Pretty much the only time you’ll hear someone mention the canon in the year of our Lord 2019 is to explain why it’s bullshit: the canon is a bunch of stuff made by old or dead white dudes that a bunch of other old or dead white dudes decided was important, and everything outside of the canon is deemed, by implication, not important or worthwhile or particularly good. The canon is the epitome of cultural elitism; any English undergrad can tell you all about it.
The idea of a canon comes from the Bible, with the books deemed good, important and true being preserved and assembled as part of the Biblical canon, and other writings – like the gospel where the cross is a character that talks, or ones about Jesus as a kid – getting left on the cutting room floor. The idea of a literary canon is a kind of outgrowth from this: collecting the good and important works of literature – Homer, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare – as the ones worthy of study, the ones any educated person should be expected to have read. The literary canon is the stuff you’re supposed to read in school or college, but probably didn’t. There are tons of very legitimate criticisms of what makes up the literary canon: it tends to be disproportionately male – Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Virginia Woolf would be the big exceptions when it comes to novelists – and almost exclusively white, and the people who decide what gets deemed canonical (academics and critics) have similar demographic problems. But the big difference between the Biblical canon and the literary canon is that there is no official list of classic books, with everything else likely to be lost or destroyed. The literary canon is necessarily in flux. When Herman Melville died, he was an obscure writer living in poverty, but a few decades later some hip literary types in New York realised no, wait, Moby-Dick is really good, actually, and now here we are.
Continue reading “In Defense of the Canon”
I can name for you every western I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t even be hard. That’s not even close to true about any other genre: I always feel I came relatively late to horror, but the idea of listing all the horror films I’ve seen seems absurd, a job it would be impossible to finish. But I’ve seen, like, fifteen westerns – I’m a total novice, fumbling around in the dark in a genre in which I have yet to grow roots.
But as I slowly, stumblingly get into westerns, I’ve become acutely aware of the gap between the way people talk about westerns and what they’re actually like. The western – especially for people my age, who didn’t grow up watching them on Saturday afternoons – is treated less like an artform than a rhetorical device, and this means, necessarily, reducing a huge, varied film genre to a static set of characteristics. It means assuming that everything westerns were, are or can be fits in a little box.
Continue reading “Westerns: A Take”
The critical reception to 2001’s A Knight’s Tale is full of terrible, lazy takes deriding it as mind-numbing trash. They’re full of disdain for low culture that places the film’s detractors squarely on the side of the its villains, a comparison that seems utterly lost on the whole pompous lot. The presumed audience of the film – teenagers – gets as much scorn as the film itself. The reviewers then scorn the film all the more in turn for its “pandering”. There are tons of complaints about its anachronistic 70s rock soundtrack, though some of the same reviewers, like Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, would go on to name Moulin Rouge one of the best films of the year.
Admittedly, A Knight’s Tale isn’t as good as Moulin Rouge: this isn’t one of those articles where I try to convince you a largely dismissed piece of trash is actually a masterpiece. A Knight’s Tale is a pretty good popcorn flick, well-cast and competently made, with a straightforward plot and some good set-pieces. Reviewers were fond of referring to it as a “Middle Ages Rocky” or “Rocky on horseback” with exactly the tedious predictability they accuse its plot of epitomising, which is weird for two reasons: first, because Rocky is a gritty minimalist drama, and second, because, somehow, the comparison never made them consider that A Knight’s Tale, much like Rocky, is a film about class.
Continue reading “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Medieval Europe”
The fourth annual Arrowverse crossover event – bringing together characters from The CW’s Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl – was called “Crisis on Earth-X” and I…enjoyed it? I’ve written previously about my visceral hatred for superhero TV show crossovers, and “Crisis on Earth-X” certainly doesn’t avoid all the problems of the genre, but, as a self-contained story – as a TV movie, essentially – it’s certainly the most successful Arrowverse crossover yet.
It was about Nazis.
Continue reading “Oliver in the High Castle: Nazis in Pop Culture”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one has ever made a good movie based on a video game, since the genre came into being with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. I don’t usually care for such truths, but that’s one I’m happy to accept, by and large. I would possibly carve out an exception for some of the Pokémon movies, though I haven’t watched any of them in a long time, and there are, of course, some good movies about video games or inspired by their aesthetic: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wreck-It Ralph, Tron, etc. But as far as film adaptations of video games, it’s been one failure after another, with only occasional spells of mediocrity to shake things up.
Continue reading “Video Game Movies and Why They Suck”
Hollywood is in a prolonged state of crisis. Everybody knows this. Studios pump out a seemingly endless supply of sequels, spin-offs, remakes, reboots, and films otherwise based on any and all previously existing intellectual property, all of which invariably cost upwards of 100 million dollars. We call them tentpole films, because they’re supposed to be sure-fire bets that can make enough money to finance smaller, riskier projects across the studio’s slate, like tentpoles upholding a tent. The problem is that there is no tent. There’s just masses and masses of poles, sticking upright in a field, and we’re all so used to getting wet that we’re more likely to ask for the poles to be more interesting than ask for some tarp.
Continue reading “Break the Studios, Save the Movies”
It’s 2017, and silent films are dying.
Silent films started dying in 1927, of course, when The Jazz Singer mainstreamed the use of synchronised dialogue – although it itself was a sound-silent hybrid, mostly using sound in the sections to do with musical performance. By the 1930s, basically all films were talkies, and apart from occasional blips – Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie or best picture winner The Artist – we’ve never looked back. Silent films have been dead for almost a hundred years, and there’s no good mourning them now.
But there’s the second death – the death that occurs when something once vibrant and alive is forgotten by everyone living. That time will come for everything and everyone, but there’s an artificial acceleration when an art form has fallen out of use. Charles Dickens is as popular and well-known as ever, but he mightn’t be if everyone had stopped writing or reading novels for a hundred years. He mightn’t have been had it not been possible to publish his serials in the form of the novel, instead of leaving them scattered across the volumes of history. Silent films are still films, but they’re different in a pretty fundamental way, in a way that seems impossibly big if you’ve never seen one.
So I’m really worried – unreasonably worried – that people are going to forget Charlie Chaplin.
Continue reading “You Should Watch Charlie Chaplin”