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.