Archive for the ‘Pop culture’ category

Charlton Heston Has Died

April 6, 2008

Here’s the LA Times obit. My favorite Heston movie? Toss-up between “The Omega Man” and “Soylent Green.” I’d give the latter a slight edge.

The Invaders

November 27, 2007

It’s a thrill to discover that something you liked as a kid has a pedigree you can respect as an adult. In this case, I’ve just learned that a classic “Twilight Zone” episode that scared the wits out of me when I first saw it 22 years ago (age eight or so) was written by Richard Matheson. Matheson is best known for his novella “I Am Legend,” which is getting yet another cinematic treatment later this year, this time starring Will Smith. (I’m a fan of the 1971 Charlton Heston version, “The Omega Man.” There have been variations as well — arguably the whole zombie genre, from “Night of the Living Dead” to “28 Days Later,” owes almost everything to “I Am Legend.”) The “Twilight Zone” episode that made such an impression on me is “The Invaders,” about twelve-inch-tall robots terrorizing a woman in a rural house. Seeing it again tonight, I could understand why I found it so creepy as a youngster: it’s not only heavily atmospheric (and almost dialogue-free, which adds to the feeling of alienation and claustrophobia) but surprisingly violent, from the radiation-burn blisters the robots inflict on the woman to the attempt by one of the robots to saw off her foot with a kitchen knife.

I remembered the twist ending quite vividly — the invaders turn out to be from the U.S. Air Force. I’ve been referring to them as robots, which is how I remembered them from the first time I saw the episode, but my memory was wrong: they’re actually humans in space suits and (in what’s a “Twilight Zone” cliche) the seemingly ordinary woman is actually a giant. No wonder it’s Matheson: “The Invaders” is virtually the same story as “I Am Legend.” Same set-up: solitary human being against a terrifying menace. Same resolution: a reversal of the monster-protagonist roles. What’s artful is that Matheson leads his readers/viewers to identify with different sides in each story. The harried woman remains the most sympathetic figure in “The Invaders” right till the credits roll. “I am Legend” gives us the story from the other side of the divide. Both stories play off of the ambiguity of who’s really the monster. Unfortunately, I don’t hold out much hope that the Will Smith “I Am Legend” will preserve any of the story’s essential ambiguity and irony: Smith presumably has to be a clear hero. “The Omega Man” didn’t preserve those elements either, but it did staple onto the story some Christian allegory, which counts for a little, and it had 70’s sci-fi Charlton Heston cred (it was filmed between “Soylent Green” and “Planet of the Apes”), which counts for a lot.

More about Matheson and his work can be found here. I highly recommend “I Am Legend,” though unfortunately I haven’t read much of his other work.

But Where Will the Neocons Get Their Torture Porn?

November 10, 2007

They’ll have to go back to watching their Abu Ghraib tapes because the new season of “24” has been postponed indefinitely — another salutary effect of the Hollywood writers’ strike.  Make it permanent, guys!

These Are the Sad Songs

May 7, 2007

Via LRC, a link to a list (with audio) of “the 25 most exquisitely sad songs in the whole world.” I think I could come up with a better list, and I certainly know a few other folks who could. But this one will do: it can’t be all bad if it includes “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Lost Cause” (a particular favorite of mine), and “I Know It’s Over.” You can’t go too far wrong with Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash, either, though “In the Real World” and “Hurt” might not be the best picks.

Is Australia All Just Croc Hunters and Kylie Minogue?

March 16, 2007

Of course not, though I’m not at all sure that Aussie journalist Guy Rundle makes much of a case to the contrary. He argues that the negative image of Australia put about by left-wing British journalists is a substitute for dealing with what a “slatternly disgrace” the British working class has become. That rings true but doesn’t say much about the real state of Australian civilization one way or another.

I like what little I’ve seen of Australia just from spending a month or two a few years ago in Alice Springs, an outpost in the middle of the outback. Admittedly, I wasn’t looking for culture there — I was content simply to look at rocks and wallabys. But that’s better than what passes for culture in most parts of the world these days.

Captain America, RIP

March 12, 2007

I’m a little surprised at how much coverage the assassination of Captain America is getting. He’s not the best-known comic-book character, and Marvel Comics is renowned for its revolving door of death. I remember around 1987 when they nuked the Hulk — that was pretty impressive to a nine-year-old Daniel McCarthy. They couldn’t possibly bring him back from that: he got nuked, there was nothing left but his shadow burned into the ground. (As it turned out, he was actually teleported away to another dimension at the last minute — lucky, that.) Still, I guess offing Cap in these dying days of the Bush administration does strike a chord with the national mood, or at least mood of the national press.

A Return to Normalcy

October 4, 2006

With all the Mark Foley sleaze in the news, perhaps we should think back to things relatively normal — like Bill Clinton ogling another man’s wife.