Wednesday, December 23, 2009

...Pasolini's Salo (120 Days of Sodom)

There is no reason to see this movie. Really, others will tell you how it's an engaging message to say to "never again" to the fascism of WW2 in Europe (specifically in Italy) and other things. Here's a tip: watch Fellini's _Amarcord_ watch Malle's _Au Revoir Les Enfants_ watch _The Pianist_ watch I dunno, A MILLION other movies about this topic, but don't watch Salo. I don't advocate censorship. But...really what was the point of this movie?...yes. I've read a bit of the criticism but then I watch this movie (which I was NOT able to get all the way through) and I wonder, Pier Paolo Pasolini, what really were you contributing by making the most disgusting movie ever? Which was an adaptation of Sade's most disgusting book ever. Why? Why? Why? No really, now I know you can't answer this question because you were murdered during the making of this film which was then banned for decades, but really, really what was the point?

...James Cameron

Still 0 days, 0 recipes....
(this article is heavily informed by the below-mentioned _New Yorker_ profile)
I went to see _Avatar_ in 3D last night at the Arclight. In LA, one forgets what a "nerd" looks like in LA when everyone is so vacuously chic...well, if you needed a reminder just step into the lobby of the Arclight last night, where people who don't usually give a **** about cinema were gathered in droves to see James Cameron's latest opus in 3D. Now the movie had me engaged from the word go...but at the same time it was the stupidest, laziest piece of crap. You see, James Cameron is a technician and an effects creator of the highest order. He creates concepts to go along with these brilliant creations and then puts himself (and sadistically everyone who works with him) into extreme hyperdrive to realize these great creations. However, he is the most immature, obnoxious man (read the New Yorker Profile: James Cameron and “Avatar”: ) and his lack of interest in letting other people besides his god-complex self influence or impact him in any way really colors his characters. Mainly in that they really have no color at all. James Cameron believes in the macho everyman. And the best women are really men who are rewritten with female names. He supposedly thoroughly creates a universe with painstaking detail, yet his universes are always nuance-free. Semi-spoiler example: At the pivotal moment in the script, a "hail mary decision" allows Sully to connect and control the most powerful creature in ALL of Pandora (i'm talking about an ENTIRE (fictional) planet, not the music website that gives you the same crappy New Order and Talking Heads songs when you try to create a Smiths or Cure channel) Also, when greedy corporate people make a decision no one can stop them, while our current economy shows that to be the truth, at least people can make the musings of stopping them. Such musings would be an interesting direction for the script to take. But no, the script is SO SO SO SO simple. People who kick ass are cool, kicking ass is cool and greed is bad. (However, the extreme money-making of the studios and of Cameron is A-OK. ) Cameron has such an incredible talent, but too bad he pours all of it into a simplistic, stupid plots and simplistic (but brilliantly acted- Sigourney Weaver is so so so good- but it's all her) characters. But then again, as Cameron shows in his evil corporate characters, when one has the power to control vast wealth and resources, they don't use such power judiciously.

Monday, December 14, 2009

of...The Girlfriend Experience

Soderbergh is a southerner and like a southerner he can make his points with a simple easy charm. And the point he makes about how the actualization of Reaganomics has eroded our souls is strong, but subtly stated. Reagan always believed wealth would "trickle down" and _The Girlfriend Experience_ presents with an ambitious young couple that have placed themselves right under the leaky tap of the wealth accumulators. Chris is a personal trainer and Chelsea/Christine is an high-priced escort. Free from the whims and tangents that plagued the "Me" generation they move through their lives in an organized fashion, unfettered by any apparent deeper concerns. But as this movie so clearly shows, deeper concerns are a luxury of the past, in order to catch every drop trickling down one has to hustle, hustle, hustle.

In order to perfectly elucidate this point, Soderbergh has life and art intersect by casting in the juicy role of Chelsea a porn star for the late capitalist world, Ms. Sasha Grey. Sasha Grey is distant and wooden in all her scenes and at first I thought this movie would be unbearable. But as I was agonizing over her "lack of performance" I realized that the reason why she seemed lifeless and boring is that someone who is performing her job, high-class prostitution, would be fairly lifeless. Just as an aside, the way Grey comes across in _Girlfriend_ reminded me of how Madonna would come across in interviews back in the eighties, cold, almost robotic. Chelsea's mode of being is a perfect adaptation for this world. However, and this is where Soderbergh's soft, southern drawl comes in, her life comes across as banal. Critics complained about her terrible performance, but I found her right on the money.

The gold standard of films about prostitution is typically considered to be _Klute_. In that film, Jane Fonda gave a rich, dramatic performance as Bree Daniels, a woman who became involved in prostitution because she got lost and had to overcome her pain. Bree Daniels was part of a sleazier section of a counter-culture that was part of the sexual revolution. In the era of _Klute_, when the crazy upstart values of the 60's were just making their way into the middle-class world, the smart yet troubled Bree could find ways to combine introspection and a career in prostitution. Well, the sexual revolution is over and Chelsea can dabble in the same realm as Bree Daniels but with a new level of self-respect and status. There is no smack in the veins or smacks on the face in Chelsea's world, because she serves a generation of men raised on porn stars, an escort is something different for them than the prior generation of Johns. Additionally, while Bree's world was about survival and unresolved issues, Chelsea's is about making money. Thus, she has no time for the tears and self-destructive behavior or anything else that stands in the way of her busy day. Besides, why should she feel anything but satisfied? She has achieved that which everyone in this wealth-oriented world strives. And her boyfriend Chris has no reservations and judgments either, as her job helps provide for their lifestyle. The side that Bree had to choose is no longer there, in today's world the line between prostitution and respectability is largely erased.
To me Soderbergh's choice of Ms. Grey mirrors his choice of Andie MacDowell in _Sex, Lies and Videotape_. Ms. MacDowell has had some nice movies, but never replicated her performance in that film. When I worked on a movie about three years ago and spent a fair amount of time with Andie MacDowell and found out why. There were so many ways in which she reminded me of the character, Ann Bishop Millaney, that she played. Soderbergh, in casting someone who's personality and experiences already mirror the part she plays, has again found the Cinderella who fits directly into the glass slipper of this part. Thus the "truth" of life as a Wall Street Escort that some brilliant young actress could try to master and then like Jane Fonda, do a brilliant interpretation of, Sasha Grey does not have to do the work of interpreting, she knows this truth.
The movie, shot on video, focuses on the daily routines of the main characters. Chris joining nerdy guys from Wall Street taking a private jet to Vegas (which when Chris questions his client about paying for it in a wrecked economy, the client explains the trip is "necessary") and talking about a 70% service economy, the New York life of squeaky-clean streets, upscale shops, nice restaurants, gyms, and the boring conversations of people who have become so obsessed with consumption (and so fearful of losing their ability to continue it) that they know of nothing else.
Eventually, though _The Girlfriend Experience_ that Chelsea provides and the reality of intimacy in her life get confused in her heart. And how she responds to that conflict reflects shows so poignantly what we have lost in the loss of the middle-class, for success is hustling for Haute Bourgoisie Manhattan life because in a "70 % service economy" there isn't really much else to seek. (For some that are looking for a comparison point for what it meant to be rich in NYC a few decades ago should watch Whit Stillman's _Metropolitan_- A wealthy but much more innocent world.) For the critics who did not see "the ending" in this movie, just please watch it again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

...Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus

I lump songs like "Party in the USA" into what I call health club music. Because they play it at my health club and that is the only time I listen to it. (I need to start wearing an ipod, but the problem with ipods is that now everyone wears them - which is understandable because songs like "Party in the USA" are unbearable- so no one can hear you if you speak to them. So if you need help with something, like when you can't lift the weight u are lifting suddenly during a set, which happens to me a lot, you have two unappealing choices. You can either scream or wait for a while with the bar bearing down on your chest until someone looks up and sees you, I choose the latter because it is embarrassing enough to not be able to lift the bar) Anyway, among the odious songs that play at gym including that whiny "One step at a time! whether you are learning to fly or falling in love..." or "pieces of me" (which Ashlee Simpson pronounces "pheaces of me") "Party in the USA" is the most odious. And there is a simple reason why and that is because of the "milestone music" she chooses to reference in the song.
Here are the applicable excerpts of the music.

And I'm nervous
'Cause when the taximan turned on the radio

And a Jay Z song was on
And a Jay Z song was on
And a Jay Z song was on

And I'm nervous
And the DJ dropped my favorite tune

And a Britney song was on
And a Britney song was on
And a Britney song was on

I could critique several aspects of the simplistic song, including that ostensibly this song is about a girl who has just come to Hollywood to make it yet she lands at LAX. Is her stuff getting shipped to her and moved in later? But then again I moved to California after High School via airplane (but that was before luggage restrictions) so I cannot really critique....
Back to the issue at hand which is the songs Miley leans on for her emotional inspiration during her first moments in Hollywood. The fact that she mentions a Jay Z song and a Britney song are so appalling, for this means songs of such poor quality are what are coloring the moments of her life and giving her emotional strength.
There is such a rich canon of pop music to draw from....for me I had my Tori Amos phase, my Sinead O'Connor phase, Steely Dan phase, my Roxy Music phase, my Smiths phase, my Grace Jones phase, my David Bowie phase (approximately in that order I skipped some embarrassing phases). Others had their Beatles phase, their Springsteen phase, their Stones phase, their Bob Dylan phase, their Aretha Franklin phase, their Joni Mitchell phase. Songs by these artists were created with care and inspiration. The lyrics were informed by collectively understood life moments, imagery, raw emotion and used the recording technology of the time (particularly Roxy Music and Bowie, oh Bowie who combined disparate musical elements so brilliantly into pieces so rich....) to create pieces with resonance. Thus because songs by these artists came from a place of artistic passion, they were designed to assuage the fears and existential angst we feel at the moments of our lives. Clearly, the Miley in the song is rife with struggle over her ability to achieve in the face of the established power structure that is Los Angeles.

So hard with my girls all around me
It's definitley not a Nashville party
'Cause all I see are stilletos
I guess I never got the memo

Now as I mentioned before, most of us have songs we secretly love, "The Lover in Me" by Sheena Easton and "Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo are two I will confess right now, but that does not begin to cover my secret levels of bad taste. However I have the good sense not to mention them, to at least respect the serious artistic process of great rock artists (i.e. Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell) to mention great artists out loud when asked about my preferred music. If a Jay-Z song and a Britney song were truly the tunes that helped little Miley through this moment of uncertainty, she should have lied while composing "Party in the USA." Because not only does her song serve as a reflection of herself, but it is also a potential pedagogical opportunity that she shamelessly squandered. She could have turned her fans towards a great artist, imagine all the little girls and not so little gay boys who could have discovered Todd Rundgren or Joni Mitchell through Cyrus' composition.
Alas, this will not happen.
I realize that all of this is simple nostalgia for the "good old days" that never were. Now bad pop music has been present for as long as pop and rock have existed and bad songs have their place. But when an lack of exposure to the canon of music is so grave that bad songs are then referenced and celebrated for posterity in another song, well that just makes me shutter.

Friday, November 27, 2009

of....Miss Julie by J. August Strindberg

By the way this is my first blog entry but I am just beginning this blog without a lot of fanfare. You know the way the networks used to do with sitcoms back in da day when they would just start a sitcom series and end it. No pilots, no events, no nada. Besides the fact that I am starting a blog 3 eons after everyone else did is hardly a cause for fanfare...

(0 days, 0 recipes)

First of all. August Strindberg is a misogynist, arrogant prick. If you weren't aware of this, just read some (you don't even have to read all) of the intros to one of his plays. (I myself am reading "Strindberg Plays: One" Translated and Introduced by Michael Mayer [there are several volumes because Strindberg could apparently write a play in the time it takes most people to fry a pancake or visit the restroom- and was not shy about extolling this ability]

My favorite quote:

Strindberg on Nietzche: "My spiritual Uterus has found a tremendous fertilizer in Friedrich Nietzsche, so that I feel like a dog about to litter! He is the man for me!"

Mayer goes on to explain that apparently Strindberg took comfort in Nietzche’s theory of the Superman (if you want to find out more about Nietzche, I’m too lasy and uninformed to go into it)

Anyway, Mayer explains that Strindberg took comfort in Nietzche’s Superman theory because it “seemed to him to offer some consolation against the impending domination of the world by women; here at last was a fellow spirit to support him against Ibsen, whose championship of the female sex Strindberg abominated.”

I could also include quotes from his outrageous letter to his publisher about why he should publish Miss Julie or other outrageous excerpts from his correspondence, but why make yourself read the direct thoughts of a misogynist when you already know they are one.

Now onto Miss Julie (I have to read now, so please hold for an hour like you are on the phone with the state of California EDD)

Just so you know, by the way, I am only reading Miss Julie because I am waiting for my rental of Paul Schrader’s remake of _Cat People_ to download on iTunes and it is taking forever.

Okay, so here’s the deal on Miss Julie.

This is what distinguishes a talented writer like Strindberg from a no-talent writer like Ayn Rand. (No, I have not personally read any Ayn Rand but having friends in High School who thought she was brilliant I heard enough quotes to know to stay away) Anyway Strindberg takes his woman-hating self and creates a character who crackles with sexuality and dark self-destructive urges.

Strindberg also hated the upper-classes and part of the reason he did, just FYI, is because his wife (at the time Siri) was from a wealthy family which made him resentful. So her thanks for choosing to marry Johan August Strindberg and not some better-looking Sven of her own class was him hating the rich and hating women. Also forget it if he’s on one of his “write a play in two days” binges and you need him to run to Revco to pick up some cat litter and a half-gallon of milk.

But quick runs to Mary Lou Retton-endorsed drug stores are not the domain of the brilliant playwrites, so back to matter at the hand. Class-conflict is what, selon moi, gives this play its punch. Julie is an out-of-control force that immediately causes the sort of trouble that one in 18th Century Sweden can’t get out of it. Basically, she comes to the servant’s midsummers dance and makes a super ho of herself and no one can really say no because she is the Mistress of the house. While Jean, the Valet and Christine, the cook and Jean’s fiancée, are talking about what a ho-dogg she is and how she’s ruining the night, she comes in the kitchen and immeadiately starts exhibiting the previously discussed ho-dogg behavior. However, Miss Julie is also attractive and Jean has no qualms about discussing how attractive he finds her with his fiancée.

But here is what is interesting, for a confirmed woman-hater, the most balanced character is Christine. However, on further glance, Christine has no ambition and knows her place. And thus by accepting her place (and even who she is above) she has obviously not been created as a favorable character by Strindberg. Christine’s petit petit petit bourgeois stance is clearly stated in this passage:

Christine: I’ve always had sufficient respect for myself-

Jean: To be able to turn up your nose at others.

Christine: To stop me from demeaning myself. You tell me when you’ve seen his lordship’s cook mucking around with the groom or the pigman! Just you tell me!

But really, considering how much Strindberg hates women, Christine may be as good as a woman can be, for while she is too ignorant to challenge the class structure, she also doesn’t seem to challenge women’s place. For the gentle bigot, any minority (Gay, colored, woman) who knows their place and lives at peace with their natural subordinate position is always A-OK.

Julie, however, is trouble. And not just because she is an aristocrat. You see, Julie’s father’s estate is plagued by a problematic history- and here it is. A woman, Julie’s mother, came in and nearly ruined everything. How could a woman manage to accomplish this sort of Alexis takes over Colby Co. in the 18th Century? Well Julie, in between her psychotic fits and erotic demands that Jean kiss her shoe, explains a story of her mother was a commoner who was “brought up with ideas about equality, freedom for women and all that.” Well, let’s just say that these kind of values led to a stormy relationship between Julie’s mother and father that put the whole Estate into jeopardy.

What is interesting is that Miss Julie’s account of her mother reminds me in some ways of _Craig’s Wife_ a Pulitzer-prize winning American play from the 1920s (and also two times a movie, once starring Joan Crawford) in which the anti-heroine Mrs. Craig is a heartless woman obsessed with the house and property that marriage brought her. Like Miss Julie’s mother (whom we do not meet in the play), she is in a position of anger because of her preoccupation with ownership and control. Mrs. Craig never shows any real love or compassion towards anyone. However, _Craig’s Wife_ is written presumably to illustrate what powerlessness creates in women. When your only chance at any security at all is marriage, where is there room for compassion or love? To be Mrs. Craig was a necessary business arrangement pivotal to her survival. Men can conquer in the world and leave their emotional lives for just that (not that it is ever that simple, but still). Mrs. Craig cannot truly live a full existence in a male-dominated world so she turns marriage into survival and that’s no good, but according to Strindberg the other alternative of courageously working to combat sexist conventions is an even worse option, for what you get is Julie. But, of course, Miss Julie’s mother was not only unfortunately exposed to “freedom for women” but she was also manipulative. Just a thought, by creating a marriage between a noble man and a common woman, Strindberg wanted to show how disasterous it would be if the table were turned- as if he were rich and his wife poor, how devilish she would be in trying to broadcast exercizes in social change (Strindberg must have a peach of a husband, he was married three times.) Strindberg’s female characters in Miss Julie are simply unable to digest and utilize the information at hand, like an ogre attempting to paint a fine line, they simply cannot master the subtle technique. Thus Miss Julie, like a severely mentally-disabled person unable to properly understand and articulate their emotions, Julie (like her mother before her) can only manipulate and act out in order to make her way through the world.

Since I began writing this on a lark, it was pure chance that John Lahr’s review of Patrick Marber’s _After Miss Julie_ an adaptation of the play that changes the setting from 18th Century Sweden to England in 1945 was in The New Yorker (playing on Broadway with Sienna Miller in the title role). In this review, John Lahr describes how the move forward in time renders the play’s believable situation of necessity (Miss Julie and Jean hiding in his bedroom so the rowdy servants returning from their dance will not see the two of them alone) is not believable in 1945 England. He is probably correct. However, I am prone to ask, why is it believable that Miss Julie’s mother would accomplish the manipulations necessary to damage the estate almost beyond repair and Miss Julie clearly beyond repair? Strindberg was a genius in pioneering the naturalistic style that makes this play endure so powerfully, so good that, unlike Ms. Rand, he makes his absurdity compelling.

By the way, totally see Paul Schrader’s _Cat People_. A masterpiece of trash from one of America’s most oversexed directors and Ms. Kinski, mostly naked, is fantastic.