Weekend Reads: "The Emperor's New Groove," Radiohead, Conspiracy Theories, Cosplayers

Recommended weekend reading material for February 6, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

If you couldn’t tell by now, I enjoy movie-related oral histories in which cast and crew share various insights and “behind the scenes” tidbits concerning a movie’s origins and production, and discuss its legacy. This week, I’m sharing two oral histories.

First is an oral history of the most unlikely Disney blockbuster of all time: 2000’s The Emperor's New Groove.

So, uh, how — and why — did all of this happen? Here is the oral history of The Emperor’s New Groove, an irreverent, pratfall-heavy, non sequitur of an animated movie that so defied Disney’s painstakingly deliberate traditions, it’s hard to believe it actually exists today.

Last week, I shared a Donnie Darko oral history, so this week, I’m sharing an oral history for Richard Kelly’s follow-up, 2006’s surreal and nightmarish Southland Tales.

An audacious near-future pop fever dream under the guise of blockbuster aesthetics, Southland Tales starred Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a movie star who keeps forgetting his past, Sarah Michelle Gellar as a psychic reality show star with a background in porn, and Sean William Scott as a racist police officer and his politically active twin. It all made perfect sense in Kelly’s mind as a complex response to a paranoid, post-9/11 America.

While Radiohead’s OK Computer is frequently (and understandably) lauded as the band’s greatest album, 2000’s Kid A was plenty prescient in its own way.

Its foreboding music and non sequitur lyrics were off-putting to critics and fans at first. But today they evoke the feeling of everyday life, from “glitchy cell reception” and “decontextualized social-media updates” to “the modern reality of omnipresent technological interconnectivity at the expense of genuine human connection,” Mr. Hyden writes. The album’s pioneering digital-first release — it was available online before being sold — also anticipated tectonic shifts in music, culture and the record business, which has largely abandoned CDs and traditional rock for streaming and hip-hop.

In his own inimitable way, Luke T. Harrington explores the pernicious nature of conspiracy theories like QAnon and the “stolen” 2020 presidential election.

The problem with a conspiracy theory is that it gives you license to wave away any evidence by appealing to the conspiracy. You can seize upon any scrap of data that seems to confirm your viewpoint, while dismissing anything that calls it into question by chalking it up to the actions of conspirators.

Damon Krukowski (Galaxie 500, Damon and Naomi) compares and contrasts Spotify and Bandcamp.

Spotify and Bandcamp could not be more opposite. Where Spotify highlights playlists, most often of its own creation, Bandcamp sticks to the album (or any other format, as determined by the artist). Where Spotify pays royalties according to little-understood formulas that can only be analyzed by reverse calculation, Bandcamp lets artists and labels choose their own prices. Where Spotify requires working through a limited number of distributors to access their services, Bandcamp is open to anyone. Where Spotify has revenue streams dependent on ads and data, Bandcamp operates on a simple revenue share with artists and collects no information on its users.

Via Frosted Echoes. Streaming music via Spotify is all well and good. However, if you really, truly want to support your favorite musicians, buy their music (and some merch while you’re at it.)

Even as the industry moves towards becoming increasingly reliant on computers, I still contend that there’s nothing quite like hand-drawn anime. However, hand-drawn anime has been dealt a surprising blow: it’s running out of pencils.

Animators in Japan who haven't yet switched to a digital production workflow might have to speed up their transition sooner rather than later, as the tools that have traditionally aided anime creators are soon going away forever. Mitsubishi Pencil announced that the company will be cutting all but one color of the 7700 line of pencils, the line usually used for hand-drawn animation.

On a related note, the Japanese government is preparing legislation that could have a dramatic effect on cosplayers (i.e., folks who dress up as anime and manga characters, and often elaborately so).

Cosplay can be big business. Japan’s most successful professional cosplay Enako (pictured) has made over $90,000 a month from public appearances, merchandise, photobooks, chat sessions, and endorsements. Other cosplayers also earn cash for selling photos or clips of them dressed as famous characters. Creators don’t currently get a cut, and the amendment would change this. Moreover, it’s suggested that a standardized set of rules would help avoid any trouble with creators.

Celebrated actor Christopher Plummer, best known for his performance as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, died this week at the age of 91.

A legendary performer on Broadway, for the National Theater and The Royal Shakespeare Company in England and for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada, Plummer died peacefully at his Connecticut home, with Elaine Taylor, his wife and best friend for 53 years by his side, his agency, ICM Partners, announced.

In addition to The Sound of Music, Plummer received acclaim for a wide range of movies that included A Beautiful Mind, The Insider, The New World, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and Knives Out.

From the Blog

Our family recently discovered Wingspan, a beautifully designed — and educational — table-top game about birds.

While it’s not nearly the same as walking through the tall prairie grass on a clear, crisp Nebraska autumn day, Elizabeth Hargrave’s Wingspan does give you and your family an opportunity to create your own bird habitats from the comfort of your dining room table. Wingspan does have a learning curve — I wouldn’t recommend it for young children (who will almost certainly be enamored by its various pieces and components, more on those in a bit) — but after a few rounds of getting into the game’s rhythm, you’ll be well on your way to building your own wildlife preserve.

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