Discover more from Opus
Weekend Reads (Apr 22): Superhero Movies, Quentin Tarantino, Record Stores, INXS, Fox News
Recommended weekend reading material for April 22, 2023.
My latest “Playlist Breakdown” episode — which reviews a lovely B-side from U2’s The Joshua Tree titled “Walk to the Water” — was posted earlier this week. It’s an exclusive for my paying subscribers, as a way of saying “Thanks” for supporting my writing. If you’re not a subscriber and you enjoy reading Opus, consider becoming one today.
Now, on to the links…
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
While superhero movies dominate the current cultural landscape, Westerns once held that lofty position. But in order to survive, Westerns had to evolve — and superhero movies might have to do the same.
If the [Western] genre is still alive, after 120 years, it’s because artists like them have kept reinvigorating it with new kinds of characters, new attitudes, new settings.
And there may be something there for the comic-book gang to think about.
The answer to a few flops isn’t simply digging deep to come up with a superhero who hasn’t been on screen before. (Had anyone, outside of die-hard fans, even heard of “The Eternals”?) Nor is it simply redoing the same stories with different casts (eventually audiences are going to realize they don’t need yet another Batman origin story.)
No, the best solution isn’t repeating the past, but learning from it.
Once upon a time, I couldn’t wait to see the latest Marvel movie. But after 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, I was actually surprised by just how much my enthusiasm cooled for the genre. I’m still amped for titles like Across the Spider-Verse and Loki’s second season, The Marvels looks reasonably fun, and if there’s ever an honest-to-goodness Silver Surfer movie, I’ll be there on opening day. But as a lifelong nerd, I’m actually kind of sad that superhero movies just don’t hold the same excitement for me that they once did.
Quentin Tarantino’s movies are known for their (highly stylized) violence and bloodshed. But sex scenes? Not so much, and for good reason.
“It’s true, sex is not part of my vision of cinema,” Tarantino said. “And the truth is that, in real life, it’s a pain to shoot sex scenes, everyone is very tense. And if it was already a bit problematic to do it before, now it is even more so. If there had ever been a sex scene that was essential to the story, I would have, but so far it hasn’t been necessary.”
David Pierce is a big of watching sports highlight videos on YouTube.
This isn’t “the one play you needed to see from the game”; it’s… the game. Only shorter. It’s like the radio edit of a song or the TV cut of a movie — it just chops out the boring bits, and most people are going to like it better as a result. Eighteen minutes of a 90-minute soccer game is enough to show the starting lineups, the kickoff, every meaningful scoring opportunity, every yellow and red card, every corner kick, and every cool dribbling move that ultimately ended nowhere. No, you don’t get to see the three minutes of buildup that led to the goal, which is what purists will tell you is the whole point of the game. But you do get a sense of the flow, the momentum, the vibe of the game. It’s a remarkably complete retelling in a tiny fraction of the time.
Like Pierce, I’ve probably watched more sports than I normally would thanks to highlight videos. 99% of the time, I have little to no interest in sitting through a single three-hour-long NFL game. But a 20-minute-long video that shows me all of the best plays? I’ll gladly watch three hours’ worth of those.
Dave Simpson explores why record stores are still so vital and necessary in this day and age of Spotify.
Council worker Peter Collinson, 34, came in as a 16-year-old indie kid for a Leeds festival ticket and has been returning ever since. “If you buy a record, it’s yours for ever,” he smiles, perched on a chair on the small purpose-built instore stage. “I got into music through my dad’s records and now I’ll sit with my son and he’ll pick one of mine out.” He makes a lovely point: “When we’re no longer here, our children will have our records and know who we were.”
It is closing time on Monday, and I find myself feeling sad to leave. I’ve loved it here and leave armed with recommendations from my co-workers. Earlier, Barton told me: “I’ve still got the records I started buying aged 14 and can tell you where I bought them all. I can’t do that with Spotify.” If record shops have a long-term future, it will be because of the special relationship between humans, our music and the places we obtain that from.
As a reminder, today is Record Store Day 2023.
I’ve been on a bit of an INXS kick lately (npi), so now’s the perfect time to share Sean O’Neal’s review of “Never Tear Us Apart” — one of the band’s most iconic singles.
“Never Tear Us Apart” is the balcony serenade to the booty call of “Need You Tonight,” with Hutchence pledging his undying love over a rose petal-strewn bed of synths and cellos. In the video he wanders lonely along the foggy banks of Prague bundled in a coat and gloves, and the only thing he’s baring is his heart. As a serious boy whose understanding of love was primarily based in romantic movies and aching synth-pop, this I got.
No joke, the video for “Never Tear Us Apart” is one of my favorite music videos of all time. The misty Prague backdrop, the string trio, Hutchence’s smolder, the way the band members move in and out of scenes, the mysterious dancing girl… it all amounts to perfection in my book.
If it feels like your church’s worship songs are all starting to sound the same, then you might be onto something.
For their study, researchers compared popular worship songs written before 2010 with those written from 2010 to 2020. Those earlier songs were often associated with individual worship leaders such as Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman, rather than with churches, and came from a variety of sources.
But beginning in 2010, the most popular new songs began to come from megachurch worship bands — and the most popular worship artists began affiliating with those churches.
Of the 38 songs in the study, 22 were initially released by the four megachurches, with another eight songs released by artists affiliated with those churches. Six more were either collaborations between artists from those churches or cover songs performed by those churches.
After it went viral, the latest single from Drake and The Weeknd was pulled from Spotify, Apple, TikTok, et al. because it wasn’t actually created by Drake and The Weeknd. Rather, it was generated by AI that had been trained on the artists’ voices. Not surprisingly, the recording industry is not a fan.
“The training of generative AI using our artists’ music (which represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law) as well as the availability of infringing content created with generative AI on DSPs, begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation,” a UMG spokesman told Billboard. “We’re encouraged by the engagement of our platform partners on these issues — as they recognize they need to be part of the solution.”
It’s no surprise that the track has been getting pulled from streaming services and various other platforms including YouTube due to copyright violations.
Yet, the scariest part of this story is that the song from AI Drake and AI The Weeknd is honestly... not bad. It sounds like a legit hit from the duo. There is really no way to know for certain that it isn’t the real Drake or Weeknd on the song just by listening, and that could have some unsettling implications.
Related: Massive Attack want to know, “Is the discussion ‘should AI recreate music?’ or is the discussion ‘Why is contemporary music so homogenised & formulaic that it’s really easy to copy?’”
Following the 2020 election, Dominion sued Fox News for $1.6 billion, claiming that Fox peddled conspiracy theories about Dominion’s voting machines switching votes from Trump. The case was set to go to trial this week, until Dominion and Fox settled out of court for $787.5 million.
The stunning settlement emerged just as opening statements were supposed to begin, abruptly ending a case that had embarrassed Fox News over several months and raised the possibility that network founder Rupert Murdoch and stars such as Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity would have to testify publicly.
“The truth matters. Lies have consequences,” Dominion lawyer Justin Nelson told reporters outside a Delaware courthouse after Superior Court Judge Eric Davis announced the deal.
Outside of the $787.5 million promised to Colorado-based Dominion, it was unclear what other consequences Fox would face. Fox acknowledged in a statement “the court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” but no apology was offered.
Like many, I was hoping to see Fox News and their various personalities (e.g., Tucker Carlson) dragged into the light of day and fully revealed for the liars, grifters, and hucksters that they are. I don’t blame Dominion for taking the money, but the settlement, big as it is, feels like more of a slap on the wrist than anything else. I’m sure that Carlson et al. will spin this as yet more evidence of liberal bias and persecution by the “mainstream media,” and their audience will eat it up.
Also also related: Surprising exactly no one, Trump called on Fox’s Rupert Murdoch to continue peddling “stolen election” lies.
Also also also related: MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who peddles falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the “stolen” 2020 election, was ordered to pay $5 million to a researcher who debunked his claims.
In a move sure to further concerns over AI, a group of robots essentially taught themselves how to play soccer.
Raia Hadsell, vice president of Research and Robotics, showed us how engineers used motion capture technology to teach the AI program how to move like a human. But on the soccer pitch the robots were told only that the object was to score. The self-learning program spent about two weeks testing different moves. It discarded those that didn't work, built on those that did, and created all-stars.
And with practice, they get better. Hadsell told us that, independent from the robots, the AI program plays thousands of games from which it learns and invents its own tactics.
It’s all just a game until the robots adapt these skills to hunting down humans.
On Thursday morning, SpaceX launched their “Starship” rocket, the most powerful rocket ever built. And then four minutes later, it experienced a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” (i.e., it blew up). But SpaceX’s engineers still consider the mission a success.
At T+4:00, the vehicle broke apart, although it was not clear if it was from aerodynamic forces or a flight termination system. Despite the failure, SpaceX employees watching the launch at the company’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters cheered, celebrating the progress made on the flight.
The company stressed both before and immediately after launch that this flight was a test designed to collect data to improve the design of the vehicle. “This was a development test. This was the first test flight of Starship,” said Insprucker. “The goal was to gather the data and, as we said, clear the pad and get ready to go again.”
From the Blog
I was fortunate enough to debut the latest music video for ambient musician Karen Vogt. Directed by Jolanda Moletta, the video for “Night Soughing” blends beautiful ocean footage from northern Italy with Stefania Lubatti’s equally lovely painting to create a dreamlike montage.
This post is available to everyone (so feel free to share it). However, paying subscribers also get access to exclusives including playlists, podcasts, and sneak previews. If you’d like to receive those exclusives — and support my writing on Opus — then become a paid subscriber today for just $5/month or $50/year.