Socialist realism was the style of art championed by the Soviets during the reign of Josef Stalin. The tenets of socialist realism were both remarkably simple and remarkably complex. Simple because the primary—the only, really—goal of socialist realist art was to educate the masses as to the “correct” way of thinking. Complex because, as we all know, the “correct” way of thinking in the Soviet Union was ever-changing, bound only to the whims of Stalin.
“Socialist realist art aimed to do away with the distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought,’” Peter Kenez wrote in Cinema and Soviet Society. “Through the medium of film, ‘reality’ became what it was meant to be according to Bolshevik, Stalinist ideology.” The films that hewed closely to socialist realism were those that encouraged purity of thought and deed, denigrated the kulaks and the capitalists, and attacked whichever foreign power Stalin had arrayed the USSR against at the given moment.
Little things like “artistic merit” meant almost nothing to the fans of socialist realism: camera work, set design, acting—all secondary concerns to the plot and dialogue and theme.* Didacticism was all that mattered.
The release of Interstellar, and its reception on politically oriented websites, shows that the socialist realist impulse hasn’t died out. But it has transformed for the times. We’re now living in an age in which films are criticized for failing to live up to environmentalist realism. The distinction between “is” and “ought” has once again become a fuzzy one.
Jim Webb has, it seems, decided that the Democratic Party is aching for a middle aged white guy to be their standard bearer in 2016. Good for him! I wish him all the best.
But if he truly wants to enter the Oval Office, he’s got to hire a better video team. Just look at this … thing.
Movies are really, really expensive to make. Just look at the budgets* of a few flicks released this year: Transformers: Age of Extinction, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 all had a production budget of $200 million or more; Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maleficent, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Edge of Tomorrow had budgets between $170 and $180 million; and Interstellar and Godzilla were relative bargains, at $165 and $160 million, respectively.
Common sense would suggest that movie studios tying up so much capital in so few products is an extremely risky proposition. The films above represent some $1.8 billion in production costs. For just 10 movies. “Diversify!” I can hear you yelling at your smartphone. “Spread out the risk!”
And, of course, the studios do make some more modestly budgeted flicks, comedies like Neighbors, dramas like Gone Girl, etc. But as Ross Douthat and plenty of others have argued, the mid-budget film aimed at adults is something of a dying breed. Studios are investing in micro-budgeted flicks and giant tentpoles and not a ton in the middle. But why?
There’s a really interesting* piece over at FiveThirtyEight looking at the ways in which amateur screenwriters fail. Using data collated from The Black List, a site to which writers submit their work in the hopes of winning the attention of Hollywood studios, Walt Hickey helps would-be screenwriters determine what types of scripts are most likely to fail and what problems most commonly plague their efforts.
Turns out, most amateur screenwriters are good at neither creating believable characters nor writing believable dialogue. Shocking, I’m sure. Here’s Hickey:
I know, I know. Saturday Night Live used to be better! Specifically, SNL was at its best when you were between the ages of 15 and 20 and started watching it for the first time. You’ll never forget that magical era when Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan (OR Mike Myers and Dana Carvey OR Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo OR Bill Murray and Gilda Radner) were anchoring the action. And, eventually, when you hear your kids in 10 years talking about how the Kate McKinnon and Beck Bennett era was the real golden age of SNL, you’ll sadly chuckle and tell them about the magic of the Night at the Roxbury guys (OR Wayne’s World OR Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood OR Nick the Lounge Singer).
Because everything new is terrible and everything was better when you were younger.
That being said, sometimes SNL captures some of that old magic, deftly skewering some absurd grotesquerie of modern culture for the entertainment of all. For instance, this week the show perfectly captured the idiocy of Twitter outrage culture and the silly smallness of identity politics. Check it:
As a 12-year-old boy when the original Dumb and Dumber was released during the 1994 Oscar season, I was more or less the target demographic. And while the Farrelly Brothers, Jim Carrey, and Jeff Daniels were snubbed at that year’s ceremony—thanks, Forrest Gump—my fondness for the picture has only grown in the subsequent 20 years.
Humans fired a probe from Earth onto a comet hurtling through space at unimaginable speed. Human beings did this:
The landing, first envisaged more than 20 years ago, marks the crowning moment of Rosetta’s decadelong cruise through the solar system to get up close and personal with a comet. During its 4 billion mile journey on a track to meet the comet, Rosetta bounced around the inner solar system like a cosmic billiard ball, circling the sun almost four times. … Philae appears to have settled on its three legs in the center of the target zone, a relatively flat elliptical landing area about 550 yards in diameter, away from deep crevices, large boulders and sharp peaks.
Human beings did this! Pretty impressive! And how did humanity respond to this remarkable triumph of human engineering, of unprecedented exploration, of new greatness?