LE RéPERTOIRE

Once More Without Feeling!

Posted in Festival Circuit, film, Rave by Joie on January 25, 2009
Zooey Deschanel/Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Zooey Deschanel/Joseph Gordon-Levitt

With Sundance closing its curtains, the crowd-pleasing premiere of Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer, starring indie darlings, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel (a festival regular and go-to-muse) marked the first stop on our 162 days to the film’s release on July 24. Ironically publicized as “not a love story,” and decked with linguistic magnets like “postmodern” and “indie,” this Fox Searchlight soon-to-be hit solidly caters to the lofty expectations of its vintage-groomed fans. Teaser already displays all the self-incriminating evidence:

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While most reviewers have found the Morgan Freemanish narration to be irritating, mechanically heralding “500 Days of Summer” at least 4 times (discounting subliminal echoes), I view this gesture by whoever made this trailer to be a giddy, uproarious send-up to the frothy romantic inquiries of Jean-Luc Godard, whose political ambitions were better explored in his earlier studies of male-female relationships as doomed transactions between need and desire, tedium and escape, Marx and Coca-Cola. Before embarking on his iconic Breathless, Godard was head of PR at Twentieth Century Fox’s Paris office for two years. No wonder he was so meticulous when it came to his future ad campaigns: leaving behind a unmistakable fingerprint on every poster printed and every teaser shown. Witness the assault of primary colors dropped on the viewer in the much iconic preview to Contempt, lead by an equally bold duet of voices listing all those moments one demands from art cinema: an unfulfilled caress, a forlorn glance, a cameo by Fritz Lang, and by default, those same qualities found in the budding business of trailers-as-art: black intertitles w/flashing words, and random clips from the feature film. Spot something similar?

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Much credit must be given to the lost heritage of 60s and 70s advertisements produced in the post-studio-system Hollywood, characterized by a stoic, fatherly voice-of-God inviting us to view the latest gritty entry of urban corruption and social unrest. Repeating the title of the film excessively with in-between montages consisting of purely outrageous scenes, pins the perfect mental memo for any moviegoer who wants to have his camp and eat it too. With the corninest of strategy and the best of focus-group psychology, how could anyone fall into the cracks of amnesia? Most of these enduring titles also happen to be in the new classics canon including West Side Story, Don’t Look Now, Strawdogs, and Klute.

Circling back to 300 Days, why the anachronistic homage to a forgotten practice, distancing your core audience with the most “annoying” of marketing weaponry, when kids these days are more prone to easy breezy wit over heavy meta in-joke? Given the sums of money Fox Searchlight poured into their yearly investments, it’s almost granted that the trailer acts as an invitation to the film’s reportedly unconventional time-skipping structure, a disciplinary device to assuage familiarity through readymade musical popcoctions, and what a hypnotic song–-Sweet Disposition by Australian band Temper Trap—is, washing away the initial discomfort with a Greatest-Hits reel of contemporary rom-com’s triad of affections and affectations: boy, girl, photogenic city. Last year: Nick and Norah’s NYC, Micah and Jo’s San Francisco. This year’s crime-free lovers’ spot: Tom and Summer’s Los Angeles.

As a sidenote, we will be returning to the indefinable figure of the Indie Darling, a kept creature of her times, from Anna Karina to Zooey Deschanel. In a future post, spurred by an unsatisfactory aftertaste of Andzrej Wajda’s New Wave feature, Innocent Sorcerers, we hope to dig not deeper behind the surface, but let that surface says something about our investigation. For those of you who have seen this film, keep those thoughts in mind.

Repeat as Needed: Love and Death in Grey’s Anatomy

Posted in Television by Meg on January 18, 2009
Bataille's Erotism and Sandra Oh's "Ohh"

Bataille's Erotism and Sandra Oh's "Ohh"

“Eroticism is assenting to life even in death.”

– Georges Bataille

“Have you ever had mindblowing sex, the kind of sex that makes you just want to DIE?”

– Izzie Stevens to Cristina Yang, Grey’s Anatomy 5×10

Ahh it feels good to be back.   For our religious followers, you already know that after the Grey’s Anatomy Dogville finale of last season, I have jumped back on board the medical drama’s bandwagon.  I have renewed my addiction to the show, unfortunately (or fortunately?) for reasons based on comedic moments and fruitful interpretations of the unbelievably ridiculous story lines, instead of the original merits of the show.  As the season continues after its winter break, I thought it would be appropriate to do a mid-season recap on the thematic depths Crossroads-writer/Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes has delved into these past 12 episodes.  Might I say that Ms. Rhimes did not reach her peak in this season when borrowing a little melodrama from the Danes.

When the show began in 2005, the initial premise was to create a medical drama that emphasized the relationships amongst the characters as opposed to the actual medicine and surgeries.  As described in an initial review of the show by the New York Times, Grey’s Anatomy was to be an ER meets Sex and the City show, without veering to close to the romance-based General Hospital or the purposely extreme Nip/Tuck.  The introductory scene of the show set the tone as it illustrated the typical “Morning After” scene with boy and girl awkwardly saying goodbye, with Rilo Kiley’s Portions for Foxes playing in the background.  Introducing itself as the un-medical medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy opened its doors to a little more cushion to stretch the believability of stories the show decided to tackle.  Attendings sleeping with interns?  No problem.  Booty calls in the on-call room as quintuplets stand on the brink of life and death nearby?  Bring it on.  By setting a show in a medical environment, the testing waters between life and death will always be present.  Given its specific premise, these matters of life and death that occur weekly with the given patients of the week are paralleled with the love lives of the show’s doctors.

For the most part due to the definition of love and passion provided by the popular rom coms out there, the search for love and its final attainment revolves around life.  Fresh flowers, birds chirping, clouds parting to allow sun to shine.  However, Grey’s Anatomy takes a different approach.  Seminary dropout-turned archivist/philosopher Georges Bataille discussed that it is not beaming life that is present with sex, but rather death.  To Bataille, true eroticism exists only though the ultimate attainment of some kind of death.  Now in its fifth season, Grey’s Anatomy has decided to test the boundaries it set with its previous four seasons by truly focusing on this single thematic relationship of passion and death.

First, there is the storyline causing the most ranting, so much so that ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson had to publicly defend it: the Izzie and Denny storyline.  It is not enough that Denny appears to toy with Izzie’s heart.  The show takes the ultimate leap by giving Izzie the opportunity to consummate her relationship with her dead fiance.  Death is no longer an obstacle for this relationship.  If anything, judging Izzie’s conversation with Christina about a “kind of sex that makes you just want to die” and the noises from Izzie’s bedroom that caused McDreamy to ask “Who’s making a porno in Izzie’s room?,” death does a body good.

Izzie and Denny, 5x08

Izzie and Denny, Grey's Anatomy 5x08

Second, there are the nicknames of characters and couplings, both born in the show and within the fan forums, that are death related.  There’s Meredith as “Death” and Sadie as “Die.”  There’s also the phonetic similarity between the death-related term “murder” and the fan-created shipper term for the coupling of Meredith and Derek, “MerDer,” that cannot be ignored.

“Pick Me. Choose Me. Love Me.”

Lastly, there is the show’s use of repetition for dramatic effect in any scene pivotal in a given relationship.  Each “I care about you”, “Teach me”, or “I love you.  I freakin’ love you, ” is repeated with fervor, stabbing the recipient of the words until they succumb to the loving, pleasure-filled pain.  A new, positive meaning is brought to the phrase “beating a dead horse.”

“I care about you. I care about you. I care about you.”

“Teach Me. Teach Me. Teach Me.”

In an act of approval for his choice of Meredith as partner, Mama Shepherd in the most recent episode tells her son, McDreamy, in the most recent episode, “You see things in black and white.  Meredith doesn’t.  You need a spoonful of that.”  With ghost sex story lines and dramatic repetitions of love proclamations, Grey’s Anatomy has illustrated that the existence of love within life and death is not black and white, but Grey.

A Brother From Another Planet?

Posted in film, Rant, Uncategorized by Jen on January 14, 2009

the_little_prince

About sixty years ago, Antoine de Saint Exupery created a fantasy in which a Little Prince hopped from planet to planet in his search for happiness. Much more recently, another member of the royal enclave (the king of pop) was engaged in a different kind of meandering: race hopping. From black to white, Michael Jackson not only traveled in his own life, but also in the diegetic world of his video clip “Black or White”. Whereas the Little Prince promised to never forget what he learned from a fox he had domesticated, Michael Jackson seems to have forgotten what every member of the imaginary royalty should know: the tenet that “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”. “Black or white” opens with an aerial shot of the suburb and home that we will later familiarize with, hence introducing us to the space as coming from the sky. The departure of the hopping and exploration of the diverse worlds that inhabit Planet Earth (as opposed to the diverse planets that compose our universe) is a white middle class suburban home, which sets the norm of our reality. In this home, the father, mother and son seem to have assumed primary psychic roles, which become reversed when the son blasts off his father to the other side of the world. The repressive patriarchal authority, in contrast with the Little Prince, is transported against his will to a world of Otherness. His voyage, in turn, leads the audience to a different double journey: that of the King of Pop walking from frame to frame into stereotypically depicted cultures, and that of Michael’s own real life travel, from blackness to whiteness. This double journey, as the images that compose the video indicate, takes on certain implications about racial difference and its importance in terms of white supremacy.

THE MUSIC VIDEO IN QUESTION:

The representation of a number of diverse racial groups is what makes this video so unique. However, these representations are fraught with a “flawed mimesis” (Stam and Spence 881), stereotypes, and a certain colonial sensibility. In the introduction to his book Orientalism, Edward Said claims that the presence of a division, “as both geographical and cultural entities […] sectors as “Orient” and “Occident” are man-made” (5) By extension, I would like to argue that the video “Black or White” creates several imaginary geographies, adjudicating to each one a stereotypical image that when placed opposite whiteness can be redefined to mean ‘otherness’. This project becomes apparent during the first racial representation, that of the African Natives. The scantily clad men in painted faces are about to kill an animal, responding to their savage and primitive calling. However, out of nowhere, they begin dancing with Michael in a highly choreographed manner. He is within them, trying to blend his difference by yelling a guttural sound, but failing as his western clothing denounces him. Through the attempt to erase difference but by highly stereotyping the natives, the image is then in crisis: the imaginary African continent and its people as a locus of otherness conflicts with the blurring of the distinction with whiteness, because according to his own words “it don’t matter if you’re black or white”.

Enter the eroticized Asian female. These women move in perfect unison, wearing oriental outfits and moving in constrained and very slight movements, as they portray the essence of the truly feminine, “passive, subservient, dependent” (Marchetti 115). The male gaze within the diegetic world not only complicates this representation in terms of race, but also in terms of gender, as these women become highly sexualized racial bodies. As he continues to screen hop, Michael encounters the far West, with its Indians in red face and cowboys that shoot guns without a purpose. Herein lies an invocation to the most racially troublesome genre of American culture: the western. Michael interacts with the Indians like he belongs, and nobody looks at him any different, despite the long withstanding antagonistic relationship between whites and native Americans set up by westerns such as The Searchers (John Ford, 1956).

Another locus of erasure of racial differences is Michael’s encounter with a traditionally clad Hindu woman, dancing in the middle of the streets of an industrialized India. The imaginary absence of borders manifests itself through the action and setting, as their dancing nonchalance suggest that, contrary to reality, the middle of a well-populated street is removed from dangers.

Many parallels run through these representations of the diverse cultures. Firstly, Michael seems to blend with the ones who accompany him in the frame, even though he leaps out of the screen for the audiences who see him as different. Secondly, he seems to be able to adapt quite well to each race through dance, which suggests his dexterity in the art of bodily adaptation and race hopping. Nevertheless, this argument becomes more complicated when taking into account the last stop on his diegetic culture trip: the Russian white Cossacks. This particular segment is the only one he can complete in its entirety and in perfect unison with his screen partners. This feat suggests perfect harmony with his fellow white dancers, inducting him, according to the video’s discourse, into The ‘Hall of Whiteness’. The white snowflakes falling only add to the sentiment of absence of color that permeates the screen.1banner
Furthermore, as the scene converts into a snow globe, a small hand holds it in its grasp. The camera pulls back to reveal a white baby sitting on top of the world, who right in front of a black infant shakes the snow globe that has captured Michael’s reality. Almost like a justification, these two babies are evocative of the Clark Doll Study, an experiment which asked children to choose between a white and a black doll in terms of their preference. Just as the study reveals, and as Michael represents, whiteness equals desirability. This not-so-novel discovery as a result of white supremacy explains why the snow globe resides on the white baby’s hand, conferring him and agency the black baby cannot have. The white baby is, in this world of binary divisions, the one that gets to hold the globe. The exposure of this experiment almost validates Michael’s escape from blackness, but also endorses the idea of whiteness as the top of the food chain, or literally in this video, as the agent in control on top of the world.

The same can be said about Michael’s trip to the flame of the Statue of Liberty. His positioning on top of one of the tallest structures of the world reinforces his status of privilege as a white male, but also stands as an emblem of the Ellis Island culture, that of the American Dream. In the United States, the land of possibilities, one can become whoever he or she wants to be. America becomes the place of dreams and reinvented identities, a space where most fantasies can become a reality because of that ‘freedom’.

It would seem that only white people are in the privileged position to say that skin color does not matter. “I’m not going to spend my life being a color”, he sings, mainly meaning that the prism by which we should evaluate people is not race, but equality. However, the suggestion of the erasure of color leads us to conjecture that whiteness is the ideal. Michael, occupying his throne near the crown of the Statue of Liberty, asserts this statement through more than his lyrics. His costume choice for this video becomes an interesting one to analyze: a white shirt, paired with black pants. If we were to deconstruct it, we would find that the whiteness of his outfit resides on top of the black, signaling the order of hierarchy of race, but also occupies the top portion of his body, the one valued because of intellect and reason, while the black one covers the bottom half, the portion that contains the genitalia and is often associated with the sexualized and the primitive. We can see this clothing choice as a reflection of cultural stereotypes: the rational and civilized white is above the primitive and hypersexualized black. Being that this is a video to try to disavow racial stereotypes and racial differences, the clothing selection surfaces as a huge oversight, or a fraught choice.

Whereas this video was released to repudiate certain racist accusations towards Michael Jackson, the image tells us a different story. Even though the video promises to challenge ruling discursive assumptions about race, it ends up reaffirming the status quo of white supremacy. The morphing of the faces that ends the musical portion of the video, as well as the transformation of Michael’s face through plastic surgery manipulation seems to suggest that the King of Pop is not looking to join the Little Prince on his quest of returning to the Earth to live happily ever after. Instead, it seems that he has reached the point of no return, and as his hopping from identity to identity progresses, his highly morphed body better suits a space within this galaxy, but out of this world.

Works Cited
Marchetti, Gina. Romance and the “Yellow Peril”: Race, Sex and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Said, Edward. Orientalism. 1978. 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Random House, 1994.

Stam, Robert and Louise Spence. “Colonialism, Racism an Representation: An Introduction” in Film: Psychology, Ideology, and Technology. Ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. 6th Ed. New York : Oxford University Press, 2004. pp 877-891.