Things we like: February 2014

Our monthly round-up of long-form stories that have got the Mosaic team thinking.

Here There Be Alligators (The Feature)

In the rivers and swamps of Mississippi, something huge lurks below the surface: alligators! This piece explores the who, why, what, where and when of alligator hunting. We thought this was an interesting subject, but wondered if this piece dug deeply enough, particularly into the ethical issues. Does it  have enough of a sense of purpose or a defined story arc – and does that matter? One thing we did like were the info boxes in the piece, which gave us a good understanding of the art of alligator trapping.

A Toast Story (Pacific Standard)

One of those pieces in which the real story turns out to be different from the one you start reading. What is the benefit of the story-of-the-story as a frame? Is it about ratcheting up the tension as you try to understand what the piece is about? Drawing in the reader gradually until they are hooked without realising? Or does it simply add another level to a pretty straightforward tale? We also discussed why a writer might put him- or herself into a piece. In this case, is it to boost the veracity of the story, or just a device to try and add interest?

Junk Head 1

A Japanese artist spent his spare time over four years making the animated film Junk Head 1, and it’s stunning. Set in a future where genetic aberrations scurry about in underground caverns, the story is told through the eyes of a human who’s exploring this unfamiliar world for the first time himself.

Bad Blood (Matter)

Since their move to Medium, Matter have been republishing their stories, which are now free. This gave us another chance to enjoy Will Storr’s account of the death of Alexander Litvinenko, folding the science of radioactivity into a pulsating tale of Russian spies and political intrigue.

Never Forget (GQ)

This account of the Khmer Rouge is not an easy read and contains some extremely graphic content. It prompted us to consider the ethics of re-telling historical stories, particularly when the writer has no direct personal link to the original event. Why has the writer included his own story within this piece? When, if ever, is graphic content too graphic? What can re-telling an already well-known story hope to achieve?

The Titicut Follies

Our filmmaker Barry rediscovered this film when looking through the history of documentary storytelling. Fred Wiseman is considered to be one of the greats. His style essentially started what we now know as observational documentary. The Titicut Follies (trailer below) was made in a time before such films existed, and caused a sensation. Winning awards in some counties, but banned in others, it instigated widespread change to the mental health system in the USA.

JFK (New York Times)

Back in November 2013, the New York Times published this short film by Errol Morris to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death. Like most of Morris’ films, this focuses on historical events, told through extensive interviews with ‘witnesses’. The director manages to craft these interviews, along with archive footage and music, into exceptional stories. There’s an earlier companion piece made for the 48th anniversary, The Umbrella Man.

What have you been reading recently? Do share in the comments.