Sunday, February 26, 2012

Top 10 Albums of 2011

But What About...: The most acclaimed album of the year, Adele's 21, was a major improvement over her debut and featured six or seven killer tracks. But, in all honesty, a good portion left me completely cold. Maybe 23 will be the album where it all comes together for me...Rihanna's Talk That Talk had the best opening three songs of any album released this year. The rest of the album: miserable, monotonous "jams" about how horny Rihanna is. We all know you can do better, Miss Fenty.

The Also-Rans: Kelendria Rowland finally released her long-delayed Here I Am, and it proved to be far better than I expected...Kelly Clarkson's Stronger has many high points, but 18 tracks is far too long for any album to sustain greatness. Cut about five songs and this would have been a far greater album...Alexis Jordan's Alexis Jordan was certainly a pleasant debut. Nothing groundbreaking, mind you, but she has charm and personality to spare...My most anticipated album of the year, Demi Lovato's Unbroken, also proved to be one of the strangest. Her bizarre attempts to become a generic pop star are embarrassing to say the least. Thankfully, though, the album's second half shines, with deeply felt ballads and exciting, emotional uptempo tracks. This is the Demi we want on album number four, thank you very much.

The Top 10 Albums of 2011

10. Cher Lloyd, Sticks + Stones
The X-Factor Princess (she doesn't want to be the Queen) wasn't as sanitized as I figured she would be on her debut album. It's not perfect, but it establishes the Cher Lloyd identity very well.

Three Moments:
- The post-chorus breakdown at the very end of "Swagger Jagger"
- The mix of rap and pop in "Playa Boi." Everything that's great about Cher in one song.
- "I'm the princess, I don't want to be the queen." The perfect summation of Cher's persona in "Grow Up"

09. Nicola Roberts, Cinderella's Eyes
Although not my favorite album of the year, I feel like this is one Girls Aloud solo album we will be looking back at fondly in years to come.

Three Moments:
- The final "Please don't/Break my porcelain hearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrt" on "Porcelain Heart"
- The "Ding dong" intro to "Gladiator"
- The Diplo production on "Beat of My Drum". Audacious way to start an album and a campaign. Who is this woman?

08. Foster the People, Torches
The most welcome surprise of the year. Indie music done with a pop sensibility. It's not Britney, but it doesn't shy away from big choruses, either.

Three Moments:
- The quiet mysteriousness of "Pumped Up Kicks". I still couldn't tell you what this song is about.
- Whistling on "Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)". More songs should have whistling.
- "And every daaaaay that you wanna waste." Surprisingly epic chorus in "Waste."

07. Frankmusik, Do It in the AM
Oh Vincent. Why didn't this album make you the household name you should be? Many accused him of selling out, but if "selling out" sounds as glorious as this album does, a lot more popstars should do it.

Three Moments:
- The chorus of "Running." That beat makes it feel like you are running, or at least like you should be.
- His blazing chemistry with Colette Carr on "No I.D." I've said it before and I'll say it again: one of the best genuine duets in ages.
- "We Collide." Now that's an album opener. What a defining statement of his new sound.

06. Natalia Kills, Perfectionist
Is she trying a bit hard to channel Gaga circa the Fame Monster era? Perhaps. But can you think of a better era to channel Gaga? Besides, Natalia still manages to build her own persona through her referencing.

Three Moments:
- The easy breeziness of the opening to "Kill My Boyfriend": "I'm rolling the dice, got the wind in my hair/I'm gonna kill my boyfriend." Killer (ha!) contrast.
- The sound of "Mirrors."
- "Wanna be like Midas/But my bank account is minus." The wordplay on "Free" is fun and clever as hell.

05. Same Difference, The Rest is History
Everyone's Favorite Loveable, Slightly Incestuous Brother & Sister Pop Act came roaring back with the follow-up to their ingenious debut Pop. Not only have they updated their image, but their sound is a good deal more mature. This duo obviously knows their shit when it comes to pop music.

Three Moments:
- "Karma Karma" is a three minute orgasm of pop perfection.
- The moodiness and vocal distortion on "Souled Out" is unlike anything Sean & Sarah have done before. No surprise, it works.
- For once, Sean gets the lead vocals on "Best Mistake" and absolutely nailed it. Snaps for you, sir.

04. One Direction, Up All Night
This is the album I wanted from these boys and more. I can't stop listening.

Three Moments:
- "If only you saw what I could see/You'd understand why I want you so desperately" from "What Makes You Beautiful." One of the most heartwarming lyrics I've heard in ages. Seriously.
- The heavy, RedOne-esque dance club feel of "Save You Tonight."
- "It's everything about you, you, you/The way you make it feel new, new, new" from "Everything About You."

03. Selena Gomez & The Scene, When the Sun Goes Down
The future of pop music matures her sound even further from her last album. When did the also-ran of Disney's princesses become the best?

Three Moments:
- "My Dilemma." It became the song people associate with me for a reason.
- The bridge in "Whiplash." The way she says, "Hello, darling" makes me love her even more than I already did.
- "And I keep hitting repeat-peat-peat-peat" from "Love You Like a Love Song."

02. Beyoncé, 4
Not going to lie, it took ages to get into this album, but 4 was ultimately worth the wait. Finally, Beyoncé stopped phoning it in with her albums. This is an incredible tribute to 90's-era R&B.

Three Moments:
- I could jam out to "Rather Die Young" all day long, singing hardcore into my remote control while imagining it was a microphone. "I'd rather die than live, and, OH!"
- The actual countdown in "Countdown."
- "Who needs a degree when you're schoolin' life?" Most people need a degree, actually, but Beyoncé doesn't when she's spitting out tracks as hot and fun as "Schoolin' Life."

01. Britney Spears, Femme Fatale
Producer Dr. Luke, after the release of this album, rightly declared that Britney is "her own genre" of music. If there was an album to prove that, Femme Fatale is it. Can you imagine anyone else singing these songs?

Three Moments:
- The hard verse/soft chorus contrast in "Hold It Against Me". This proved to be 2011's most imitated musical trend.
- "Sh-sh-shame on me/To need release" and the accompanying whistling in the background on "I Wanna Go"
- "I can be your treble/Baby, you can be the bass." No one has more fun than Britney with double entendres.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Piece of "Birthday Cake" Even I Wouldn't Touch

When I first heard the rumors of Rihanna collaborating with her ex-boyfriend/abuser Chris Brown on a remix of her song "Birthday Cake," I thought it was merely sensational journalism at its worst. Such a ruckus had been made--and deservedly so--about Chris Brown performing at the Grammys just three years after he sent his then-girlfriend Rihanna to the hospital on the eve of that year's ceremony, the collaboration rumor sounded like people adding fuel to the fire. There's no way Rihanna, one of the biggest popstars on the planet, would be stupid enough to reunite with her abuser on a single...right? While I was moderately assured it was all a rumor, what worried me was the fact that no one from the Rihanna camp was denying it. I mean, I'm no marketing specialist, but if a major rumor that your client's next single was going to feature her abuser on it was started, wouldn't you want to squash that shit if it was a big lie? That seems like common sense to me (which is saying something because my dad is always going on and on about how I lack common sense).

Turns out they didn't deny the rumor because it was true. On Monday night of this past week, we heard for ourselves the "Birthday Cake" remix, sung by Rihanna and featuring Chris Brown. Was I surprised? No, not really. The rumors had been around since the Grammys the previous weekend and possibly even before. Was I offended? You know it. I was so hurt and outraged I couldn't even listen to the whole thing. Unfortunately, I didn't stop before "Breezy" dropped this humdinger of a line: "Girl, I wanna fuck you right now/Been a long time, I been missing your bod."

Listen, I am totally on board with Rihanna forgiving Chris Brown for what happened. Oprah always says that until you forgive and let go your abusers, they will always control you. And contrary to what you would assume given my general opinion about his actions, I believe that Chris Brown should be forgiven for what he did. My problem is that he has never done or said anything remotely deserving of being accepted in public again. Instead of behaving like a rational adult, he acts like a spoiled fucking child every time someone mentions the assault. "Why can't they leave me alone and move on? That happened years ago!" is always his mid-tantrum Twitter update whenever someone brings this up in public. If he was truly sorry, he would take responsibility for his actions and apologize profusely. Maybe then people would start to move on.

What truly bothers me about this collaboration is that Rihanna is essentially giving the middle finger to every fan who defended her in the years since the assault when Team Breezy said she probably deserved the beating and Usher had to apologize when he (vaguely) defended Rihanna, the abuse victim, in the press. What have we earned with our years of loyalty? A terrible remix featuring the last artist on the planet we would ever want her to be associated with again. I have no idea who came up with this remix, but what record company on the planet would ever think this was a good idea? Sure, this may get people talking and probably sell a few more copies than if she had added Pitbull. But at what cost? Are they trying to win back the Chris Brown fans? The same ones who called her a bitch and a cunt and who openly wonder why she went to the police after the assault because they would love to have Chris Brown beat them? I understand that the record business is a cruel and heartless one and they will do anything to sell a couple more records. There's a difference, however, though between this and releasing an unnecessary remix of Katy Perry's latest single to get it to #1.

The reason I felt the need to write this all down is because I have been a big Rihanna fan for years. Rated R, written and recorded in the aftermath of the Brown assault, is the second best album of the past decade. And the songs speak for themselves: "Umbrella," "Disturbia," "Hard," "Fire Bomb," "Don't Stop the Music," "Only Girl (In the World)," "We Found Love," "Fading," etc. All those years of love and respect and admiration and it's all gone in under three minutes. No, I'm not going to burn her albums or stop listening to her music, nor will I ignore any new, non-Chris Brown music in the future. If she has good music I'm going to listen to it, it's as simple as that. But gone is any respect I once had for her, as an artist, as a role model and as a woman. I'm also done wasting my breath about Chris Brown and the fact that not only is he still famous but he appears to be more popular than ever. Why bother if even her abuse victim is willing to support his career? And especially if any criticism toward her will be met with "Fuck da hatas"? Rihanna, I sincerely hope you enjoy the extra money and notoriety you gain from this remix, because, at the end of the day, you have just alienated your core fanbase.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

This Means Affectionate Straight Men in the Movies

[Very mild spoilers to follow, but, seriously, if you can't guess how This Means War will end ten minutes in, you clearly have never seen a romantic comedy in your life.]

From the moment we heard about the plot of This Means War, nearly every person I know has made the same wish: that somewhere in the film the two male stars, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, would get naked and make out with each other. It was a futile wish, no doubt, since This Means War was always going to be a mainstream, conservative romantic comedy/action film hybrid and co-star Reese Witherspoon can't end up alone. But we still wished. In my case, right up until the opening credits. Needless to say, none of this happened; if anything, This Means War is as predictable as these things tend to be. But on the way to mediocrity and heteronormality, This Means War manages to present a narrative that could have handled my dream ending of Pine and Hardy's characters riding off into the sunset together.

From the beginning of the film, we see that Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are close with each other. They have, what the kids like to call, a "bromance"--a really close friendship between two macho, heterosexual men who downplay their closeness by adding masculine prefixes to "girly" emotions. It's a strange phenomenon in our culture, refreshing on one hand to see men caring for each other but ultimately frustrating because they still have to hide their affection under incredibly masculine terms so as not to appear effeminate in any way. This Means War certainly follows this trend, but we quickly see that there's something more to this relationship.

Not ten minutes into the film, a brief but important scene comes up that completely changes the way we view their relationship. FDR and Tuck are at FDR's grandmother's house for some kind of family gathering, sitting together at a table in the back of the yard. It's certainly a strange sight: two bachelors in their 30's, one a serial dater, the other damaged after a relationship gone bad, huddled by themselves at a party, discussing how delicious the gluten-free cake is. After a conversation with FDR's grandmother about finding love, Tuck admits to FDR that he would love to settle down and grow old with someone, the way FDR's grandparents have. It sounds rather trite on paper, and perhaps it is, but this moment is important for two reasons. First of all, the film never once laughs at Tuck's outpouring of emotion and sentiment. There's no sense that director McG or that either of the actors are trying make him look like a fool for having these feelings or expressing them in this direct manner. It would have been all too easy for FDR's character to make one snide comment about him acting like a woman. Instead, he seems genuinely interested in what Tuck is saying. And this leads right in to my second point: there is genuine affection between these two men that many mainstream films would skim over. They listen to each other and only want the best for the other. Basically, when FDR and Tuck say that they would do anything for each other, you believe it.

Both of these points are repeatedly made throughout the film. After they both meet and fall for Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), Tuck takes her out on a date to the carnival. The problem is that FDR is expecting Tuck to hang out with him. He calls Tuck multiple times only to reach his voicemail. Each time, he leaves a message and they get increasingly rambly, clingy, worrisome and hilarious. In a way, the scene plays out like the stereotypical scene in nearly every modern romantic comedy where the heroine leaves a long-winded message for the guy who's just not that into her and she accidentally comes off like a crazed psychopath. The main difference between this and the scene in This Means War is that although it's funny, we're never laughing at FDR. We're laughing because Pine does a good job being incredibly awkward and tongue-tied, not because he's acting like a girl in the aforementioned clichéd scene and, haha, isn't it funny that he's leaving these messages for another guy? Where this scene could have easily taken the "let's laugh at the girly man" approach, you have to admire how Pine and McG go in the opposite direction.

By the end of the film, Lauren has chosen her man (surprise, it's the one who doesn't have a viable alternative introduced in the first ten minutes) and, after all the spying, cheating and unsportsman-like conduct, Tuck and FDR make up. Characteristically, they forgive each other with a hug and by telling each other they love them. Again, it's never crass and there's never any snickering about two heterosexual men saying "I love you" to each other. It's just a part of their relationship, a part of life, in general. So, maybe it's not completely believable that these two would run off together and live happily ever after. But it's not any more of a stretch than Reese picking either of the boys after their bland, generic courtships. I truly believe that Pine and Hardy have more chemistry and show more affection with each other than they every did with Reese Witherspoon's character. Perhaps this is all the more reason to cherish them not getting together, for this kind of relationship is not something you see every day in an American mainstream film. C

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Ladies of 2011

Yes, we are officially a month and a half into 2012 now, but there are still Best of 2011 lists to be made. I will not rest until they are all complete. So, let's get started, shall we? I gave you my Imaginary Boyfriends back in January. Now let's look at the women who made 2011 their bitch.

Friday Women: Katy Perry and Rebecca Black
If you were as shocked as I was at how big Katy Perry was in 2010, I bet you were just as shocked when she continued to be huge in 2011. I never would have guessed in a million years that Teenage Dream would not only churn out #1 hit after #1 hit a year after its release but that its 2011 singles would build upon the Katy Perry brand in unexpected and interesting ways. "E.T." was an unexpected fourth single, particularly since the mind-numbingly pedestrian "Peacock" was always a viable single choice, and showed Katy in a more mature light than "I Kissed a Girl" or even "California Gurls" from eight months previously. I wouldn't accuse "Last Friday Night" of being anywhere near as good of a song as "E.T.," but it did manage to have one of the best music videos of the year. Although massive in length, it manages the impressive task of never valuing the narrative over the music. The video is gloriously overstuffed with people dancing, swinging off banisters, puking and rocking out, but still feels like a real party you would want to be invited to.

Perhaps the smartest move for Katy in regards to her "Last Friday Night" video: casting the "other" Friday girl of 2011, Rebecca Black, as her friend/makeover specialist. It's stunt casting, sure, but Rebecca really sells it, looking every bit as unforced and personable as we have come to expect from her since her "debut" earlier in the year. The debut I speak of is, of course, "Friday," the internet sensation that became a full-blown phenomenon over the course of a couple days. The video was so bad, it had to be seen to be believed. And seen again and again and again. I probably watched it 50 times those first few days. It wasn't until much later that I realized I was still watching because of Rebecca herself. Say what you want about her or her voice, the girl has Charisma with a capital C and manages to pull the attention away from the horrible video surrounding her. Move over, Disney sluts: we have a new tween star on the rise.

The Legend & The Future of Pop: Britney Spears and Selena Gomez
When The Legendary Miss Britney Spears releases new music, it's an Event. Femme Fatale, her latest album, was no exception, proving that not only still a force to be reckoned with post-Gaga but that she also had some new tricks up her sleeve (the influence of the hard verse/soft chorus in "Hold It Against Me" could be heard in many songs by the end of the year). But an even bigger cause for celebration is the fact that Britney chose her heir to the pop throne in 2011: former Disney queen Selena Gomez. By giving her one of her songs--the utterly amazing "Whiplash"--Britney has symbolically decided on the future of pop music. And what a future she picked! Selena's 2011 album, When the Sun Goes Down, pushed her past both Demi and Miley as the supreme former Disney pop star. In just a couple of years, she has not only matured her sound but has also found a comfortable niche in the pop kingdom. All that and dating the biggest pop star in the world? Girlfriend really is taking lessons from Britney. And you couldn't ask for a better teacher.

Maids of (Dis)Honor: Kristen Wiig and Pippa Middleton
Both Kristen Wiig's character in Bridesmaids and Pippa Middleton were horrible maids of honor but in completely different ways. I'm sure everyone is well aware of my infatuation with Bridesmaids, so I'll spare you my rambling on how much I love Wiig's portrayal of a maid of honor hilariously battling depression, a shitty job, a new threat to her relationship with her best friend and food poisoning. She reeks havoc everywhere she goes. But even if it's messy, we at least know it will be funny as hell. Pippa, on the other hand, was more subtle with her destruction of the bride's shining moment. As you are all aware, Pippa was the maid of honor at the royal marriage of her sister Kate Middleton and Prince William. Instead of blending in the background like a good maid of honor, however, Pippa stole the spotlight. Every headline the day of the wedding mentioned Pippa and her gorgeous, sleek dress, which was not only white but every bit as pretty as Kate's actual wedding dress. That sneaky bitch! I like to imagine Pippa as the wild child of the Middleton clan, so I truly hope she fulfilled the duties of the maid of honor and slept with best man Prince Harry.

Plus-Sized Girls Have More Fun: Adele and Melissa McCarthy
Who says skinny bitches have all the fun? In 2011, Adele and Melissa McCarthy made headlines and stole shows based on actual talent rather than looks or notoriety. Between them, they racked up three #1 hits, an Emmy, six Grammys, two SAG nominations, an album with global sales of 17 million and an Oscar nomination. Not a bad haul, I must say. And to say their immense success was unexpected is a massive understatement. Who would have guessed in October 2010 that a neo-soul singer would find a sound that manages to appeal both to young, hip kids and older, more conservative listeners? Or that a plus-sized actress playing a crass, vulgar character in a blockbuster gross-out comedy would sneak past more traditional performances (like those of Shailene Woodley or Vanessa Redgrave) and snag an Oscar nomination? If the title of the first 2011 movie I saw proved anything, it's that you should never say never when it comes to unexpected critical and commercial darlings.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Queer Anglo Films, Take #2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

That rascal Dave from Victim of the Time and I are at it again, looking at our second of ten British gay films in this little project of ours. Today's very appropriate film for this Sunday afternoon is John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday. Released ten years after our first film, Victim, Sunday Bloody Sunday depicts Britain just a few years after homosexuality was decriminalized. On the surface, homosexuals were allowed to be more open, but had things really changed that much...? 

James: Perhaps the most surprising thought I had after watching Sunday Bloody Sunday was that I wouldn't really label it a queer film at all. Sure, the film's plot--a middle-aged male doctor and a gorgeous female share the affections of an attractive bisexual--makes it sound like a queer film, and a positively shocking one at that since this was made just ten short years after our last film, Victim. But, whether or not Sunday Bloody Sunday is actually that shocking is up for debate, especially now that we've had 40 years of hindsight. On one hand, Sunday Bloody Sunday depicts two men who have a physical desire for each other. Their first embrace and kiss is right out in the open for everyone (in the audience) to see. It's no Milk, that's for sure, but it's certainly a step in the right direction from the asexuality of Victim.

On the other hand, however, that scene is really the only one that expresses any external attraction between the two. There is another moment, just a few moments later, where Daniel (Peter Finch) and Bob (Murray Head), both shirtless, climb into bed together. But the scene is shot King's Speech-style where the two of them are shoved into the bottom corner of the frame, askewed and barely visible. It looks more like Daniel is humping a sex doll than having relations with a flesh-and-blood human. So much for progess, huh?

But, but, maybe that's the point of the whole thing. Maybe Schlesinger isn't afraid of the homosexuality so much as he wants to make it appear so natural and unobtrusive to the narrative that we don't pay any attention to the fact that they are homosexuals. Aside from the "shocking" first kiss between Daniel and Bob, the film is hardly interested in any of the characters' sexuality. Gay, straight bi, it doesn't matter: Sunday Bloody Sunday is investigating the point at which having some, but never all, of another person's love is worse than being alone altogether. Schlesinger and company aren't focusing on sexuality by choice rather than because they are afraid of it. Once we've reached that stage, that's what I consider progressive. In its own way, Sunday Bloody Sunday is as revolutionary as Victim. While Victim needed to discuss homosexuality to get people riled up and take down this awful law, Sunday Bloody Sunday is almost saying, "Victim is sooo ten years ago. We've progressed a lot since then. We don't need to discuss the morality of homosexuality. Let's just show a homosexual living his life."

Then again, perhaps I'm overselling this rather quaint film. Gah, I haven't been this conflicted about a film in such a long time. Perhaps you can help me make up my mind, Dave.

Dave: I have to say, I would never call Sunday Bloody Sunday "quaint". Maybe it's a personal leaning, but I've always found this sort of early '70s evolution of the 'kitchen-sink' British drama to be dated, certainly, but with a rather definite and ennervating energy to them - they're always a bit drained of colour, but the camerawork and editing and narrative choices (the speech to camera at the end!) keep something in them fresh and fascinating, even if the social issues they're portraying have been left far behind. So I felt all that with Sunday Bloody Sunday, even as I understand the ambivalence you seem to have come away with. I think it means to leave its audience with an ambivalence, crafting such an elegant but disconcerting final scene where Peter Finch talks about how he took away happiness from a relationship that hasn't necessarily come to its end.

IMDb's trivia page for the film - a regular fountain of good and truthful knowledge - tells me the character of Daniel was originally written as much younger. I did actually feel a slightly awkward disconnect between Finch's age and occasional interactions in the film - Daniel's treatment during the bar mitzvah party wasn't tinged by any sort of suspicion or bewilderment at his lone wolf status, merely the sort of "when are you going to find a nice girl and settle down" questioning usually leveled at someone in their thirties. But Finch's age definitely gives a different complexion to Daniel's relationship with Bob - the latter seems mostly shallow, but his affection for Daniel suggests a deeper attachment. There's a kind of distortion from what would probably have been a largely sexual relationship to a sort of familial one - especially later, when Daniel comes to care for the ill Bob.

I think that aspect feeds into what I think is the film's reticence towards homosexuality. It actually presents both of Bob's relationships as familial, but Alex's can still be dominantly sexual as they are the young, bohemian couple with outlandish toddlers who smoke pot in front of them. His relationship with Daniel is necessarily more privatized, and though you do get sexual moments between them (peculiarly filmed, however - Finch's face is turned away from Bob, strangely immobile), scenes such as the one where Bob stormed out of the party struck me more as the rebellious teenager fleeing the stifling domesticity of the home. The film is much more concerned with sexualising the character of Bob - I remember particularly him standing in partial darkness like a sculpture, before he moved over to Daniel on the bed - than it is with sexualising the relationships, but it nevertheless seems more in love with Glenda Jackson than it is with Peter Finch. Alex, unlike Daniel, is permitted the grace to terminate her relationship with Bob on her own terms (albeit with a lingering toucan), within the normal narrative of a heterosexual relationship. Daniel and Bob's, in contrast, hangs there, without resolution. The film gradually becomes more and more intimate with the viewpoints of Alex and Daniel, but the camera shoots Jackson with a more glowing interest than the rather sterile view it seems to take of Daniel. Could be age, could be gender, could be subconscious homophobia - but in any case, it shows what I think is probably an unintentional remnant of more conservative values.

James: Yes! That was so dead on. You verbalized exactly what I couldn't regarding my mixed feelings toward this film and, more directly, the relationship between Daniel and Bob. How are we expected to believe that Daniel and Bob are in a hot-blooded sexual relationship when the camera shies away from actually showing anything AND they act more like a father and son than lovers?

Now, can we talk about the film's depiction of bisexuality? I have a few ideas of my own, but I'm dying to hear yours first.

Dave: On face value, Bob seems like the worst image of a bisexual - demanding and receiving emotional superiority over two people because of his sexual prowess. But I don't think the film views the emotional compromises Daniel and Alex have to make - and ultimately can't cope with - to keep Bob as harshly as that. It's made crystal clear that Bob isn't remotely duplicitous, but merely refuses to prescribe to the monogamous expectation set by society. Murray Head makes Bob seem genuinely affectionate and involved with both his lovers, and even though we are identifying with they rather than he, the script still values the idea that he is a great deal more emotionally mature than either of them. It might even have counted as a revolutionary portrayal of bisexuality if the film was told from his side. As it is, he's a tad too idealized.


James: Wow, you are far kinder towards the film's view of bisexuality than I plan on being. While I appreciate the film's attempt at allowing each relationship to thrive in honesty and openness instead of deceit ("Ooh, look at that shady bisexual, cheating on that lovely girl with that old man!"), I still don't find it to be much more than a detrimental depiction of bisexuality. Believe me, I'm no great defender of bisexuality, but even I recognize the depiction of Bob's sexuality as early 70's fear of an even greater unknown than homosexuality. Of course he's in love with two people of the opposite gender at the same time. And of course he's unwilling to make a decision between them so he decides to date both of them. And of course both of his lovers accept this because he's bisexual and, hey, he can't help it. I understand it's a contrivance the film is based on, but can't we give the bisexual a little more credit?

I think it's interesting that you note that Bob is "affectionate and involved" with Daniel and Alex and a "great deal more emotional mature" than either of them, because I found the exact opposite to be true. With both Daniel and Alex, he seems disengaged emotionally. They are the ones carrying the heft of the relationship (and the film), worrying about where it is going or what will happen if and/or when he decides to leave them for the other one or if they are better off alone. Bob is the pretty blank slate who bounces around between each relationship, sticking around when things are great but the first to leave when any sign of trouble comes. He's indecisive and doesn't appear to understand or care when Daniel or Alex are hurt by the situation. "You agreed to this arrangement," is always his answer when either Daniel or Alex complains about him leaving them for the other. Frankly, I found him to be empty of any emotion whatsoever rather than more emotionally mature.

Dave: On the surface, Sunday Bloody Sunday does seem to set bisexuality in the form of spontaneous, careless youth, but I think the script and Murray Head carefully avoid making Bob as cool and disengaged as he easily could have been, and I guess that's where we're diverging on this point. Whereas on the one hand he is, I think, drawn as emotionally mature, that same matureness means he's at odds with the expectations of relationships that you, and Daniel and Alex, are pointing to. Bob has constructed his approach to people as fluid and adaptable. As it doesn't conform to a monogamous society, he consciously positions himself on the fringes. That is easily viewed as a negative trait, but I don't think the film does that. Daniel and Alex accept the situation, so Bob isn't duplicitous. In the final event, Bob does fail at complete emotional maturity because he isn't adult enough to make a decision; he wants the best of both worlds. But I don't think we should confuse that with him being villainized, nor being emotionally vacant. There were several instances, particularly later in the film, where Murray Head played Bob's visual exchanges with his lovers with a spark of genuine sexual attraction or warm affection. He may leave them rather rudely at points, but it struck me more as being direct about his unwillingness to play their games of emotional dependence. If the film does fear bisexuality, it's equally afraid of independence - and that's a trait that ultimately makes itself known in each of the characters. Bob's decision to leave was never about Daniel versus Alex, but about love versus life experience - and I don't think the film begrudges him the opportunity to explore a different avenue of his life.

It's inevitable that Sunday Bloody Sunday could be viewed as painting Bob as empty of emotion, because it doesn't tell the story from his point-of-view. But if the film really wanted to demonize bisexuality, it could have been a great deal harsher than it is. It seems odd, in a way, that we've talked about Bob, because this isn't his story. This is about two characters engaging with the relatively new idea (within wider society, at least) of bisexuality, and I don't think either Alex nor Daniel ultimately feels wronged by Bob. They were, to an extent, a society in themselves, one which was prepared to make room for a different conception of sexuality.

I'm certainly being a little too generous here, but it's basically a case of me trying to fight for a corner I think the film hangs around in just as much as it hangs around in the opposite one you're describing. Sunday Bloody Sunday isn't perfect, and is a product of the times; but then again, are we really likely to find a depiction of bisexuality these days that's much more impartial and unjudgmental as this one? This series is about homosexuality, but I think what we've teased out of Sunday Bloody Sunday, whatever side we each land on, is that it's depcition of bisexuality is at the very least fascinating rather than frightened or ridiculous.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Britney's Videography: "My Prerogative"

Britney Spears "My Prerogative" # # # # #

Aside from a select few American Idol contestants over the years, there is no commercial pop artist around today who picks and performs covers as cleverly and uniquely as Britney Spears does. Whether you find her versions of "I Love Rock 'N Roll" or "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" good or bad, you at least have to agree that Britney is the only pop star who could have made them. Her cover of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," the lead single off her first greatest hits collection, is certainly no exception and, actually, makes sense as a Britney single in 2004, both stylistically and thematically. Can you think of a more appropriate way to start a Britney song of this era (outside of "It's Britney, bitch") than, "They say I'm crazy..."? And the video highlights this key statement in a very big way: showing a (crazy?) Britney in a car jump a massive walled gate into a swimming pool. Cutting out the music at the song at this point was a clever idea, not only adding emphasis to this statement but also proving that you can stop a song in a music video without downplaying the importance of the actual music.

On paper, the rest of the video sounds like the usual as far as Britney video goes: over a series of scandalously sexy outfits, Britney comments on her sexual image. But visually, at least through the first chorus, she generates new ideas out of something that's she had been doing for years. In what could be described as an off-the-wall homage to Sunset Boulevard, Britney wanders through an Old Hollywood mansion, reminiscent of Norma Desmond's home, eerily shot like a moody, color take on film noir. There's something mysterious about this setting that suggests far more than it explicitly shows. And then there's Britney, first lingering seductively over a sexy maid, then, clad in beautiful, surprisingly tasteful lingerie, walking in on a man watching home movies of her rolling around in a bed. Like I said, it doesn't say anything new we haven't seen before in Britney's videography--commenting on Britney's sex symbol status and how the media/public plaster this image of her to the point where she can't escape it, even in her own home--but it's done with such stylistic flair that I remained riveted. The final half of the music video falters, lumping in some big twist at the very end that feels both unnecessary and thematically. But, just as her "Toxic" video did previously, although not as strongly, "My Prerogative" makes a vivid enough first impression that you can almost forgive the video's collaborators for dropping the ball at the very end. All in all, not a bad way to market a cover of a Bobby Brown song.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Short Rants on The Artist

"It was cute." This was the only thing I could come up with after my filmgoing companion asked what I thought of The Artist last week. Believe me, I tried to come up with other adjectives, as "cute" is not something I'm normally comfortable with in the movies I watch, but words absolutely failed me this go-around. And I'm not exactly sure why because it's not as if I hated anything about The Artist. The whole thing is so lovingly created with such a keen eye for the mechanics of silent movies. From the obvious things to the cinematography to the subtle things like the title cards and the casting, Michel Hazanavicius understands how silent movies, particularly ones of the commercial nature that The Artist is paying tribute to, move and feel. It may not sound like much, but it's an incredibly hard feat to pull off. I'm particularly impressed with the casting of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as the two leads. It would have been easy for Hazanavicius to cast two French stars, say Louis Garrel and Eva Green, with international name recognition. Instead, he chose two actors who may not be as popular but would be far easier to see in a silent film circa 1927. The leading men of the silent screen were, more or less, not the pretty boys we see today. Pattinson, Lautner and Efron never would have been as big as they are today. The rugged, dashing, masculine, slightly older Dujardin, however, is the perfect fit for the Male Star archetype in 1927 Hollywood cinema. Bejo, so utterly charming, spunky and full of life, particularly in her early scenes, is the It Girl of silent cinema (Much in the same way many people will tell you that Michelle Williams is Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn. But I digress). 

At some point, however, all the technical proficiency and attention to detail in the world cannot hide the content of a film. I don't have a problem with the lightness of The Artist. In a way, it's actually refreshing that a lighthearted romp such as this is earning critical accolades and deafening Oscar buzz. It gives me faith that people still understand that good films aren't necessarily the ones that are either the most serious or feel the most "important." But The Artist does not offer much beyond its nostalgic feelings. Not to diminish the technical accomplishments of the film, but what does The Artist bring to the table that many fun, frivolous, high quality commercial silent films from MGM in their heyday didn't already? The Artist is fantastic if you have never seen a silent movie before, or if you thought that all silent films were as deadly serious as The Birth of a Nation or "highfalutin" as Potemkin, Greed or Metropolis. But to those of us who have already taken an interest in the silent era, it is more of an homage than a revelation. In the grand scheme of things, The Artist, although there's nothing explicitly bad about it, is more of a paint by numbers than an original painting. B