Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 August 2007


Just a brief mention of some movie madness before I troll off to bed. (Grad school, as you might have guessed, has begun all over again and all of a sudden there is a lot of work to do...)

Saw Jules Dassin's Night and the City, which is really good except for a weirdly emotional second act that doesn't really ring true. The plot is about a loser small time con artist who has big plans to take over wrestling in London. It's totally a film noir thing, which is great. But there's all of this father drama and personal love drama that just felt strange to me. Richard Widmark is the star and he's great, but Gene Tierney is wasted as his love interest. I like her better as a bitch than in this movie, where she's really more of a Loretta Young wannabe. Still, the movie is worth seeing for noir fans. Jules Dassin is a great filmmaker, though this film is not up to the standards of, say, The Naked City.

Also caught Hot Fuzz which is easily the year's funniest movie. You probably know all about this movie already, but it's a satire of the buddy cop movie. And it also is a buddy cop movie, with about a dozen cool cameos (including Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan and Cate Blanchett) and a totally fantastic performance by Timothy Dalton. This movie is hilarious, raunchy, ludicrously violent, with some wonderfully executed action sequences. It's an action movie and a comedy and it's damn good at being both. Do not miss it.

26 August 2007

Supporting Actress Smackdown

I participated in this month's SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN at Stinkylulu's blog. All of Oscar's Best Supporting Actress nominees from 1971 were screened by the participants. And then we discuss which performances we liked best, etc. This is my first time playing and it was great fun.
Most interestingly about this lineup is that some of the films were horrible. It's sort of amazing that the Academy knew enough (or was kind enough) to disregard how bad the films were to recognize the good work done by the actresses on the edges of these movies.
Please visit here.

23 August 2007


Another slightly uneven film from 1971 that was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. This time, the movie is from Britain and was written by Harold Pinter. Today's film is called The Go-Between and is based on the novel of the same name by L.P. Hartley.
The film stars Julie Christie (slightly miscast and with nothing to do) and Alan Bates (as good-looking as I think I've ever seen him), and concerns a young lower-class boy transplanted to an upper class manor for the summer. The boy becomes a letter-carrier between Christie and Bates, who are carrying on a secret affair. The film is full of nostalgia and symbolism and is told from the perspective of the boy after he has reached middle age and can look back on the story with forty-five or fifty years of perspective.
The film's best performance is from Julie Christie's mother in the film, played by Margaret Leighton. It was she who received the film's single nomination from the Academy, and it is a well-deserved nomination and a chilling, rather fabulous performance of great skill.
This is a fairly good film, although as I said, it is slightly uneven. The direction is rather strange. Pinter's dialogue is, of course, distancing and cold, leaving lots of room for interpretation and getting nuanced performances from the actors. But the director shoots almost everything in long shots, an odd choice for a film concerned with nostalgia and memory. The distance works in the dialogue, but the camera's distance gives the film a less immediate feel.
This film was made in 1970, but as I was watching The Go-Between, I kept thinking what James Ivory might have done with this book somewhere around the late eighties or early nineties. He would have focused much more on the class issues of course, and I think the film would have had a richer, subtler quality that The Go-Between rather lacks. Still, it is a good film, and there really is no reason in the world the film hasn't been released on DVD. Perhaps those long shots would have made more sense in widescreen.

20 August 2007

Four Weddings and a Funeral It Isn't

Frank Oz's Death at a Funeral, which looked from the trailer to be a very funny, very silly British comedy about a funeral, doesn't quite achieve its ambitions. Now, I love me some funerals; they can be great opportunities for hilarity in the movies. And the movie has a cool cast: Matthew MacFadyan, Rupert Graves, Peter Dinklage. But the execution is less than deft. Frank Oz just isn't a very good director (what was that last movie of his—The Score?—what crap). The scenes don't hang well together, and the various plots have very little to do with one another. There is a tired old gag about hallucinogens being mistaken for valium. And, worst of all, lots of humor having to do with an irascible old man (you know how I feel about old people) and one joke having to do with this old man needing to go to the toilet.

It's not a bad movie, and it's mildly funny on occasion. I didn't hate it. But I liked Shrek the Third better and it had waaaay more tasteless jokes.

18 August 2007

Fists in the Pocket

I know that I frequently complain on this blog about movies about disaffected young people who don't have any direction and mope about their houses. I recently complained about Jean-Pierre Melville's Les Enfants Terribles for doing this, and my distaste for Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers is well documented.

But recently I saw Lindsay Anderson's If...., a very cool story about kids who are unhappy with their status quo and rebel, and today I watched a film by Marco Bellocchio called Fists in the Pocket from 1965. It's about a young man who lives in a villa in the mountains with his younger sister, blind mother, and retarded younger brother. He is sick of this family life and so he rebels against it in an intriguing, vaguely horrifying way: by pushing his mother off a cliff. The boy is such an interesting character, too. I mean, he's obviously pathologically disturbed and all of that, but he's quiet and sad and Bellocchio pays very close attention. We watch his every move and never have a clear idea of what he's going to do. He could really kill anyone at any given moment in the film. It's a very interesting character study.

The extras on the DVD include some cool interviews with the cast and director, and a tribute to the film by Bernardo Bertolucci, which is a fascinating watch.

16 August 2007

Becoming Bored

I've seen bad remakes before, but this takes the cake. Tonight, I went and saw Julian Jarrold's Jane Austen nonsensical biopic Becoming Jane and... it's terrible.

It's unrelentingly boring, there isn't a single surprising plot twist in the film, and the acting is mostly tepid. The reason for all of this is that while you are watching Becoming Jane you may have the sneaking suspicion that you've seen all of this before. That would be true. You have: if you've watched any of the filmed versions of Pride & Prejudice (the 1940 classic, the very good 2005 remake, or the 1995 BBC miniseries). The writers of Becoming Jane thought it would be funny or clever or something to just invent a little story of how Jane Austen came to become Jane Austen.

In case you're wondering how you write a book like Pride & Prejudice, the answer is that first you must live it. All of this turns out to be incredibly boring. Austen's literary talent would seem to be reduced to simply re-writing events in her own life. I call bullshit.

The acting in this movie is pretty poor as well. Julie Walters gets one scene which she uses to terrific, if predictable, effect. James Cromwell is unremarkable. James McAvoy (so great in last year's The Last King of Scotland) is boring here: earnest and unromantic. Anne Hathaway's casting is a total mystery. Her dialect isn't really good enough to pull off Jane Austen, and the role is so poorly written, that though the actress is plucky, she's working too hard for it to be enjoyable. Maggie Smith is funny in all of her scenes, but she is given very little to do, and (as with all the characters in the movie) I watched Judi Dench play that same part two years ago in a far superior film. I should take time out to make note of Helen McCrory, though, who gives the best performance in the film as the novelist Ann Radcliffe. It's only a cameo, really, but as the camera moved away from McCrory, I knew I had seen the best acting this movie had to offer.

If you love yourself, you will avoid this total nonsense of a film and rent Pride & Prejudice. Becoming Jane feels like nothing better than a community theatre version of a film that's not even two years old.


I think I figured out why this movie is so bad! The director's name is Julian Jarrold. 6 letters in Julian. 7 letters in Jarrold. Plus Jane Austen.
That's 6 + 7 + 4 + 6. It's the number 23 again! Actually, I liked Becoming Jane even less.

14 August 2007

Who Is Harry Kellerman?

Today—as a part of the Supporting Actress Smackdown, which is fast approaching—I screened Ulu Grosbard's 1971 film Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?.

Wow. Dustin Hoffman. Um... so I am of the opinion generally that Dustin Hoffman is an irritating performer. I feel this especially in Barry Levinson movies (okay, mostly just Sleepers). And actually my objection is just that Hoffman is so damn actor-y, as if we can't tell that he's acting and he needs to make sure we know.

Now, don't send me a bunch of evil comments just yet. I like Hoffman a lot in movies like The Graduate and Marathon Man and Lenny. Okay, there are actually a lot of old Dustin Hoffman movies that I like. It's just that a lot of times he's working so hard up there onscreen that I get tired in my chair watching him.

Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? is also just a really bad movie. It's a surreal drama (I guess) that wants to be funny (I think). It boasts a very nice performance by Barbara Harris, but Jack Warden is in it in what has to be his most annoying role ever (he plays a psychiatrist who keeps appearing to the main character in different costumes.)

This movie isn't on DVD yet. So I had to get myself a VHS copy. Chances are you probably don't have easy access to this film, and, well... that's okay. Feel free to skip this one.

Our Parents Were Stars

I've recently finished Jeanette Winterson's very short novel/tale/poem Weight. It's ostensibly a retelling of the Atlas myth. But Winterson uses it to muse about parentage and carrying weight around and sex. It's a fascinating, very short and rather beautiful little read. Here's an excerpt from near the end, after the story has mostly been retold:
What is it that you contain?
The dead. Time. Light patterns of millennia opening in your gut.
Your first parent was a star.

I know nothing of my biological parents. They live on a lost continent of DNA. Like Atlantis, all record of them is sunk. They are guesswork, speculation, mythology.
The only proof I have of them is myself, and what proof is that, so many times written over? Written on the body is a secret code, only visible in certain lights.
I do not know my time of birth. I am not entirely sure of the date. Having brought no world with me, I made one.
Then she talks about time being different on the different planets. A day on Earth is equal to 88 days on Mercury, etc. A little later:
What am I? Atoms.
What are atoms? Empty space and points of light.
What is the speed of light? 300,000 kilometres per second.
What is a second? That depends where in the Universe you set your watch.
This is really cool stuff. Very poetic. And the rethinking of Atlas is quite beautiful.

13 August 2007


I am officially a Stardust fan. I really liked it last night when I saw it and the more I think about it, the more I like it.

It's not what you think, either, that's what's so cool about it. I thought it was going to be the standard mythical-creature fantasy-land fairy-tale movie with which we've been inundated since The Fellowship of the Ring and The Sorcerer's Stone in 2001. The most recent incarnation of these films was the terribly-made and boring Eragon.

But Stardust is more like The Princess Bride than Willow. It's filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, like Shrek without jokes about flatulence. These jokes are smart and clever, like the seven sons of the dying king all being named after the order of their birth (Septimus, Tertius, Primus). And what's wonderful, is that the movie doesn't point up its jokes. The filmmaker doesn't need to wink at the audience. Jokes like these are passed over as though they are just a part of this movie-universe.

It also helps that the male lead is the adorable Charlie Cox (you should remember him from Casanova). He's irrepressibly cute and he has a charming facility with making himself look like an ass and still allowing it to be funny (Orlando Bloom could take lessons). Claire Danes is her usual gorgeous self, and Michelle Pfeiffer is fierce and brilliant as the beautiful villainess. The movie also has tons of cool people in tiny roles: Peter O'Toole makes a random appearance as do Rupert Everett (!), Ricky Gervais (hilarious) and Nathaniel Parker.

I don't want to oversell the movie. It's not The Hours. But what it is is a fairy tale with a universe that doesn't play by the same old boring rules for fantasy movies that we're used to. It's inventive and clever and it doesn't take itself seriously. Definitely worth seeing.

From The Writer's Almanac for Sunday

"Thinking about the Past" by Donald Justice, from Selected Poetry and Prose © Middlebury College Press. Reprinted with permission.
(buy now)

Thinking about the Past

Certain moments will never change, nor stop being—
My mother's face all smiles, all wrinkles soon;
The rock wall building, built, collapsed then, fallen;
Our upright loosening downward slowly out of tune—
All fixed into place now, all rhyming with each other.
That red—haired girl with wide mouth—Eleanor—
Forgotten thirty years—her freckled shoulders, hands.
The breast of Mary Something, freed from a white swimsuit,
Damp, sandy, warm; or Margery's, a small, caught bird—
Darkness they rise from, darkness they sink back toward.
O marvelous early cigarettes! O bitter smoke, Benton...
And Kenny in wartime whites, crisp, cocky,
Time a bow bent with his certain failure.
Dusks, dawns; waves; the ends of songs...

12 August 2007

Day of the Lord

I have a plan to do some cleaning today. But mostly I am following my new mandate to be not so hard on myself for the next two weeks or so. The plan is to finish more movies than books for the next two weeks and to not worry about doing a lot of research and work. We'll see how that goes. I did start Howard Barker's The Castle (which is a really awesome play so far) but I also watched two movies in the last twelve hours.

First: Werner Herzog's new film Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale is pretty good. I enjoyed the film, too, for the most part. I am being hesitant and I don't know why. I think I hesitate because Rescue Dawn isn't exactly Aguirre: the Wrath of God. Few films, of course, are Aguirre: the Wrath of God, so I guess I should just let that go and evaluate Rescue Dawn on its own merits. It's a harrowing, at times very difficult to watch story about a man in a P.O.W. camp in Laos during the lead up to the Vietnam war. It's excellently made, very well acted, beautifully shot and cleverly scripted. Definitely worth seeing if you like P.O.W. movies. Christian Bale is awesome, as usual, slimming down to a dangerous weight again. And Jeremy Davies, who costars, is as thin as I've ever seen him in anything (he looks disgusting, in fact.) Steve Zahn is excellent as well.

Lindsay Anderson's 1968 movie If.... with Malcolm McDowell was finally released on DVD recently (god bless Criterion) so I finally got to see this amazing film from Britain's angry sixties. This film deserves its cult status. It's a movie about a school with strict discipline and lots of corruption and McDowell plays a rebel who goes on a rampage at the school. It's a fabulous movie and a biting satire. Totally sexy, too, in a kind of queer, underage-boy, British way. I absolutely loved it.

Mizoguchi Kenji's Sansho the Bailiff (1954) is a social justice movie from the Japanese filmmaker. It's mostly an anti-slavery movie, detailing the evils of servitude and slavery on the Japanese islands. Our hero gets captured and sold into slavery as a young boy, and we watch as tragedy befalls him and his family. It's a fairly bleak cinematic adventure, truth be told. I think I've decided, too, that I like Mizoguchi the least of the Japanese masters I've seen so far. Both of the films of his that I've seen have been more didactic than anything else and my tastes run more toward the poetic.
(Oh yeah, and Sansho the Bailiff is not the main character. The title kind of makes no sense. Weird, too, because the title is the same in Japanese.)

11 August 2007

El Numero 23

I keep trying to figure out why I actually asked Netflix to send me the DVD of Joel Schumacher's The Number 23, and then I figured it out:

JOEL = 4
What day did I watch the movie? 8/10

8 + 1 + 0 + 4 + 10 Oh my GOD!

This movie is beyond retarded. I was warned; my friend Anthony warned me. And I believed him. Netflix warned me too. It said the average rating for the movie was 3.2 stars but if it had to guess what I would rate it, it would guess 1.1 stars. I believed Netflix too.

A friend convinced me to rent this film. She pulled the "you see a lot of movies; you should see this one for me" card.

I'm putting it at the bottom of the list for 2007. Right under those other numerically titled films 300 and Spider-man 3.

Oh god. How many zeroes are in 300: TWO. That's 32 - 23 in reverse!
I didn't see it in Spider-man 3 until I thought about who Spider-man really is: Peter Parker: 5 letters in Peter. 6 letters in Parker. That's 11. 1 + 1 = 2. Spider-man 3: That's 23!

Dumbest shit ever.

10 August 2007

Ravenhill / Marber

So The Guardian over in the UK is posting tiny excerpts from Mark Ravenhill every morning. They're calling it "Ravenhill for Breakfast", which is sort of hilarious. Ravenhill has written a play for every day of the Edinburgh festival and so each excerpt is from that day's play.

The Guardian is giving few details about the play when it posts each excerpt, so though I am not quite sure what this play is about, this made me laugh:
DAN And I asked you if you'd brought a newspaper.

ANNA And I said no because a newspaper is too depressing and you won't get better if you're reading newspapers.

DAN You did say that. And I was angry with you.

ANNA You were angry with me. Which wasn't good for you. And there was a croissant.

DAN Which also came out of a machine and had a bit of chocolate in the middle.

ANNA I'm sorry I couldn't do any better. Plastic cup and (laughs) plastic croissant.

DAN Ah well.

ANNA Ah well.

DAN And I said: I need to see the news.

ANNA I said: No.

DAN And I said: I saw the TV news last night.

ANNA And I said: How?

DAN I had the Nurse bring the TV into my room on a trolley I said.

ANNA The poof Nurse I asked.

DAN Nancy the Nurse yes I replied. Nancy the Nurse wheeled the TV into my room and we watched the news together.

ANNA I didn't have any breakfast myself that morning.

DAN No you didn't.

ANNA No I didn't. And I said: Nancy Nurse fancies you.

DAN Do you think so? I said.

ANNA I think so I said. And I think you flirt with Nancy the Nurse I said.

DAN Well maybe I do I said maybe I do.

There is a little more, but how much does this sound like Patrick Marber's Closer? It seems to me like it's a parody of Marber's play, and a very clever one at that. Thoughts?

09 August 2007

Violence Overload

I know there is too much to read and so much work to be done and all of that. I was talking about just that on this here blog a couple days ago.

And yet. All of these violent plays (Barker—yikes! and Rudkin—unbelievably horrific) and all of this depressing theory (I finished Jordan Schildcrout's dissertation on queer killers) — it's getting to me. I almost long for the hard, firm materiality of history reading. I can, at least, address Brockett and Knox and those guys. There's something to fight with. These unspeakable horrors (and American political realities) leave me feeling rather impotent.
I need some sunshine.

I'm going to read a happy book. I wonder if I have any on my shelves.

The Last Picture Show

I guess I don't write too much about movies I've seen before. I don't really re-visit movies that often. But I am participating in the Supporting Actress Smackdown this month over at Stinkylulu's place, so that means I'm screening all of the Oscar nominees from 1971 for Best Supporting Actress. This means I needed to revisit The Last Picture Show, a movie I first saw in October of 2000. I'm sure glad I did, too. Seven years ago means most of my focus was on the young hero of the film (Timothy Bottoms) and my love for the very-cute-at-that-age Jeff Bridges, who is second-billed. The film is about sexual awakening in a lot of ways, so I'm sure that was drawing most of my attention back then.

But The Last Picture Show is a quiet epic of sadness and ennui. Larry McMurtry's script is a beautifully crafted thing and the black and white photography gives this film about the 1950s an air of something already forgotten even while it's being shot. It's a sad, lovely, movie with some absolutely brilliant performances. Ben Johnson in particular is just perfect as the town's lifeblood Sam the Lion. Check this flick out if you haven't seen it. It's worth the re-watch.

08 August 2007

Update on Grad School

I won't be teaching classes this year. So weird. The higher-ups in the School of Theatre transferred my assistantship. I've been moved to admin. I just got the call.

Didn't I go to grad school so I could be a teacher? My boss said I could opt out if I wanted and go back to teaching a hundred and fifty undergrads at a time, but I figure working in admin will help me later when I need to apply for tenure and all that kind of shit. (Plus, I won't be grading a bunch of shit at home, so I will theoretically have more free time to do research and write my thesis.)

Speaking of which, I don't know how I ever write anything. I never feel like I've read enough to justify writing. There is so much still to read.

Ooo Corruption!

I've been in a let's-watch-some-people-blow-some-shit-up kind of mood. The B-movie love started with Sunshine, which, as I believe I've already mentioned, is awesome.

And then, of course, the third movie in the Jason Bourne franchise was just released. Now, as you might recall, I really liked the second movie, The Bourne Supremacy, and though I still cannot figure out what the fuck the titles in this series of movies mean, I also really liked The Bourne Ultimatum. Matt Damon is totally serious and very cool, and Paul Greengrass sure knows how to make an action picture. (You might also recall that I rated his United 93 as my #2 movie from last year.) Ultimatum delivers on all the promises of Supremacy. The fights are awesome, especially an extended hand-to-hand battle with Joey Ansah that happens late in the movie. The Bourne Ultimatum also boasts about a hundred cameos of well-known actors (the first two movies did this too). Daniel Brühl shows up for a single scene (in the first good movie he's been in since Good Bye, Lenin!) and Paddy Considine gets a couple of cool scenes. The best thing about Ultimatum, though, is that it never really lets up. The movie starts in medias res and just keeps going at the rapid pace it sets at the beginning. It's a thrill-a-minute film with a great car chase, some awesome fight sequences and beautiful locations. Definitely worth checking out.

Also, the villain in this movie is, as seems to be common in action movies nowadays, the United States Government. Filmmakers find it very easy to cast our government as the source of evil and criminality. This obviously has to do with the American people's mounting distrust of the president, the Congress and all top levels of government. I mention it because another film I recently saw, Antoine Fuqua's Shooter has a similar theme. Now, I haven't seen a Fuqua movie since Training Day, but it seems like the man has still got a lot of talent. Shooter is a strictly straightforward tale of good guys/bad guys, guns, bombs, explosions, torture, revenge, etc. But it does what it promises well enough. The good guys are likable (you know I love Mark Wahlberg, and I don't know anyone who doesn't love Michael Peña) and the villains all wear suits and make decisions from ivory Washington D.C. towers. The hero of Shooter doesn't quite have the amazing survival skills of Jason Bourne, but he comes kind of close. He makes homemade pipe bombs and tear gas from stuff he got at WalMart and he is able to perform minor surgery on himself after getting shot in the arm and in the side. True to Antoine Fuqua form, of course, there are lots and lots of dead bodies. I should have counted how many, but I probably would have lost track. It's a little out of control.

One exceptionally cool thing about Shooter is a scene with Ned Beatty on top of a mountain. It's an obvious nod to my favorite film of all time—Network—a clever update to Ned Beatty's very famous monologue in that film, where he says "There are no nations; there are no peoples. There are no Russians.There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West." In Shooter Ned says "There are no Shiites; there are no Sunnis. There are no Republicans; there are no Democrats." Kudos to whatever genius thought that a nice echo of Paddy Chayefsky's cynicism fit nicely in a 2007 action movie with Mark Wahlberg. It put a giant grin on my face.

06 August 2007

From Stinkylulu

I got tagged with this this morning, so I'm passing on the love.

5 People who will be annoyed that you tagged them:
  • A Work in Progress
  • 4 Things that should go into room 101 and be removed from the face of the earth:
  • AIDS
  • Organized religion
  • The two-party system
  • Bad Mexican food: if you don't know how to make it, don't serve it.
  • 3 Things people do that make you want to shake them violently:
  • Refusing to vote. Some of my friends do this and it makes my head explode with confusion.
  • Turning right on a red light when they're not in the right lane. This makes me crazy.
  • Lying. People shouldn't lie.
  • 2 Things you find yourself moaning about:
  • My neighbors think that the street is an okay place to store their giant garbage cans. So they just leave them on the street in perpetuity.
  • The humidity in Tallahassee. It's debilitating. It makes me want to cry.
  • 1 Thing the above answers tell you about yourself:
  • Either I'm really serious and politically-minded or it's really hard for me to come up with personal stuff to complain about.
  • RULES: Link to the original meme at so people know what it’s all about! ~ Be as honest as possible. This is about letting people get to know the real you! ~ Try not to insult anyone - unless they really deserve it or are very, very ugly! ~ Post these rules at the end of every meme!

    05 August 2007

    Some Thoughts from ATHE

    I jotted this down in response to a paper about Anna Deavere Smith and her two solo shows (Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992):
    I keep thinking about bodies while I am here. The threatened uncovering of the queer body always contains the possibility of upsetting the status quo. In the dialogue about Anna Deavere Smith my thought was that contrary to so many critical assessments of her work that claim Smith disappears during her performances, Smith's performances never actually work in that way. On the contrary, her work foregrounds her own body. The performative gestures and vocal inflections belong to her (real-life) characters, but the performance event always focuses on the body of Anna Deavere Smith. Her body is the visual territory of her work and it is she who is the play's central figure, despite the play's argument.
    Random thought:
    Does Eve Sedgwick talk about men exchanging power with their sexual relationships? Are all male-male relationships—anywhere on the continuum between sexual and social—best defined as exchanges of power? This seems facile, but the hegemony of patriarchy as a system could mean that other ways of thinking male-male relations have become impossible
    Can sex be thought at all? Do we need to think sex?
    This is a riff on some thoughts from a guy named Jordan who teaches at Ohio University:
    In musical theatre definitely (and in what other genres/spaces?) the absence of the queer is so conspicuous that the queer is effectively present. Musical theatre is such a good example of this because the unabashedly queer body of the male performer is displayed while that body enacts heteronormative gestures and re-inscribes heterosexual traditions such as marriage and patriarchal family structures. So the queer body is present though the queer is ostensibly absent.

    The queer body asserts itself, demanding to be noticed, scrutinized by the straight gaze and queer gaze alike. We explore each other's bodies visually for signs, for possibilities, echoes of queer gestures, hints of a gay inflection in the voice. In the queer body resonates the potential for connection, unity; queer bodies coming together. As Elizabeth Grosz says: not for production or reproduction. The queer coupling doesn't produce anything but itself. But it is this potentiality, this capability of the queer body that threatens others. The display of the queer body itself displaces normativity, disrupting the status quo simply with its own presence. The queer body always threatens to commit a kind of violence.

    04 August 2007

    Poem for Today

    This is entitled "Tell Me"

    There are many people who spend their nights
    on the subway trains. Often one encounters
    them on the morning commute, settled in corners,
    coats over their heads, ragged possessions heaped
    around themselves, trying to remain in their own night.

    This man was already up, bracing himself against
    the motion of the train as he folded his blanket
    the way my mother taught me, and donned his antique blazer,
    his elderly, sleep-soft eyes checking for the total effect.

    Whoever you are—tell me what unforgiving series
    of moments has added up to this one: a man
    making himself presentable to the world in front
    of the world, as if life has revealed to him the secret
    that all our secrets from one another are imaginary.

    by Anne Pierson Wiese, from Floating City: Poems.

    03 August 2007


    Danny Boyle obviously has a highly developed visual sense. Even in smaller-scale movies like Millions, his visuals are clear and arresting. Couple this superb visionary ability with great storytelling and you get the best action movie of the summer, which is easily Sunshine.

    The film stars Michelle Yeoh, Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rose Byrne and Cliff Curtis. The performances are great, but what is really awesome about this movie is how it looks. It's a total nail-biting thriller, and I both held my breath and cried at least three times apiece during the movie. But it's just so stunning to look at!

    Go. I'm going to go again. If you can see it at the Arclight, go see it at the Arclight. It's definitely this year's The Fountain.

    01 August 2007

    When a Woman Ascends the Stairs

    Mikio Naruse's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is a quintessentially Japanese film. It's also quintessentially of the 1960s and yet strikingly cosmopolitan. I watched this movie as part of my ongoing project of exploring the Japanese masters. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is a beautiful, subtle film that's also a melodrama and a bittersweet homage to Fellini's Nights of Cabiria.

    The film is actually a kind of Japanese remake of Cabiria, a connection I might not have even noticed had not director Naruse explicitly referenced Cabiria in the first ten minutes of the film. (Naruse also references Pressburger & Powell's Black Narcissus.)

    When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is about a woman working as a hostess in a bar (a kind of lower-rent geisha) who is trying to make ends meet and support her louse of a brother back home. It's an old story about the prostitute with a heart of gold, but Naruse's film has the ability to transcend the melodramatic plot and really take both a feminist stance and criticize the dominant political system in Japan. It becomes a film with relevant social commentary as well as a serious drama.

    Les Enfants Terribles

    Jean-Pierre Melville's 1950 film Les Enfants Terribles was finally released on DVD last week. It is based on a Jean Cocteau novel (subject matter that differs considerably from Melville's usual output.) Following the format of our discussion of Susanne Bier's After the Wedding, I discuss the film with my friend Karen. (She liked it a lot and I rather disliked it.) The following doesn't contain anything major in the way of spoilers.

    (As a side note: , I think we should have one of these discussions on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Email me and we can set it up!)
    Karen: I watched Les Enfants Terribles today. A bizarre movie, even by my standards. I was surprised at how different it is from the other Melville movies – the Cocteau influence. I definitely liked it. All those creepy incestuous undertones, the dead mother, the messy, messy room, the strange mansion, the car wreck, the dream sequence, the Vivaldi. It sure wasn’t Bob le Flambeur though. Did the voiceover bug you? To me it just added to the bizarreness of the film. It was Cocteau’s voice.
    Me: I didn't like it. Yes, the voiceover bugged me. It always bugs me in films. I don't understand why a filmmaker can't show me the things that the voiceover has to say. I know it solves certain storytelling problems, but it has the effect of flattening everything out.
    I think the main thing is those annoying kids. You remember my reaction to Bertolucci's The Dreamers? I very quickly get irritated with disaffected, bored children with nothing interesting to say. Their relationship was interesting and weird, but the manifestations of that relationship mostly grated on my nerves.
    I was expecting something very different from Melville with this film—the Cocteau subject matter is obviously so very different from the other stuff of his we've seen—but I guess I was expecting something a little more, well, mysterious. Any more thoughts?
    Karen: Annoying kids – you didn’t see that coming from the title? I wonder why annoying children bug you so much. You seem to do ok with annoying adults. Is it because their boredom leads so easily into mindless cruelty?
    I think the voiceover is intended to flatten things out in this film and separate the brother and sister further from normalcy and reality. I think that’s why it was all spoken in a monotone. I certainly didn’t care very much about them, and I had a very hard time understanding why Gérard and Agathe were attracted to them. The sister was scary and the brother was completely self-absorbed. Well, she was self-absorbed too. I was fascinated by the strange way she dressed – high heels and a bathrobe, for starters. But she sure didn’t dress like a 16 or 17 year old girl, ever. That’s maybe what interested me about the film – I was fascinated and a little repulsed by their bizarreness. It wasn’t eccentricity, it was psychopathological. I do remember wondering where the film was going with all this, and thinking that it could only end in tragedy.
    I like Melville’s storytelling much better. I wonder what his other early movie, Silence de la Mer, is like. It also is based on someone else’s story. My love for Melville remains with his gangster movies and Army of Shadows.
    Me: Yeah. I am going to have to put Les Enfants Terribles in a sort-of different category of Melville film in my head. "Early Melville" sounds like a good enough title. There really is no comparison for the kind of gothic brooding, histrionics and head games in this film with his colder, more detached character studies of adults in Bob le Flambeur and even Le Cercle Rouge, which, though not my favorite Melville, is infinitely more absorbing and tension-filled than the Cocteau adaptation.
    Melville is obviously a master (that room! the snowball fight!), but Les Enfants Terribles is uneven. I'm thinking of Michael's pop song at the piano: what a strange moment! And the theft of the watering can; to what end? These things made me impatient with Melville's work this time around, and longing for the cool detachment of Le Samouraï, where I have to work a little harder to make meaning of the film.
    Karen: Oh that song violently clashed with the entire rest of the movie. I forgot about that. There was a lot of controversy about how much it was Cocteau’s film and how much Melville’s – in the interviews on the disk and stuff I’ve read about it. But it’s clear to me that Cocteau was really driving this story because it is so different from the later Melville. Make it Cocteau-Melville for your separate category. There were some wonderful scenes in the film (that I attribute entirely to Melville). Also the ending was Melville’s. Cocteau wanted some dumb thing where they were laying on the bed together in each other's arms or something. Melville had the whole screen-falls-down thing. Not that hard to figure out the symbolism there. The stealing was part of their game. The watering can part was weird because it really should have been an initiation for Gérard, but it didn’t seem to function that way. Well maybe –didn’t he start sleeping on their floor after that?
    I can definitely see how this movie disappointed you if you were expecting it to be like his other stuff. That has happened to me more times than I can say. I realized immediately that this was going to be a totally different kind of movie – partially because the voiceover starts explaining everything right off the bat – and somehow was able to switch gears. But I’m sticking with my “like” vote. Not love, but not dislike. But you’ve actually had a while to think about it so you’re probably not going to feel that much different about it. And you’re right about it being uneven.
    There are movies that stick with me for days and others that fade almost immediately. The other Melville films were stickers. This one begins to fade already.
    I only vaguely remember you talking about The Dreamers. Is it as different from Bertolucci’s other work as Les Enfants Terribles is from the rest of Melville’s?
    Me: No, that's the thing. It's just that Dreamers is about disaffected young people whining about stupid shit. My sympathies run very thin with those kinds of movies. Give me a hard-boiled criminal any day over a miserable teenager.