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Pop Culture Roundup: This Week

American Experience announced today that The Boys of ’36, a new one-hour documentary inspired by Daniel James Brown’s critically acclaimed nonfiction book The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, will premiere Tuesday, August, 2, 2016, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS. The thrilling true story of the American Olympic rowing team that triumphed against all odds in Nazi Germany, The Boys in the Boat is published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The book has been on The New York Timesbestseller list for 95 weeks.

Executive produced by Mark Samels, and produced by Margaret Grossi and Mary Carillo, The Boys of ’36 is the story of nine working-class young men from the University of Washington who took the rowing world and the nation by storm when they captured the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. These sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers overcame tremendous hardships — psychological, physical and economic — to beat not only the Ivy League teams of the East Coast but Adolf Hitler’s elite German rowers. Their unexpected victory, and the obstacles they overcame to achieve it, gave hope to a nation struggling to emerge from the depths of the Depression.

Directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) with blunt authority and unusual respect for historical truth, “Free State of Jones” explores a neglected and fascinating chapter in American history. Mr. Ross consulted some of the leading experts in the era — including Eric Foner of Columbia University, whose “Reconstruction” is the definitive study, and Martha Hodes of New York University, author of a prizewinning study of interracial sexuality in the 19th-century South — and has done a good job of balancing the factual record with the demands of dramatic storytelling. The result is a riveting visual history lesson, whose occasional didacticism is integral to its power.

First, there is the obvious “white savior” motif, which others have already noted.

In the book Bynum remarks, “At best, Newton Knight became a primeval Robin Hood, a kind of Anglo-Saxon Noble Savage.” But in the film there are also tired flashes of the Tarzan narrative: a white man who, dropped into a jungle, masters it better than the natives.

For instance when Newt is delivered to a swamp encampment of runaway slaves, the runaways are eating whatever they can, making fires in the hollows of trees and sleeping on the ground and in the open. By the time Newt leaves the swamp, he has grown and armed the encampment, built shelters, ambushed soldiers, organized feasts of roasted pig and corn and, as Rachel put it, he even “grew crops in a swamp.”

Newt conquered the swamp in a way the runaway slaves never had.

Second, there is little space in the film for righteous black rage and vengeance, but plenty for black humor and conciliation. After Moses, one of the runaways from the swamp, is lynched after registering blacks to vote, Newt gives his eulogy, remarking: “The man had so many reasons to be full of hate, and yet he never was. That, Lord, is one of your greatest miracles.” This is too often the way people want to think of black folks in the wake of trauma: as magically, transcendently merciful and spiritually restrained.

But perhaps the most disturbing feature of the film is the near erasure of slavery altogether and the downplaying of slave rape in particular to further a Shakespearean love story.

Twenty-five years ago this summer, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America premiered in the tiny Eureka Theatre in San Francisco’s Mission District. Within two years it had won the Pulitzer Prize and begun a New York run that would dominate the Tony Awards two years in a row, revitalize the nonmusical play on Broadway, and change the way gay lives were represented in pop culture. Both parts of Angels, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, put gay men at the center of American politics, history, and mythology at a time when they were marginalized by the culture at large and dying in waves. It launched the careers of remarkable actors and directors, not to mention the fiercely ambitious firebrand from Louisiana who wrote it—and rewrote it, and rewrote it, and rewrote it again. Its 2003 HBO adaptation was itself a masterpiece that won more Emmys than Roots. But the play also financially wiped out the theater that premiered it; it endured casting and production tumult at every stage of development, from Los Angeles to London to Broadway; its ambitious, sprawling two-part structure tested the endurance of players, technicians, and audiences. Slate talked to more than 50 actors, directors, playwrights, and critics to tell the story of Angels’ turbulent ascension into the pantheon of great American storytelling—and to discuss the legacy of a play that feels, in an era in which gay Americans have the right to marry but still in many ways live under siege, as crucial as ever.

Before Edward Perkowski was arrested for hoarding assault rifles, he is believed to have been uploading pro-Hitler EDM tracks as ‘DJ Ghost of the Reich.’ Jungle beats hypnotically hammer as Hitler’s words flash across the screen: “I shall annihilate everyone who is opposed to me.” In this music video, the track’s heavy baseline pulsates, and instantly, you’re flying above a bombed-out Berlin circa 1945. A high-pitched voice booms: “Set the level, keep it rockin.’” Cut to an extreme closeup of the führer himself—his unblinking, beady eyes gazing at the horizon, shadowed by his visor cap. More German rants as mortars burst.

Welcome to war trance. It’s a frightening underground marriage of Electronic Dance music (EDM) and White Power music (WPM).

In “The Dead Don’t Bleed,” [David] Krugler, a professor of history at UW-Platteville, uses his wealth of historical knowledge to craft a high-stakes thriller set in 1945 starring a young naval officer investigating a murder in Washington, D.C., and perhaps protecting the free world from nuclear destruction….

"The material that proved most helpful was collected for my book 'This is Only a Test: How Washington D.C. Prepared for Nuclear War' (2006). I had a lot of primary sources, a lot of historical documents left over from that book, and I mined it to get all of these details of time and place and to build atmosphere."

A 12-foot giant, his unhuman features oddly familiar (almost homely, after two screen decades colonised by combat-ready orcs) wheels around a wintry courtyard, wondering at the thicket of arrow shafts now wound around his torso. He stops, sways somewhat, and falls, dead. So Wun Wun the Wilding met his doom in The Battle of the Bastards, the penultimate episode of this season of Game of Thrones.

One casualty which, with countless others in the scenes before and after, might have a claim to a place in history, apparently. “The most fully realised medieval battle we’ve ever seen on the small screen (if not the big one too)”, is the breathless verdict from The Independent.

As a full-time historian of the other Middle Ages – Europe’s, every bit as feuding and physical as the Seven Kingdoms but with better weather – I am struck by the irony that Martin’s mock-medieval world might now be seen to set the bar for authenticity. There’s no doubt that for much of screen’s first century, medieval was the Cinderella era: overlooked, patronised and pressed into service for clumsy stage-adaptations, musical comedy and children. But over the past two decades – almost from the moment that Marsellus fired the line in Pulp Fiction (1994) – we have been “getting medieval” more and more.

Before “Hamilton,” there was “Oklahoma!” — the first Broadway blockbuster.
When it opened in 1943, it represented the first of a new genre, the musical play, in which songs, written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, advance the script.

One partner in that songwriting team, Richard Rodgers, was born on this day [June 28] in 1902.

Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II went on to become a dominant force on Broadway. Rodgers wrote more than 40 Broadway musicals — nearly half of which were made into films — and 900 songs, including “Getting to Know You” and “My Favorite Things.”
More than 500,000 copies of the original cast recording for “Oklahoma!” — which included “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” — were sold. (“Hamilton” has sold about the same number).

A $20,000 investment in “Oklahoma!” eventually received a return of about $6.5 million. By 1975, 60 productions of the play were underway in the U.S. and abroad.