Recap: Best of June 2017

the beguiled elle fanning nicole kidman moviesI did a lot of running around in June and didn’t make it to the movies much at all as a result. I still managed to introduce myself to some #cinema though. Here are the highlights.

Dogville (2003)
Directed by Lars von Trier

I still have a lot of Lars von Trier blind spots. I love Melancholia. I have mixed feelings about Nymphomaniac. I haven’t seen anything else except Dogville.

And Dogville, my friends, is very good. It’s a dark, nasty film. And it’s incredibly and thoroughly alive.

Kidman is absolutely fantastic here, and there’s a scene featuring her and Patricia Clarkson that I’ll be holding on to for quite some time.

The Beguiled  (2017)
Directed by Sofia Coppola

In May, I had a fabulous time watching Don Siegel’s The Beguiled. Then, in June, I had an equally fabulous (albeit, somewhat different) time watching Sofia Coppola’s.

Though more classy and more elegant than the ’71 version, Coppola’s The Beguiled doesn’t completely deny its more lurid origins. Where Siegel’s film goes to bed with pulp, Coppola’s often flirts with it instead. Both are valid takes on the story at hand, and examining the differences between them is worthwhile in and of itself.

I have yet to see Somewhere, but The Beguiled is one of Coppola’s very best as far as I’m concerned. Like much of her previous work, it’s “about” femininity, the underside of certain types of privilege, and the maddening power of boredom. A moody, Gothic-tinged, deeply psycho-sexual story is the perfect vehicle for such topics, which may be why The Beguiled feels more fully developed to me than a few of Coppola’s other films. It’s calculated, intelligent, and visually beautiful. It’s also surprisingly funny and features compelling performances from Kidman and Dunst.

Scarecrow (1973)
Directed by Jerry Schatzberg

Scarecrow is very sad and very well acted. Hackman is stellar, but Pacino is especially devastating. Schatzberg’s film also demonstrates a great deal of empathy and patience for its main characters, unfortunate individuals who it depicts tenderly and with considerable emotional detail.

I’ve never seen Midnight Cowboy, but maybe I don’t need to now.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Directed by Clint Eastwood

“She was trash.”

“Mo cuishle”

I cried.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)
Directed by Steven Spielberg

I may have seen this as a kid, but I definitely didn’t watch it often, and I have no memory of ever making it through the whole thing until I caught it at The Egyptian in June.

It’s embarrassing how much of Spielberg’s work I haven’t seen. Fortunately, E.T. has encouraged me to do something about that. As most know by now, it’s a touching, delightful film that’s bursting with heart. It’s not the kind of movie that I want most days, but it’s a thing of beauty all the same.

Until Next Time
Best of May

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The Beautiful and the Repulsive: Ambivalence in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a MurdererWhat follows was written for a course on “Introductory Concepts in Cultural Studies,” which was taught by Dr. Denise McKenna during the spring ’17 semester at USC. Initially, the paper’s central points where also explained in conjunction with a visual presentation, which is not included here. Furthermore, this paper is far from complete; Rather than present a narrow, well-contained argument concerning Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, it attempts to put the movie in contact with larger topics in cultural studies while also laying out a number of ways in which Tykwer’s film should be examined further. Lastly, as this paper was written for a Cinema and Media Studies program, it largely ignores the 1985 novel from which the the movie is adapted. That said, I recently read Süskind’s book for fun, and engaging it in depth could certainly sharpen and expand what I say below.

Also, this project was largely inspired by my fondness for Tykwer’s film, which deserves more love and critical attention than it has received thus far.

The Beautiful and the Repulsive: Ambivalence in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Tom Tykwer’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Perfume) is no ordinary movie. Released in 2006, the film is an adaptation of German author Peter Süskind’s 1985 novel (originally titled Das Parfum), which received wide acclaim and was an international bestseller (Markham). And yet, for all the book’s widespread success, Süskind was slow to sell the rights, and many believed the story was unfilmable (Ebert; Phillips; Rabin). Like the unusual serial-killer at its center, Perfume does much of its work in “the fleeting realm of scent” (Perfume). Instead of shying away from this aspect of the film, Tykwer embraces it, and the result is a jarring, almost hyper-real work that provokes intense reactions from viewers—whether they like the film or not. In a sense, there is something more consistently visceral, more noticeably physical in experiencing strong scents (good or bad) than there is seeing. Perfume is pervaded by striking, sensuous, and even horrifying images; moreover, Tykwer wraps those images in a tale that completely merges them with the notion of their smell. Through it’s scent-focused narrative (as well as numerous shots of noses taking in the world around them), Perfume attempts to transcend the visual, thereby challenging the boundaries surrounding the category “cinema.”

Questions concerning what film can depict and what senses it engages aside, Perfume challenges numerous other categories as well. As its double title indicates, the film is pervaded by juxtaposition. Somewhat like perfume itself—which has traditionally included revolting, animal-derived substances like civet and ambergris—Perfume the film combines the beautiful and the repulsive. However, where the perfume business has sought to efface its less-appealing qualities, Tykwer repeatedly calls attention to them instead. Shots of beautiful women are met with those of dead animals in jars. Tranquil fields of lavender are followed by images of death and decay. The film embraces the beautiful and the repulsive in equal measure, all the while refusing to ally itself with just one side of any divide between them. Such juxtaposition and ambivalence lead to a situation in which the boundaries between various seemingly opposed categories (such as “high” and “low” art) are emphasized and blurred almost simultaneously. As I discuss in more detail below, Perfume asks important questions and engages a large number of substantive issues—many of which can be tied back to the nature of art and of mass culture. However, while the film hardly lacks intelligence, it does refuse to provide straightforward answers. Like a perfume combining things as different as rose and castoreum, the concoction that is Tykwer’s film employs disparate (even contradictory) ideas to create one complex, sublime experience. Thus, while appreciating the individual notes of Perfume may enhance one’s reception of it, so does taking in the whole on its own terms.

In what follows, I read numerous aspects of Perfume, paying particular attention to those that seem to insert the film into fundamental debates in cultural studies. In doing so, I draw on work by a range of thinkers, primarily Walter Benjamin and Dwight Macdonald. Of course, there are certainly other valid, potentially enriching ways to read Perfume. For instance, exploring its specific engagement with the horror genre or teasing out the parallels between the its main character and Hitler could both prove fruitful; while such readings are not at all unrelated to the work I do here, I leave them to others for now (Markham). In addition to those I discuss below, other aspects of Perfume ripe for further analysis include the societal role of the artist, aberrant collecting, the nature of beauty, commodity fetishism, mindless consumption, and the way the film’s main character is repeatedly dehumanized by the system of capital that controls him. A paper of this size cannot provide a comprehensive reading of Perfume and its ambivalence, but I remain interested in the degree to which carefully considering the film’s relationship to larger, extracinematic topics might open up a space for it to be more fully itself—for some of its vacillations, contradictions, and ambivalence to be regarded as meaningful features of the work rather than as flaws to be rejected. Furthermore, while I do not develop various parts of this paper to their fullest, I do hope that this might inspire future investigation of Tykwer’s frustrating, fascinating film.

Though released in 2006 and based on a novel published in the 1980s, Perfume is set in 18th-century France, a fact which helps illuminate some of its more multidimensional thematic concerns. Perfume combines elements of historical fiction with elements of magical realism and horror. The film is presented by its narrator as a factual account of “one of the most gifted and notorious personages of his time” and as a story that will help viewers remember someone who has been undeservedly forgotten because “his entire ambition was restricted to a domain that leaves no trace in history” (Perfume). Though a work of fiction, Perfume has an especially fraught relationship to history and reality, which further complicates the process of untangling its “meaning.” Regarding the 18th-century setting of Süskind’s novel, Amy J. Elias places it among a cluster of contemporary works that question and restage the Enlightenment from a postmodern perspective (Elias 533-5). Elias’s “The Postmodern Turn(:) on the Enlightenment” also includes the following claim from Jürgen Habermas, which is useful for understanding some of the chaos and possible incoherence of Perfume: “Enlightenment thinkers […] still had the extravagant expectation that the arts and sciences would promote not only the control of natural forces but also understanding of the world and of the self, moral progress, the justice of institutions and even the happiness of human beings” (Habermas, qtd. Elias 535). Tykwer’s adaptation of Süskind’s story reimagines the 18th century from a position in time in which the Enlightenment can be regarded as a failure, and in which hope for widespread, meaningful “understanding” has all but collapsed. Thus, Elias goes on to write that “Confronted with the explosion of irrationality, factionalism, an increasingly impersonal technocracy, dehumanization, and other social ills in contemporary capitalist societies, the postmodern sensibility logically turns back to the Enlightenment and questions the sanctity of its proffered gifts” (Elias 536). Importantly, regarding Perfume as a questioning of—or even as a challenge to—certain Enlightenment ideas frees it from pressure to provide clear, unified answers to its queries.

While a full summary of Perfume is not necessary for my purposes, some description of its main character and his actions will help frame the analysis that follows. The film centers on Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), a perpetual outsider with an impossibly well-developed sense of smell—a talent which makes “him unique among mankind” and which pushes him toward the animal and the superhuman simultaneously (Perfume). After he is unceremoniously birthed in a Parisian fish market—on what the film’s narrator (John Hurt) declares “the most putrid spot in the whole kingdom”—Grenouille is discarded by his mother and left for dead (Perfume). He is then taken to an orphanage where the other children regard him as a freak and even try to kill him. As he grows up, Grenouille voraciously seeks new smells; preferring his “olfactory experiences” above all else, Grenouille fails to connect with others and rarely speaks (Perfume). Then, at the age of thirteen, he is sold to a tannery (a place overflowing with unpleasant smells). There, he toils away into adulthood, all the while dreaming of the “utopia of unexplored smells” waiting for him beyond his putrid prison (Perfume).

When Grenouille finally gets a chance to venture into those nicer parts of Paris (while making a delivery for the tanner), he is enraptured by all the scents, and his life if changed forever. When he encounters his first perfume shop, he is transfixed and stops to watch the customers inside. He then encounters a beautiful girl selling plums. Mesmerized by her aroma, he follows her, startles, her, and then accidentally suffocates her in an attempt to stop her from screaming. Taken aback by her death, he then tries to experience as much of her scent as possible before it dissipates from her corpse. When it does, he is devastated, and from that moment on, he becomes obsessed with finding a way to “preserve scent” “so that never again would he lose such sublime beauty” (Perfume). Grenouille then uses his exceptional sense of smell to convince a washed-up old perfumer named Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) to buy him from the tanner.

While working for Baldini, Grenouille is desperate to learn how to “keep smells” (Perfume). The old perfumer teaches him what he can, but his methods are limited. After realizing this, Grenouille travels to Grasse—which Baldini calls “the promised land of perfume”—to learn “the mysterious art of enfleurage” (Perfume). While there, he begins experimenting with ways to use the technique to capture the scents of beautiful women. After a prostitute refuses to willingly participate in his efforts, he kills her and uses her corpse. Grenouille then proceeds to do the same with eleven other women before setting his sights on the daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood) of a local nobleman (Alan Rickman). With her pale skin and vivid red hair, the daughter reminds Grenouille of the girl with the plums, and he becomes determined to use her scent as the final ingredient in the perfume he crafts from his victims. Despite her father’s attempts to save her from Grasse’s serial killer, she is murdered by Grenouille and his perfume is completed anyway. At this point, Grenouille is almost immediately caught and sentenced to a torturous execution. But thanks to the overwhelming power of his perfume, he convinces the people of Grasse that he is innocent. He then leaves their town freely, returns to Paris, and is promptly eaten by a crowd of peasants, not far from the same disgusting spot on which he was born.

Perfume’s plot is often outrageous, which is connected to the fact that much of the film flies in the face of Enlightenment rationality and reason. One place this can be seen is in the way Grenouille learns and practices perfumery. As depicted in Tykwer’s film, perfume exists in a strange space that mixes commerce, science, and art; and through his violent, horrifying acts, Grenouille distorts and reveals the dark underbellies of all three.

Grenouille’s superhuman sense of smell enables him to make enticing perfumes in a matter of seconds, which is the only reason Baldini gives him a job. Due to the circumstances of his birth and upbringing, Grenouille would never enter the world of perfumery were it not for his exceptional nose. By the time Grenouille enters his life, Baldini’s once-grand business is failing, and his inspiration for crafting profitable scents is all but spent. Grenouille infiltrates the world of perfume. Once there, he both exploits that world to his own ends and is exploited himself. Though Grenouille learns about perfumery from numerous people, Baldini is the one who first opens that door. Notably, he does so, not because he has any real interest in helping Grenouille develop as an artist, but because he can use his special nose to rehabilitate his business. Thus, Baldini—as a member of a higher cultural tier than Grenouille—can at least partially be blamed for the destruction Grenouille causes after working for him. This situation connects to one of Macdonald’s key points in “A Theory of Mass Culture,” in which he argues that “The upper classes, who begin by using [mass culture] to make money from the crude tastes of the masses and to dominate them politically, end by finding their own culture attacked and even threatened with destruction by the instrument they have thoughtlessly employed” (Macdonald 41). An “instrument,” Grenouille creates hundreds of profitable perfumes for Baldini, but he never receives any credit or financial gain from his work—any such benefits go to Baldini alone. Baldini also exploits Grenouille by requiring him to come up with one-hundred additional perfumes before giving him the journeyman’s papers he needs to travel to Grasse. Importantly however, Baldini does not escape his lopsided relationship with Grenouille without coming to harm himself. Not only does Baldini set off a chain of events that leads to widespread death and chaos in Grasse, he also dies before turning Grenouille’s final batch of perfumes into cash. The same night Grenouille leaves Baldini’s shop, the entire building collapses into the river below, killing Baldini. If Macdonald were watching Perfume, he might say that the old perfumer is punished for “thoughtlessly employ[ing]” a “crude,” filthy orphan “to make money” (Macdonald 41).

Though the issue remains just under the film’s surface, there is a constant tension between Grenouille’s lowly background—which is reflected in his worn, simple attire—and the wealthier, more cultured, and more artistic world of perfumery. More importantly, contained within this tension is the question of whether someone born with nothing and raised in an orphanage, of whether someone who is bought, sold, and dehumanized throughout his life could ever have anything but a perverse, at least partially destructive relationship to art and beauty. Macdonald declares that mass culture holds the power to corrupt so-called “High Culture” (Macdonald 43). He also writes that mass culture “destroys all values, since value judgements imply discrimination” (Macdonald 42). Grenouille is one of the unwashed masses (that he almost always appears sweaty and streaked with dirt is no coincidence). He cannot tell the difference between “high” and “low”; indeed, he does not care too. Thus, When Grenouille travels through the shops of Paris and experiences perfume for the first time, the narrator describes his olfactory delight saying, “He was not choosing. He did not differentiate between what are commonly considered to be good smells and bad. At least, not yet. He was very greedy. The goal was to possess everything the world had to offer in the way of odors” (Perfume). If the likes of Macdonald and F.R. Leavis are to be believed, Grenouille’s cultural status and lack of discrimination between smells both render him a threat to art and to the powers that be (Leavis 33, Macdonald 40-4). Grenouille is born in a fish market reeking of filth and decay. Later, he spends his adolescence surrounded by the odors of a tanner. Well before he ever thinks of perfumery or the preservation of beauty, Grenouille consumes some of the worst smells imaginable, and he lacks experience with “good” scents. Thus, even if Tykwer’s well-informed narrator never answers the question outright, Perfume still asks viewers to consider if Grenouille could ever express himself artistically without throwing the world around him into darkness and disarray.

The way Grenouille practices perfumery places it in an odd space between science and art while also depicting both as potentially threatening. Grenouille goes to great lengths to devise a way to capture the scents of women and turn them into perfume, and at various points throughout the film he “experiments” like a sort of mad scientist (Perfume). Before becoming a serial killer and devising a way to practice enfleurage on humans, Grenouille tries (and fails) to capture the scents of things like copper, glass, and Baldini’s cat (which he kills). In conducting these experiments, Grenouille shows no respect for established practices; when Baldini finds what he is doing, he is deeply disturbed, and from that moment on, Grenouille is more careful to keep his efforts hidden. Not unlike Victor Frankenstein, Grenouille transgresses boundaries to terrifying ends in the name of a singular, socially unacceptable goal. Grenouille repeatedly misinterprets Baldini as well; for instance, he takes his story about a mythic, all-powerful perfume with a mysterious thirteenth ingredient literally despite its fictitious nature. Grenouille also twists Baldini’s teachings by deciding that “the soul of beings is [literally] their scent” (Perfume). This belief colors everything that Grenouille does in the name of his obsession, while also complicating the nature of the powerful and extremely dangerous perfume he creates.

Grenouille’s belief that scents are souls is also important, because he has no scent of his own. As Roger Ebert notes in his (four-star) review of the film, lacking a scent “is ascribed by legend to the spawn of the devil” (Ebert). In keeping with its refusal to willingly flatten the way it is interpreted, Perfume never allows this connection to emerge completely, but it remains part of the film all the same. After spending time in an isolated cave somewhere between Paris and Grasse—in a clean, liminal space untainted by smells or other people—Grenouille finds that he himself has no smell, and the revelation disturbs him greatly. As the narrator puts it, “For the first time in his life, Grenouille realized that he had no smell of his own. He realized that all his life he had been a nobody to everyone. What he now felt was the fear of his own oblivion. It was as though he did not exist” (Perfume). As someone who believes scents are souls and who interacts and experiences others almost exclusively by smelling them, Grenouille understands his own lack of scent as both a lack of identity and as a harbinger of his mortality. Moreover, such lack of identity can be connected to his aberrant behavior, as it may explain his obsessive drive to consume and to preserve the scents of others. The film itself gestures toward this connection through its narrator, who claims that after finding himself thoroughly unsettled by the absence of any smell distinctly his own, Grenouille resolves “to teach the world not only that he exist[s], that he [is] someone, but that he [is] exceptional” (Perfume). In doing so, he becomes a serial killer and throws the entire town of Grasse into chaos. Grenouille before he enters the cave may be monstrous, but he doesn’t kill people deliberately or completely commit to making a perfume out of women until he is faced with the scentlessness of his own being. Furthermore, why Grenouille has no scent is never made clear, just as whether he is born a monster, becomes one, or is turned into one (if he is even a monster at all) is left ambiguous.

Perfume’s association of scent with souls—as well as Grenouille’s obsession with preserving and distilling beauty by making of perfume—echoes aspects of Benjamin’s concept of “aura.” While viewing the Enlightenment through a lens clouded with disillusionment, Perfume also complicates and darkens certain ideas from “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Though Benjamin primarily discusses “aura” in connection with “historical” and art objects, he does say that “natural” objects (such as mountains) have an “aura” as well (Benjamin 795). From here, applying the term to the beautiful women that Grenouille kills and repurposes to make his art is hardly an unreasonable stretch. That said, Benjamin also claims that “the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning” and that “no natural object is vulnerable on that score” (Benjamin 794). Where the “authenticity” of an “art object” is easily damaged and “interfered with” through reproduction, that of something “natural” is not (Benjamin 794). This may seem to undermine the idea that anything distilled from a “natural” object (like a beautiful woman’s scent) is comparable to art’s “aura.” Contrariwise, it may actually explain why in Perfume, a beautiful woman’s “aura” can live on beyond her. Near the end of the film, the narrator tells viewers that the perfume Grenouille uses women to make is so powerful that he could literally “enslave the whole word if he chose” (Perfume). The beauty of the perfume is the beauty of his murder victims. Where the “authenticity,” the “most sensitive nucleus” of an “art object” is “vulnerable” to destruction, that of the “natural” (or, the organic) in Perfume can be bottled and repurposed, and for long after the being it once belonged to has ceased to exist. Or at least, it can in the hands of Grenouille. The efficacy of the auras that go into his perfume does not die with the women he kills, it only dies when the perfumes evaporates, when its scent dissipates.

Likening scent in Perfume to “aura” also troubles the relationship between reproduction and destruction in Benjamin. For, where Benjamin positions “aura” as “the eliminated element […] that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction,” Grenouille explicitly devotes himself to the preservation of scent (Benjamin 794). By the time he arrives in Grasse, all the young perfumer cares about is capturing and bottling the scents of beautiful women—both as a means of preserving beauty itself and as a way of asserting his existence and unique ability. In transforming his victims into perfume, Grenouille can be said to reproduce them in a loose sense; in doing so, he isolates and takes possession of that which declares their “uniqueness” (Benjamin 795). It’s not that nothing is lost in the process—the women do die, after all—but their essence is concentrated, not diluted. Put another way, Grenouille’s particular manner of destroying beautiful women reduces them to nothing but pure “aura.” Benjamin compares the destruction of art’s “aura” to “pry[ing] an object from its shell,” but Grenouille doesn’t pry objects from their shells; he pries auras from their objects (Benjamin 795).

Essentially, Tykwer’s film seems to invert (or at least, to alter) aspects of Benjamin’s argument while simultaneously confirming the value of the aura more generally. In creating his perfume—which is so great that it gives him “the invincible power to command the love of mankind”—Grenouille can be said to harness “aura” (Perfume). In doing so, he creates something so beautiful that he is able to avoid an execution that—as far as both the law and the church are concerned—he most definitely deserves. On one hand, such would seem to support the general importance that Benjamin ascribes to the “aura”, even if somewhat obliquely (Benjamin 794-5). However, given Grenouille’s position outside of accepted norms—as well as the manipulative, destructive ends to which he deploys his ultimate perfume—the film also ask viewers to consider whether not the “aura” (or the essence of beauty) should be regarded as dangerous. Like Grenouille himself—and like so much of Perfume more generally—the reduction of beautiful women to their auras and the substance those auras are used to create cannot be read in a single, straightforward way. Instead, they are open to polysemy and encourage viewers to approach them from various angles.

No straightforward protagonist, Grenouille “simultaneously represents the aesthete as hero, anti-hero, messiah, [and] anti-Christ,” both alternately and all at once (Rabin). As such, he perverts perfumery, rendering it illegible in any straightforward way. Grenouille’s perfume is beautiful, exceptional, and powerful. It is also repulsive, destructive, and terrifying. As Elias argues, “the postmodern psyche” that informs works like Perfume “seems compelled to rewrite the Enlightenment past […] in order to construct, and perhaps vindicate, itself and to confront the promise of Enlightenment epistemology” (Elias 535). Art, science, law, order, and reason are all helpless against Grenouille. Faced with his combination of obsession and ability, they are thrown into chaos and undone.

Such can be most clearly seen in Perfume’s spectacular (and spectacle-filled) third act. In its final moments, the film features two acts of mass consumption, both of which are triggered by exposure to the perfume Grenouille makes from his victims. Whether one reads it as art, commodity, spectacle (or something else, or some combination of the three), Grenouille’s perfume highlights the impressionability and the susceptibility of the masses. In the film, France is portrayed as teeming with people in such a way that it can reasonably be designated as “a mass society,” as a thing “so undifferentiated and loosely structured that its atoms, so far as human values go, tend to cohere only along the line of the least common denominator; its morality sinks to that of its most brutal and primitive members; its taste to that of the least sensitive and most ignorant” (Macdonald 44). Though they differ in specific actions and makeup, both groups exposed to Grenouille’s perfume seem to back up Macdonald’s (rather elitist) claims; but, true to Perfume’s ambivalent soul, they have their way of challenging them as well.

Perfume’s orgy sequence is by far the longest and the most visually spectacular in the film; it also reinforces the film’s deep ambivalence toward its content. After Grenouille is found guilty of murdering over a dozen women in Grasse, the entire town gathers to watch him die. The mob is hungry for him, and one of the guards nervously remarks that they “can’t hold them back much longer” (Perfume). In these moments, Perfume characterizes the mob as an unruly and threatening thing. But the second the people smell Grenouille’s perfume, everything changes. Overwhelmed by the beauty of its scent, they immediately begin showering Grenouille with adoration, and the executioner declares his innocence. Even the priest cries out “This is no man! This is an angel!” and the father of Grenouille’s last victim sobs and begs Grenouille for forgiveness. Almost as if hypnotized, the people of Grasse engage in a giant orgy, which includes a number of legal and religious authorities. Surrounded by the beauty of Grenouille’s monstrous perfume, the mob forgets their desire for justice and is swept up by the desire for collective pleasure instead. While the orgy saves Grenouille’s life and demonstrates the power of his artistic endeavor, it also illustrates Macdonald’s claims that mass culture, “break[s] down the old barriers of class, tradition, taste, and dissolves all cultural distinctions” and that “It mixes and scrambles everything together” (Macdonald 42). According to Perfume’s narrator, the people of Grasse wake the next day with “a terrible hangover,” deeply ashamed of what they’ve done—allowed themselves to be manipulated and eliminated all barriers between them in the name of pure pleasure—but there is also nothing in Perfume to suggest that they could have ever resisted the power of Grenouille’s creation.

Though not nearly as drawn-out as Perfume’s orgy sequence, the film’s cannibal scene parallels it in numerous ways. After leaving Grasse unscathed, Grenouille suddenly understands that one thing his incredible perfume cannot do is “turn him into a person who could love and be loved by everyone else”; faced with this dark realization, Grenouille chooses to end his life instead (Perfume). To do so, he returns to the market where he was born and pours his remaining perfume over his head. When he does so, the filthy, lowly people there immediately declare him an “angel” and are overcome—both by the beauty of the perfume and by love for Grenouille more generally. Then, like zombies driven mindlessly to consumption, they make their way toward him and devour him until nothing but scraps of his clothes remain. Like the people in Grasse, the peasants in the fish market are also influenced to act in an extreme manner through exposure to Grenouille’s perfume. However, unlike the much cleaner, comparatively more sophisticated mob that has an orgy, those who eat Grenouille are not ashamed by their consumption. As the narrator says, “When they had finished, they felt a virginal glow of happiness” and “for the first time in their lives, they believed that they had done something purely out of love” (Perfume). That said, whether their lack of guilt stems from their lowly nature or from the fact that their cannibalism destroys the monstrous Grenouille is left open to interpretation, as is who precisely their love benefits as well whether the love of the masses can ever be a good thing at all.

Contradiction and ambivalence can be found all throughout cultural studies, in part, because little is simple about the topics it attempts to untangle. Even terms as common and as seemingly fundamental as “culture” and “masses” have come stand for different, even oppositional ideas (Williams 25, 29). Concerned as it is with cultural issues, Perfume too is pervaded by ambivalence. Consequently, accepting Perfume’s juxtaposition and contradictions allows for more complex and worthwhile readings of the film. The cultural problems that Tykwer engages and the world his characters inhabit are far from black and white. Moreover, there is nothing timid in Perfume’s approach to such matters, nor is there in its commitment to engaging a sense usually considered to fall outside of cinema’s purview.

Trying to pigeonhole Perfume—or even requiring ideological coherence or consistency on its part—does a disservice to movie and viewer alike. With this in mind, the prevalence of both mixed and markedly negative critical response to the film may actually serve as a testament to the multifarious ways it embraces ambiguity and the ambivalent. Perfume currently has a 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, putting it just on the wrong side of the “fresh”/“rotten” divide (Rotten Tomatoes). Moreover, reading many of the less favorable reviews reveals that a number of critics have trouble reconciling the visual and technical beauty of the film with the realities of its unsettling content. Many charge the story with being too confused or too depraved to be acceptable, and one gets the sense that some take issue with Perfume’s ugly, disturbing, intensely vacillating subject matter being presented in what might otherwise be a pleasant, lovely, and more straightforward period piece (Howell, Phillips, Rabin, Puig). Instead of rejecting Perfume for daring to “combine[] the nobility of a mythic quest with horror most foul” and for “fall[ing] somewhere between lurid pulp and arty surrealism,” it is far more rewarding to consider why it establishes the juxtapositions and occupies the liminal space that it does (Howell, Rabin).

In 1930’s “Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture,” Leavis laments that “the prospects of culture […] are very dark.” (Leavis 37). According to Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, they may never have been all that bright to begin with, not even at mass culture’s very beginnings (Macdonald 39). Either way, the film has a great deal to say, and it is about much more than killing and scent.

Until Next Time
I actually wrote about Perfume: The Story of a Murderer once before, just after watching it for the first time. That was over 2 years ago, and my thoughts on the film have changed a bit since then. Anyone who might be interested can still find that piece here.

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Bibliography
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” 1936. Reprinted in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 791-811. Print.

Ebert, Roger. “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” Rev of Perfume: the Story of a Murderer. Roger Ebert. 4 Jan. 2007. rogerebert.com/reviews/perfume-the-story-of-a-murderer-2007.  Accessed 21 April 2017. Web.

Elias, Amy J. “The Postmodern Turn(:) on the Enlightenment.” Contemporary Literature. Vol. 37 no. 4 (winter 1996). University of Wisconsin Press. 553-558. jstor.org/stable/1208771. Accessed 6 April 2017.  Web.

Howell, Peter. ‘Perfume’: Scents of Horror.” Rev of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Toronto Star. 5 Jan 2007.
thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2007/01/05/perfume_scents_of_horror.html. Accessed 22 April 2017. Web.

Leavis, F.R. “Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture.” 1930. Reprinted in Popular Culture: A Reader. Eds. Raiford Guins and Omayra Zargoza Cruz. London: SAGE Publications, 2005. 33-38. Print.

Macdonald, Dwight. “A Theory of Mass Culture. 1975. Reprinted in Popular Culture: A Reader. Eds. Raiford Guins and Omayra Zargoza Cruz. London: SAGE Publications, 2005. 39-46. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Therof.” 1867. Reprinted in Popular Culture: A Reader. Eds. Raiford Guins and Omayra Zargoza Cruz. London: SAGE Publications, 2005. 89-95. Print.

Markham, James M. “Success of Smell is Sweet for New German Novelist.” Rev of Perfume: The Story of  a Murderer (novel). The New York Times. 9 Oct 1986. nytimes.com/1986/10/09/books/success-of-smell-is-sweet-for-new-german-novelist.html. Accessed 25 April 2017. Web.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Dir. Tom Tykwer. Perf. Ben Whishaw. Dustin Hoffman.  Alan Rickman. Rachel Hurd-Wood. DreamWorks Pictures, 2006. DVD.

“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” Rotten Tomatoes. rottentomatoes.com/m/perfume_the_story_ of_a_murderer. Accessed 21 April 2017. Web.

Phillips, Michael. “‘Perfume’ whiffs.” Rev of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.  Chicago Tribune. 5 Jan 2007. articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-01-05/entertainment/0701050349_1_perfume-serial-killer-serial-killer. Accessed 22 April 2017. Web.

Puig, Claudia. “‘Perfume’ gets under your skin.” Rev of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. USA Today. 26 Dec 2006. usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/movies/reviews/2006-12-26-perfume_x.htm. Accessed 22 April 2017. Web.

Rabin, Nathan. “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” Rev of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. A.V. Club. Dec 27 2006. avclub.com/review/perfume-the-story-of-a-murderer-3646. Accessed 22 April 2017. Web.

Williams, Raymond. “‘Culture’ and ‘Masses’.” 1976. Reprinted in Popular Culture: A Reader. Eds. Raiford Guins and Omayra Zargoza Cruz. London: SAGE Publications, 2005. 25-32. Print.

Recap: Best of May 2017

movies ishtar a serious man the immigrantI met some damn good cinema last month.

A Serious Man (2009)
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

One of my more immediate film-watching goals is to fill in some of my Coen Bros. blind spots. So, hopefully, my recent viewing of A Serious Man motivates me to stick to that goal…

I went into A Serious Man without knowing anything more than that the Coens directed it and that Michael Stuhlbarg stars in it. I knew nothing specific about the plot, and I’d heard very little from anyone who’d already seen it. While the film definitely has its fans and has been favorably reviewed, one also gets the sense that it’s been flying under the radar. Sandwiched between the higher-grossing Burn After Reading and True Grit, it’s possible that A Serious Man hasn’t received quite as much attention as it deserves. For, even if I still need to see some of the Coens’ films (including Miller’s Crossing and Blood Simple), I feel relatively confident asserting that A Serious Man represents some of their very best work.

Like many a movie-person, I’ve enjoyed Stuhlbarg in many roles. Most recently, he’s also been hilarious in Fargo season 3. But I’ve never seen him as fantastic as he is in A Serious Man. His especially Coenesque performance here is top-tier.

There are no holes in A Serious Man. The cast is solid. Deakins’s cinematography is lovely. And the writing is absolutely stellar. The script is super smart and wonderfully funny. It’s intricate, inspired, and fully itself as well. Viewers need not be Jewish or work in academia to get a kick out of A Serious Man, but the Coens delve deeply into the absurdity of both to supremely entertaining results.

I love this movie. I can’t wait to watch it again. The Uncertainly Principle can’t be avoided.

Ishtar (1987)
Directed by Elaine May

I recently got my ass out of the house and attended an Elaine May double feature at the New Bev. It as was a great time. 10/10. The first film on the bill was A New Leaf. While that film is unquestionably funny and was a whole lot of fun to watch with a crowd, the real highlight of the night was Ishtar. Many laughs were had. Many chuckles were heard. I basically smiled for two hours straight.

If you haven’t seen Ishtar, don’t let the negative reviews or it’s reputation as as a flop scare you away. Elaine May was so next-level, this one may have been too ahead of its time. Many of today’s large comedies can’t even begin to hold a candle to it. Watch it if you like to have a great time.

Ishtar is absurd and absurdly lovable. It lampoons show business, international espionage, and its leads’ status as stars in hilarious fashion. It’s a good movie. Full stop. In fact, it’s an absolute delight.

Every second of Hoffman and Beatty performing is comedy gold. And while viewers might not initially welcome the turn the film takes once it moves to Morocco, May finds her comedic feet again rather quickly. There may be some bumps along the way, but Ishtar is so packed with genuine laughs and stand-out gags, that any such missteps are quickly erased.

Also, as good as Hoffman is in this, Beatty is the real highlight for me. In fact, his portrayal of the hopelessly stupid, but sincerely well-meaning Lyle Rogers is now one of my very favorite comedic performances. He’s brilliant here, and I feel sorry for those who can’t see that.

#JusticeforIshtar2k17

The Immigrant (2013)
Directed by James Gray

In the last two months, I’ve gone from seeing none of Jame Gray’s films to seeing three of them: Two LoversThe Lost City of Z, and The Immigrant. I appreciate all three of the films, and all of them resonate on a deeply emotional level. On top of that, The Lost City of Z is also incredibly grand, and it represents one of the best theater-going experiences I’ve had this year.

That said, my favorite film from Gray is The Immigrant. It’s absolutely lovely. Joaquin Phoenix is very good in it, and Marion Cotillard is downright stunning.

The Immigrant‘s story may be simple (all three of the Grays I’ve seen have that in common), but its combination of delicate execution and emotional weight sets it apart.

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Directed by Olivier Assayas

Kristen Stewart is so beautiful in this, and her performance is top-notch. Binoche shines too, and Assayas delivers stunning images and captivating interactions throughout.

That said, one thing that doesn’t work here is the presence of Chloe Grace Moretz. She (albeit, somewhat appropriately) feels like an uninvited guest, and she steals time from Binoche and Stewart, both of who are far more talented and more interesting on screen.

I was enraptured by Personal Shopper, and I’m eager to revisit that film, but at the moment, I give the slight edge to Clouds of Sils Maria. There is a porousness and an evanescence to both films that contributes significantly to their particular mood and feel. That said, Clouds of Sils Maria holds together just a little bit more, and it feels like a more complete thought. I love the ideas in Personal Shopper, but it also gestures toward thoughts more often than it sees them through.

That said, Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria work beautifully as a pair, and their concerns overlap in some fascinating ways.

The Beguiled (1971)
Directed by Don Siegel

I decided to watch the original The Beguiled in preparation for Coppola’s upcoming film. What a good decision that was!

The Beguiled is wild. It’s trashy. It’s fun. It has Clint Eastwood, a turtle, and thirsty women (of all ages)! It also has castration anxiety and a Civil War setting. It’s the psychosexual Southern Gothic you’ve been waiting for. It’s sort of amazing that it ever got made. Go watch it.

Until Next Time
I’ve been travelling a bit lately, which has made my life a little irregular. In an effort to pretend that I’m not actually returning to grad school in a few weeks, I’ve also been taking it pretty easy, and I haven’t been making enough of an effort to introduce myself to new movies.

However, while I do say I want to do a lot of things I don’t ever do, I do really want to try to go to more rep screenings once I’m back in LA later this month…

So there’s that.

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Camp and Contradiction in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Camp Tim CurryThis piece was initially written for a course titled “Revolutionary/Reactionary Hollywood (1963-1976).” The course was taught by Dr. Drew Casper during the spring ’17 semester at USC. It should also be noted that this paper could be expanded considerably and is relatively narrow in its analysis.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not a great film, but it is an interesting one. Parts of it are pretty fun too. Much less fun is that misguided TV remake thing that Fox did, which I’ve written about previously.

Camp and Contradiction in The Rocky Horror Picture Show
1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show (THRPS) was hardly an immediate hit, but thanks to producer Lou Adler, 20th Century Fox advertising exec Tim Deegan, midnight showings, and scores of passionate fans, the cinematic odd duck eventually found a cult following and became something of a “phenomenon” (Thompson 169-81; Casper 262). Though many initial reviews were less-than-favorable, TRHPS has managed to live on well past its initial theatrical run to become part of American pop culture (Thompson 173; Ebert; Variety). In paying homage to 50s late-night B-movies, TRHPS became a midnight sensation itself; and in responding to the tumultuous, “splintered” society around it, the film eventually contributed to that very society (Casper 1-2, 262; Miller xiii). When 20th Century Fox offered director Jim Sharman the chance to turn his and Richard O’Brien’s stage show hit into a film, he could either “cast[] known box office and rock ‘n’ roll stars in the key roles, in which case he would be granted a full blockbuster budget. . . Or he could stick with the cast, crew and design that he knew and bring the whole thing in for a meager million bucks” in just six weeks. Sharman went with the second option: “A B-movie budget for a B-movie film” (Thompson 147). TRHPS is, in many ways, an unpolished, imperfect work, but that isn’t to say that its thoughtless or lacking depth. As Scott Miller writes, “Though many people might laugh at the notion, Rocky Horror is in many ways . . . a serious social document,” and it’s one that has impacted more than enough people to warrant careful consideration (Miller 113).

That said, reading TRHPS carefully reveals a number of potentially confusing, even contradictory complexities. In his 1976 review of the film, a frustrated Roger Ebert writes, “It’s one of those movies you have to use a lot of hyphens to explain. A horror-rock-transvestite-camp-omnisexual-musical parody” (Ebert). Other terms could easily be added to Ebert’s list (“science-fiction,” “gothic,” “nostalgic,” and “absurd” all among them). TRHPS is a mixed bag—not only does it combine a variety of genres, tones, and influences, it also advances numerous ideas, some of which are at odds with one another. This flashy, over-the-top work is hard to pin down. Still, acknowledging its vacillations and inconsistencies is far more worthwhile than disregarding them, and oversimplifying the film to fit a particular narrative does not do it justice. Throughout Hollywood Film 1963-1976: Years of Revolution and Reaction, Drew Casper combats “myopic” readings of American cinema and calls attention to the ways the period is characterized both by nuanced works and by oppositional drives (Casper xv-xvii). Casper’s book seeks to bring both balance and breadth to readings of ‘60s and ‘70s cinema, and he repeatedly shows that more liberal films can support conservative ideas and vice versa. Somewhat similarly, I use much of what follows to widen readings of TRHPS. As rough-around-the-edges as it often is, it’s also infused with subtlety and deserves more delicate handling than may immediately be evident. For all its liberal, radical content—including cross-dressing, explicit bisexuality, and free love—TRHPS still has a tendency to undermine a number of its more progressive ideas, and the resulting tension should not be ignored. Like the mercurial “sweet transvestite” at its center, TRHPS undergoes numerous costume, mood, and identity changes over its running time, all of which contribute to the film’s particular shape. Anchored by Tim Curry’s narcissistic, self-indulgent, unapologetically expressive Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Frank), TRHPS demands the space to be fully itself. Love it or hate it, Sharman’s film is far from timid. And while it may not be as “revolutionary” or as “liberated” as some of its devotees might like to think, TRHPS still has plenty to say (Miller xii, 118). Not unlike the narrator of Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” this is a film that “contains multitudes.”

One way of getting to the vacillating heart of TRHPS is by understanding its camp sensibility. Writing about a decade before Sharman’s film debuted, Susan Sontag sought to define camp, and her insights illuminate a number of TRHPS’s internal contradictions. Like queer identities, countercultural free love, and Frank’s garish makeup, camp is in the business of blurring boundaries. As “the triumph of epicene style,” camp rejects clear distinctions between man and woman, and between human and object (Sontag, 275). Thus, camp encourages “going against the grain of one’s own sex,” as well as “the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms”; campy exaggeration “effaces nature,” thereby moving gender and identity into the realms of the constructed and artificial (Sontag 279-80). Similarly, camp collapses distinctions between substance and artifice. According to Sontag, “the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: or artifice and exaggeration” (Sontag 275). The theatricality of camp calls attention to surface and performance and can distract from meaning and depth, causing “the lens of Camp” to “block[] out content” (Sontag 280-1). But blocking out is not the same as eliminating. In “dethron[ing] the serious,” camp does not rid itself of all significance; rather, it forms “a new, more complex relation” to substance. For, in the world of camp, “One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious” (Sontag 288). Camp leaves room for discrepancy, and “the Camp sensibility is one that is alive to a double sense in which some things can be taken.” Thus, works of camp art—such as TRHPS—are often pulled in two directions, including those “between the thing meaning something, anything, and the thing as pure artifice” (Sontag 281). Camp delights in the “private, zany experience of a thing” lurking beneath “the ‘straight’ public sense” in which it would typically be taken and challenges straightforward understanding. At the same time, camp occupies a liminal space between high and low culture, and it “refuses both harmonies of traditional seriousness, and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling” (Sontag 287). “The ultimate Camp statement” is “it’s good because it’s awful”—embodiment of camp that he is (more on that later), TRHPS’s Frank would surely appreciate such words (Sontag 292). Camp informs much of TRHPS; thus, reading it without leaving room for it move in multiple directions makes little sense. Camp’s relationship to meaning is complex and unstable, and the same goes for interpretation of Sharman’s film.

Though the topic of genre in TRHPS is quite large, examining it even briefly emphasizes the film’s status as camp object while also complicating efforts to read it as either purely transgressive or as largely conservative. Though often categorized primarily as a musical comedy, TRHPS also draws heavily from horror and science fiction (Miller 126). If one reads Frank as a sort of unusual patriarch and the likes of Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia as his (incestuous) children, then Sharman’s film can also be placed within the realm of family melodrama. By dressing itself in so many genre-guises, TRHPS asserts its challenge to limited, straightforward conceptions of identity at a fundamental level. Genre forms the skeleton of a film, and variety and experimentation—like those valued by 60s counterculture—are built into TRHPS’s bones (Casper 15-17; Miller 120). Like Frank’s numerous outfits, each genre gives viewers a different way to experience and to look at TRHPS. To watch a film that hybridizes and reworks as many genres as Sharman’s is to be presented with a cinematic smorgasbord; though some might be overwhelmed by the options, their sheer number runs counter to more traditional cinema a while reflecting countercultural appetites for novelty, surplus experience, and freedom.

Moreover a film’s genre isn’t incidental, especially when that film has something to say. As Casper argues, genres can be thought of as “culture’s barometer”; they “are acknowledged and accepted representations of cultural values and disavowals . . . coherences and tensions by which a culture comes to reflect on itself” (Casper 132). In engaging as many genres as it does, TRHPS increases its potential to challenge cultural norms and to rewrite conventions. For example, where earlier B-movie takes on Frankenstein (including those by Hammer) depict Victor as motivated by desire for scientific achievement, TRHPS’s Frank is driven almost exclusively by sexual urges, as the lyrics to both “Sweet Transvestite” and “I Can Make You a Man” make clear (Friedman and Kavey 161). The film also takes the musical—“which had been the studio system’s darling”—and infuses it with sheer exploitation (in the form of murder, skimpy clothing, cannibalism, explicit infidelity, and much more) (Casper 252; Miller 125). However, while TRHPS does puts its own stamp things, its use of genres is not purely progressive.

With its roots in “experimental theater,” and it’s “unfettered” glam rock soul, TRHPS doesn’t play by the book, but it doesn’t throw it out the window either (Thompson 22; Miller 114). For all its oddity and blurring of boundaries, “The relation of Camp taste to the past is extremely sentimental,” which can be felt in the nostalgia underpinning much of Sharman’s film (Sontag 280). Whether it’s invoking more classical musicals or paying tribute to the Hammer and Universal horror films that preceded it, TRHPS’s stance toward the past is more loving than its irreverence might indicate. In fact, THRPS was shot at the same location as many Hammer films and has been characterized as “an affectionate tribute to the old studio,” which was all but dead by the early ‘70s (Thompson 156-7). In a sense, Sharman’s film is a celebratory “farewell” to Hammer and the other “‘30s horror and ‘50s B-movies” it references (Thompson 157). There would be no TRHPS without these previous works—numerous Hammer sets and a tank from The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) even appear in the film (Thompson 158). Moreover, when reworking O’Brien’s stage show for the screen, Sharman deliberately “incorporated glimpses of, and references to, as many favorite old movies as he could”; in doing so, he was motivated much more by affection than anything cynical. As Sontag claims, camp is “a mode of enjoyment, or appreciation . . . It only seems like malice”; Camp is also “a kind of love” that “relishes” all it can (Sontag 291). When Frank sings “Give yourself over to absolute pleasure,” he means it. In his castle (which is also a spaceship), all people (regardless of gender) and all experiences (regardless of morality) are potential sources of indulgence. And while this may get Frank into trouble—he is eventually executed for his “extreme” “lifestyle”—it’s also what makes him him. Camp and TRHPS are at odds with any flat-out rejection of things of the past; they’d rather derive pleasure from them and make them their own instead. Over “good taste” and living respectably, Frank chooses hedonism. Both camp and TRHPS do the same (Sontag 291). In this brash film, there’s nothing wrong with the old-fashioned—not as long as it contributes to something enjoyable.

The film’s nostalgia and (re)use of older forms is also apparent in its score. As Dave Thompson notes, “when playwright Richard O’ Brien first composed the show’s words and music, his blending of fifties rock ‘n’ roll with early seventies glam rock was the ultimate, blinding collision of ancient and modern” (Thompson xiv). The sounds of TRHPS pull the film both forward and backward. More cutting edge songs like “Sweet Transvestite” and Riff Raff’s section of “Over at the Frankenstein Place” are tempered by the, in 1975, less contemporary “Dammit Janet” and “Hot Patootie –Bless My Soul.” Rather than commit to a singular, more unified sound, Sharman and O’Brien widen the scope of their film by allowing it to engage with multiple musical styles and the cultural leanings that they represent. Moreover, the blending of numerous styles enhances TRHPS’s ability to establish character through score. For the most part, Frank is associated with the hardest, most glam rock tunes, tying him to the glam philosophy that “it [is] okay to be strange, or different, or weird” and that “sexuality is not defined by who you fuck” in any simplistic way (Thompson 26). In associating Frank with glam (both aurally and visually), TRHPS also taps into—and often seems to champion the fact—that it was a “period of rock and roll in which gender became both fluid and irrelevant” (Miller 119). Since the “dissolution of gender roles was one of the things straight America feared the most,” glam (like Frank) is a challenge to the “crushing conformity” of mainstream society (Miller 119; Thompson 26).

On the other hand, those characters who are least like Frank are repeatedly associated with styles of music that predate the arrival of glam. TRHPS is a film that uses its score to flesh out the sexuality of its characters (Miller 113). Thus, the relatively naïve (and sexually inexperienced) Brad and Janet begin the film by singing the more conventional, less threatening “Dammit Janet”; only after their sexual awakenings (through scandalous encounters with Frank) do the young couple participate in bolder songs with more of a ‘70s rock influence, such as “Rose Tint My World” (which they perform dressed as Frank is when he first introduces himself). Moreover, Eddie’s “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul” is a ‘50s rock number that mourns a time past in which things were (or at least, seemed) simpler and when gender roles were much more clearly defined. That the song’s lyrics—which begin with the loaded question, “Whatever happened to Saturday night?”—are in the past tense further underscores their mournful, nostalgic nature. That Frank kills Eddie after he sings the song also calls attention to its place in a bygone era—the cross-dressing master of the house might delight in a repurposing of the past, but he has no interest in actually returning to it. And yet, by consuming Eddie’s corpse at dinner in a later secene, Frank betrays the fact that he is influenced by that which came before him. After all, glam rock “lifted as much from the past as it did from contemporary currents,” but it represents a break with tradition all the same (Thompson 29).

Music and character are intertwined in TRHPS, and its sonic admixture is indicative of a larger concern with cultural conflict. A product of a time when “Exploitation as well as nostalgia coursed through [cinema’s] veins,” TRHPS exhibits both (Casper 29). Through its various characters, the film also stages a conflict between ‘60s and ‘70s counterculture and the more traditional ‘50s. And yet, in keeping with its general embrace of contradiction, the film refuses to fully align itself with either side of that divide.

At the center of the film stands its most subversive figure, the flamboyant-alien-scientist-hedonist Frank. However, while he is undoubtedly the star of the show, Frank’s status as possible “protagonist” is fraught with complications, as is the film’s stance toward the cultural attitudes he embodies. Prophet of self-expression and “absolute pleasure” that he is, Frank is largely a product of ‘60s countercultural ideas; as such, he is also monstrous, especially where more conservative sectors of society are concerned. A bisexual who dresses in women’s clothing without totally disguising his masculinity, Frank has no “clear gender” (Miller 119). Moreover, in refusing to conform to heterosexual monogamy, Frank threatens traditional notions not only of identity, but of family as well. But his staying power is limited. That Frank does not survive TRHPS reflects the fact that the Counterculture had burned itself out by 1975 (Casper 15-7). The film’s most constantly inconstant figure, Frank is also its campiest, which calls further attention to the Counterculture’s lack of societal and political efficacy. “Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized—or at least, apolitical” (Sontag 277). Camp may celebrate certain types of pleasure and expression, but that doesn’t enable it to effect change. Similarly, as disruptive as the Counterculture was, “the Age of Aquarius never arrived” (The Washington Times, qtd. Casper 16). In TRHPS, Frank burns brightly, but not for very long.

Furthermore, that Frank can be read both as a martyr to his own cause and as a victim of deviant behavior multiplies the ways in which TRHPS can be understood. Through his campy theatricality and his brazenly countercultural behavior, Frank commands attention, but being at the center of things doesn’t save him. In fact, one of most troubling occurrences in TRHPS is Frank’s death, which, after so much campy exuberance, manages to feel both regressive and inevitable. Shortly before his demise, Frank sings, “Whatever happened to Fay Wray?/ That delicate satin draped frame/ As it clung to her thigh/ how I started to cry/ For I wanted to be dressed just the same./ Give yourself over to absolute pleasure/ . . . / Don’t’ dream it. Be it.” Frank’s reference here is to King Kong (1933), and in this moment, O’Brien’s lyrics simultaneously queer (through association with cross-dressing) and pay homage to cinema’s past. Such tension underscores the ways in which Frank and TRHPS cannot be easily assigned a single mindset or read according to a single set of codes. “Don’t dream it. Be it”—both a mantra of hope for the outsider and the philosophy that gets Frank killed.

By going against the grain of mainstream society as boldly and as thoroughly as he does, Frank positions himself as a monster. As Vivian Sobchack writes, the monster in a genre film “can be a scientist, a gangster, a ‘hero,’ but he is almost always a misfit in the sense that he does not conform with accepted modes of social behavior” (Sobchack 51). The monster can be a figure of sympathy, but that does not necessarily save him from punishment for going his own way. The cinematic monster is also an image of “Otherness,” of “what is repressed” by a culture (Wood 65-6). The blurring of seemingly fundamental boundaries—including that implied by bisexuality and gender-bending—cannot be tolerated by the powers that be; rather it must be repressed if life is to carry on as usual. And so, that which “escapes repression has to be dealt with by oppression” (Wood 64). If Brad and Janet are to ever return to something like normal life, Frank has to be destroyed. as Robin Wood argues, “Otherness represents that which bourgeois ideology cannot recognize or accept but must deal with . . . in one of two ways: either by rejecting and if possible annihilating it, or by rendering it safe and assimilating it” (Wood 65-6). Frank’s death at Riff Raff’s hands ensures that no other young couples will suffer the same fate as Brad and Janet. At the same time, that they end the film not in their own clothes, but in Frank’s can be read as a taming or assimilation of Frank. Brad and Janet in corsets and boas are not nearly as threatening as Frank, for their commitment to “absolute pleasure” is not as all-consuming as his is.

Unlike Frank, Brad and Janet do survive TRHPS. That they do so as the film’s most traditional and nostalgic figures is hardly a coincidence. When viewers first meet the newly engaged couple, they “talk as if they just stepped out of a fifties Doris Day movie and dress like extras in an episode of The Brady Bunch” (Friedman and Kavey 161). Initially, both are completely out of place in Frank’s castle, as is emphasized by Janet’s swooning at the mere sight of Frank and his Transylvanians. Compared to them, Brad and Janet are as wholesome and as ordinary as can be (Miller 122). And while their virginal virtue might not prevent them from “succumb[ing] to the doctor’s sexual advances,” it does enable them to leave his castle alive (Friedman and Kavey 161). By allowing Brad and Janet to live when Frank does not, Sharman positions them as potential protagonists to the transvestite’s villain. Thus, TRHPS seems to undercut all the values and behaviors that Frank supports and to say that sexual experimentation is only acceptable so long as one finds their way back to heterosexuality, normality, and marriage in the end.

And yet, through Brad and Janet, Frank’s influence might live on. With his frequent costume changes—he wears five outfits in an evening—grand entrances, exaggerated gesticulation, and volatile temperament, Frank is constantly shifting and performing. His words are calculated for maximum effect (his long pause when uttering “I see you shiver with antici . . . pation” is but one example), and whenever he’s in a room, he ensures all eyes are on him. He is narcissistic and self-absorbed. He is a violent murderer too. But he is also glam, camp, and counterculture made flesh. TRHPS does celebrate him, but only to point. In killing him, the film acknowledges that the world is not quite ready for the likes of Frank. He’s an alien. A fantasy. A delightful, but dangerous dream. Whether Brad and Janet are better off for having known him is up for debate. They will never be him, but they will never be the same either. The Counterculture may not have realized its aims, and much of it may have been defeated, but its “legacy was manifold” and far-reaching all the same (Casper 16-7).

As outrageous and as strange as it often is, TRHPS isn’t so much incomprehensible as it is multifaceted, and it exhibits both the revolution and the reaction of its day. Rather than reduce the world to nonsense, the film approaches its subject matter from a very particular point of view, one which carves out space for the nostalgic and the progressive alike. The film makes few claims to coherence, and it invites readings from multiple angles. “Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists indeed, a good taste of bad taste”—TRHPS demonstrates this near-paradox repeatedly, which may explain why so many critics where “baffled” by it in 1975 (Sontag 291; Thompson 173). The same film that exudes exploitation and exhibits all sorts of taboo sexual behavior also has an eye firmly fixed on the past, putting it completely out of step with the cinemagoing standards of [its] day” (Thompson 164). Like Frank, Sharman’s film does not mesh well with external standards of acceptability. Rather, it allows the diversity and the confusion of its time to show plainly on its heavily decorated face. And while it may not have the broad, centrist appeal of many popular films from its era, TRHPS still ventures further to the right than Frank’s fishnets would seem to suggest (Casper xvii-xvii).

At the very end of the film, The Criminologist solemnly recites the following lyrics: “And crawling on the planet’s face/Some insects called the human race/Lost in time, and lost in space/And meaning.” Following a spinning overhead shot of Brad, Janet, and Dr. Everett Scott shrouded in smoke, dazed in the aftermath of what they’ve experienced, TRHPS returns to its narrator. However, where a conventional film might end with a more definitive, reassuring resolution, Sharman’s Criminologist offers up something darker and more open-ended instead. Viewers of TRHPS are not told what becomes of Brad and Janet once they return to “normal” society. Rather, they are left with words underscoring the sheer difficulty of distilling any coherent message from what they’ve just seen. In its final scenes, TRHPS rejects the notion that it can be read in any straightforward fashion. Like the gender-bending, bisexual Frank-N-Furter, and like the camp sensibility running through so much of it, TRHPS courts uncertainty and contradiction. If its viewers are left disoriented, “lost” and unable to find “meaning” in it, that may just be the point. As Frank and his castle of freakish Transylvanians work to unsettle and confuse the supremely ordinary Brad and Janet, so too does Sharman’s film ask audiences to let go of preconceived notions concerning everything from sex and gender to style, genre, and more. TRHPS may aim to delight and entertain, but it questions and challenges as well. The film consistently refuses to be consistent. It will not limit itself to being only one thing, nor will it pretend that the answers to society’s questions are easy to come by. What viewers—or Brad and Janet—chose to do with that, is up to them.

Until Next Time
Thanks so much for stopping by!

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Bibliography
Casper, Drew. Hollywood Film 1963-1976: Years of Revolution and Reaction. West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2011. Print.

Ebert, Roger. “Reviews: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” 18 Aug. 1976. http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-rocky-horror-picture-show-1976. Accessed 26 Mar. 2017.

Friedman, Lester D. and Allison B. Kavey. Monstrous Progeny: A History of the Frankenstein Narratives. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2016. Print.

Miller, Scott. “The Rocky Horror Show.” Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll Musicals. Lebanon, NH: UP of New England, 2011. 112-139. Print.

“Review: ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ Variety. 31 Dec. 1974. http://variety.com/1974/film/reviews/the-rocky-horror-picture-show-1200423333/. Accessed 26 Mar 2017.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Dir. Jim Sharman. Perf. Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Richard O’Brien.  20th Century Fox, 1975. Blu-ray.

Sobchack, Vivian. “The Limits of Genre: Definitions and Themes.” Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. 1987. Second, Enlarged Edition. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2004. 17-63. Print.

Sontag, Susan. “Notes on ‘Camp.’” Against Interpretation and Other Essays. Picador Series. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1966. 275-292. Print.

Thompson, Dave. The Rocky Horror Picture Show FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Campy Cult Classic. Applause Theater and Cinema Books. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2016. Print.

Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. 1986. Expanded and Rev. Ed. Rpt. as Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan . . . and Beyond. New York: Columbia UP, 2003. Print.

April 2017 Recap: The Best

movies they shoot horses dont they the last picture show two for the roadIt took me a while to get this post up, because the end of the semester was very messy.

I also saw significantly less films in April than in the first few months of the year, but I’m hoping to make up for that a little bit once summer arrives. Less movies = less “The Best” movies. I’ll also be skipping “The Worst” of April, but you can always check out my letterboxd if you want to see what I didn’t like.

Since it’s nearly mid May already, I’m going to keep these pretty clipped.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Directed by Sydney Pollack

THIS IS A MOVIE THAT EXISTS

And I love it. Pollack rides that fine, wonderful line right between greatness and trash. He rides it hard. The ride is wild.

This is a bizarre, dark film. It commits fully to its primary metaphor. It isn’t really subtle. It’s exploitation, but it’s also the best of exploitation kind there is.

I hate even bringing The Hunger Games into contact with this (which is miles ahead of anything Gary Ross has ever done), but imagine, if you will, a world in which that film is cinema for adults (rather than pseudo-cinema for teens). That world exists! We are living in it! Just watch this Pollack movie from 1969! (I don’t even hate THG, so don’t come at me).

Immense balls, intense central conceit, and sheer wackiness aside, I also thoroughly enjoyed Jane Fonda’s performance in this. Bruce Dern’s intense stare (which is featured in the background of numerous scenes) is also very fun.

I knew next to nothing about this before seeing it, and I feel like it changed my life forever. It certainly had me emotionally off-kilter for a good week at least. Never before have I seen such a pure, accurate depiction of my own soul. I am so tired! Being poor is like that! (So is grad school!) Capitalism and spectacle are that crazy!

Yeah, it’s all sort of obvious, but obvious can be good (my “proof “of this is that I like this movie).

I want to own this movie on Blu-ray right this instant, and the fact that I can’t is a tragedy! If you haven’t seen it, try to find a way to do so.

They do shoot horses. Yes, yes they do.

The Last Picture Show (1971)
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

This is the second film in this post that HITS WAY TOO CLOSE TO HOME. #tooreal

Interestingly, there are several thematic connections between this and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but for the most part, Bogdanovich and Pollack’s respective approaches are quite different. There’s plenty of exploitation here too, but The Last Picture Show is less overtly stylized, more realistic, and more contemplative than Pollack’s film. It’s quieter, gentler, and a good deal sadder too.

This film boasts a lot of well-etched, multi-dimensional, believable characters and benefits from a noticeably strong sense of place.

This has quite the ensemble cast, but Ellen Burstyn is definitely the standout for me.

I was also quite taken with the use of sound here (which ties into that “strong sense of place” I mentioned just a second ago).

An elegy for small-town America (and for a kind of place that hasn’t gone away).

I’ll certainly be revisiting this one when I get a chance.

Two for the Road (1967)
Directed by Stanley Donen

Full disclosure: I’m a bitter, bitter woman who almost never enjoys movies about two people who are in love at some point. I tend to resent them. Sometimes I scoff at them and comfort myself by deciding that they’re too “unrealistic” to be good (as if realism has anything to do with a film’s quality! lol).

For me, Two for the Road is an exception. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, that I may even make an effort to seek out other such exceptions.

Somehow, this is the first film I’ve seen staring Audrey Hepburn, and (spoiler alert) she is an absolute delight. She’s adorable in this, and she has such charm and presence that one’s eyes are constantly drawn to her. Her outfits are amazing (and rather amusing) as well. I also enjoyed Finney. He and Hepburn work beautifully together and have more than enough energy to support Donen’s project.

Donen’s overlapping storytelling is executed beautifully and works to add considerable depth and emotional heft to the film. With its episodic form, its numerous timelines, and its many shifts from comedy to drama, Two for the Road could have been a train wreck; it’s an elegant, beautifully crafted balancing act instead. Good stuff.

Until Next Time
I’ll be travelling a good bit in May and June, and I’ll be taking a class in July, but I still plan to watch a lot more movies and to post more things to this blog over the summer. I bought a number of Criterions and inherited a sizable assortment of DVDs recently, and I’m eager to start making my way through them. If FilmStruck ever gets their act together and releases a Roku app, I’ll start meeting some of the films on that platform as well.

I also picked up Five Came Back at a bookstore the other day, so maybe I’ll read that too…

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March 2017 Recap: The Best

movie reviews march 2017I saw some pretty nice movies in March, and this is just a quick post on the 6 I liked the most.

worst of march 2017
my letterboxd (for everything in between)

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
Directed by Robert Altman

The best movie I saw in February was The Searchers, and my very favorite in March was McCabe and Mrs. Miller . . . Everyone rec me westerns now.

Anyway, I can’t wait to watch this one again relatively soon (I even already bought the Criterion). I’d also really, really love to watch this on 35mm, largely because it’s visuals are so textured and beautiful.

I knew almost nothing about this going in, and I was continually taken aback by it. I was surprised by the sound. Surprised by the images. Surprised by the strangeness and the sadness and the Leonard Cohen songs. What a memorable, distinct, engrossing experience. I’ll remember it fondly for quite some time. . .

The leads in this (Julie Christie and Warren Beatty) are tragic and feel incredibly human. They don’t hover anywhere above or beyond the ordinary, and they are all the more affecting for it. They are trapped. The film is pervaded by an almost tangible sense of hopelessness, and its displays a marked interest in the difficult, fraught nature of human connection.

There’s also a weirdness and boldness to this that is absolutely fascinating. And it all just works so well (vague!). The climactic sequence is mesmerizing. The way the dialogue is written forces viewers to listen closely only to  make them realize that efforts to communicate are all in vain. The snow is this looks absolutely stunning.

I love it.

Most importantly, the coat Beatty wears in this is now my favorite coat in all of cinema.

Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Directed by Bob Rafelson

Class conflicts, the abundance of crap, and a surplus of rage.

A lack of commitment and direction.

And a wonderful character study too.

This film moves with energy and is edited quickly. Like the man at its center, Five Easy Pieces seems anxious about staying in anyone place too long. I’ll admit, it took me about half an hour to adjust to the film’s rhythms and to really “get into it.” Once I did, I had a great time, and any patience Rafelson initially asked of me was duly rewarded.

Nicholson is great (as are his sideburns). For what it’s worth, Karen Black’s Rayette feels a little like a trailer park interpretation of Lana Del (which isn’t a criticism). More importantly, both leads feel extremely real; these are people I know and have lived with and around. Like Robert’s life, the film doesn’t feel overly planned or constructed (which isn’t to say that it didn’t take plenty of thought and skill to put it together). It flows. It envelops as life does. If viewers find that it leaves a scar or ends in a manner that’s less-than-satisfying, they might consider why.

The Tammy Wynnette songs are fantastic too.

Another one I’m excited to revisit . . .

Song to Song (2017)
Directed by Terrence Malick

This one is a lot better than the internet seems to think, and everyone needs to chill. There were quite a few walkouts when I watched this, and I’m still wondering what it is those people were expecting when they bought their tickets. I also wonder what specifically it was about the film that convinced them not to stay.

Because, for all it’s imperfections, Song to Song remains a truly lovely piece of cinema.

The film is self-indulgent, porous, and slow. It’s hypnotic, affecting, and beautiful too. The world is a complicated place, and perfection is a lie after all. Life is unpredictable. Relationships are messy. A little piece of me resents those who wouldn’t even finish the film, who wouldn’t simply let Song to Song be what it is.

This is a tender, sincere work of art. It’s about love, loneliness, and wandering. It’s not without it’s moments of pretentiousness, but I can forgive those for the most part. I was both uplifted and devastated by Song to Song, and I left the theater feeling soothed and rejuvenated. A little Malick can be good for the soul.

Some of Lubezki’s flourishes are a little ridiculous, but the sense of movement and fluidity that he brings to the work overall works nicely. His images also help the film to feel grand and intimate all at once.

Song to Song also benefits from a strong ensemble cast, all of who perform at a volume in tune with the rest of the film. Rooney Mara is particularly good, and her ability to draw the viewer’s eye is really quite remarkable.

This is the only Malick I’ve seen other than The Tree of Life, because nothing is real and I’m fake af . . . That said, I am hoping to check out much more of his work over the summer.

Personal Shopper (2016/7)
Directed by Olivier Assayas

I still don’t know what to make of this. But I enjoyed watching it, I remember how it felt, and I’m itching to see it again. Surely that’s something, right?

Personal Shopper is a beautiful, odd, slippery thing. It also represents my first foray into Assayas. I was caught off guard by this film, and I have a strong feeling that revisiting it would reveal a good deal. That promise alone is a sign of a certain kind of quality. This isn’t a shallow, lazy, or empty work. It’s something all together different.

At one level, it’s “about” grief, loss, identity, celebrity, and maybe even incest. It’s “about” ghosts, technology, and isolation too. It’s even “about” Kristen Stewart.

Personal Shopper is bold, beautiful, and hypnotic. It takes twists and turns that go all over the map. It does not follow any well worn paths. It defies categories. Even if all of Assayas’s choices don’t work the whole here, is more than the sum of its parts. For instance, while the shots of pixelated Skype calls are sort of bad, the use of technology to mediate connection still works…

There’s also some really lovely camerawork here, and the film sets itself apart with its use of mood. It’s almost as if the whole film takes place in some other dimension, somewhere halfway between this mundane world and the next. In fact, Personal Shopper is the most “dreamlike” film I’ve seen in some time.

Kristen Stewart is fascinating and gorgeous, and she more than holds her own here. The way she’s styled is also very important to me (tomboyish piece of trash that I so often am).

Get Out (2017)
Directed by Jordan Peele

Get Out is a smart, well-crafted genre film, and a represents a very exciting, undeniably promising directorial debut from Peele.

The film is both hilarious and deeply disturbing, and it achieves impressive tonal balance over all. In addition to Peele’s sharp writing, the careful set design gives the film a distinct personality. The film isn’t a second too long either, and it has a much stronger ending than a lot of today’s mainstream horror.

A lot more intelligence too.

Not only is Get Out bold and unapologetic, it’s also a really good time at the movies. Sure, it’s unsettling and is all about racism, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun. Therein lies a good deal of Peele’s brilliance. (That bingo scene is iconic btw.)

Take Shelter (2011)
Directed by Jeff Nichols

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one at the moment except that I love Michael Shannon.

Actually, I love Michael Shannon AND Jessica Chastain, and getting to see them both at the heart of a movie was a real treat. Both are beautiful and give solid individual performances here. The pair of them work well together too.

Hooray for an original script, and for an inspired, intelligent premise.

I liked Midnight Special, but this one better, partially because it’s more intimate and contained. I haven’t yet seen Loving, but from what I can tell, Nichols has a knack for portraying loving (but struggling) couples in a controlled, affecting, and very human way. He doesn’t go straight for the loud or the overly dramatic. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s kind of nice. . .

Until Next Time
Movies that just missed the cut this month include The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Logan. I’m also one of like 5 people who (generally) liked Ghost in the Shell apparently. It’s flawed to high heaven… but it’s also too interesting to just write off entirely.

As always, thanks for stopping by! I’m up to my ears in school junk right now, so see ya next month!
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March 2017 Recap: The Worst

worst movies march 2017I met 20 movies in March, 4 of which were very much not good.

Burning Sands (2017)
Directed by Gerard McMurray

What we have here is a clumsily crafted film with a muddled, unintelligent script. I saw this at a screening, and it was a complete slog to get through. So much so, that I can’t imagine actually finishing it if I were to watch t on Netflix (which is where/how it was released).

The rather green cast is the least of this film’s problems. In fact, the performers aren’t really a problem at all, but there’s also no way they can save it either.

After hearing co-writers Berg and McMurray speak at a Q & A, it’s clear that they were trying to do far too much with this script. Sadly, the film they  think they wrote and the one that plays out on screen are so far apart that it seems fair to blame them for the majority of the movie’s problems.

Burning Sands lacks direction and winds up feeling diluted and confused. Even worse, some of the messages it tries to convey don’t come across as particularly well thought out either (combining Frederick Douglass quotes with a fraternity hazing narrative feels suspect at best). Lack of clear or coherent direction aside, the film is also cliched, boring, and terribly predictable.

For what it’s worth, this often feels like a knock off version of last year’s Goat, a film that doesn’t deserve to inspire copycats.

The only good thing here are the shots of Trevante Rhodes shirtless.

Wilson (2017)
Directed by Craig Johnson

Though I don’t know much about Daniel Clowes (sorry), I was initially intrigued by Wilson, as it represents Johnson’s followup to The Skeleton Twins. Unfortunately, it’s not a good follow up, and I have a feeling that the fact that Clowes (and not Johnson) wrote the script might have something to do with that.

There are some chuckle-inducing moments here, and both Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern do some solid work here. That said, the vignettes and stops and starts don’t cohere into anything substantial, and the whole thing makes for a long, unfulfilling 100 minutes.

Wilson‘s narrative tries to cover too much ground, and has a number of wasted moments and holes alike. Perhaps the script was too large and a number of things got lost in the editing. Or maybe Clowes doesn’t have enough experience with screenplays.

Hopefully this doesn’t damage Johnson too much. His last film had a much narrower scope and felt more complete. It was also funny and more touching than this one.

Wilson wants to be quirky and offbeat; instead, it’s just off. And it doesn’t warrant much more than a disinterested shrug.

Life (2017)
Directed by Daniel Espinosa

The murderous alien in this film is named “Calvin,” and all of the characters insist on calling it that even though it’s completely ridiculous omg.

Life is the sort of empty, intellectually lazy, bloated, uninspired bull shit that pisses me off. Especially since nearly $60 million dollars were spent creating it.

I also hate Life because sci-fi is great, and it very much isn’t.

It’s as if someone put Alien and Gravity into a blender and then sucked all the depth, character, craft, and good ideas out of them. The resulting concoction can easily be sipped through a straw, but it’s so bland that I can’t imagine why anyone would want to consume it.

Monster/creature movies don’t work if the monster/creature can ONLY be read literally…

After the first 20-30 minutes or so, it becomes insufferably repetitive and predictable. One exception to this is the very end (which is savage and hilarious), but by the time it rolls around, it’s far too late.

There’s also an alien-pov sequence in this that is so laughably bad, pointless, and out-of-left-field that I’m still confused by it. . .

A boring, frustrating thing.

The Ugly Truth (2009)
Directed by Robert Luketic

I would never choose to watch this movie. But, as a grad student, choice isn’t something I seem to have much of.

The class I watched this in presented it as an example of a “bad movie,” which it is. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of bad that can be enjoyable. Sure, I may have laughed a few times while watching this, but I only did so as a way of coping with just how unintelligent, clunky, boring, and offensive so much of it is.

This “romantic comedy” is neither romantic nor comedic. It is sexist, cringe-inducing, and inane though.

Heigl and Butler and both off, and Butler’s accent slips every five minutes or so.

Cheryl Hines is the only bright spot here, but she only has a couple of scenes. (For what its worth, she shows up in Wilson too).

Until Next Time
April will be my busiest month this semester, so my movie-watching may slow down in the coming weeks. I’m also hoping to post some more developed writing here over the summer though.

Best of March coming soon.

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