Sunday, May 3, 2009

Secret's Shooter and Spongebob

If you haven’t seen Fight Club, you won’t want to read this post. I’m warning you up front. The end of Fight Club reveals that the protagonist has multiple-personality disorder, explaining the creation of the character Tyler Durden. This reminded me of another movie I saw a couple of years ago with a very similar, nearly exactly, twist to its plot: Secret Window.

In Secret Window writer Mort Rainey is on a quest to defeat writer’s block by retreating to a secluded lakeside cabin. While at the cabin, he discovers that his wife has cheated on him and is still with her other lover.

To make the situation worse, a man, Shooter, finds Rainey in the cabin, claiming that Rainey’s recent book was an exact copy of his book. Rainey attempts to have an investigator look into the charge, but Shooter goes on a killing spree. Rainey always seems to be just behind the killer, just like when the protagonist is tracking down Tyler Durden and is one step behind. In the end, Mort realizes that Shooter is, in fact, himself. But the movie ends on a sinister note, with Rainey’s transformation in Shooter and murdering of his wife and her lover.

Secret Window is more of a thriller, and the revealing of writer Mort Rainey’s dissociative identity disorder is not as calm. Not as cool. He doesn’t argue with is alter ego. In fact, in Fight Club having an alter ego is cool. In Secret Window, its not. Is this because Shooter is killing left and right, just like Durden, but has no deeper purpose than causing chaos in a small town? Perhaps it has to do with the defeat of the alter ego. In Fight Club, the protagonist eventually defeats Tyler Durden by turning his own gun against him. In Secret Window, Rainey never defeats his other personality. He embraces it and plans on dying with it.

Fight Club also used various close-up shots throughout the movies, to emphasize character reactions or certain details of a scene. This reminded me of other, often violent ones, that use the close-up/slow-motion technique when showing a character throwing a punch. The victim’s cheeks go flying to the side, beads of sweat slowly fly with the force of the punch, a stream of blood escapes from the mouth followed by a tooth or two. I always think to myself, “What exactly is the point of showing this so close-up. It doesn’t accomplish anything but making me cringe.” But perhaps this is the point. Audiences will cringe when they see a punch thrown from far away, but put them right in the victim’s face, and they no longer just cringe. They feel the punch. Even the cartoon “Spongebob Squarepants” uses extreme close-ups, often to show unflattering characteristics of the characters, such as when they are dead tired or sick. Fight Club’s use of such close-ups brings its audiences closer the movie. The audience feels the boredom of the office meeting, feel enveloped in the scene, and feel the pain in the punch. Perhaps this is the point of extreme close-ups: to envelope the viewer in the movie further than before. Maybe I’ve missed the point all along.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Would You Rather Have a Foot-Long Eyelash You Can Never Pluck, or an Earlobe the Size of a Basketball?

I gotta hand it to them. That was a twist. I did not expect Fight Club to end the way it did. But I enjoyed it. Fight Club was the epitome of a cool movie, by all definitions we have established throughout this semester. Unlike last week’s viewing of Reservoir Dogs, I could watch this movie (with all the blood and violence) and cringe, but still enjoy what I was watching.

Fight Club challenged the safe life, the boring life, the self-help life. It shows the stupidity of self-help groups designed to help you accept death. Accept death? Forget that. You should ignore death. By ignoring the one thing that ends your life, you can let your life begin. In this life we are often so caught up with attaining material things that we forget how to live. Our lives become defined by going through the moves at your 9-to-5 job and your window-lined condo. It shows the stupidity ofworrying over petty details. After living the fighting life, the unnamed protagonist must sit through comparably boring office meetings, where one guy is even so caught up with petty material details that he requests a computer icon in “cornflower blue.” First, why is the color of your computer icon even important? Second, what real man knows the color “cornflower blue”? Men only know basic colors: red, blue, yellow, green, orange, black, brown, purple, and pink. The man who knows the color “cornflower blue” is obviously not living. The movie shows this, and shows that the men accepting the cubicle lifestyle are not living either.

Though the movie does satirize the material obsessions of the modern world, I think it also warns against the danger of completely letting go. Through the insanity of Tyler Durden, Fight Club shows that desire for no structure in life whatsoever leads to complete chaos. And chaos has the ability to seep into any crack. It appeals to the working men, the poor men, the rich men, men across states, and even men in law enforcement. However, within the chaos, these men lose their identity. When involved in Project Mayhem, the men have no name. They are just pieces that create one big puzzle of terrorists with the same desire. Only when one dies does he regain his name, as when Bob is killed and the men are told “His name is Robert Paulson.” Robert Paulson gains identity, men the remaining men are still one mass, even chanting in unison, “His name is Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson. His name is Robert Paulson…”

Is losing your identity to chaos better than losing your identity to material possessions? One gives you an identified life of repetition. One gives you an unidentified life of action and spontaneity. It’s like one of those hard “Would you rather?” questions: would you rather live 9-to-5 life where everyone knows who you are, or would you rather live a life where every day is different but you sacrifice your identity to become a figure in a mass or men?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

An Unnecessary Evil

After watching Reservoir Dogs, it is going to be difficult to find something similar in modern media, because quite honestly I have never seen anything like it. It’s not my type of movie, so we will see how well on do on these comparisons.

If the grotesque, unnecessary violence in Reservoir Dogs is what makes it cool, then I must not be cool. This explains why I often don’t like rap music. It’s use of sexually explicit lyrics and curse words to get a violent message across is completely unnecessary to me. If rap music is cool, then I am not. I don’t see the point in singing about violence and “gettin’ it” from a different woman every night. Some examples are: "you need to think about the future before I shoot your ass and dilute your blood with lead from my hollow tips, I'll send you to an early grave" (Outkast); "I tote guns, I make number runs, I give emcees the runs drippin when I throw my clip in the AK, I slay from far away. Everybody hit the DECK" (Notorious BIG); "Grabbed her by the throat, it's murder she wrote. You barely heard a word as she choked. It wasn't nuttin' for her to be smoked, but I slammed her on her back 'til her vertebrae broke" (Eminem).

Even in every day conversation, curse words seem unnecessary to me. You can get your point across just as effectively without cursing as you can with it. Some may argue with me, but this is my opinion. Perhaps this is why I love the eloquent speech found in novels of the 1800s. The characters could be furious, but relay that information in speech without marring the point with useless explicatives. Also, lyrics can express anger and pain with out cursing. In their song “Blue and Yellow”, the lead singer of The Used (a favorite band of mine) expresses his frustration with a situation but unwillingness to leave when he says, “Shoulda done something, but I’ve done it enough. By the way your hands were shaking, rather waste my time with you. Shoulda said something, but I’ve said it enough. By way my words were faded, rather waste some time with you.” Angst, angst, angst…yet not a trace of a cuss word in this song.

Quentin Tarantino chose to shoot Reservoir Dogs in a 1970s retro style. And it fits. We discussed in class how a new model of a Kia just wouldn’t fit in with the storyline. There are some movies that just require being set during a certain time period. This applies to movie creations of novels, as well. I just can’t imagine Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice being set in 2000. Some movies have attempted to modernize classics. The remake of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet attempted to retell the story in modern times; it wasn’t very well received. Is this because some stories just can’t be translated into modern times? Or is the public so set in its ways that it refuses to welcome any modernization of the good ole classics? Conversely, some movies just couldn’t be set back in any other time but the present.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

So I Don't Pay Attention To Directions...

So this week I fail to look at our syllabus. Guess what? Our first blog assignment is different than usual! In my defense, I wasn't at the beginning of class, so I never heard the verbal reminder. Nevertheless, here I am with my second blog for the day! :D

convertible hybrids gas-guzzling convertibles
green energy nonrenewable resources
mp3s CDs
working out being lazy
college high school
Blackberry Post-Its
purified water tap water
doing homework at 3 AM doing homework on the weekend
traveling the world never leaving your state
confidence arrogance
party hardy study buddy
being an expert being a know-it-all

My lists outline what I find to be cool now, and what used to be cool, but isn't anymore. Trivial things
top the list because that is what a lot of people focus. Because superficial things grab the attention
of the masses, they can be deemed cool. What I notice is that we might be slowly becoming more self-
aware, but that doesn't mean we have stopped becoming superficial. Yes, actors and actresses are taking
a stand for something bigger than themselves, but why are they doing it? To become a humanitarian?
To be a better person? Or to gain more positive attention for what they do, but attention nonetheless?

I've notice that some things that were cool are still cool today; somehow they will be cool forever. Like
music. The cool means by which we enjoy the music of the day are changing, but the base of these means
has stayed the same. Music will always be cool, because it provides a creative outlet for people to express
emotion and others to connect. The current means are just making music more accessible. Where you
cannot fit a Walkman, you can now fit your Ipod. Other trends will always stay cool, like appearances.
The means be which we gain coolness through our appearances is changing, and will continue to change.
But our desire to appear hip and trendy has refused to disappear. Tanning is still in. Only now you can
spray on that beach-baked glow. Skin cancer is out. Cool-looking cars that are good for the environment
are in; cool-looking cars that destroy our environment are out. We still desire to look cool, we just change
the methods of doing so.

Soundtrack to My Life

I’m not into blood and gore. Quite honestly, too much of it makes me sick to my stomach and I don’t want to finish the rest of the movie. Perhaps this is why I did not enjoy Reservoir Dogs.

Please note that I say “enjoy,” not “like.” I liked the movie, yes, in the sense of appreciating the detailed characters and engaging storyline. I liked where Quentin Tarantino was going with this. I did not enjoy watching it unfold. I honestly do not see the need for all the violence. We get that these guys are robbers. Killing is what they do. Is it completely necessary to cut a police officer’s ear off to demonstrate their violence? Is it completely necessary to kill nearly every character off? Is it completely necessary to have so many pools of blood across the warehouse?

Which brings me to another point. I found it incredibly interesting that nearly the entire movie was shot in one location. The warehouse.

Granted, the movie opens in a restaurant, the flashbacks take the viewers to the scene of the crime, and the robbers step outside of the warehouse every now and then. But everything in present time took place at the warehouse, or just outside the doors. Tarantino does a very good job of keeping the viewers interested even though the setting never changes. I would have never thought that a movie that takes place entirely in an empty warehouse could hold my attention. Then again, the vicious storyline took care of that.

The lack of background music in Reservoir Dogs made it unique. In class we came to the conclusion that Tarantino probably decided, “Hey, I really love this song. I’ve always wanted to use it in a movie…let’s put it here.” Kind of like closing your eyes and randomly picking a place to eat from a list of restaurants, so went Tarantino’s method of song selection. We also discussed how lack of a score made the movie tenser. A score usually moves the action along, and can encourage views to feel certain things based upon the emotion within the song. I assure you that audience would be bothered if a fanfare-battlecry song was being played in the background when two characters are falling in love. We have certain expectations for a score depending on the direction the movie is taking us. Because of Reservoir Dogs lack of a score, there lacked an underlying force to tell us how to feel. All we hear is gunshots and natural noises. We, in a way, don’t know what to think, because the music hasn’t told us what to think. For me, the lack of background music made the action more real. I felt like I was in the very warehouse. If I were there in real life, there would be no music in the background, besides the radio. Although I would personally love having a score playing for everything I do. That would be one random soundtrack.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Drag Has Faith in Fashion

Is the drag community becoming more accepted today? Some would say yes, and others would vehemently say no. Personally I believe drag may be becoming accepted in specific industries, but definitely not universally. The fashion industry, in particular, seems to be the most accepting of and offers the most opportunities for those in drag.

Our class discussion took a turn Wednesday night to questioning whether drag was still even around, especially in Arkansas. Apparently it is. And it is in prime-time television. During the discussion I couldn’t stop thinking of one of my favorite shows: America’s Next Top Model. One of the judges, Miss J, is definitely a cross-dresser, but I can’t go as far as to call him (or is it “her”?) a drag queen. In the movie, a drag queen teaches modeling lessons during the day. He teaches how to walk, hold your chin up, and strut your stuff. How ironic. On America’s Next Top Model Miss J is the “diva coach runway extraordinaire,” being the go-so source for everything runway.

During the movie, I also jotted a question down in my notebook. When they mentioned the House of Ninja, all I thought of was Benny Ninja, again from America’s Next Top Model. Is this purely coincidence? Come to find out, Benny is indeed a member of said House. He is the go-to source for anything related to posing, on Top Model, proving again that House members can make it farther than the street balls.

I still don’t believe that the world is accepting of what I will term “hardcore drag.” Hardcore drag is where men dress up in sequins, HUGE wigs, tons of makeup, and heels higher than what I dare to wear (and that’s saying something). See my picture from my previous post for an example. She isn’t hard to miss. Perhaps that drag world in general is just moving away from the hardcore drag, though. And because they are, in a sense, tamed down, they are making it onto television. Miss J can go crazy with certain accessories, but she never looks completely ridiculous. Maybe drag today is accepted, but still not taken seriously. Miss J is a useful resource, but I also think America’s Next Top Model keeps her around for comedic purposes. It’s pretty funny to see a man dressed as a woman strut his stuff better than wannabe models. On Project Runway, there was an episode where the contestants had to design an outfit for a drag queen. And these are the hardcore drag queens. So, they are getting exposure, but then again, what is the applicability of designing a drag queen outfit in the real fashion world.

On Project Runway, there is often a strange twist in the fashion requirements. An episode once required the contestants to design outfits from car parts. Now, as much as I LOVED Korto’s woven seat belt coat, no one would actually wear it out. It was taken seriously for analyzing Korto’s creativity, but not for the fashion value it holds. The same goes for the drag queen episode. They were included as a challenge, not as a serious designer demand.

So, hardcore drag is not as accepted as tamed-down drag, which is definitely not as accepted today as gay culture. Drag queens are sparse on television (though they are present), but almost every modern show has a gay character included. Shows include gays in all seriousness; they play important roles, as friends, such as Calvin on “Greek” or main characters, like Will on “Will and Grace.” Quite honestly, I don’t think drag will ever be taken completely seriously. Men can be attracted to other men and act more or less like a woman. They just can’t dress like one.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Drag" Me to the Ball

If you are going to watch Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning, I highly recommend reading Michael Cunningham’s “The Slap of Love” before viewing. I am certainly glad I did, not necessarily because it prepared me for the unusual images my eyes would see (although it was good that it did), but because I was not distracted by said images and could focus on the message of the documentary.

What I found incredibly interesting was the social order of the drag society. There are Houses that have certain requirements for membership. Some require a drag queen to win a competition for acceptance. Other just accept you if you ask. For being a lower class, often considered distasteful, the social order is extremely complex. The drag queens are searching for entry into a house so that they may win more balls, so that they may ultimately become a legend and make lots of money. In the documentary, as many times as the queens would say they desired a reputation, they would come back to admit it’s all about the money. But today, what isn’t?

When it comes to reputation, the drag queen balls are the sure-fire way to be named a legend. The House mothers often help their children get ready for the balls, coaching them in how to strut, how to pose, and how to be most “real.” Many times they claim that they just help out because they want their children to be a success. But if you think about it, when a member of the House of Xtravaganza wins a ball, who gets the credit? The drag queen? Yes. But the HOUSE also gains reputation for putting out winners, and who heads the House? The House mother. So, even though the mothers may say their intentions are truly altruistic in a sense, it never can be. If your child wins a ball, you get the reputation because they came from your House.

One of the ways to win a ball is to be crowned most “real.” Ironically, being most real means being able to appear to be something you’re not. Being most “real” is the ability to be most fake. Categories of realness include businessman, student, woman, etc. I found this to be the opposite of what is usually considered cool. If you desire to be “real” in the drag queen world, you desire to be able to blend in. You want to look so much like something, that people wouldn’t know otherwise. If you are a man, you want to look so much like a woman that no one would know. Quite honestly, this is that opposite of what cool is for me. Cool is the ability to stand out, the ability to be some extraordinary that distinguishes you from the group. You have a talent that is desirable because very few have that talent. So by that definition, drag queens attempting to look “real” could never be cool for me, because they are constantly trying to blend in.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I'm Bilingual---in English and Sarcasm

Want to make fun of somebody without directly calling them out? Use satire.

Want to criticize the government for it’s ineffective methods and privatization? Use satire.

Want to reach a mass audience and entertain them while exposing them to your cause? Use satire.

Robocop is a modern satire on the privatization of organizations. I fell in love with the wittiness of satire when I read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” I am extremely sarcastic in nature, so it only makes sense that the bitter form of humor found in Swift’s proposal attracted me. In “A Modest Proposal,” to combat the growing poverty in Ireland, Swift encourages poor families to sell their children as food to the rich. He makes a very good argument, noting that no longer would the children be a burden financially or resource-wise. Swift goes to on to explain different methods of cooking the children, depending on their shape, size, and age, and calculates the financial benefits for the readers. Near the end of his proposal, he does list the actual remedies for Ireland’s condition, but condemns them (completely sarcastically, of course). He gets his point across, and the absurdity of his original proposal makes readers legitimately consider the serious remedies at the end. Sarcasm is my second language, and it can sometimes get me in trouble. But if used in the proper form to comment on the state of a nation, an economy, or a certain person, it can be a useful tool in change.

Robocop also attempts to comment on the importance of retaining some sort of humanity, as Robocop desires to find any remnant of who he was before: a picture, a memory, a name.Another robot presented in the movie is ed209, an intimidating and evil robot that runs completely on animal instinct. There is a scene in the movie where ed209 becomes confused and ultimately falls to his demise by a flight of stairs. How ironic that the end of a high-tech machine would be a simple man-made creation.

This reminded me of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds.” Aliens attack earth and it seems that there is no hope for the humans. However, what comes to be the aliens’ killer is a pathogenic bacterium, one of the simplest life forms, which they have no immunity to. Despite their advanced technology and extraterrestrial bodies, the smallest life form on the planet proves to be their biggest threat.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Problem with Private Practice

Private business is the future of a nation, correct? Not if those businesses begin to control other aspects of life. The film Robocop is a social commentary on the evils of privatization by large companies. Ideally, we could believe that CEO’s of conglomerates heading this privatization are pure and would keep the company on the straight and narrow, but as Robocop demonstrates, corruption at the top of the ladder is inevitable when profit is involved.

In our discussion last night, we discussed why Robocop’s quest to regain some humanity was important to the storyline. Most argued that it was pointless, but I have to say that I disagree. In a way, I think director Paul Verhoeven was trying to show that a completely loss of humanity could just as destructive. By regaining some sense of who he his, Robocop can be more than a set of predetermined actions. In the movie, another law enforcement robot is juxtaposed to Robocop, and it is large, terrifying, and has this deep, growling, malicious voice. Overall, it is an inhuman creation, and ultimately ends up shooting down an innocent corporation employee due to a “glitch” during a prototype presentation. Never in the movie does Robocop have such a glitch where he targets innocent people; because he chooses to find what remain of his family (even if all that remains is his last name), that search for himself keeps him from becoming a completely unfeeling metallic monster. Perhaps Verhoeven is warning society against a completely robotic future. There will always be a need for a sense of humanity.

Now, I step onto my soapbox. Robocop is divided by “news breaks,” which offer a satire in themselves. The news institution is made to be laughable, over the top, quite ridiculous actually. The discussion ended up being based around how even today the news is becoming more and more liberal, privatized, and how basically they are trying to tell the public what to think. Before I begin to rant, let me legitimize why I think the way I do. I am a Broadcast Journalism and Public Relations double major. I want to be a news anchor. I don’t like when people constantly say that the news is trying to sway what people believe.

Due to the journalism side of my degrees, I’m taught certain things. Aren’t we all? I can understand Robocop’s criticism of the “infotainment” that news has become, and I agree that news networks should focus on delivering unbiased news without weaving in stories about the latest celebrity breakup. But think of it this way. What is the public asking for in their news? The majority of people has a short attention span and get bored with straight news for an hour-long broadcast; they are asking for a mixture of hard and soft news. So don’t go blaming the news industry for giving you infotainment when in fact it is YOU, the public, demanding it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Escaping the Shadow

In Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero yearns to escape the streets of Brooklyn, and dancing seems to be his way out. Overcoming a situation is a common theme throughout movies, because most audiences like to root for the underdog. Other movies have characters that do not have to overcome a situation, but rather overcome the shadow of an older sibling. Tony also struggles with this, as his parents constantly remind him how perfect his older priest brother turned out to be. Ironically, Tony’s older brother falls from the faith and removes himself from the priesthood, but up until that point, Tony’s parents could not help but compare their younger son to his achieving elder sibling.

In The Pursuit of Happyness, audiences see one of those difficult situations. Chris Gardner is a salesman who loses everything in a risky investment. After his wife leaves him and he takes custody of their son, Gardner is forced to live on the streets of San Francisco. The entire movie is about Gardner’s quest to find a better life for his son. Hope for a better life comes in the form of a stockbroker position, but Gardner must go through 6 months without pay to even be considered for the job. Like Tony, he realizes that he must escape the streets of San Francisco to have any hope. Tony has skills in dancing that seem to offer his only chance of success. In the movie, Chris Gardner also has a talent that ends up being the doorway to opportunity: his Rubik’s cube skills. Chris impresses a man hiring for the stockbroker internship with his speed at solving the Rubik’s cube, which in turn gets him the internship. For Chris Gardner, getting off the streets relied not in his feet, but in his hands. Not only this, but Gardner tells his son throughout the movie that the boy can grow up to do anything, and to not let anyone tell him otherwise. He is determined to escape his environment, and keep his son from falling back in.

In Saturday Night Fever Tony has an older brother in the priesthood, and his parents think that he poops pearls. Tony finds this frustrating, and with good reason, because nothing he seems to do can live up to what his brother has accomplished. Living up to an over-achieving older sibling can be difficult.

In the TV series “Greek,” Casey Cartwright seems to have it all. She is Rush chair for the Zeta Beta Zeta sorority (“the best on campus”), a winner with boyfriends’ parents, and practically perfect. However, opposite from Tony’s situation, Casey finds it hard to live up to her brother Rusty, a freshman at Cyprus-Rhodes. Rusty is undeniably awkward, cute in a nerdy way, and incredibly smart. In one episode, the Cartwright parents come to visit Rusty for Freshman Parents’ Day. It becomes apparent that the parents favor Rusty because of his smarts, ambition, and mapped out plan for his life. By the end of the episode, though, Rusty ends up sticking for his sister, pointing out her numerous good qualities, and the parents realize that they can’t ask Casey to be Rusty. So, the hardships of living up to another sibling are still a theme today, and happen in real life. Not that I would know: I am that older sibling. My younger brother constantly nags about how he has to live up to the "Anna shadow" in high school. I understand his point of view, but he can’t ask me to be anything less than what I am. And that is an overachiever. :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

In Defense of Emo

Richard Dyer’s article “In Defense of Disco” attempts to validate disco in the eyes of his readers. Disco was a place where the lines separating race, gender, class, and sexual orientation disappeared. Every one was equal, and you proved your worth through nothing else but the movement of your feet. However, today Disco is an often ridiculed genre. Dyer explains how it is more misunderstood than anything, and how Disco provides insight into human experience.

I feel the same way about the Emo genre. I’ve already admitted to being a closet emo in an earlier post, so you should have seen this coming. Often the emo style and trends are understood to be all about skinny pants, sadness, and slitting wrists. I am out to prove that the Emo genre goes far beyond the shadow of side swept bangs. Thus, I write In Defense of Emo.

For those of you who do not know, “emo” is derived from the word “emotional.” So, the common mental image when one hears the word emo is

that of a sad kid with thick black eyeliner crying and rocking himself in the fetal position with his ear buds blocking out the uncaring world. Am I right?

But the emo genre is misunderstood, and offers a much deeper connection to the music. Dyer opens his article claiming that all his life he liked the wrong music. I can claim the same. Among my peers Classic rock is the worshipped music form, but I generally find it mediocre and old hat. I’ve lived in the South my entire life, so it is expected that the Country vein runs throughout my body.

I’ve never liked the genre, and I still get shocked reactions when I admit so. I prefer to find the small bands, the ones who write lyrics for individual listeners and not mass audiences. I found this in Emo music. I love the fact that these singers wear their hearts on their sleeves, or more appropriately, on their wrists. So Emo is often written off as just one more sad song. But the connections the writers have to their sad lyrics provide a catharsis for its listeners. I believe the reputation stems from the understanding that the lyrics are sad, with a sad ending.

How can this lead to a cleansed, satisfied feeling? Ironically, if you are having a bad day and you listen to a sad song, you connect with the lyrics and that sense of similarity can give you a positive feeling. Someone knows how or what you are feeling and is talented enough to put your thoughts into song. There are plenty of emos (and closet emos like myself) who lead happy lives, but just appreciate the Emo genre for the raw emotions it offers.

No other genre has as successfully portrayed the heartbreak in life. Rock music may have sad ballads, but the rough voice of the singers give a more “disgusted with the situation” feel to the songs. Country singers’ sad songs sound like they are whining. And pop singers lead too perfect lives to write a genuinely sad song. Emo singers have the understanding of pain, but the skill to sing about it without hate and without whining. So the Emo genre is an irreplaceable icon in human experience. Without it, those rainy days could be countered with a peppy song about the perfect car, the perfect boyfriend, and the perfect life. On a day when my life isn’t going so hot, those songs don’t make my situation look any better. They make me want to, well, you know what emo kids do.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Oh, Behave!"

Spring Break can make you forget things. It’s been known to happen. But after my busy week of relaxation (sounds like a contradiction), I could not forget Shaft’s appeal to women. A private eye who (in my opinion) is not drop-dead gorgeous by any means but stills gets all the girls reminds me eerily of another movie character. Austin Powers.

Austin Powers is NOT attractive. How does he always get the girl in the end, then? I think it is very similar to Shaft’s appeal. Austin Powers has the cool job of being a secret agent, and the fact that he was frozen from the 1960’s and then thawed back to life is cool in itself. Many people think James Bond is cool, and the Austin Powers movies are very similar, with a comedic focus. Austin Powers drives the cool car, possess the womanizing traits that are now prerequisite for becoming a secret agent, and manages to swiftly dodge every bullet that comes his way. As with Shaft, Austin has a way with the ladies, although I believe he respects them more. He even refuses to make love to a woman who is “smashed,” because he does not consider that right. He also makes more of a personal connection to the girls he sleeps with, and even mourns when he discovers his girlfriend Vanessa is a Fembot. However, he quickly recovers, realizing, "Wait a tick ... that means I'm single again! Oh, behave!"

Shaft has the “I-don’t-give-a-crap” attitude that also ups his cool factor. Sometimes I can’t separate his confidence from his cockiness, though. I’ve come to the conclusion, that oftentimes you are cool because other people think you are. How ironic it is that the people who often do not care what people think are made cool because of what those people think. Perhaps the audiences love that individualism because they cannot possess that as a mass.

This reminds me of a recent Fall Out Boy single entitled “I Don’t Care.” In the song, the band claims that they don’t care what people think, as long as it is about them. I’ve never looked at it in this perspective, but what if the cool people are exactly the same way? They don’t care what people think about them, as long as they do think about them. This makes me wonder if this vanity lies behind all cool people who claim to be apathetic to others’ opinions. If this is true, they lose their coolness, because they simply want attention.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Theme Song Says It All...SHAFT!

The movie Shaft was a nice break from the weird, disconnected and (in my opinion) unenjoyable movies we have viewed the past couple of weeks. I loved Shaft’s ability to remove himself from every situation, so he never gets tied up in messy alliances. He is his own man. Though the movie made cinematic references to past genres, such as gangster films and film noir, it retained a sense of currency. Everything about Shaft’s character embodied what the ‘70s were all about. The lingo, the sex, the fashion.

What I found particularly interesting was Shaft’s ability to be a separate third party in every situation. In class we discussed how Shaft was caught between many different communities and lifestyles. He straddles the line between law-abiding people and criminals. He is a shady private eye, so many law-abiding people may see him as a criminal. But on the other side, the gangsters see him as an enemy­—the farthest thing from “one of them.” He is also pulled between the desires of the investigation firm he works for and his own desires. There is scene in the movie that I found hilarious. Shaft is home when his friend Lt. Vic Androzzi from the firm stops by, saying the Captain would like to see him. He asks if Shaft is home. Shaft replies No. Androzzi tells Shaft to call him once he gets home. Apparently there is an understanding between the two characters. The investigation is out to land gang leader Bumpy Jonas, while Shaft is working to find and rescue Bumpy’s daughter. Conflict of interests? I think so. Shaft also straddles the line between sexy, smooth ladies’ man and crime-fighting, scared-of-noone badass. We he comes home, his romps with the ladies seem to be the only way he can regain his humanity. And then, the next morning, it's back to business.

I though Lucy acknowledged a very funny point last night in discussion. All the “bad” guys (in this movie, the Italian mafia) were white men, stuck in the 30’s. They donned trench coats, fedoras, and carried antique weapons. It’s like they jumped straight out of The Public Enemy into the streets of 1970’s New York. Contrasting them were the black men. They were dressed in the 1970s best. Sporting turtlenecks, plaid bellbottoms, and Afros to be jealous of, they were ready to fight crime and look good doing it.

Shaft also enlists the help of some Black Panthers (or a group similar) to rescue Bumpy’s daughter. Normally audiences would view these young men as troublemakers, potential criminals in the future. However, with the setting, the Black Panthers are portrayed as heroes; Shaft could not have saved Bumpy’s daughter without their help. Perhaps every character, even if they are a troublemaker, have some redeeming quality about them. Even hard gang leader Bumpy has a sense of love for his own daughter. He may be a well-known criminal, but that doesn’t mean he is missing a heart. Shaft has the ability to see to the redeeming qualities, if not in the person, in the situation.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taking a "Trip" Across the Universe by The Pineapple Express or Paper Planes

As we watched Easy Rider and discussed the counter culture in class last week, I couldn’t stop making comparisons with a movie I own at home: Across the Universe. I even wrote it down on the margins of my notebook so I wouldn’t forget to comment on how comparable the movies are. Across the Universe is a movie all about the counter culture.

Throughout the story, a young man tries to find himself as he travels with hippies, druggies, and protestors. There is a specific scene where the group he is with goes on an acid trip (taken on a bus, nonetheless)…and it is WEIRD. To appreciate it, I actually believe you must be high. There is no possible way I can make any sense out of what that scene is trying to portray. Quite honestly it discourages me away from ever trying drugs, because the movie’s portrayal of their trip was not attractive at all.

Another recent stoner movie is Pineapple Express, a comedy about a lazy stoner and his equally lazy dealer who get their hands on a rare type of weed, so rare that it can be traced back to them. The movie follows as they run for their lives from a crooked cop and dangerous drug lord who are determined to kill them both. The movie makes the entire situation look hilarious, which must be why it is so appealing to audiences. The characters of Dale Denton and Saul Silver are so pathetic that as a viewer you want to see more and more. Unfortunately, could this be an encourager for viewers to hop on the Pineapple Express?

Drug use seems to be prevalent throughout multiple media outlets even today. Seems like the enthusiasm for drugs didn’t die with the counter culture. I am specifically thinking of the song “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. It is all about kids hustling drugs, weapons, visas, anything to get by. They murder (as apparent by the gunshots throughout the song), steal (hence the cash register opening), and do the drugs they sell. What is so disconcerting about this song is that there seems to be no hope for a way out. A lyric even states “We pack and deliver like UPS trucks. Already going to hell just pumping that gas.” Songs like this offer a contribution to the problem, but no contribution to the solution.

Also, I don’t know if anyone else noticed this while watching the movie, but Jack Nicholson’s character reminded me eerily of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.. This would be ironic, considering Nicholson played the Joker in a 1989 Batman movie. With the way he talked and licked his lips during Easy Rider’s campfire scene, all he needed was some smudged clown makeup and scars by his mouth to turn into the most potentially creepy villain in Batman movie history…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Easy Ride...Not So Easy Destination

The counter-culture movement was a defining time in American history. I have to teach myself not to be judgmental for legal reasons against these people because they did drugs, because at that point in time many drugs were legal. It is hard for me to understand the allure that drugs hold from the glorified period of “sex, drugs & rock’n’roll”, because I have no desire to subject myself to that. I guess that is what stoner movies are meant for, to transfer the ignorant viewers into a world of twisted perceptions.

In the movie Easy Rider, two friends set out on a journey for completely different reasons. Billy plans on getting rich and retiring in Florida, intent on enjoying every aspect of “sex, drugs & rock’n’roll” along the way. His partner, Wyatt, is searching for a deeper meaning to life, intent on finding the true America that he can be happy existing in. In my opinion Wyatt is the cooler of the two friends, although Billy was a necessary character to add humor. Wyatt has a sense of removal from the crazy lifestyle that is attached to drug use. He almost seems to stand above it all, denying some cocaine when it is offered to him in the beginning of the movie. He still takes a part in the lifestyle, consistently smoking pot and embracing a day-by-day attitude. His chillness sharply contrasts with Billy’s energy and paranoia. Billy is constantly on the go, ready to leave, worried about the hitchhiker finding the tube of money shoved into Wyatt’s motorcycle gas tank. The two characters nicely balance out each other.

Another sharp contrast could be seen between other characters’ attitudes toward the counter-cultural movement. When Wyatt and Billy start out on the West Coast, they are accepted for whom they are. They stop at a small farm to fix a flat tire, and the farmer openly welcomes them in, even feeding them a meal. Even as they travel the open road, people on the sides of the street wave welcomingly. Once Wyatt and Billy cross into the South, however, attitudes completely change. They can no longer be as free-spirited as they were in Cali. They even get arrested for riding in a local parade because they were “parading without a permit.” The police officers make it obvious they do not respect the two motorcyclists, one even refusing Billy a cigarette because it was unsafe to let Billy play with fire. In a Louisiana diner, the town sheriff and a male friend are sitting at a booth. Their reactions when Wyatt, Billy and George arrive are full of nothing but hate and prejudice. This prejudice increases the further South they travel, most apparent in the reactions of the men driving in the pickup, when they shoot Wyatt and Billy simply because of their appearances. This bothered me, because they had no justification in shooting the two friends; these truck drivers were not the classiest of all people themselves. Then again, people prejudiced in any way can hardly call themselves classy.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Not Cool...Just Contrasting

I’m a little kid at heart. I still enjoy going to parks and swinging forever. Spinning in circles with a dress on just because I like the way it flows out. Ordering macaroni and cheese from the restaurant menu when I see that it is a Sides option. So my 5-year-old mentality explains the first part of my blog this week.

In the movie Blowup, Thomas is a busy photographer who is constantly on the run, which contrasts with his inside desire to freeze time and capture the perfect moment, which he somewhat accomplishes through his profession. This contrast between chaos and order is also seen in his studio. He works in a ridiculously cluttered studio built in a completely impractical fashion. Support beams are awkwardly placed so that characters have to duck to avoid knocking their heads, couches are extremely low to the ground, and doors are set in and lead to the weirdest of places. This reminded me of (5-year-old mentality, here I come) the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The factory is shown in the beginning as a desolate place, where “nobody goes in, nobody comes out.” It is grey, intimidating, and uninviting. However, once the doors open, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is exactly the opposite. The chocolate river, the candy forest, the golden eggs, and rooms beyond rooms full of various candy is perhaps the most inviting setting any child could dream of. Contrasting to the dismal outside, the inside is warm, bright, and sweet (literally). Just like Thomas, the outward depiction of the Chocolate Factory does not represent what lies inside.

Thomas also finds a contrast between the kinds of photos he takes for his job and the kind of photos is desires to take. He is a well-known fashion photographer, surrounded by beautiful women with expensive clothes, expensive tastes, and expensive attitudes. However, Thomas truly desires to take pictures of real life, of suffering, loss and defeat. Those pictures are quite the opposite of the flashy, superficial fashion industry. This reminded me of something that happened to American Idol Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson. For her third album, BMG/RCA’s Clive Davis insisted on Kelly recording songs written by other artists, which is what she had done for her first two albums. Kelly had other plans, and desired to write her own songs. In a way, she was tired of the superficial cookie-cutter songs that did not come from inside her. She wanted to write about her life…all suffering, loss and defeat included. Sometimes it’s not enough to be in a career you love and not get to be yourself. This is obvious from both Thomas and Kelly Clarkson. Personally I think it’s cool when artists are willing to write songs from the heart, exposing their stories and experiences to the judgment of their fans. That takes guts…and it seems to work.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

That California Cool

The waves crash on the shore, slowly wetting the sand beneath my feet. I love that feeling, of sand between your toes. It’s soothing, exfoliating, removing everything dirty that had led me to that very spot. After getting my fill, I venture back through the hot dry sand, quickly trying to reach the relief of my beach towel. I look around, taking in my surroundings. Beautiful Californians lay sprawled across the beach, their perfectly bronzed skin contrasting against the pale sand. They were so content to just lay there, not a worry in the world except to get an even tan. Seagulls fly above in a cloudless blue sky, swooping down to pick up leftovers of any food abandoned on the worn wooden slats of the boardwalk. Up the road a crowd gathers before a makeshift stage, colored tanktops of the girls mixed between the toned shirtless guys as they move in a seemingly chaotic yet choreographed routine to the music blaring out of the stacked black speakers. The band seems to command the stage, with a confidence and love for their music no lyric could ever explain. The lead singer throws his hair in every direction, singing his heart out into the microphone, connecting with more hearts in the audience than he knows. The sweat glistens from his cheekbones, making him even more angelic than when he took the stage. The music carries to the beach, where I find myself tapping my toes to its catchy beat without even realizing as I relax my head upon the soft towel and take in the perfect California sun…

The cool of our generation, in my eyes, is the California cool. The kind of cool that lies in reckless abandonment of responsibility, embracement of the art of ‘chilling’, and perfect sunny conditions. I have always seen the band life as cool, too. I’m attracted to life on the road, where no show is ever the same. I am convinced I am going to fall in love with a rock star. So, naturally, I integrate the two. My generation’s version of cool is where we can just hang out and forget the worries of the world. We grow up with so many expectations and so many opportunities, we often overload ourselves. I know that from personal experience, so maybe this is why California is so appealing to me. I often desire a place where I can just forget responsibility and live day-by-day. I want that Californian mindset, that rock star mindset, of living life for simply that: living. No demands, no expectations. Just me, the sand, the shore and the cloudless blue sky. I wouldn’t mind that perfect tan, either.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cool Love for Christian, Catherine, & Christine

Honestly, Jules and Jim did not demonstrate Cool Love to me. Cool Love is a love where each person will do anything for the best of the other. They will risk their own life. They will pay any price. They will say goodbye. Cool Love is not where a man allows his best friend to sleep with his wife.

What I think is Cool Love is demonstrated in Moulin Rouge!. A young writer, Christian, falls for a cabaret artist/courtesan, Satine, of the Moulin Rouge, and they pursue their love even though it is forbidden (Satine is the object of a corrupted duke’s affection). Satine truly loves Christian, but after finding out that the duke’s bodyguard is going to kill Christian if she continues to love him, she breaks Christian’s heart and says goodbye. This is Cool Love to me; she is willing to say goodbye to the man she loves so that she may protect his life. Christian comes back to Satine, trying to buy her love like the duke did, but she refuses, again in protecting him. Christian walks off depressed, but Satine calls after him, singing their secret song, so that Christian knows she truly loves him. Satine succumbs to an ongoing illness and dies in Christian’s arms at the end, and he writes the story of the Moulin Rouge, their love at the Moulin Rouge, as Satine’s dying wish. He will do anything for her, even after she is gone. THAT is Cool Love.

I don’t quite understand why in the end of Jules and Jim, Catherine drives off the bridge with Jim to their death. Was it because she didn’t want him to be with anyone else, that the only way to ensure that was to kill him? This reminds me of a song I heard once, by Good Charlotte. It is called “Bloody Valentine” and (as you can probably guess from the title), this song describes the crazy things people will do for love. It’s actually the opposite of what Catherine demonstrates in the movie. Instead of killing himself and his love, he kills his love’s interest. Rationally, I think that I could never go to the extent of killing someone to ensure someone’s love for myself. Then again, these people aren’t exactly in their right mind. I assure you that Catherine wasn’t sane; she always seemed a little crazy to me. Even in Phantom of the Opera, the Phantom aims to win Christine’s love by removing her love interest Raoul from the picture. It’s been said that love and jealousy make people do crazy things. Maybe it’s best if no one falls in love.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just Leave Her, Jules

So, is Jules and Jim considered to be film noir, because if it is that explains why I did not enjoy this movie. At all. The storyline was so scattered, and the character of Catherine annoyed the crap out of me. Also, I couldn’t quite get my head around why in the world Jules would sit back, although saddened, and watch his wife sleep with other men, but not do a thing about it. Ridiculous.

The character of Catherine stood out to me most in this movie. This is mostly because I couldn’t stand her. But at the same time I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I was always watching for her next move. What would she do next that would be more unbelievable? She is impulsive and dies for attention at all times. This is apparent in the scene where she is talking about the wines and the 2 men are trying to have a serious conversation. I was thinking to myself, “SERIOUSLY? Shut up, woman. No one wants to hear what you have to say right now.” I guess I’m getting tired of all the weak, pathetic, evil, and now annoying females in the movies we watch. Not all women talk that much (although, I can’t say the same for myself). But what I originally expected out of Catherine was this strong, classy woman who couldn’t help but fall in love with 2 great men. Wrong. Those 2 men just happened to miraculously fall for the same unbearable woman.

The other part that stood out in the movie was the fact that Jules could just sit back and accept the fact that his wife was unfaithful to him. I felt so bad for the man, but at the same time he never tried to make the situation right. He never confronted Catherine about it, and even said he would allow Jim to marry Catherine so that he might have the chance to preserve whatever type of relationship he and Catherine still possessed. I would get so frustrated that he just let her walk all over him. Yes, I have feminist tendencies, but the guy needs to stand up for himself every once in a while. In the scene where Catherine randomly says “Catch me” and runs off in the middle of Jules and Jim’s conversation, I was hoping so much that the two men would continue their conversation and let Catherine run off and be bitterly disappointed when neither man tried to chase her down. Alas, Jules follows his heart, or his desire, and chases Catherine down. Actually, running seemed to be a common theme throughout. When the men first meet Catherine, they have a race on a bridge. Still, why can’t film noirs ever work out the way I want them to?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Guess I Am A Closet Emo

I’m slowly getting a grip on what this film noir thing is. However, in class last Wednesday I was hesitant to say anything when asked what modern movies come to mind that represent film noir. Because I had virtually no idea what constituted a film noir movie, I didn’t want to put up a movie and be wrong. I hate being wrong.

But now is my chance. I can put my movie up for nomination without fear of being shot down or seen as ignorant (which, in reality, I was). For modern film noir I nominate, ChicagoWhy? Because it has everything that constitutes film noir as described by my last post. The dark theme? Well, seeing that murder was in the plot of Double Indemnity, I would say ‘check’. The femme fatal? A sexy nightclub performer caught for murdering her adulterous husband and sister by the name of Velma Kelly, so, ‘check’. The already corrupted lead who only become more so? Roxy Hart. A wannabe singer who can’t quite break into the business but is willing to do anything to get there…‘check’.

Granted, I realize that film noirs usually do not have happy or satisfying endings, but Chicago does. The two murdering rivals collaborate to become enormous successes. The fact that film noir focuses so much on doom and gloom made me wonder how people could even want to watch the movies. Why would you purposefully choose to watch a movie that starts off in a bad situation when you know it’ll only end up worse? I would never subject myself to that over and over. But, I had to reconsider. I actually DO subject myself to that, only not through film. 

Much of my music is about heartbreak, or losing someone you love, having to say goodbye, or things simply just not going your way. One could characterize my repertoire as including a lot of the film noir of the music industry. Dare I say emo? Except it has more of a pop-rock sound to it. 

One of my favorite bands ever is The All-American Rejects, and just by looking at their name you can guess they write a lot about, well, rejection. Their first CD included lyrics like, “I know moving on is easiest when I am around you,” “You wish for love, you pushed me away. Your love for me was everything I need, the air I breathe,” “(Swing) Swing, Swing from the tangles of my heart is crushed by a former love,” and “Now we're too far gone. Hope is such a waste. Every breath you take you give me the burden’s bitter taste.” Basically every song but 1, possibly 2, is about a break up or having to let someone go. One track is even titled One More Sad Song. At least they realize their own trend. We can give them that.

So, I may not recognize film noir in film form. But I’m definitely an expert when it comes to depressing music. Not that I’m depressed, for anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m pretty much the opposite. It’s not very often that I don’t have a smile on my face (even the goat is happy to see me!). I have learned to appreciate what those sad songs have to say, and they are cathartic at points in life. Perhaps my affinity for sad music will transfer over and I can find a new appreciation for what is film noir.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Doctor and a Bloodhound...and a Cop and a Judge and a Jury and a Father Confessor All In One

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like what makes film noir is so specific, that it makes it hard to find sometime. In our class discussion after watching Double Indemnity, we discussed other movies that could be classified as film noir. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen any of the movies mentioned (though I had heard of a few), which made me doubt my ability to recognize film noir. Therefore, I was hesitant to voice my thoughts on movies that might be considered as such. So, film noir involves dark themes, a femme fatal, an already corrupted lead who becomes even more so. Why then is it so hard for me to recognize? Perhaps I see it, but then question whether it is truly film noir because I don’t believe I have a full grasp on the characteristics it entails. 

I agree with most of our class in that Mr. Keyes is arguably the coolest character in the movie. What attracts me to him was his wittiness, his ability to solve a case before anyone else, and his refusal to slip over to the dark side. Even lighting-wise, Keyes is kept pure; his office is always well lit, and his face never falls under shadow when he speaks, unlike the characters of Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson. He is a smart man, and has this gut feeling (literally) when something about an insurance claim isn’t right. I guess you can’t say Keyes in completely admirable. He deals with money, and his job is to separate the real claims from the phonies to prevent having to give away any more money than absolutely necessary. So, Keyes positive qualities are not built from his desire for justice or to help to common good, but rather to save his business money and earn him a bigger paycheck. But I’ll consider this excusable, especially when FURTHER corrupt people surround his character.

The character of Phyllis Dietrichson especially stands out in this movie, because her character introduces a new direction taken for female leads. Unlike female characters in the movies we have already viewed, who are desperate without a man, needy, weak, and beautiful, Phyllis is both beautiful and dangerous. The defining quality that makes her different is independent. Throughout the movie, as she woos different men and convinces them to do her bidding, she is planning on getting rid of them one way or the other. Ultimately, she plans to end up alone with a ton of money. I’m assuming the film noir era introduced us to the independent, strong-willed, manipulative females leads we have become so familiar with today. Even though I may not fully understand the constant sadness and darkness of film noir, I can thank it for bringing forth a stronger female character, even though during this period their morality is questionable. One step at a time, I guess. One step at a time….