[Film: Trumbo, Jay Roach, 2015]
History Less Exaggerated:

The Excellent Subtlety of the Acting and History in Jay Roach’s Trumbo

 

Dalton Trumbo Sketch by M.R.P. - Jay Roach, historical accuracy, subtle acting

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

The vast majority of biographical films follow a predictable and often unsatisfying formula: select a figure whose name will be instantly recognizable to every prospective viewer, then play up any and all personal struggles, peculiarities, and family problems of that figure as much as conceivably possible. Examples of this strategy swell to my mind in abundance, from John Lennon’s youth in Nowhere Boy to Alfred Hitchcock’s later middle-age in Hitchcock to Howard Hughes’ entire adult life in The Aviator.

With this in mind, it was nothing short of a breath of fresh air to enjoy the realism in Jay Roach’s Trumbo, which tells the true tale of acclaimed Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo’s imprisonment and blacklisting for his communist political leanings. By ‘realism’ I do not mean to imply that Trumbo’s historical accuracy is any better than the other films named above (some key details of its depiction of Edward G. Robinson are almost certainly fabrications). Indeed, I had limited knowledge of the Hollywood Ten prior to seeing Trumbo, and even less of Dalton Trumbo himself (despite my previous enjoyment of some of the films he wrote).

Rather, I mean that the characters are not bizarre, lascivious caricatures of the figures involved, but are instead nuanced and lively representations. On the strengths of its actors, its unique restraint in the biopic genre, and the modern resonance of the American paranoia depicted, Trumbo succeeds as a great and thoroughly enjoyable movie.

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[Film: Trumbo, Jay Roach, 2015]
History Less Exaggerated:

The Excellent Subtlety of the Acting and History in Jay Roach’s Trumbo

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

 

Frederick Douglass Sketch by M.R.P. - autobiography, sincerity, community

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Last week’s Tuesday Tome article considered Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and showcased the ways in which Franklin’s carefully crafted self-presentation acts as an extension of Franklin’s moralizing vanity. In contrast to Franklin’s project, I would like to put forward the perceptive thinker and stirring writer Frederick Douglass as a better candidate for the role of quintessential American.

The autobiography of Frederick Douglass, unlike that of Benjamin Franklin (which focuses entirely on self-improvement), seems to put forth the pressing concern of bringing about political and societal betterment. Douglass spends nearly all of his time decrying the atrocities and duplicities inherent to the system of slavery.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

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[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, 1791]
Acclaim Demanded:

How Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography Manipulates the Reader

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin - autobiography, manipulation, propaganda

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin

To this day, the figure of Benjamin Franklin is evocative of something quintessentially American, as though a true American could be identified by the degree to which they approximate that figure. Readers of Franklin’s autobiography may scan Franklin’s mannerisms and qualities for confirmation of existing identities or individualized schemata for betterment. Franklin everywhere encourages people toward health, wisdom, and success.

In pursuit of this betterment-by-role-model, readers of Franklin find themselves urged to acknowledge a difference between Benjamin Franklin’s life and their own lives. Franklin operates within the society of his audience, aspiring to a tenuous conception of perfection. So, oddly, the apparently warm and wise figure of Franklin is involved in the manipulative presentation of his self as separate from both his society and his audience.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

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[Work: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, 1791]
Acclaim Demanded:

How Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography Manipulates the Reader

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, 1985]
The Once and Future America:

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Consequences of (American) Society Yielding to Fear

 

Margaret Atwood Sketch by M.R.P. - The Handmaid's Tale - America, tradition, conservatism, theocracy

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

One unfamiliar with the novel, or unfamiliar with Margaret Atwood, might be understandably mistaken about what sort of book lies behind the unassuming title The Handmaid’s Tale. The name conjures up images of Victorian romance and understated drama which could not be further from the reality: a brutal piece of mid-1980s dystopian fiction about life in a theocratic America.

A decade and a half before Atwood won the Booker prize for The Blind Assassin, the Canadian author was nominated for the award (and a host of others) for this mid-80s work of considerable power and brilliance. Anyone who prizes the introduction of more traditional ideals into a country’s governance ought to equip an open mind and give this chilling tale a read.

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[Work: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, 1985]
The Once and Future America:

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Consequences of (American) Society Yielding to Fear

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski