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.
An internet pastime of mine is perusing various movie poster websites with updates on recently released posters of upcoming films and international versions of old films. While I imagine one day becoming rich enough to purchase my favorites to line the walls of my home theater, for now, I settle for saving the images on my hard drive and rotate hanging them on my Desktop. I’ve always wanted to know the masterminds behind the designs of my favorite posters and this is an opportunity to highlight, outside of the Key Art Awards and other industry celebrations, the works of individuals and companies. Though I don’t know if I can keep this series up as much as my colleague Joie with TGIFF, the reward of having a single place to look at a series of pretty pictures does fit my low attention span.
Born in Colorado and raised in Kansas, Bob Peak rose to the scene in the 1960s as a commercial illustrator. Like many ad men of the time, at least as told by a certain popular television show, Peak entered the scene after serving for the military during the Korean War. Starting of as an artist of an ad agency creating illustrations for Old Hickory Whiskey and covers for Sports Illustrated, he later was called upon by United Artists to do artwork for West Side Story. Though the signature poster for the film was done by Saul Bass, Peak work was still used for album covers and other smaller ads for the film. Enough talking – let the pretty pictures begin.
Minister: Can you tell me about anything of real value that the outsiders have brought with them?
Bess McNeill: Uh… their music?
As The Dark Knight continues to dominate the box office numbers even a month after its release, another film that shared the same opening weekend and an accomplishment for breaking records is being brushed underneath the bed. Despite its all star cast and its former life as a successful musical, Mamma Mia! is still being categorized as an underdog against the unstoppable Goliath of The Dark Knight. Though the numbers are not unexpected nor does The Dark Knight not deserve the accolades it is receiving, but Mamma Mia! deserves a little boasting itself.
There is a single line that is being said by both the yay and nay-sayers for the film: “Mamma Mia! is pure fun.” On one side, you have the positive interpretation of the line in that the film is a return to the escapist roots of cinema. On the other side, you have the negative understanding where “pure fun” means candy-coated rainbows/”lollipops vomitting Skittles onto the screen” a la the negative reviews of the big screen version of Speed Racer. It is a little too easy to de-merit a film by equating “fun” with lack of substance or lack of societal purpose. In all its glory, Mamma Mia!, as Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, “isn’t a movie. It’s vacation.” As my dad points out immediately after his viewing of the film, Mamma Mia! in every essence is both a film about escape and one that provokes its audience to escape. The film is align with the films of the 1930s such as those by Busby Berkeley that were products of a country undergoing economic downturn. Meryl Streep et al. provide a nice cinema experience as well as the cheapest way to travel to the Greek Isles.
Perhaps the most off-putting/criticized parts of the film are the performances displayed by the seasoned actors of the cast. It’s one thing to see Tony-Award winning actress Christine Baranski in a musical, but it’s a whole new thing to see Mr. Darcy and Chuck/Jan Nyman singing in spandex suits. I, too, at parts had a hard time immersing into this new world actors who have played lowly suitors or violent townsmen can be happy people seeking a good time. However, it is this reaction to the film that I found the most interesting about Mamma Mia! Not so much a film illustrating the struggle of a dramatic actor’s entrance into the musical world, but an fascinating display on how trained actors translate the form of acting they have been known for into a subcategory of cinema that requires a different type of acting language.
The Winner Takes It All
The “The Winner Takes It All” number marks a pivotal moment in the film where Donna (Meryl Streep) and Sam (Pierce Brosnon) discuss their former life together and the harboring feelings that still remain. It is THE scene where “actor” must come out. The Kramer vs. Kramer Oscar-type acting and musical acting both require an overt, exaggerated form of emotional expression, the two modes still have a little bit of variation between the two. With every emotional lyric, you see Meryl Streep translate her mode of acting we’ve become used to into the mode necessary in a musical as she is singing. Instead of focusing all her energy on creating subtle facial expressions of pain and joy to be captured in extreme close-ups, Streep moves around on the cliff with arms flaring around, an action that is exaggerated by a red pashmina at hand.
In his critical review of the film, Chris Wisniewski of Reverse Shot writes:
But what does it say about our collective moviegoing habits that the same audiences who mostly spurned Chris Columbus’s Rent (admittedly, no masterpiece) and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd have turned out in droves for Hairspray and Mamma Mia!? Columbus and Burton take their stories and characters—and the genre—seriously. They use the medium to their advantage, staging their numbers with and for the camera; through framing, camera movement, editing, choreography, or production design, they craft rousing, sometimes resonant cinematic spectacle out of their theatrical raw material. Hairspray and Mamma Mia!, by contrast, are clearly products of a post-musical era, in which the genre itself is treated like a joke, where musical numbers are less displays of technical virtuosity than extended gags, sometimes at the expense of the performers themselves (in Hairspray, John Travolta’s pseudo-drag performance becomes a running punchline; Mamma Mia!‘s male leads are made equally ridiculous without the aid of dresses or fat suits).
What Chris Wisniewski chooses to gloss over are moments like the “Winner Takes It All” number where acting, a part of the “medium” he doesn’t include in his list, highlights the great use of film in translating a stage musical. In the “post-musical era,” everything is not simply a “joke.” Rather jokes are another opening to the understanding of how a craft can delve into a story that has already been told in another form before.
What did Sky and Sophie do after they left the island? Become a recording duo!
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
I know that listing is best left to Jack Black and Nick Hornby. But, it’s fun sometimes. The urge to canonize is essential to understanding a medium- or at least, to the fetishization of it- so I thought, with a healthy sense of irony, I could get away with a little play on the classic Top 10 as a weekly feature here at the leh repertwarr. Plus, I’m just too impatient to write things of substance here. Does anyone read this either way?
Believe me, I hate the AFI just as much as you do. So you will never hear me use the words greatest (or American, hopefully) in any of these features. And additionally, I’m going to resist ranking any of the films that I discuss under the headings I come to every week. WHATS MORE! I’m going to try to thread these things together, to have a common factor between each group of films week to week. So, like, if I happen to have included Naomi Watts in my list of the Top 5 Most Obnoxious Australians in Film, I might use the actress and her Lynchian bygones as my TANGENT for the next week’s list: the Top 10 Movies For Which Knowing What Is Going On Is Not Necessary. Get it?
I’m a genre film fan. This is a resoundingly annoying statement, I know. But it’s a fact- I love when cinema finds a way to commute its pretensions to terms of genre, color, and style. I really do think that the greatest (oops!) instances of “high art” have a definite relationship to the opposite end of the spectrum, and that “trash” is an interminably versatile word. But, who the fuck wants to see another discussion of the best Sci-Fi films? Or even of the most interesting instances of exploitation?
That type of list would most certainly get me in trouble, so here’s my alternative: Isn’t it fascinating when genre films disguise themselves as the most serious fare? The system of sensation and spectacle can be so drastically manipulated, and hidden under layer after layer of the high art aesthetic. Because of this, the most exciting trait of the horror genre is, to me, that the monster truly can take any form. A horror film certainly doesn’t need to have a physical villain to cause abject terror, it can draw affect from setting, theme, or mood and cause plenty of skin-crawling:
TOP 5 SCARIEST NOT-HORROR FILMS
AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD (1972)
Doesn’t than name have just the most amazing catastrophe to it? Werner Herzog is amazing, sure. German, definitely. His philosophies are so dark and virile that his films ooze tropes of the horror genre. Sturm und drang seem to compose every bit of his somewhat fucked up string of virtuoso film exercises. DER ZORN GOTTES is no exception.
THE MONSTER: The Amazon. The S. American jungle in this film is utterly horrifying. From the first frame it begins to devour the human capability of it’s conquistador prey. Just like in a slasher film, the supporting characters are unceremoniously taken out by wild aspects of the setting and their own blunders. Klaus Kinski’s slow descent into evil ravings, culminating in the film’s spectacular final scene (monkeys fucking EAT him!), is egged on by the Amazon, and finally succumbs to his insanity and the seething environment the very film’s last dregs of humanity are defeated by nature.
LORD OF THE FLIES (1963)
William Golding clearly had intentions very similar to those of a horror writer with his classic novel about boy castaways. The novel is a beautiful exploration of the way manhood looms in front of a child and, even in the most disastrous of situations, cannot always be achieved before due time. Peter Brooks’ film adaptation is simply one of the best examples of a movie that respects and expounds upon its source text, treating the story as not only a lyrical sort of eulogy for youth, but a terrifying study of boyhood pettiness.
THE MONSTER: KIDDIES! Kids are fucking creepy! Any horror buff knows this. The horrific child is one of the genre’s favorite icons. But, when the Children of the Corn are traded for innocent victims of happenstance, their development into little terrors is all the more affecting. The spectacle of these poor English schoolboys completely deteriorating into raving animals should be revered as an ultimate spectacle of horror.
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)
Peter Wier’s languorous study of summer (and girls) is a hypnotic and, eventually, wholly disturbing example of the effect of filmic tone on the viewing experience. The movie displays a haggle of girls from an Australian boarding school lounging in the haze of an afternoon, under the menacing crag that gives the work its name. When they suddenly disappear, the whole that this loss of characters and the angelic young woman at their lead, creates an empty space in the film that is absolutely haunting.
THE MONSTER: Time, Summer, and GIRLIES! In a sort of centrifugal Antonionian narrative weave, Wier terrorizes his viewer with brief pangs of loss that are felt in both the visual and aural tone of the film. When the girls go missing (have they been abducted? fallen to their deaths? spirited away to another world?), its as if the central binding figures of the film have been torn away. The effect is a severe, creeping sense of doom, and the suffocating heat that oozes off of the film’s gorgeous cinematography only accentuates this feeling.
[SAFE]’s coyly bracketed title perfectly summarizes its affect. The walls begin to close in on Julianne Moore (brilliant, here) from the first frame of the film, and her slow suffocation is the stuff of classic horror.
THE MONSTER: Disease, Paranoia, Modernity. Todd Haynes is self-admittedly obsessed with exploring identity and its influences in a wide range of style. Here, in another slowly creeping horror exercise, he turns his questioning gaze to New Age medicine, pollution, and the generally suffocating aesthetic of smoggy Los Angeles. The protagonist in SAFE is worried that she’s being poisoned by her atmosphere, and it becomes clear that whether or not she’s actually afflicted, her environment is absolutely out to kill her. Her wan figure becomes more and more like a porcelain doll as her home life and the eventual trip to a New Age healing retreat conspire to break her completely. The film’s one rare moment of fresh air is a great example of its horror tropes: Moore’s character is wandering in a California field, thinking for a spare moment that she might actually be healing, and she stumbles on a highway. Modern progress, pollution, exhaust, and the general invasion of natural space by modern shapes is punctuated by the car that blasts by her. The audience definitely shares in her horror.
SALO, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
Shortly before being brutally murdered, poet, playwright, homosexual, alleged nihilist and film master, Pier Paolo Pasolini completed what is surely the most revolting cinematic spectacle in the history of the medium. Salò is an impossible film to enjoy; a fable of awful violence, masochism, and torture and… well, it’s just a film that’s pretty hard to talk about pleasantly. But its is an absolutely astounding and necessary masterwork.
THE MONSTER: Spectacle. Salò is the ultimate exploitation film. Based loosely on the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, it features what is probably the most disgusting string of depictions possible outside of snuff cinema (this term is hardly inappropriate for the work itself). It trudges from rape to torture, fascist declarations and sick piques of comedy, and is truly, bodily disgusting. But, the film contains an absolutely destructive social commentary and a statement on the experience of cinema that it is impossible to shake. It’s genius and horror lies in the way Salò incriminates its viewer. It taunts the spectator, dares him to look away but keeps a brutal hold on the eye. It’s as if the film is Pasolini’s final fuck-you to the world that had named his heartfelt, poetic work, and his very nature as an artist, an abomination. It names and condemns the reflexive double-edge of cinema, and truly embodies the word horror!
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:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
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?
At the peak of my television obsession (high school when I would record and keep episodes of various shows on VHS), I remember when I would wake up at 5 in the morning to watch the live feed on E! of the announcement of the Emmy nominations. Sadly, time passed and since premium cable never existed in my life and the popularity of TV shows on DVD was still something of the future, watching nominee after nominee from The Sopranos or Six Feet Under didn’t mean anything to me.
However, in most recent years, proven with today’s nomination list for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards, major network and basic cable television shows are making their marks as places to find good television. HBO-style gratuitous sex, bloody murder, and f-bombs are out, cute piemakers are in. Well, perhaps the sex and murder aren’t completely out (re: Cagney of Cagney and Lacey’s guest starring role as the obsessed agent/teddy bear maker on Nip/Tuck).
Since all the nominations for Mad Men and 30 Rock are a given, I’d like to congratulate and highlight some of the surprises:
Lee Pace, Kristen Chenoweth, and Costume Designers Mary Vogt and Stephanie Fox-Kramer for Pushing Daisies – Ms. Vogt and Fox-Kramer, you two deserve that Emmy. I have never wanted a television character’s wardrobe more than Anna Friel’s.
Amy Poehler for Saturday Night Live – I don’t even remember when someone was ever nominated for an emmy for their cast role on the sketch show
Sharon Gless on Nip/Tuck – You scared the beejeezus out of me.
Christina Applegate for Samantha Who? – Yay for first season nominees. You made me actually not hate the guy from 7th Heaven and Jennifer Esposito.
The nominees for lead actress in a miniseries or movie – the lineup looks better than the best actress nominees for the Oscars
And the nominees for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics – Flight of the Conchords’ “The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)” and “Inner City Pressure” plus Jimmy Kimmel Live’s “I’m Fucking Matt Damon”
Flight of the Conchords – Inner City Pressure
Flight of the Conchords – The Most Beautiful Girl (in the room)
Sarah Silverman – I’m Fucking Matt Damon
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).