Random Comments on the Arts and Popular Culture

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200+ Great Films
Narrative Structures in Films: A Mindmap
Thomas Mann on film: Text from “The Magic Mountain”
Mistakes in Film Criticism
Aristotle’s Six Elements of Drama

Archie Horror – Who Knew?

Stopped in the Library yesterday. Spied a comic on the “Take One — Leave One” shelf. “Afterlife Archie” from, made in 2016. Talk about Postmodern Pastiche! And there was (or is) a TV show too. Who knew? (Ok, most of you are saying who cares?) This would be a great topic for students of pop art/culture. The artwork in this thing is terrific. In the panels shown, the “voice” of recollection is depicted in the impressionist style, while the “voice” of “real-time” uses the visual tropes of film noir/horror.

The young Archie as remembered by Betty
Archie takes on a new look.
Archie as leader.

Demetrius and the Gladiators

So fast, so simple, so pure. Gene Tierney and Victor Mature in Demetrius and the Gladiators. The end of the film moves from what seems to be the certain death of the hero, to revolution, the end of a love affair, and the triumph of human good in just a few minutes. No CGI, just great acting, directing and production values. My descriptions explain each shot, each of which is only a few seconds long. Great storytelling via images at a speed that brings a satisfying emotional conclusion.

Gene Tierney cut off by a descending gate after she begs Demetrius not to sacrifice himself in the arena. She offers “to become a Christian too” if that is what he wants. Gate is now the beginning of the final psychological separation about to come.

Tears through the gate, seeing her lover about to be killed. What a shot!

Seconds later, while the Emperor declares himself a god who cannot be disobeyed, the guards refuse to kill Demetrius. Instead, one takes aim at the Emperor and…

Seconds later the Emperor is dead and the new Emperor (left) is instantly declared. You can see the response: “who me”?

Still only a few seconds later, the new Emperor takes back his wife (who has been two-timing him with Demetrius) — for the sake of the empire. The Emperor must have a wife, no? Tierney sits down on the throne herself and then looks at Demetrius. No lines necessary here. Good-bye, my love!

Demetrius responds with a look of his own. Yes. Good-bye. But I can take it. After all, I’m on a mission from God. The new Emperor has declared that he is NOT a god and has no intention of becoming one. Furthermore, he has just told me to go to all my Christian friends and tell them they have nothing to fear from Rome. So I’m going.

Yes. Good-bye. I understand.

Note how the Emperor is in shadow – a shadow that is not there in “reality.” The shadow brings Tierney’s character forward into our zone of psychological identification.

No lines. So beautiful. So simple. So pure.

And then…truth marches on.

Brenau University Art Collection

Art transforms itself and the spaces around it. The painting below, casually placed over a garbage can in a stairwell at Brenau University, is transformed by the morning sun and a Venetian blind.
The painting is signed “Li Ming Shun 1989,” but there is no other information about it or even an indication that it is part of Brenau’s collection – so it appears as a random object in a random space, accidentally depicting an “imprisoned” face. If the same painting were in a museum with the same shadows occasionally appearing — think of the commentary!

Into the Spider-Verse and Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass)

Same basic plot — two forms of converging artistic media: boy with special powers he must learn to control takes on moral responsibility to return friends to their own time/space continuum. Philip Pullman (author of “His Dark Materials” trilogy, part of which was adapted to film “The Golden Compass”) is one of the leading YA fiction authors today. He recently tried his hand at a graphic novel, using the “second” (not real) Einstien-Carmichael expedition as a jumping off point. On the page shown, Blake, a scientist on the expedition, and his son, John, conspire to test an idea about space-time at the crucial moment. This results in a rupture of the space-time continuum causing John to be dislodged from our time. He meets still more time travellers and feels he must get them back to their times. Visually, the story is laid out in rather conventional panels but is none-the-less quite engrossing. Spiderman – Into the Spider-Verse, by contrast, is a visual masterpiece, combining photorealism, traditional 2-D comic book art, abstract expressionism, and graffiti-inspired motifs to tell a rapid-fire story full of wit, wisdom, and self-awareness. In this case, a particle collider causes a disruption in our spacetime continuum resulting in various Spidermen from alternate universes appearing in ours. “Our” Spiderman needs to return them. I could not find an image of what I would call the inspired “particle collider art” sequences of the film, but I am fairly certain contemporary critics like Camille Paglia (who marks the laser sword fight between Anakin and Obi-wan as one of the greatest artistic achievements of recent times) would love them.

By Anthony Birch

Anthony Birch, Ph.D. has taught Business Ethics, Introduction to Ethics, Contemporary Ethics, and Introduction to Philosophy at a number of colleges and universities. He is the co-author of How to Ace Your Online Course, available at Amazon.

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