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.