If U Seek Britney: On “Framing Britney Spears”
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.
Like Me, Like Me, Don’t Retweet: “Malcolm & Marie” and “Fake Famous”
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.
“Promising Young Woman” Wants What “Lady Vengeance” Has
(CW: discussions of rape and sexual assault.)
I don’t think it’s an accident that Anthony Willis’ string arrangement of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” sounds like a swarm of bees, the angry and volatile kind, conjuring a venom dipped revamp of the classic Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov composition. It’s the most dramatic attempt in Emerald Fennell’s film Promising Young Woman to (supposedly) invert the sugar sweet, pretty pop aesthetic into something darker and more poisonous, from its pop songs (Charli XCX’s “Boys”, Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind”, etc.) to its romantic comedy tropes. (For the record, “Toxic” was always, I think, a two pronged track, about a bad relationship. It’s in the title.)
Though perhaps, beneath its impressive minimalism and beyond its somewhat on the nose application, it might be on the savvier side as far as the choices made in this film’s finale: it’s not Cassie (Carey Mulligan), the traumatized and vengeful protagonist whose escapades to unveil the way rape culture infects us all won’t revere the fate of the friend she’s doing this for, who’s “toxic”, even though part of the conceit is that she is like a candy apple with a razor tucked beneath its skin. But, she also has, arguably, a “toxic” relationship to revenge itself, never quite realizing that the men she lures and lectures and the complicit women she tricks will never offer the catharsis she desires. For a moment, there’s a hint of self-actualization, on the stoop of her late friend’s house, speaking with her friend’s mother. But it passes, and she’s back, in sexy nurse cosplay (one of many costumes that look like someone read the wiki page for Ms. 45 and nothing else), ready to take down the man, Al (Chris Lowell), who raped her best friend and got off, at his bachelor party.
“You Found Me”: On “Search Party”–Season 4
The whites of Alia Shawkat’s eyes, despite their size, blind and flood the screen, in contrast with the actress’s olive skin tone, painted Seurat-esque with freckles, her head cut and her body dusted in soot. Her eyes, they’re cream-colored, a blank canvas, white enough that if you were to look into them, you would be staring into the other side. And you do, the blackened lungs of Shawkat’s character, Dory, expelling fear and self-loathing, the smoke and bilious parts of herself boiling over. I can still hear her.
Alone in a trunk, alone in a room, alone with yourself. This is all a fever dream, a nightmare. Or, as the ninth episode’s title might call it, an inferno. Or purgatory.
“They Should Feel That Twinge of Indictment”: More on “Circle Jerk” with Michael Breslin, Patrick Foley, and Ariel Sibert
(Author’s Note: You can find my interview with the Fake Friends, where we talk more about memes, white supremacy, and queer aesthetics at theLA Review of Books. These are some excerptsfrom our two-hour conversation which didn’t make the final cut.)
In terms of queer aesthetic being reappropriated or weaponized and becoming a tool of white supremacy. Was there anything within the show that you sort of, discussed or hesitated about as far as that also kind of falling into the same trap?
Michael Breslin: Yeah, I mean we can all talk about this in various ways. But that was the main question in every single rehearsal, and every single writing session. Cat, who plays Eva Maria has this really great way of thinking about this, which is, if you’re going to critique something, there’s a very slippery slope to, falling into doing the thing that you’re you think you’re critiquing, right? So we’ve rewritten this play so many times, because that is a real threat. And I’m still wondering how people experience the play and on that spectrum.
Patrick Foley: Then the other danger is that you don’t convey these men honestly and you sort of defang them and in doing that, you sort of exonerate them, and you make it so that you can’t take them seriously. So there is a seesaw of risks, I suppose that’s we’ve been sort of going back and forth on.
MB: Yeah, I would say the plot, like Jurgen and Lord Bussy’s plot to spread misinformation, had many different iterations of what that looked like. And we had to really discuss eugenics, and how that relates to faces and how that relates to algorithms. There were a lot of conversations around that specific part of the show.
PF: And how specific it should be about the genocidal reality or intent or follow through.
Ariel Sibert: There was some moment during production where I [saw] there was an advertisement on my Instagram feed for a kind of application that would scan your face and based on your bone structure, analyze your personality type, which was just straight up phronology. And this was already at a point in the show where we had put a number of FaceTunes, and of the characters actually editing their own appearance, refining it on apps like Manley, and also on FaceTune. And we were thinking a lot about this idea of facial structure, surveillance, optimization for AI.
How much of our way of presenting ourselves and appearing is actually optimized to be read by non-human vision? And now we’re at a point where the show is reaching so many more people than we thought it would. And our own anonymity is something that we’re starting to talk about, how to own digital security in a way that as the show grows, and the infrastructure around how our image gets used, and appropriated and circulated. I mean, for me, I live tweeted the show last night, I had 12 Twitter followers and used it as a private joke. And now it’s become part of my digital identity because of this show, which is great for me in a networking capacity, but it’s also the way that this show circulates has really changed people’s access to the faces, particularly with Michael and Patrick.
You can read the full interview here.
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