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:
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?
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.
Better famously known through its abridged snippets scattered among the master theses and PhD dissertations in collegiate dungeons around the world, the Ur-essay of all aesthetic manifestos still retains is ever mystical aura. A perpetually renewable source of enlightenment, Walter Benjamin, as pop historian Howard Hampton, rightfully notes, “has become become a convenient, all-points totem, one who blessing and validation are sought through the offerings of a host of supplicants…in this shopworn, once-upon-a-time-academe form, he stands for an indivisible synthesis of blissful disenchantment and unshaken theoretical faith.” Despite Benjamin’s dying belief that the age of Fascist fetishization has passed, that we should acquire a richer visual literacy unfettered by commerce and prestige, he couldn’t have imagined the marketing battle between publishing rivals for his 1935’s “Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility (a second, much longer variant from the famous, widely circulating first edition, “…Age of Mechanical Reproduction).
Two editions released and refurnished this year, conspicuously with dissimilar translations in each, but ultimately (over)determined by their physical allure, their pulpy facade vulnerably exposed to the discerning consumer. Which book will be adopted, which book will be put to sleep in the inventory storeroom?
Intellectually-speaking, means I’m here for the “official” version (the right side, by Harvard University Press), this newly extended essay (“Reproducibility”) ventures into more prodigious discussion of film as a medium that can liberate art from its confined spaces to even more confining spaces, from museums to bedrooms, from Dennis Hopper to Joe the Plumber. Despite its fawning, tasteful cover, I’m sold only because it will bear me future fruits of critical rigor, as it attempts to say something about the insidious nature of repetition with the floating cartoon heads of the dead Frankfurt bookworm. Thanks to Kevin from HUP for pointing out that the cover art was an original from Ralph Steadman, known for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson.
To the left side is something else altogether, a dilapidated curiosity shop that rings true to its title, a familiar version, like a baby blanket, I’ve encountered so many times in all my undergraduate classes. Yet, it keeps me coming for more, with the outside matching the thematic aspirations of its insides. Radical to the end, old-fashioned only by appearance, the design (for “Reproduction”) captures the author as a brand, the modern equivalent of aura, a work of art itself thanks to the printing revolution. Replicating the experience of reading itself, as the same book is multiplied in the mind as many, the trompe-l’oeil of a cover unveils the material act of holding a book, with its stubborn dimensions and the endless row of spines awaiting at the library shelves. It thrives on minimalist simplicity and renews the reader’s interest in the cosmopolitan writer’s prismatic observations, contradictory projections, and his weary, utopian voice, alive through the incantation of reading, albeit still full of glory and melancholy.
Like many unsung anti-heroes of any industry, the cover designer’s work exhibits the same fate as Poe’s purloined letter, open to the world, but everyone only noticing the “author,” (the director) the one whose existence rests on a prominent name, horizontally slashed on the surface. The success of one does not mark the success of the other, but the failure of either will lead both to the trenches of obscurity. In a parallel manner, taking a quick browse through the Criterion Collection yields an even more difficult decision. Since the auteur mantle is already a given, the real question lies in the search for the other auteur, literally, the winning poster child on the DVD.
In this post, my initial interest of these two books, sharing the same author, but lacking identical appeal, will now funnel down to a self-motivated promotion of graphic extraordinaire, industry-secret typographer, David Pearson, who is the executive designer of the Penguin Classic branch, which includes this new edition of Benjamin’s essay in novella form as part of their GREAT IDEAS series. Surgically beautifying the so-called masterworks of literature, Pearson may have already carved his own legacy among the great morticians of cultural remains.
FIRST HATER POST, oh the carnage
It seems futile to barricade the top ten lists of 2008 from the inspirational puppy-dog-eyes of the Hollywood/Bollywood brainchild, Slumdog Millionaire, another lucrative product from the folks who have succeeded, much like the Disney Channel, to clone a progeny of audience favorites (Juno, Little Miss Sunshine), which makes the job of any ghost reviewer easier by dutifully proclaim “It’s this year’s _______.” When all the independent sidearms of the top studios have been liquidated to only a footnote in history, Fox Searchlight endures as it funds and buys out the better-tested of the best, safety features, that is. Radical risk-taking isn’t exactly part of the mission statement of the company, and their acquisitions have come to mirror each other in tonality and predictability, in which those legal last rites of the rolling credits should be appended to “All characters are purely fictional and frictionless.”
With the announcement from the National Board of Review that Slumdog Millionaire is supposedly the BEST FRAKKIN’ FILM of the Year, a no-surprise shrug was my first reaction, followed by an angry realization that a smug shutter would suffice instead. Sharing Meg’s initial and permanent assessment of our screening at Telluride, Slumdog’s only salvageable virtue lies in its ingenuity to wed MIA’s gangbang hum-a-thon, “Paper Planes” into the movie’s soundtrack, after a gleeful sham marriage of a teaser from Pineapple Express. Not once of course, but twice, including a DFA remix of the song, in a subsequent lull moment after a frenetic montage of the brothers’ joyous robberies aboard a luxury train across India, keep those Marc Jacobs’ limited edition LV trunks close to you at all times. Otherwise, the film suffers not from ADD, in threading together the lead character’s rags-to-riches flashbacks with utmost pandemonium editing, but OCD, carefully cleaning up the beautiful mess with a single-minded goal to get the boy his girl, these damaged goods are back together at last.
With the majority of its defenders celebrating its lush, odorous in-your-face imagery of contemporary India coupled with a national fable of upward mobility both idealized and envied, how could a small minority of critics muster their intellectual weaponry at such a PC crowd-pleaser of a tale of two cities, Mumbai, loud and dangerous, recent Terrorist events have only reinforce the social reality of racial tensions, and Mumbai, ambitious, modern, and Western-friendly, recent retaliation to the attacks have also indicated. The only offensive line of reasoning would lead to nowhere but the emotional indifference that possessed me at the time of my viewing, an unimpressive impression. With the exception of the MIA song that highjacked my feet off the ground, this Bollywood-lite musical was made for those who don’t really want to see a full-blown Bollywood spectacle nor the American epic poems of the 50s or 60s, their length and majesty truncated for the 120-min threshold of the action thriller. Australia falls on the other end, too much with too little to say.
With the DGA deciding its next saint coming early 2009, Danny Boyle may find himself accepting that honor and delivering what his auteur admirers would find consistently fitting into a future retrospective, but for me, Mr. Boyle is basically paying back Fox Seachlight the loan he borrowed for his flopped pet project, Sunshine, a sci-fi rumination on human-termite existence. Perhaps, one could fault this no-holds-bar acceptance of Slumdog as a cultural symptom of our downtrodden times, when happy endings sloppily hemmed together stand for larger wish fulfillments of a quick-bailout kind, from the government, or from media giants that finance get-rich schemes like “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”.
Has 2008 begotten such an impoverished roster of cinematic candidates that we must crown a pauper in place of a prince?
UPDATE: As much as I despise Slumdog Millionaire, discovering that Paste Magazine awarded its top prize, in a bold, but deeply calculated move, to Nandita Das’s Firaaq is equally distressing. I prefer the inauthentic audacity of the former over the authentic affectations of the latter. Please, has the same plague afflicting the Academy in 2005, when Crash triumphantly crashed Brokeback party, returned in a more menacing form? Say it aint so.
“ALL I WANNA DO…is take your money” YES, so close your wallet and watch this clip, IT IS THE MOVIE.
Yesterday, on Good Morning America, during Britney’s performance of her new single, “Circus,” also the title of the latest effort to reboot her career, I notice the familiar tune of Nino Rota’s score for Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) as the opening and closing bookends for the song. Transporting us to some carnivalesque wonderland because you know…Fellini/Rota equals garish circus freaks and a barely sweating ringmaster attempting to sell the greatest show (I mean, preview) on earth, Britney is less of a performer than she was before, now a vampish marionette in the grand tradition of female has-beens, like Lola Montes and Mariah Carey, wearing her setbacks as pity points for fans’ financial support. By even comparing herself to the incredibly cluttered yet fluidly warm style of the late Italian master is more insulting if it was an intentional homage than simply browsing through Itunes for mood music.
To her credit, Britney revived my interest for Rob Marshall’s film adaptation (filming in the UK, due out 2009) of the Tony Award-winning musical, Nine (also thanks to Meg!), simply due to its stellar casting stunt alone: Daniel Day-Lewis, as the womanizing (ha, Britney) artist Guido with writer’s block, Nicole Kidman as his on-and-off again muse, Claudia, Judi Dench as the witty French reporter, Lilianne, Marion Cotillard as his faithful wife, Penelope Cruz as the voluptuous dim-witted mistress Carla, Sophia Loren as his Mamma only in memory, Kate Hudson as a composite character of American/European socialites parading around the set, and of course, the Duchess herself, Fergie as Guido’s first sexual conquest, a misunderstood monster of a whore Saraghina. Even though the film is adapted from a theater show and not directly a remake of the original Italian film, creating a compare/contrast profile chart of the character/actors gives us however, tiny of a clue, that Marshall is referring to both sources for his project rather than the musical itself (look at the exact hair styles!) and hopefully unlike its dour box office cousin, The Producers, another film-to-musical-to-film inbred, Nine should absorb or borrow the exuberant energy that made 8 1/2 a sensational box-office draw of its time, a classic in the kooky genre of films about films, transforming the behind-the-scenes of the production process into an exquisite confrontation between fantasy and memory, the tempting desire to let go and the stubborn will to create meaning.
As the reigning discourse around the word, “adaptation” brings to mind, the embarrassing accusations that the “film” didn’t do this or that justice to the “book,” or what I think is inevitably an impossible endeavor, one could distill the situations or more crucially, the sensual essence of the source, while taking liberties with how an actor will improvise spontaneously with words and gestures, or how a whole scene could be shot from a perspective that goes beyond what the book can imagine. Upon digging through the photo archives of 8 1/2, who could have known that Sophia Loren, visiting the set of the original film, would star in its redo’s remake. If originality is inherent in the original, could originality be transferable to a copy, cutting its ties to the original, plain and simple? I find it better to move away from the iron curtain of fidelity and towards a more conducive discussion around intertextuality. Excuse my academic jargon, but the term means what it says, suggesting the play of allusions and references that one cultural object refers to another. Rather than speaking in ad finitum about a singular piece, the plenitude of experiences between texts bring us closer to dissecting changing attitudes about times present and past, and how subjective interpretations are being filtered as objective criticism. If professional and amateur critics like to spin personal anecdotes only for the sake of attention, followed by defending their preferences through external standards of good taste, than for better or worse, in the probing spirit of 8 1/2, to think about the trivial and profound relations from one book to another, from one film to another, would surrender the human ego to the witness stand as its own judge and prosecutor…the artist have already sold his soul to the devil, it’s a matter of how long he can keep it.
Britney’s “I’ll just wiggle around the playpen” routine, listen for the beginning:
After a long, deep slumber, this blog is finally resuscitated by what/who else, Prince Charming, a Korean one by the name of Oh Ji Ho. Only seven episodes (of 16) into the hit Korean dramedy, Get Karl, Oh Sung Jung! (aired last fall), I’m enamored by the irresistible physique and boyish dimples, of its ugly-duckling-turned-beautiful-swan who is the desired object of the title’s intrusive command to its leading lady, Soo Jung. Dumped by his fiancé after failing the bar exam, Go Man Soo vows to return triumphantly as a headlining success story, in both profession and appearance, becoming Karl Go, a rising PGA champion with the looks to paralyze any nearby female into abrupt seizures of unattainable fantasy. In the first few episodes, we find out he struck gold in America, even dating former IT girl, Gwyneth Paltrow (pre-Brad, pre-Apple, pre-Shallow Hal), before returning to Korea to find a suitable wife and end his glamorous bachelor life. Behind this publicist stunt is Karl’s true motive, to seek revenge against his former love, who falls short of the audience’s sympathy, as she exhibits all the temperaments of the perverse modern woman—brazenly charismatic, porcelain-figured, overtly pompous—yet considered a barren old spinster by society’s standards. Gold-digging through her friend’s dating agency, she needs to find a husband fast and loaded, and who better than her now 150-lb lighter ex-high school slave.
Since the show lacks the melodramatic polarization of virtue and vice, any clairvoyance about possible coupling is shrouded in suspense and uncertainty, driven by the faint glimmer that some form of re-marriage should occur towards the end, a comedic one for sure, a crying fest, why not? So far, it relies on the cat-and-mouse game to test out the limits of fidelity, of love without conditions, while displaying shamelessly all the luxuries afforded by the magic of television to dazzle us with upper class goods and leisure. To its advantage, the show overcompensates the wear-and-tear gimmick with uproarious slapstick performances by its two leads, hinting at the absurd lengths in which only the sitcom format could make such vengeful madness relatable. Will she change her ways? Will Karl take her back? Sound like the typical cliffhanger-engorged stakes that haunt and punctuate the fictional reality of Korean romances, yet the writing obsessively comments on its oh-so-obvious trials and tribulations, as character by character bemoan that these coincidences and happenstances could only occur in “dramas” and “movies.” In one of the most hilarious openings, Karl Go tells his caddy/manager that he calls himself Karl after noticing that all the men in films like Titanic and The Graduate suffer the loss of their betroved at the altar simply by sharing this fateful namesake…Karl (or its many variations).
Some have labeled this show as the television complement to the 2006 hit, 200 Pound Beauty, which I covered earlier. Though they can be categorized together by their superficial premises, Get Karl isn’t concerned with the plasticity of the body and how surgical artifices tend to be more real than the natural, rather, it revolves itself around the status of marriage and the question it asks for women already in the 30s and hitting menopause. Taking a page out of Carrie Bradshaw’s cop-out compromise that “Love itself is a label,” Get Karl confines love within the parameters of matrimony, and unlike the usual Debbie Downer PSA that this billion-dollar-per-year institution bakes dull Stepford wives out of our liberated single ladies, the life under this regime isn’t much different from the Match.com dog-date-dog world. Most of Sung Jung’s girlfriends, who are indeed secured with a husband plus/minus children, spend their time hatching plans and offering advice to our main protagonist. Their freedom not curbed nor resemble anything productive, though it procures the prospect that being a wife is fortunately, only a status symbol, a financial benefit, and yes—a label rather than a role to be taken seriously.
I have no clue where Karl and Soo Jung will end up, or when for that matter, but I’ll make sure to post about the finale, however of a whimper it might be.
SPOTTED: Slovenian hobo in a stolen YSL t-shirt, chugging a whole can of Diet Coke, looks like lonely boy isn’t going to be lonely anymore.
Tempting as it is to feed all my faves from this year 35th Telluride Film Festival through the Zizekian viewfinder, I’m going to refrain from such fanatic behavior and deliver a well-balanced account of what really happened…
HUNGER (Steven McQueen, UK, 2008)
What Firaaq failed to provoke during its Crash-inspired dissection of the ongoing Hindu-Muslim hostilities in India is the intimate kernel of individual suffering made unbearably palpable by the lingering shots of the open sores blistering and sputtering against the fine pale surface of a cadaver waiting to shed his last sign of life. It may be unfair to judge both films (the latter being Hunger) by some arbitrary aesthetic yardstick, since their creators belong to two completely polarized modes of filmmaking, on one hand, we have a famous Bollywood actress turned passionate chronicler of her country’s forgotten crimes against itself, and on the other corner, we have a video artist evolving from installation eye-candy to the loose narratives of the European tradition. Director Nandita Das employs shock tactics to externalize the pain of a Hindi housewife haunted by the banshee screams of her Muslim neighbors begging for help, so obviously, her only means of masochistic atonement is to sear her arm with hot cooking oil. Steve McQueen, on the other hand, creeps closer to the essence of horror, building dread not of death’s approach, but of apathy wearing away little by little of political conviction, and while many critics has cited the middle portion as being the most political and politicized, the now infamous 20-minute long take of two people conversing whether a hunger strike really achieves or motivates social change, for this reviewer’s opinion, where Hunger truly exceeds are the soft-focused texture of surfaces, from fingers probing the rusty iron bars to snow falling on the bloody knuckles of the prison guard, there lie its most gentle moments wrapped around extended tableaus of institutional brutality and frenzy protests (exemplified by the opening credits, the sound of drums are enough to cite historicity without all the cheap signifiers of that Thatcherite era). In the end, neither lofty philosophical conversations nor liberal ideals could rescue the body from flatlining, all that remains is the precious flashback of a childhood lost in the woods, a journey not into a man’s personal beliefs, but his mind right at the precipice of forgetting everything including himself.
I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (Philippe Claudel, France, 2008)
Finally, a high-pedigree film that can be read in no other way than a French maternal melodrama centered on Zizek’s most belabored conceit: the inherent transgression. With drooping baggy eyes and quenched lips, never far away from a lit cigarette, Kristin Scott Thomas fulfills her duty as Oscar bait in another Fresh-off-from-Jail picture starring a strong female lead with a deep dark secret, but even as her most ‘heinous’ sin is carefully spelled out in calm bold letters to an inquisitive employer, we have already succumbed to the face of this pitiful creature that any audible gasp in the audience is a knee-jerk reaction than a sudden transformation of empathy to revulsion. [Spoiler alert] Simply put, Juliette is no cold-hearted murderer, taking a page out of the Euripidean playbook, she’s the modern equivalent of the tragic Medea, sacrificing her terminally-afflicted son in order to save him. Her proof of love is not diminished, but intensified by defying bourgeois notions of morality and confronting the harsh reality of mortality. There’s no better way to showcase pure maternal affection than through mercy killing. The film, in full Zizekian fashion, casts a suspicious eye on this enigmatic mysterious character of Juliette in order to scurry her away into the space of innocence with maximum approval by the audience…of course, how could she, look at this poster child of melancholia. However, we are the not the only spectators of this staged reversal of virtue, for the title points to one of the most banal yet powerful phrases in all of declarative speech, those precious three letter words, I-love-you spoken by a restless spirit: I’ve Love You So Long. Who else but Lea as the true addressee and addresser of this private confession between on the surface, estranged sisters, but symbolically, mother and child surrogates to one another. Is not one of the most poignant gesture of the waiting lover is to write the name of her beloved on each day of the calendar, when physical arrival becomes less important than the promise of remembrance, as time replaces space in all manners of treachery? One could extrapolate that the true monster of this film is the Janus-lingual mother, cast away in her dungeon of a convalescent home for separating the siblings at the first place, her disorienting switch from French to English serves up a cushion of sharp pain for Juliette, who pulls her crucified arms away from this Jane Birkin wannabe. While we could characterize I’ve Loved You So Long as a study on mourning, this intellectual euphemism can’t hold back the flood of what in layman’s term is a full-blooded weepie, you just gotta wait till the doves cry [first].
TULPAN (Sergei Dvortsevoy, Kazakhstan, 2008)
How can I truly encapsulate the experience of watching Tulpan, a sort of all-knowing homage to Nanook of the North, as if its director’s humble start in documentaries reveal itself through the winding long takes of nomadic kinship set against the desolate plains of Kazakhstan, while the story is languidly propelled by the coming-of-age ambitions of Asa, the returning naval officer in search of a bride. The title of the film refers to ‘tulip,’ the elusive beauty, prized among the scattered inhabitants, but kept offscreen, out of sight, not necessarily out of mind, to drive Asa’s hopes of starting his own enclave of animal husbandry extraordinaires. While the film culminates with a mesmerizing and squirm-inducing birth of a lamb, in which the lack of cuts produces its own brand of realism, not in the order of authenticity to reality, but the other A: aware admiration for the actor’s ability to endure such extraneous demands, a miracle of photography that would raise Bazin from his grave. Thematic consideration aside, what makes the film so pleasurable is the repetition of the disco hit, “Rivers of Babylon” by Boney M, which enters the film only at times of euphoria, when the City, as both urban space and dream realm invoked in the song, promises easy passage into adulthood. Interestingly, the director rejects the hipster flavor of today’s pop tunes for an antiquated sound, an already too late nostalgia, an opportunity missed and never to be recovered, perhaps the inclusion of the folk ballads sung by Asa’s niece is a much required listening session: a counter siren call that lures him back to discover a rite of passage still waiting for him in the present, in his own home, and what the film promotes to be more viable than the hanging gardens of Babylon. Guess which route he chooses?
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD (Kim Ji-Won, Korea, 2008)
Would it be wrong to indulge in a excessively violent action movie while knowing all too well that it consists of thinly-coherent setpieces, like dots on a blank paper with lines connecting to form nothing but more meaningless scribbles? Of course, my description could fit any Hollywood blockbuster from the last five years, including those heading towards the Nicholas Cage’s retirement funds, but what makes The Good, The Bad, and The Weird different from the lot isn’t its intrinsic value as a Kimichi Western, a national appropriation of a bygone genre, resurrected occasionally like its clown-whore cousin, the Musical. Unlike his Asian compatriot Johnnie To, director Kim Ji-won revels in his inconsistency, jumping form one genre to another, and reinvents himself not as an auteur of fresh originality, but as a refiner of form, a distiller of borrowed styles to their most effective luster. As if parodying academic reductions of Korean cinema to nationalist readings of trauma and historicist hoopla, the film accounts for its interpretative posterity by inserting a random scene that takes place in a roadside brothel, even proffering a lecture about the fractured identity of Korea during the 30s. What’s more, we are given everything we expected from the Western, including quiet reflections on what outlaw men dream of, while leaving The Good in the middle of his thought. What does he really want? The film answers this question with the final draw between all the titular leads, their desire is mutual, a chance to challenge each other, whatever hokey bullshit spoken before comes down to a moronic duel-to-the death existence.
Forget about the ‘Melville’ Kim of The Bittersweet Life, or the ‘Kobayashi’ Kim of The Tale of Two Sisters, there’s no dramatic grace or terrifying ambience here, only a topsy-turvy road to perdition, punctuated by perfectly choreographed sequences of deranged shootouts, epic train robberies, and chaotic chases-within-chases. If the Tarantino signature (an oxymoron) is awfully apparent in his recent excursion, it’s only because of their shared passion for Santa Esmeralda, a song that truly blends with the visual spectacles of men running after each other on horses and jeeps, to almost ridiculously laughable duration. I could never articulate my sheer ecstasy in rewatching (infinitely if possible) these scenes of sensory overload, but what I realize in my second viewing is the unique technique Kim brings to Hollywood plot devices that could have called for split-second editing, instead, he decides to keep the camera rolling, extending the moment of gory impact for not only objects on camera, but of the camera itself blown into smithereens. It reminds me of the film’s own vulnerability, its materiality, its mortal inevitability in the filmmaking process rather than only being a omnipresent window to a fictional world. For instance, when the Japanese army starts shooting at all the bandits, our perspective is bound with that of the machine gun, jittering across the frame, but right there, you start to feel the “frames” of the film running every 24 seconds. Like an amusement park thrill ride, The Good, The Bad, and The Weird refuses to play into the dialectic between full form and empty content, we have here a reconciliation of form as content, spectacle as narrative, and a feast even the eyes would think twice about before attending.
While the verbal wildfires continue to ravage the intelligentsia quarters of the blogosphere, sparked by our beloved Stephanie Zacharek’s recent NYT rant of Richard Brody’s new book, Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard, we would like to extend the olive branch to both sides of the debate, and save Ms. Zacharek time from googling her own name (you brought us a year’s worth of hits, thanks). As you may have guessed, the man in the middle of it all isn’t Brody, but his subject matter, Godard—French filmmaker, born-again Maoist, bitter recluse—and even more decidedly, between his early versus late works. I haven’t read Brody’s extensive study myself, but from reading the reviews and meta-reviews, the exchange has now veered off into the realm of subjective preferences, a game of defending my likes and dislikes, with critics lambasting each other for taking too seriously or too lightly Godard’s post-1967 period, and this is the dividing year, sharing his detractors’ sentiment, that the music died (and how slowly!).
Reasonable enough, an artist tends to escape the lingering success of his meager beginnings, not surrendering to the whims of popular opinion but to grow and develop as a person, who sheds away prior interests in hopes of cultivating future passions. In this sense, Godard doesn’t want to be overshadowed by his own creations, to be remembered only in the annals of history as the critic-turned-auteur who lead a string of dazzling revolutions in cinematic architecture, or what he would now deemed to be frivolous, amateurish, and infantile, the fever dreams of Hollow Men. Yet, cultural consensus always dictate otherwise, and the fond memory of the Nouvelle Vague movement has made the term nostalgia obselete, bereft of pain and politics, Godard’s name only recalls the playfulness of that tumultuous era: the way how Anna Karina smiles with her eyes, the saccharine primary colors and murmuring musical cues fading in and out of scenes, and those pesky and exhilarating jump cuts. A few months ago, I attended a screening of La Chinoise (a precursor to the 1968 hoopla), alarmed by the number of hipsters in the audience, who even as they’re watching a parody of their lifestyle, knew that after this exhausting experience, they will finally earn their street creds and identify the shade of tangerine on a similar looking mod blouse from Haight Street as Godardian in nature.
The branding of a filmmaker’s fashion choices may seem like an informal practice, but American Express merely made it more explicit and accessible to the elitist consumer. If anything else, Godard will not be forgotten, only superficially invoked, and if we are supposed to extrapolate any residual sense of meaning from Haynes’s experimental biopic I’m Not There, the artist will forever be elusive, his imprints scattered among the shards of his career, a life worth knowing in halfs, quarters and eighths. And what a legacy of fanboys to commemorate that emblematic Godard of the 60s, which includes card-carrying members like Wong Kar Wai to the oh-so-obvious Tarantino (his production company A Band Part a direct reference to Bande a Part)!
I would also add Scott Sternberg to the inspirational wishlist, whose fashion line, Band of Outsiders, is more than a cheap nod piggybacking on the cool mystique. Like Godard, Sternberg was irritated by the constraints of tradition granted upon menswear, so in 2004, he returned to the hardboiled pulp fiction of the 40s and 50s, tweaked and restitched past sensibilities for a slimmer and awkward fit, accentuating the disportions and jutted angles, and eliminating the reigning dishoveled look of the grunge rockstar or free-spirited surfer. With his new Boy collection, a Preppy girl complement to the original mensline, Sternberg further brings back that masculin femininity to the women’s body, with alternating pinches of tightness and looseness, see Michelle William’s tweed version of the Timberland lumberjack. It also doesn’t hurt to know what all the kids are raging about these days and outfit their idols with your clothes.
Submitted for your approval: a pair of tribute videos.
Band of Outsiders Fashion Show
The Famous Dance Sequence from Bande A Part
THE SCOOP: Summer Edition, post-Mamma Mia!
Pacific!: Taking a cue from Pan’s Labyrinth? Longtime childhood friends from Gothenburg, Sweden, Daniel and Björn lost and found each other a few years ago, decided to rent a studio together and make electronic pop for a living. Oh yeah, they toured with Justice for a while.
Think: Beach Boys + PBJ + Royskopp
Latest album: Reveries
Best “every frame can be my silkscreen T-shirt” video:
PAS/CAL: This Detroit-based band has been scattering their EPs around for years, and lucky attendees of their concerts described them as “all dressed up in deceptively catchy and meticulously arranged tunes with hooks that would make Johnny Marr jealous and turn Serge Gainsbourg’s head.” A perfect recipe for unabashed twee under the cloudy skies of summer in San Francisco.
Think: Of Montreal + The Zombies + Final Fantasy
Latest Album: I Was Raised on Mark, Matthew, Luke, & Laura
Why pay at all when you’re at Payless?
Crosslinked: This is a new series dedicated to spastic fits of rage and rapture specifically for those equipped with Netflix and extra disposable income to attend the local indieplex. For the rest of the summer (and the year, hopefully), I’ll be recommending a slew of Asian (American) films that played in previous years at SFIAAFF and upcoming projects worthy of a quick look—anticipation guaranteed, satisfaction is another story.
200 Pounds Beauty (Yong-hwa Kim, Korea, 2006)
No sweat, no tears, just lipo! What I found incredibly daring for a romantic comedy (at least by Korean standards) featuring fatsuits and “inner” beauties is the cut-to-the-chase transformation of the morbidly obese phone sex operator to gorgeous pop princess, albeit with some shrewdly edited montages. Offering her illustrious voice for a Britney-Spears puppet singer, Hanna is the Debbie Reynolds of Singin’ in the Rain minus the already perfect She’s All That body. Realizing her life as a meaningless sham, she blackmails a pathetic plastic surgeon to mold a modern-day Pygmalion out of her shapeless blubber.
Hanna becomes Jenny, the face that launched a thousand traffic accidents. Forget diet and exercise, the film seizes the opportunity to critique a society on the verge of being a clone farm, everyone cannibalizing on the same proportions and personalities. There’s one striking line (paraphasing here) that exemplifies the contradictory attitude of a hush-hush taboo that everyone knows is practiced among neighbors, but a disgrace for wives and girlfriends to admit. Stemming back to male anxieties around perfection and its abject reality, the quote comes from the music producer, the love of Hanna’s life, the reason for her extreme makeover. His personality shifts as sharply and frequently as the plot requires to hurt or heal Hanna, prodding her closer to a blow-out epiphany about discovering one’s identity in a funhouse of mirrors, distorted and truthful, one and the same.
The entire second act is obsessively tinged with talks about naturalism versus artificiality, her talent is real, her body ain’t. What makes a singer? The film wants it both ways and gets it. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but like all films dealing with secret and lies, there is a final reveal, a drawn-out confession, filled with enough glycerin tears and an emotionally gullible public to forgive what Hanna has done to herself and to her past, since a fatlift is never too different from a facelift, and that itself is never too far away from the suspicious eyes of family and friends. Eschewing moral scrutiny, the climax subscribes to what I’d called “redemption by the flesh,” that is, the spectacular display of the final girl (as marketable commodity) ameliorates any residual trauma and emotional turmoil of going under the knife. Miley Cyrus, put back that “Hannah” Montana wig. At least, 200 Pound Beauty never settles for a maudlin reconciliation between beauty and beauty (Jenny and her manager), leaving only a tiny peephole for future happiness attained through stardom as opposed to romance.
Jenny/Hanna singing ‘Maria’ (Korean version)
The Original Blondie Hit circa 1999
STATS: Available now at local Asian video stores or courtesy of Youtube (w/Eng subs).