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Weekend Reads (2/11): “Skinamarink,” Pop Culture Criticism, North Korea
Recommended weekend reading material for February 11, 2023.
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Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
Writing for Christ and Pop Culture, Cameron McAllister reviews Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink, a lo-fi horror movie that’s gone viral on TikTok due to its terrifying and unusual aesthetic. But McAllister finds something deeper and more philosophical lurking in the film’s unsettling atmosphere.
Ball’s film, however, manages to expand analog horror’s boundaries by subverting some of its key tropes. For instance, like most analog horror, Skinamarink has no soundtrack. Its feature length status, however, makes it much longer than your average entry. There’s a conspicuous absence of explicit violence in most of these works, but Skinamarink manages to slip in some brutality that’s as chilling as it is subtle. The film also makes brilliant use of royalty-free material. Faced with their father’s absence and the sinister presence stalking them, Kevin and Kaylee barricade themselves in the living room, seeking comfort in the spectral glow of the cathode-ray tube TV and watching old public access cartoons. Filtered through Ball’s grainy lens, these cartoons, with their surreal antics and caterwauling sounds, provide a demented soundtrack for the children’s disintegrating house. Nonsense is fun and amusing when the world feels stable. When it’s as slippery as a nightmare, however, these whimsical violations of order begin to feel of a piece with the general chaos. Imagine Tom & Jerry blaring in the smoky wake of a mall shooting.
Disclaimer: I edited this piece.
Sarah Welch-Larson, who co-hosts the Seeing & Believing podcast, criticizes shallow approaches to pop culture criticism, as seen in various approaches to how movies are both reviewed and made.
Bad-faith discourse about the movies tends to be about one of two things. One, how does this movie represent something in the real world? Two, how does it all fit into preexisting canon and IP, and is that satisfying to the most obsessive fans? The first approach treats the movie as an allegory, a puzzle to be solved, a mystery that rewards the viewers with magnifying glasses who can figure out a secret, additional layer of meaning. The worst artistic responses to this first approach are the movies that are built around a central metaphor, in which the metaphor is both the movie's reason for existence and also the only thing of substance within the final product. (Last year's Don't Worry Darling feels borne of this impulse to explore a metaphor, without much thought about how the world in which the metaphor is made real actually works.) The second approach is how we get movies like The Rise of Skywalker and YouTube criticism like CinemaSins countdowns: attempts from the studio to appease the loudest, angriest consumers of a piece of content on the one side, and consumers tallying up the insignificant details that reveal a movie to have been made by flesh-and-blood humans on the other.
It’s always interesting to me how the same consumerist impulses with regards to movies, music, et al. play out in religious and secular circles. We all want to feel righteous in our own eyes, whether it’s seeking freedom from content deemed sinful or striving to be on the right side of history.
It boggles my mind that there’s still no “Best Stunt” Academy Award, especially given that (A) stunt performers literally risk life and limb for our entertainment and (B) our current movie landscape features countless blockbusters that rely on elaborate stunt sequences*. But until the Academy wises up, the folks at Vulture will be handing out their own stunt awards.
We at Vulture have made our position on this matter known many times, but we, too, are tired of waiting. Since the AMPAS won’t properly fete achievements in stunts, we’re going to do it. We’ve spent the past few months assembling our own mini-academy of stunt professionals: a select group* of stunt people, writers, filmmakers, and other industry professionals (including cinematographers and visual-effects artists) who helped us establish our own set of relevant and distinct stunt awards in a variety of categories, honoring work in feature-length films released between January 1, 2022 and December 31, 2022. (To be eligible, these films must have been made available to U.S. audiences in that time period, whether in limited screenings, wide release, or on a streaming platform.) Our nominations have been finalized, and final voting begins on February 10. The inaugural Stunt Awards winners will be announced on March 6.
* While you might lament the fact that so many of today’s movies are so reliant on stunts, that’s not the fault of the stunt performers themselves. They should still be recognized for their efforts.
Related: Corridor Crew’s “Stuntmen React” and “Stuntwomen React” videos are regular viewing here at Opus HQ. Not only are they entertaining (e.g., every time Clint freaks out over a Jackie Chan fight), but they’re also quite educational and informative about everything that goes into making your favorite stunt sequences.
If you were a youth group kid in the ‘90s, then Caris Adel’s Considering Christian Music newsletter is a definite nostalgia ride. But sometimes, that nostalgia hides some uncomfortable revelations, such as singer/songwriter Michael Anderson’s admiration of Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy.
Beliefs like this — an admiration for Robert E. Lee and Confederate soldiers — is not disqualifying in this industry. And no one distances themselves from people who hold explicitly racist views, even though they do distance themselves from abortion clinic bombers. (This is also an excellent reason for taking down all of these statues, holy cow.) When we think about why on earth the CCM industry is so white — with attitudes like this, by people who are embedded in it… gee whiz, it’s so hard to figure out. The fact that the magazine didn’t mind printing this either… editorial decisions were definitely made.
To be fair, it’s entirely possible that Anderson — who has written songs for John Fogerty, Juice Newton, Rebecca St. James, and Pam Tillis — no longer holds the same views that he did back in 1996, nearly thirty years ago. But Cadel’s larger question re. CCM’s whiteness and the legacy of such views — “How do sympathies like these influence the songs one writes and how do they influence the artists themselves?” — still stands.
Burt Bacharach, the pop composer responsible for such songs as “Alfie,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” and “What the World Needs Now is Love,” died this week at the age of 94.
Bacharach’s music cut across age lines, appealing to teens as well as an older generation who could appreciate the Tin Pan Alley feel of some of David’s lyrics. His fresh style could keep the listener offbalance but was intensely moving, defying convention with uplifting melodies that contrasted the often bittersweet lyrics.
His songs were sung by such major artists as Dusty Springfield, Gene Pitney, Tom Jones, the Carpenters and B.J. Thomas, as well as hundreds of others. His first No. 1 on a Billboard chart came in a genre not typically associated with the dextrous composer: country. Bacharach/David’s “The Story of My Life,” recorded by Marty Robbins, topped the Hot Country Songs chart in 1958. That same year, Perry Como took the duo’s “Magic Moments” to No. 4 on Billboard‘s Most Played by Disk Jockeys chart, a pre-cursor to the Hot 100.
When Halo Infinite was released back in 2021, Microsoft claimed that the game had a ten-year roadmap — a good thing given that the campaign, though enjoyable, ended on a cliffhanger. But following a round of layoffs, Halo Infinite’s ten-year plan is essentially vaporware.
In a report out today from Bloomberg, it appears 343 is basically starting from scratch with Halo. According to people familiar with the studio’s plans, the company isn’t actively working on new campaign DLC or updates for Halo Infinite. Instead, before the layoffs, developers at 343 were reportedly working on prototypes for new Halo games and projects in Unreal instead of designing new content for Infinite. And according to the report, many of those devs have since been laid off.
I’m an admitted Halo fanboy, as evidenced by this deep dive that I wrote into the franchise’s mythology, so this is frustrating news. It’s not a good sign when your gaming platform’s figurehead is treated in such a seemingly haphazard and careless manner. (See also the Halo TV series.) As for the new campaign storyline concluding in a satisfying manner, we’ll always have the first Halo trilogy.
In recent years, North Korea has turned to a new form of propaganda in order to rehabilitate its image: YouTubers.
YuMi is not the only North Korean YouTuber turning heads: an 11-year-old who calls herself Song A made her YouTube debut in April 2022 and has already gained more than 20,000 subscribers.
“My favorite book is Harry Potter written by J. K. Rowling,” Song A claims in one video, holding up the first book of the series — particularly striking given North Korea’s typically strict rules forbidding foreign culture especially from Western nations.
The video shows Song A speaking in a British accent and sitting in what looks like an idyllic child’s bedroom complete with a globe, bookshelf, a stuffed animal, a framed photo and pink curtains.
But as the article points out, these YouTubers are seen enjoying luxuries that the vast majority of their fellow Koreans can’t, either because of government restrictions and censorship or because of the country’s hardships (e.g., power shortages).
One of the company’s two remaining principal engineers offered a possible explanation for Musk’s declining reach: just under a year after the Tesla CEO made his surprise offer to buy Twitter for $44 billion, public interest in his antics is waning.
Employees showed Musk internal data regarding engagement with his account, along with a Google Trends chart. Last April, they told him, Musk was at “peak” popularity in search rankings, indicated by a score of “100.” Today, he’s at a score of nine. Engineers had previously investigated whether Musk’s reach had somehow been artificially restricted, but found no evidence that the algorithm was biased against him.
Musk did not take the news well.
“You’re fired, you’re fired,” Musk told the engineer.
Musk is most definitely not a thin-skinned narcissistic chaos agent who wasted $44 billion and whose ego is driving his company into the ground. He’s a business mastermind who totally knows what he’s doing and you simpletons just can’t comprehend his supergenius.
Writing for The New Yorker, Alex Ross contemplates the life and times of Hildegard of Bingen, including her influence on modern composers and musicians.
Contemporary female composers have often saluted Hildegard as the one who blazed a difficult path. A memorable ceremony took place in 1993, at CBGB, the venerable arena of rock aggression. A quartet of New York composers — Eve Beglarian, Kitty Brazelton, Elaine Kaplinsky, and Mary Jane Leach — walked through the venue draped in black, holding candles and singing Hildegard antiphons. Subsequent generations have paid their respects, albeit in ways that might well have baffled the honoree. Lingua Ignota, an experimental-pop project launched by the multidisciplinary artist Kristin Hayter, takes its name from Hildegard’s “unknown tongue” and channels her spirit through darkly vengeful chants that unfurl before walls of noise. The Australian American singer-composer Jane Sheldon, by contrast, cherishes Hildegard’s regard for the divinity of nature. For an installation in a former timber mill in Tasmania, Sheldon is writing a composition based on Hildegard’s “O nobilissima viriditas,” which begins with the lines “O noblest green viridity / you who are rooted in the sun.”
Via Alissa Wilkinson.
On February 7, LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. In response, Abdul-Jabbar wrote this beautiful article.
Whenever a sports record is broken — including mine — it’s a time for celebration. It means someone has pushed the boundaries of what we thought was possible to a whole new level. And when one person climbs higher than the last person, we all feel like we are capable of being more.
Via The Dispatch.
Finally, a word of warning: It might be cute when a grocery store robot escapes from its store. But it also brings us one step closer to the robopocalypse.
Customers at GIANT Food Stores are familiar with “Marty” the robot. The tall robotic assistant has been in stores since 2019 helping identify hazards such as spills and has gone viral for their googly eyes and “facial” expressions.
However, Marty’s job is mainly an indoor job, and rarely does he venture off on his own. Until now.
One Pennsylvania grocery shopper in the Lehigh Valley area posted a video showing Marty on the loose in a store parking lot before employees wrangled him back inside.
From the Blog
In this day and age of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify et al., there’s still a case to be made for owning physical copies of your favorite movies, music, etc.
Streaming media is undeniably convenient, but the more we rely on Netflix et al. to access our cultural libraries… well, that’s not always going to end well. Case in point: Last year, HBO Max began removing numerous titles from its catalog including acclaimed originals like Westworld, simply so it could cut costs and take advantage of tax write-offs. In other words, profit was more important than maintaining cultural permanence — which should surprise exactly no one.
Earlier this month, I was digging through our storage room and came across a couple of totes filled with DVDs that I bought years ago, including a bunch of older martial arts films — which led to some fun viewings, which I subsequently chronicled in my Cultural Diet.
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