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The Handmaid’s Tale as Ustopian Allegory: “Stars and Stripes Forever, Baby”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (2017¬–) resonates strongly as an allegorical, science-fictional response to the Trump administration. The show refuses to accept the “new normal” as normal and acknowledges its audience’s simultaneous feelings of resistance and exhaustion. The program ultimately argues that, while hope alone is not enough to sustain anyone through the Trump years, it is the right place to start. Above all, the program points to the power of collective resistance. As Americans face down a fascist president, as they contend with babies torn from their mother’s bosoms at the border, as they confront a powerful resurgence in White Nationalist activism, the country has perhaps never felt more divided, or threatened. And yet the only way to defeat Trumpism is by standing together and collectively pushing back. The Handmaid’s Tale may not show viewers exactly how to do that, but it does show its audience exactly what it would feel like.

Searching for Nelly Kaplan

Critic Joan Dupont went in search of filmmaker Nelly Kaplan, whom she had met at an awards ceremony in Paris over a decade ago. She was famous for one film, La Fiancée du Pirate (A Very Curious Girl, 1969), which had taken France and the international world of women’s film festivals by storm. She had slipped out of sight; nobody seemed to know where she was or why. At the Cinémathèque Française, there was only a kind of embarrassment when her name was mentioned and no plan to show her films. This past year has seen a resurgence of interest in the work of Kaplan, and the restoration and rerelease of some of her work by Lobster Films. Dupont met with Kaplan at her Paris apartment to discuss past, present, and future.

Summer 2018: Volume 71, Number 4

FROM THE EDITOR Turning Sixty B. Ruby Rich FEATURES Unrest: Gender, Chronic Illness, and the Limits Of Documentary Visibility Megan Moodie Emotion Pictures: International Melodrama, A Virtual Report Linda Williams INTERVIEWS Searching For Nelly Kaplan Joan Dupont “I Was Never Afraid,” An Interview with Lucrecia Martel Gerd Gemünden and Silvia Spitta COLUMNS Letter from Madrid | La Llamada, Paquita Salas, And The Javis Paul Julian Smith Elsewhere | The War for Nostalgia: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat Bilal Qureshi On Platforms | What It Means to be High Maintenance Caetlin Benson-Allott FESTIVAL REPORTS Report From Tbilisi Jerry White A Mechanism Capable of Changing Itself: Berlinale 2018 Selina Robertson The Scales of Justice: Sundance 2018 B. Ruby Rich PAGE VIEWS Cinema and the Anthropocene: A Conversation with Jennifer Fay Nicholas Baer BOOK REVIEWS Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC, and the Birth of the Blacklist by Thomas Doherty Carrie Rickey The End of Japanese Cinema: Industrial Genres, National Times, Media Ecologies by Alexander Zahlten Rea Amit A Dance with Fred Astaire by Jonas Mekas Girish Shambu Going Viral: Zombies, …

Bong’s Song

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (2017) hops across genres and moods. Part Lassie Come Home (Fred M. Wilcox, 1943) with a girl and her giant pig instead of a boy and his loyal dog; part Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985), also a comic and nightmarish sci-fi; part Capitalism, a Love Story (Michael Moore, 2009) for its lessons in greed, with Tilda Swinton playing twin heads of a transnational biotech corporation; it pleads a serious case for animal rights and vegetarianism as well. Bong has an eccentric genius for songs and scoring, few other living directors make musical choices that are as boldly unconventional. Bong goes musically hog wild in this pig movie. When the apotheosis arrives halfway through the film, it is with a song: John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.” Almost every review of Okja mentions this outlandish pairing of music and visuals. Bong has frequently employed songs cleverly in his films, but never in as deep and many-layered way as in Okja. Gorman pursues Bong’s particular use of songs in his oeuvre to unearth other surprises, and notes that there is a still deeper auteurist vein to be mined for further insight on how “Annie’s Song” works in Okja.

Plastic Representation

To many men and women of color, as well as many white women, meaningful diversity occurs when the actual presence of different-looking bodies appear on screen. For them, this diversity serves as an indicator of progress as well as an aspirational frame for younger generations who are told that the visual signifiers they can identify with carry a great amount of symbolic weight. As a consequence, the degree of diversity became synonymous with the quantity of difference rather than with the dimensionality of those performances. Moreover, a paradoxical condition emerges whereby people of color have become more media savvy yet are still, if not more, reliant on overdetermined and overly reductive notions of so-called “positive” and “negative” representation. Such measures yield a set of dueling consequences: first, that any representation that includes a person of color is automatically a sign of success and progress; second, that such paltry gains generate an easy workaround for the executive suites whereby hiring racially diverse actors becomes an easy substitute for developing new complex characters. The results of such choices can feel—in an affective sense—artificial, or more to the point, like plastic.

An Introduction

This special dossier for Film Quarterly comprises a selection of essays that share the central idea that the work ahead for scholars in the current moment must be to appreciate what has been an ever-increasing complication of the idea of black film and media over the last ten years. This dossier considers significant trends, film and media objects, and clusters of work related to issues of blackness and questions of aesthetics, historiography, industrial practice, collectivity, politics, and culture. It is compelled by a shared belief that requires scholars to remain open to contemporary and future enactments while at the same time recognizing the momentum of the past.

Fall 2017: Volume 71, Number 1

Syrian Cellphone Documentaries
Rithy Panh’s Exiles
Emiko Omori’s Camera Eye
Virtual Reality: Beyond the Platform

Casting JonBenet, Multiple Maniacs,
Their Finest, The Jewel and the Crown,
Bellas de noche, Plaza del la Soledad

Reports from True/False, Full Frame, Orphans