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‘The Twilight Zone,’ from A to Z 

J.W. McCormack writes: The planet has been knocked off its elliptical orbit and overheats as it hurtles toward the sun; the night ceases to exist, oil paintings melt, the sidewalks in New York are hot enough to fry an egg on, and the weather forecast is “more of the same, only hotter.” Despite the unbearable day-to-reality of constant sweat, the total collapse of order and decency, and, above all, the scarcity of water, Norma can’t shake the feeling that one day she’ll wake up and find that this has all been a dream. And she’s right. Because the world isn’t drifting toward the sun at all, it’s drifting away from it, and the paralytic cold has put Norma into a fever dream.

[Watch how many times J.W. McCormack packs this discussion of Twilight Zone history with unrelated partisan political whining, pro-FDR, anti-GOP revisionist history, and Paul Krugmanesque drooling, navel gazing, and various unrelated anti-Trump nonsense. Is this really about the Twilight Zone? Or just another Op-Ed column?]

This is “The Midnight Sun,” my favorite episode of The Twilight Zone, and one that has come to seem grimly familiar. I also wake up adrift, in a desperate and unfamiliar reality, wondering if the last year in America has been a dream—I too expect catastrophe, but it’s impossible to know from which direction it will come, whether I am right to trust my senses or if I’m merely sleepwalking while the actual danger becomes ever-more present. One thing I do know is that I’m not alone: since the election of Donald Trump, it’s become commonplace to compare the new normal to living in the Twilight Zone, as Paul Krugman did in a 2017 New York Times op-ed titled “Living in the Trump Zone,” in which he compared the President to the all-powerful child who terrorizes his Ohio hometown in “It’s a Good Life,” policing their thoughts and arbitrarily striking out at the adults. But these comparisons do The Twilight Zone a disservice. The show’s articulate underlying philosophy was never that life is topsy-turvy, things are horribly wrong, and misrule will carry the day—it is instead a belief in a cosmic order, of social justice and a benevolent irony that, in the end, will wake you from your slumber and deliver you unto the truth.

Elizabeth Allen and her mannequin double in “The After Hours,” 1960

The Twilight Zone has dwelt in the public imagination, since its cancellation in 1964, as a synecdoche for the kind of neat-twist ending exemplified by “To Serve Man” (it’s a cookbook), “The After Hours” (surprise, you’re a mannequin), and “The Eye of the Beholder” (everyone has a pig-face but you). It’s probably impossible to feel the original impact of each show-stopping revelation, as the twist ending has long since been institutionalized, clichéd, and abused in everything from the 1995 film The Usual Suspects to Twilight Zone-style anthology series like Black Mirror.Rewatching these episodes with the benefit of Steven Jay Rubin’s new 429-page book, The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia, (a bathroom book if ever I saw one), the punchlines are actually the least of the show’s enduring hold over the imagination; rather its creator Rod Serling’s rejoinders to the prevalent anti-Communist panic that gripped the decade: stories of witch-hunting paranoia tend to end badly for everyone, as in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” in which the population of a town turns on each other in a panic to ferret out the alien among them, or in “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” which relocates the premise to a diner in which the passengers of a bus are temporarily stranded and subject to interrogation by a pair of state troopers.

Leah Waggner and Barry Atwater in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street ,” 1960

The show’s most prevalent themes are probably best distilled as “you are not what you took yourself to be,” “you are not where you thought you were,” and “beneath the façade of mundane American society lurks a cavalcade of monsters, clones, and robots.” Serling had served as a paratrooper in the Philippines in 1945 and returned with PTSD; he and his eventual audience were indeed caught between the familiar past and an unknown future.

[Read the full story here, at The New York Review of Books]

They stood dazed in a no-longer-recognizable world, flooded with strange new technologies, vastly expansionist corporate or federal jurisdictions, and once-unfathomable ideologies. The culture was shifting from New Deal egalitarianism to the exclusionary persecution and vigilantism of McCarthyism, the “southern strategy” of Goldwater and Nixon, and the Cold War-era emphasis on mandatory civilian conformity, reinforced across the board in schools and the media. Read the rest of this entry »

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Books: The Authentic Hemingway

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Joshua Kotin on The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Vol. 2 : 1923-1925

Joshua Kotin  writes:  Ernest Hemingway’s from the summer and fall of 1925 are especially thrilling. “I’ve written six chapters on a novel and am going great about 15,000 words already,” he tells Sylvia Beach in August. Two weeks later, in a letter to Ezra Pound, he declares, “48,000 words writ. […] If novel not suppressed sh’d sell 8 million copies.” “It is a hell of a fine novel,” he tells Jane Heap a few days later; “Written very simply and full of things happening and people and places and exciting as hell and no autobiographical 1st novel stuff.” Then in a letter to his father in September, he triumphantly announces, “I have finished my novel — 85,000 words — and am very tired inside and out.”

The completion of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s first novel, is the denouement of the second volume of his letters, which collects his correspondence from 1923 to 1925. (The first volume, published in 2011, includes letters from 1907 to 1922.) The letters document his development as a writer, his life in Paris and Toronto (where he worked as a reporter for the Toronto Star), his travels across Europe (including to Pamplona and Schruns), his marriage to Hadley Richardson and the birth of their son, and his friendships and quarrels with Pound, Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many others. The letters are a real time version of A Moveable Feast, combining the memoir’s romantic and gossipy depiction of expatriate life with a powerful sense of precarity. Hemingway describes his life as a struggling writer without knowledge of his future success.

Read the rest of this entry »


The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies—As Chosen By Scientists

Joe Pappalardo writes:  Real scientists can be the harshest critics of science fiction. But that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a movie just because it bends the laws of nature. We polled dozens of scientists and engineers to discover the sci-fi movies they love

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Check it out at Popular Mechanics


Top 20 Horror Films of the Past 20 Years

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The IMDb Editors’ Top Horror films list is based upon the overall importance, impact and popularity these scary movies have enjoyed for the past 20 years.
MV5BMTQ2NzkzMDI4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDA0NzE1NA@@._V1._SX140_CR0,0,140,209_It’s a good list. The Editors include this qualifier: “Note that “Top” does not mean “Best” and after some spine-tingling discussion, we came up with the following rankings…”  It’s fun to make lists like this. And useful when checking out Netflix for ideas for what to watch in October.
The Sixth Sense, at #2, showed so much promise for director M. Night Shyamalan, who never quite overcame the curse of that first success. Jonathan Demme‘s wonderful The Silence of the Lambs has the IMDB’s editors’ top spot, though I consider it more of a thriller, rather than a horror movie, it is an enduring classic in either category. It’s Jody Foster‘s best film role, ever. Certainly her most iconic, indelible adult performance. Anthony Hopkins created one of the top five most frightening homicidal characters in modern movie history. Not paralleled until Heath Ledger, I think. The list includes other classics, such as ScreamZodiacThe RingJu-on: The GrudgeAmerican PsychoSe7en, and more.
let-the-right-one-in5-5-10My personal favorite? Let the Right One In. It’s a masterpiece. The most original story, and characters. More than just a horror movie, it’s a chilling work of art. Every frame, beautifully composed. Lina Leandersson‘s performance is exquisite. Not the remake. If you’ve passed over it because of the subtitles, reconsider, it’s a gem.

IMDb