Weekend Reads (2/25): Steven Spielberg, Leiji Matsumoto (RIP), Roald Dahl, Ukraine
Recommended weekend reading material for February 25, 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.
Earlier this week, Steven Spielberg received an honorary “Golden Bear” award for his lifetime achievements in cinema. ScreenDaily asked thirteen filmmakers from around the world to discuss Spielberg’s influence. For example, Edgar Wright:
I am of the generation that first went to the cinema when Spielberg was in the middle of his first incredible streak of iconic hits. Seeing Raiders at age seven was a huge moment for me, as it was one of the first films where I was aware of who directed it and became curious as to how they made the film. More recently, he’s a director I refer to constantly as a master of staging and blocking. Any Steven Spielberg film is a miniature film school to study the different ways of covering a scene, always with economical and stylish coverage, as well as masterful visual storytelling. Watch a film of his with the sound turned off and study a genius at work.
Speaking iconic and influential filmmakers, here’s a list of some of Martin Scorsese’s favorite movies based on statements he’s made as well as references in his own films. For example, 1951’s Diary of a Country Priest, which changed his view of God:
“I saw the film for the first time in the mid-60s,” he recalled. “I was in my early 20s, and I was growing up, moving beyond the idea of Catholicism that I’d held as a child… It gave me hope. Every character in that picture, with the possible exception of the older priest, is suffering. Every character is feeling punished and most of them are inflicting punishment on each other. And at one point, the priest has an exchange with one of his parishioners, and he says to her: ‘God is not a torturer. He just wants us to be merciful with ourselves.’ And that opened something up for me. That was the key.”
Over on Christ and Pop Culture, Scott McCracken wonders if the Indian blockbuster RRR offers a healthier view of male relationships.
So why might Raju and Bheem’s relationship be so jarring for an American viewer? This type of non-romantic love between two grown men is just not shown much, especially in the context of an action movie. Such love might be developed in a drama, but never in a full-blown guns-and-explosions-filled flick. But why is that? Because the type of manly men who save the world don’t need friends like Raju and Bheem? No, but rather, I suspect it’s due to several things.
Disclaimer: I edited this article.
He may not have been as well-known as Spielberg or Scorcese, but Leiji Matsumoto — who died this week from acute heart failure at the age of 85 — was just as influential in his own way.
His notable works include Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, and Queen Emeraldas — all of which inspired multiple anime or live-action adaptations — and he contributed designs and created the tie-in manga for Space Battleship Yamato. He also supervised animated music videos for French electronic pop group Daft Punk’s Discovery album, and the videos were strung together into the INTERSTELLA 5555 film. His designs and works have influenced multiple generations of artists around the world.
Following Guillermo del Toro’s recent comments defending animation as a medium that’s not simply for kids, the AV Club’s Ray Greene has written a brief history of adult animation, from Betty Boop and Heavy Metal to Spirited Away and Waltz with Bashir.
Del Toro clearly chafes against such sentiments, especially in animation; while accepting the Golden Globe award last month for Best Animated Motion Picture for Pinocchio, he proclaimed that “animation is not just a medium for kids.” This comes after telling journalists at last year’s Toronto Film Festival that “animation is not a fucking genre for kids,” which further suggests how deeply held his beliefs are. Del Toro, of course, shouldn’t have to fight this hard to make his point. Because he is very right. Animation isn’t just for kids, and it never has been.
The publisher of Roald Dahl’s books has begun updating them to remove potentially offensive language, which has since inspired cries of censorship.
The changes to Dahl’s books mark the latest skirmish in a debate over cultural sensitivity as campaigners seek to protect young people from cultural, ethnic and gender stereotypes in literature and other media. Critics complain revisions to suit 21st century sensibilities risks undermining the genius of great artists and preventing readers from confronting the world as it is.
The Roald Dahl Story Company, which controls the rights to the books, said it worked with Puffin to review the texts because it wanted to ensure that “Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today.”
Perhaps not so surprisingly, these changes follow Netflix’s purchase of the Roald Dahl Story Company back in 2021 in order to create a “Roald Dahl universe” of adaptations. Or, as Anna Leszkiewicz writes:
[I]ntellectual property and expanding “universes” of content designed to appeal to children and nostalgic adults are some of the most financial valuable assets in Hollywood. In this media landscape, it is more appealing to retrofit existing literature to harmonise with these values than it is to invest in new stories. The Roald Dahl Story Company has a vested interest in sanitising Dahl’s fiction to ensure it remains “relevant” for new generations, has uncontroversial mass appeal and, most importantly, keeps making money.
And therein lies the rub: There’s a decent chance that these changes are driven not so much by a concern to “protect” children from “ugly” or “harmful” language as much as by a desire to turn a tidy profit.
I’m always deeply skeptical of any such “sanitization” efforts. The impulse to deal with, and even downplay, uncomfortable works from the past is understandable. But does that actually protect children? Does it really promote “the power of kindness,” as Netflix put it? Or is it just handwaving meant to make us feel good and decent so that we don’t really have to deal with the ugliness of the past, and especially the ugliness found in beloved artists?
Noted author Philip Yancey recently revealed that he has Parkinson’s.
My future is full of question marks, and I’m not unduly anxious. I have excellent medical care and support from friends. I trust a good and loving God who often chooses to reveal those qualities through his followers on earth.
I have written many words on suffering and now am being called to put them into practice. May I be a faithful steward of this latest chapter.
I’ve mentioned this before, but if it weren’t for Yancey’s books — especially Reaching for the Invisible God and What’s So Amazing About Grace? — I’m not sure I’d still be a Christian today. His insightful, thought-provoking, and deeply personal writings gave me a language with which to better understand, express, and confront my doubts and skepticism.
Pitchfork interviews Robert Beatty, who has created album artwork for Tame Impala, Kesha, Oneohtrix Point Never, and The Weeknd (to name a few).
I think that’s something that maybe people miss in my art, that there’s a clash of high culture and low culture stuff. It’s kind of trashy, and really rooted in advertising more than anything. All the weird bubble letters and neon text: That doesn’t come from krautrock album covers. That comes from weird soap opera magazines that my mom had when I was a kid, or candy packaging. There’s a lot of stuff that people may think is influenced by something that’s “cool,” when it’s really just something that wormed its way into my brain and never left.
Finally, on a more sober note, this week marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. To mark the occasion, AP News, The Atlantic, the LA Times, and Reuters have all published galleries filled with photos of the conflict and the people affected by it. CNN has also posted a multimedia timeline of the war. (Note: These contain graphic images that some may find disturbing.)
By contrast, the BBC has posted a series of photos taken by Ukrainians in the days immediately before Russia’s invasion. Looking at the soccer games, children playing, and selfies, it’s hard to believe how soon those lives would be turned upside down.
Meanwhile, Keith Gessen explores how the war has been received in Russia, which raises some larger questions about Russian history.
I asked Baunov how long he thought it would be before he returned to Russia. He said that he didn’t know, but it was possible that he would never return. There was no going back to February 23rd — not for him, not for Russia, and especially not for the Putin regime. “The country has undergone a moral catastrophe,” Baunov said. “Going back, in the future, would mean living with people who supported this catastrophe; who think they had taken part in a great project; who are proud of their participation in it.”
From the Blog
If you’ve grown tired of trying to find something to watch on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, et al., then consider giving Hoopla a try. Earlier this week, I published my Hoopla viewing guide, which contains over thirty movies that can be watched on Hoopla for free without any commercials. All you need is a valid library card.
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