Vi är bäst! [2013)

IF you want to see a bogus, bollocks feminist film, watch Free the Nipple.

But if you want to see the real thing…a really empowering, touching story, then check out We Are the Best!

IT’s in Swedish.

So you’ll have to use your brain.

And your eyes.

Unless you speak Swedish.

But it will be well worth your time.

Vi är bäst! isn’t trite acting from a bunch of pseudo-provocateurs who just want to take their shirts off.

Nej.

This is the story of three 13-year-old girls.

None of them fit in.

Everyone tells them they’re ugly.

One of them is ostracized for being a Christian.

[now THAT’S punk!]

But it’s the story of three girls who come together and do the greatest thing possible:  form a band.

Music!!!

And let me just say this:  the acting is fucking fantastic!

Mira Barkhammer plays Bobo.

For me, she is the star of the film.

She is the outcast of the outcasts.

No make up.

No cool haircut.

She’s searching for her identity.

But she’s so smart.  So truly unique!

She wears these little wire-rim glasses.

From one perspective, this film is her search for what’s behind the mirror.

Director Lukas Moodysson made a masterpiece here.

Bobo…

The name…

I think of Boris Diaw.

The whole scenario is aw-kward.

But so beautifully so!

And yet Bobo is not perfect.

Far from it.

It’s a team effort.

And teams, especially when they are ad hoc and organic, are inherently dysfunctional.

The actress who puts the dys in dysfunction here is Mira Grosin.

But she too is so wonderful in this film!

She is the inspiration.

The first one out on the limb.

The rebel.

The loudmouth.

She inspires her other two bandmates to fly their freak flags high.

But the most enigmatic is Liv LeMoyne:  the Christian.

Director Moodysson is so deft in his handling of this dynamic.

LeMoyne’s character [Hedvig] has long, beautiful blond hair.

[At this point it is appropriate to address a strange form of class relations in Sweden:  hair color.]

When I used to think of Sweden (which I did rarely), I would imagine everyone as a blond.

Perhaps the American vision of Sweden is a socialist paradise of blond bikini models.

At the very least, blondness seems to be the defining characteristic in the American popular imagination regarding Sweden (as far as I can tell).

This isn’t a scientific study, you understand…

But it is important to point this out.

The snottiest (in the stuck up, snobbish sense) characters in this film are mostly blonds.

The little girls who call Bobo and Klara [Grosin] ugly.

It is really heartbreaking.

These two BRUNETTE girls endure such humiliation throughout this film.

And so it’s no wonder that they want to start a PUNK BAND!

But they can’t play.

Like, not at all…

Their first halting efforts are in the vein of The Shaggs.

No, worse.

And that’s where the Christian comes in.

Hedvig is an accomplished classical guitarist.

It is, indeed, much like the story of Garth Hudson’s joining The Band.

Lessons.

So to speak.

Bobo and Klara are astounded at Hedvig’s talent.

They lament that they’ll never be as good as their gifted new friend.

But Hedvig is all encouragement.

It is [pardon the expression] a match made in heaven.

And so three misfits (for different reasons) band together (literally) and take on the cock rock ridiculousness of bullies like youth-center-rehearsal-room-“stars” Iron Fist.

The message is astounding.

I haven’t seen a film which does such honor to the idea of feminism since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

But there’s no ulterior motive here.

This isn’t a George Soros production.

This is the real thing.

Just three young people (who happen to be female) wanting to make some noise in their world.

And we see how beautiful punk music is.

IT’s a catharsis.

Like Sonic Youth.

And we remember the true geniuses of the genre (like my hero, the late Alan Vega).

But we also remember the maxim:  “three chords and the truth”.

Hedvig’s got the chords.

[Ah…harmony!  What a concept!!!]

But Klara has the attitude.

And Bobo has the intellect.

They learn from each other.

“Here.  Stay on this note.  Good.  Now move to this note.”

“Punk is about rebellion.  It’s not about the school talent show.  We’ve got to keep going.  It’s a fight.”

“You really need to change your hair.  Do something fun!  Express yourself!  Cut loose!”

Those are my translations of action, not dialogue.

But I can’t stress enough how great these three actresses are in this film.

Mira Barkhammer in particular is a prodigy.

But, as in the story, the trio is inseparable.

And for this kind of cohesion, we have but one place to look in thanks:  the auteur.

-PD

La Bête Humaine [1938)

This might be the most depressing film of all time.

And that’s not nothing.

I seem to remember.  Thurston Moore.

A Rolling Stone review of Lou Reed’s album Berlin.

The fucked-up kids will always search out these masterpieces.

Because they are forbidden.

Like the strange death of James Forrestal.

The first U.S. Secretary of Defense.

But let’s back to cinema.  [sic]

Let’s active.

Trains.

I often dream of trains.

Such an important part of my lineage.

Whether there were drunkards or not, I have no idea.

But train men there were many in my family.

Enough.

We think it’s gonna be like La Roue of Abel Gance.

That 273-minute behemoth.

But it’s only the trappings which match.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are more perceptive than I.

But I couldn’t have seen this ending coming in a million years.

Like the Maginot Line being overrun.

This was 1938.  Jean Renoir.

Madness.  Madness.

On the precipice of World War II.

Not history.

But present.

It must be ever present.

We must be terrified of history.

And to each of us is given a special area to study.

I long labored in the musical mines.  Studying birdsongs.

But one day I escaped my cage.

And I lived to see the blowout.

Jericho, Kentucky.

But now I am given over to film.

Because I am too old to be a rock star.

“My face is finished/My body’s gone”

It would be a miracle of spectacle for me to be relevant again in the most venal of concert halls.

And so we move on to opera.  Silent film.  Quail eggs.

Madness vs. madness.

When magazine was a store.

And journal was a newspaper.

When was that?

The false-friends attack of language.  Cognates.  Faux.

Gripping his steam engine.  A night without sleep.

La Bête Humaine.  The human beast.  Monster.

Fighting it.  Fighting it.

The banality of evil had already suffused Europe by 1938.

And so we live with a corpse throughout most of this film.

Pocket watch.  Wallet full of dough.

But Simone Simon is already flirting her way to destiny.

Der müde Tod.

Femme fatale.  Serial.  Concatenation of sickly sweet roles.

Roles.

Jean Gabin.

Here’s to you, my friend!

And Julien Carette.  Always sucking on that cigarette.

We begin to covet the boring comfort of his life.

Living from one cigarette to the next.

Vive le tabac!

Piss-poor English Wikipedia will not tell you that Monsieur Carette was an integral part of Renoir’s masterpiece La Règle du jeu.  Not, that is, if you are looking at his page.

And so, dear reader, I am here to make those connections for you.

Perhaps they will mean nothing.

Perhaps they will mean everything.

Let me just say this…

La Bête Humaine was an extremely brave film to make in 1938.

More Hitchcock than anything Hitch had made up till that point.

Ahead of its time, yes.

But most particularly…symptomatic of that age of anxiety.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 17 [1976)

Why do we review films?  Why do we feel the need to write about that which is expressed as sound and vision?

And why, after experiencing the sublime, do we still get enjoyment out of the mundane?

Why, as in a society with classes or castes, do we persist in dividing art into high and low?

The former we call high art, whereas the latter is pop art (if even that).

We are often unforgiving.

After immersion in Godard (an ongoing activity for me), we somehow still need comedy.

Comedy lets us relax.

If we spend all day thinking, we want to have an occasional laugh.

And so today we are able to re-approach a show like Saturday Night Live by starting from the very beginning.

As an aspiring film critic, I seek to bring the same respect and passion to writing about television as I bring to writing about film.

I will be honest:  I am not a big fan of TV.

Somehow television has often brought out the worst in humanity.

It’s a rather sickening feeling to let the constant stream of disposable culture wash over oneself.

And so I don’t subject myself to such.

The important point to make is that this decision doesn’t make me any better than anyone else.

It’s just simply a choice I make.

Now, how can one possibly come down from such a marbled column to discuss SNL?

Well, fortunately this particular episode breaks the fourth wall in a very unique way.

The host of this night’s show was press secretary to the president of the US (I refuse to capitalize that repugnant position) Ron Nessen.

This was the Ford administration.

Now.  If you want to see a UNIQUE name, check out Nessen’s predecessor Jerald terHorst [sic].  What a mind-trip!

But back to that fourth wall…

Yes, the other Gerald (the big one…G-man) delivers Chevy’s line here.  “Live from New York…”

This was an exceptionally bold move by a White House which had been lambasted mercilessly by SNL since the show’s inception.  Particularly, Gerald Ford showed a strange side of himself by consenting to be taped for a couple of one-liners.

Strangest of all, however, is Nessen (as himself) interacting with Chevy Chase (as President Ford) in the Oval Office.  It was the obvious skit to do.  Aside from the rehashing of the “Dead String Quartet” to start the show, the first real piece was this one.

While some bits in this episode fall flat (“Press Secretaries Throughout History” comes to mind), in all this is a very solid episode.

Perhaps Patti Smith’s presence as musical guest had something to do with the fuck-off tone encountered here and there.

Let’s face it:  SNL (though still called merely Saturday Night) had become such a force that the White House was forced to respond.

And their course of action?

If we can’t be ’em, join ’em.  It’s the old Bugs Bunny phrase I heard a million times as a kid growing up.

What’s not good about this episode?  Billy Crystal (still Bill Crystal at the time).

It’s almost good.  It’s almost great (Crystal’s routine).  But ultimately, it sucks.

Contrast this with the performance of The Patti Smith Group.

“Gloria” is powerful, but it’s a strange rip-off cover.  It’s a rewrite.  Almost a détournement worthy of Guy Debord and the Situationists.

“Gloria” works.  The guitars are blaring loud.  Patti Smith is a true persona here.  Magical.  Visceral.  Pissed-off.

But “My Generation” works less well.  And while it is juvenile and lazy, it still has the genuine energy which would inspire groups like Sonic Youth.

The Patti Smith Group is exciting on both tunes because it feels like they could fail at any moment.  “Excursion on a Wobbly Rail” as Cecil Taylor put it.

Yeah.  That was the name of Lou Reed’s radio show when Lou was a student at Syracuse.

No.  Bill Crystal was no Andy Kaufman.  Bill Crystal was just doing blackface here.  Is it Satchmo?  Miles?  An amalgamation named Pops?

Importantly, it is evident that Crystal has talent.  A lot of talent.  It’s just that he’s not channeling it very well here.  The blackface sans burnt cork doesn’t really become him.  It’s lazy.  Like Patti Smith Group’s “My Generation”.  Crystal isn’t risking much.

Today, Crystal’s routine would probably be called racist.  Yeah…  It’s a little odd.

But Patti Smith comes out on top.  “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/but not mine.”  Wow…

On national TV.  Long before Sinéad ripped up a picture of the Pope.

SNL was dangerous.

But it was also a gas.

Super Bass-o-Matic ’76.

Yeah, Dan Aykroyd took a step forward with this particular show.

Who even remembers Tom Snyder?

It’s of a different generation.  Not my generation.

We dig back in the past.

And this show (SNL) is not complete without the REAL commercials.

I wanna see the Marlboro Man, ads for Scotch, plugs for cars that Ralph Nader found out impaled people upon impact.  The good old days…

The FAKE commercials need the REAL commercials for the whole thing to work.

I’m thinking back to my youth.  When Crystal Pepsi was lampooned as Crystal Gravy.

And so it’s a shame that corporate America couldn’t get together and celebrate their grossly dated marketing of the 1970s by being a part of these reruns. Same criticism falls upon NBC.  Why don’t you give us a REAL glimpse of what watching this show in ’76 must have been like?

Some brands don’t even exist anymore.  Who holds the copyrights to commercials for defunct products?  That’s a lot of work just to give people a more realistic stroll down memory lane.

So it is instructive.

What you see on television today (the whole experience…especially the commercials) will be very quickly (QUICKLY) forgotten tomorrow.  The mundane pieces will fade first.  No one bothered to document them.  Too pervasive.

And then the few gems somehow get lost in the digital landfill.

Gary Weis was way ahead of me with his short film set in a dump.  Sanitation workers.  Garbage men.

Don’t mind me.  I’m just sifting through the detritus.

 

-PD

 

Die Büchse der Pandora [1929)

Elle est une femme fatale.

Thus sang the chorus.  Der unsichtbar Chor.

On Big Star’s cover of The Velvet Underground.

Third/Sister Lovers.  Alex Chilton from Lou Reed.

And so if we want to really know the prostitute in Vivre sa vie (Godard’s best “movie”), then we must see G.W. Pabst’s Die Büchse der Pandora.

Pandora’s Box.

Is empty.

See Mulholland Dr.

Blue key.

Lighting.

Her hair.

Louise Brooks.

The gloss of her brunette bob.

Yes, this film is many things.

Confusing?  Yes.

Boring?  Yes.

Genius?  Absolutely.

And here is why.

The two climaxes.

One would fit seamlessly into Fritz Lang’s M…or virtually anything by Alfred Hitchcock.

But the other climax?

It is seconds before.

And worlds more important.

A candle.

Like Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation album.

Two lost souls.

Dreaming.

One is reflecting on a messed up life.  Perhaps.

The other is a messed up life reflecting on nothing.  Just content with a moment’s peace.  Maybe.

Together.

The misfits.

Soon consumed by cataclysm.

An act of God.

Or its opposite.

What I mean to convey is that G.W. Pabst did something remarkable with this film.

It really does read (watch?) like Mulholland Dr. or The Big Sleep.

Something is missing here and there.

Sound!  (for one thing…)

I’ve said it before, but it really does matter who picks the music for these silent films.

It takes some research to know whether the version which has come down to you has anything to do with any official release which might have happened in the year of said film’s premiere.

What I got was Tchaikovsky…and “Greensleeves”…

But, most remarkably…it is the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (by Пётр Ильи́ч) without the soaring love theme…which is to say, it is the build-ups…the violent cymbal crashes…the angular solemnity which Dvořák’s 9th Symphony also shares (particularly the bold final movement).

But none of this really matters.

What matters is Lulu.  Nana.

Alban Berg.  “Das Messer ist blutig…”

Émile Zola

The fine print.

Frank Wedekind

October 24, 1929

the fear index

abnormally low?

who was ready on December 1st to see the premier of Pandora’s box in new York city?

Yes, I’m afraid the world runs on fine print.

And so the glamorous flapper Lulu had a tortuous go of it (behind the scenes).

The difference between men and women.

Every word is labored now.

Because once you are caught in a font it is a vicious circle.

And so I only urge:

press on through the boredom for at least there is a candle.

-PD

Daydream Nation [2010)

This film had a lot to live up to by bearing the same name as Sonic Youth’s best album.  I was afraid I would either hate it or love it.  Turns out, my experience with it was much more on the positive end of the spectrum.  The viewer “in on” the title might be, like I was, reassured a bit early upon learning that one character is named Thurston (in honor of Thurston Moore, guitarist/vocalist with previously mentioned band).  This film is a nice try…and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Around the time of Godard’s film Le Gai savoir (1969), its auteur started to ideate the concept of “essay” in a particularly French way by having his characters go back to a sort of year zero (which, ironically, never occurred in Western calendar chronology).  The etymology of essay (from French essayer) can be described as “to try” or “to attempt.”  It was really even earlier that Godard started to feel this need to “start from the beginning” in order to express ANYTHING true AT ALL…around the time of 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1967).

In Daydream Nation we know ostensibly little about Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings) until she makes explicit late in the movie to let us in on her true personality.  But that’s not really accurate.  The film betrays the script.  It is little wonder then that Godard at age 83 himself no longer uses a script (i.e. Adieu au langage).  “The script can only be written after the film is finished,” he said recently in an interview.  And he even means after editing!

But let’s be clear:  the script under consideration is excellent.  References to Atom Egoyan and the Algonquin Round Table don’t hurt!  Yet, these deft drops of name are merely the spice to what is genuinely a well-written piece of drama.

And let’s be even more clear:  director Michael Goldbach did an excellent, excellent job.  I just feel that his best filmmaking might be ahead of him.  That is not at all a bad thing.  Were there no indications of greatness herein, there would be little upon which to base a future hope.

The Lolita element to this film is not entirely believable…at least not at first.  Something about the mise-en-scène (young adult comedy/drama genre conventions) prevents us from believing that Kat Dennings is really that perversely Machiavellian.  The Monica Lewinsky element, while funny, is frankly ludicrous.  Yet, here the script betrays itself.  We know much more about Caroline Wexler early on than she seems to think we know.  This brings into question the form (literary/dramatic) of the work as well as the tired narrator cliché which has become ubiquitous in its present from since American Beauty.  This enters into the arena of “nice try”…because I am thoroughly convinced that Michael Goldberg can do better.

Josh Lucas does a nice job of going from eliciting our sympathy to creeping us the fuck out.  It is in the latter that director Goldberg excels at casting aspersion on this character’s innocence in the serial killings which are plaguing our film’s small town.  There is an elegance in the thrilling suspense which nicely pays back in homage any debt it might owe to Hitchcock.

Ted Whittall plays Caroline’s icy father.  Poor Thurston, the slacker suitor, can’t even get a foot in the door (literally).  It takes the wonderful Andie MacDowell as Thurston’s mother to break down Mr. Wexler’s curt, cynical exterior.

Reece Thompson really blooms into a strong presence over the course of the movie.  Even as an actor, he seems hopeless early on, but his contribution to this film should not at all be overlooked.

The true star, however, is Kat Dennings.  She deserved to be in a film where she gets to romp around to Sonic Youth.  Her acting is up to the task of sharing an editing table with Lou Reed’s “Lady Day” from his best album Berlin (1973).  An ambulance can only go so fast, but the text message generation (SMS=save my soul, says JLG) can put its highest hopes in this young actress from Bryn Mawr, PA because she is already as timeless as Neil Young’s “Expecting To Fly.”  Writers, director, and actress prove themselves worthy of that Buffalo Springfield song which all but wraps up this film as it ascends to a final high.  After all this doom and gloom, I’m ready to see Kat on the beach.  She deserves it.

-PD