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Archive for October 4th, 2016

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by Sam Juliano

In 1941 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley as the Best Picture of the year.  It was a decision that has lived in infamy and has long maligned a film that in any other year would have made a laudatory choice.  But alas that was the year of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, a cinematic reference point that has allowed viewers to both understand the language of film and its potential as a medium for storytelling.  Repeatedly cinephiles have named the film as the greatest of all time, and as an ultimate example of artistic expression.  Thus, award watchers have never come to terms with the inexplicable slight, even though the film was among the nominees for the prize.  Since that implied debacle seventy-five years ago, few people can assess How Green Was My Valley on its own terms, instead it is always sized up as that movie – the one that beat out Citizen Kane.  There were to be many dubious verdicts from that group prior and since, but no other has attracted the same degree of unmitigated scorn.

Children’s literature fans are just as swift to identify the most glaring injustice handed out by their own most prestigious awards giving body -the American Library Association- and it is one that has left readers young and old shaking their heads for the better part of seven decades.  In 1953 the ALA’s twenty-two member Newbery committee annointed Ann Nolan Clark’s  The Secret of the Andes as the gold medal winner.  Four books were named as the runners-up, including E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, with each earning a Newbery Honor.  The book focused on Cusi, an Inca boy raised in a remote valley of the Andes mountain chain in Peru who ultimately tries to find himself through activities like llama herding.  The book starts slowing but develops admirably.  yet, like its film counterpart it was in over its head in the competition.  Indeed, in an article published in School Library Journal in 2008 children’s literature luminary Anita Silvey revealed from reliable documentation that one member of the twenty-two who made up the Newbery committee stated that she voted for Secret of the Andes instead of Charlotte’s Web because she “hadn’t seen any good books about South America.”  Silvey added that “while The Secret of the Andes is a ‘good’ book, Charlotte’s Web is the best.”  And such is the present-day summary judgement of the vast majority of teachers, book critics and historians, who have time and again equated White’s novel as the American piece de resistance in children’s literature with a reputation to match Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows in the United Kingdom. But awards seldom impede the popularity of something as iconic as White’s sophomore novel -as it turned out the middle work of three- and an adoring public in Pucciniesque devotion helped to build the statistic that really mattered the most – millions of copies sold and translantions into twenty-two languages.  As to the Caldecott Honor silver medal, for years Scribner’s has resisted pasting that shiny sticker on the cover as if to rightly opine that this great work of art is beyond such arbitrary gauging, not to mention how ludicrous it is on principal that Charlotte’s Web should be advertised as ‘second best.’ (more…)

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By Dean Treadway

My first viewing of Close Encounters, in the winter of 1977, is etched into my mind, so much so that I cannot let this brief review go without referring back to it.

My parents and I were devoted drive-in goers at the time, but I insisted on seeing Spielberg’s movie at a fancy four-walled Atlanta theater, the Phipps Plaza Penthouse (where it was showing in 70mm). I had been unfailingly intrigued by the mysterious ad campaign, with the image of a bright apparition exploding at the horizon of a two-lane highway. It felt scary and unknowable, and the trailer didn’t let us in on much else. I knew it was a film about UFOs—a particular popular obsession in the 1970s—bur I knew little more about it. Even Spielberg’s name, post-Jaws, didn’t come with the cachet it’s earned since. Standing in a long line for this cinematic treat further enhanced my eagerness. In fact, I was more thrilled by seeing this film than I had been by the more obviously appealing Star Wars the preceding summer.

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I remember sitting in the theater, enveloped by darkness, as the film began. John Williams’ brilliant score began, screeching against a black screen, and then surprisingly exploding with a boom as the film opened with a bright orange image of an overwhelming desert sand storm, where WWII bombers are discovered nearly new by a shocked investigatory team. From that moment on, I was taken with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (even the title captured me—what are the other kinds?). I found every one of my necessary buttons pushed by it, to the point where I still see it as one of Spielberg’s most essential works. The first half of it almost plays like a horror film, keeping its “villains” benevolence under wraps. I recall being particularly intrigued with its riveting one-scene sideshow involving the confused reactions of an air-traffic control team as they try to suss out what’s happening to a pair of passenger flights bedeviled by a UFO appearance (it’s still the best scene in the film, with actors radically committed to their scenario). (more…)

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