Alec Johnsson

Alec Johnsson

I am from White Plains, NY and have recently graduated from Haverford College, where I majored in English and minored in Anthropology.

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The Corporatization of Diversity in the Arts

This generation has seen a reinvigorated interest in the representation of women and minorities in the arts past and present. Entire industries are racing to be more inclusive in terms of both fictional characters and real-life labor, to avoid stereotypes and sexualization in favor of agency, to make up for previous manifestations of prejudice, and to give more due recognition to women, nonwhites, LGBTQ persons, etc., for works of merit. To what extent is this a genuine cultural reckoning, and to what extent is this (speaking from the extreme polar opposite perspective) a cynical corporate ad strategy targeting millennials which isn’t really meaningfully changing the wealth-geared, elitist, social Darwinist neoliberal reality we live in? Where do we see this trend creating new stereotypes as opposed to new, truly refreshing narrative paradigms? One potential avenue for the writer to consider is the sustained neoliberal negligence towards issues of class, particularly in Trump’s America–as opposed to issues of sex, race, ethnicity and sexuality, discussion of which has no doubt been rightly rejuvenated.

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    Latest Comments

    Alec Johnsson

    Excellent film. One of recent cinema’s best executed time bombs. It’s only grown on me since I first saw it, and it’s only dated better (speaking from the American perspective). Small details that still resonate with me: the clear discomfort of the rookie cop getting mentored by the guy torturing Saïd and Hubert; the Russian roulette; the bad way they learn of Abdel’s fate. That only Vincent Cassel became a household name after this is criminal.

    A line-by-line linguistic analysis of this would be well worth reading. Vinz, Saïd and Hubert speak largely in “verlan”, a French vernacular that functions on switching syllable orders. My late French professor, Mr. Kight, who turned me on to this, confessed to the class that even he had to watch this with subtitles. Even the title–“the hate”, an unnatural, albeit unusually understandable, phrase in English–conveys volumes about the language these characters use, how it shapes their culture, and how their culture shapes it. (I do have to quibble with Criterion for translating “Astérix” and “Obélix” as “Charlie Brown” and “Snoopy”; that comparison is a stretch.)

    Innocence and Violence in the Slums of La Haine
    Alec Johnsson

    Five scenes I would have put on this list:

    * Walt’s faux-confession (S5E3: “Confessions”). Cranston playing Heisenberg playing a pretend good Walter victimized by a pretend evil Hank. Lies blending into truth. Blackmail disguised as pathos. You can feel Hank’s contempt and anger uncoiling from his face as he realizes the elaborate trap Walt is putting him in. Superb.

    * Gus threatens the whole White family (S4E11: “Crawl Space”). Would’ve clumped this in with the end of the episode. Throwing an innocent baby on the chopping block can be a cheap scare, but Esposito’s minimalist acting truly elevates the horror of Gus’ promise.

    * Walt’s gymnasium speech (S3E1: “No Más”). Talk about not having a bedside manner.

    * Gail’s death (S3E13: “Full Measure”). The climax of the series. Walt giving Mike Gail’s address and then going, “Yeah.” Mike’s futile phone call. Jesse’s tears. Gail telling him, “You don’t have to do this.” The gun blasting into the camera. See ya next season.

    * The fulminated mercury explosion (S1E6: “Crazy Handful of Nothin'”). “This is not meth.” Essentially, the birth of Heisenberg.

    The 25 Best Moments of Acting on Breaking Bad
    Alec Johnsson

    Great article. I once had a close friend say that the human body is made to survive all sorts of physical challenges–this on the topic of a ritual my college has in which the freshmen are woken up at 3am to take a swim in a duck pond full of feces–and the examples of Yang Zhichao and the late Ray Flanagan (who had cystic fibrosis) are a testament to that truth. I’d be curious to hear your opinion, though, on performative acts in which life *really* is at risk, such as the fatal self-immolations of Thich Quang Duc and Mohamed Bouazizi. Is performative art something worth dying for, and to what extent do its political dimensions justify the risk to life? The blurring of the line between fiction and reality is also a key question to address, not just with Zhu Du’s work, but also with, for instance, the artificial inseminations that Yale student Aliza Shvarts (allegedly) performed on herself for her senior thesis. A pertinent topic, this is.

    Body of Sedition: Yang Zhichao and Art that Hurts
    Alec Johnsson

    Here’s my top 5:

    1. Amores Perros (2000, Mexico). Masterpiece. Three perfect interlocking stories about men and women treating each other like animals, and thereby turning into animals. I actually think Y Tu Mamá También is really overrated; all it’s really about is people having sex and cheating on each other. AP is far more ambitious, complex and fraught with emotion.

    2. City of God (2002, Brazil). Like AP, a textbook example of postmodern filmmaking. Not one time change or subplot is wasted or gratuitous; everything is done in service of the honorable cause of depicting hell on Earth in the slums of Rio. Also has the greatest villain in all of film.

    3. Oldboy (2003, South Korea). The Spike Lee remake is lazy and lifeless. Stick with this one.

    4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007, Romania). Surprised that I haven’t seen this show up in the comments yet; the AV Club did a great write-up on it for their Palme Thursday feature. You don’t need to bludgeon your audience over the head with your opinions to be political; all you need is a really great narrative to show that totalitarianism has no place in society.

    5. Caché (2005, France). Haneke’s best, though The Piano Teacher gives it a run for its money. How many mystery films can you name in which there IS a certain someone who “done it”, but nothing is confirmed and the audience is left to figure it out? Watch that last shot like a hawk.

    The Celebration, A Separation, Amour and Run Lola Run are all solid choices, though, and I’m going to watch Animal Kingdom on Netflix later tonight.

    10 of the Best Foreign Films... Of the Last 15 Years