Home Invasion: On Being an Outsider in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “[Safe]”
At the heart of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which opens in theaters for its 40th anniversary September 1st) and Todd Haynes’ (whose new film, Wonderstruck, will play at NYFF) masterpiece [Safe] is the all-consuming desire to feel comfort and belonging when the world you live in offers no such pleasure. Though different in form and approach, Spielberg, whose unapologetic sentimentality is a hallmark of his work, and Haynes, who makes heady, intellectually rigorous movies that more often than not comment on sentimentality than are necessarily culpable of it, find a common feeling that infects both of their lead characters: displacement and — no pun intended — alienation. Read the rest of this entry »
My Home Has No Heart: Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World”
A ball bearing drops onto its track, the little sphere rolling smoothly held between metal wires, its path never too crooked, never uneven, never too wide or narrow. Marbles need support, but otherwise, they seem like little else but totems used to set things off in motion, as the grander design of the path reveals the intricate workings of something like a Rube Goldberg Machine. For me, it was a letter, or an invoice, rather, that arrived a year after my father’s death and a few weeks after my first semester in college, on Christmas Eve. Seated in the living room, before the enormous television that acted as the only string that could keep my mother, my sister, and me together in any semblance. The string between the three of us had been taut since his death – a combination of emotional abuse, physical abuse, pathological lying, betrayal, and manipulation had been the things to cause the relationships to unravel without control. I avoided leaving my room whenever I was home, lest any threads deteriorate beyond fixing. But, as always, returning home sent me into a fury and depression. My skin crawled when I knew I had to be at home. My mother and I were rarely not at each other’s throats, a simple question to either of us (“What do you want for dinner?”) enough to send us down a spiraling, dizzying path to a shouting match. This letter was the catalyst, the climax taking place the next morning when my sister placed her hands around my throat and, in an effort to get her off of me, I smashed a coffee cup on her head. Merry Christmas to us.
Being in the midst of an argument with a loved one, a family member especially, is like seeing red. Everything disappears – your sense of space, time, the language you use. They’re either volcanic eruptions, building up, or when a flame touches the sulfur tip of a match: an overwhelming burst, a spectacle.
If Xavier Dolan knows anything, he knows that he likes spectacle. His most recent film, It’s Only the End of the World, returns to family dysfunction on a slightly larger scale; where his previous films concerned two or three characters at most, giving the works a focus and a balance, his newest jumps around between the four family members of Louis, a gay prodigal son returning home after a 12 year absence, with the intent of telling his family that he is dying. He is the ball bearing, the marble, and domino, and yet he is not unaffected by the events that follow his homecoming. He must contend with his younger sister, Suzanne (Lea Seydoux), who always wished to know him; his smothering mother Martine (Nathalie Baye); his petty and volatile older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel); and Antoine’s perceptive and compassionate wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard). Before long, madness ensues. Read the rest of this entry »
Blood, Sweat, and Tears as the American Way: Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know”, the American Dream, and Lynn Nottage’s Sweat
There is a jukebox in the back of the bar where much of the action takes place in Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage’s incendiary new play Sweat, running in Studio 54. It’s dusty and old and you can’t quite tell if it plays CDs or something else. Taking place primarily over the course of a several months in 2000, Nottage implements a mixtape of early aught, late nineties tracks, songs that played on the airwaves too late before the club iteration of Studio 54 could blast them over a crowd of dancers in the city, dressed flamboyantly, swaying without care in the world. Instead, the music plays in a bar the reeks of as much history as the jukebox itself, the TV occasionally on with the faces of politicians vying for the White House, including George W. Bush; a couple tables where the regulars from the textile factory sit or tumble over; and a tap that spits out weak, watered down beer, the same beer every day, in spite of the hopes of young Chris’s, a factory worker and with college on the horizon. The song that is the most striking in Nottage’s playlist, the one that bookends the show, is Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know”, off his eponymous studio album from 1999. For a story about a bunch of working class people in Pennsylvania whose relationship with their jobs, with each other, and with capitalism itself becomes a dangerous pas de deux (or better yet, tango), Anthony’s Latin infused track is recontextualized within the play’s ideas. Read the rest of this entry »
Grease is the Word: The Founder
American audiences love a white douchebag who is also a genius. Their shittiness is mostly outweighed by their ingenuity. You may be a dipshit that can’t really relate to anyone and dares to put “I’m CEO, Bitch” on your business card, but at least you created Facebook. And you might have daddy issues and an inability to relate to basically anyone, while also backstabbing your closest friend (which seems like a trend), but at least you created he iPod. The Social Network and Steve Jobs, amongst several films of their ilk, are excellent and okay films, and while their desire is to deconstruct the myth of said white male asshole genius, they can’t help but be at least marginally complicit in valorizing them. (That they’re both written by Aaron Sorkin might have something to do with it.) The Founder, directed by John Lee Hancock and written by The Wrestler scribe Robert D. Siegel, looks like these films from the trailer, even from the poster. Michael Keaton, as McDonald’s’ first franchiser Ray Kroc, stands in front of the “golden arches”, they themselves such a piece of iconography, as if trying to steal the spotlight from such a quintessential logo and standin for the American Dream. Above his head in all caps: “Risk Taker. Rule Breaker. Game Changer.” They cleverly forgot one word: Villain. Read the rest of this entry »
Grace Under Pressure: “Dogville”, Donald Trump, and Catharsis
The 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 »