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Weekend Reads (Apr 8): Ryuichi Sakamoto (RIP), Aging Rock Stars, Missing Movies, “Super Mario Bros.”
Recommended weekend reading material for April 8, 2023.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto died late last month from rectal cancer. He was 71 years old.
The Japanese composer had an exceptionally wide-ranging career: he was by turns a synth-pop idol, the composer of both sweeping film scores and quiet, gentle sound environments, and a collaborator of such artists as David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Bernardo Bertolucci.
As a member of Japan's hugely influential band Yellow Magic Orchestra and as a solo artist, he was a grandfather of electronic pop music, making songs that influenced early hip-hop and techno.
Writing for Pitchfork, Simon Reynolds reflects on Sakamoto’s career, from his pioneering work with Yellow Magic Orchestra to his collaborations with David Sylvian to his more recent ambient work with Alva Noto.
Most people would identify Düsseldorf, Germany, or Detroit — hometowns of Kraftwerk and Cybotron, respectively — as the birthplace of techno. Some might make a case for Sheffield, England, and its scions the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire. One city that never comes up is Tokyo. Yet Yellow Magic Orchestra — the trio of Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi, and Ryuichi Sakamoto — has arguably the strongest claim of all to the “Godfathers of Techno” title.
Numerous musicians, including Japanese Breakfast, Massive Attack, and Questlove, have paid tribute to Sakamoto’s music and influence.
Sakamoto was also an accomplished soundtrack composer who won an Oscar for his score to Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. His other soundtracks include Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise, The Sheltering Sky, Tony Takitani, and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. His first film soundtrack was for Nagisa Ōshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. The title track is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Enjoy.
Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein was instrumental to the success of numerous artists including The Cure, Depeche Mode, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Ramones, The Smiths, and Talking Heads. He died earlier this week from cancer at the age of 80. Several of those artists have paid tribute to Stein.
In his most recent newsletter, Stephen Thomas Erlewine reflects on aging rock stars like Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars (who is 71 years old).
By virtue of playing shows, rockers seem younger than they are, an illusion that gets heightened by how Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and Bruce Springsteen are able to perform marathon shows while in their 70s. The Mars lawsuit hints at how much effort it takes to sell this mirage, particularly in how everything in the production is geared toward spectacle, not band interplay. After decades of hydraulic drum rosters, fans expect the same old fireworks to accompany the same old songs. Mars laughed to Willman “I mean, 40 years of playing the same eight songs, you know,” but the repetition is the point of the whole shebang: it’s a ritual, not a moment in time. Whether it’s retirement, hiatus or death, any crack in the facade spoils the fantasy that nobody in the band or audience has grown any older in the intervening years.
Thanks to Netflix et al., it’s tempting to think that we now have access to more movies than ever before. But that’s not the case. Missing Movies tries to help filmmakers, archivists, and others find the materials necessary to ensure that movies remain in distribution.
The truth is that movies are simply not as available today as they were during the heyday of VHS when some brick-and-mortar video stores carried tens of thousands of titles. Now, with a few giant companies controlling the most popular streaming services and trying to outdo one another with original content, many older movies are being left behind.
Thousands of movies are either completely lost or are deemed too small to warrant the expense, and thus are completely unavailable. This is especially true of work created by women and members of the BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and disability communities. As a result, we end up with a skewed history of filmmaking and crucial gaps in our cultural knowledge and legacy.
Here’s a list of 101 movies that they’d love to see released. Some of the titles on their list might surprise you, like Kevin Smith’s Dogma (1999), Karyn Kusama’s award-winning Girlfight (2000), and Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995).
Letterboxd’s Mitchell Beaupre profiled the founders of Missing Movies concerning their mission.
The John Wick movies probably feature more guns than any twenty movies combined, but none of them are real — which is by design, according to director Chad Stahelski.
My feeling is that there’s no reason to have a live firearm on set. We can create cities and spaceships and Godzilla and all these things. We have the technology to do the same with firearms. But, for the last 100 years, Hollywood’s been using real firearms. And for prop houses, armorers or supply houses to switch over, it would make their entire stock of real firearms useless. It comes down to the fact that it would cost certain people a great deal of money to switch over. No one wants to say that, but that’s the real reason. You don’t need firearms. The alternative is just going to cost you more money.
He also discusses why the Oscars — unfortunately — still don’t have a “Best Stunt” category.
With a new Super Mario Bros. movie in theaters this week, now’s the perfect time to read an oral history of the first Super Mario Bros. movie, which was released in 1993 and starred Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper.
Stories about the film are the stuff of Hollywood legend. Though Super Mario Bros. had the blessing of Nintendo, which had created the world of Mario and his brother Luigi in 1985, things went from bad to worse on a production that seemed cursed the moment the first word of the first draft was written. By the time the film was released, there was no hope.
One of my favorite details from the article: Every Sunday, the cast would go perform Shakespeare in order to get a break from the film and cleanse themselves.
Truth be told, I’ve never actually watched Super Mario Bros. in its entirety. But after reading this, I might have to change that.
Less than a year ago, Star Wars Celebration 2022 marked something of a victory lap for Lucasfilm and Disney. After years of virtual get-togethers and COVID-delayed productions, fans convened en masse in Anaheim to preview the future of Star Wars and fete their heroes in person. Videos of Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal screaming, “I love you!” to a crowd and prequels anti-hero Hayden Christensen enjoying the glow of a redemptive Obi-Wan Kenobi-centered press tour went viral in fan spaces. When Star Wars fans reunite for Celebration 2023 in London this weekend, the mood might be a little less optimistic. Sure, the fans will likely be thrilled, but the bulletproof facade of Star Wars on Disney+ has since started showing cracks.
Chalk it up to a mixture of fan fatigue (i.e., too many Star Wars titles) and a focus on appeasing fans with Easter Eggs and references rather than appealing to more broader audiences.
To that I would add a slavish fixation on nostalgia. Many of the upcoming Star Wars titles focus existing characters (e.g., Ahsoka) and/or take place in the past (e.g., The Acolyte). What I really want to see, however, is something akin to Star Wars: The Next Generation, i.e., a series set in the future that explores how the galaxy has changed and evolved beyond the Skywalker family. Perhaps the recently announced Star Wars movie that focuses on Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) efforts to rebuild the Jedi Order 15 years after the events of Rise of Skywalker will be that Star Wars movie for me.
To mark the 55th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Steven D. Greydanus considers the film’s sense of awe, and more recent sci-fi films that have tried to capture something similar.
The long shadow of 2001 has influenced countless Hollywood movies from Superman to Wall-E to Dune. A few filmmakers have followed more closely in Kubrick’s footsteps, exploring humanity’s place in the cosmos and the nature and meaning of existence using space travel and/or hoped-for or actual encounters with extraterrestrials as metaphors of mystery, wonder, and glory. Steven Spielberg put his formidable stamp on these themes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and less directly in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Robert Zemeckis’s Contact (1997), based on the novel by Carl Sagan, is as much influenced by Spielberg as by Kubrick. More recent examples include Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014), Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016), and James Gray’s Ad Astra (2019).
Here’s a list of the 25 best animated films since 1998, according to Rotten Tomatoes’ scores.
[N]ow we explore the animation medium, with each title selected using our recommendation formula, a calculation based on the Tomatometer that prioritizes the titles that stood out among critics and fans, combined with a pinch of curatorial love from our editors. Using this formula, we discovered the most recommended animated movie of every year since 1998.
Rotten Tomatoes has also posted their list of the 100 best anime movies of all time. That Studio Ghibli dominates the top 20 spots should come as a surprise to exactly no one.
From the Blog
I watched the fourth (and presumably final) John Wick movie this week. And as I watched Keanu Reeves slice, dice, and shoot his way through endless waves of nameless goons, I found myself wondering how the movie’s world actually works.
If the world’s ruled by its most violent and notorious criminals, then how do politics work? Do election disputes, international grievances, and trade deals get hammered out by hitmen like John Wick? Do political concepts like nations, borders, and democracy still matter when criminal organizations rule everything?
How about religion? John visits several Orthodox churches throughout the four movies — he was born in Russia and raised by the Ruska Roma — but they’re all fronts for the Ruska Roma’s criminal enterprises. Do other religious buildings and institutions (e.g., Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, Shinto shrines) function similarly? Just how cozy are the world’s religions with the High Table, and to what extent does that coziness impact their beliefs, ministries, and governance? (In other words, how can you effectively preach the Sixth Commandment if you’re in tight with the High Table?)
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