Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, April 14, 2014

Some page turning and pulse pounding pop culture anniversaries to savor this season

Part of my writing focus this year is connected to two anniversaries,with A Nightmare on Elm Street being 30 years of age and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen reaching it's 200th year of engagement.

It got me to wondering about other books and films that are celebrating their pop culture milestones in 2014 and while they're a good number of them in both categories, I chose a simple quartet made up of two from each category that are good enough to start with.

This week marks the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck's masterpiece,The Grapes of Wrath, which describes the struggles of suddenly down on their luck folks in Oklahoma during the Great Depression,particularly the Joad family that travels to California to seek work after their homestead is lost due to drought and foreclosure.

The book details the frustration,fear and stubborn determination of the Joads, as well as other families they encounter along the way, to make sense out of the financial shake-ups that have turned their world upside down. It also chronicles the greed and opportunistic tactics of those still somewhat in charge of things who have no qualms about exploiting the desperate "Okies" for profit via unfair labor practices and consider the very idea of these people asking for basic human rights a rude presumption on their part. Amazing how current this all sounds, doesn't it?:

While Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell was known for her novels of social commentary such as North and South or Ruth, she did also write family dramas like Wives and Daughters, which started out in serial form in 1864 and celebrates it's 150 years in publication. The book was not finished when Gaskell passed on so her editor added an explanation of what she had intended.

The novel is a multi-character piece,with most of the focal points placed at the door of young Molly Gibson, the only child of the local doctor who does her best to please her father and his flighty new wife( and even more flighty new stepsister). She is constantly being protected by just about every male in her life from the harshness of reality but Molly is much smart and stronger than she is given credit for by both the men and women in her life.

A number of secrets and lies swirl about her from the new  family arrangement as well from her well to do neighbors,the family of Squire Hamley whose son Roger she finds a kinship with and possibly much more. I plan to read the book later this year but have already watched the 1999 miniseries version(adapted by the brilliant Andrew Davies) and for anyone who is still craving a little extra Downton Abbey time would do well to enjoy the best of a great writer's last work:

1994 was a pretty good year for films and a real game changer that hit mainstream movie goers hard was Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction which is now 20 years old, believe it or not.

While Tarantino had made an impact with his earlier crime film Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction took things to the next level as it's blend of gritty noir,pop culture riffs and poetic use of profane language painted a mural of underworld characters that were just as relatable as your everyday usual set of co-workers and friends(only with guns, drugs and reliable places to clean up after an accidental shooting).

What Tarantino and his creative cohorts did was truly flip the script by setting high drama in what many considered to be the realm of lowlifes to discover nobility and sense of purpose amongst the most unlikely of criminal minds. The critical acclaim(which lead to several Oscar nominations and a Best Original Screenplay win for Tarantino and his then writing partner Roger Avery) and box office success of the movie lead to plenty of other similarly styled movies, some of which were good but topping the epic power of Samuel L. Jackson as hit man extraordinaire Jules Winfield was not to be:

Also released that year was The Professional, French director Luc Besson's follow-up to his cult hit La Femme Nikita. This tale of a reclusive hit man who finds himself the guardian of a young girl whose entire family is wiped out by a pack of drug dealers lead by a corrupt DEA agent(Gary Oldman, in one of his best bad guy roles) earned positive feedback from critics but not as much audience acclaim.

It did do well financially but may have been lost in the shuffle of other films of that nature at the time and eventually gained a cult following. There's also an extended version of the film that was released overseas(it was trimmed for the US) that is available on home video and is considered by some to be the better version.

Either way, The Professional offers an engaging look at the cost of a life of violence that neither condones nor condemns the choices that it's leads make, instead it makes them real flesh and blood figures in an action adventure story. The movie is oddly touching at times, with Natalie Portman making one hell of a debut as Mathilda,the vulnerable yet hardened by life school girl determined to learn the tricks of her reluctant protector's trade. Her steady footsteps in this film made a path for the likes of Chloe Grace Moretz to follow with Hit Girl, which is more than enough reason to honor it's 20th anniversary:

Granted, it does make you feel your age when you look back at some of these pop culture place holders but on the other hand, it also makes you take into consideration the impact made in their respective genres that have added some much needed flavor to our multimedia menu. The influences of these and many other artistic entertainments can be pointed out way too much at times but honoring what came before makes one a better artist and/or appreciator of the arts.

Let's close this out with a ear out for a classic tune celebrating forty years on the dance floor, ABBA's "Waterloo" and see it's glory in a classic scene from Muriel's Wedding,another great film from 1994-talk about full circle, folks! Nostalgia may be deemed as nerd country but even us nerds can have our moment in the spotlight as the mean girls look on and despair:

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