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.
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
Love me less, but love me a long time.
– Ismael Benoliel, Les Chansons d’amour
Hey, you got girlfriend Vietnam? Me so horny. Me love you long time.
– Da Nang Hooker, Full Metal Jacket
Louis Garrel & Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet – As-tu déjà aimé ?
For those of you who appreciate French music for its catchy pop melodies and inherent foreignness, Christopher Honoré’s Love Songs (Les Chansons d’amour) might be the perfect film to start off a romantic evening that involves wine tasting and a fondue pot, you know, with all the calculated trimmings of a themed event. The only catch: turn off the monitor and leave the stereo on. The soundtrack, the foreground, the rest is mere background, the illusion of cosmopolitan sophistication is enough to satiate the Starbucks compilation palate. It’s better leaving one’s belief system in the French “tradition of quality” intact rather than shattering it through Honore’s icy milieu of stock characters and tourist locales, not to mention, a preposterous suggestion that damaged grief brings about latent homosexuality, or perhaps mourning demands the “outing” of other bodies and orientations to hold on tight and fuck the pain away, or again, Ismael, the all-inclusive male figure was always a bisexual. Any of these scenarios could have been the case, but who gives a damn when the film squanders its chances to piece together the narrative threads in exchange for impromptu dalliances and nonsensical coincidences. The lyrics would’ve made Shakira cringe and laugh in agony…”Four pubes in the shower.” At least in the heyday of French musicals, Demy was injecting frisky charm and dramatic irony into the Hollywood formula, and Godard broke down those same inane templates to form iconic sequences that are still the epitome of cool (See below). Honoré himself, a dedicated fan of that zeitgeist, took a more serious approach, then realizing his hip meter falling, he followed some needless detours and ended up somewhere between Paris and the land of lost convictions.
A signpost towards gay pride? Or a memorial of Timberlake before “4 Minutes”?
Enjoy the songs and think only of Anna Karina!
Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier, & Clothilde Hesme – Je n’aime que toi
Chiara Mastrioanni – Au parc
This is how you make a musical, pedantic lyrics aside.
Guy Bourdin for French Vogue
Steven Meisel, “State of Emergency” series for Italian Vogue
Pairing the works of late fashion photographer (in reality, a misunderstood surrealist master) Guy Bourdin with the glossy resume of his less worthy successor, Steven Meidel is like comparing apples and blood oranges. The strange fruit, an ancient citrus hybrid, with its bitter flavor and mesmerizing crimson color, shares an almost inescapable fact with a Bourdin “still life,” leaving behind an unforgettable bruise that last for weeks and even years without the hope of amnesia as anesthesia. Still, the nameless collagists at The Image Archive wants us to believe in their nonexistent dialogue through the rhetoric of the photo essay (see video below), inflating the blase beauty of one with the iconographic might of the other. Establishing space in the first few seconds, we journey from physical landmarks to geographies less familiar, as shadows and shoulders collide into the unknown. It’s a cleverly edited video, a readymade cliff-notes introduction that should, at least, invite viewers to approach two separate careers with enough biographical history on hand.
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While I’ll credit Meidel for taking liberties with the typical fashion shoot, tackling contemporary political sentiments through high production values replete with statuesque supermodels and trendy couture, his radicalism whimpers like a caged beast, suitable for city billboards and the big heads at Conde Nast HQ—wholly accessible, rarely affective. Representative of his oeuvre, the photograph above intends to capture feminine duress under the police state, but what we have sadly is merely a pretty face under the boot of a fashionable fascist. Relying heavily on photogenic poses, Meidel never reaches for the tiny detail that would complicate the very subject of our attention. Terror evaporates just as her doll eyes signify nothing but the camera’s reflection. In Bourdin’s photograph, the curious finger on the ivory doorbell makes you wonder in fear of the revelation just to the left.
Bourdin, on the other hand, applied strenuous pressure to his creative process, like a ringmaster to a harem of Botticelli angels, he churned out snapshots of bodies, mangled and tested to their limits. No longer just mannequins primed to sell clothes, these were daredevil artists ready for the next Cirque du Soleil audition. Adding to this “enactment of the impossible,” Tim Blanks (notable fashion writer) sums up Bourdin’s death-drive:
Throughout his career, he remained an artist manqué, composing and reordering the elements he saw through his viewfinder until they matched the pictures he imagined in his head (and sketched in his notebooks). Except they never did.
As noted by other critics, Bourdin was obsessed with scenarios conjured by a childhood watching the film-noirs imported to France from Hollywood and informed by schooling in European art history. Never hesitating on aesthetic honesty over sartorial concerns, his repertoire (yes, i used the taboo R word) desires for a world of cinematic conceits, where female figures are obscured by frames and forces that pay little attention to their presence. It’s almost like a picture taken by someone who happens to walk by a gruesome murder, indifferent to sensationalism, slightly aroused but never masturbatory. Comparisons to Stanley Kubrick are apt, but these are facile bullet points that could point to anyone, such as Godard or Varda, instead, a painting by Magritte should suffice as a teasing doorway to Bourdin’s infinite fantasies, which themselves are self-effacing artifices. We recognize the amount of hard work behind the illusion, though looking at a mirror doesn’t necessarily mean we’re safe.
René Magritte’s “Dangerous Liaisons”
Guy Bourdin made a series of 16mm “home” movies of his photo shoots, this happens to be my favorite.