Take One

“Everybody’s Lookin’ for Something”: 21 from 2021

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It was a long year of looking at the lives of others, and even one’s own life, as if through a glass pane, or a warped lens, the recognizable contorted into the surreal or the uncanny. A sprint to what was once quotidian and comfortingly banal tainted by a hideous awareness of the effort of it all to do just that. As what was considered, various privileges notwithstanding, “normal” melts memories of smiles into clownish rictuses mocking the very idea, the only solace left is understanding what little solace is left, and that it’s found in strange in-between spaces of not being the subject or the object so much as in the action itself. Looking, gazing, seeking. 

Forgive the histrionics of making broad statements about the world or whatever, but, as others smarter than myself have observed, the pandemic was just an accelerated version of what was already happening.  It is then, most dishearteningly, something from which we have learned so little, other than to be swept up in temporal and phenomenological slippages and distortions. Everyone is along for the ride. Yearning, desiring, wanting. 

I suppose I was most drawn towards films about looking this year, or the ones that yank you out of that state to force you to evaluate what you’ve been looking at or looking for. It’s a push and pull between dream states, the process of looking the only haven, the only escape. It is ongoing and ceaseless. It’s all that’s left. 

Here’s 21 films from 2021.

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If U Seek Britney: On “Framing Britney Spears”

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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.

Real the full essay here.

Like Me, Like Me, Don’t Retweet: “Malcolm & Marie” and “Fake Famous”

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There is so much bait in Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie (on Netflix) that every moment is an arch rachis, a streak of fakery on an angler, barely hiding the dull hook. As the film prods its characters to prod its audience, the aggressive and argumentative film continually vies for your attention and interrogation, invites you, and then shies away, resentful, when you’re ready to joust. Its hook is rusty, dull, and so inelegant I’m surprised as many people took the bait as they did. Once one realizes that the characters, and the film, have little to say about anything, much less about art and film critics, it’s easier to recognize the lifelessness of the film.

Read the full essay here.

“Away From Home Through No Wish of My Own”: 20 from 2020

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I opened my work laptop this morning to a collage of Dorinda Medleys gesticulating expressively at someone(s), her mouth silently shouting “I’ll tell you how I’m doing. Not well, bitch!” ad infinitum. An amusing enough, if not especially unique, sentiment to describe the last year, and perhaps discomfitingly auspicious. (Could anyone have predicted that the Real Housewives would become, first, an obsession to theorize and intellectualize, and then its rightful sweet spot as fascinating, pulpy via affluence pop cultural artifact to zone out to while doomscrolling, sans fake thesis titles?) 

It’s an absurd image, from this or any year, not just one rich lady asserting herself in loose appropriative body language garb — hand curved like a C, just short of a barrel bent threat or some more rapid and articulate bodying — but an endless scroll of them, wordlessly in sync with one another. I do not know what she is wearing other than a black sweater and pearl earrings, but her aggression implies she’s ready to take them off, finding a queasy cocktail of bizarrely hilarious drag and dystopian lane hopping. (The “someone” was Candace Bushnell, author of the Sex and the City books.)

Anyways, the point is that opening up to the gif of Dorinda from season 9 of Real Housewives of New York is as absurd as the scenario itself. I think, in other images of absurdity, or surreality, one can find tenderness, softness, beauty. 

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I’ll Have What…: Some Thoughts on “Happiest Season” and Questions of a Queer Romcom

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Abby (KRISTEN STEWART) and Harper (MACKENZIE DAVIS) listen to Ted’s speech in TriStar Pictures’ HAPPIEST SEASON.

Recently I watched The Prom and Happiest Season, and I don’t have a third example, so this isn’t useful as a trend piece to be featured in your favorite publication. These are different movies that effectively have similar genre topes, similar politics, similar conceptions of the closet, similar ideas of, as Erik Hinton puts it, “the rosy-cheeked triumphalism that the truth will set you free, the belief that someone can shape the world merely by shaping their picture of it.” Hinton notes that the convergence of personal identity revelation movies and coming out movies highlight the more aggravating parts of the respective types and augment them beyond tolerability. 

My sense is that the two films have become foils against one another, depending on whom you ask, either representative of either the failure of grasping a contemporary vocabulary of relational dynamics or the success of a reformed genre that has been stuck in the mud of creakier perspectives that reveal the worst of a society audiences know can be better. 

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