"s&co" - a photo by Flickr user austinevan
Thoughts on media, culture, and the world-at-large bubbling up from the dusty corners of my cluttered mind
May 15, 2011
The Crew

Bridesmaids was marketed like a raunch-com centered on female friendship and the absurdities of weddings, but there's a whole lot more going on. The film's wide-ranging (and, to some, surprisingly cross-gender) appeal appeal is based on something far more universal.

Posted By Saralyn on/at 4/21/2012 07:57:00 PM

Tonight, Turner Classic Movies turned its eye to classic science fiction from the 1970s, beginning with Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).  Now, there are a million reasons to love this film - Richard Dreyfuss's alternately hilarious and heartbreaking performance, the fact that aliens communicate with us through music, FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT - but I'd like to share with you my personal connection with the movie. 

Photo retrieved from http://www.listal.com/list/film-sets-brigitte-lacombe
Franรงois Truffaut and Steven Spielberg on set. How ridiculously amazing is that?!
Once upon a time - before college and jobs and gas prices got in the way - my family would embark on quintessentially American middle class road trips.  On one of the longer of these trips, we drove by minivan from Southern California up into British Columbia, across to Glacier National Park, then home through Montana and Wyoming.  On that homeward leg of the trip, my parents decided we were going to stay overnight at a KOA campground just outside Devil's Tower.  It was marked as a "gem" in Mom's AAA travel guide (the lord and master of all our trips) and Dad said he'd always wanted to see it, but it had little significance for my sister and I.  I had seen bits and pieces of Close Encounters before and thought it was kind of neat that we were in the same place as the characters, but I had yet to develop the film and sci-fi nerdery that are now so integral to my identity.  Mostly, my sister and I were just kind of bummed to spend another night in a sparse  "cabin" with communal bathrooms.

There was one special thing about the campground, though.  To capitalize on what's probably the main reason anyone come out to the pretty-but-desolate national monument anymore, the camp showed Close Encounters on a regular basis. Outdoors, in the shadow of Devil's Tower.  Obviously, we jumped on the opportunity to drag out our picnic blankets and take advantage of the unique opportunity.

Just imagine watching Richard Dreyfuss run across this field....while you're basically sitting in the field.

It started to drizzle about half or three quarters of the way into the film and people began to leave.  Not us, though.  I was entranced.  Then, just as the clouds gather around Devil's Tower and ships erupt from them like thunder, a giant clap of thunder shook us.  Strike after strike of lightning backlit the real-life Devil's Tower, which we could see behind the screen on which that same landmark was backlit by a massive alien spacecraft.  We were awed, but soon the downpour forced us back into our cabin to watch the remainder of what was a truly spectacular thunderstorm.  I think it was probably years before I got to see how the movie actually ended.

As a science fiction fan and media scholar, I can now appreciate Close Encounters of the Third Kind on so many levels, but it is always that doubled image - of backlit Devil's Tower against backlit Devil's Tower - that comes to mind when I think of the film.  It continues to be one of the clearest and most striking memories from my childhood, and the frequency with which my family brings up the experience testifies to just how much films (and communal filmgoing experiences) can insinuate themselves into the fabric of our lives.

Posted By Saralyn on/at 3/24/2012 12:30:00 AM

My youngest sister is now 15 (and a half, she would quickly point out) and I'm still working on my mission to introduce her to all the wonderful joys that classic Hollywood, feminist analysis, and various other pursuits and topics often unfamiliar to ladies of her age.  When I moved home for a while during a post-graduation unemployment slump, one of our favorite activities was to go troll through the Target, Walmart, and Best Buy DVD bargain bins for cheap films.  As a result, we watched everything from Labyrnith and Sabrina to An American in Paris and Funny Face.  Seeing as it was the summer of the final Harry Potter film, we also marathoned all of those films and attended a midnight screening of the final volume.

It probably shouldn't have surprised me that, having introduced her to many of the formative movies in my filmgoing experience, my sister has developed....fondnesses for many of the actors I was also fond of at her age (Bogart, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, David Bowie, Hugh Grant, etc).  Unfortunately, just as they were for me, many of these men (and others she crushes on) are not exactly age-appropriate or logical choices to her Beiber-obsessed peers.  I end up getting wonderful texts like the following, though:

Me: "I always get teased by my friends because I like older actors and musicians.  Like Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, and David Bowie, because I mean, they're gorgeous men.  And Gene Kelly, well he's Dead. That's like the oldest you can get."
xD Lmao.
Preach, sister! I think you're finally ready to hear what that ballet in An American in Paris is really about...

Posted in

Posted By Saralyn on/at 9/22/2011 01:09:00 PM

Friends, I have a problem. A middle class, first world nerd problem, but a problem nonetheless. This fall, for the first time in who knows how long, there are several science fiction/fantasy offerings on the major broadcast networks. Rejoice, nerd viewers! We've got time travel, fantasy-procedural mash-up, fairy tales In Real Life, alternate universes, demons and angels....and dinosaurs! There are going to be dinosaurs. on my television.

This is Steven Spielberg, directing a dinosaur for Fox's Terra Nova. How am I supposed to resist this?
But, while I find myself totally stoked for the nerdy action bursting out on my television screen this season, I was distraught when I looked at the Friday night schedule. For some reason, Fox, NBC, and CW decided to schedule Grimm, Fringe, and Supernatural against each other on Fridays nights at 9/8c.  Now, instead of pulling in a population that might be less than excited by other network fare (like Fox might do on Mondays by pitting Terra Nova against Dancing with the Stars and The Sing-Off), it splits the demographic. Terra Nova might not be a ratings blockbuster against mainstream competition reality programming, but it has a chance to forge a strong fan following with a different demographic.  Perhaps there just wasn't enough space on the schedules for every network to schedule its science fiction/fantasy programming this way, perhaps the networks don't really care about these programs.  Perhaps the networks think no one but the nerds is home on Fridays to watch television.  Whatever the case, it puts myself and my fellow nerds in a tricky situation: what do you watch live, what do you DVR, and what do you stream later?

Personally, I will almost certainly watch Fringe live (as I encourage you all to do!). It has been increasing in creativity and quality at a steady pace and the cast has been throwing out phenomenal (if sadly under-recognized) performances.  Also, it almost always seems to be in peril come renewal time.
John Noble, how do you still have no awards or nominations for Fringe?! 
I'm a bit behind on Supernatural, so I don't have to wreck my head too much about that.  It has a pretty dedicated & solid fan following, so it's probably not hurting for my viewership anyway. Grimm, however, poses a serious problem.  It's a new program and has an interesting premise, and it filmed in Portland, OR (supporting the local economy where part of my family lives).  If the pilot lives up to the premise and its buzz, I'll probably want it to stick around a while.  But what do I do, then?  For a new show, live viewing figures are extremely important. I don't want to give up Fringe, though!  There was some suggestion that Fringe's DVR figures boosted it to renewal at the end of last season but, even if that's so, there's no guarantee they will do so again.

I realize that everyone has these issues with their tv viewing, but (with the high cost of high-concept/effects-heavy shows) these kinds of scheduling/viewing issues can be a sci-fi/fantasy program's death-knell.  For an expensive program that struggles in viewership early on, networks have two choices: cut their losses (and the program) early on or throw their full weight behind them.  Hopefully, the fact their networks have scheduled Grimm and Fringe on Fridays isn't a hint at which approach they might take.

What do you think? Should you support a promising new show by watching it live and DVRing/streaming returning shows? Does your tactic change if your returning show came through on the skin of its teeth?

Posted By Saralyn on/at 8/17/2011 10:04:00 PM

I've stocked my queue with all manner of films from the Criterion Collection in an effort to justify my Hulu Plus subscription while unemployed, but somehow I've mostly just taken advantage of every free wi-fi connection to re-watch Green Wing on my iPod. In my defense, it is a rather brilliant British comedy.  Imagine a more absurdist, uncensored Scrubs with very little moral compass and you'll begin to enter the ballpark of the wonderful craziness that is Green Wing. [Fair warning: Thar be some spoilers within this post!]

When I discovered Green Wing, I was dragged relentlessly along from episode to episode by its sheer ridiculousness and the adorable/frustrating "will they or won't they" of Dr. Caroline Todd (played by the always lovely and hysterical Tamsin Grieg) and Dr. "Mac" Macartney.   This all still holds true, but the beauty of second (or third or fourth...) viewings is that new/different aspects can come to light. While rewatching Green Wing this time, I was struck by the adept and sometimes subtle characterizations of many of the "loonies" that populate the fictional hospital.  Every actor physically embodies his or her character in such unique ways (like the weird, lumbering gait Grieg gives Dr. Todd) and there are many little shifts and aspects of characters that give them more depth than meets the eye.

Example: Mac's humor.  Dr. Macartney rarely takes anything seriously (exceptions include his reaction to a particularly cruel joke another doctor plays on an internist), preferring to twist people's words about or humorously change the subject.  At one point toward the end of season one, Dr. Todd is trying to get an honest, serious answer out of Mac and asks why he makes a joke out of everything. Mac replies that it allows him to avoid "grown up" conversations and responsibilities.  It's very nearly a throwaway line as delivered, particularly considering how quickly the episode moves on to more momentous things (one character inadvertently sleeps with his mother, Dr. Todd and Mac finally kiss, Mac and two other characters are trapped on the edge of a cliff in an ambulance).

Mac (left) is not amused....but Holly is (right)
The insight the flippant comment gives to his character isn't wasted or abandoned, though. In season 2, Mac's ex, Holly, returns four years after the messy, painful failure of their relationship - with a slightly ginger-haired child in tow.  Mac is hesitant to rekindle a relationship with Holly but wants to be a good father to his child.  He tries to communicate this to Holly one night in his apartment after the child falls asleep, but Holly will absolutely not be serious about it. She insists they speak through the kid's can-and-string "telephone" , cannot look at him, and giggles her way through the conversation.  With Mac's flippant conversation from season 1 in mind, it's really easy to see how Mac and Holly had been in a relationship for 6 years.  Holly epitomizes Mac's comment about avoiding "grown up" issues through humor and mirrors his sense of humor/behavior in season 1.  However, his frustration with her during this conversation also shows the ways his character has changed since those earlier episodes. I love it when the skillful parts of things that seem to be solely silly show themselves!