The Brutal Truth Found In 12 Years a Slave

12years1

On Sunday many of us will be glued to our television sets watching the annual Oscar ceremony unfold. At this time of year I tend to contemplate all the new releases I’ve seen in the past 12 months or more and linger over the films that have captured my imagination, awed me, inspired me or just made me think about old ideas and tired truths in new ways.

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What You Don’t Know About Elvis the Movie Star, Part 2

As part of Summer Under the Stars, TCM has selected August 16 to showcase the movies of Elvis Presley. To prime viewers for the 14-film marathon, I offer the second in my two-part series about the publicity and promotion surrounding Elvis’s movie career. Viewing Elvis’s stardom through the perspective of contemporary reviewers, fans, and costars will put a different spin on his movies as you watch them.

“Why Sure, Sideburns!”

For many years, the press was obsessed with Elvis’s sideburns. During the 1950s, his personal appearance consisted of pegged pants, wildly colored shirts, baggy suit jackets, a long ducktail haircut that required three hair creams to control, and long sideburns (see left). Throughout 1956, the year that Elvis became a national phenomenon, the press repeatedly made a connection between rock ‘n’ roll music and juvenile delinquency, with Presley as their main target. It didn’t take them long to equate his unusual personal appearance with a delinquent mentality, honing in on the sideburns, which many identified as a fad among Southern truck drivers. By 1957, the word “sideburns” had become synonymous with delinquency and bad taste, so when a tough-talking punk sneers, “Why sure, Sideburns,” to Elvis’s character in Loving You, it was an insult that echoed the real-life criticism of Elvis in the press.

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Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012

The influence of Andrew Sarris’ film crticism has become so omnipresent it is now invisible, part of the received wisdom of how we approach and watch movies. This has only become clearer after his death last week at the age of 83.  You can see his mark in the marketing of the upcoming “Hitchcock Masterpiece” Blu-Ray collection from Universal, and in every movie review that even mentions the name of the director. The auteur theory will be his legacy, regardless of how often it is misinterpreted as some kind of iron law rather than the policy of “perpetual revaluation” that he proposed it as.  Enough has been written about auteurism though, and not enough about the constant sense of discovery in reading his seductively winding prose. He approached films like an explorer, traveling down a multitude of paths, be it historical, stylistic or even personal, searching methodically for flashes of insight or originality, whether from the director or any of the film’s collaborative artists. His sentences would gather long strings of actors, colors and themes, as list-happy as in The American Cinema, seemingly sussing out his opinion along the way – a perambulating, open-air kind of criticism where interruption, digression and contradiction are welcome.

There are plenty of moving and detailed remembrances of Mr. Sarris around the internet (Matt Singer has gathered tributes at Indiewire, as has David Hudson at the Fandor Keyframe blog), so instead I asked a number of writers and academics to choose their favorite excerpts of his writing (Tom Gunning recited his from memory!), and to add comments if they had any. Below I have listed their responses, while including my own favorite Sarrisms at the end.

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