is sensual––the way we put food into our mouths, savor its tastes on our tongues, rip, tear, and masticate it with our teeth, then swallow it into our bodies. The preparation of food therefore becomes an intimate act that binds those who prepare food and those who eat it. Movies do a good job of revealing those intimacies in ways that are both sensual and loving.

Visually, the dinner table is a motif that goes back to the Last Supper and to Norman Rockwell paintings of families gathered around for a Thanksgiving feast. So it makes sense that movies about family will have food and cooking central to its theme of familial togetherness. In 1997, writer/director George Tillman, Jr. released Soul Food, which later became a series on Showtime, about his own memories of growing up in Chicago and the way food was used to create family bonds. The Sunday dinner sit-downs are depicted as a way to show the importance of food in the African American culture. As the film’s family slowly falls apart after the death of its matriarch Mama Joe, young Ahmad, determined to repair the rifts in his family, convinced his mother to hold a Sunday dinner get-together similar to the ones Mama Joe used to throw. Though the film is heavy on the soap opera and features some moments that are decidedly un-family friendly (actor Michael Beach sexing up on-screen wife Vanessa Williams’s cousin, for instance), Soul Food is a wonderful movie about food, family, and togetherness. Though it doesn’t feature nearly as many cooking scenes as I would like, there is one shot of the three sisters played by Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, and Williams preparing the Sunday meal. Ironically, the very food which brings the family together is the very one which caused Mama Joe’s diabetes-related stroke, though the film doesn’t address this very real health issue among African Americans.

MV5BMTg5NTQxMjc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjYxODcxMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_The 1994 film Eat Drink Man Woman from director Ang Lee, like Tillman, Jr.’s Soul Food, is about family. Shot in Taiwan, Eat Drink Man Woman is rife with many cooking scenes, each one more delightful and tantalizing than the next. It tells the story of a master chef who has lost his taste buds after the death of his wife. Living with three grown daughters with issues of their own, Chu struggles to maintain his equilibrium as a chef and father amid so many personal changes. Again, like Soul Food, Eat Drink Man Woman follows the complicated lives of the three daughters, each one struggling to deal with her own desires and ambitions while trying to find a way to relate to their aging father. Food is used in many ways to create and strengthen relationships, whether it is through the father and his relationship with the young girl of the widow he eventually marries, his friendship with the fellow chef at his restaurant, or his own daughters.

Released in 2003, Pieces of April was a different kind of foodie movie, but it nonetheless explored ideas about family. A young woman struggles to create the perfect Thanksgiving dinner for her family, but everything that can go wrong does as April (Katie Holmes) tries to find a way to cook her turkey, including borrowing the stove of a very eccentric tenant in her apartment building. While April and her boyfriend try to make the perfect dinner, her family travels from their suburban home. They must deal with issues of their own, namely the fact that April’s caustic and brutally unsentimental mother is dying of cancer. No one quite gets or understands April, much less wants to spend Thanksgiving at her place. April’s boyfriend (Derek Luke), who is African American, also opens a sore spot between April and her family. To say that April’s family is dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe it, but the desires of children who want to reconcile familial differences is very much a part of Pieces of April‘s theme, and again, food and cooking becomes a means for April to reconcile with her mother and restore their bond.

RatatouillePoster Other foodie films are not necessarily about family, but do address the communal aspects of food and eating. Babette’s Feast (1987), starring French actress Stephan Audran, is based on the Karen Blixen novel about a French housemaid and cook who prepares a sumptuous meal for a pair of Dutch sisters as they celebrate their late father’s 100th birthday. Addressing issues of religious differences, food and cooking becomes the means in which these differences are crossed and a real community can be formed. The 2000 Miramax film Chocolat, starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, likewise uses food, in this case chocolate, as a means to create acceptance and understanding within in a small and conservative French village. The 2007 CGI-animated film Ratatouille crosses other boundaries, in this case species boundaries, as a rat befriends a young French chef and cooks up culinary delights. The pure joy demonstrated in this film about the creative art of cooking is a rarity in films. Movies also use food to express and define culture, as depicted in the Martin Scorsese 1990 film Goodfellas. Scorsese brought to the film his own memories of growing up Italian American in New York, including the way food defined his cultural identity. Many of the meals shown in the film, in fact, were cooked by his own mother, Catherine Scorsese, a mainstay of his films until her death. There are two important cooking scenes in the film which add to the depth of our understanding of mob and Italian culture: the prison scene in which Paul Cicero, played by Paul Sorvino, slices onions with a razor blade thin enough to melt in the meat sauce. And later in the film, when an exiled and demoralized Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, prepares a meal of cutlets and pasta in between making a drug run. Even in the midst of prison or drug paranoia, these men are still cooking up great meals through which family and friendships are bonded. Scorsese shoots the bubbling meat sauces and frying sausages in such a way that make you want to break through the fourth wall and grab a plate.

MV5BMTUxNDI3MTIyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzg5NDEzMQ@@._V1_Eating and cooking is a deeply sensual act, one that has been exploited to great effect by many Hollywood movies. But the Mexican delight Like Water for Chocolate boldly explored the association. Released in 1992, Like Water for Chocolate was a revelation. One of the first Mexican films to capture the American box office, the independent film, directed by Alfonso Arau and written by his then wife Laura Esquival, who adapted it from her novel of the same name, was a sensual feast of delectable Mexican cuisine, all wrapped around a romance that rivaled Romeo and Juliet for its star-crossed fate. Like Water for Chocolate, whose title is taken from one of the film’s many recipes, reveals close relations between the sensual pleasures of food and sex. One scene that brings this idea home is when the heroine Tita creates a meal to welcome her beloved who has married her sister in order to be near her. Tita puts her whole being into the meal, thus transferring her repressed desires to those who eat it.

Writers in Films: What They Get Right, What They Get Wrong

MV5BMjE3NDM1NDgyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzg4MDQyMQ@@._V1._SX349_SY475_The silver screen rarely gets it right when it comes to writers, which is funny since TV and film are written by them. Understandable enough. It’s hard to take a largely cerebral activity and make it visually exciting. Most movies rely on clichés and stereotypes. Either writers suffer from massive writer’s block, which I suppose offers some form of internal complexity or obstacles, or from sophomore slumps after successful first novels. By and large fictional writers are lonely, navel-gazing losers who are always broke has-beens or never-have-beens.

The Showtime series Californication is one example. Starring David Duchovny, the series was about writer Hank Moody who was suffering a sophomore slump after his first novel God Hates Us All was turned into a fluffy romantic comedy. Moody turned to blogging, but spent most of the series brooding and humping every woman who came into his path. Or, at least, that was what I read about the series; I’ve never watched the show. Still, the fact that Hank was yet another writer with writing issues shows just how much of a cliché this type of writer is in film and television.

But not all characterizations of writers are as trite. There have been a few that at least captured what it means to be a writer. The movie Wonder Boys (2000), starring Michael Douglas, did a good job of portraying how writers think and act. In the Wonder Boys, Douglas’s Grady Tripp, an English professor and former wünderkind writer, has been slogging away on the follow-up manuscript to his first magnum opus. Tripp is frozen by expectation, both in his personal and professional life (notice how his name is Tripp, as in “tripped up”). Wonder Boys smartly dealt with the choices writers must make to hone their creative intuitions, delivering one of the best writerly advices I’ve ever heard––good writing is all about choices, a piece of advice that worked well for Tripp as his manuscript was meandering over a thousand pages and his affair with the married college administrator turned into an unplanned pregnancy. The movie, of course, was adapted from the 1995 novel by Michael Chabon, which in turn was a follow up to his successful debut, so the book and film had an honesty that most movies about writers lack.

Stephen King’s suspense thriller Misery (1990), about a writer (James Caan) who is held hostage by the fan of his successful mystery novels is an ironic twist about the relationship between writers and their fans. When Caan’s Paul Sheldon decides to kill his popular heroine Misery Chastaine, one of the novel’s fans Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) wrecks vengeance by holding him hostage in her home and tortures him until he agrees to spare Misery. But Misery is really about the pressures all popular genre writers feel in trying to strike a balance between pursuing their own artistic endeavors and pleasing a very fickle and often conservative readership who don’t like change.

Adaptation (2002), the Spike Jonze-directed and Charlie Kaufman-penned adaptation of Susan Orlean’s bestselling non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, is a meta film about the process of storytelling. The movie perfectly captures the creative process of a screenwriter (Nicolas Cage) as he attempts to adapt a largely un-adaptable book about the orchid trade. But it also does a good job of portraying the insecurities all writers feel as they embark on a new work, especially in a medium that demands commercial success over artistic expression. Going back and forth between fiction and reality, the movie soon blurs the difference and shows that all good fiction is ultimately a bit of both. The Coen brothers’ Barton Fink (1991), likewise is about the hell all writers face when they make a deal with the devil in Hollywood, selling out their artistic expression in favor of fame and success. Sunset Boulevard (1950) also takes the “Hollywood-is-hell-for-writers” turn when a screenwriter (William Holden) literally makes a bad turn while trying to outrun creditors when he stumbles into a decrepit mansion owned by one Norma Desmond (“I am big. It’s the pictures that have gotten small”). Forced to hide out at her mansion, Holden’s character is pressured into writing Desmond’s come-back picture and ends up getting a couple of lead bullets into his chest for the trouble. The relationship between the writer and the star had never been so good.

There have been a number of bio-pics about well-known writers to make it to the theaters. An Angel at My Table (1990), directed by Jane Campion, is about Australian writer Janet Frame. Frame, who was brought up poor, spent eight years in a mental institution because of her eccentricities. The film does a good job of revealing the way the active and creative imagination becomes an escape valve for those who long to find their own voices. Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, took acerbic writer Dorothy Parker and her years within the Algonquin Table as its source. Yet the film was less about Parker the writer and more about Parker’s personal life, all her failed relationships, her alcoholism, and suicide attempts. It got the tortured artist treatment without getting to why Parker was an artist in the first place. The 2005 film Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as the titular writer, reveals how writers can often be social and emotional leeches using real life people as sources for their literary inspirations. The movie details the creation of Truman Capote’s seminal non-fiction mystery In Cold Blood and the relationship he developed with one of the murderers, Perry Smith. The relationship is both exploitative and tender, but the movie never offers comforting resolutions to the responsibilities of the writer to his subject. In the past decade, Hollywood has turned to the Beat writers for screen treatment, such as the forgettable Kiefer Sutherland vehicle, Beat (2000), Howl (2010), On the Road (2012). But many of these movies were more about the romantic allure of the Beats rather than their artistic output.

In the past, journalists fared much better in Hollywood than screenwriters or novelists. In Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday (1940), starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, reporters were a quirky, funny, cynical and fast-talking lot whose off-the-cuff lifestyle was worthy of envy. In fact, Hildy, as played by Russell, gave up marriage and a life in the ‘burbs to chase the latest headlines with Grant’s Walter Burns (and really, can you blame her?). The fact that His Girl Friday was written by former hard-nosed reporter Ben Hecht probably had a lot to do with its favorable treatment his profession. Grant starred as another writer, this time an inveterate alcoholic in the Grant/Katherine Hepburn/Jimmy Stewart vehicle Philadelphia Story (1940). During the 1970s, after the New York Times fought a successful First Amendment rights case over publication of the Pentagon Papers, reporters earned a respect that found its way in Hollywood films like All the President’s Men (1976), based on the true life exploits of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward as they covered the Watergate break-ins. All the President’s Men was the rare depiction of the often tedious and mundane research that is the bread-and-butter of true investigative journalism. Despite the movie’s well-known outcome, it still crackles with tension and suspense as Woodward and Bernstein uncover White House secrets. During the 1980s, Mike Nichols directed the Meryl Streep/Jack Nicholson vehicle Heartburn, based on recently deceased writer Nora Ephron’s marriage to Carl Bernstein, that presented a less flattering portrait of the reporter.

As years of media consolidation however led to a shift away from hard journalism to celebrity fluff, the sterling reputation journalists enjoyed has dulled. Americans now view reporters less favorably than ever before. Accusations of false reporting haven’t helped. One particular well-known case involved New Republic journalist Stephen Glass. The 2003 movie Shattered Glass depicted Glass’s (Hayden Christensen) rise and fall due to his penchant for making up feature stories for the magazine. In Shattered Glass, journalism has descended to the level of spectacle that was once reserved for tabloid rags.

Other movies about writers:

The Lost Weekend (1945)

The Singing Detective (1986)

My Left Foot (1989)

Naked Lunch (1991)

Deconstructing Henry (1995)

Henry Fool (1997)

Shakespeare In Love (1998)

Before Night Falls (2000)

Quills (2000)

Sideways (2004)

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

Kill Your Darlings (2013)