Friday, May 29, 2009

David Thomson on Film Fusion

"To put it very simply, and to return to the matter of absorption or direction, I suggest that many people from a certain range of history--people born between about 1900 and 1950--are like screens. That is to say that countless films have played upon our surface, whether we like it or not. And not just many films, but many films many times... We have seen Dark Victory or Chinatown or Kane so often we breathe in time with their cuts and we radiate possibility according to the luster of their image. We shuffle them together. They are all in the same pack, and we can do cute card tricks with them...

"And because we are screens, helpless gatherers of so many images,we hear a little bit of Bogart's Phillip Marlowe in his Dixon Steele (from In a Lonely Place), and we are so crowded and so promiscuous that we can see John Wayne kissing Greta Garbo ("How did you like that?" "How did I like what?"), even if such a touch never happened in movie history and, quite likely, never occurred in life. The metaphor of the screen (and its melting pot) is very suggestive, I think, for it lets us see how receptive and yet how superficial we are, like a helpless computer screen that must accept every bit of information put into it."

From "The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood", Vintage, 2004

The accompanying image is from the series Delicate Balance by Michael Janis, 2007

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM Contributor Elizabeth Hatmaker's Film Journal, Final Day. "The Bride" (1973), directed by Jean-Marie Pélissie

"It's hard to figure out what's relevant and what's not relevant" a
hip young man, probably a cult film fan, says to a chubby smart-girl at a wedding.
Well, these are times of confusion and changes, right? observes an off-screen
onlooker. I'm not confused, the smart girl says
"That's because you aren't relevant" says the young man.
Alouette plays in the back on accordion and later the same young man
offers the same observation to a thinner girl. The father
of the bride is appalled at festive banality. There's a lot of grab-ass
happening at this wedding, union wages, wedding clothes.

In a previous scene, the bride shows the strangely
isolated house, all canted angles w/o need of camera
to a fiancé who’s clearly a creep. I imagine the entire
film was built around the idea of this house, like a house in a dream that
you think you lived in, unfinished
with rooms you can’t remember being there
and you can find it on the map
next to places that you swear exist
like the Winchester Mystery House that
seems to exist next to a mall. A house
to shoot awkward porn
abandoned mid-cut.

Of course the camera operator can hardly help but
not cant the film after this house.
The bride, she crazy. Some idiot gave her a chicken once, the father
of the bride begins to tell the groom.

This is after he's
cheated on her
at the wedding, she's
slashed his hand in proxy, made a
spectacle of herself with blood,
and run away. Both of us are MIA
in 2009, blurred
but belligerent.

Luckily the father in the law
has a good sense of humor, the kind of
dad that these confused times require and
even he isn’t enough
even when the post
on sill of
ghostly architecture isn’t enough,
when your everydayness
is on the screen
like blood from a minor injury or
wasting yourself on something
that sucks.

The bride torments us w/some blood,
not much nudity,
No surprises here to a polka rhythm.
And this is my fourth day of no real surprises
or strange ones that don't seem to amount to much,
the lumpen in proletariat.
I worry about the crazy bride
missing and bloody, coming as we both have
to the wavelength of bad that's not even interesting
or hip for party conversations and, let me ask you, when
did this all fall off the map, when
did the stuff of it stop refusing
and acquiesce
to our current sadness
of relevance? I think it matters.

There are a number of people who think that
slasher films have a rhythm, a dead body per
a certain number of minutes; time to talk, grab,
go to the can, etc. A book I read claimed
that it’s the Passolini-esque elements
that matter in “vernacular cinema.” It’s hard
to train failure, though.

The movie quavers over the top, then settles
into an oddly comforting ending, both
the bride and her untrue husband
dead together always. Like dreams I’ve had in which
I’ve suddenly had a random lover and been pleased
and thought that the situation wasn’t any worse
than anything else that might happen. Like my
best appropriation of otherness,
feeling the image
of other bored people.
I bought all of the films I reviewed at Best Buy where
any idiot can find them for cheap. Hours and hours
of endless movies for less than $10.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM contributor Elizabeth Hatmaker keeps a film journal, Day 3: "Cindy and Donna" (1970), directed by Robert Anderson

Are you afraid to be a woman?
Cindy and Donna
wear short skirts
Donna lets a boy
put his hand between her
legs as a form of goodbye. Their
house appears to have a beautiful
Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass window,
except up close it’s a dingy kitchen curtain. There’s a bar
by the door; it seems like something
someone saw in a movie. Cindy is 20 and 13 and she’s Donna’s sister.

Their mother does a bad Bette Davis impersonation to music
from the Beverly Hillbillies which tell us early on
that this is a bad family written large
on culture as a mistake, as anal aural, as
bad smell of popular bricolage for
idiots. The family is set of mixed Bourdieu symbols: dad drives
a truck and has a briefcase and listens to
Neal Hefti alone, then country with his friends, then folk or the Monkees, some young people’s music when he watches nudie girl whose fringed g-string indicates
imprecise debate about the value of pubic hair. Hot Flash Racing Pigs, the sign reads behind her.
At his house, the radio comments: “Another riot broke out at Berkeley. . . “ and then Donna
changes the news of raging pubic hair to the kind of music I listen to all the time,
funky instrumental music that I have found no evidence
ever played on any music stations at any time
in history outside of movies. She puts on a shortie nightie. “Oh Cindy, how can you see if you can’t feel if you won’t touch, Cindy?” asks the non-diegetic sensitive boy theme song as she toys with masturbation but remains more appropriately topless moody and contemplative.

At home Mom and Dad are drunk, imitating middle-class people although everything
indicates that they aren’t middle-class or the film uncovers that being middle-class means
you can be trashy and drunk and still say the right words and everyone will just kinda smile
and say, well OK, why not? Still the parents parody bad movie parents so much that even Cindy and Donna are unimpressed. We know they won’t go to college, that everything
matters about their keeping their knees together and, then again, nothing does. I’m thinking that the film is about something serious, about wanting to orgasm in spite of culture, of
finding a routine, a set-up, a way to manage other impulses. Cindy and Donna’s father
takes up an affair with the fringed stripper. She’s a model, independent, and yet her situation seems evidence that masturbating in your bedroom at your dad’s house is maybe the best there is,
so why fight the inevitability?

Donna and Cindy are indistinguishable except that Donna has had sex. The aura of the film only cares for Cindy, it follows her with a Herb Alpert Latin groove versioning of the “Cindy how can you?” to the beach where she and a less attractive friend pick up boys. The music highlights the global imperative for Cindy to find some way to touch, to feel, to see even as all she seems to find is incest and dry-humping. I can imagine women in the audience in 1970 were maybe interested in this the same way my midwestern college students are interested now. When I ask them, so what’s the big deal about sex for teen girls, they look at me vaguely and say, “well, you should go to college instead.”

Cindy and Donna’s parents depart for a convention, all to the Beverly Hillbillies theme even as it’s the time when they seem the most respectable and you almost feel bad for them, what with moody Cindy and all. Donna falls into prurience. She sleeps with boys for drugs, she poses for pornographic photos, she sleeps with her father because ‘it’s just a groove,” mimicking something that fancy Berkeley kids say, I guess. Her scenes are always played out to R&B music in the
classic American warning
that’s a little about going to college
and the like.

It’s maybe half way through the movie and I’m pretty sure that Donna and Cindy’s parents are going to die on the way to their convention.

Cindy’s confusion continues: she’s uptight, her best girl friend says.
They have sex and it seems pretty good for Cindy even if the
whole trip is for hetero-boy-boy viewers. This is maybe the reason Cindy keeps holding
out and why she can’t hold out, what the future looks like from angles shot through her legs, on her back, straddling drugged out boys with nice houses. Her friend is nice, I think, understanding if not particularly helpful.

I’m jealous to find out that Cindy’s parents can afford a swimming pool in the backyard though I must say that everyone in every 70s exploitation film has a pool and they all treat it like it’s nothing, just a groove.

We’ve kind of been waiting for Cindy to put out and she does, predictably, with her sister Donna’s boyfriend. Turns out I was wrong about the parents, they apparently live, although its remains unclear in what capacity. Donna dies after trying to save Cindy from her boyfriend’s bad intentions. Cindy gets our Freudian wish; she’s last seen swinging on a swing set alone and moody. We can see up her dress. I don’t have a lot to say about this film in the same way it’s hard to know about what most teen girls think about sex and the possibilities of college and future.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Richard Grayson: The Forgotten Movie Screens of Broward County, from LIFE AS WE SHOW IT

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Richard Grayson's story has been excerpted on the literary online mag Rumpus, with original artwork.

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM contributor Elizabeth Hatmaker keeps a film journal, day 2..."Blood Mania"

Blood Mania
incest in the context overlaid by credits in the first 2 minutes then we’re ask to forget it matters.
The secret blood is abortion we find out although there is no blood in much of the film.
Only nice house and women that maybe abortion allows. It’s the chiaroscuro that
tacky houses produce,
crazy shit going down around the dying father. A woman slashing away at an unseen picture, lesbians outta Bannon and Taylor, lonely and outside of lonely,
a lined incantation of what het boys dig.
“hybridity of the feminine,” blood mania
is her name.

It’s surrealism w/o class. I’m building a proxy w/
words rhythms because I want to avoid
what surrealism implies, like being found wanting always.
A new friend asked me, “are you gurlesque?” and I wasn’t sure what she
meant and felt bad about that but instinctually thought
probably not. No one’s ask me to be, if that’s what’s at
issue. Is there money in it? A month later, in a bed and breakfast that felt like
a boarding house for snazzy folks slumming cozy
in the Midwestern university town where I live, I told another friend about
it. I’d looked up what the it meant, read some stuff, saw that, yeah, shit, I
suppose I’m the right lonely nerdy age and all the stuff
had the right rhythm of barbie fucking, “girls in the shadow
of feminism said with quivery voice” and I liked the work and writers and
realized I’d met a few here and there. We rock the right splatter pop
making up words something or other. Hey there, lonely girl.
Are other girls asking me anything, I often wonder? My friend, a man
by the way, in Midwestern b&b house
said that folks like us are watchers and that we tend to sit
back from groups of all kinds.
We drank good liquor quietly after that and I wondered if
the proprietors of that goodly house were awake and wide-eyed,
staring at the ceiling.

Blood Mania makes me want to avoid
surrealism because folks will
laugh and I associate that laughing
with the sense not of watching but that
watching isn’t particularly productive and
instinctually I get defensive. The economy of the
film makes fools of women and money. Here’s surrealism without class:
1. a wife assumes if she fucks a guy blackmailing her husband for $50,000
money in pre-Roe/Wade America that he’ll let it slide. There’s a nice
candle on the table while she does it.
2. The tit-ular star assumes that she’ll inherit money from her ailing
father because he’s fucked her and she swims topless in his pool
and he fantasies about her and she managed not to become a lesbian
like her sister, who does inherit all the money and, I realize, appeared in the opening credits with
a rope around her neck. Titular winds up inheriting “access” to the house w/pool, money towards upkeep of said house, and a $250 a week allowance. That’s a sweet deal I think. A good divorce. You could live Norma Desmond swank on that money, tool around town in a cool car, go to some record stores, get an abortion or two, try on make-up you buy based on TV commercials, watch folks from short distances, watch their faces and admire them.
3. There’s a lesbian who talks tough and ballsy to the roguish male lead and then, tenderly,
leaves the scene after a sexy discussion about being the type of woman who can only
live lonely in New York with other lonely women. She doesn’t take anyone’s money
and she’s muy classy. Nobody has to ask her to leave.
4. The sisters have a moment of sanity. Agree to share the house and expenses. Maybe
hang out, seduce the pool boy together, whatever in the sunshine.
5. There’s a lonely nurse who inherits $1500 and plans to spend it on colorful
clothes that we never get to see her buy.
5. There’s a renaissance fair, soft focus photography about everything but sex,
there’s sadism and guys who get off on it in women, there’s art, there’s a murdered father who
raises up like a pale erection with red lips in his death throes.
6. At one point there’s a pause in the film conversation where I was led to believe the
titular staring woman huffed glue.
7. Electronic music was by Wurlitzer!
8 And it ends like the environment of Scorpio Rising.

And its an economy not favoring surrealism.
And I’m supposed to talk about feminist aesthetics, and gurlesque
and failure and surrealism and the 1970s when I was just a kid; I’m supposed to
talk in another Midwestern university town about it.
So in the end, the titular woman’s painting is
of herself as a skeleton and
the roguish male star stares at her painting
after she’s hacked her sister to death.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM contributor Elizabeth Hatmaker Keeps a Film Journal

“Hysteresis”, Elizabeth Hatmaker's contribution to LIFE AS WE SHOW IT, re-views a largely forgotten film called Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff, regarding it from various perspectives (close-up, wide shot, inside out, outside in) which call into question the idea that only so-called classic films have something to say or to read and that only one way of watching is worth one's time or reaps rewards.

Over the next week, she'll be keeping a film journal with the same breadth of insight. She writes:

"My passion is for forgotten films," she writes, "stuff I remember seeing, as they say, awry through the haze of bad late-night cable transfer, mangled-for-TV edits, and decayed soundtracks. For me, these films are not so much cheesy or camp; rather they suggest a very embodied sense of abject invisibility. They force me to recognize that I‘ve spent the last hour and half grooving on nothing more than boredom.

"In reception theory (**) they refer to “distracted” viewers-- suburban housewives who watch soaps amid household tasks, pervs of all ages out for action at the local grindhouse, “dumb” working-class teenagers watching slasher films at a drive-in. Films not worth paying attention to playing to audiences who aren’t bright or savvy or at ease enough to pay attention.

"In the spirit of these viewers (and I identify with them all) I propose to watch four forgotten films: Pick-Up (1975), Blood Mania (1970), Cindy and Donna (1970), and The Bride (1973). I’m not going to make any fancy claims that these films shouldn’t perhaps remain forgotten. Instead, I hope to engage as a sort of optical medium, catching the lacrimal silt of distracted viewing and pushing it out. This kind of viewing feels important to me not only because modes of viewing are problematically classed and categorized and forgotten in the same way films are, but also because the disjointed seeing and hearing, mis-seeing and awkward hearing, even the moments where boredom overtakes all that involves us in film and video culture remain profound physical and earthy acts. Films are not only those shiny heads on the wall."

DAY ONE: "Pick-up" (1975), directed by Bernard Hirschenson

I keep thinking that they should get the drugs in the mobile home to the kids in Tallahassee, that rich kids don’t want to wait for drugs. I wonder what the promise of an extra $20 for timely delivery means in 1975.

In the beginning there are two girls and a stuffed animal, a lame tiger, I think. There’s wheat which is the excuse for natural-like soft-focus. The dream before the film crystallizes to a stained glass window then it crystallizes further– a Thunderbird, maybe a hood ornament since the film is called “Pick-up” and we’ve seen two girls in a rural seeming area and that’s how I imagine girls are picked up, like the Chevy Van song. But it’s a belt buckle finally. A man and he sees the girls and things crystallize. He’ll fuck both women. He’s got big-assed wheels. He’s, we’re told, an Aries, all of whom are frenetic. His van offers a promise of a ride, better roads, of a way even in the 1970s for folks to get the fuck out if only to go to other cities undifferentiated on any map. Of the memory of old time fictional escapes: Bonny and Clyde, Hickcocks and Smith, of wondering what features the mobile home holds. Really it’s a bus on which “mobile home” is featured, I don’t know what the space is called, but the space on the front where “out of service” appears on buses in my town.

Who needs to know this, who needs the variation between? Features: a bathroom with swirly white and pink tile, a fucking phone, no shit. The girls admire. One notes that it's wired for sound as the guy turns up the soundtrack. “Oh, it’s Bach!” one trills. Except it isn’t. Or I guess it’s Pachabel’s Canon, except with a groove beat, a grinding string jam underneath like Jazzercize. Yet the mobile home means less and less, it fades in its material configuration along the Florida highway, the central corridor like the grapevine in California. One girl is toothy and bra-less. The other is spooky. I suspect we see through the spooky girl’s eyes, which is fine with me. Her eyes bug out artily and unintentionally as the camera turns away. The toothy one tempts some Southern rapscallion boys in a truck. They are topless with cowboy belt buckles. The soundtrack music veers to stupidity. She is in a mobile home so their threat seems less prescient. A car or a van or a self-proclaimed mobile home is more an excuse than a viable way to escape, however. “By the time I get to Phoenix” always assumes future-tense leaving, which popular culture doesn’t quite risk. The mobile home passes the truck and the soundtrack returns to rhythmic order.

So we know about the sex. We can do the math. Two chicks. Van. We can read the signs. The phone rings and an actor who looks like Rod Steiger or an older Marlon Brando or the actor who played Boss Hogg tells the mobile home to get the fuck to
Tallahassee. Only in Naples, and a rainstorm is coming. There’s a detour without explanation and the road becomes more and more treacherous and the story stops, and I’m wondering if someone has waylaid the mobile home for the drugs, but no. The van gets mired in the swamp, the Everglades I guess, without reason much like Ballard’s Concrete Island. No effort is made to escape and the music gets Basil Kirshin chic all the sudden.

Spooky tells us to reconcile ourselves to God. She wears eye make-up like Cher and it’s unclear what religion or God exists. She plays Tarot and the audience is God in that they always know which card will be turned. She is Catholic and we see flashbacks to stained glass. She appears to be wearing a bathrobe. Is anyone transfixed? I’m still hung up on the boring questions: Aren’t the Everglades south of Naples? The Everglades are one of those places people with mobile homes go to, yes? My own Gulfstream-owning family members went there. Like the Salton Sea or the Upper Peninsula. Or I wonder if some rival drug gang has set the mobile home off course and plans to gang rape every occupant.

Or the nice protagonist guy is a psycho. Or every guy in the seats in the theatre around you is secretly a psycho. And together we wonder: which chick is hotter and are we supposed to have some consensus about it? The math plays out the dimensions measured, the triangulation complete and lots of women in the theater wonder which chick they look most like. I look more like the spooky one, in case anyone wonders. The rain comes down and the mobile home is pleasant and seems as if it would smell pleasant and I long for moments between the economic pressures for stuff that looks like it would smell good and sexual configurations that don’t involve competition and I am caught wondering why watching things like this is never enough. And nothing happens. In 1975 I would be the chick who sits in the audience and asks questions to the screen. It’s been 20 minutes and no one’s fucking, so what’s the story? Or I’d make lewd comments about the women or I’d make up bad puns. But there’s two chicks, so he has to have sex with them both because it would violate some Chekhov rule if he didn’t. I can imagine the eyes of guys in the theater around me, that sad low look that tells me I’m dumb and naive and I’ve already admitted I assumed there would be gang rape and what kind of girl gamely plays along with this narrative? The look at my looking scares the hell out of me even as I turn the predictable cards of low budget fate. By the time I get to Tallahassee, by the time this movie’s over, by the time this decade closes, by the time I blow this town, by the time I get myself liberated, and the rhythmic soundtrack overtakes me.

The film gets surreal at this point. There’s a friendly raccoon in the Everglades and it draws together the toothy bra-less girl and the mobile home guy. The spooky chick, omni spiritual, has an encounter with the goddess of Apollo; she writhes naked on her alter. She sees a clown and is terrified. There are balloons. The edits are both leisurely and without impulse. The other couple have idyllic sex and it turns out the guy isn’t a psycho. The toothy girl kisses her limp stuffed animal. We find out in a series of flashbacks that: 1) the spooky girl was raped by her priest as a child 2) The best sex the toothy girl ever had was with a round faced boy in her youth and 3) The non-psycho man with the mobile home was both terrified and turned on by his mother as a teenaged boy which is in no way marked as something that might make a guy psycho. Yet the film refuses to foreclose on my hackneyed desires, twirling desire on the string, the naked ideal couple– toothy and obsessed with positive youthful sexuality– swing from the trees in the swamp from which no one wishes to escape.

Except, Chekhov is never wrong. The toothy girl gets tired of sex. The phone keeps ringing to remind us all about late deliveries and our lost $20 bucks and finally the guy succumbs to the spooky girl and it’s, like, great. And all of her hackneyed fantasies appear and swirl at her feet. And leisurely the scene shifts. Except you can’t put rapscallion boys in a picture with no purpose. And the toothy girl gets it. She’s found in the swamp, her small hand emerging grasping the limp stuffed tiger. Except the scene disintegrates. And we see the spooky girl’s eye and we’re back at the beginning of the film in a wheat field and we groan in unison. Except she smiles and gets animated about taking a ride with the guy in the mobile home.

**Reception Theory: This approach to textual analysis focuses on the scope for "negotiation" and "opposition" on the part of the audience. This means that a "text"—be it a book, movie, or other creative work—is not simply passively accepted by the audience, but that the reader / viewer interprets the meanings of the text based on their individual cultural background and life experiences. In essence, the meaning of a text is not inherent within the text itself, but is created within the relationship between the text and the reader.

Friday, May 15, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Wayne Koestenbaum on Star-F!@*ing

Growing up with this preoccupation with stardom...people from official histories also become stars. So for you, Emily Dickinson is a star, in the same way that Michael Jackson might be.

WAYNE: Right. Well, stars ... I have my most interesting thoughts and feelings around stars.

Is a star someone you intensely transfer feelings onto?

WAYNE: Right. Somebody I discovered, not by meeting them, but by perceiving them in a number of ways.

What do you think it is — this intensity of being able to take what one is thinking about or feeling or identifying with, and going to the star and trying to find what one is looking for there, especially by digging and by explicating...?

WAYNE: Part of my interest in stars has to do with the star world being an endless source of visual stimulation. I think of it largely as visual stimulation. Right away, as we're talking, I see star cheekbones, star noses, star breasts — and they're all as particular as people I've had sex with or wanted to have sex with. It's an enormous trove of sensory memory... Just say " Montgomery Clift." The levels of my interest in Montgomery Clift work exactly the way literary or cultural allusion works in art. It's reference. But how beautiful the two words, Montgomery Clift. They have in them, it seems to me, just a fathomless sea of visual and narrative nuggets. There is a whole tragic narrative. It's like a CD- Rom or something. I'm aware that knowledge is often very ephemeral, that you have to be a fan to know it all. But I know a lot of those things about the people I care about. It's a kind of literacy that enlivens daily perception. It adds layers.

-from an interview with Peter Halley, originally published in INDEX magazine, 1999. For a full transcript, go here.

Wayne Koestenbaum is the author of Andy Warhol, The Milk of Inquiry, The Queen's Throat, Jackie Under My Skin, Cleavage, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, Best-selling Jewish Porn Films, Model Homes, and Hotel Theory. Find his work on

For LIFE AS WE SHOW IT, Koestenbaum dissects his lifelong discovery of "Elizabeth Taylor".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Daphne Gottlieb on the slasher film as a version of social drama:

LiP Magazine: Are you a fan of slasher films?

Daphne Gottlieb: I admire them, I like them. Like pornos, they’re about bodily fluids, in this case blood and guts—things we normally don’t get to talk about. At their center, slasher films represent all the things we have to suppress to function as a society—incest, mental illness, deformity, death, vomit, blood, feces. They socially mimic what our collective unconscious is doing. In that way they’re very cathartic. And they’re ritualistic—there’s a formula to them to the point where we can satirize them. It’s the same thing in porn—because we understand the formula, we feel like we have control over what’s happening.

But these are essentially conservative forms – the world is always put back in order at the end.

LiP: Do you see them as misogynist or having elements of misogyny?

DG: To see them as misogynist you have to think fairly literally. Carol Clover’s book Men Women and Chainsaws reminds us not to think too literally about gender in horror films, since a lot of times the killer is really coded female and the victim is coded male.

Then you switch from identifying with the killer to the victim in the course of the film—I can’t think of any other forms where that happens.

At the beginning you’re forced to identify with the killer, you have the zombie cam coming up behind the girl, you’re forced to identify with the bad guy. People yell, “Watch out!” or “Don’t go in there!” but it’s in sort of a mocking way. Then toward the end you switch and start identifying with the victim, like at the end of Halloween when Jamie Lee Curtis is in the closet.

The slasher film is only as misogynistic as our culture, it’s leveraging things that are already in our culture. For instance the highly sexualized woman is always killed off, because you can’t have a sexually willing, young nubile survive. It shows us where the boundaries of normative, acceptable behavior are.

LiP: Are you a fan of pop culture and camp?

DG: I guess, as much as anyone else. I taught feminist film theory, with everything from film noir to horror. I’m not as much interested in pop culture without camp, though. I don’t have much use for it. I like the distance camp gives us, the wink and nudge, the commentary that’s inherent in the form.

Daphne Gottlieb is the author of Final Girl, a book of poems which explore the issues discussed above. Look for the book here

The rest of the above 2003 interview, originally published in Lip Magazine, can be found here

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Life As We Show It: Writing on Film, a review from the May/June 2009 Film Comment

After writer Maggie Nelson’s aunt Jane was murdered, Nelson’s mother could no longer stomach films in which women were threatened by guns. Going to the movies years later, Nelson describes how “whenever such a scene arose I immediately felt my mother close beside me in the dark theatre. Her hands spread across her face, her pinkies pushing down on her eyelids so she can’t see.” There are many things I like about this description, not least the pressure of fingertips on eyelids, the simplicity of which speaks to the direct and visceral response that films can exact. But more than this, the possibility that we watch through the eyes of people absent as well as present—the same way that there may be more people in the bed than the ones actually having sex—is an idea that makes the act of viewing film so much more interesting than it normally appears.

Nelson’s excerpted memoir appears in Life as We Show It, an anthology of essays, screenplays, and stories about watching movies that has the virtue of not treating life and cinema as obvious antagonists. In the introductory essay, co-editor Masha Tupitsyn recalls a classic scene from the 1958 film The Blob in which the eponymous monster, oozing out of a projection booth, devours the bodies of moviegoers and expands until it spills out of the movie house and onto the street. The scene is a nice conceit for the impossibility of confining film to the movie theater—not merely because of its proliferating presence on the small screens of today’s wired households but because films tend to infiltrate our minds, forming prosthetic memories that are hard to distinguish from real ones. But if the intertwining of cinema with our personal lives has often been material for frightening scenarios of invasion and possession, the talented writers in this collection make clear that this is too passive an understanding of the relationships we form with films. While many of the stories told here consider what films do to viewers—such as Abdellah Taia’s aching account of how watching a film catalyzed his sexual awakening as a gay man—quite often the emphasis falls on what viewers do with films. In Rebecca Brown’s “My Western,” for example, the iconic film Shane is treated as a series of clues into the far more important tale the narrator is composing about her disappointing father. In Myriam Gurba’s disturbing story “The Gospel According to Larry,” a traumatized girl cannibalizes scenes from Larry Clark’s film Kids in order to fill in details of the personal rape she cannot remember, and in “Outtakes” Lidia Yuknavitch rewrites Rebel Without a Cause to drive home the redundancy of women in the boys only romantic fantasies favoured by Hollywood.

One of the pleasures of this collection is that writing about movie viewing produces a cheerful and salutary indifference to conventional judgements of a film’s “importance.” In Richard Grayson’s charming paean to the suburban cinemas of his youth, Victor/Victoria is remembered not for being a great film, but for marking the first time the author held hands with another man. For me the two highlights in this regard are Wayne Koestenbaum’s essay about the body of Elizabeth Taylor (which might, just might tempt you to look again at Cleopatra), and “Phone Home,” Dodie Bellamy’s story of her preoccupation with E.T. when her mother was dying of lung cancer. Life as we Show It is not without flaws. Some of the pieces could have been pruned and the book needed more editorial explanation for the selection and grouping of individual works. But I would buy this book for Bellamy’s piece alone. To watch as cinema’s most famous stranded alien becomes by turns a figure for the narrator’s alienation from her mother’s body through illness and age, the alienation of the able bodied from boys like Matthew De Meritt, the boy with no legs who helped bring E.T. to life by walking on his hands, and finally an opportunity to reflect on what alien technologies like cinema can do to repair these rifts—is to have one’s own ideas about how and why films matter to us completely and productively overturned.

© 2009 by Nicola Evans

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Robert Glück Remaps the Jungle

Several years ago, LIFE AS WE SHOW IT contributor Robert Glück participated in an exercise for the website Writers and artists were asked to collaborate on describing the plot of a film they'd never seen but heard enough about to form strong impressions.

The idea was that an entirely separate but symbiotic movie existed in the mind, reliant on the imagery, tone, and silhouette of the source but independent of its narrative limits and avenues, imaginatively liberated to go off in innumerable uncharted directions.

LIFE AS WE SHOW IT: WRITING ON FILM explores related terrain. Its writers also wonder what that middle space is between screen and audience, what exists and/or thrives there, and what kind of things that eternal exchange from movie to mind and back produces.

The film Glück chose to recreate was:


He is the jungle so he can fly through it swim through it talk with the animals die in it, there is no resistance.

There is a woman who loves him. It equals loving the jungle. Alice is not the jungle, she loves the jungle by loving George. Alice has a mother, stylish and driven like Cruella DeVille. We all love evil women who are into fashion. She combines negligence with domination, because she is a big time businesswoman in a Manhattan glass-sheathed skyscraper with a view of life and death. She comes to visit. George brings amazing-to-us flowers in greeting—he’s a flower amazing-to-us. Despite her stiletto heels, Mother is comically prepared for her stay in the jungle, accessorized for the jungle with zebra skin pedal pushers and elaborate coiffeur. For example, her hair dryer turns into an air-conditioner, so while everyone else is schvitzing she’s cool as a cucumber.

George doesn’t really understand: Uguumphoh means I am attracted to Brendan Fraser because of Gods and Monsters. His goofy humor makes him resemble Marilyn Monroe. Comedy gives me access to him, like Brendan would be exploitable, a beefcake version of a dumb blond, and at the same time I feel the real Brendan would be loose and willing, touching even. His soft, soft face, soft muscles, he has a surprisingly narrow waist, it is surprisingly narrow from certainly angles, and a surprisingly meaty torso pivots on it.

In response to her mother’s whole attitude, Alice shrugs mightily, “Mother look around.” They both look at the vines braiding themselves through fat-leaved trees and the intelligent ape companion who chatters away swinging from a limb. He’s a nanny to George Junior who is playing with a baby crocodile. George Junior is in training to be the next King of the Jungle—incredible as it sounds, time will pass, the jungle will be the same forever but not George. Mother and daughter consider the tree house that George has fashioned, which is really a nest suspended by ropes. It rocks in the swaying branches. It’s the daughter’s version of living in a jungle skyscraper. “I ran as far away from you and your world as the globe would allow me to go.”

Little intelligent ape and George Junior are playing with something shiny, what is it?—a huge diamond. Where did they find it? On Elephant Mountain. You can see Elephant Mountain in the distance, a mountain that looks like an elephant. The sun is sinking over it. Mother contemplates the mountain, you can see her elegant silhouette, one arm lifting her martini at an angle. Then her face lights up with the last rays of the sun. Is she responding to the beauty of the sunset? Mother runs a development company, and she has an idea.

There are many gifts the jungle gives freely, fruit, fish, flowers, images. Mother is not satisfied unless she takes more than is offered. George is the jungle so when Mother decides to tear apart Elephant Mountain to make a diamond mine it is himself she will be tearing apart.

He is too dumb and obliging to realize this, but Alice has an increasingly sick feeling as helicopters arrive, the jungle is cleared for an airstrip, and a crowd of miners and corporate ghouls descends. Yet it all seems like a way to be closer to mom. They all set out for Elephant Mountain, which is a trek. The new arrivals are comically incapable of dealing with life in the jungle. One skinny VP is afraid of everything. His fear is comic—like when he finds a little yellow snake coiled in his shoe one morning and the snake hypnotizes him as though he were a mouse, which he resembles, as if the little snake were going to eat him. Another VP is rapacious. He is fat and greedy and sees everything as an opportunity to make money. His rapacity is comic—like when he decides to sell the art of the tribe they meet along the way, the Elephant Mountain People. He buys a ton of art from the laughing tribesmen who keep trying to tell him something but he doesn’t listen, he is frantically greedy. He discovers what they were trying to say when he washes a statue of an elephant in the river. The statue and everything else is made from the dung of the elephant herd sacred to this tribe.

Mother makes everyone stop at four o’clock so she can pour herself a martini from her silver thermos. In the trees birds perch like flowers. Just seeing them is an honor.

The miners discover that there are no diamonds—that the lumpy diamond was actually taken from an ancient idol worshipped by this tribe, the third eye of an elephant. Naughty little intelligent ape took it and George puts it back. At night, the rapacious VP tries to steal the diamond for himself, he so excited by it that his fingers wriggle as though the diamond magnetizes them. He gets it in his big mitt and he looks up to see a million spears pointing at him. The next morning the smart little ape goes Chef Che Che and leads George to the spot where the unhappy VP is buried to his neck in a termite hill. The fat VP suffers almost terminal willies as the termites roil over him like a delirium tremens.

George, George Junior, the ape, Alice, and the tribe are so happy that Elephant Mountain will not be exploited. The tribe is happy to have its mystic eye back. They already think George is a god—well he is a god. He’s as simple as dirt and sky, as though you could penetrate the world by penetrating George of the Jungle. So the jungle is not going to be torn down. Alice and George celebrate by flying through the treetops, watch out for that tree. Intelligent ape and George Junior slide down the rapids and over the waterfalls. They play leapfrog with wildebeests. Mother is watching this family entertainment. You think by Mother’s expression that she is delighted by their joy, that she is changing, becoming human. Inspired by their play she has another even worse idea than the diamond mine: they should turn the mountain into a George of the Jungle amusement park. Experience the jungle at $20 a ride. Bring the whole family. George (the jungle) will be a tourist attraction like Disney World or San Francisco.

George doesn’t understand. These people Bad? What Bad mean? No you can’t be serious. For money? In a way it is the master who takes the ape role, giving us a chuckle now and then (watch out for that tree). The intelligent ape explains Evil to George.

George gets the idea. He tells a pride of lions to attack but the executives trap the lions and send them back to zoos. George leads a stampede of elephants. There are ancient cities made of gold, but what is gold to George of the Jungle? He passes through the sacred Lost City and through the Elephant Graveyard on the back of an elephant. George feels the subtlety of his spine as he rides--he’s almost naked. It’s sex as he rides the subtle trumpeting animal, his ass glued to the elephant’s back, his legs spread-eagle, his prostate with its own life swelling, emitting signals--rapturous jungle. George, George, George of the jungle. The herd tramples the new foundations of the George of the Jungle Park. George makes animal calls for sheer joy. It is the jungle speaking to itself, but the executives shoot the elephants for ivory.

Suddenly there are cable cars going up and down the mountain carrying mobs of noisy tourists. Fake rides imitate real experiences. Misshapen kids wear George of the Jungle outfits, there are African concession stands everywhere. Fake hippos rise from the brown river. They are shot by a fake big game hunter—it’s the scared skinny VP!--and submerge with a fake roar. The tribal people operate the rides and clean the park—slave labor. The sacred elephant god—eyeless again—stands desolate in the childcare center, a ride for snotty toddlers. Mother and her fat VP exalt in satisfied greed. Turning Elephant Mountain into an amusement park is the form that being out of touch with her daughter has taken. If she were human, she would worship George just as her daughter does, just as we do, but instead she wants to shrink him into a Disney attraction. Kids swing from lianas into foam trees.

A horrid pink poodle pisses on the idol’s leg and that is the final straw. Desecrating the elephant idol is the final straw for the gods of the Elephant Mountain. The elephant’s wooden face becomes furious, the trunk lifts, a huge trumpeting deafens the mob. Hands over ears. The earth starts to rumble. Everyone looks up and jaws almost fall off in horror as the top of the mountain blows and a shower of smoke and burning embers starts raining down. All at once palms drop coconuts on VP skulls. The powerbrokers fall, strings cut. George has to save a load of tourists careening out of control in a cable car that races down hill and then downstream towards the spectacular but now polluted waterfall. The water is angry too. Mothers clutch their children, men scream like babies—they have this coming. George clings to the cable car. He is like a traveling tendril, a vine whose furious life is at its tip.

The intelligent ape is smarter than his master and figures things out. Like how to rescue the repentant Mother from the collapsing bridge.