The Fame Monster: “A Star is Born” as Drag About Drag and the Self-Mythology of Lady Gaga

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shallowIt’s telling that Bradley Cooper begins his version, the fourth, of A Star is Born in a drag bar. A drag bar is, in not precisely insulting but at least somewhat paternalistic, not like other bars, even though, for his needs, it served alcohol. Queens in full face and wig line the bar, and then Lady Gaga comes out, her angular face also painted in drag makeup, as the one resident AFAB-queen. It’s commonly agreed upon that drag is about artifice, but it takes a little more thought, maybe more camp or irony, to get at artifice being a gateway to truth. So, Ally sings “La Vie en Rose” and Jackson sees the beauty and truth of her artistry not because or augmented by this drag, but in spite of it, an artistic purity that seems to be stifled by the fake eyebrows and harsh, accentuated faux contours. And when the well-worn star is birthed and begins to eclipse Jackson’s gravely country dulcet tones, via pop stardom, the movie, too, begins to view her genre stylings as just another form of drag. Read the rest of this entry »

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Find Your Jesus, Find Your Kubrick: Lady Gaga as Auteur

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lady-gaga-fame-monster-large-msg-125876924454

(Author’s Note: The originally appeared on Sound on Sight, which became PopOptiq, which sort of became defunct. I think it’s from, like, June 2014. It has been heavily re-written.)

Lady Gaga was like a smack in the face at her career peak, from about 2008 to 2010. As if a Phoenix risen from the ashes of the global economic recession, she embodied the voyeuristic, post-reality show pleasures of an audience gaze and intentionally cobbled herself together, seemingly, from the consumerist detritus that got us into this mess in the first place. She was late capitalist performance art, all the garbage and joy, validation and indictment of the early 21st century as one pop singer, daring enough to let the audience hang her on live TV, and bring her back from the dead, a cycle of life and death she keeps repeating throughout her work. Though live performance is crucial for Gaga’s act, music videos are her medium. Gaga, née Stefani Germanotta, through her videos presents a vision, often of powerful women and the deconstruction of fame, through each of her music videos. For Gaga’s videos, the delineation between film art and music video threatens to disappear, but her auteurial hand is always present.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Glitch is Back: UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB and the New /er Film

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unfriendeddarkweb__article-hero-1130x430Stay on the computer long enough and the contours of its design, the pixelated dreamscape you fall into becomes almost like another universe to inhabit. The tools whose interfaces we are so familiar with have, in a late capitalist economy, become necessary extensions of our identities and the primary way we exchange information, money, and even foster intimacy. The digital universe is its own setting, and that’s never truer than in the Unfriended films. Desktop films like Unfriended, its sequel Unfriended: Dark Web, the short film Noah, and the upcoming Searching… are the next logical step from found footage, which intimates that the footage exists within reality. Desktop films, conversely, acknowledge that the mediated reality is a new space, with its own way of articulating information and performance; desktop films are like if you lived in funhouse mirror maze. But Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web don’t operate exactly like other found footage films, like the anthology V/H/S or even the phenomenon igniting The Blair Witch Project; instead, they’re a unique nightmare that revitalizes the slasher genre because the mediation between reality and new media digital space traps the viewer in limbo. The social context of slashers have changed, and so did the way we experience them.  Read the rest of this entry »

“Identical” Crisis: Three Identical Strangers

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la-1530128659-3gvu8u05qv-snap-imageThere is a piece of archival footage in Three Identical Strangers that director Tim Wardle plays for the audience in triplicate: the boys, the subjects of the film, on a talk show in what appears to be a megachurch arena. The host, grey haired, stands closer with his audience, as the sideshow attraction sit on the yellowy orange carpeted stage, wearing the same outfit: a vomit and sunburnt green pull over and khaki pants. Their legs are spread apart and they slouch, and were they on the R train, they could easily be accused of manspreading. Three fold. The host, holding a microphone that looks like a Freudian lollipop, points out that the three of them are sitting in the same position. A quarter of a second later, the boy on the far left crosses his legs, and the other two, like a wave, follow. And although it’s played like magical, hokey intuition between the three identical triplets, their unknowable shared energy on display for the whole world, seeing the footage played twice, and three times reveals a bit of hesitancy on the second and third brothers in terms of following the action. But it happens, and the crowd goes wild, three times. Unquestioned. Read the rest of this entry »

Somewhere That’s Green: Class, Gentrification, and Little Shop of Horrors

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Little-Shop-of-HOrrors(Author’s Note: This originally appeared on Harlot.)

A rad Off Broadway musical, a parody of the sci-fi/horror ilk that Roger Corman (its original creator, of sorts) churned out, and, perhaps, most of all, a sweetly poisonous satire on race, class, and the American Dream. Frank Oz’s adaptation of Alan Menken and Howard Ashmen’s cult musical (which was in turn based on a low budget 1960 film) is a delectably deadly apple concerning a boy, a girl, poverty, and a foul-mouthed carnivorous plant. Read the rest of this entry »

The Anti-Romance Film: Finding Love in the Best Worst Date Movies

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GONE-GIRL-Movie-HD-Trailer-Captures00004_1_11(Author’s Note: This was original published on Fandor on February 14th, 2016, but they’ve deleted their archives.)

Is there anything more romantic than watching the face of your date as the image of Rosamund Pike slitting Neil Patrick Harris’s throat is projected up on the big screen—on your first outing, no less? Now that’s an ice breaker. My date was seated to my right as I scribbled down notes for the first fifteen minutes, unaware of the context of our meeting until a good fifteen minutes into the film. The ambiguity with which our outing was initially imbued may or may not speak to a larger idea of the cultural shifts in courting, but to watch Gone Girl on a first date is really, contrary to public perception, a romantic thing. The jittery ebullience of the evening doesn’t really change, since the context is the same, and though we didn’t go out again, not because of the film (our post screening discussion was lively and impassioned), there’s a hurdle one overcomes when watching Gone Girl—or even other works like Antichrist, Scenes from a Marriage, etc.—it’s a weird, inexplicable sense of intimacy and understanding one has when watching a film like this, let’s call them Anti-Romantic films. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday is Done: 17 from 2017

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17 for 17 Round 3
This was an exhausting year, about which, I do not have any interesting or insightful thoughts, at least that pertain to anything other than my personal life. But I did go to the movies, so there’s that. Here’s to the cinema that made it somewhat bearable.
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