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 »
Who is you, man?
Yeah, nigga. You.
The question lingers in the air like the ribbon of smoke that’s unfurled from Kevin’s mouth after a puff from a cigarette. It carries a whiff of both genuine curiosity and the subtle nod that it’s almost rhetorical. Last year, Wesley Morris proposed that 2015 was the year we obsessed over identity, which is not incorrect. But what of this year, when the challenges marginalize communities face grow more visible in the public eye? Even the most loved and adored icons, as they’re so often called, were in some ways center points for discussions of identity – Prince, Bowie, Kiarostami, etc. In essence, haven’t we always been fascinated with not only who we are, but the politicizing of that question, so frequently without a clear answer? Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Some notes on Xavier Dolan. Read the rest of this entry »
(Author’s Note: This was originally written for my horror cinema class.)
Not unlike its HR Geiger designed monster, saliva cascading from its bladed fangs, the Alien franchise has morphed generically with each film, these alterations and manipulations contingent on the director’s generic and stylistic proclivities. With Ridley Scott’s original entry in 1979, Alien was created as a film that exists within a haunted house context, traipsing through tropes with a sci-fi bent; James Cameron’s 1986 follow up Aliens recontextulized that universe as a militaristic allegory about the state and the body; David Fincher’s Alien 3 (1992) sought a vision of spiritual, metaphysical horror; and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection (1997) dressed dressed the franchise entry up in the garb of a goofy sci-fi action film. But it is Fincher’s entry which is the most striking and the least understood, the product of studio interference, script rewrites, and the struggle to achieve an Alien film that both resembled its classical originator as well as diverged from it drastically to mine in the conventions of the art house. Read the rest of this entry »
Looking Good, Looking Great: Clothing, Power, and Identity in “The Last Laugh” and “The Marriage of Maria Braun”
(Author’s Note: This was originally written for my German Cinema class.)
In response to a rather myopic comment about a purse, Doug (Rich Sommer) shoots back, “Fashion is not about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography used to express individual identity.” Much about this costuming and construction of identity is discussed in the 2006 adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada, but this idea of creating one’s own form of iconography through accessories is exemplary in FW Murnau’s The Last Laugh – where the clothes seem to literally make the man – and in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun – where, in spite of economic strife, the lead exerts her power through clothing. Read the rest of this entry »
(Author’s Note: I wrote this for my Horror Cinema class. It was fun.)
Max von Sydow battled an ideological “monster” before he encountered the Devil. Perhaps “monster” may or may not be a stretch, but the objective of his opponent was not dissimilar. While he, wearing chainmail and a sword on his side sat to sit opposite his opponent, Death (Bengt Ekerot), donned a black cloak and a white face, ready to reduce humanity’s greatest battle into a gamely metaphor. Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) would force von Sydow to reconcile with a system of belief, and, as with any of Bergman’s film, he landed with a kind of ambivalence about the place that theologically based ideology would have in his life. Perhaps somewhat ironically, it would not be the Bergman film that would make this reconciliation with faith and ideological perspectives visceral, but a horror film fourteen years later, and a sequel of that film nearly twenty years later. Read the rest of this entry »