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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 – Beasts, Beauty, and Wonder

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

Happy 2017 and welcome to another installment of “The Ten Percent,” a regular column – well, last year it was more of a semi-regular column, but we’re resolved to change that, now that one gigantic project is wrapping up. Ahem. Let’s start again . . .

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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: 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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The Ten Percent: Where Scholars Dwell

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

Hello, and welcome to another installment of “The Ten Percent”, a regular column where Ensley F. Guffey and I take turns examining the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. As regular discerning readers of Biff Bam Pop! know, we usually we use this space to discuss a film or television show or comic that gets people talking years or even decades after its premiere. The Ten Percent are the works which stand the test of time, and it’s not a question of genre here in the Ten Percent – slapstick comedy has a place, along with high-toned drama. Quality animation rubs shoulders with science fiction and over there you can find show-stopping musicals chatting with bloody horror. The Ten Percent last because they are high quality productions which demand more of their viewer than simple passive reception.

But this is going to be different for, instead of talking about the show, I’m going to discuss the people. See, there is a small, ferocious band of people known as television scholars. They apply critical theories to television, and they’re not kidding about it. Think of it like this. English literature has scholars. Some of these scholars focus intently on the work of one author – let’s say it’s Charles Dickens.  (Remember that, because we’re going to come back to him.) Now, some Dickens scholars dig into his works to see what can be learned about Victorian society by examining the novels (generally called “texts” in this case), while others look at the texts to discover what can be learned about Marxism, philosophy, the class system of England, teaching itself, and so on – there are a lot of different ways of looking at things.

Television scholars do the same thing, but their “texts” are TV shows, with each episode being the equivalent of a chapter. It’s relatively new (certainly compared to English literature as a field of study!), having only been around for 30 years or so.

While plenty of shows (including The Wire, The Sopranos, and The Simpsons) have been the subject of scholarly works, including graduate theses and doctoral dissertations, the one that is most often the subject of these studies is –

Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

By a long shot.

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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 – Wake Up!

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

Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent! Every two weeks, Ensley F. Guffey and I use this space to take a look at the flip side of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Viewed as a whole, Sturgeon was right –popular culture can be a vast wasteland of bubbling crud – but there is that slim slice of sublime. We’ve used this space to point out the magnificent in genres as diverse as screwball comedy, high-toned drama, quality animation, blood-curdling horror, spectacular science fiction, and more besides. 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.

And not all entries in The Ten Percent need the passage of time to declare their brilliance. The focus on this column is not even a year old yet, but is already a worthy member of The Ten Percent. Creative, sharply written, well-acted, pointed in its satire, and filmed with care, Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is unlike anything else you’re likely to see.

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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 – It’s the Cat’s Pajamas!

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

Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Ten Percent! Every two weeks, Ensley F. Guffey and I use this space to take a look at the inverse of Sturgeon’s Law; in other words, the small portion of everything which is not crud. Viewed as a whole, Sturgeon was right – the vast majority of movies, television, writing, art, and so on really is crud – but there is that slim slice of sublime that makes sifting through the crud endurable.  In this space, we’ve written about slapstick comedy, high-toned drama, quality animation, blood-curdling horror, spectacular science fiction, and more besides. 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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