Here’s my list of the top ten tear jerkers for Grolsch Film Works. Tissues at the ready…
Above still from Elias Kazan’s beautiful weepie ‘Splendor In The Grass’ (1961)
Here’s my list of the top ten tear jerkers for Grolsch Film Works. Tissues at the ready…
Above still from Elias Kazan’s beautiful weepie ‘Splendor In The Grass’ (1961)
Those Frenchies sure love a cinematic ménage a trois. This Gallic (though possibly universal) obsession with the sexual and psychological set up of a threesome can be seen in François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962), Italian Francophile Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003), and most recently in French Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan’s Les Amours Imaginaires (Heartbeats, 2010). The film is about a mostly imaginary love triangle between two best friends and a curly haired but vacuous Adonis, who turns up out of nowhere and quietly disrupts both their lives. As pretentious art films go, this one has to take the biscuit. Why? Because it doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, nor does it bring anything new to the screen, and it’s so heavily influenced by the past that it resembles a sort of patchwork quilt of Art Cinema.
Dolan, in an interview in The Village Voice, has firmly denied both the Art Cinema influences, and his preference for style over substance: “I wouldn’t say the film is lacking any depth. It’s stylish and campy, but so what? It’s what I wanted to do. It’s about two people infatuated with a perfect stranger who’s beautiful but banal and uninteresting”. Of course, the problem with a banal but uninteresting lead, is that it leaves you without an engaging core to the film. Having said all this, the film was a pleasure to watch from beginning to end.
First and foremost, it is visually, gorgeously over-the-top: beautiful people talking about art fart in cafes, blocks of bright, clashing, saturated colours, retro furnishings and saliva-inducing vintage dresses, and a male lead (Niels Schneider) who looks like a cross between Bob Dylan and Michelangelo’s David by way of French Canadian hipsterville. In one scene, the obsessed male (Xavier Dolan) buys marshmallows in the cornershop and imagines the object of his infatuation being showered naked by hundreds of marshmallows against a blue background. How joyously unsubtle.
What Heartbeats does, and does so well, is render the minutiae of everyday life in the grandiose light of past Art Cinema. It also, perhaps unconsciously, reveals how culturally emaciated our generation has become. Apart from a brilliant soundtrack by Swedish electro group The Knife (and Karin’s spin off band Fever Ray), nothing in this supposedly contemporary film is ‘of the moment’, but instead, looks to the past for its visual and cultural inspiration. The two infatuated leads consciously resemble James Dean and Audrey Hepburn (although the lead girl starts off looking like Ana Karina), the 60s furnishings and slow-motion shots of characters walking down the street in vintage dresses recall Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love, and the nod to Jules et Jim and The Dreamers in the cinematic set-up is directly referenced when Dreamers star Louis Garrell appears at the end party. What Heartbeats doesn’t look at enough is what it seems to set out to do at the beginning, before it gets lost in its own visual lushness; that is, explore the complexities of young, twenty-first century sexuality, and what happens when your unrequited obsession for someone goes far too far. This is the kind of obsession you get in your twenties, and Xavier Dolan (WHO IS ONLY TWENTY TWO, yes, TWENTY TWO, and this is his SECOND feature) is the perfect man to do this. In a sense, his beauty-saturated, narcissistically shallow amour fou is perfectly pitched then – for and about trendy twenty-somethings in love or lust. Heartbeats is visually successful, but culturally problematic: in trying to tell the story of twenty somethings in love, why is it so stuck in a cinematic past?
I finally got round to watching Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ the other night. So obviously it was awesome – the San Francisco backdrop, the incredible colours, star turns from James Stewart and Kim Novak, a genuinely creepy plot, and some hard-core eyebrow action from crazy-blonde-to-rule-all-crazy-blondes Novak… Now, indulge me a mo, if you please… Does the dream sequence scene not remind you of the falling man in the Mad Men credits?
‘Vertigo’ by Alfred Hitchcock – Scottie’s amazing psychodelic dream sequence
Opening credits of Mad Men
These behind-the-scenes photos of the Mad Men cast were taken by James Minchin III and appear in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. I’m a hopeless Mad Men addict, and I haven’t even dared venture it onto blog territory until now, for fear of turning my already self-indulgent website into a tirade/rant about the intricacies of character, costume, and interior design on the show! Actually, saying that, I did write about Mad Men and Erwin Olaf here, woops. But anyway, I could rant about the show ’til kingdom come, so I’ll keep this brief.
I know everyone’s jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon, and the show has now become synonimous for anything vaguely 50′s and 60′s -both in terms of interior design, fashion and body shape. Actually, the Mad Men aesthetic only covers a very small aspect of the style of the period, and instead, comparisons have become lazy journalism fodder for bored stylists bashing out yet another 50′s lingerie theme. Then there’s the body shape dilemma, which is definitely the most annoying aspect of the media obsession with Mad Men - it’s turned the fabulous body of Christina Hendricks into an overexaggerated icon of healthy weight while keeping for all the weight-obsessed media bullshit thats shoved down our throats in weekend supplements. Every 50′s themed fashion spread has to reference La Hendricks and champion healthy body shapes; I know it’s only a minor quibble, but why does EVERYTHING vaguely 50′s/ 60′s mentioned in the press now have to be reflex-referenced with Mad Men. And what’s with all the D-list celebs rocking da Mad Men looks (yes Kelly Brook/ Keri Katona)?? *sigh, rant over*
I’ve included part of the Rolling Stone article here, because Eric raises some interesting points:
In the opening scene of the new season of Mad Men, an interviewer asks Draper, “Who is Don Draper?” Rather than confess the truth — that he’s a flimflam man who fabricated his whole identity from a dead Korean War officer and built his entire life on a lie en route to a Madison Avenue advertising career — Draper merely takes a drag on his cigarette. “I’m from the Midwest,” he says. “We were taught it’s not polite to talk about yourself.”
In a sense, Mad Men is Weiner’s attempt to figure out this question for himself. He has created an elaborate pageant of American fantasies — guys and dolls who look like they have it all, even when their private worlds are complete frauds. The advertising wizards of Mad Men swagger through the office, knock back cocktails, knock back lovers. They live out JFK-era America’s tawdriest dreams, almost as if it’s a professional code — to sell these dreams to America, they have to experience them from the inside, with all their inherent betrayal and manipulation. After three seasons on AMC, a basic-cable network previously known for endless reruns of second-rate movies, Mad Men established a hold on America’s fantasy life like no show since The Sopranos. “The big question the show is trying to answer through Don has to do with identity,” Weiner says. “Who am I? — It’s only the biggest theme in all of Western literature.”
To make it happen, Weiner assembled a cast he could relate to — veteran actors who had spent their careers toiling in relative obscurity. Jon Hamm, who plays Draper, had a few scenes in We Were Soldiers. January Jones, who plays his brittle and ethereal ex-wife, Betty, showed up in the third American Pie movie as Stifler’s love interest. Christina Hendricks, who rules the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as Joan, appeared in a video for the Nineties rock band Everclear. Nobody wanted them. Today, everybody knows their names, everybody covets their careers, everybody wants to get next to them.
“We are not groupies” – so says Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous (2000) about a young Rolling Stones journalist touring with the band Stillwater. Penny is emphatic about the fact that groupies are more than just star-shaggers: “We are here because of the music, we inspire the music. We are Band Aids”. Star-shagger, band-aid, or muse – the groupie has undoubtedly played a major role in the evolution of bands past and present, as well as in the counterculture films of the period.
The rose-tinted nostalgia of Almost Famous couldn’t be further away from the gritty groupie experience of British ‘sexploitation’ films of the late 60′s, such as Lindsay Shonteff’s Permissive. On location shooting in grizzly hotel bars and disused rubbish dumbs bring alive the bitch-eat-bitch world of the groupie. Suzy (Maggie Stride) is a girl from the country who infiltrates the scene, shagging around with up-and-coming bands, including her best friend’s boyfriend, Lee (Allan Gorrie). Lee is the lead singer of the real 60′s folk band Forever More, and even though he comes across in the film as little more than a hairy buffoon, his status is god-like and untouchable. Permissive avoids the romance of Almost Famous, in favour of the grim sleaziness of a life on the road. Extra-diegetic flash cuts are interspersed throughout the film, breaking up moments of violence or sexual gratification with proleptic visions of Fiona’s suicide and Pogo’s death. Groupie Girl (1970) is an equally bleak vision of the life of a band-aid. Produced by Stanley Long and directed by Derek Ford, the film was based upon the real-life sexual exploits of groupie Suzanne Mercer. As in Permissive, the men are misogynistic and sleazy, and the women merely sex objects, there to screw, clean and do little else.
The presence of the groupie in film shows one of the ways in which film directors sought to exploit the sexual liberation of the counterculture, in order to show shocking material to an audience desperate for titillation. This material could include lesbianism (such as the soft-core breast-baring, semi-conscious lesbian scene in Permissive), promiscuity, and of course, drugs. There are similarities between groupie films and other ‘permissive dramas’ about late 60′s counterculture, such as Primitive London (1965), London in the Raw (1964) and Extremes (1971). Interest in the high-profile groupies of the moment was a feature of the rock press of the late 60′s. The ‘supergroupie’ included such names as Lori Maddox (who apparently lost her virginity to David Bowie aged 13), the GTO’s, Sable Starr, Pamela Des Barres, and Cynthia Plaster Caster. Cynthia Plaster Caster was particularly notorious for taking plaster moulds of rock stars’s penises, from Frank Zappa to her first, and arguably the biggest cock in rock, Jimi Hendrix. Cynthia was a member of the groupie group The Plaster Casters, who apparently introduced themselves to Jimi and the Experience by saying “We are The Plaster Casters of Chicago and we want to plaster cast your Hampton Wick!”. Cynthia’s exploits are immortalised in the rockumentary (or is that cockumentary) Plaster Caster (2001). Cynthia started plaster casting in college, when her art teacher assigned the class the assignment to “plaster cast something solid that could retain its shape”. Her idea was to use the assignment as a way of enticing rock stars to have sex with her so she could finally lose her virginity.
Relatively speaking, groupies have declined, and this isn’t just a result of the waning sexual revolution, and the fear of AIDS. The sort of girl that was a groupie is probably now a WAG. With footballers having replaced rockstars as society’s gods, you’re more likely to see the 21st century groupie shagging a member of the Chelsea football team than hanging out backstage.
Work has started on Jay and I’s new zine, Dissocia. Here’s our creative mess, below. Thou must follow us on Facebook, Twitter, the Dissocia blog, and whatever goddamn piece of technology we can master.
Contribute, contribute! We’re looking for prose, poetry, fashion writing, satire, comics, doodles, paintings, photography, one-page plays, jokes, essays, sketches, book reviews, film reviews, rants; write about politics, or art, or sport. And send in your stuff: dissocia @googlemail.com.
Randomly, while flyering around Cowley Road, Rosy and I came across this gem of a wall:
“DISSOCIA, DISSOCIA, WELCOME TO DISSOCIA!”
-Anthony Neilson, ‘The Wonderful World of Dissocia’ (2004)-
This extract is from The Footlight Parade (1933) and includes an incredible dance sequence by a waterfall. This was one of the shorts shown on day two of The Smoking Cabinet Festival.
A discussion followed afterwards with Tim Redfern (Timberlina) entitled ‘Boom or Bust?’ about the cyclical nature of burlesque and cabaret (popularity in the form has peaked in the 20′s, the 80′s and in the 00′s). The panel explored the idea of how theatre and cabaret responds in times of financial difficulty. Cabaret and burlesque are after all artistic expressions which are often a reflection of society. Tim Redfern argued that we shouldn’t be paying for cabaret, that gone are the days when hats where passed around in performances, and that the appropriation of cabaret and burlesque by market economy has had an effect on the quality. He argued that by paying for a spectacle, you are thus creating a pretext of expectation (I agreed with this, and thought of the 8 pound I had paid for my ticket and whether it was worth it and so on). The point of cabaret is that it is meant to be accessible, but by having been appropriated into the mainstream, the art form had lost the insight and skill it had once had. As a form, the neo-burlesque movement was continuing; as a skill, the quality had suffered. An interesting debate.
One of the many clips shown was Josephine Baker’s 1927 Plantation dance. I’m not sure what to make of it, but still, god she’s brilliant!
Friday was the opening night of The Smoking Cabinet, a festival of early cabaret and burlesque cinema. The movie shown was Piccadilly (1929), a sumptuous silent about a Chinese dishwasher called Shosho (played by Anna May Wong) who catches the eye of night-club owner Valentine Wilmot after being caught dancing on a table in ripped stockings.
The plot was, like many of these early films, pretty non-descript, but some of the scenes were truly spectacular, such as the one where Shosho’s lover strangles her behind a Chinese screen. The movie stylishly captured the beat of Jazz Age London, and nowhere better than in the final scene, a panoramic view of the dancers, and drunken clientele of a Jazz club in Soho.
Minima scored the silent movie with a 21st century twist -the sound was dark, with snatches of drum ‘n’ bass and psychedelia. Their scoring of silents is interpretative, their music responds to the events on screen. So in the scene I described above, the music built up to an explosion of drums. Really incredible.
For me the best bit was the burlesque performance before the showing. Fancy Chance put on a small performance as a Chinese DVD saleswoman who gets picked up by immigration control. The performance, a homage to the star of the movie Anna Mae Wong, was obviously political, and thus true to the origins of burlesque. Here’s what she has to say about it:
“This homage to a woman who wanted “The woman who died a thousand times” engraved on her tombstone is especially important to me because of how she was treated by cinema and media from the 20’s to the 50’s. She was constantly being knocked-off in every manner of way in the films she appeared in; there is no doubt that this is because she was a Chinese woman. It will be interesting to see how I’m treated as a black market DVD “sales person” before I go on stage and then dragged off by immigration inspectors.”
I found the performance hilarious but also challenging. Her performance brought into perspective the racial politics in the film. The poster of Piccadilly shows Anna Mae Wong bare-chested and dancing, an image that would have been totally inappropriate for a white girl, but for a starlet of Chinese-American descent like herself, or the African-American Josephine Baker, was deemed ‘acceptable’ by the 1920′s audience. The stance of this theme’s racial politics are confusing: is the interracial relationship between Shosho and Wilmot a stand against social ethnic discrimination in Jazz Age London? Or is Shosho representing the sexually compliant Oriental female who is taken advantage of by the rich white club owner? To me, the movie seemed to be an early vindication of interracial relationships, even if it suffered from the prejudices of the period.
The evening was completed with a burlesque act by Millicent Binks (below), a circus performance and gin and ginger beer cocktails.