Thanks to Sandy, I feel really unprepared for Halloween. Luckily, I always have a makeshift selection of songs at the ready to instantly transport me to the appropriate All Hallow’s Eve mindset. These 20-odd are what I have on rotation this year. The inclusion of some of these songs may be more obvious than others I grant you, and yeah, I really like “Whisper To A Scream,” which is featured in Scream and, if I remember correctly, Nightmare on Elm Street 2. My only gripe with Spotify is that I couldn’t find J. Geils Band’s Fright Night song, so I included it separately via YouTube.
I knew that an Olympic Opening Ceremony where the artistic director was striving for a “personal and cinematic” experience would contain many great pop culture moments. And come on, it’s Danny Boyle, who is responsible for some of the most daring and innovative films of recent memory: Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, A Life Less Ordinary, 28 Days Later…, Slumdog Millionaire, and even Frankenstein at the National Theater. In the end we got a very British presentation, especially with the segment that chronicled history up to the Industrial Revolution. But the overwhelming celebration was that of UK culture: film, music, children’s literature, and social media.
The ceremony began with Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt narrating a panorama of all things UK, making me wonder if someone organizing this just happened to catch Ewan and Emily on a Salmon Fishing in the Yemen press tour. I’m not complaining; Ewan got me pumped for the rest of the show.
If you, like me, thought you spied Kenneth Branagh among the masses, you were pleasantly correct. Although to my eyes he seemed to belong in a Dickensian London, he of course recited Shakespeare’s The Tempest and you cannot go wrong with Branagh and Shakespeare.
The next bit of clashing of classic Britishness and pop culture came in the short film with Daniel Craig as James Bond coming to pick up the Queen from Buckingham Palace, culminating in a helicopter ride that made a joke of the two of them parachuting into the stadium.
Flash forward to JK Rowling reciting from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, introducing a segment that celebrated the NHS and the contributions of British children’s literature. A hospital setting turns into the children going to sleep where we encounter the stuff of their nightmares: the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, Voldemort, and Cruella de Vil. And who saves the children from these beasties? The best nanny in the world (or in this case 100’s of duplicates of) Mary Poppins! At the end of the segment, the hospital beds turn into one giant baby (Trainspotting, anyone?) and Matt Lauer hit upon my thoughts: “I’m not sure whether that baby is cute, or creepy.” It was creepy.
Our next pop culture reference comes with a London Symphony Orchestra rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme. And who do we get playing the most boring background note? Rowan Atkinson, a very inspired choice, to play up the boringness of that note.
And finally we move into the most cinematic of all the segments, a dual love letter to both the internet and UK popular music through the decades. We have two central actors who depict meeting and falling in love amongst the chaos of dancers and the main “house” that uses screens to show clips from TV shows, films and concerts. At one point during Bohemian Rhapsody, I swear I heard a TARDIS sound, which was random but welcome. And as soon as the beginning of Underworld’s Born Slippy was played we got a Trainspotting scene. Throughout the rest of this segment, as well as during the Parade of Nations, we got a lot of great music and luckily a playlist has already been provided! (I was planning on compiling a playlist of my own, but this is much easier. I’ve included it below.) Finishing off, we got a great cover of Come Together by the Arctic Monkeys and Hey Jude performed by Paul McCartney, a perfect sing along song for the multitudes at the stadium. Powerful stuff.
To conclude, I just want to give a special shout out to Gabby Douglas, the “flying squirrel” gymnast for the US. She is from my hometown community and I will be keeping a close eye on her. I also *actually* know a girl swimming for the Czech Republic so I can’t wait to see some video of her competing.
Standouts for me: New Order, Underworld, and Franz Ferdinand.
I am content to sit and write about my favorite sitcom quotes from this week, what Ewan McGregor movie I have seen 500 times, and even what show decided to annoy me for the last time. But in real life, I am very interested in the role that pop culture can play in changing perceptions and informing the general public. The use of popular culture in this way is not surprising and two news items from this week help illustrate my point (and after I get sad about the world, I attempt to identify some positive utilities): North Carolina and Maurice Sendak’s Brundibár. And I shoehorn The Whistleblower in at the end.
The majority of North Carolinian voters have agreed on an amendment to their constitution that bans same-sex marriage. Sigh. I only heard about this amendment a few days leading up to it (when various tweeters got to work to motivate voters) but I wish it had been more nationally newsworthy months ago. North Carolina needed help, clearly. But no, I am not surprised about the results, which in itself speaks to one of the many problems with U.S. regional politics. Winner for most frustrating remark, Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman for a pro-amendment group: “…you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of a group of adults.”
One thing that is bothering me is the rampant disparaging remarks against “North Carolina” as if it is monolithic. It may be in part due to the fact I grew up in geographical proximity to the state, but obviously not everyone voted “Yes” to the amendment. Just think how horrible it is to love your state and yet, see that you are surrounded by people that disagree with your views on such a fundamental level. I am Virginian, I know a thing or two about this feeling.
Pop culture bright spot #1: Twitter really is a social media monster; it allows for loud, instantaneous reaction to any bit of news. Naturally, my feed was engulfed by outrage and disappointment over the results in North Carolina. Hopefully many apathetic individuals are slowly coming around to formulating their own opinions, based on outcry.
Pop culture bright spot #2: On the same day the New York Times discussed the North Carolina issue, it was also analyzing how vastly the entertainment industry has changed, in a mere decade, over portraying LGBT characters and storylines. Edward Schiappa, a professor at the University of Minnesota believes that “TV and movie representation matters.” He has found that gay characters on TV have decreased prejudice among viewers.
Pop culture bright spot #3: People like Jack Antonoff and his band fun. get to utilize success as a platform to discuss LGBT issues and highlight the optimistic romanticism of their lyrics. Seriously, seeing them live was a celebration of equal rights and diversity. They have deservingly won many fans not only in the LGBT community but from all walks of life. If their fans (and particularly the high schooler set) truly believe in the lyrics that they scream back to Nate Ruess, then we can chalk up another positive influence to kids these days.
UPDATED Overall life bright spot: President Obama has gone on record promoting marriage equality. I am impressed. It is almost Newtonian (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction…) when viewing it with North Carolina’s vote. Never would I have dreamed this would come up before the election. So glad Obama got to finally back something he has likely been in favor of for decades. Politics.
In the wake of so many tributes to Maurice Sendak, his work with Tony Kushner on Brundibár (as a book and opera) has been mentioned a few times. Brundibár is a children’s opera originally conceived by Hans Krása at the onset of World War II. The show had begun initial performances at an orphanage in Prague before the Nazis came knocking. Being a Czech Jew, Krása was sent to the Theresienstadt (Czech: Terezín) concentration camp in1943 along with many of the children who had rehearsed for the opera. Brundibár was performed 55 times at Theresienstadt before Krása and most of the children were deported to Auschwitz; upon arrival, most of these prisoners were immediately killed.
I toured Terezín in summer 2009. It is a powerful, transformative place and it remains hard to pin down my emotions on the visit. I got to see what it meant to be a “model” concentration camp, if you pretend not to see the execution wall. The model was meant for the Red Cross, sent into the camp to investigate the treatment of the prisoners. There they found pristine looking bathrooms, a swimming pool and a cinema (with the pool and cinema being for German officers). An oasis in Central Europe during the height of World War II? Of course not, these things were for show. In fact, the bathroom was so pristine because it was never used. To avoid the look of overcrowding, many Jews were deported to Auschwitz before the tour. The Red Cross was also treated to a performance of Brundibár. In the ghetto I took a peek into the schoolhouse where the children spent their time and saw their drawings. The adults in the ghetto were dedicated to the children’s continued education despite their conditions. That night, I was a little more reckless, and embraced carpe diem as an escape. It is really difficult to wrestle with the terrors of a mere 60 years ago.
Pop culture bright spot: The opera contains many anti-Nazi sentiments and the Brundibár in the play is a stand-in for Hitler. While the opera was a vital tool in giving the Terezín children something to preoccupy their time, it also gave the adults a platform to remain resistant to their circumstances. Performances of Brundibár increasingly provide an opportunity to remember what happened at Terezín and to celebrate the lives that were lost.
A brief discussion on The Whistleblower:
This is one of the most depressing films I have seen this year. I only want to quickly mention it because I struggled with finding the bright spot here. The film is informative about human trafficking and the fallibility of organizations we put our trust in to defend universal human rights. A scant pop culture bright spot could simply be that this film exists; it is a gateway to discussion and enlightenment about injustice. But seriously, it wasn’t marketed to be a major film. It has been propelled via word of mouth, the Rachel Weisz fandom and possibly, the discount I got on renting it from Amazon Instant Video. I hope it makes the rounds because it is especially disturbing if you are committed to peacebuilding. Mismanagement and misconduct in missions is a problem facilitated by the “aid chain” and no one is close to finding a solution.
And just to lighten the mood, no, I will not neglect to mention that Benedict Cumberbatch is also in the film (the whole cast is basically Brits playing Americans, hello Liam Cunningham!). Benedict is literally in two scenes and effectively plays a douche. I got the feeling he was involved in the cover-up but the film provides no reason as to why he even exists. Maybe there are scenes on the cutting room floor? This is another issue – I have to applaud a first time female director, but the film needed polishing.
When I saw the trailer for Drive, I saw little to be interested in, I think, for two reasons. Whoever put the trailer together (at least the one I saw multiple times) did not do a very good job. The trailer failed to hint at any of the amazingness contained in this film; instead it catered to the masses (showing sexy shots of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, Ryan Gosling driving a car, and quick audibles from all the prominent cast members: Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston). Nowhere did it imply that it was more Tarantino than Jerry Bruckheimer, more gritty than showy. Secondly, the failure of promotion combined with the over-saturation of Ryan Gosling in 2011: Crazy, Stupid, Love (meh), The Ides of March (haven’t seen it), All Good Things (the movie that has been lingering in my Netflix Instant Queue), and Drive. And to some extent he has had a year of mileage and exposure starting with awards season last year for Blue Valentine. So in my mind I thought he was phoning this one in to round out a pretty good year.
But what a performance by Ryan Gosling: He simultaneously made my heart break and creeped me out. For the first forty minutes he is genial and calm, calculating. It takes him about 20 seconds to generate an answer in conversation or decide to shake your hand. He smiles and leers uncomfortably long, and then reverts to a normal person for seconds at a time. I love how his character is presented as is, an explanation is not necessary to answer why he is the way he is (quiet and reserved, but adept at being a getaway driver as well as ruthless). The mystery is part of the fun.
I also downloaded the soundtrack minutes after the credits rolled, after becoming obsessed with it in the first few frames of the film. Check out some of these dreamy, 80s-esque tracks that underscore the grittiness of the movie’s performances:
My absolute fave that refuses to get out of my head…
College feat. Electric Youth – A Real Hero
Kavinsky – Nightcall
Desire – Under Your Spell
Or listen to the entire thing:
I owe a lot of the music I love to movie and television show soundtracks. As an obsessive fan of the Scream trilogy, going into Scream 4 I was was a bundle of nerves (was this going to suck? were they finally going to kill off one of the original three?) The kick ass opening title reveal with this song went a long way in getting me excited for the movie:
So it sort of came full circle last night when I got to check them out live at the Black Cat in DC. This place really wants me to love it (I mean, a Hellmouth Happy Hour that plays an episode of Buffy every Saturday night? Does my alter ego own this place?) So it is quickly becoming a favorite of mine for live music, drinks, and even food.
The other acts were also great live:
Kids at the Bar: definitely loved hearing this track remixed!
My history with Warehouse 13 thus far has been short and sweet. I finally got around to watching the pilot on my Netflix queue about 3 weeks ago. It was an almost instant obsession. I finished out Season 3 on Sunday and am now anxiously awaiting the Christmas special (even though it is a stand alone ep).
It doesn’t help that I am in love with Allison Scagliotti’s hair in the series, which I admit is the actual impetus for my interest in watching the show and the reason I caught it a few times on SyFy. (“Damn, I love that girl’s hair on this show, I should watch for a few minutes…”).Due to withdrawal from the show, or the awesomeness of the song, Track and Field’s version of “Running Up That Hill” has been lurking in the back of my head on a non-stop loop.