Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Wedding Song?

According to a very elaborate dream I had last night, this is the song I chose as my wedding song. And my mother was not exactly pleased with my choice. In the dream, she couldn't convince me to change my mind, so she tried to get my dad involved and tell me what a dumb idea it was. Lord knows I love the song, but I have to agree with my mother on this one (and you don't know how much that hurts); 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' is not exactly an appropriate wedding song. Besides, I've had mine picked out since high school: 'Stickwitu' by The Pussycat Dolls. Now that's an appropriate wedding song.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Thoughts on This Year's Emmy Winners

Best Drama: Mad Men

I gave up on this show last season.

Best Comedy: Modern Family

I don't watch this show.

Best Actor (Drama): Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad

I don't watch this show.

Best Actress (Drama): Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

I don't watch this show. My mother does, though, and really likes Sedgwick's character. "She's so realistic, James. She's going through menopause like I am!"

Best Actor (Comedy): Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

I don't watch this show.

Best Actress (Comedy): Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie

I watched the first four episodes. Wasn't terribly impressed or in a rush to watch other episodes.

Best Supporting Actor (Drama): Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad

I don't watch this show.

Best Supporting Actress (Drama): Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife

I don't watch this show.

Best Supporting Actor (Comedy): Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family

I don't watch this show.

Best Supporting Actress (Comedy): Jane Lynch, Glee

Watched the first season. Thought Lynch thoroughly deserved the award. Will never watch another episode.

Well, that was...fascinatingly in-depth? I guess we can safely assume that the Emmys and I have vastly different tastes when it comes to television. Especially when you consider that if I ran things, Sterling Knight would have two Emmys by now and Snooki would be nominated next to Tina Fey in the Comedy category.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

15 Albums

Over on my Facebook page, I was tagged in a new meme asking for "fifteen albums you've heard that will always stick with you." I completed the challenge on Facebook, but I thought I should take some time and explain my reasoning behind my choices. These are not necessarily what I believe to be the "best" albums of all time; rather, each of them has some sort of personal significance in my life, whether they remind me of someone or a particular moment in my life or simply have come to define me as a person.

Paula Abdul Forever Your Girl
As I've stated multiple times before, Paula Abdul was the first music artist I ever loved. I remember being in kindergarten, on the way to school and getting excited whenever 'Straight Up' came on the radio. My first exposure to the entire album came from perhaps the strangest of circumstances: my mother's co-worker's daughter had the album on cassette and let us borrow the now five-year-old album so we could copy it onto our own blank cassette. Yes, I was illegally downloading music before illegally downloading music was cool. Since it was the only album I owned for quite a few years, I played the shit out of it whenever I could. To this day, I still get a rush of nostalgia whenever I hear 'Cold Hearted' or 'The Way That You Love Me' on my iTunes. Because of this album, Paula is forever my girl.

Spice Girls Spice
To be honest, I can't exactly remember where or how I first heard about the Spice Girls. At the time, my favorite radio station was my mother's 70's/80's/90's station that wasn't exactly hip when it came to new music. All I know is that when I fell for Emma, Victoria, Geri and the Mels, I fell for them HARD and there was no turning back. Spice was my go-to album for a long, long time and I still stand by it as a legitimate pop classic and not the teeny bopper shit many accuse it of being.

Spice Girls Spice World
Almost as soon as I was addicted to Spice, the Girls' follow up album was released in America. I believe I got it for my birthday a few months after, but I loved it as much, if not more, than Spice. I listened to that album so damn much, particularly 'Stop,' my favorite song they've ever done, it has the distinction of being the first cassette I broke. One day, the tape inside the cassette just went haywire and spooled out. It was a sad day for me (probably not my parents who I'm sure were sick of the damn thing) but at least I had my memories with the album.

Mariah, Gloria, Shania, Aretha & Celine Divas Live '98
Along with NSYNC's debut album, this was the first album I ever got on CD. I can't remember if I watched the live special when it aired, but I'm guessing my parents bought it for me because I was fucking obsessed with Mariah and both Celine and Gloria were two of my favorite singers at the time. Good instincts on their part as I simply couldn't get enough of this album. Not only was it packed full of amazing divas, foreshadowing both my homosexuality and my immense love of over-the-top personalities, but I also loved the banter and spoken intros between each of the songs. I'm sure if I listened to the album right now I could mime accurately to about 80% of it.

Britney Spears ...Baby One More Time
Back when Brit actually attempted to sing, I thought she had one of the best voices I had ever heard. I had a lot to learn about music, apparently, but it's easy to see why this woman and this album meant so much to me during a time when my one true love, the Spice Girls, were splitting up. Her carefree dance-pop was just what this 11 year-old needed to get pumped for another grueling day of elementary school. Trust me, I have a handful of dance routines I choreographed in my free time before I had to catch the bus. My father must be proud.

Madonna The Immaculate Collection
I knew and liked Madonna through songs like 'Holiday' and 'Into the Groove,' but it wasn't until I checked out this album from my library that I became a superfan. This album has become so ingrained in me, I find it hard to dig into the rest of her discography; everytime I try one of her old albums, I instantly grow restless and want to listen to these wonderful singles all over again.

Janet Jackson Control
I think Janet Jackson obsession started with Design of a Decade, but Control will always be the album I'll think of when I think of her.

Various Artists Music from the Motion Picture "Chicago"
When I saw Chicago on DVD, I liked the movie but I wasn't as crazy about it as I am. It wasn't until the school play my sophomore year of high school when my castmates would sing the songs from this soundtrack over and over again when I became obsessed with it. I actually owned the soundtrack before I ever bought the film, so by the time I saw the movie again, I knew every damn word of the soundtrack.

Kelly Clarkson Breakaway
My God, I don't know if kids these days understand just how huge this album was back in the day. You couldn't spend an hour listening to the radio without either 'Since U Been Gone,' 'Behind These Hazel Eyes' or 'Because of You' coming on. People I knew who weren't fans of pop music were obsessed with Kelly and this album. And, most of all, I just love Kelly. She's the reason my obsession with American Idol lasted for as long as it did.

Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols
I'm not exactly sure what exactly I watched or read that convinced me that I needed to give Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols a listen, but I'm eternally grateful for inspiring something in me to take a chance on something way out of my music comfort zone. The first few times I listened to the album, I was unimpressed and quietly ignored it for awhile. Then, something happened and I decided to give it another listen. It was like I was listening to a brand new album. The Sex Pistols are one of the few punk bands I've encountered (in my very, very limited experience) who didn't sacrifice melody for hardness, vocal quality for loudness. This is quite literally the one anomaly in my iTunes, as evidenced by the fact that they are wedged between Selena Gomez & the Scene and Shakira.
Various Artists Music from the Motion Picture "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut"
I was a late bloomer to discovering the genius of South Park. Up until my junior year of high school, I thought it was nothing but television made for immature people who loved endless fart and shit jokes. But then my friend lent me South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and I immediately changed my tune. This was some smart shit made by people who knew what the fuck they were talking about. And the smartest thing about the movie has to be the soundtrack, which manages to be both a parody of the typical movie musical and insightful social commentary. Plus, any soundtrack that has a song with a lyric that goes, "Shut your fucking face, Uncle Fucka!" can't be all bad, can it?
I have always known about ABBA and even knew a handful of their songs courtesy of The A*Teens, but it wasn't until my last couple years of high school when I actually realized just how kickass they were. It all started with an innocent car trip with my friend and her grandparents. Her grandmother is a huge ABBA fan and had Gold playing the CD player. My friend and I were bored so we started making dumb choreography to the songs. This continued through many songs until her grandmother, never one to not let her annoyance and opinion be heard, yelled at us, "Shut. Up. Back. There." I had so much jammin' to the songs that I asked my friend to burn me a copy and the rest, as they say, is history.

Justin Timberlake FutureSex/LoveSounds
JT's FutureSex/LoveSounds had the fortunate distinction of coming out right as I was settling into my freshman year of college. The album really has nothing to do with all the changes I was going through at the time, but it's the one that's most deeply associated with that period of my life.

Britney Spears Blackout
I was pumped for the Britney comeback ever since she divorced Kevin Federline in 2006. When the album finally came around in late 2007, I was ridiculously excited for what was being called Britney's best album yet. On the day of its release, I was like a meth addict waiting impatiently for my next hit. I didn't have a car at that point so I asked my friend who lived down the hall if she would take me to buy it. She agreed and by the time we left, another younger girl I only slightly knew had joined us. We went to the first store and I ran like a madman to the music section only to discover that it was sold out. I was upset, but my friend who drove started yelling at the guy working in the electronics department like it was his fault. We ended up going to two more stores, coming out both times empty-handed, and I was more crazed with each rejection. I looked like a madman in front of the new girl, but I didn't care; I wanted Britney, damnit (in case you're wondering, the girl who accompanied us became a very good friend whom I lived with until a couple weeks ago).

Girls Aloud Out of Control
By the time the release date for Girls Aloud's Out of Control rolled by, I was already a devotee of the Way of the Aloud. I started after the release of Tangled Up and it quickly grew over the following months. Out of Control was the first Girls Aloud album where I could join in on the pre-release ritual for any of my favorite acts. When 'The Promise' came out, I listened to that song at least 30 times the day I first got it. There was no turning back after that. I should also let the record show that Out of Control is still my favorite Girls Aloud album ever.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Academy Award-Winner Jean-Luc Godard

Up until a couple of days ago, I never thought I'd see the day when that phrase which litters so many prestige movies' trailers would be attached to notorious French director Jean-Luc Godard. Someone actually asked me if I ever thought he would get an honorary Oscar on my Formspring some months ago and I responded that there was no fucking way the same group who gave Slumdog Millionaire and Titanic their Best Picture award was going to honor the director whose idea of a "mainstream" film is Contempt and Detective. Not only is Godard not mainstream, he doesn't give a shit what the establishment thinks of him. Sounds like the perfect combination to never come within an inch of one. Granted, my guess for this honor is that it has something to do with his Breathless, quite possibly the most important film ever made after Citizen Kane, turning 50 this year (and you know they're cursing themselves that Truffaut isn't still alive because if they were going to honor the anniversary of the French New Wave, he'd be the safer director to go for). Either way, you have to hand it to the Academy for this bold, uncharacteristic move.

Now that The Master has been given this honor, a bigger question remains: will he even bother to show up and accept the award? Given the fact they can't even find the sneaky bastard to tell him the good news, my initial reaction is a big ole Whitney "Hell to the no!" But, then again, you never know. He could make an appearance just to say, "Fuck you" to all the Hollywood bigwigs in attendance. Who knows? If the people who ran this special ceremony where the honorary winners are honored were smart, they'd turn the whole thing into a "Will He or Won't He Show Up?" sort of affair. People can go around collecting bets and they'll be cameras around the building on constant "Godard Watch," hoping to catch a glimpse of him. And when whoever they get to present the award to him (my guess is someone like Martin Scorsese, but I LOVE my friend Joel's suggestion that Reese Witherspoon should present and give a speech about how Tout Va Bien changed her life), they should kill the lights for a minute to heighten the drama. When they come back on, either the stage will be empty or Jean-Luc will be standing there giving the finger to Clint Eastwood and whatever other Hollywood people are there. Sigh. Just when the regular Oscar telecast could have made something fun and fresh with the honorary Oscar, they had to go and make it its own non-televised ceremony.

All kidding aside, I'm fucking stoked that the greatest living director* is finally getting his due, even if its from a conservative, pedestrian awards group. From Nana's dance in Vivre sa vie to the agonizing traffic jam scene in Week End to Michel and Patricia spending an afternoon together in bed in Breathless, Godard has provided some of the most iconic moments of young moviewatching life. Thank you, Academy, whatever your reasons, for rewarding this true iconoclast.

*Not based on his current output, of which I've only seen Notre Musique and didn't understand a minute of it, but because of his pre-Tout Va Bien work.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Britney's Videography: 'Stronger'

Britney Spears 'Stronger' # # # # #
Before "It's Britney, bitch" became her most famous song opener, the opening lyric to 'Stronger,' "HUSH, JUST STOP," was perhaps Brit's biggest and baddest battle cry yet. In fact, as this recent picture proves, 'Stronger' is, in a way, a response to her debut single. In the two years since '...Baby One More Time' was released she had become an independent woman who didn't need a man to be happy. 'Stronger' is Britney's one true Girl Power anthem, a reminder to her fans that no matter what life throws their way, whether it is family drama, relationship issues or monetary problems, you can always count on yourself to persevere and triumph over and adversities. The fact that Britney stays true to herself by making this potentially banal ballad a non-stop club banger is perhaps one of the smartest moves of her career. Another smart move is the video for 'Stronger,' which has gone from respected to fan favorite in the years since its original release. The video's premise--jilted lover Britney gets revenge on the guy (and his new skank girlfriend) who did her wrong--is fine, if nothing extraordinary. What makes 'Stronger' so memorable, however, is the video's centerpiece, an epic dance involving only Britney and a chair. In much the same manner Fred Astaire was able to accomplish with a hat rack in Royal Wedding, Britney works so well with the inanimate object it almost becomes a legitimate dancing partner. The rest of the video hardly matters with this astounding dance; in fact, the chair dance overshadows everything else so much I wish someone had taken a chance and revolved the whole video around it instead of adding the unnecessary "plot" scenes. Can you imagine how amazing a full three minutes of the chair dance with the final moments of Britney strutting down the bridge in the rain would have been? Unlike the Red Leather Jumpsuit in 'Oops!,' the makers of the 'Stronger' video didn't necessarily realize what a moment they had with the chair dance. If they had, I would feel more comfortable giving 'Stronger' the full five stars.

Previous installments:
...Baby One More Time | Sometimes | (You Drive Me) Crazy (The Stop Remix!) | From the Bottom of My Broken Heart | Born To Make You Happy | Oops!...I Did It Again | Lucky

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rants on Twist and Shout

Netflix is great at a lot of things--providing multitudes of little-seen films I would never have access to in Michigan, for one--but something they could vastly improve on is their synopsis writing. Sometimes the summary is so off from the actual film it makes you wonder if whoever wrote it had actually seen the film before writing on it. There are numerous examples of this but the most obvious misrepresentation I've run across is Twist and Shout, a 1984 film from famed director (and two-time Palme d'Or winner) Bille August. Netflix actually recommended the film to me, most likely since I've been overdosing on 1960's and 1960s-set cinema since I started Netflix. As it was a "sexy coming-of-age story" with teenagers whose "libidious passions explode," I simply knew I had to add it to my queue for future watching. I mean, the description made it sound like Skins crossed with The Dreamers, so you can hardly blame me. But when I started watching the film, I was shocked to discover that what sounded like a Scandinavian soft-core porn was actually an arresting, heartbreaking, emotionally complicated look at teenage relationships, both romantic and platonic. The relationships in question, the friendship between Bjorn (Adam Tonsberg) and Erik (Lars Simonsen), Bjorn's romantic escapades with Anna (Camilla Soeberg) and Kirsten (Ulrikke Bondo) and Erik's infatuation with Kirsten, sound like the typical set-up for your average episode of Gossip Girl (minus Blair Waldorf's constant scheming, natch), but August and Twist and Shout are more interested in exploring character and mining emotional depth from well-worn plots rather than trying to shake things up through big dramatic twists.

One of the very first images we see of Bjorn and Erik is this still above. The two are in the back of a truck, obviously running away from something. This opening moment raises a lot of questions: But what are the running from? And what exactly is their relationship with each other? Based on my experience with numerous films that feature a scene like this, I got it into my head that this was going to be a film about young gay lovers who were unaccepted by their families and society and, pushed to the breaking point, decide to flee society with only the clothes on their back and each other. Clearly, there's a whole backstory attached to this pose courtesy of other films and I spent the first ten minutes of the film reading into every look given by each boy to support this hypothesis. The whole gay lovers angle is revealed to be nothing more than a load of bollocks, for Twist and Shout wants to discuss something even rarer: the emotional bond between two platonic male friends. There are plenty of films about male/male friendships but they often stop short at exploring the emotional side of the relationship. Twist and Shout, without a second thought, enters the rarely chartered territory of how much of themselves men are allowed to expose to other men. But the relationship between Bjorn and Erik doesn't descend into sappy, "chick flick" clichés about bonding and true friendships. Their connection is often felt in moments where they simply react to each other and their shared surroundings. Erik's mother is mentally ill so, as a way of dealing with it, his father locks her up in the house and treats her as if she's an embarrassing family secret. Bjorn is privileged to know the truth about her and treats the information as delicately as Erik does, even if Bjorn realizes that there is something wrong with the situation in Erik's home. For example, Erik and Kirsten walk home together and she becomes insistent on entering his house. She knows about his sick mother from Bjorn and when he asks her how much she knows, she admits that all he told her was that she spends most of her time in bed. For a second, Erik is relieved that she (1) doesn't really know anything and (2) Bjorn hasn't betrayed him. Instead of ignoring the problem, or acting uncomfortable when the situation comes up, Bjorn is almost delighted that Erik trusts him enough to come in and have a cup of tea with his mother.

Bjorn and Erik, despite--or maybe because of--their close friendship, truly are complete opposites and the film shows them as such. Their first real scene together is at some concert where a local band is playing a cover of The Beatles' "Twist and Shout." Bjorn is front and center, rocking out and enjoying himself dancing. Erik, on the other hand, is pacing back and forth in front of the door, covering his ears, clearly waiting for the first available moment to get the hell out of there. The blocking and costuming certainly help in figuring out these characters as well: Bjorn is in a medium shot wearing a bright red coat while Erik is dressed in tan, fading into the background in a long shot.

The fact that Erik has a hard time standing out is repeated visually throughout the film. When Kirsten has a party at her house with all of her classmates, Erik tries to get a good look at her but his face is lost in a sea of people. Even when August gives him a close up, he has to fight other people in the frame to be noticed. Erik's desire to be noticed, especially by Kirsten, forces him to resort to what many people, including Bjorn, consider public humiliation. At this party, Bjorn has brought his new girlfriend, Anna, much to the dismay of Kirsten who is madly in love with Bjorn. When she confronts him about it, after everyone agreed that this was "classmates only" party, Bjorn suggests she go with Erik. She scoffs at this suggestion, openly insulting him and his screwy family just as he enters the room. As Bjorn storms off in a huff, he insists that Erik comes with him and Anna as he's been humiliated in front of everyone. Erik, rather, wants to go back into the party, clearly ignoring the fact that Kirsten doesn't want anything to do with him and insisting that it was Bjorn who was clearly at fault. Bjorn doesn't understand Erik's viewpoint, but the great thing about their relationship is that this is not a dealbreaker for either of them. They can love and cherish each other without understanding each other's logic at certain times.

One of the things Twist and Shout absolutely nails is its depiction of teenage romances and sexuality. Instead of presenting unrealistic, Gossip Girl-esque, "we're-18-and-having-hot-and-steamy-sex-to-make-up-for-our-relationship-getting-stale-three-weeks-in" viewpoint, Twist and Shout shows the red-blooded immediacy of young relationships without concentrating on what goes on in the bedroom. Bjorn and Anna fall head over heels for each other in the matter of a single date, to the point where Bjorn's thoughts all revolve around Anna almost immediately. They spend every waking moment together and when she must leave for three days for a family event, it's the end of the world for Bjorn. From the way he reacts, you would think she was moving to Siberia for a decade. He has all these all-consuming fantasies that other men are lusting after her and she is obliging, at first raising her skirt a little but eventually performing a whole burlesque routine reminiscent of a Rob Marshall film. These fantasies cripple Bjorn for the three days she's away as she has quickly become his center of the universe. Then there's Erik, who isn't in a relationship with Kirsten but still can't get her out of his head. She becomes a sort of escape fantasy for Erik from his humdrum life taking care of his mother and quietly avoiding his father. Unlike the Netflix summary suggests, Twist and Shout is not chock-full of sex scenes. There is only one to speak of and it's hardly the erotic moment you have been led to believe. The scene involves Bjorn and Anna and is more sensual than sexy, more tender than sappy and, ultimately, more realistic than many overblown representations of teenage sex. What is so fascinating about the scene, however, is the transition between it and the next scene. Bjorn and Anna are seen embracing, whether this is pre- or post-coitus we do not know but they obviously with hanky panky on the mind, and the shot dissolves slowly to show Erik slowly caressing a hat Kirsten left at his house after her one visit. Erik eventually lifts it up to his nose, inhaling the scent of Kirsten. The moment on it's own is a bit stalkerish, but connected to the sex scene through a dissolve gives it a whole new sexual connotation and serves as a sad reminder to Erik of what he doesn't have.

The power of Twist and Shout lies in the fact that the film starts off as a broad ode to the days of Beatlemania and eventually becomes this complex study of human emotions. You don't even realize how drawn into the film you are until it's far too late to take yourself out of the film. While Bjorn's relationship with Anna takes an unexpected tumble after a catastrophic event, he winds up with Kirsten, obviously looking for a way to ease his suffering but he eventually ends up in too deep with the relationship. When the two of them become engaged, Bjorn can't even verbalize it to his family. When Bjorn takes Kirsten out on dates, he takes Erik along so he doesn't have to spend alone time with her. As Bjorn is dealing with this, however, things have taken an even darker turn at Erik's house. While the film at first positions Erik's father as a saint for dealing with his wife's illness when she breaks a glass early in the film, the "something off" Bjorn notices quickly rears its ugly head. Erik, based on Bjorn's advice, has started taking his mother out of the house in the hopes that she'll start to feel better. The result is definitely positive; she's not exactly cured but she at least becomes coherent to what is going on around her. The father soon realizes this and takes measures to put a stop to it. In private conversations where he literally shuts the mother out of the room, he clues in Erik as to the cause of her mental problems: first, the cause is "unusual" literature and second is post-partum depression. The story switches so often, and with such alarming drasticness, we begin to wonder whether either of these stories is the answer or if one even exists. As the film progresses, Erik's house slowly becomes colder and creepier, to the point where it's reminiscent of the house in Cries and Whispers. And, at a certain point, these scenes do become a sort of gothic horror movie. A desperate Erik, after his mother gets worse under his father's strict, doctor-free care, makes a late night call to his grandmother to get help. We see dark shadows and figures over his shoulder as he makes the call, but we have no idea what is behind him. His mother? His father? Nothing? Eventually, his father does catch him in the act and it slowly becomes apparent to both us and Erik that he's the real villain in this piece. Later on in the film, as Erik rebels against his father's punishment, Erik's father cuts off a speech from Erik about him not having a childhood with the line, "Don't behave like a child." This line becomes ironic since throughout the rest of the film, whenever Erik encountered his father, he regressed back into an infant under his stern control. This is the first time he's asserted himself and sets the film up for a highly emotional finale.

The title, Twist and Shout, obviously refers to The Beatles song of the same name which permeates the film but it could also be seen as a way of describing the main characters. If Bjorn is the jubiliant, expressive "Shout," then Erik is the uncomfortable, hunched "Twist" and both Tonsberg and Simonsen embody these characteristics flawlessly. It's not surprising that Simonsen, playing Erik, is the character I responded to the most as he is the Emotionally Damaged Boy of this movie and to see him so fully craft everything from his stuttering line delivery to his slouched-over body language makes me wish that Efron had done as much work in Charlie St. Cloud. And Tonsberg is very adept at handling the transition of Bjorn from love struck puppy to emotionally drained vacuum. But their best work often comes when they are together and a whole language between them is spoken in tiny looks and gestures. This is the mark of a true friendship and one of the many fine details of life Twist and Shout manages to convey. A

Saturday, August 14, 2010

If You're Going to Have an Opinion, Please Don't Be Stupid

I'm all for critics having a differing opinion from my own; in fact, I relish it. Our differences are what makes the world go 'round, etc. But when you have an opinion and either can't defend it or your defense makes no bloody sense, that's when we have a problem. I recently read this article at the Guardian about the French New Wave that got my blood boiling. Look, I'm a self-admitted New Wave fanboy who has seen more of Godard and Truffaut's filmographies than any sane person double my age should, but I realize that the films aren't for everyone. However, when I'm reading a dissenting opinion, especially on a site as well known as the Guardian, I'd expect the author to offer a more substantial defense of their opinion instead of a hacky piece you would expect from a fifth-rate, attention-seeking blogger. Let's take a look at some passages from the article and dissect them, shall we?

"There are few images more enduringly cool than that of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg strolling nonchalantly down the Champs-Élysées in Jean-Luc Godard's À Bout de Souffle. Never mind that the scene did not actually appear in the film itself..."

...Except that it does. When the author was allegedly watching Breathless, were they actually paying attention or were they so distracted by how "awful" the whole experience was they had momentary amnesia?

"But here's the thing: I don't actually like the New Wave. There, I've said it. All that indecision and self-reflection – a sort of Twilight for grown-ups, only with paler stars and better fashion sense."

Now this is the point of no return for me. It's one thing to not like something, but it's another to compare the French New Wave movement with a vampire series aimed at teenagers for the dual purpose of appearing to be hip culturally speaking and gaining notoriety for making outlandish statements. If she could possibly defend this statement, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But the fact that the author says it, in the middle of a single paragraph for emphasis, without adding any support makes her lose credibility. If the indecision she is referring to is the Jean Seberg character's inability to decide whether or not to turn in her hoodlum boyfriend in Breathless, there is no logical way you can compare that to Bella trying to decide between Jacob and Edward in Twilight. Seberg's indecisiveness lasts 10 minutes, if that, of a 90 minute movie; Bella's is stretched out over two 2+ hour films. Yeah, real comparable. As for self-reflection, I won't deny that Truffaut and Godard, in particular, had an affinity towards characters who liked to talk a lot and mostly about themselves. I can see how this would be dull to non-fans, but these moments of reflection are rarely on the level of stupidity that Bella and Edward's endless prattling about their love for each other and their vampire problems are.

"I don't deny that Cahiers du Cinéma directors were geniuses of a sort, film critics who saw an overblown and worn-out Hollywood machine and decided to do something about it. When it came out in 1960, À Bout de Souffle stuck two fingers up to the studios still trying to pump money into soulless epics such as Cleopatra."

Wrong again. Unlike a lot of critics, the Cahiers critics were huge supporters of the American film industry and of certain directors like Hitchcock, Hawks and Ray that many important American critics completely ignored. No doubt they would have had problems with something as bloated as Cleopatra, but they saw mainstream French cinema as the big problem that needed fixing.

"The problem is the characters: Michel, with his obsession with Humphrey Bogart, Patricia with her pseudo-intellectualism. They always felt fatally underdeveloped, pastiches of their predecessors and less exciting than successors such as Bonnie and Clyde."

To complain that the characters of the New Wave films were underdeveloped is to completely miss the point of the movement. In Breathless, Godard wasn't particularly interested in exploring these characters; they were mere figures to not only hang his ideas about love, life and the movies on but also as a way to experiment with the stylization that eventually changed filmmaking. If the characters had been "developed," there would have been no room for Godard's manic jump cuts or to explore his obsession with the movies. He would have spent the entire time trying to get to the bottom of these characters. Also, did it ever occur to the author that maybe what we see in Breathless is the extent of the depth of these characters? Both Michel and Patricia are soulless creatures, children of Marx and Coca-Cola who have no depth beyond their silly lives. I'm not sure what the author was expecting, but I doubt Godard would have cared to show it in his movie. The author then goes on to cite the schoolteacher in The 400 Blows as another example of "underdeveloped" characters in New Wave movies. Wow, way to pick on a tertiary character and use it as a main point in your thesis. How about picking on one of the main characters in that film? Oops, wait, you can't, because, between Truffaut and the actors themselves, Antonie, his mother and father are all well-rounded and fully shaped characters.

"Both Godard and Truffaut were at one point on board to direct Bonnie and Clyde, a film that undeniably owes their influence a great deal. But had they done so, would Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway have spent time debating their lovelife instead of shooting up Middle America? Arthur Penn...understood that American audiences could only take so much soul-searching. They were ready for action!"

Has the author seen Bonnie and Clyde recently? I actually watched it again for the first time in years the other day and I was actually surprised at how little of the film revolves around guns and bank robberies. Sure, the shootouts are probably the most famous sections of the film, but a good portion of the film is devoted to exploring Bonnie and Clyde as romantic folk heroes. They do spend a lot of time "debating their lovelife," whether it's in the form of Clyde's impotence or Bonnie's unhappiness being surrounded by Buck, Blanche and C.W. 24/7. It may not be as hardcore as in any French New Wave film, but it exists and I resent the fact that the author suggests that Bonnie and Clyde is nothing more than a shoot 'em up action film. Those last two lines in particular, ripe with irony and smugness, really annoy me.

"Truffaut is the master of self-indulgent film-making. In Les 400 Coups, Antoine, the neglected child, is undeniably cute. But how can his audience ever forget that this is Truffaut they are watching, that it is Truffaut again in Jules et Jim, that it is always Truffaut. Like Tim Burton today, Truffaut needed a good editor to tell him when his labour of love had become dull for everyone else."

Again, this is another matter of personal preference. Where one person sees "self-indulgent filmmaking," another (such as moi) sees Truffaut as a filmmaker with the self-awareness to find a little bit of himself in every single project and the ability to make these projects an extension of himself as a human. There's no doubt that Truffaut had an overriding theme that pervades nearly every single film of his. I call this thesis "Love at all costs," but he never explored this the same way twice. The Antoine Doinel films,
The Story of Adèle H., Mississippi Mermaid, The Bride Wore Black and Day for Night all revolve around this theme yet you'd be hard-pressed to find another commonality between them. And that last dig, comparing Truffaut to Tim Burton, was unnecessary and another example of the author making comparisons just to be controversial. Even Jules et Jim, which I'm admittedly not a big fan of, has a lot more merit as art than Burton's silly but empty versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd.

I could probably go on and on ranting about this dumbass article, but I suppose I've made my point clear enough. Like I said in the beginning, I'm all for people have differing opinions from my own and I truly believe that not every film "classic" is for everyone. But when you're trying to write a thought piece on an entire film movement, it's best to use more than a couple examples to prove your point. Based on this article, my guess is the author has only seen Breathless, The 400 Blows and Jules et Jim and decided that that was enough to make an all-encompassing opinion about the movement. This would be the same as me writing something, positive or negative, about the German New Wave of the 70's having only seen a couple Fassbinder movies. Not everyone has to be in love with the French New Wave, but your negative opinions at least need be, I don't know, intelligent and supported.

Friday, August 13, 2010

VMA Video of the Year Rundown: 2010

It's that time of the year again! As I did in 2008 and 2009, the moment has arrived to discuss this year's nominees for Video of the Year at the Video Music Awards. But, before we begin, I have to make an announcement. For a couple years now, I've been trying to make this a regular series, investigating all of the nominees for Video of the Year in each year. I got a couple done before hitting a rough spot and never actually completing the series. I vowed last year to get the series started but, again, nothing. I've now come to the realization that it will never be finished and it's time to move on to a new project: Best Female Video. The reason I could never finish another entry is because the nominated videos often sucked all inspiration out of me. How could I spend 300 words writing about a video that was neither horrible or amazing? And what about in years where all five nominees are like that? Zzzzzzzz. But when I started looking around at the Best Female Video category, I realized that there was no way I could ever get bored by the nominees. I mean, look at them! Who wants to discuss videos from Queensryche, USA for Africa, U2 or Steve Winwood when I can be discussing Madonna, Janet, Cher, Beyoncé, Paula, Kate and Annie? I will continue this annual tradition in the coming years, but I won't be looking back at any past Video of the Year lineups. Sorry to the two people who may actually remember me doing this, but I guarantee the Best Female Video series will be even better.

Overall: 2009 was all about the star factor with five of the biggest names in music competing for the big prize. This year, we see two repeats but, overall, the nominees are a return to the early days of the category when the biggest stars weren't necessarily getting the big nomination. Lady GaGa, with two of the most talked about music videos in ages, and Eminem, the VMA's prodigal son, both got in rather expectedly, but the surprise nominees came at the hands of a British act just getting started in America and (former?) actor Jared Leto's rock band. Sometimes digging up unexpected videos can be good for the category but this year quite the opposite happened. When 'Telephone,' a video I've complained about all year for being a short film in music video clothing, is still the second best in the category, you know there's a problem. Florence and Mars are trying hard to be different and metaphorical, respectively--about what, I have no fucking clue--yet nothing comes through. Eminem once again gets in with another lazy, retread of his past videos and the less said about the B.o.B. video the better. Thank goodness for GaGa then, who manages to save this lineup from obscurity with 'Romance,' the video they'll remember her for in the coming years. With so many uninspiring nominees, you have to wonder how Rhianna's 'Rude Boy,' easily the most talked about non-GaGa music video, not only missed out here but in nearly every damn category minus a technical one. And, although I think the video's not very good, the Black Eyed Peas' massive 'Imma Be Rocking that Body' was completely shafted in every category, a surprise given how many of the nominated videos this year (Bad Romance, Telephone, Kings and Queens, Video Phone) have massive runtimes. And, if we lived in a perfect world, the year's double nominee would be Danish pop group Alphabeat and not GaGa. 'DJ (I Could Be Dancing)' and 'Hole in My Heart' both took obvious 90's inspirations and twisted them for this decade.

The best:
Lady GaGa 'Bad Romance' # # # # #
Just before GaGa became the queen of the entire world and everything she did was deemed other worldly, she came out with her clip for 'Bad Romance' and proved that she was more than just a passing phase. 'Poker Face' showed promise, even if it wasn't a very good video, and 'Paparazzi' reintroduced the epic music video, but 'Bad Romance' capitalized on her newly minted success and trumped every expectation people had of her. Five minutes may seem like a long time for a music video, but when you have as much going on as GaGa does here, it goes by far too quickly. But that's what is special about 'Bad Romance': she manages to tell a complete story visually without once stopping the music for a dialogue interlude. The opening birth scene where GaGa and her dancers emerge from the metaphorical womb, clawing and scratching their way out in spandex catsuits is astounding to look at. It's the perfect way to visualize the GaGa character's emergence into this world of prostitution and to let the audience know what to expect from the rest of the video. And never does 'Bad Romance' ever feel like anything but a Lady GaGa video; there's no homage to Madonna or Tarantino and you can hardly imagine Britney, Rihanna or Beyoncé doing this video with the same amount of impact. 'Bad Romance' is a textbook example of using the music video to move a pop persona forward and the fact that she does this with a fair amount of depth and beauty is all the more satisfying.

The rest, in order:
Lady GaGa featuring Beyoncé 'Telephone' # # # # #
And now we come to certainly the biggest video of the year, in terms of impact, hype, feeling and overall length. The premiere was an event in itself, the first time I remember that happening since the good ole days of TRL when the Backstreet Boys would stop by to premiere their latest shitty video. I liked the video at first, and still am generally a fan of it, but the flaws are even more glaringly obvious than they were six months ago. My biggest complaint about 'Telephone' is that it never quite feels like a music video. Sure, it's a video with music in it, but the song eventually comes second to all of the insanity going on around it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: 'Telephone' works as a short film, but as a music video, it's an epic fail. Music videos should promote the song, but can you honestly say you remember the song amid the numerous wardrobe choices, the prison yard make out session, B's Honey Bun and the "Let's Make a Sandwich" bit? What I do love about the video, though, is the way GaGa and B synthesize their own larger than life, batshit crazy personas with their homage to all things Tarantino. The video is complete and utter insanity, but when it works, it really works at highlighting what we love best about GaGa and B. 'Telephone' is hardly perfect yet something about it's madness is worth celebrating.

Florence + the Machine 'Dog Days Are Over' # # # # #
I will say this for Florence + the Machine: she certainly knows how to make a vivid impression. When you see her onscreen, red hair a-blazin' with that kabuki-inspired makeup over her eyes, you immediately marvel over this fascinating creature and really want to get to know her better. The 'Dog Days Are Over' video is certainly the very definition of "weird," but it often feels weird for weird sake rather than weird for a purpose. The only way I can describe what I mean is to use another example, last year's nominee 'Love Lockdown' by Kanye West. The bulk of the video comprises of these natives flinging arrows and tribal dancing to the song. What saves it from 'Dog Days Are Over' territory, however, is the fact that the opening and closing moments show Kanye West obviously in some kind of emotional distress, so it can be inferred that these natives are representative of him going insane. I'm not suggesting that 'Dog Days Are Over' needs a gimmick like 'Love Lockdown,' but, rather, any idea of when to pull back the "weirdness" and figure out what they are trying to say. The video doesn't need to make a groundbreaking point, it just needs to say something besides "Oh look at these blue people dancing!"

30 Seconds to Mars 'Kings and Queens' # # # # #
Maybe I'm completely missing the point, but what exactly is supposed to be happening in this video? I see minute after minute of footage of a group of young adults riding bikes through a deserted town, someone getting hit by a car, a horse stampeding down the street, the kid getting back up unharmed and everyone resuming biking. What? I give 30 Seconds to Mars for attempting to say something, anything with this video and for giving it the full-length treatment without sacrificing the song. Yet, I'm not exactly sure what they're trying to say is worth saying. Then again, I could only be sure of that if I was aware of their intentions.

Eminem 'Not Afraid' # # # # #
It seems almost futile to bitch about yet another Eminem video making its way onto the Video of the Year shortlist, yet I feel like something needs to be said in order for this madness to end. 'Not Afraid' is not anywhere near as embarrassing as his nomination for 'We Made You' last year, that's for sure. Still, there's not exactly anything worth celebrating in this video, certainly nothing worthy of Video of the Year status. I think people are starting to mistake Eminem as an artist who reveals pieces of himself in his music videos. He does do this in his music, don't get me wrong, but outside of 'Stan,' do any of his videos which are supposedly about him truly capture anything worth knowing about him? 'Not Afraid' certainly doesn't, as standing in a dank basement and throwing a chair angrily against a wall is the sort of the thing you'd expect from an Eminem video. The scenes with the mirrors and Eminem buzzing through the air like Superman might be an attempt at revelation, and I suppose that's what got people thinking 'Not Afraid' was about something, but it's handled so clumsily and nothing about it is truly original, interesting or even worth thinking about. Eminem, you're officially past your sell by date; wake me up when you're relevant again.

B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams 'Airplanes' # # # # #
OH GOD, MAKE THIS END, MAKE THIS END! Not only is the song one of the most horrible, cliché-ridden pieces of shit I've ever heard, the video is, also, lazy, uninspired and almost ugly to look at. First of all, can someone tell Hayley Williams that despite what other countless music videos have taught her, closing your eyes and rocking your head gently while singing "deep" lyrics the ones in that godawful chorus does not make you look emotive in any way? Secondly, putting an artist in dark room while strobe and neon lights dance around them in odd rhythms does not an interesting video make. I know this nomination is more for the inexplicable popularity of this song rather than the video itself, but did we honestly need to expand to six nominees to make room for it? This is not a video we're going to be remembering for many years to come. Hell, I'll be surprised if anyone remembers this by the end of the year.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Best Actress Playlist

A couple of weeks ago, I randomly noticed that in my iTunes I had three songs whose titles corresponded to the titles of three of Bette Davis' Oscar nominations. I thought this was a funny coincidence so I tried to see if I could come up with any others. I didn't--you try finding a song called Mr. Skeffington!--but it got me thinking about what other Best Actress-titled songs I could find in my iTunes. Here's what I came up with, in order of the Oscar nomination:

Ann Harding, Holiday

'Holiday' by Green Day
'Holiday' by Madonna

Bette Davis, Dangerous

by Monrose

Norma Shearer, Romeo & Juliet

'Romeo and Juliet'
by The Killers

Bette Davis, Jezebel

by Chely Wright

Irene Dunne, Love Affair

'Was it Just Another Love Affair?'
by The Eurythmics

Bette Davis, The Letter

'The Letter'
by Michael Johns and Carly Smithson

Susan Hayward, My Foolish Heart

'My Foolish Heart'
by Paula Abdul

Katharine Hepburn, Summertime

by Fantasia Barrino

Faye Dunaway, Bonnie and Clyde

'03 Bonnie & Clyde'
by Jay-Z and Beyoncé

Ali MacGraw, Love Story

'Love Story'
by Taylor Swift

Liza Minnelli, Cabaret

by Liza Minnelli

Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were

'The Way We Were'
by Barbra Streisand

Bette Midler, The Rose

'The Rose'
by Bette Midler

Gena Rowlands, Gloria

by Laura Branigan

Sissy Spacek, Missing

by Everything But the Girl

Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams

'Sweet Dreams'
by Beyoncé
'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)' by The Eurythmics

Jessica Lange, The Music Box

'Music Box Dancer'
by Frank Mills

Kathy Bates, Misery

'Misery' by P!nk and Steven Tyler

Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do With It?

'What's Love Got to Do With It'
by Tina Turner

Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas

'Leaving Las Vegas'
by Sheryl Crow

Juliette Binoche, Chocolat

by Kylie Minogue

Judi Dench, Iris

by The Goo Goo Dolls

Diane Lane, Unfaithful

by Rihanna

Charlize Theron, Monster

by Lady GaGa

Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

'I Walk the Line'
by Johnny Cash

And, in case you're missing any and want to complete this amazing playlist, click on this link and you can download them.

I know this playlist is hardly exhaustive, so does anyone have any suggestions? There's a song from the 80's called 'Suddenly, Last Summer' but I wasn't able to find it online. And there has to be songs called 'Queen,' 'Blue Sky' and 'A Man and a Woman,' but I haven't come across them. I'm hoping some of my more music savvy peeps can help out in that regard. Bonus points to anyone who can find a song called 'The Story of Adèle H.'