A Bedraggled Angel–Women & Rock

January 10th, 2011 § 1 comment

“It wasn’t pretty, but I was with you all the way,” Patti Smith said as she concluded the first of her annual New Year’s performances at the Bowery Ballroom Wednesday night. In Just Kids, Patti wrote that whatever you’re doing on the new year will be a premonition of what you do that year, which is perhaps why it makes perfect sense for her to play three shows in the final days of December, and to bring in the new year with music. Her opening night is apparently more a “rehearsal” than anything else—“I don’t know why you come tonight”, she said Wednesday, calling us insane—the second performance is Patti Smith’s birthday—she turned sixty four this year—and the closing night is of course New Year’s Eve.

My first time taking part in her tradition, and I unknowingly picked the rehearsal performance. Surrounded by an aging crowd who sees her year after year, listening to Patti tell me about the changes in her work that have transpired between last year’s show and this year’s, (apparently all she had to share of Just Kids last year was the finished cover of the unpublished book), I felt like I had unintentionally picked the worst show for the same reason that the first camera you buy isn’t the best one you will ever own: you have to earn the right to buy a better one. Next year I will see the birthday show, and the year after that perhaps I will brave the crowd and share the new year with Patti Smith. As entertaining and inspiring as I think it would be to spend the last hours of the year listening to Patti ramble and rock, I’m happy that this year I got my feet wet slowly: she seems to require a certain amount of getting used to.

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The Death of a Producer

July 27th, 2010 § 1 comment

pride & prejudiceWhile pondering who might be the current audience for foreign films about familial drama, I found myself wondering why is that the intricate narrative of family life is considered to be a female form of entertainment. Like those books girls read as teenagers—Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Mrs. Dalloway—that boys (and later men) are sure to dismiss, understanding the treacherous but fascinating web of family is of interest only to us. What is most frustrating in a post feminist society is not that our contributions are still dismissed, undervalued, and exploited. These problems in the late 20th and 21st century have taken on a good bit of elasticity, in that we are less dismissed, undervalued, and exploited. The problem for my generation of women is one of interest, or what seems to be a shocking inequality of it. While most women enjoy the tastes and interests of men, after centuries of having no choice, so little effort is made by men to enjoy the tastes and interests of women. In the case of filmmaking it could be said that our stories, and the perspective from which we tell them, might receive the proper critical attention—Bright Star, The Hurt Locker, Lost In Translation—but they also garner unnecessary anger and more often complete indifference from mass audiences. Preferring anger, the disinterest is a stinging snub with a subtext of, we don’t think you make bad films because we won’t even watch them. Less than nine percent of directors in Hollywood today are women, and if their movies go unwatched, be they about poetry, war, or intimacy, should we be fighting for more representation or more interest? Obviously both.

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Powerless Pistols: Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler

March 15th, 2009 § 1 comment

Hedda Gabler has recently been revived on Broadway with a prestigious cast and director, an awaited revival that revealed a disastrous interpretation filled with stilted performances—I can’t help but wonder why this play and why now. Being a critic by nature, or rather because of five years of art school, even I was not as unforgiving as the new york times or the new yorker. The play, like most, had its brilliant moments, and the rest was awkward at best. Interestingly, the better moments were brought about through the reinterpretations of the text, small alterations and additions to words and gestures that brought to life a little of the drama Ibsen likely had in mind, and that was so lacking in Sunday nights performance.

Ibsen, I have often thought, is more a feminist than most women who call themselves that. Watching last weekend’s performance I realized it was easier to misunderstand Hedda as a monstrous being without passion or feeling than to paint her in the light of the causes for those feelings. Rereading the play, I found that as unlikely as the story seemed onstage, there were small moments in the text that still ring sharply true. Her dialogue remains a critique of the obviousness and manipulation of the opposite sex, a thoughtlessness that over the last centuries has simply shifted, and has not yet disappeared. Hedda is not haunted and harassed by inner demons, she possesses a deformed conscience because she is fraught with discontent at her complete lack of control, over herself, her life, and those around her that she desperately tries to influence. In a rare moment of enthusiasm, when she believes her old lover has committed suicide at her insisting she states, “it’s liberating to know that there can still actually be a free and courageous action in this world. Something that shimmers with spontaneous beauty.” Though this notion is hastily stamped out it is as close as Hedda comes to disclosing her desire, and even hope, for life. Though the revival dwells on her talent for “feeling dead,” a line altered from “boring myself to death,” she is neither bored nor dead, and reading her frustrations as such is a dismissal of the insightful brilliance of Ibsen’s character.

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Vicki Christina Barcelona (& Gaudi)

September 13th, 2008 § 0 comments

If you believe, or at least accept the idea, that love doesn’t pan out the way you wish, or the way you think it should, then Woody Allen’s ideology toward life must make perfect sense. If instead, you believe in notions of fate and order in love, then his films, provoking maddening encounters that result in a chaotic muddle, must feel aggravating. Struggling somewhere in the middle of these extremes, I try to find a balance between my own experiences with love and life, and those ever appealing and tidy stories I wish existed in the world. According to Allen, he was asked to make a movie set in the lovely city of Barcelona, and after he received his “retainer” he found it quite an inspiring place. Most reviews suggest Vicki Christina Barcelona belongs in a category with his “middle ground” films; it is not one of the greats such as Match Point or older classics, but does not crash down like his self-centered comedies. The film is a disconcerting and somewhat unexpected exploration of self-expression, desire, and inexplicable connections, all forced into the context of a summer vacation in Barcelona.

I was surprised to realize that the film is not about three women in love with one man, nor about one man in love with three women, but about three women. Javier Bardem, with all his Spanish charm, is simply the figure around which the female characters are explored. I appreciate that Allen’s women are not relegated to the sidelines in importance, and he never explores relationships without recognizing, considering, or questioning what it is they contribute. Allen is a master when it comes to creating normal, almost cliché characters with sharp edges, and there is a multifaceted quality of universality in the women portrayed in the film. However unbelievable the storyline might become, these protagonists always remain grounded in a moral reality that feels vaguely familiar.

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Noir with a Twist

September 6th, 2008 § 0 comments

Fritz Lang might well be, along with other German Expressionists, the father of the dramatic noir style with its long shadows, dark streets, deserted houses, and claustrophobic buildings, but he is not a typical noir storyteller. I would argue that the essence of noir does not lie in its style, but within the stories and characters; they are predicable, yes, but timelessly captivating. While many films look like noir, most do not contain the plot or characters to bring the style to life. There are so many craggy faces and toned legs that are inseparable from genre that they stand out more than dark cityscapes and sprawled out bodies. There is a pleasure, and also an insanity, in hoping for change in a story fated from the beginning.

It is impossible, or at least unwise, to argue that Lang is not a noir director, and yet his films call into question his reputation of being a “prolific Hollywood director” of countless noirs. He breaks the rules, departing from conventional expectations, in so many ways that his films stand out as misplaced. While Lang pretends to fill the requirements of the cliché detective story, heavily foreshadowing a predicted outcome, he never delivers quite what we think we want. His films are too morally unique from the noir genre, making them difficult to place within an endless line of dead women. All this is certainly to his credit. His departures never fail to surprise, and his careful manipulations of a genre he seemingly helped to create, are extremely clever.

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