The Red Shoes and the Hunger for Beauty and Art

REFLECTIONS ON THE START OF 2021

In 1948 when the film “The Red Shoes” was made, much of Great Britain was still in ruins, the country near bankruptcy, rationing in place. The population existed in what was by all accounts a gray, dreary world. This was the context for the movie’s opening scene when a crowd of college students eagerly rush up the stairs of Covent Garden to the cheap seats– there to imbibe the wonders and beauties of art. To receive an assault on the senses of color, costumes, scenery and music.

Filmed in glorious three-strip Technicolor, “The Red Shoes” is a tribute to beauty and magic in art. An ideal which has been eroded and lost over the ensuing decades, so the culture now is devoted to death, darkness, and zombies– to grovelling in the mud and saturating itself in the worst of mankind and society, instead of the best. The past year of gloom and lockdowns accentuated this trend, but didn’t create it. Darkness exhibits itself even in the literary world. Perhaps there most of all.

STYLES OF LITERARY ART

1.) Popular Genre. The dominant style according to sales and number of writers (given the number of ebook authors who adopt this style). Artistically it ranks at the bottom, because it’s unoriginal– generic– by definition. Imitations of imitations. To be artistically relevant, the style and its various genres need to change.

2.) Bureaucratic. The most admired style by both writers and the culture’s regulators of writers. This has three subcategories:

a.) Literary. The product of MFA writing professors and programs. It has itself become generic, manifested by emphasis on the well-written sentence and which includes an unselective mass of description and details.

b.) Postmodern. Taking literary writing one step further, with the added pretensions not so much of intelligence but intellectualism.

c.) Transgressive. This takes things one step further yet. Like postmodern writing, but darker, more negative and more solipsistic, with if anything even longer sentences and larger paragraphs. To break the hypnotic run of words is breaking the incantation of incoherent murmurs– the rhythm more important than sense or thought. The style fits with the bleakness of lockdowns and hospitals. With the depressing world of now. We don’t need to worry about a coming New Dark Age. Culturally, we’re in it.

What the three subcategories have in common is making words the prime value. Like a bureaucrat cranking out edicts and regulations, the bureaucratic writer produces mass amounts of words. The writer is prioritized over the reader, like a bureaucrat giving priority not to the consumer or citizen, but the regulation, and behind that, the system– the accepted, acceptable way of doing things.

2.) Polemical/Political/Religious. The “novel with a purpose.” Works for which the theme or mission or ideology is of prime importance. A style much frowned upon with the onset of the Cold War after World War II. Examples can be found on the left and the right. Two of the better novels in this vein are The Octopus (1901) by Frank Norris, and The Fountainhead (1943) by Ayn Rand. Many current novels are written in a polemical style, with themes either of social justice or the climate, or both. As it’s a difficult style to master– the author has to either be balanced in viewpoint or go completely over the top– few are worth reading from the current crop.

3.) Art for Art’s Sake. Aestheticism– or, a romantic pursuit of beauty. More seen in 19th century poetry from the likes of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, but aspects of this style permeated many of the period’s novels. The works of Alexandre Dumas, for instance, among the plotting, pay homage to beauty and art. The best later example is F. Scott Fitzgerald, in his beautifully-written and controlled stories and novels, which express the tragically romantic– the pursuit of an ideal, a “green light” at the end of a dock. As in “The Red Shoes,” to live and die for beauty and art.

Any such art movement, thrust into the gray world of today, would give the shock of the new. That would be truly transgressive.

THE QUESTION

The question is: Which style of literature is most needed now?

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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Art of the Movie Trailer

WHAT ARE THE REAL BEST MOVIE TRAILERS?

Search online for “The Best Movie Trailers of All Time” and most of the ensuing lists are examples of willful cultural ignorance– containing chiefly films of the 2000’s, and few movies made before 1994. It’s as if the media sites don’t believe the film industry existed before that time (roughly corresponding to their own lifespans). The dumbed-down feeding the dumbed-down. Cultural stupidity encouraging more cultural stupidity. Of the movies listed, most are of a piece: glorified music videos, with, instead of music, the same metallic “ca-ching!” similar to the irritating theme of the “Law and Order” television series. Or, no imagination.

Movie trailers at their best are an art unto themselves. At times as good or better than the films they’re promoting. Their purpose is simple: to be shown in movie theaters to encourage audience members to return to see another film. Which trailers over the years have best achieved this? (It’s not an accident that the best movie trailers are for what turned out to be blockbuster successes.)

With this in mind, here are my selections for best movie trailers. They’re not THE best trailers of all-time, but they’re certainly, artistically, five OF the best. In chronological order:

BEN-HUR (1959)

Note the emphasis on sound, AND the overlapping dialogue showing the film’s literate script while delineating the conflicts at stake. Also of course a requisite glimpse at the greatest action sequence in movie history (with no CGI), the chariot race:

Ben-Hur 1959

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PSYCHO (1960)

The trademark droll Alfred Hitchcock humor on display, as if introducing an episode of his TV series. Lulls you into thinking this will be an amusing flick. But is it? Watch all of it. Be aware of what Hitchcock is doing with the trailer: setting up the viewer in the same way a baseball pitcher uses change-ups to set up a batter. Variations in pace. The use of extreme contrast. Note also the Freudian-Jungian psychological break represented by his opening the curtain. A curtain to the subconscious, the unseen, but also a radical break with cinematic past. After this moment the art for good or ill would never be the same.

Psycho 1960

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WEST SIDE STORY (1961)

How will this trailer for a revival of the classic film compare with the one for the upcoming Stephen Speilberg remake? Not the best movie of 1961, but a box office hit time and again, in part due to its trailers.

West Side Story 1961

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BATMAN (1989)

Another prelude to a blockbuster, this trailer built up tremendous anticipation for the film, capturing Tim Burton’s gothic atmosphere as well as the perfection of the movie’s unusual (at the time) casting of Michael Keaton in the lead role. “I’m Batman.”

Batman 1989

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN . . . HOLLYWOOD (2019)

If the objective of a trailer is to get you back into the movie theater, this one sure worked with me. A perfect trailer for a very good movie.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 2019

Which one of these five movies, based on their trailers, would you most like to see in a movie theater?

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Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Movie Melodramas

IS MELODRAMA A LEGITIMATE GENRE?

(from the Warner Bros film “The Roaring Twenties”)

Melodrama in literature, theater, and cinema has gotten a bad name merely because there’ve been so many bad melodramas over the years. (Just as too many contrived happy endings have given happy endings a bad name.) Melodrama is a style open to abuse by hack writers.

But we forget that Charles Dickens wrote melodrama. Wilkie Collins wrote melodrama. Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas both wrote melodrama.

MELODRAMA IN FILM

One of the peaks of melodrama in art came more than thirty years after the end of the Victorian era– in Hollywood, care of Warner Brothers gangster movies. Fast-paced plot, with acting and dialogue completely over-the-top, accompanied by a blaring Warner Brothers soundtrack. The intent was to play on audience emotion– to give moviegoers cathartic release; escape from Great Depression life.

As with any genre created at a particular point in time, the output was uneven. At its best, when all the trademark studio elements properly meshed, the result was terrific art.

THE BEST FILM MELODRAMAS

There were quite a few good ones, but three of the Warners movies stand out.

“Angels with Dirty Faces” (1938)

James Cagney overacts relentlessly, with the Dead End Kids along as foils, Ann Sheridan as the girl, Pat O’Brien as a priest, and Humphrey Bogart as bad guy– a role he played in many of these stories, until World War II came along and– Rick Blaine-style– his characters switched sides.

Not a perfect film, but the story builds swiftly amid societal chaos toward a famous (or once-famous) conclusion.

“Each Dawn I Die” (1939)

Even the title screams with emotion. The ultimate prison film, as framed anti-corruption reporter Cagney is sent to prison, where he meets up with mobster George Raft. A ton of drama and violence follows. As good as it gets, except for–

“Kid Galahad” (1937, aka “Battling Bellhop”)

(an excerpt from early in the film)

— the story and original title later used for a bad Elvis Presley movie.

The original version is terrific, starring Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson, with Wayne Morris as the nicknamed prizefighter, and a sneering Humphrey Bogart along for the ride.

“Kid Galahad” takes the genre to another level, with a theme of love, unrequited and not, underlying the violence, emphasized with a dollop of soft focus cinematography. The ending– the Bette Davis character staring at a poster– conveys waves of emotion. The culmination of an unceasingly melodramatic plot.

CAN MELODRAMA RETURN?

There’s no reason why it shouldn’t. As we at New Pop Lit look for ways of reviving a stagnant literary art, we’ll add any weapon we can find to our arsenal of artistic styles. Fresh angles to throw at the world.

Which has resulted in our newest zeen:

Crime City U.S.A.

Available NOW! at our POP SHOP.

A Jerry Lewis Essay

buddy-love_opt

WE’VE received good positive feedback for an essay we recently ran at our main site, “Jerry and Me” by esteemed Hollywood producer and director Alan Swyer– a mini-coup for New Pop Lit to be given this inside look at one of show business’s biggest all-time personalities. Worth a look if you haven’t already read it.
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Modernism and Editing

FURTHER THOUGHTS ON 3D WRITING

Paul_Cézanne_058(“A Painter at Work” by Paul Cezanne.)

Modernist art IS editing. It’s cutting away all unnecessary material and allowing our minds to fill in the empty spaces. A technique in writing pioneered by Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Georges Simenon.

These writers knew painting and they knew how a daub or two of paint could touch our emotions and allow us to “see” the reality of the image. In writing, a key touch of color or taste or sound to suggest something greater. To stimulate our memories, our own experiences.

This is the antithesis of standard literary writing which strives to tell you everything, overwhelming the narrative with details.

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AN EXAMPLE of modernist editing in another art form can be found in this movie trailer:

The film: the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. (Which WILL be playing in movie theaters across the country this month, April 14 and 17, to celebrate the film’s 60th anniversary.)

The trailer is a work of art, superbly edited to suggest the four-hour long motion picture. It achieves a conciseness, a modernist sharpness, not possible from the larger work it serves to advertise. Note especially how the unknown editor uses voice-overs from other scenes to make thematic points; and how he dissolves the two biggest sequences, the chariot race and the crucifixion, into each other.

All movies are shaped and “cut.” Material left out. The trailer is extremely cut.

The idea points a direction for those wishing to make fiction– the short story in particular– as sharp, angled, fast-paced, and exciting as possible.

Which we’re attempting to do with the 3D Story.
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Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Gimmicks and Art

THOUGHTS ON THE 3D SHORT STORY

IS the 3-D Story a gimmick? Yes. Most arts innovations at first are gimmicks.

A classic example was the change from silent movies to sound ones, which began in 1927 with The Jazz Singer. In that Al Jolson flick, sound was used strictly as a gimmick– intended only for the musical numbers. That Al Jolson ad-libbed a few lines of dialogue created (according to this video) a sensation and signaled the upcoming end of silent cinema.

CINEMA in its early years progressed through continual innovation. Most of them when they were tried were considered to be gimmicks. (As movies themselves at the outset were thought to be a gimmick and not art.) Among developments: Technicolor, introduced in the 1930’s and becoming widespread by the 1950’s. The 50’s also saw the rise of wide screen film processes like Cinemascope, Vista-Vision, and Todd-AO, culminating in triple-screen Cinerama, most famously used for 1963’s How the West Was Won. The ultimate movie gimmick of course, in the 1950’s and more recently, was 3-D.

Viewing_3D_IMAX_clips

All of them began as gimmicks, but some were perfected and became standard part of the film art form.

Sound became so dominant, the making of a silent film in 2011, The Artist, was– let’s face it– a gimmick

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GIMMICKS have sustained the world of painting since the late 19th century, beginning with the impressionists–

340px-Claude_Monet,_Impression,_sunrise(Claude Monet, “Impression, Sunrise.”)

–then expressionists, cubists, Dadaists and surrealists. Abstract art, fluxus, op art, pop art. Was not Andy Warhol a genius of gimmicks?

Andy-Warhol-Stockholm-1968

Only recently has the art world run out of new ideas.

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What about music? Rock n’ roll— though it sprung from authentic American roots music– was definitely a gimmick, promoted by carny barker hustlers like Alan Freed, Colonel Tom Parker, and Dick Clark.

rock n rollers(Little Richard and Elvis Presley.)

Some might say that hip-hop began as a gimmick as well.

dmc and mc hammer(Run DMC and MC Hammer.)

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ONLY ONE arts field has displayed no gimmicks– and no progress– for sixty years: literature.

Our task is to change that.

(We’ll be ready to preview our innovative new story in one month.)

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BONUS: “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” from Gypsy (1962)–

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Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

The Circle: Time’s Up?

OR, IS THIS SOMETHING HOLLYWOOD SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT?

The_Circle_(2017_film)

DID successful male author Dave Eggers crib the work of female writer Kate Losse for his novel The Circle, which became this past year a mainstream Hollywood movie? It’s a question that was asked by Jezebel writer Katie J.M. Baker in 2013, in this article.

Eggers reacted by stating that he’d done no research for his book, period. The entire thing, details and plot included, popped full-blown into his head one afternoon. Similarities to Kate Losse’s book pure coincidence.

While Losse’s case might’ve been a bit of a stretch– at least, there wasn’t enough for a lawsuit– the case is indicative of the power mentality of well-placed men which is now under widespread assault. Eggers stone-walled, denying everything. He in effect said, “Go ahead. Make my day.” Daring the relatively powerless Losse to take him on.

In full disclosure, I clashed with Mr. Eggers myself in the early part of last decade, on a number of points. I know his ability to shut down, to put out of business, any journalist or writer who opposes him. A couple individuals who butt heads with him soon became virtual nonpersons, never to be heard from again.

Image is important to Dave Eggers. Given his carefully-manufactured good-guy persona, it’s everything. Yet he’s never hesitated in the past to appropriate from any and every available avenue in the pursuit of that image. One example was his accepting a “Firecracker” Alternative Book Award in 2001 for Best Zine, for the well-staffed-and-funded slick publication McSweeney’s. (One of the matters I and DIY friends disagreed with him on. There was nothing alternative about McSweeney’s or Eggers, and never has been.) I could mention other instances.

What’s the bottom line? Is it the corruption of power? Is it that the ruthless kind of personality which enables men or women to achieve great things also makes them unable to pull back from that steamroller mindset? Is it a question of entitlement– which many writers admittedly have? That the entire world and all its peoples exist as material for them?

-K.W.