Writing between 1972 and 1974, which is to say when a small band of losers exploited white fears to achieve control of the American government and immediately used it to institute large-scale repression, undo progressive victories, steal anything not nailed down, and provoke arguably the largest Constitutional crisis since the Constitution was constituted (those were the days, huh?), Greil Marcus said “to do one’s most personal work in a time of public crisis is an honest, legitimate, paradoxically democratic act of common faith; that one keeps faith with one’s community by offering whatever it is that one has to say.”
That feels like the implied mission statement ’round here, an affirmation of community and the individual voices that make it. Finishing our third calendar year, we’re defined by the diversity and strength of our writers and the passion of our readers–and 2017 saw many of them jump from the ranks of the latter to the former, thanks to Julius’ call for writers and BurgundySuit’s expanding, exhausting, exhaustive Year of the Month series. We also saw the continued hard and everyday work of our veterans: morning reviews and news from Julius and NerdInTheBasement, the map of the Dissolve diaspora from HypercubeVillain, columns and obituaries from Gillianren, short films from the Ploughman, DVD and cinematography updates from the Narrator. This kind of place, I think, isn’t just nontrivial for these times, it’s necessary, a demonstration of what community can be when that’s under siege. As long as the lights are on here, the world hasn’t gone dark.
Following Michael G’s 2015 Salute to the Solute, our writers now present their favorite articles of the year, from themselves and from others. (If I missed you, drop me a note in the comments.) Enjoy them as your first treat of 2018!
Babalugats: I can’t tell you how honored I am to be considered a bonafide contributor for The Solute, longtime home of the best writing on the internet and the last bastion of intelligent civil discourse in a world gone mad. For my part I only contributed four articles this year, (Sweet Smell of Success, Danger Diabolik, “The Year in Jackie Chan,” and “The Year In Nuclear Annihilation.” For anyone who missed them the first time, I’d still love to hear your thoughts). I’m proud of all four, but I’m most proud of “The Year In Nuclear Annihilation.” I’m not the first person to compare Fail Safe to Dr. Strangelove, and having read several articles that people got paid to write… well let’s just say I’m very proud of what I wrote.
Trying to pick a favorite, or even a few dozen favorites, from what the rest of you have produced is a bit more paralyzing. If I listed half the articles published on this site, I’d feel guilty about leaving off the other half.
Special recognition to Julius Kassendorf, who whether he’s going all scorched earth on a critical darling like Ghost Story, or deftly navigating a complex and nuanced reaction to something like Detroit, has proven himself to be perhaps the funniest, most insightful, most engaging critic working today. I don’t always share his taste, but his reasoning is always solid and his writing is always a pleasure to read.
And to wallflower, who continues to put out more ideas per words than any other writer on the internet. Most writers, even good ones, have about one idea for every essay they write. wallflower had an idea for each sentence, it’s dense, compelling (at times intimidating) writing, and I find myself returning to it again and again. Which is why I’ll point out his three year old tome on The Shield as this year’s best writing. I never would have caught up with the show without the evangelism it receives around here (thanks!), and it’s pretty incredible to drop into a three year old essay on a ten year old show, and still find people eager to engage. (And to engage intelligently!).
A special thanks to BurgundySuit for organizing Year Of The Month, and if that wasn’t enough of a workload, also contributing its best and most ambitious features with Chartbusting and The Year in Comics. Also this great essay on Casino.
The Ploughman’s article on this Halloween safety video is the funniest thing I’ve read all year.
I’m tempted to just point to the last three articles I’ve read on the site which at the moment are… Jacob Klemmer on Naked Kiss, CM Crockford on Band of Outsiders, and pico on Kwaidan. And damn, if those aren’t three of the most insightful and engaging articles I’ve read on the internet in years. It’s just not possible to cover everything I’d like to get to, with anything approaching the detail it deserves. But I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the site, as a writer or commentator, for helping to make this the best place on the internet.
Oh, and Ben Hammel’s essay on Throne of Blood is really good, and seemed to slip through the cracks without generating much conversation. If you missed it, you should really give it a read. Although, again, if you’re going to comment on an older article, it really ought to be one of mine.
John Bruni: One feature of The Solute that I especially appreciate is a focus on music and literature. As the Year of the Month series continues I look forward to writing about some of my favorite albums. For 1978, I wrote about John Prine’s Bruised Orange, and explored how I found this record both artistically imaginative and emotionally moving—the culmination, I would argue, of Prine’s use of literary storytelling techniques.
If songs can draw from literature, then it’s also the case that literature can be shaped by musical motifs. During the conversation with Avathoir about Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, wallflower thoughtfully explores the musical resonances of the novel’s complex temporal frames:
“Glenn Gould once said ‘fugue is not a form at all but a texture,’ and that’s what Vineland gave me: the texture of memory, the way the past keeps coming up into the present and the way the present keeps recontextualizing and remaking the past.”
In a novel that proposes that the paroxysms of the Reagan counterrevolution opened all sorts of weird historical channels, the “outside” of the narrative, as wallflower suggests, seems to exist in a sonic register beyond words alone.
Drunk Napoleon: For me, this year has been about figuring out how this article-writing deal even works – I’ve been talking and writing about movies and TV shows for years, but this is the most sophisticated I’ve been allowed to be with it (and thank you all for enabling that). I still have a long way to go, but my Year Of The Month article on Jurassic Park was the first that ended up being exactly what I set out to achieve when I came up with the idea for it, an analysis of everything that works in Jurassic Park and how it can be replicated, and ended up leading to a terrific comments section as everyone expanded upon it. Honourable mention to my Back To The Future article, which was messy and broad in scope, but totally works in a way I’ll have to work to achieve again.
Many of wallflower’s articles feel like the moment between the last consequence of the last decision and the first step of the next; they’re not manifestos, they’re all the thought that goes into one. His article on Elliott Carter weaves between three scales: Carter’s vision for individual pieces, his overall aims and trajectory in his career, and the times he lived in as well as his different contemporaries; it’s colossal in reach and powerfully thought-provoking. Honourable mention to Balthazar Bee’s article on Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning, for being a wonderful snarkfest on a shitty movie in a time when that’s rarely done and never this successfully.
Gillianren: Of mine, “Movies, Man.” Not only does it sum up my feelings about the year, but I think it’s a good piece about a deeply emotional time in my life.
Of someone else’s, The Narrator’s “The Book of Henry,” which I believe to be one of the funniest pieces of writing the site has ever produced.
The Narrator: I mean, it has to be “Mike Mills and 20th Century Women,” right? I mean, I also like my poison-pen letters to Wonder Wheel and The Book of Henry, and my piece on Mills’ other work doesn’t make me cringe looking back at it (which is a big accomplishment for me; I’ve had that satisfaction with barely anything I’ve written about Soderbergh), but getting to vomit out my feelings about as special a movie to me as 20th Century Women was as cathartic an experience as anything I’ve ever written, and I really do think it turned out pretty okay.
Drunk Napoleon is an intimidatingly cogent authority on the nature of drama, and his “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” capsules of Steven Universe were some of my favorite things to read over the summer, so I gotta go with his “What Is The Personality Type Of A Story, Part II: An Answer To A Question About Tone,” in which he once again reckons with Steven Universe and once again analyzes The Shield better than anyone who isn’t the one publishing this piece.
pico: I’m another one of those who hates reading anything I’ve written after the fact: it makes my teeth ache. But I was happy that Burgundy Suit’s dedication to continuing the Year of the Month series gave me the opportunity (and indulgence) to write about my favorite book (and favorite author, for that matter), and for an audience who’d actually read it. I ‘m happy to proselytize for movies and books as much as the next person, but there aren’t many sites where I can write about something I have so much affection for and actually get to discuss it with readers in the comments. Otherwise it’s just shouting into the ether, and there’s plenty enough of that around.
That said, the site can be an embarrassment of riches sometimes, so I’m going to bend the rules and pick the two articles I remember the most from this year. The first is Babalugats’ exceptional look at Sweet Smell of Success, one of those pieces where the cadences of the film seemed to have worked their way into the article itself, so it wasn’t just insightful but a delight to read. Some of the scene descriptions are every bit as electric and tense as the actual film. The second is wallflower’s deep dive into John Zorn’s Kristallnacht, which almost feels like an exorcism, a kind of necessary wrestling with an emotionally difficult piece of work. I read the piece, listened the music, and read it again: and I’ll probably keep doing that whenever I want to revisit the music, which doesn’t yield to easy or immediate satisfaction. Both pieces made me reflect more on being a consumer of art and criticism, and (I hope?) how to improve myself in terms of both.
The Ploughman: First, I want to give a tip of the hat to those who keep things lively with ongoing and timely updates to various series. I’m thinking of Gillian’s columns, Hypercube Villain’s Dissolve On roundups, Julius (et al) providing daily recommendations and discussion points as well as the various mini-series form Drunk Napoleon, ZoeZ, etc. I attempted a weekly update with Lunch Links and felt good about mostly keeping it up for all of about six months before letting it lapse (for my own piece I’ll pick one of my better efforts: a riff on Centron’s Halloween Safety video). I have huge admiration for those who update regularly and look forward to each new installment.
The piece I want to spotlight, though, is a doozy of a one-off, yet also a culmination of work over the year. The Narrator’s piece on Mike Mills and 20th Century Women is an analysis and a love letter. 20th Century Women got an early bump on this site from John Bruni and Nerd and then was championed by The Narrator throughout the comments and in a post about Mills’s work leading up to this film. Taking a deep dive on a film that no doubt would have otherwise been overlooked by this community, “Mike Mills and 20th Century Women” is a testament to how a movie’s journey can become a personal one, and how movies can be a means of sharing personal journeys with others.
Happy New Year to you all, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
My article: “What’s So Funny About Han?”
This year involved redirecting my entire career, which definitely affected my ability to contribute to the site. Part of this change involved leaving my management job at the movie theater where I had been working since 2014, thereby stripping the free movies privilege that I had. That meant I was just not watching that many new movies anymore, and as a result, made it much harder to contribute anything. The thing is, while I am capable of writing straightforward reviews of movies (I reviewed The Hunt For The Wilderpeople and Get Out, bet y’all didn’t know that), I am much more interested in long-form essays. But between January to June, I just really didn’t have a lot to say. Even the one essay I did write, I don’t think is my best, it’s just a roundabout way of me saying I thought the writing for Kong: Skull Island was pretty shoddy.
However when June rolled around I finally found that spark again which allowed me to talk about something that not a lot of people have considered, which I think is where I find the best material. No one talks about the comedy of the Star Wars franchise, because it’s never been one of the key elements about the success of the films, even though it’s a component for what made the original trilogy a lot of fun. So when Lord and Miller were taking off the Han Solo movie, in very unusual circumstances which alone merited a lot of discussion, this was the perfect opportunity to actually touch upon the comedic mechanics of those movies. And in doing so, I was able to make a pretty basic conclusion not just about Star Wars but about Han’s character and why Lord and Miller probably weren’t the best choices. This will be one of those “what-if” scenarios where people will be bemoaning for YEARS after that those directors never got to see their vision realized, because they don’t want to consider that “what if” it actually turned out pretty bad?
Where I pretty much dropped the ball on horror coverage this year, Julius was there to keep the fire going. Julius, our founder who was so nice enough to let me start writing for the site a few years ago, is one of my favorite writers here and I always like how thorough and prolific he is. I don’t always agree with Julius, but I always try to read his work because his perspective is often quite different from mine. I don’t think we watch movies the same way, but it’s interesting where we come in agreement and where we don’t. We like horror movies though and I am all for different interpretations and perspectives on horror movies, especially ones I’m a fan of. So while I spent this past Friday the 13th playing Friday the 13th the Game on my PS4, (*cough* username: NightSong92 *cough*), Julius did some double-duty and wrote this great piece about the oldest and newest entry in the Jason franchise.
What he does in his comparison though, aside from the plot details and structural things that separate the movies, is to compare them from a pop-political view point. There’s something intriguing about watching both movies with the Vietnam and Iraq Wars in mind, thus invoking the societal emotions that were felt in each period of time. There’s nothing overtly political about either film, but they are both in response to what was popular at the time and how that effected the horror genre. The post-9/11 era of horror film was much more visceral and blunt, which would result in a slasher-styled film trying to keep up with the more gruesome films that were out at the time, which certainly cancels out the kind of suspense and dread that the original film and that of its kind relied on to generate real fear. That’s what’s most interesting to me, how a difference of decades can affect a kind of horror story. On the surface it may cover the same beats, but the emotions and prioritization of what the audience wants to see has completely changed if we’re looking at the subtext. Mid to late 2000s horror films were rather unpleasant in my book, so I’m glad we’re past that inherent ugliness that plagued this period. However, Julius does well by highlighting both the contextual and subtextual elements of the remake and original and it anything, makes me want to see him talk more about other horror remakes (and let me collab with you, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease).
Son of Griff: First, I’d like to thank BurgundySuit for organizing the Year of the Month feature, which allowed for many of us, myself included, to participate at the Solute as writers for the first time. It was quite energizing to write spontaneously on a random topic each month. Each exercise permitted me to speculate on the links between movies and historical trends at the time when they were made. The evolution of this historio-aesthetic perspective (Yes, I made that up and I’m trademarking it) really surprised me when I reviewed The Breakfast Club. What germinated as a rant directed at the anti-authoritarian libertarianism of writer director John Hughes’ adolescent world view, mutated into a meditation on the imagery and character archetypes of 50s teen melodrama as transformed by the visual and psychological conventions of 70s and 80s filmmaking. While my feelings about Hughes’ politics did not change, I realized that, over time, I had gained a more nuanced perspective on my own interest in movies, history, and identity than when I first saw the movie for the first time.
The selection for the best article in this series, however, was wallflower’s essay on The Bridge on the River Kwai, an impeccable explication of how characterization and historical context inform this classique d’ownage. Thomas Klemmer’s review of The Naked Kiss also brutally surpassed my stab at tackling Sam Fuller’s bug fuck feminist melodrama back at the Dissolve. The series that gave me the most hope for the future, however, was NerdintheBasement’s perusal of Sight and Sound’s poll of the best 50 films of all time. Today, when anyone on the internet can claim the mantle of critical expertise without exposing themselves to content beyond their specific preferences, the venerable (and prolific) Nerd acknowledged his blind spots. He also bravely wrote about the cinematic canon as a casual yet open minded viewer, presenting personal observations refreshingly free of academic preconceptions. I’m looking forward to seeing him revisit these films after familiarizing himself with a deeper understanding of history, culture, and aesthetics.
On a personal note, I had a great time hanging out with wallflower and Conor Malcolm Crawford this year. My new year’s resolution is to participate more on Drunk Napoleon’s forums on the structure of dramatic and literary writing. His methodical approach to the principles of dramatic and literary fiction have informed my own scribblings, which I hope to share with you all the coming year.
wallflower: I didn’t write as much as I wanted to this year, and in fact dropped the ball on several Year of the Month pieces. (Apologies to everyone on this.) Still, I got to write (and occasionally podcast) on not just movies, but music, books, and painting, and also to finally bring over the entirety of my Shield reviews before the AV Club took the final dive into the Kinjapocalypse. My favorite Solute-connected experience this year was hosting a screening of Night Moves at Son of Griff’s invitation for the North (San Diego) County Film Club, but my favorite experience that appeared here was the Conversation with Avathoir on Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland. Avathoir pushed me on this one (it’s my favorite Pynchon and it’s. . .not his) and he got me to think harder and articulate more clearly about a book I’ve loved for over 25 years, and I came out with a much more thorough and grounded appreciation for what makes this Pynchon’s best and most stealthily unique work. I couldn’t have done it without him.
Two favorites from others: I continue to be blown away by how much the productive writers here can do. Fearless Leader Julius Kassendorf manages film festivals, does interviews, contributes multiple short reviews a week, wrote some complex, non-clickbait articles on the theme of Stop Being Creepy, and oh yeah, covered the entirety of Twin Peaks. His best article this year, though, was the one I wished he’d never written: his simple, heartfelt obituary for Harry Dean Stanton. With no preparation, Julius paid tribute to a genuine contemporary icon, someone who was a part of our mental landscape. It was the kind of writing that reminds us that to live with culture is to live with a community, another one of The Solute’s implied mission statements.
One of the distinct pleasures of this community has been watching writers grow, taking their own views and lives and evolving them through words; every act of criticism, at its truest, is autobiography. The Narrator started out with one of the most unique voices in this field and he’s only gotten better, pursuing his obsession with cinematography and turning on the lights every Tuesday morning with the DVD/Blu update. He outdid everything he’s done, though, with his nearly 10,000 words (also eight pictures, two music clips, and three .gifs) on 20th Century Women. Pauline Kael said movies were the closest thing we have to a total art form; the Narrator’s review is total criticism, engaging story, image, editing, music, history, oeuvre, and a personal vision to offer the Solute’s most moving article of the year. We’ll be hearing from that kid, and I don’t mean a postcard.
ZoeZ: I combed through page after page of The Solute until I had too many tabs open for my own good. Whatever’s happening in the rest of the world, in the niche category of our particular online community, the year has brought us a lot of good and hopefully irreparably harmed everyone else’s work productivity as it has harmed mine. There are a number of features and reviews I’ve revisited from this year, but given my personal David Lean renaissance, I have to single out wallflower’s The Railway’s There Yet: The Bridge on the River Kwai. (All the better, this is a mild cheat, since it allows me to point out how all-around great the Year of the Month articles are.) It’s a beautiful, elegiac-but-bullshit-free essay about Kwai‘s portrayal of civilized and uncivilized men coming to the end of their civilization, attentive to every single moral and practical value inherent in that, and it’s become inseparable from my own experience of the film.
For my own work, the pickings are much slimmer, which makes this easier: I have to go with “At Midnight, All the Agents…,” the conversation with Drunk Napoleon on the first chapter of Watchmen. Our discussion is an ongoing project, but remains as it started: an absolute delight to write, a fine excuse to revisit an old favorite, and an ongoing reminder of the joys of collaboration. When I start to feel intellectually rusty, I can go back to this to remember how much conversation encourages insight. My writing is better for it, as it is for the experience of The Solute’s community in general.