Grace Under Pressure: “Dogville”, Donald Trump, and Catharsis

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The Town of DogvilleThe town of Dogville is filled with Trump voters. Not merely the aspect of their working class status, but their benevolent condescension to the one that doesn’t belong in the town. Their justification for abuse, for prejudice, for causing trauma, for turning a blind eye. Even the intellectual among them makes logical leaps to justify his actions, which seem all the more anti­-intellectual. They are both beholden to a particular system of homemade bureaucracy as well as suspicious of it and anyone else that threatens their way of life. Read the rest of this entry »

Perform This Way: Lady Gaga’s “Joanne”

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01-lady-gaga-press-photo-cr-collier-schorr-2016-billboard-1548Over the summer, I briefly plunged myself into studying camp for a couple of pieces I did. Its definitions varied, one of the great conceptual terms whose definition is as elusive as the transient nature of what it may or may not describe. For some, it’s merely the love for kitsch; for others, it’s pointed exaggeration to subvert normative values in art; and for some others, it’s the enjoyable bad, where badness does a 360 and becomes good again in spite of itself. The common connection was the role artifice plays. It’s either tool or catalyst, coding in each second of a given text a kind of language recognized and shared by a niche group of people.

And then at some point, camp was mainstreamed, and what was once kind of secret became kind of populist, even if in a tangential way. Ryan Murphy, Madonna, Hairspray as a musical, and the grande dame, Lady Gaga. Read the rest of this entry »

Greatest Expectations: Sia’s “The Greatest”

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maxresdefaultThere are two things about Sia’s music videos: 1) they are a voyeur’s delight and 2) they are made to be projected upon. These two ideas intersect fairly often, so it’s curious that such a perspective should be at once reinforced as well as negated for her most recent track and video, “The Greatest”, which, the artist says, was made in dedication of the victims of the Orlando massacre in June. Such an assignation of purpose is a little frustrating, honestly. Read the rest of this entry »

Lie Up On the Wicked Stage: Kim David Smith’s “Morphium Kabarett”

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Early in Kim David Smith’s show Morphium, someone let out a “Woo!” at the end of one of his songs. He grinned – or was it a smirk? – and, hands outstretched, quipped, “10 points to Slytherin!” Such an offhand, improvised remark becomes an indicator for Smith’s on stage persona. He is, proudly I would add, not your grandmother’s cabaret performer. Rather, his sly attitude and his mix of casual and biting delivery, and his deliberately femme mannerisms can be compared rather favorably to Alan Cumming’s iteration of the Emcee in Hal Prince’s Cabaret. (Smith has spent time at the Cape Playhouse in that role in their production of the musical.) But the most curious thing about Morphium is its subversion of how cabaret theater is supposed to operate: instead of revealing everything, the heart is guarded by cutting wit. Read the rest of this entry »

Maid to Win: Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden”

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berlin_a_list_handmaiden_-_h_2016Maybe forty minutes into Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), the fingersmith turned personal maid to Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), is forced to cup the groin of Sound Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), with whom she is plotting to con the Japanese/Korean aristocrat out of her money. But Fujiwara, like Sook-hee, is little more than a thief, and, in all honesty, a lousy one. Sook-hee’s dexterity, both literally and figuratively, knows this, and when the two argue about the trajectory of their con, she hurls back, “Stop shoving something so small of yours into my hand.” Read the rest of this entry »

It’s a Small World, After All: “Difficult People” and Intimacy

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difficultpeoplepicJulie (Julie Klausner) and Billy (Billy Eichner) want to be seen as mean, bitter, small people that live a small world. As Inkoo Kang posited, “Difficult People is a sitcom about smallness.” To embrace the title as a fundamental part of their identity is a form of myopia that they are proud of, at least externally and publicly. Its first season, which premiered on Hulu in August 2015, established that bitterness and restrictive world view and arguably sense of self was not merely a character detail but the character itself; the pilot opens with Julie and Billy furiously walking down streets of New York yelling at people, ordering strangers out of the way, and making cutting remarks passing by, only to convene and… continue to do the same thing, but together. But though it wasn’t the focus of the first eight episodes, that there was a textural layer to this “haterade”, and emotional one no less, was there from the beginning. Difficult People is not only about small people and smallness, but small people continually struggling with to what degree they want to reach out and, like unlike the audience numbers of NBC’s Hannibal, grow. Read the rest of this entry »

Retro Made: The Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things

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stranger-things-730x365In Provincetown, MA last Thursday, the street of the quasi-Queer Mecca was lined with many a Madonna, pantless Tom Cruise, and Tina Turner. It was Back to the ’80s for Carnival. But were you to find an Eleven in the parade, donning a hospital gown and little hair, right next to the Gremlin-turned-femme fatale, they would have fit right in with the vibe.  Read the rest of this entry »