At a fairly pithy 74-minutes, The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears articulates its desire to be about control even in its runtime. It hurriedly attempts to establish the authorship the pop star had in her early career, even within the confines of a misogynistic industry (“industry” here can mean so much), and the ways in which it was wrenched from her in a litany of ways and from a myriad of sources, interpersonal and institutional. Even the documentary’s title bristles with its thematizing, the star wavering between the agency of self-assured diva and object beneath public, and private, thumb. That early in the film, we see her former assistant, Felicia Culotta, take the cameraperson on a tour of the various records kept behind glass, is indicative of both the obviousness of many of the film’s points and the labyrinthine nostalgia the internet has crafted for such public figures to make even the most cynical viewer quiver with sadness.
The impulse for this film is supposedly rooted in a kind of advocacy on the part of the Times; locked in a decade-plus conservatorship by her father, Jamie Spears, Spears’ safety, work, and full autonomy has come into question by many both reading into her cryptic behavior (primarily online) as well as her subtle public acknowledgment of this growing issue (and the people supporting her) regarding her rights as a mother and, perhaps, worker. With an unusual network of power and money possibly fueling the complicated situation, the film poses itself as a contemporary analog to muckraking, on behalf of a celebrity whose ubiquity made it easy to project onto and thus, moreso, manipulate. The film, however, feels more like yellow journalism.
I tend to describe Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s Tully, which seemed to be shrugged off when it was released in 2018, as “Follies, but about motherhood”, a reference that, though it may only register for some people, seems apt to me: certainly, it is about the challenges of motherhood (in particular, raising three children), and the skewed and inequitable manner in which the labor and work of motherhood is discussed, and a thoughtful character study of a woman, Margo (Charlize Theron), experiencing postpartum depression. I think it is also about the lives we lead, the ones which we wish explored and embodied, and the struggle to reconcile our past dreams and aspirations with present reality. Read the rest of this entry »
It’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 »
(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 Mirror Has Two Faces: On Fame, Politics, and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” and Beyoncé’s “Formation”
Regardless of the accuracy of the claims of stealing from Beyoncé lodged against Taylor Swift regarding her new single and video “Look What You Made Me Do”, directed by the prolific Joseph Kahn, there is nonetheless a quick jolt of schadenfreude when someone quips, in quotes, “Okay ladies now let’s gentrification.” The riff on the chorus from Beyoncé’s single “Formation” sits atop one of the first images that appeared from Swift’s video, of the singer standing before a “squad” of dancers, in black. After seeing this teaser, before the video actually dropped, folks on Twitter ran with the vague similarities between that and a shot from the Melina Matsoukas directed “Formation” video, making a litany of variantly amusing jokes. But while the resemblance between the two music videos is arguably a stretch — the shots in question barely have the same blocking, never mind a difference in costuming, color palette, set design, and general scene composition, in context of the whole video or otherwise — there is a likeness between the tracks themselves that seems to have gone without much comment. It’s two women, under intense public scrutiny, answering the public in very different ways. Read the rest of this entry »