Author Archives: Ensley F. Guffey

The Ten Percent: The Great Escape (1963)

the-great-escape-poster

Original poster for The Great Escape, 1963.

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Welcome back to “The Ten Percent,” a regular column where every other week K. Dale Koontz and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. So many films premiere each year, but only a very few are remembered and revered years later. That’s not a matter of genre – the Ten Percent is a big tent, with plenty of room for comedy, drama, horror, animation, musical, science fiction and many more. But admission into the tent is not easy to come by. Films in this category last because they are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception.

Before I talk about why 1963’s The Great Escape belongs in the Ten Percent, it’s worth taking the time to point out the film’s flaws. First, neither bicycles nor motorcycles were used in the 1943 escape from Stalag Luft III. Second, the “Great Escape” of 76 Allied POWs took place in unseasonably cold weather during one of the worst winters seen in Eastern Poland in 30 years. Third, there were no Americans among the escapees who were mostly British and Canadian. Finally, there was never any regulation which stated that Allied prisoners were duty-bound to attempt to escape. In fact, many, perhaps most, American and British POWs were generally leery of escape attempts.

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The Ten Percent: MST3K

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“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Hello, and welcome back for another installment of “The Ten Percent”, the bi-weekly column here at Biff Bam Pop! where K. Dale Koontz and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law (quoted above) and examine the cultural productions that fall in that elusive 10% of things that are not crud. The Ten Percent is the place where all of the films, TV shows, comics, novels, visual arts, etc. that stand the test of time live. These are the things that are not forgotten, and continue to inspire us generation after generation and decade after decade.

Yet the 90% is comprised of a hell of a lot of (generally forgettable) stuff, and in the modern era, more and more of it has been and is being preserved for some theoretical posterity. In a way, the crud becomes grist for the larger cultural mill, and that means that – in theory at least – it should be possible to take some of the 90% and transform it into a part of the Ten Percent. This is exactly what Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) did from 1988 – 1999, and threatens to do once again when it returns in 2017 with a new season and a cast featuring geek royalty Patton Oswalt and Felicia Day.
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The Ten Percent: Wonder Woman, 1941 – 2016

75-years-of-wonder-woman

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Hello, and welcome to another installment of “The Ten Percent,” a regular column where every other week K. Dale Koontz and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Remember, for each film or television show that gets people talking years or even decades after its premiere, there are hundreds of others that peeked out just once and then (thankfully) disappeared. Those are the 90%, but the remaining Ten Percent are the works that stand the test of time.

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The Ten Percent: M (1931)

1931 German poster for Fritz Lang's M.

1931 German poster for Fritz Lang’s M.

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Hello and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent, a regular column here on Biff Bam Pop! where every other week K. Dale Koontz and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the ten percent of everything which is not crud. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that for each film or television show that gets people talking years after its premiere, there are hundreds of others that barely cleared the horizon before being (thankfully) shot down. The works that soar above the rest – well, those are the works that stand the test of time. The Ten Percent last for two reasons: (1) they are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception and (2) they somehow manage to capture something fleeting and rare and preserve it for the lucky viewing public.

Fritz Lang’s M (1931) fulfills both of these criteria, and then some. The scene is late 1920s Berlin, a city supposedly gripped by fear in the wake of a series of brutal child murders (and, it is intimated, horrific sexual assault). The police are working overtime, and using the latest techniques in criminal investigation, including fingerprints, handwriting analysis, and an early form of psychological profiling – all to no avail. They are also “rounding up the usual suspects,” conducting raid after raid on known criminal hangouts and operations. Yet the killer remains uncaught. More than the first police procedural (which it is), or the first serial killer film (which it also is), M is a portrait and condemnation of German society in the late Weimar Republic.

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The Ten Percent: The Best Man (1964)

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Promotional poster for The Best Man, 1964.

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

It’s the summer of 2016, which means it’s Convention season in the good ol’ US of A. From Cleveland, OH to Philadelphia, PA, Americans are… looking online the day afterwards to see what happened at last night’s convention. Seriously, who does these things on weeknights? No one’s got time for that. Well, here at the Ten Percent, we thought we’d get into the swing of things by talking about an incredible, thoughtful, and still relevant film called The Best Man (1964). Starring Henry Fonda as Adlai Stevenson-esque William Russell and Cliff Robertson as late-fifties/early-sixties Richard Nixon-wannabe Joe Cantwell, The Best Man takes place during the convention for a thinly disguised Democratic Party.

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Ensley F. Guffey Reacts to Captain America: Steve Rogers #1

 Cover for Steve Rogers: Captain America #1. Art by Jesus Saiz.

Cover for Steve Rogers: Captain America #1. Art by Jesus Saiz.

I don’t usually write about superhero comics, or add my two cents to the internet outrages, controversies, and speculations that the comic book industry produces like Campbell’s makes soup, but I think this might be a good time to make an exception. Biff Bam Pop! readers may know that I’m something of a Captain America fan from my two-part look at Cap and historical memory, which you can read here and here. What you may not know is that these days, the only comics I collect are Our Army at War/Sgt. Rock, and Captain America. Those are the only two titles that will never be sold and replaced with trades, or donated to a library book sale, or whatever, that I bag and board using archival materials, and that I occasionally take Smaug-like glee over just possessing. I also occasionally like to take a pile of them out of their bags and curl up and binge-read them, reveling in the smell of old comics, looking at the ads, old-school lettercols, back matter, backup stories, etc. – you know, enjoy them as comic books.

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Biff Bam Pop’s It’s All Connected – Just a Kid from Brooklyn: Captain America, American Memories of World War II, and the MCU, Part II

 

Splash page from The Ultimates #1, 2002. Script by Mark Millar, art by Bryan Hitch.

Splash page from The Ultimates #1, 2002. Script by Mark Millar, art by Bryan Hitch.

In the first part of this essay, I briefly sketched the construction of American memories of World War II that began slightly before the war and continue into the 21st century. In many ways the war has become a defining part of American identity, and the dominant, triumphal memory narrative we have created about it serves to elevate American participation in the war almost to the level of the sacred, and certainly to the realm of the simple black and white, good v. evil duality that is much more comforting than any messy and contradictory reality might be. The character of Steve Rogers/Captain America is one of the more perfect cultural artifacts to illustrate this process of memory construction, and the ways in which counter-memories, which challenge the dominant narrative, inevitably influence the national mythology.

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The Ten Percent: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

lawrence-of-arabia-poster (1)

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Hello and welcome back to “The Ten Percent,” a regular column here on Biff Bam Pop! where every other week K. Dale Koontz and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the ten percent of everything which is not crud. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that for each film or television show that gets people talking years after its premiere, there are hundreds of others that barely cleared the horizon before being (thankfully) shot down. The works that soar above the rest – well, those are the works that stand the test of time. Regular readers of “The Ten Percent” will note that, sometimes, particular creators seem to have a talent for producing such works. Lately I’ve given in to my slight obsession with one such, director David Lean.

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The Ten Percent: Now and Then, Here and There (1999 – 2000)

Poster for Now and Then, Here and There.

Poster for Now and Then, Here and There.

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Hello and welcome to another installment of “The Ten Percent,” a regular column here on Biff Bam Pop! where every other week K. Dale Koontz and I take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the ten percent of everything which is not crud. Sometimes it can be hard to remember that for each film or television show that gets people talking years after its premiere, there are hundreds of others that barely cleared the horizon before being (thankfully) shot down. The works that soar above the rest – well, those are the works that stand the test of time. And don’t be fooled into thinking that genre matters to the Ten Percent – slapstick comedy is in here, along with science fiction, animation, bloody horror, toe-tapping musicals, and more. The Ten Percent last for two reasons: (1) they are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception and (2) they somehow manage to capture something fleeting and rare and preserve it for the lucky viewing public.

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The Ten Percent: Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Poster - Doctor Zhivago_02

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon

Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent! Every two weeks, K. Dale Koontz and I use this space to take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law — the small portion of everything which is not crud. Sturgeon was right, of course. The vast majority of movies, television, writing, and art is crud, eminently forgettable and ultimately irrelevant, but there is always that tiny slice of the sublime. In this space, we’ve talked about comedy, drama, animation, horror, science fiction, musicals, and more. We get to do that because the Ten Percent isn’t limited by genre – these rare gems last because they are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception.

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