31.3.13

Vagina Dentata! It's What's Inside Me: Teeth (2007)

It is perhaps fitting that I close out this month of women oriented film with the 2007 pseudo-horror thriller Teeth, first, because it plays nicely into the triple threat of metaphor that has been this and the last two films I reviewed.  Second, it is a great bookend with I Spit on Your Grave, which began this month of film, because they both deal with sexual oppression, particularly acts of sexual violence, and the subsequent revenge one woman undertakes to correct such issues.  Both very much consider what constitutes revenge, and do so with a decidedly gritty attitude and complete dismissal of any value in their respective culture.  In I Spit on Your Grave, the film seems to condemn a lack of education and rural seclusion as the means to women being degraded and defiled, setting up a certain vision of the world in which rape and violence occurs.  While Teeth is certainly a little more broad in its constructs, its semi-rural setting, doubled with two oppressively present nuclear chimneys, is no more specified.  Both films, do draw upon the very visceral and terrifying experiences of rape, yet, both also manage to make it central to one figure.  Where Teeth proves slightly more revolutionary than its precursor, is in its attempts to negate a certain sort of moral looseness with the type of woman who would be "subject" to rape.  The main character in Teeth is decidedly conservative and certainly does not seek out sexual encounters, furthermore, her acts of vengeance, in many instances are not entirely a result of her own fruition, instead; something her body naturally rejects, because unwarranted sexual aggression is always wrong...always.  It would be one thing if the film simply used the plot of a woman with vagina dentata as a means to make an exploitative film, however, Teeth rarely uses the main woman and her nudity as a visual element, as opposed to its rampant use in I Spit On Your Grave.  Instead, director Mitchell Litchtenstein clearly takes the narrative and discussion he posits seriously.  The film jams issues of conservative ideals of sexual censorship, a rape-positive culture and the problematic medicalization of the woman's body into a fast-paced film which is surprisingly dense with commentary.  One could read the closing moments of the film as nihilistic, but it, in my opinion, says much more about a challenge to continuations of sexual violence and instead embraces an outright destruction of their possible occurrences.


Teeth focuses on a girl named Dawn (Jess Weixler) who is coping with the trouble of growing up with her sick mother, stepdad and lecherous stepbrother Brad (John Hensley).  Dawn is a simple young woman who finds solace and understanding by serving as an abstinence coach at her local high school, promoting purity and the wearing of a promise ring, in order, to save herself for the beauty of her marriage night.  While Dawn clearly has an affect on the people she speaks with, it would appear as though her family and those in her town are far less inclined to embrace such ideals, whether it be Brad, who continually spends his days getting high and having sex with his live-in girlfriend, whereas when Dawn is at school she is ridiculed for being chaste and choosing to abstain from sex.  However, Dawn finds support in a fellow abstinence supporter named Tobey (Hale Appleman) whom she begins to grow fond feelings for, even at one point intensely sexual ones.  When the two take a trip to the local creek for a swim, it is revealed that Tobey is a born-again virgin, and when the two swim into a secluded cave, Tobey attempts to engage in intercourse with Dawn, despite her repeated yelling of the word no.  It is during the rape, that Dawn's vagina appears to bite off Tobey penis, much to both of their surprises, which leads to Tobey bleeding to death, while Dawn hermits herself in her house, feeling gross and unsure about her body.  Research leads her to discover that she possesses an anomaly known as vagina dentata, which essentially means that she has teeth inside of her vagina, a myth arising from various pre-modern civilizations.  During a trip to the gynecologist, Dawn assumes that everything is fine, until the doctor becomes a bit to abrasive and forceful with his "inspection" leading her vagina to bite off his fingers.  Dawn is now incredibly worried about her safety, and seeks solace with a young man from her school who had shown interest in her, eventually engaging in willing intercourse with him, resulting in no damage to the man, yet when they go for another round of sex and it is discovered that he had a bet going on his ability to land Dawn, her instincts kick in and her vagina dentata kicks in.    All the while it is revealed that Brad through indifference and focusing on sex, allows his stepmother to fall over sick to the point of needing hospitalization.  Knowing that Brad has expressed sexual interest in her, Dawn seduces him and uses her "mutation" to castrate him, a last hoorah against terrible male oppressors before she escapes town via her bicycle.  When it breaks down, she hitches a ride with an old man, leading to the closing moments where the man makes sexual gestures towards the man.  Instead of feeling threatened, Dawn simply looks out the window and smirks, knowing well that she possesses a means to ward of his advances.


The film is obviously a metaphor, it is rather clear in the title and poster/box art.  However, to simply focus on the vagina dentata element would be to tragically overlook the other layers of symbolism and authority that would make Lacan proud in their execution.  The idea of circles plays very much into the themes of the film, suggesting an image and notion of unbroken perfection.  When Dawn is initially a spokesperson for abstinence she makes continual note of her purity ring, not to mention the image of the circle that covers all the pamphlets, posters and paraphernalia involved in their campaign, but this metaphor certainly extends beyond this moment.  When Dawn's class discusses the genitalia of the respective sexes, the students are confused when they are shown a male's penis, only to turn the page and find the vagina covered by a censorship sticker, that is, of course, a circle.  The teacher claims that the school board voted to censor such imagery.  The circle as pure, ironically, covers up the anatomical object which is responsible for birth.  The circle continues to be relevant when Dawn makes an effort to remove the sticker to discover the image of the vagina and its anatomical correctness, which viewers are to assume does not reflect the mutated version she possesses.  Finally, the circle emerges brilliantly in the form of a solar flare, when Dawn attempts to give an abstinence talk after her being raped, in this instance the burden of purity shines upon her almost as if to draw attention to her lying.  Of course, other imagery emerges within the text, the obvious one being phallic symbols of oppression, again in a very literal sense in the anatomy discussion Dawn's class engages in, however, it also emerges in regards to the nuclear power plant chimneys that rise into the air directly over Dawn's residence, penetrating the sky and the sensibilities of everyone in contact, in the case of Dawn they affect her in a very biological sense.  This all leads to the clear castration metaphor, one, entrenched in a rhetoric of evolution.  Dawn's body is not an abnormality, per se, but as her teacher suggest when referring to rattle snakes a means to evolve to survive.  In this metaphor it is clear, that the film is reminding viewers that sexual violence occurs far too frequently and it is only a matter of time before women's anatomy learns to adapt to stop its occurring.

Key Scene:  Dawn's unveiling of the female anatomy is well-shot and seems to drive home the commentary on women's oppressed sexuality, which is the overarching commentary of the film as a whole.

This film is intense, clever and reflective of the possibilities of the horror genre to consider social issues.    It is quite worth checking out and certainly cheap enough to justify owning.

30.3.13

Nothin' But Boobies. Who Needs 'Em?: Valley of the Dolls (1967)

If I want to embrace yesterdays film Foxy Brown for its absolutely brilliant use of metaphor, then I will have to come down quite hard on Mark Robson's 1967 film Valley of the Dolls, an adaptation of a Jaqueline Susann novel of the same name for being far too over the top and showy to really justify its intensity.  Sure the film is absolutely mesmerizing visually, particularly its use of psychedelic sequences to depict pill highs, and the rather innovative method for depicting musical numbers.  Yet, it must be acknowledged that the film really seems to lack a clear direction, social commentary or set of relateable characters in general.  While these are not necessarily mandatory for a film to be enjoyable, just look at anything Harmony Korine has made, when something like Valley of the Dolls attempts to reside within the cinematic and frames itself within the traditional aspects of filmmaking, it can be rather unbearable to watch it crumble under its own overly lofty ambitions.  Perhaps my real problem with the film comes not from its broad ambitions, I enjoy films with audacious hopes, but, instead; from its inability to relate its visual endeavors with the story shown.  While I have never personally read Susann's novel I cannot speak to how faithful Robson's adaptation is or is not, I, however, imagine that some of the "whiteness" of the narrative is undercut by the reality of the then tense racial climate.  The film viewers are provided with plays heavily into assumptions that everything is terrible in the world of well-to-do white people, almost entirely as a result of their large amounts of free time.  In fact, this is a film about a girl moving to the big city and attempting to find her identity, something her class and race afford her to do without question.  I know this is a rambling bit of rage and theoretically obtuse, yet, I just felt really let down by what I assumed would be a far more astute observation of sex, drugs and exploitation in the era, yet, the result was far less thrilling and certainly problematic.  In fact, if it were not for the beautiful voice of Dionne Warwick at the films opening and closing I would be inclined to dismiss the film in its entirety, and to think I almost bought a copy of the film flat out based on the cover alone.


Valley of the Dolls centers on two young girls who decide to take a shot at Broadway and all its illustrious promises.  The first girl Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke) is in possession of a powerful voice, but does not necessarily fit the look of a Broadway starlet.  The second is Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) a young woman from New England who has travelled to the big city, completely living her somewhat provincial life and middle America lifestyle behind her, including a promising marriage proposal.  The film then becomes, ostensibly, about making the correct choices.  Another girl within the group of women attempting to hit it big on Broadway, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) takes the approach of marrying into success, assuming that it will afford her open doors to big events and eventually huge theater deals, however, she ends up pregnant and in need of an abortion, which leads to another layer of medical expenses.  In the end Jennifer must break-down and star in European "soft core" erotic films.  On the other hand Neely, in an attempt to use duplicitous and devious behavior to her advantage, much like her idol, an aging Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward), however, in the process, Neely comes to obtain a crippling addiction to barbiturates, known, as "dolls" in the community.  Anne is also not free of the dangerous influence of "dolls," and succumbs to their influence for a considerable amount of time, yet is able to escape their addictive nature.  Neely, however, continues to spiral out of control and ends up in an asylum for a portion of the film, where she is assured that she caught sight of a former lover.  Yet, upon release Neely's addiction worsens, and when she adds alcohol to the mix things only spiral further downward.  In the end, Anne returns home to her family, realizing that, perhaps, the big allure of Broadway is far too much for her and simplicity is her best course of action.


This movie is all over the place philosophically, and seems to desire to dump the entirity of women's issues onto viewers, without properly dealing with any of them.  There is a character who is diagnose with cancer, and its relationship to the overall plot is so loose that I could not help but recall the announcement of having cancer that occurs in Tommy Wiseau's The Room.  I am, obviously, all for films dealing with issues of women's health and their social objectification, in fact, almost every paper or presentation I give concerns this, yet, I have no desire to engage with materials that only do this on a cursory level.  There is an abortion in this film, very little is made of this, despite clearly having rather dire effects of Jennifer and her self-identity.  She spirals into doing softcore pornography and the film never suggests that her inability to talk about her feelings post-abortion may have played into her choices.  Furthermore, the film uses some incredibly derogatory terms for sexual identity as it relates to one character, and while one could certainly suggest that this is due to drug induced rage, little consequence or challenge is given to these slurs and hateful diatribes.  Finally, the film manages to take hysteria and use it as a plot advancement without, simultaneously, condemning it as a illogical and societally constructed phenomena.  In fact, Neely's entire stay at the mental asylum appears to be an "expose" on how hysteria manifests itself, however, she is vilified for these behaviors, nevermind, that she is just as much caught in a love triangle with Anne and another man.  Very little seems to emerge in the way of critiquing males for their involvement in the problems "discussed" in this film and it is perhaps in this that I find the film most frustrating.  Again, I would rather have a film not discuss such dense and controversial topics, than to do so with half-hearted, nearly exploitative intentions.

Key Scene:  Again it is a visually pleasing film and the musical sequences are quite funny, I did, however, laugh out loud during the "European film" sequence.

This is a rental by all means, perhaps I am completely wrong in my opinion of this film and will certainly revisit in the future, however, as it stands I do not particularly care for its messy framework.

29.3.13

I Got A Black Belt In Barstoolin': Foxy Brown (1974)

I would have been quite foolish to have gone the entire month without including a film from the blaxploitation explosion which occurred in American film during the 1970's, particularly, since the genre is full of some rather intriguing and unusual depictions of women, in some cases quite problematic, however, on occasion the women who possess spaces in these films did so with such a degree of authority and strength that they would become symbols of power and pride for women, particularly those of color, for decades to follow, and even be remade in loving homage by Quentin Tarantino.  At least this is the case for Jack Hill's 1974 blaxploitation classic Foxy Brown, which is a funky, fresh and absolutely thrilling look at the effect on drugs and urban black populations in the seventies.  Of course, sticking it to the man and promoting a drug-free culture within the African-American community was nothing new to blaxploitation films thematically and the idea was certainly not uncommon within the political debates occurring in urban communities during the era, however, one cannot ignore the masterful and, admittedly, awesome ways in which this rather run of the mill story unfolds in the world of Foxy Brown.  Like many of the era's classics, it is rife with some terrible acting and some of the most haphazard editing techniques ever comitted to film, which have come to signify some of the more negative elements of the genre, yet, it is also a film with an excellent soundtrack, some fun over-the-top fighting scenes and enough interracial relationships to make CPAC and the American Family Association go up in arms.  These are, obviously, the things that have made these low-budget urban flicks last and remain cinematically relevant.  Foxy Brown is an exception to its counterparts, with its strong and sensual female lead who is unarguably victim to the male gaze and cinematic objectification, yet her existence and abrasive confrontational attitude stand to confront this objectification head on, making Foxy Brown a girl of revolutionary means both cinematically, socially and historically all at once.


Foxy Brown, surprisingly enough, does indeed focus on a woman named Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) a black woman who seems to have it hard enough navigating the unwelcoming world around her, especially after her boyfriend became a victim of assault for working undercover to bust drug trafficking.  Even when he returns to society, it is as a new man, undergoing plastic surgery to change his alias.  Things seem to be great between Foxy and the new version of her boyfriend, yet her wily brother Link (Antonio Fargas) finds himself tied deeply into drugs himself both as a user and a dealer and quickly becomes financially indebted to the wrong people.  Realizing that Foxy's new lover is indeed the old narcotics officer, he rats him out for his own safety, leading to his murder.  This illogical murder and death of her lover, which has now essentially occurred twice, leads Foxy into a decided mode of revenge, in which, she seeks out all those involved in the wicked trade beginning with the lowly henchmen and working her way up to the druglords.  Along the way she meets an group of terrible, mostly white, people who find her foolish attempts, at the most humorous, always standing in her way, whether it be the simultaneously suave and gross Steve Elias (Peter Brown) who takes a sexual interest in Foxy, yet cannot remove himself from his oppressive state as a higher up in the drug trafficking.  Foxy also comes into contact, multiple times, with a woman named Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder) who sees Foxy not only as a threat to the success of her brothel/drug ring, but her own power at a sexual figure as well.  After making quick work of everyone from the drug pushers to high-end politicians, Foxy finds herself at the point in which she must destroy the drug distributors at the root, and she recruits the help of her local Neighborhood Justice Comittee to end the terrible engagements.  This, of course, involves a ton of guns and shootouts, but Foxy eventually obtains what she wants, both justice for the wrongs exacted by drug dealers, as well as revenge for the people who were directly involved in the murder of her lover.  Despite being sexually objectified, beaten and forced to take heroin, Foxy moves from the situation a bigger and more threatening, not to mention enlightened woman.


So many a critics, particularly with a feminist lens in mind, have dismissed this film, and many other of the era for their heavy use of nudity and the naked female form, for what seem to be inexplicable moments.  I get this reading, trust me it is a film far from being void of problems, however, where I want to draw the line with a film like this is its distinct use of metaphor and message.  The body of Foxy is exploited and objectified, not for the sake of male gaze in a cinematic sense, but as a very real call to attention of these issues occurring on a large scale, especially within the urban community.  The film rejects the notion of black women as being highly-sexualized, in fact, Foxy inverts this notion and uses the bigotry to her advantage, playing up on this assumed sexuality to get a politician caught in a controversial act.  Similarly, the idea that the black woman is to reside in the back ground to the black male political cause is also rejected within the film, it is Foxy who saves her brother, and while she does require the help of a group of black men to, ultimately, take down the drug dealers, it is her image of empowered black woman that ends the film, leaving no question as to where she stands in relationship to the rest of her community.  However, what I think puts many theorists up in arms, is a scene depicting Foxy fighting a group of white, lesbian women in a dive bar.  They find her presence problematic and not entirely welcome, and one might anachronistically read this as a division of women, yet, one must remember that the film was released in 1974, at this point in time the National Organization for Women was still predominantly white women, and only two years earlier when Shirley Chisholm ran for president, NOW back a white male, to avoid the fears of losing in supporting a black woman.  It is a film of layers, to read into the nudity is a necessary one, without question, however, it extends to something much larger and more revolutionary.  Foxy is a woman, one of color and she fights against the man, which evolves far beyond the simple assumptions of rich white male wealth, essentially, this is a key moment in analyzing intersectionality, far before it became socially and theoretically acceptable to do so.

Key Scene:  The bar scene is everything one could want from a blaxploitation film in all its cheesy, yet awesome glory.

This film is super cheap, I do not foresee a bluray version coming out anytime soon, therefore, a DVD copy will suffice.

28.3.13

Did You And Shirly Temple Have A Bad Rehearsal?: Girls Just Want To Have Fun (1985)

I am beginning to realize that the 1980's is a veritable treasure trove for excellent cult comedy, whether it be Splash, or a film I gave a lot of love to awhile back Earth Girls Are Easy.  It seems that in order for these films to work they necessarily need a decidedly absurdist plot mixed with the presence of stars, who were still coming into their own.  In the case of Girls Just Want to Have Fun, viewers are provided with this exact cocktail.  The absurdist plot coming in a town seemingly filled with more expert dancers than Footloose and a ton of musicals combined, as well as serving the excellent combination of then, still up and coming actresses Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt and Shannen Doherty.  I am glad that this film made it into the inclusion for this month of women in film, because it is decidedly lesser known, and focuses on women, in this case teenage girls, in a way that has yet to make an appearance, coming into their own, decidedly preoccupied with boys and looks and especially innocent to the woes of the world.  Usually, I would be quite dismissive of this methodology, but director Alan Metter handles the script with such care and humor as to remind viewers that it is not a film about condemnation or satire, but, instead; about the woes and silly pains of growing up and experiencing the seeming absurdity of one's teenage years, where parents are assumedly overly authoritative and everyone fits beautifully into their respective cliques.  Girls Just Want to Have Fun does not exist to deconstruct the heteronormativity, or class divides of this particularly conservative era in The United States.  The film never takes itself seriously, and there is no reason it should, instead between its theatricality, surprising degree of metacinematic qualities and an awesome up on your feet soundtrack, one cannot help but accept the frilly, fluff that is this film, it is by no means culturally profound or socially critical, instead, it is escapist cinema fully realized, with such a predictability that to hate it is to hate being happy.


Girls Just Want to Have fun primarily focuses on the experiences of Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker) a new girl to Chicago, who is used to traveling the world, considering that her father is an officer in the Army.  Her newest arrival at a private Catholic school makes her an instant outsider and a point of mocking for classmates who see her love for dance as silly and immature.  However, she does make friends with the witty and wily Lynne Stone (Helen Hunt) who takes no time helping Janey break out of her shell, when they bond over a shared love for the local dance show "Dance TV," in fact, it is during their first time watching the show together that they are informed of the show seeking new dancers from the Chicago area, a task they find themselves both up for attempting.  At the same time we are introduced to the other-side-of-the-tracks tough guy Jeff Malene (Lee Montgomery) who is also surprisingly good at dancing, leading to his awkward trickster friend Drew Boreman (Jonathan Silverman) pushing for his involvement with the competition.  Furthermore, another girl, the rich and conniving Natalie Sands (Holly Gagnier) is convinced she can enter the competition and win solely off of her father's influence and money.  The first encounter of the entire group comes during the initial tryouts where Janey and Jeff find success, while Lynne is knocked out of competition, due to the trickery of Natalie.  This, of course, leads to Janey and Jeff spending more time together, much to the concern of Janey's parents whose conservative upbringing is being thrown out the window, not to mention Natalie's continual extension of monetary power to attempt to assure victory.  However, in the end the two are able to dance together and blow the competition away, while Janey is also able to show her parents the true value her dancing brings to her life, particularly her father who sees first hand the happiness that is involved.  Janey and Jeff are now a couple, and will appear as dancers on Dance TV, even Lynne finds success being an announcer within the show due to some fortunate timing.  However, that is essentially the plot of the film, aside from some dance number here and there, it is pretty simple, enjoyable and straightforward.


So it is hard for me to glean any intense critical views from an admittedly simple and straightforward film, however, it was made in the middle of the 1980's, therefore, considering the highly conservative nature of America at the time, one could certainly read Girls Just Want to Have Fun as a direct confrontation to those ideologies, particularly a slight against the notion that white males can control the outcome of events with their money and influence.  This most obviously manifests itself in the party scene where a decadent "coming out" party, not in the contemporary civil rights sense, but in the showing off to the elite class of a young woman, is destroyed by a bunch of punk rockers, whose anti-establishment mentality seems to catch aflame on the cinematic stylings of the film, whether it be the use of twins to break the cinematic assumptions of symmetry, or the decidedly experimental nature of the dance sequences.  Surprisingly, one expects Jeff's dad to be an alcoholic, working class stiff who would spout of slurs about his son's desires to dance, however, he proves to be entirely supportive of his son's career choices, even if they threaten his own job security.  The film, of course, makes a larger statement about women's mobility in this era, both through Janey and Lynne whose desire to be nothing more than dancers, flies directly in opposition to the hyper-conservative ideals of their nuns, and, subsequently, the era of America in which the film was released.  Sure it is acceptable for young women to be gymnasts or choir girls, but the assumed vices associated with dancing, make certain that the film is blatantly riding on the waves of the success of Footloose a year earlier.  However, where that film takes religion as its blatant authority figure of oppression and suppression, Girls Just Want to Have Fun draws out a larger map of authoritative obstacles that bar women from entering into the world of dance, some tangible, while others are theoretical.  Fortunately, for the generation watching this film and growing up in that era, they quickly rejected such absurdist notions and pushed towards liberal notions of gender, mobility and performance, perhaps helping to explain the seemingly simplistic desires of the film, as I look back on it with nearly thirty years of detachment.

Key Scene:  The final dance competition is quite fun, the music is hip and the moves are quite impressive, and it is a nice payoff to follow up the relatively slow portions leading up to the scene.

This is a film that I took a liking to, but am fully aware is not for everyone, as such, it is worth renting first before purchasing.

27.3.13

The Dead Don't Dream: Tristana (1970)

As it stands, Luis Buñuel is now my favorite director, not to be confused with my favorite film, which will likely always be Do The Right Thing, however, unlike Lee, I find myself entirely engaged with every work offered by the late Spanish filmmaker, even if in some instances it is in a frustrating and problematic manner.  Buñuel, one of the premier figures in the surrealist movement, went on to make a ton of movies during his controversial career, being forced to move between countries to avoid arrest, death and what proved to be an inevitable excommunication from the Catholic Church, which after a quick internet search proves to be a rather difficult task to assure.  Buñuel for all his problematic images of fetishization and sexuality as it relates to authoritative, particularly religious, oppression, has emerged to exist on the same level of controversy with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and the late Pier Paulo Passolini, yet where the former went entirely political, while the latter went absolutely shock value, Buñuel exists in a perfect and beautiful medium between both, a focal point which afforded him the ability to be both scathingly critical of his countries fascist ties, while also playfully considering the ways in which his film's characters undermined or rejected such authoritative figureheads.  Of course, I could go on for days praising Buñuel for his entrenchment within the surrealist notion of constant revolution, however, his inclusion in the last days of my month of women in film blog posts is not for his concern with authority as it relates to politics or religious oppression, but for his unusual and often negative consideration of women within his films.  I do not mean this to entirely dismiss Buñuel as a director, because I am rather aware of the ways in which he uses the feminine and fetishizing of the female body as a point of reference, with which to further study displacement of failure and frustration, yet he does exploit the women in his films, all be it, playfully and ironically, nonetheless, it is to be noted and critiqued, and Tristana is certainly a magnificent point of reference for such discussions.


Tristana, as the film suggests, follows the title character of Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) an orphan whose recent loss of her husband has placed her into a state of constant mourning, much to the concern and curiosity of her adoptive father Don Lope (Fernando Rey) who sees the young Tristana not only has his very real daughter, but, simultaneously, as a burgeoning sexual figure with whom he can place his own desires and hopes for sexual gratification.  Confused, and, frankly, a bit disgusted by Don Lope's advances, Tristana affirms her own desires to be an independent woman and attempts to seek a self and identity outside of Don Lope's gaze, something that initially leads to her meeting with a young, charming painter named Horacio (Franco Nero) who takes an instant liking to the ethereal Tristana and eventually proposes marriage to her, to which Tristana clearly wishes to say yes.  Unfortunately, the presence of Don Lope is impossible to ignore and eventually agrees to mary Don Lope, ostensibly becoming his adoptive daughter and legal wife.  Along the way Tristana falls ill with a disease the results in the loss of her leg, much to the delight of Don Lope who seems to find her handicap bizarrely arousing, and despite her continued attempts to remind Don Lope that she would rather be with some one else, Horacio, in particular, although at one point in the narrative it is clear she will branch out with others if it means avoiding Don Lope.  However, the power and authority of Don Lope proves to grand to conquer and Tristana submits to his elderly authority, however, when he falls ill and is bed-ridden Tristan quickly seizes the opportunity to open windows in the house, thus allowing for cold air to take over the space, only heightening Don Lope's sickness which assumedly leads to his death.  In no moment of lost irony, the dream heavy film closes with a montage of memories, considering and undermining the entire filmic narrative and its assumed reality.


I mention Buñuel is an interesting director to consider when one discussed women in film, particularly since they seem to always possess a problematic role within his works, whether it be their treacherous and influential sexuality in his early surrealist works, or their religious purity as a point of intense desire, as occurs minimally in something like Diary of a Chambermaid, but blows to incomprehensible means in Viridiana.  Even in his other work starring Deneueve, Belle de Jour from a few years earlier, it appears as though he is not quite willing to give a female a space of absolute control or rejection of the patriarchy, although the very means with which the brothel operates and allows its women to navigate spaces, undoubtedly undermines this notion.  Tristana is not completely void of gendered criticism, the most blatant being Tristana's seeming objectification on the part of Horacio and Don Lupe who seem to use her as an object in their own game of strategy to outwit one another, Horacio using his youthful vigor to his advantage, while Don Lupe clearly relies on years of experience and its mental advantages. Tristana simply seems to set aside contently and await for a victor to emerge.  Furthermore, when Tristan becomes an amputee it certainly seems to suggest a degree of fetishization in her otherness, although another reading could see it as a brilliant visual metaphor for the fear of castration or the female lack, as both relate to psychoanalytic theory, particularly in the context of film.  However, these problems seem particularly irrelevant when I reflect on this killing of the patriarchy within the context of the film, Tristana actively makes a choice to destroy her oppressor, even if it is through a slow disease based methodology, culturally speaking, the traditional means of murder for women, often emerging in the form of poison.  While Tristana has its problems, it is certainly the only film in Buñuel's oeuvre, for which I can recall, that does not end in the destruction of a female, but, instead; the complete opposite occurs.

Key Scene:  The bell ringing nightmare is surrealist intensity at is most realized and is perhaps the obvious Buñuelian moment in the film

A new film distributor known as Cohen Films has come to my attention for this bluray, and while their clear stealing of an image and style from Criterion is a bit bothersome, this Tristana transfer is fantastic and certainly worth owning.

26.3.13

I'd Throw You Into The Ocean...Shock Therapy: Run Lola Run (1998)

Fueled almost entirely by the MTV generation of a deluge of imagery and noise, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly everything that occurs within the vast narrative framework of the taut and intense Run Lola Run, a German film by the stellar director Tom Tykwer, whose recent involvement in Cloud Atlas has made me come to appreciate his presence in cinema.  In its seemingly ecstasy filled narrative, Run Lola Run manages to expertly consider gender expectations within Germany as it moved into the twentieth century, providing both positive and negative images of such, while, simultaneously, completely disregarding any sort of semblance of cinematic linearity or formality.  To call Run Lola Run a structuralists nightmare is an apt description, yet in its decidedly deconstructionist nature, it, nonetheless, speaks volumes to the manner with which a generation of technologically enhanced youth engage with the world, both virally and virulently.  It is always a surprise to me to consider that this film was made in 1998, because, aside from its clearly dated fashion choices, the considerations of youth, money and the ability to navigate at capitalist oriented social landscape blow the lid off any of its contemporaries.  In fact, I would even say that this film stands miles above Fight Club in its satirical consideration of a thrill seeking, adrenaline fueled culture, and, as seems to be the case with many films of similar themes to David Fincher's now well-established classic, predates it.  I am also aware that the film exists within the constraints of the era, with its techno/house music inspired soundtrack and mixing of filmic forms, but damn if it does not do so with such a seamless fusion and direction that it is essentially visual LSD.  As noted earlier Run Lola Run clearly finds its influence in a Y2K fearing group of youth that sought out visual overload as a distraction from the real woes of growing up, in the matter of a succinct eighty minutes, Tykwer's film focuses on all the social issues present in such a state of fear, both with a detached sense of satire and a noticeable degree of earnest concern.


Run Lola Run, is a non-linear film, but not in the manner one might initially assume.  In fact, the plot is somewhat straightforward.  First, there is Lola (Franka Potente) a young, red haired woman who begins her day by answering a phone call from her distraught boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) whose ties to criminal activity has led to his losing a large sum of money, which he was to deliver to his boss, known for his hot temper and willingness to snap over the most minor problems.  Manni had the money prepared to deliver, but in a panic left it on a subway train to avoid suspicious police officers, leading to its being grabbed by a homeless man with an affinity for bags.  Frantic to correct this wrong, Manni begins to consider robbing a nearby grocery store, news that leads to Lola running, as fast as she can, in order, to both obtain the money and, hopefully, stop Manni from making a huge mistake.  This is where the films linearity breaks down, into various versions of the events, each separated by a discussion between Manni and Lola in bed, the topic concerning love and death.  The first scenario finds Lola running to meet with her father Vater (Herbert Knaup) only to be told that she was adopted and not deserved of his money, which leads to her failing to meet Manni prior to the robbery and she in turn becomes an accomplice and is shot during the police suppression.  The second scenario finds Lola choosing to rob her fathers bank, as opposed to asking for the money, which, in turn, leads to Manni being hit by a work van, when the two are having a conversation.  Finally, it is during the third scenario that things finally begin to work in the favor of Lola, and she, instead; chooses to gamble a small bit of money with the hopes of winning enough to save Manni.  However, in this scenario, Manni finds the homeless man and gets his money back and the two reunite without the woes of a financial fear, or Manni's death for that matter.  While this scenario is certainly idyllic, it is not void of death, which is made only minor note of, since viewers are assumed to be siding with the success of Lola and Manni anyways.

I was a little hesitant to embrace this as a film worth including in the month of women in film, which is winding down nicely, with a flow of solid film, particularly since it does have a focus on a couples issues.  However, the title does not deceive, for it is truly about Lola's relation to the events.  Even when we are shown Manni dying, it is within a framework of actions undertaken by Lola, whose movement through the world seems to magically and metaphysically affect every person she talks with or touches, sometimes for the better, at other times for the worse.  Perhaps, the most powerful statement in the film comes from the suggestion that Lola's own frustration with how a situation ends can be verifiably changed should she will it to be so, particularly when it relates to the death of herself or her lover.  The physicality, athleticism and brains Lola possesses within the film also suggest a rejection of gender norms that reject women in any sort of authoritative role, in fact, it is in the first scenario where Lola dies that she is the least authoritative, and, as a result, is killed for not possessing a grounded voice and identity.  In a bit of genius, however, the second scenario rejects her use of violence as a challenge to her oppressor, particularly since it leads to the deaths of people she cares for, and for whom she was protecting.  The third scenario, ironically, is the one in which she embraces capitalism, while simultaneously exploiting it, and it is this scenario that she is able to assure her desired outcome, doubly so, one could argue, and if there were any question as to whether or not Lola's father was a problematic figure, with his philandering and desire to create more offsprings was problematic, his demise in the final scenario certainly provides a clear and deliberate answer.   Run Lola Run depicts the possibilities of a woman with a purpose and demands that viewers accept this emerging reality, something that would drastically change in cinema as it moved into a new millennia, wherein many women possessed similar roles and the assured place of patriarchy and traditionalism in cinema disintegrated.

Key Scene:  For a film whose shots last an average of 2.7 seconds it is hard to pick a scene, but I am partial to the casino section, because it exist both within and outside of the narrative framework created up until that point in the film.

I rented this initially, but ordered a copy of the bluray immediately after the credits moved up the screen.  I strongly suggest you do the same.

25.3.13

You Were Ready For A Love Affair, But Not For Love: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

The melodrama is a staple in the history of cinema, much as the unfortunately named "women's weepie" proved to be an important sub-genre within the movement, and it is quite obvious that no direct embraced this style of filmmaking, quite like Douglas Sirk.  To call his movies simple or traditional is to read them at face value and completely ignore the degree of commitment and detail to scenery, narrative and the way actors performed their roles, within films like Written on the Wind, Sirk manages to capture both the real tragedies of the middle class, white American existence, while also proving all to aware of their problematic and privileged lifestyle relational to the world around them.  For this month of women in film I knew that it would be a huge oversight on my part not to include at least one work by Sirk, particularly since he was so closely attached to the "women's weepie" film.  While I could likely have went with pretty much any film by the late director, I felt the subject matter of his 1955 film All That Heaven Allows would prove the most useful, both in its consideration of gender expectations as they extend beyond not only class, but generations as well.  Furthermore, the acting in this film is both within the exaggerated mannerism of melodramatic tradition, while also proving to be quite refined and focused, especially via Rock Hudson, whose charm and outright presence in the film cannot be ignored.  The mix of frank considerations of oppressive societal expectations and the idyllic landscapes filmed in brilliant Technicolor result in a film that is almost otherworldly in its displays, or at the very least so slightly altered as to make the viewer quite aware of its synthetic nature.  A film like All That Heaven Allows is a favorite of many, most surprisingly that of Fassbinder, whose Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is both an homage and admittedly partial remake of Sirk's magnificent work.  This may come as a surprise to those familiar with Fassbinder's work, yet the sort of veneer that exits over the reality of authoritative oppression, reflects not only Fassbinder, but directors like David Lynch as well.


All That Heaven Allows focuses on the seemingly mundane life of Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) a widow who fills her days with half-hearted attendances of luncheons and parties, as well as planning dinners and such for her two children when they return home from college on the weekends.  Cary, while not completely detached from her late husband, seems to long for a means to move on with her life, and even though she finds herself the point of admiration for many of the older men within the country club of her town, she turns down any advances from them beyond a cocktail and some light chit-chat.  All the while, Cary has been getting trees and gardening done by a younger man named Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) whose soft-spoken yet kind demeanor and devilishly handsome good looks, become a point of admiration for Cary, who finds herself falling for Ron.  Fortunately for Cary, Ron too seems to find himself growing fond for her, and the two begin a sweet and simple romance that centers particularly on their trips to a dilapidated barn on the outskirts of the town, a place owned by his family.  When word of their relationship makes it to town, the people begin to talk and condemn the two for engaging in what many claim to be an illicit relationship, not because Cary is a widow, but because she is so much older than Ron.  Realizing its detrimental effects on their family name, Cary's own children turn against her, eventually rejecting her desire to be with Ron, even though she emphasizes her love and earnest feelings for him.  As a result, she leaves him alone and rejects his marriage offer, only to realize that her own happiness is far to valuable to simply toss away.  What follows is an attempt to return to Ron, only to grow cold feet at the last minute.  However, seeing Cary walks away, Ron attempts to follow her only to fall of a ledge and injure himself.  Hearing the news of the accident, Cary returns to make amends with the ailing Ron who welcomes her back and the two are allowed to obtain their own world of happiness regardless of what the societal norms might suggest.


The melodrama as a genre, has always proved problematic in relation to women, particularly its emphasis that they exist within the domestic sphere.  Of course, one benefit of the melodrama, particularly from the era of filmmaking where Sirk emerge, was its heavy use of women in lead roles, an act that did challenge cinematic conventions of its time.  However, women, even in the context, of such a revolutionary film portrayal were decidedly expected to perform within perfectly aligned gender roles.  In the case of All That Heaven Allows, Cary is told that she is to play the part of the grieving widow and mother to her children, and not expected to venture into such a controversial love affair with a younger man.  It is interesting to note that she is chastised, not for seeking a new partner, in fact, she is made multiple marriage propositions in the film, however, it is her blatant choice of a younger man and, subsequently, her refusal to worry about the frivolous world of social outings to find romance.  The people of the country club, as well as her children, seem content on her remarrying to another well-off widow in order to assure financial security and that class divisions not be overlapped.  As such, one can read into the possibility that individuals are not so much upset with Cary for seeking romance with a younger person, but for doing so with somebody of such a lower class.  Regardless of their feelings and attitudes towards the arrangement, one thing is clear. they seem content to blame the entire ordeal on Cary, despite it being quite clear that Ron is also interested and involved in the initial flirtation, however, Cary is mature, educated and a mother and should, as a result, know better.  It is a film about finding love in unlikely places and the rewards present when someone opens their heart up to such possibilities, however, its dueling context of societal norms and their ability to cause an institutionalized idea of normal romance, to become internalized quite quickly.  The original ending of the film had Ron's accident serve as the closing moment, leading to his survival being uncertain, an act studios found far too depressing, yet, ironically, it is perhaps this ending that was more fulfilling than his survival.  Sure they will end up together, but they are no less suspect to the condemning glances of their community.

Key Scene:  The initial trip to the barn, is seemingly simple, but its romantic energy and sexual undertones are far too brilliant to underestimate or overlook.

This is yet another gift from Criterion.  While I am holding out for a bluray upgrade, for those solely rocking DVD's this is a must own in every regard.

24.3.13

You Need To Do Something Bad To Stop Yourself From Doing Something Worse: Stoker (2013)

Here goes my first in theater viewing experience for a film released in 2013, and boy could it have been anything more welcomed and wonderful than Chan-wook Park's English language debut Stoker.  I had already planned on viewing and blogging about this film given the skew towards Korean cinema that has occurred since my beginning graduate school, however, it works doubly in that it is also a film centrally focused on a woman, or in the case of this narrative a relationship between a mother and daughter, more than justifying its inclusion on this month of women in film.  Stoker, based solely on its trailer alone, promised to be an intense and gripping psychological thriller, with expert actors and all the insanity one would hope from Park's legacy.  I was admittedly worried that the American framework would actually hinder Park's sensibilities as he would be required to adhere to the expectations and safety of studio work, however, this is far from the case.  Stoker, while certainly no, Oldboy, manages to exceed in intensity, break the conventional frameworks of cinema, to the point of purposefully freezing frames, not to mention having a narrative so incomprehensible, multi-tiered and non-linear that it does not simply suggest a reviewing, but assuredly demands it occur.  It is a pleasure to see a Park film in English, not that I do not fully enjoy his work, even when I have to read subtitles, but the extra layers of humor, darkness and subversion that emerge merely within the way lines are delivered added to the experience of his work twofold.  In its decidedly non-traditional structure, Stoker rejects the traditional storytelling arc of cause and effect leading to a climax that is succinctly solved.   Instead, Stoker begins at a swelling point and expands continually, always seeming as though it is ready to burst at the seams, and even when viewers are led to the moment where they could assume the narrative has taken its last violent twist, they are quickly betrayed their comfort when the madness of the film pushes one step further.  If Stoker is an early entry into 2013, I am absolutely elated as to what else will emerge  to be its equal, and even surpass.


Stoker focuses on a family reeling from the death of their patriarchal figurehead Richard Stoker (Dermot Mulroney) after his apparent suicide.  While death never proves to occur at a good time, it is particularly problematic for young India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) whose birthday also fell on the same  day.  An already reclusive girl, India goes into a full scale withdrawal, only worsened by her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) and her attempts at overbearing forces of unity.  The two find it troublesome to navigate a world after the loss of their husband and father, yet when Richard's brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) appears the family adjusts to an eerie change, because this is the first time India has ever learned of Charlie's existence.  His impending presence is already problematic in his clear indifference to the absence of his late brother, as well as his immediately burgeoning relationship with the widowed Evelyn.  However, while it is clear that Evelyn is far more affectionate towards Charlie, he, nonetheless, engages in her advances half-heartedly, all the while making awkward passes at India. When various individuals go missing, particularly Charlie and Richard's aunt Gwendolyn (Jackie Weaver) India begins to grow suspicious, an act whose engagement leads to her growing disconnect at school, coming to head when she attacks a boy with a sharp pencil.  In the process, Charlie becomes even more protective and invasive in India's life, even saving her from a near rape, by choking the aggressor to the point of breaking his neck, something India reflects upon fondly.  However, when suspicions towards Charlie mount, India does more research, and discovers that Charlie's past is incredibly problematic, leading to Charlie attempting to convince that they should escape the house and move to New York.  However, Charlie realizes that, in order, to successfully move they must get rid of Evelyn, an act that India reacts to in an unusual manner, leading to her own movement out of the house into the world, closing the film in a baffling yet incredibly intense way.


I feel almost a fraud in my consideration of actually analyzing this film, because to be fair there is a lot going on, particularly in relationship to authority and undermining power.  Firstly, however, I want to make note of the ways in which Park is clearly borrowing from many of his predecessors, whether it be the tips of the hat to Hitchcock via Matthew Goode's inspired rendition of Anthony Perkins circa Psycho, or some rather clever reconsiderations of David Lynch psychotics laying right under the veneer of perfect middle class image.  What these two directors, and certainly Park share, is a deep-seeded resentment for unquestioned authoritative figures, particularly those of the patriarchal figure, in fact, it is no surprise that in all three directors' works women play key roles in plots alterations or doing away with negative forces.  However, Stoker takes the complexities of navigating such a world to new levels when he displays other women engaging in the oppression for their own selfish advancement.  I am, of course, referring to Evelyn who sees the emergence of Charlie as a perfect avenue for her to do away with the burdens of her dead husband, for whom she possessed very little love, as well as India, who she comes to loathe as a result of Charlie diverting his affections towards her.  India, unlike the other characters, seems always and at once aware of every vindictive and dangerous force in the world around her, whether it be some gross and easily enraged football players, or their friend who pretends to mean well, only to turn out to be equally violent.  India also sees symbols of authority as a threat, something that is initially foreshadowed with a cop who visits the Stoker home on a disappearance investigation, but figures again prominently into the film later.  It is, instead, when India must clearly make a statement about a person who is outright bad that she falters, yet, just as her father taught her when she was young, acts that may seem bad at the moment, could well prove to prevent something far worse from occurring.

Key Scene:  The shower scene...it is intensity taken to a new level.

This is the first real film of 2013 for me and it is quite excellent.  As I stated earlier, if this is a sign of the year to come, I am ready to embrace it passionately.

23.3.13

I'll Be Shooting For My Own Hand: Brave (2012)

It is almost always a sure thing that a film by Disney will at the very least look amazing, and it is only a notion extended when one considers that the best work by the company is often released by Pixar, which is exceptionally spectacular.  However, what is much less assured is to what social commentaries the films may make, for example, Wall-E serves as a gorgeous piece of 3D animated film while also being a surprisingly scathing critique of all things leading our technological society to brainless reliance on machines.  In contrast is Tangled, one of the more cinematic Disney film, that draws upon some excellent references to old school Robin Hood movies, as well as also containing a significant female character.  Yet, Tangled, like so many of its predecessors manages to regress into heteronormativity by its closing moments never really allowing the revolutionary gender politics it seems so intent on setting up in the films opening moments.  Brave, a film from last year, seemed to continually emerge as this sort of enigmatic feminist statement directed at kids, via a Pixar film, although, the more I think about it, I would argue that Pixar aims the narrative elements of its films at adults, while offering sound visual elements to capture children.  Regardless, Brave is, much to my surprise, quite embracing of women's singularity and manages to make a considerable portion of the narrative center around this element, as one young girl struggles to reject gender commodifications and perform in a way that she finds comfortable and liberating, regardless of the expectations of tradition.  Brave is both a highly entertaining film, as well as one that keeps its narrative focus direct and socially advanced.  It was quite easy for me to become captured in the flora laden landscape of the film occupied by vibrant characters and some of the best human-based Pixar animation to date.  It is an incredibly fast-paced film that is perfect for young audiences, yet manages to pack a heavy set of gender reconsiderations into its world in the process.  While it is by no means a superior film to Frankenweenie, I can better understand now, after viewing, why this film has received such rave reviews, and, ultimately, and Oscar.


Brave focuses on the young life of Merida (Kelly MacDonald) a princess, in a Scottish clan whose love for archery and living in the outdoors has emerged directly from the tutelage of her father Fergus (Billy Connolly) a king whose leg was lost defending his family and clan from a deathly bear attack.  This emphasis on athleticism and outdoor activities is much maligned by her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) who hopes that Merida will willingly align herself with history and give her hand to a suitor from a nearby clan as a means of assuring peace in the area.  While Fergus is quite lacking in his support of such a decision, he does realize its necessity to assure clan peace, therefore, falling in line with Elinor when she forces Merida to follow the orders and give her hand to who ever wins a contest. Even after Merida attempts to win her own hand in the competition, the fact proves that she must still get married.  In a last ditch moment of frustration,  Merida visits The Witch (Julie Walters) who agrees to provide Merida with an escape in exchange for a metal amulet.   The spell takes the form of a cake that Elinor is to eat, Merida thinking it will only cause her mother to change her mind gives it to her in excitement, yet when Elinor becomes sick almost immediately after consuming the food things take a serious turn.  The spell Merida has obtained causes her mother to change, not her mind, but physical form into that of a bear, of course, leading to her immediate danger when Fergus senses the presence of a bear within his castle.  Escaping from the castle with just enough time to spare, Merida and her mother seek The Witch to alter the spell, but she is nowhere to be found, instead leaving a riddle as to how to reverse the spell, before her mother becomes like Mor'duu another person whose selfish desires led him to being turned into a bear.  Yet, the persistent chase of Fergus leads to a showdown in a stonehenge-like battlefield, where Merida brings a fixed tapestry that she had damaged earlier in frustration against her mother.  Realizing the seriousness of the matter, Fergus steps back and, with Merida in tears, Elinor finally becomes a human again, the family reunited and the clans at ease.  The narrative ends with Merida embracing her role as princess, but with the full knowledge that she can choose to marry, or not to, at her own convenience.


While I am fully aware that it is not a particularly radical film in its portrayal of unconventional gender roles, Brave, as a piece of animated film, could have been much more heteronormative and still probably made a ton at the box office.  However, the deliberate choice, on the part of the collective of directors and writers to make Merida her own individual, even in the closing moments of the film is quite a powerful thing.  The film is about choosing a lifestyle that is both comforting and rewarding, as opposed to preordained and mandatory.  Merida loathes the idea of feminine beauty and constant beauty regiments, emphasized by her unkempt hair and her disdain when it is trapped within a headdress.  Elinor does not seem so opposed to Merida's personal pleasures and enjoyments because she assumes that it is unnatural or playing against her gender, but because she is fully aware of the political consequences of her daughters choice not to act the part.  It is a larger commentary on institutionalization, internalization and fear of working against an unrealistic notion of the ideal.  In fact, I would not even suggest that this film outright rejects femininity, because, after all, it is Merida's fixing of a tapestry that allows her mother to return to human form.  I am not suggesting that now, textile and tapestry work is uniquely feminine, but within the historical context of the film that would have certainly been the case, therefore, the narrative seems to open up its necessity.  With both commentaries existing against one another it seems to be a film that draws out the necessity of possessing both masculine and feminine qualities, without being forced to exist within one spectrum at one time.  Furthermore, Merida's existence by herself in the films closing moments say that gender is not predicated on finding an other to fifth the dichotomy, but can certainly be its own stand alone element and should be entirely the choice of the individual in question.

Key Scene:  The archery contest is fun and hearkens back to the old Robin Hood films of the thirties.

This is not a film I feel is absolutely worth owning, however, it is quite enjoyable and certainly worth renting.

22.3.13

The Voice You Hear Is Not My Speaking Voice: The Piano (1993)

I can distinctly remember viewing Angel At My Table and realizing, as it unfolded in front of me, that it would prove to be one of the most influential and important pieces of cinema I would ever see.  From its highly feminist narrative to the absolutely captivating cinematography, it made me fully aware of Jane Campion and kept it that way even though it would be now some four years later before I would catch up with another one of her films.  Of course, when I approached The Piano I had already been made aware of its critical acclaim, far before knowing that Jane Campion was the director, but for a multitude of reasons had never managed to actually catch up with it.  To describe the film as cinematic, or mesmerizing only captures the very visual obvious elements of the film, which are expressive and key to the overall theme of the film, yet not entirely is brilliance.  Within The Piano, viewers are offered a set of expert performances by a range of actors, whether they be the then well-established Harvey Keitel or the then up and coming (now quite successful) Anna Paquin.  It is also a very elaborate and multifaceted story that manages to be expansive and introspective, without sacrificing linear structure, a dangerous act, when attempting to play to the palettes of viewers who are often not versed enough filmically to follow a filmmaker outside of the traditional stylings which constitute big budget filmmaking.  Fortunately, Jane Campion clearly has no concern for making a narrative simple and accessible, but still possess a certain aesthetic frame of mind that seems transcendent of personal tastes and preconceived expectations, something her films embrace both within her choices, as well as the manner with which her characters occupy the narrative space.  To say the film centers on Holly Hunter's character is an absolute understatement, she absolutely rules and always occupies it, with her stoic silence and piercing stare, it is a film about one woman struggling to assure her voice in a world that she is literally trapped within and expected to act subordinately to a male figurehead with less than respectable desires.

The narrative centers on Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) a woman who, along with her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) have found themselves transported to a small island off the coast of New Zealand to be wed to a wealthy landowner named Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neil).  Ada, however, has been a mute for quite some time, occurring after the death of her husband after both him and her were stuck by lightning.  The only sort of expression Ada appears to still possess exists within her ability to masterfully play the piano, which is simply dumped onto the beach of the island along with all her other valuable possessions.  It is during this arrival that Ada meets her husband-to-be, as well as his handyman/translator/land-proprieter George Baines (Harvey Keitel) whose tattooed visage and muscled physique serve as a sharp contrast to the sleek and a bit slithery Alisdair.  Realizing that the piano is far to heavy to move upon arrival, Alisdair leaves it on the beach, much to the frustration of Ada who sees it as an extension of herself, begging George to take her to it the following day.  It is during this trip that Ada simply spends the time playing the piano, at which point George finds himself growing fond of Ada, given her ability to play and the beauty that exudes from her as a result.  Realizing that Alisdair simply desires to get the heavy instrument off his hands, George strikes a deal for land in return for the piano, as well as Ada's providing of lessons.  Ignorant to George's ulterior motives, Alisdair agrees quickly assuming he has earned the best deal.  What follows is a game of bartering between George and Ada where in Ada must trade trip to George's residence for the keys of her piano.  This of course expands from simply being her playing to touches, and eventually to intercourse, eventually leading to the two falling for each other.  This realization enrages Alisdair who cuts off one of Ada's fingers in response, yet when he realizes that she will forever find herself attracted to George and ignore him he gives up and the two are allowed to leave the island.  It is during this trip that Ada demands that the piano be thrown off the boat, at which point her getting caught up in the rope leads to her almost drowning, yet she escapes at the last moment, and her George and Flora are able to start a new life.  Although the narrative voice reminds viewers that the memory of her piano always sticks with Ada.

There are many things to consider as minor commentaries within this film, whether it be the clear statement on property, colonization and invasion of space as it relates to Alisdair and George's overtaking of aboriginal land for their own economic advances, even if George clearly has a respect for the people, his appropriation of their culture only speaks to such a degree about his own engagement in capitalist based oppression as a result.  One could even read this as a sort of masculine competition, a sporting challenge, in which a woman's body is objectified as a result.  In both cases, however, Champion is clearly mocking and satirizing such issues, instead; it is absolutely and clearly a commentary on the feminine obtaining a voice.  Much like Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust, the film possesses a narrative completely detached from the temporal space of the film.  Whether it be the unborn child of Daughters, or in the case of The Piano, Ada's voice which she has lost much earlier in the narrative, before the film begins.  Yet she still attempts to navigate the space of the film as though she were still very much present, and, to be fair, she is present.  She uses, firstly, her daughter as a means to navigate the space, teaching Flora to deliver statements with a directness and frankness as to be taken seriously, not only to assure her respect when she gets older, but to ground the fact that she is speaking for two people.  Of course, the more important manner with which Ada obtains a voice, is through her piano, its strings representing her vocal cords as she speaks her frustration, her sexuality and her love, in some instances all at once.  The soundtrack for the film serves as a beautiful non-diagetic, and at times diagetic doubling of this notion.  Yet by the end of the film both outlets as replacements for her voice fail and she is left with the realization that she must possess her own voice again, the closing scenes suggesting that she will do so with much practice, always remembering that a failure to do so led to her very near death.

Key Scene:  The staging of Bluebeard is a throwaway scene of sorts, but it is this great metaphor of failed escapism that works on a larger context within the film.

This is an artwork, film at its highest potential, owning it should go without saying.

21.3.13

She Finally Got Harry All To Herself: Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is one of those movies that everyone is quite culturally aware of even if they have never seen the film, which was certainly the case for me up until last night, yet I could have identified a shot of a towering woman next to power lines with very little difficulty.  As a B-movie, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman suffers from some absolutely awful special effects, while also possessing some moments of incredibly captivating cinematography and experimentation, a moment involving a crystal ball immediately comes to mind.  Given the title of the film alone, it is really obvious as to why it would be included in this month of women in film blog posts, yet clocking in at barely over an hour, I was taken back by how little of the narrative is focused on the iconic image that every seems to glean from the film.  In fact, for being a film with such a straightforward title, it is ostensibly about a couple of guys dealing with the wrath of a woman, whose vengeance is more than justified.  It is of course a movie from the fifties, and a B-movie at that, it is always a dangerous risk to assume that any film from that era and style is anything but highly misogynistic.  Of course, that is not to entirely dismiss the film, considering that its metaphor on woman uprising against the wrongdoings of her husband, when it does occur, is with such intensity and commitment that its almost as large as the woman to which the title refers.  I would never place this film on the same very high pedestal as that of Carnival of Souls, but I do think that its much better than simply a cult classic and exists as a very key text when considering the depiction of women, particularly within American cinema.  It also manages to keep within the framework of the fear of the unknown, in this case, giant martian aliens, as a metaphor for concerns of nuclear fallout and the Cold War.  Sure a thousand arguments could be made for how Attack of the 50 Foot Woman could have been so much more than what is offered, but to be fair, it also could have been so much less, what is given is considerably revolutionary, if not quite hilarious at times.


Attack of the 50 Foot Woman focuses primarily on a town whose recent visitation by aliens, in the desert at the outskirts of their town, seems to affect little in relation to their daily lives.  In fact, the opening sequence of a newscaster explaining what exactly is occurring in regards to the giant orbs and martians occupying space outside the town, yet, aside from a few passive mentions of it, the townsfolk seem quite indifferent to its existence, instead, spending much more time focusing on the issues and arguments of a popular couple in town.  The two people in question, Nancy (Allison Hayes) and Harry Archer (William Hudson) are constantly at odds with one another, particularly Nancy towards Harry, who is seemingly always attempting to win over the affections of a much younger woman named Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers).  In an attempt to ignore the face of reality, Nancy continually consumes alcohol and bemoans Harry for his actions, yet in his slick ways, Harry always flashes his charm to get Nancy to forgive him in the end.  However, when she returns from a drive out to the desert spouting about seeing a giant green man, Harry believes her to have completely insane and, as a result, drugs her into submissive indifference.  Problems grow, literally, when the drugs Harry has given Nancy begin to react to something in her body, which it is later revealed changed upon her encounter with the martian in the desert.  A series of doctors and nurses come in with the intent of fixing the problem, however, as she continues to grow the efforts fail and a giant version of Nancy breaks from the confines of her chains and begins a quest to find Harry.  The enlarged version of Nancy is so focused in her goal that she begins, unintentionally trampling everything in her path, much to the distress of two hapless cops, until she makes it to the bar where Harry is hanging out with Honey.    Harry attempts to shoot at Nancy to no avail, and grabs him from the bar and raises him above her head.  It is not until a cop uses a riot gun to blow up electrical wires onto Nancy that she is subdued and returned to regular size, killing both herself and Harry in the process, but as an onlooker notes, she has finally obtained the one the she desired, the sole possession of her husband.


The main embrace of this movie is rather obvious in its clearly stated metaphor.  A woman grows to incomprehensible proportions and exacts her wishes and desires upon a man who has to a great degree done her wrong, particularly in his willful infidelity and indifference to destroying her body in the name of comfort, but considering that this portion of the narrative is so very brief, it is important to consider the larger commentaries of the film.  Firstly, it does ask questions about what role a woman has in deterring her husband from doing wrong by her, when she has little power within a societal or legal context.  Essentially, Nancy is able to bemoan the actions of her husband but cannot forbid him from doing so, similarly, the town seems to look down on Harry's relationship with Honey, yet they also know that it is out of their jurisdiction to correct his behavior and, purposefully, play ignorant to Nancy inquiries.  While the out-lash is blown to giant proportions, again, very literally, it is quite possible that the film connects a link between violent and single-minded outbursts, in this case the trampling of cars, power lines and buildings, to being tantamount to a fit of alcohol induced rage on the part of Nancy.  Nancy is indeed a lush, the film makes that quite clear, and, in fact, serves as the major factor into peoples refusal to believe her initial claims about seeing giants.   The problems faced by Nancy and Harry also find themselves comfortably entrenched within class privilege, their house is extravagant and Nancy possesses both fine jewelry and enough money to be a functioning alcoholic, therefore, they can also comfortably blow their issues out of the water, where as, others would be forced to internalize such issues, particularly women, whose reliance on men would require them to cower in fear and dependency, as opposed to blow up in revolution and independence.  Nancy is not the ideal figure for woman's radical stand against the patriarchy, yet considering the time period and her well-to-do status she is the realistic figure.  If it were not for the rather defeatist, and clear homage to King Kong, ending,  its frank consideration of privilege and societal navigation, and, ultimately, reconsideration of gender power dynamics would be damn near perfect.

Key Scene:  When Nancy finally breaks out of the house, her destruction of the domestic is so well realized and visually driven that it is hard not to revel in its occurrence.

This is an awesome b-movie that stands in considerable opposition to the male-oriented works of the same time, if only for the last ten minutes.  What makes it greater is that it has some moments of visual magic that are quite fresh to even by expanded cinematic palette.  I highly recommend grabbing a copy for your collection.

20.3.13

I Added Less Water Than Last Week: Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Mesmerizing, jarring, introspective, evasive and meticulous are words that could and probably have been used to describe Chantal Akerman's 1975 character study Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.  The lengthy title lends itself to the rather lengthy film and while I will admit I found myself distracted throughout, it was not a result of the film being bad in the slightest, but more of my own personal state of mind and general tiredness.  I am quite aware, and have read some of the articles, about the divisive nature surrounding this film.  Many find it to be an excellent consideration of the female body as it occupies space in a very real and quantifiable way, while others find its deliberate staging within the domestic household and eventual twist to be somewhat exploitative and undermining of the feminist leanings it clearly takes.  One thing is for certain when you consider this masterpiece by Akerman, and that is its importance to cinema both in its style and in its subject manner.  Firstly, it is a film entirely dedicated to one individuals experience, and the camera rarely shies away from capturing even the most seemingly minute of details in the process.  Second, it chooses its subject to wholly be that of a woman, never allowing the males who occupy her space to completely take over the scene or the space which she has created.  It is as though Akerman has made a decided stand against all that is definably traditional in masculine filmmaking, while still managing to make a piece of engaging and entice film.  Every drawn out shot and deep focus encounter is structurally sound and eerily symmetrical, making the moments when the character leaves home that much more unusual.  The film is deserved of its continual emergence of lists of the most important films ever made and requires a heavy understanding of cinematic language and theory to truly engage within, yet, the images and story are so simplistically accessible that I would venture to say it simply playing at any major television retailer would prove to capture any passerby, it is simply that gripping and of its own existence that it is impossible to ignore.

The films intense focus is on that of Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) whose name viewers can only draw from a letter she receives, and that the title of the film suggest it to be such. Jeanne is a single woman who lives alone, spending much of her day washing clothing, preparing food and drinking coffee.  She clearly focuses a heavy amount of her energy into preparing meals for her son who comes home in the evenings, only to completely avoid conversation with her in order to further reading his books and engage in his studies.  Of course, Jeanne plays ignorant to his indifference and attempts to create small talk with him about his aunt in Canada or questions about thoughts on a sweater she is knitting for him.  All seems mundane, if not a bit tragic, were it not for the revelation, at the opening of the film that Jeanne works as a prostitute during the day, seemingly servicing repeat customers ever week.  Yet, this very real occurrence factors in rather minimally to the film, as much more time seems to be spent on considering Jeanne as she is shown taking care of the baby of an unseen woman dropping off her child, or waiting in lack drawn out shots for the elevator to arrive and subsequently reach the floor on which she resides.  In fact, the most heavily focuses plot point of the narrative emerges when Jeanne is depicted trying to find a replacement button for a jacket she has received from her sister, whose living in Canada has meant a time difference in fashion trends and, therefore, a button that was neither in style or out of style within her Brussels neighborhood.  This event is followed by yet more monotony, particularly Jeanne engaging in a extended sequence of her slowly drinking coffee.  It is during one of her visits from a customer that her engagement in intercourse is finally shown, with a top down shot Jeanne's indifferent face turns frustrated as a man simply lays upon her.  After the act is over, it is then cut to her dressing in the mirror as the man lays satisfied with his act, only to be stabbed, inexplicably, by Jeanne in the throat.  His dead body writhes in pain and the film then goes to its closing shot of Jeanne simply sitting in the dark of her house, perhaps contemplating her actions or considering the future.

This has been aptly described as the "first masterpiece of the feminist history of cinema," and deservedly so because in its daunting runtime it manages to tackle essentially every major issue within the feminist movement of the era, mind you it is 1975, so issues of race and class certainly do not exist prominently within the feminist discourse.  It does take Laura Mulvey's consideration of the "male gaze," which has been discussed already this month and many times in the past on the blog, and completely reconsiders its existence.  The film, directly challenges its viewers, regardless of sex, to engage with the images in an unflinching manner, much like the way in which the events are depicted, never drawing any sort of pleasure or gratification from the experience, but instead a second by second cataloguing of Jeanne's experiences.  In fact, the one scene in which she is nude, is done in such a stark and sterile manner that even this arguably objectifying moment is anything but, and instead, draws upon reality and nothing in the realm of idealism.  The next major factor is the manner in which Akerman through her drawn out shots and stagnant deep-focus camera manages to show the layers of burden associated with domestic work, particularly in regards to its consumption of time and money.  Jeanne spends perhaps two thirds of the film preparing or cooking food and in many instances it is not solely for her enjoyment and her son, detached in his reading, is never appreciative of the efforts his mother has undertaken, but only seems to see her as a source of money, of which, he never inquires to how she obtained, surely his discovery would lead to condemnation.  Finally, if there is any question about the message of feminist empowerment and deconstruction of masculine privilege and space, the closing act by Jeanne ends such inquiries with its decided killing of the oppressive male figure, which surprisingly seems to be the least radical moment in the entire film.

Key Scene:  The coffee scene is particularly stagnant, yet mesmerizing, but the film runs so smoothly together that to pick anything out is quite impossible.

This is a major moment in the history of film and well worth owning, while I would hope that Criterion would release a bluray in the future, I think it unlikely, therefore, a DVD copy will have to suffice in the meanwhile.

19.3.13

Experiments In Film: Meshes In The Afternoon (1943)


I knew that for this month of women in film that I wanted to include at least one female experimental filmmaker, and while I certainly considered using Su Friedrich, amongst others, I decided it was perhaps best to show some more adoration for Maya Deren, whose experimental films proved quite important in my ultimate understanding of the power and possibility of cinema.  While I am still slightly more in favor of Stan Brakhage's work, with each revisitation of Deren's catalogue I begin to realize that she may well be the superior filmmaker, especially, if one is to consider her most well known piece Meshes in the Afternoon.  Created with her then husband Alex Hammind, the film is very much concerned with the image and spatial movement of woman, perhaps heavily influenced by Deren's own hand in the making, although much contention has arisen regarding who of the couple should receive credit.  Meshes of the Afternoon manages to exist within multiple styles of experimental filmmaking, whether it be they heavy influences of Dadaism and surrealism that allow for the film to create doppelgängers and a non-linear narrative clearly influenced by the unconscious, yet, it is also a film with evasive visual imagery relying of refractions of light and shadow that are reminiscent of Chris Marker's La Jetée.  It is quite fun to watch people attempt to break down the symbolism within something like Meshes of the Afternoon, because it is a film where every scene and image, does indeed appear to be heavily contemplative and a clear decision on the part of the directors.  Whether it be a key that turns into a knife or a shattered mirror, the film seems to layer its meaning within itself, suggesting an engagement with its textual commentary that is entirely contingent upon each viewers emotional and mental attitude upon initially engaging with the material.  It is really difficult not to leap at over explaining and, subsequently, over selling something like Meshes in the Afternoon, because it is both a constantly baffling film, as well as something that a viewer will find themselves completely engrossed with for the thirteen odd minutes of run time.

After claiming that deconstructing the film is overly exhausted and to some degree counterintuitive, I will, nonetheless, attempt to add some context to my interpretation of the the multilayered and expansive narrative that is Meshes of the Afternoon.  Yet, I will attempt to only pull what would be pertinent to a feminist analysis, considering the theme of this month on my blog, and even in doing so I am not claiming it to be a certainty in any reading, but merely one of a wide set of possibilities.  Firstly, the manner with which the unnamed main character, played, of course, by Deren herself, moves through the space of the film, often extending arms, from the top of the screen downward, or being half shot in a reflection of a window, could speak to issues of disembodiment that many women face, specifically after being victim to sexual violence, something the film indirectly suggests has occurred.  Secondly, the key, perhaps the films most recurring image, could mean a variety of things relating to femininity, whether it be her own identity, or more abstractly her "way of being female" a key that, not accidentally, can turn to a knife without a moments notice.  Of course, these previous mentioned images and stylistic choices are key, but the films most jarring and enigmatic image has to be the mirror-faced grim reaper who moves through the space of the film, much to the awareness of the the main woman in the film, but at the same time completely detached.  If it were not for the presence, of the mirror, I would simply call it a rather normal relation to sex and death that often emerges in surrealist filmmaking, think of the moth from Un Chien Andalou for a classic example.  Yet the mirror for a face on the figure of death, is perhaps in a Lacanian kind of way, a suggestion to the woman's own othering and lack, there for visualizing her silence and inevitable death as a result.  Of course, I have no clue what to make of the phone that the grim reaper carries, but it only drives me to visit this film many more times in the future.

To view Meshes in the Afternoon online, or to get more information about Maya Deren, click on either of the images below: