Thursday, December 14, 2017

the best version of yourself

On the other hand, popular culture is a dangerous distraction. This week, they almost elected a racist pedophile to the senate in Alabama. Today, the FCC voted to get rid of net neutrality. Trump's still president... And, regardless of which side you're on in any of those things, it is easy to get distracted binge watching the latest Netflix series, watching the latest movie, updating your social media accounts. Our lives are not as streamlined as James' life is in that underground desert bunker, with just one tv show to watch, just a handful (literally, he names them later and you could count them on one hand) of friends online, and his parents. We've got larger families, more friends, jobs, school, obligations, a larger world to worry about. Bigger politics than a trio of people and one fantasy tv series--the politics of which he cannot control (except inasmuch as his interest might influence the way his father writes the show, but he doesn't know that, so it's not the same as the rest of us contacting our representatives or deciding on who or what to vote for).

While I've got Brigsby Bear playing again right now, I will be seeing the latest Star Wars later tonight--distraction--and I also saw I, Tonya earlier today--distraction. I've also got the season finale of Mr. Robot--distraction--and the latest episode of Happy!--distraction--waiting on the DVR. Not to mention shows on my Netflix queue--distractions galore--or waiting on Hulu--more distractions. Last night, I complained on Twitter--distraction--about an article in which someone else complained about the Golden Globe nominations--distractions--and how things that weren't that popular--i.e. not as distracting--managed to get nominated. On Twitch and on Facebook--distractions--that past week, people were debating how other people's fun worked... That was the way Critical Role's latest episode--distraction--went last week, but you probably don't know what that is.

You probably don't know what most of the things I talk about are. They are my distractions. If you come to this blog regularly or even semi-regularly, maybe you're into movies, so maybe you know some of this stuff. But, hey, it's the Internet, and I use hashtags in my tweets about this blog, so maybe you just happened upon this thing and you have no idea what Brigsby Bear is or what I, Tonya is... I imagine that you have at least an idea of what Star Wars is even if you have never seen any of the films or tv shows or read the books or comics--all distractions.

Distraction suggests a negative, like all that matters is the real world, all the matters is politics and the state of the world and your friends and family and your education, your career, all that real, concrete stuff.

And, obviously it can be. I mean, tv can be. Movies can be. Social media can be. All the fake bullshit can distract you from what's real.

But--and this is coming right back to my point yesterday--all the bullshit matters too. The things you imagine matter. The things that other people imagine and share matter. Stories matter because they are the way we deal with the real stuff. Not just as escape but as metaphor, as parable. Brigsby Bear, for example, is about the way we deal with pop culture, the way we deal with obsessing about things that are not real because it may be easier than dealing with the real stuff. I, Tonya is about how we raise up celebrities and then bury them. To a lesser degree, its third act deals in the way the 24-hour news cycle has exacerbated that celebrity meat grinder. Movies tell us about life. Television tells us about life. Books tell us about life. Social media, whether you like it or not, has become life. Distraction is not something... separate. It doesn't have to be a choice between all that important real life stuff, the politics, the school, the work, or the fake stuff, the television, movies, social media. You can always have both. And, both can be too much, too. Focus too much on the real world stuff when it's not going your way, and it can be just as distracting as any tv show.

Take James in Brigsby Bear as an example. Once he starts making his movie, he is often wearing the bear costume (sans the big head) whether he's on screen or not. Making more Brigsby, being Brigsby, actually allows him to be a more real person than he might have been shutting himself away in his room being depressed about his imprisonment and his inability to lead a normal life. The whole point in Brigsby Bear is that it is because of the movie, because he's extending the fantasy from his imprisonment, that he manages to make friends, manages to relate to the younger sister he never knew, and eventually for his real parents to relate to him as well. When Brigsby resets the universe at the end of James' movie, that moment, we can imagine--the movie we're watching ends shortly thereafter so we can only imagine the aftermath--it is the epiphany that really draws together James and his real family; is whole world was erased when he was rescued, his new life is a second, different chance. His life becomes something more real because he pulls other people into the fantasy. Together they can come back out of it.

Similarly, as long as you don't use whatever distraction to separate from everyone, always, embrace the distraction. But, when the real world comes calling, embrace that too. Embrace the good, whether it is real or not. Make the world a better place, and, you know, leave it from time to time so it doesn't overwhelm you.

I watch movies a lot. I watch tv. I read comics. I read books. I play games. I also teach my classes, get my kids where they need to go and, when they're still willing (the youngest is 15 now, so they've got their own lives most of the time), do stuff with them. I spend time with family and friends. I engage, unfortunately not always as directly as I might like, with politics. All these things--together they can be too much. But, that doesn't have to mean I give up half of them. Each one is a piece of me today. Each friend. Each family member. Each movie. Each tv show. Each student. Each class. Each tweet. Each whatever. The good, the bad, the everything. The key is, real or fake, to make sure the good outweighs the bad and you are able to deal with any of it, all of it, whenever you have to, whenever you can.

And, if you've got monsters to confront, demons to exorcise, confront them on whatever battlefield works. In stories. In life. Wherever.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

it means something

There's a poster on James' (Kyle Mooney) bedroom wall in his... captive home? It says:

CURIOSITY IS AN UNNATURAL EMOTION

If you could ever actually convince someone of this, you would certainly be able to imprison them and control them... And, yes, that was leaning into a rant about religion or politics, but instead I wanted to concern myself with something closer to the actual text (or at least its subtext) of the film today. James has been held captive since he was a kid, but he thinks his captors his real parents, he thinks the world full of toxic air so they cannot go outside without protection. He only knows the underground bunker in the desert where they have raised him, and the worlds of Brigsby Bear, the TV show his father has produced just for him over the years--25 volumes, 736 episodes. He has these on VHS and has watched them time and time again. They are, in many ways, more real to him than his own monotonous life inside the bunker--his Groundhog Day Effect, if you want to go to Hannam (2008).

Emily Yoshida, writing for Vulture argues that this film, "is asking much trickier questions than it would ever let on about the coddling effect of media and geek obsession, and the purging effect of storytelling." Regarding the first thing (the first part of it anyway)--the coddling effect of media--we've all likely been witness, in real life, or on TV, or in a movie, or parents who set their kids down in front of a television as a pseudo-babysitter, a stand-in parent. Even before we all had access to the Internet in our pockets, kids learned more about the world from television than from modern parents; the modern world forced parents into workspaces far from their children well before it really prepared a place for those children. Modern schools filled the gap. Television filled the gap. Not just "educational" shows but sitcoms, dramas, game shows... Oh how often game shows in the 70s and 80s delved into sexual innuendo. For me, of course, there were also movies. I've written before about our first VCR. And, I've spent the last few months in this blog rewatching movies I saw many times as a kid. (The venture will continue, of course. But, when I've got a 48-hour movie rental, I like to get 2 or 3 days' viewings out of it. Plus, there's a new Star Wars this week, and it's movie awards season, so the venture will have its interruptions.) We didn't have one of those classic dens with the shag carpet, but our living room was focused (on one side) on the television (and on the other a fireplace). At various times, there were couches, a loveseat or two, two rocking chairs, recliners, and they set up the room for watching the television. We had cable pretty early in my life. We had a VCR. We would rent videos often. So, it wasn't just movies on the big screen but movies at home... Actually, for a while, we had a projection screen thing, that used a TV in a box, with a big lens to project it onto a bigger screen, so we had a bigger screen at home, too.

I've written about the reality of my childhood before, too. The constant reminders that the world was coming to an end, and soon. It is no wonder that I loved movies so much, really. I mean, any kid does. But, for me--and maybe this is part of why I like Brigsby Bear so much--it was more than that. Movies offered a world that was bigger than my own. Movies offered entirely different worlds. But, they were not simply escape. Whenever any movie ended, I was back in the real world. And the real world wasn't so bad. Sometimes, it seemed wider than before.

And, I must return to that line from Emily Yoshida.

Because I don't like her equation of the "coddling effect of media" and "geek obsession". She later says that the film "walks all the way up to painting pop-cultural indoctrination as a form of emotional abuse, and geek obsession as trauma, before pulling back an turning it into an avenue for healing." But, I don't think that's what the film does at all. The show Brigsby Bear does, indeed, become an avenue for healing. But, from the opening sequence of James watching parts of an episode and then getting on his computer to talk to Brigsby Bear fans (that he doesn't know don't really exist), it is already a sort of healing. Ted Mitchum (Mark Hamill), James' abductor father, has been offering his abducted son a way to step out of the bunker on a regular basis. Like the "pier" they have above the bunker--a glass dome with fake animals outside that James thinks are real animals--it's a way to not be a prisoner even though it is used to keep him a prisoner. At the end of the film, we learn that it was April Mitchum (Jane Adams), Ted's wife, James' abductor mother who stole James when he was an infant. Ted went along with it, but it was not initially his doing. This does not necessarily make what he has done forgiveable, but it is notable that the film never allows April to explain herself, only Ted. Brigsby Bear was never a form of emotional abuse for James. It was the best thing he ever had in his life. It was how he learned to be. Yoshida describes it like this:

[T]he show comprises the vast majority of his life experience: How to speak, how to interpret events, and even his first and only crush, are all informed by what he watches on his TV every day. It would feel outlandish if it weren't a mere exaggeration of how almost all of us have grown up in front of a screen.

Not much of an exaggeration, really. Not in this country, anyway.

I'm going to go out on a limb, though, and say that television and movies raised me better than church and private school ever did. And, that was because of curiosity. That was because of geek obsession, because I was a nerdy kid well before I understand what it meant to be one. This film does not present geek obsession as as coddling, nor does it suggest that pop culture indoctrinates us. It may sound strange--well, maybe not from me, on this, day 1230 of this blog--but there is nothing wrong with obsession in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with following pop culture, nothing wrong with caring about celebrities or reality TV, or movies, or scripted TV shows, until there is. Obsession is just another natural thing until it isn't. There is a thin line between enjoying something, being a fan of something, and being obsessed. And, as long as it doesn't hinder the rest of your life, I say, be a fan, a fanatic. Be obsessed. Be a geek and a nerd for whatever it is that holds your interest because we all need something to lift us up from the mundanity of modernity from time to time. We need outlets beyond the real. Our minds our too complex to simply accept what we are told, what is put in front of us. We need to be curious. We need to look out into the world and see more than what is there. Or nothing great will ever happen.


And, I have no problem with Yoshida's notion about the "purging effect of storytelling." I am a writer. I am a regular purveyor of television and movies. I read comic books. I read novels. I play Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop games. I dressed up (partly, as I didn't have time to get a whole costume together) for Ren Faire this year. I dressed up as a pirate for the Pirate Invasion of Long Beach. I dressed up as Death for Halloween. Storytelling. Imagination. A world bigger than what's in our heads in in front of our eyes. These things are necessary. These things are good.

We all need some sort of Brigsby Bear in our lives. A video game. A TV show. A book. A comic. A board game. Role-playing. Acting. Movies. Religion.

I mean, is there anyone who doesn't look somewhere for something more?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

dreams and imaginations to help us escape

Today, I watched Mudbound. Today I watched Columbus. Right now, I'm watching Brigsby Bear for the second time. I avoided doing any teaching work--it's technically finals week, but my classes' final speeches/debates were finished last week. I stayed home, watched some TV, those movies, and had leftover chili for dinner that I made yesterday. It was a mostly relaxing day. There was also talk of the special election in Alabama. I won't get into the details on that. It didn't go how I thought it would go, and that's a good thing.

Instead, movies. These three. All of them, ever. Movies.


Take Brigsby Bear, for example. It's a really dark concept that twists its way into a surprisingly optimistic, upbeat story. Guy who has been held captive his whole life, who has had one tv show to watch, produced by his abductor father, and out in the real world, all he wants is to have more of that show. Because, the fantasy that was central to the only reality he knows is the only reality he wants.

(And how many times, when your favorite show was canceled out of nowhere, did you want someone, anyone (maybe even you) to keep making it?)

Or Columbus, the main characters of which are a man waiting (somewhat impatiently) for his hospitalized father to die and a young woman biding her time in her hometown because she thinks her mother would be lost without her. It's a slow film, deliberately slow, because it's about waiting. About being lost.

Then, there's Mudbound, about two poor families, one white, one black; about race relations (if you can call them that) in the 1940s, about America and its divides... Which is unfortunately topical today.

I could also have moved along to the next movie on my childhood deconstruction list, move along from 1980 to 1981... Three things: 1) it's awards season, critics associations choosing their favorites for the year, big awards shows announcing their nominees, and the few movies I haven't gotten to yet on those lists I will be getting to soon; those movies will interrupt the flow here. It is inevitable. 2) That list--a file I've got called "movie life"--has movies on it all the way to 1992, just before Groundhog Day, the movie that started this blog. In the shortened list that started this "month" of childhood movies a few months back, I cut the list off at Stand by Me in 1986

(which is sort of a cheat, because that wasn't a movie I watched a lot as a kid. I was 10 when it came out, and I didn't really watch it often until I was in my late teens or early 20s. The first film for 1981 is a similar cheat. A big deal for me in 1981 when I saw it in the theater... though I'm not entirely sure I did see it in the theater. I might have only seen it for the first time on some Sunday afternoon on tv. But, it was one of the first VHS tapes I bought for myself, and it shaped the way I look at action films forever after that

(which is the point really. I mean, why go backward and look at all these old movies I've seen so many times except to see how they shaped the way that I look at the world and the way I look at movies? Just because I didn't have the opportunity to watch a certain movie over and over when I was young--because I didn't yet have my own TV or my own VCR or whatever--that does not mean the film did not embed itself in my head)
and while I might not have gotten to watch it repeatedly until later, it still left an impression.)

but 3) I'm not even sure if I'll get to 1986. While I revived this blog this past April (after 365 days away) recent uptick in views (and a recent uptick in subscribers to my YouTube channel even though I haven't added anything in a while) makes we want to do something else. Again. Part of the reason I stopped before was to do my YouTube reviews. I'd also considered doing a podcast but never found someone to do it with me. On the one hand, I love being able to ramble every day about whatever (as long as it links back to the movie I'm watching), but I imagine going back to the YouTube schedule (I was doing 2-3 videos a week), or a weekly podcast and on the one hand, I want to use that to get into even more depth, but also to maybe find an even larger audience. Something closer to actual reviews would get more readers/viewers/listeners than this rambly, sometimes philosophical approach I do here. (Of course, if you've watched any of my YouTube reviews, you'd know that I kinda got rambly and philosophical there, too. In fact, my views on the original videos (since moved from the separate account to my own) was going up right as I was getting impatient with the pace, and right as I was getting better at editing the videos faster.

I could do this every day, forever. I could talk movies anytime. I can watch movies anytime. I've got a day free, like today, I watch three. And, I've watched more in a day before. But, life is quite busy sometimes, with teaching and kids, and friends. Life. A good life. Gonna be 42 in January and I still want to do new things. I'm looking back at childhood films like that's some far away, long ago, thing. But, I think that, when I'm watching a movie, when I'm in the dark movie theater and screen lights up, I will always be that kid. Every movie is a trip back in time, a trip forward, a trip sideways into other worlds and other lives, and then I come back to my own life with a better grasp, a better mood, and it is hard to be too negative about anything.

Even when the real world can suck. A lot.

Monday, December 11, 2017

i forgot to take the legs

It comes down to this: is it funny that Phyllis' little monologue about her see-through nightgown disarms Winship and Tart? Yes. In fact, as Tim Conway points out in the commentary track (which I listened to yesterday), if you watch Don Knotts' face through that scene, his reaction is so hilariously nuanced and complex, while Conway's is simple shock. These two detectives, already proven to be inept in just a handful of scenes, are taken aback, frozen, and that moment is emblematic of so much more.

I've said before (and I will say again) that any movie is a window into the time it was made—a time capsule of the technology in play in making the film, a time capsule of the talent (or lack thereof) behind the film, a time capsule of the social and cultural structures in place at the time and in the place where the film was made, and a measure of the larger society around it. From the 60s into the 70s, Hollywood wasn't afraid to deal in sex or sexual innuendo. Phyllis' monologue is part and parcel of that.


The film begins with a sexist trope in Lady Morley, the cold, demanding wife. (Imagine the film if it was Lady Morley who survived and not Lord Morley; she probably would have just returned to the house and either killed Phyllis right away or thrown her out on the streets to fend for herself without any of the Morley money. It would have been cruel, it would have been swift, and there would have been no detectives from Scotland Yard come to solve anything.) The rich bitch wife is an old trope, a tired one. But, Lady Morley is there for just the one scene, so her characterization just wouldn't be likely to have much depth.

Then, we've got Nanny. Effectively a nazi stereotype, even colder than Lady Morley. She doesn't hesitate to use violence to end Justin's... episodes.

Later we will meet Hilda, the upstairs maid, in stereotypical oversexualized maid uniform, showing off ample cleavage and a lot of leg. The best descriptor she's got for herself is that Lord Morley said she was "full of bounce." Tart gives her his card and she puts it between her breasts. (As I discovered just last night, after so many years and so many viewings, he gives her another card at the end of the movie as well, putting it between her breasts himself.) When Winship falls into the elevator and her corpse lands on him, Tart's impulse—because, it's funny, duh—is to say, "she really goes for you." This is all she does. (They don't even get to interview her outside the initial meeting.)

But, back to Phyllis.

She is the femme fatale here, except this is a mix of comedy and horror with a splash of detective, and not film noir. Her inherent seductiveness—keep in mind, that while walking through the secret passageways of the house later, Winship and Tart will spy on Phyllis undressing. The spying thing almost seems like an early example of something common to 80s comedies, where spying on a woman in a state of undress is basically a victimless crime. See, for example, Police Academy or Porky's. Men are perverts and women are sex objects. Here in this family-friendly comedy, we've got a sort of crossroads between 70s sex dramas and 80s sex comedies... Or something like that. What we've really got is American cinema being perfectly alright with sexualizing women (but without endorsing too much sex). I wrote about Porky's as being a sort of innocent sex romp, because somehow American cinema can do that. We fear sex in film (but love violence) but are okay with a bit of nudity, as long as it involves women. Because we enjoy a nice patriarchal double standard. Men (for the most part) drive the central plot and women are there to serve their needs—hence the absolute ridiculousness and necessity of a measure like the Bechdel Test—just how we like it in the real world. Because, you know, tradition. Or because men are jealous beasts who don't like to give up any kind of power without good reason. And the list of good reasons is pretty fucking short.

So, enter Phyllis, femme fatale in a film that doesn't really need one, sexualized in a film that is made for families, and her audience is two inept fools who really should not be detectives at all. But, they are men, and she is a woman, so whether she's trying to deliberately disarm them, or if it is simply her impulse to present herself as something sexual, she describes trying on the new nightgown from Talbots the night Lord and Lady Morley were killed, and she talks about how low cut it was, how it had lace straps, and when she tells them how the sides were slit up to her thigh, she lifts the side of her dress to show them how high, and there are no notes from that interview afterward because Tart is too taken with Phyllis and her monologue. Because, men staring at women is funny. Because men being powerless before women is funny. Except it's only funny because, like any punchline, it's the unexpected; men are not supposed to be powerless. This sort of joke relies on the idea that men are in charge, men are powerful, and women are weak. The only way she can have any sway is to present herself sexually, but that really just gives them the power. If Winship or Tart were less inept, the film would probably involve a love story with this femme fatale like any film noir. But, they cannot even effectively male.

In film study terms, this makes them effeminate males, inherently ineffectual. This fits their role throughout the film. They solve nothing of the mystery. They serve only as Cassandra-style doomsayers speaking to co-conspirators who will pretend they are raving about nothing, and the killer waiting to be revealed. But, in this they are being driven by Lord Morley.

(We will see a couple more male protagonists who don't really do that much in their own stories in the coming weeks... Perhaps a subconscious response to the loss of American hegemony in our loss in Vietnam—the very thing that 80s action films responded to.

So, does the Private Eyes rely on sexist tropes? Certainly. But, our society is inherently sexist. And, in 1980, more overtly so than it pretends to be now. So, do we forgive the film for being sexist? Do we ignore its sexism because at the time it was acceptable, and it is still funny?

We are sexist. Maybe our films should be as well. Or maybe film is one of those places where we can deliberately try to step past the bounds of our everyday interactions and create something better. Move us past sexist bullshit by modeling a world without.

Instead, it's embedded in little moments like this that kids like me are watching and we laugh, so we don't notice just yet anything wrong. We just roll with it. When they watch Phyllis undress and get excited at her taking off her stockings, it is both openly sexist and amusingly old-fashioned, so we laugh. We roll with it. And, it is just another piece of the whole. And, if we enjoy the whole, we accept the parts.

 

 

 

 

 

And, don't get me started on the "Yokohama yo-yo" line.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

for a short person, you have long sentences

Maybe it is because I am old, or because this apartment is often quite noisy, or just because, but I like having subtitles turned on when I watch movies, especially when I'm writing this blog. The Private Eyes' DVD has no subtitles. And, tonight, I've got a commentary track playing--costar and cowriter Tim Conway and director Lang Elliott--and can barely hear the dialogue from the movie. Fortunately, I have seen this movie so many times that I know the dialogue anyway.

Lots of talk about the Biltmore House to start. Then, some talk about the car--I'm fairly sure Conway is kidding, but he implies that they didn't tell the car's owner they intended to crash it into the water. A bunch of things right away that are in the IMDb trivia section--stunt guy nearly drowned when that car was stuck in the mud, a valuable book went missing from the library and the FBI got involved. Perhaps once we're past the opening credits, there will be more interesting insights.

Conway and John Myhers, Conway says, wrote the movie in just two days. With Don Knotts attaches also, there was nowhere to go but up. So much of this commentary is like Conway's love letter to Knotts.


Conway talks about great performances from actors paid scale. Elliott adds a compliment about local crew.

Conway claims the owner of the gas station only knew they would start a small fire. (In case you haven't seen the film, the thing explodes.) He can't help but make up stories here in the commentary track.

Secret passageways were, of course, actually part of the house. That's not a joke. Elliott says the dungeon was also part of it. I'm not sure if that's a joke.

Before explaining that the pigeon thrown through the window was fake, Conway claims that the pigeon was not hurt because it had some alcohol before filming.

They point out that this staff is a little odd to actually have been hired by anyone to run a household.

They ate a lot of chicken on set, and the chicken Mr. Uwatsum (John Fujioka) is chopping (they say) was dinner that night. Shot in 30 days, 16-hour days, on a low budget.

 

 

 

 

 

It hadn't occurred to me until I was watching this three days ago that the whole movie takes place in just one day. While Winship and Tart have a bedroom, they never actually get to sleep. They arrive during the day and it is the next morning that Phyllis is arrested. (Oh, SPOILERS, for a movie from 37 years ago.)

Elliott mentions purchasing a six-pack of styrofoam tombstones and Conway says, "Nice thing was we never saw them."

I guess it's a movie mystery thing--get in, solve the murder, get out. Of course, this movie is also a sort of haunted house story (or it pretends to be), and that makes the one-night setup make more sense.

I'd love to think there's a reason that Hilda's poem is the only one that rhymes, but all Conway does is acknowledge that it's the "first" one to rhyme. No explanation. I could, of course, theorize. I mean, as much as I've read into the costume scene in Groundhog Day, I could come up with something. (And maybe I will try the next time I watch this movie (tomorrow, probably)... or below.)

Talking about secret passageways, they mention an opening under a cupboard that allowed you to jump down into the swimming pool a floor below.

For example, why was Hilda employed at Morley Manor? Was she just the "upstairs maid" or is there more to hiring the young, European blonde to wear the skimpy uniform (on the part of Lord Morley or on the part of the filmmakers)? If she was there for something more, something on the side for Lord Morley when he had once again disappointed Lady Morley, maybe she was the one who drove him toward poetry. Or maybe he just fantasized about her. Either way, maybe when he wrote hers he tried extra hard to make it rhyme because he thought that would impress her.

Engraving the tray for Justin's poem would have cost (Conway says) $25 so they didn't get it done; hence, no insert shot of the engraving.

Or maybe the fantasy of the young maid in the skimpy uniform is (at least in terms of a film coming out of the 70s) poetry itself. Fantasy and love and art all rolled into one blonde little package, so of course her poem has to rhyme.

Knotts handed the last note to Conway (Conway says) because he (Knotts) didn't want to memorize the words. For Winship, of course, it's about being in charge, being in control; make the underling do whatever, whenever.

Apparently the dungeon was part of the house. And, they shot there twice as the negatives were damaged and they had to shoot the sequence again.

The Japanese cook; the gypsy caretaker; the hunchbacked, detongued groom; the butler who has killed 14 people; the nanny who might be a nazi--they don't deserve rhymes.

By the way, IMDb and everywhere else online (and the end credits) list the gypsy's (Stan Ross) name as Tibet, but his tombstone says TEBIT (it fills the screen at one point).

And, I only just noticed that Tart gives Hilda his card again as they leave; this time he puts it between her breasts.

Also, Elliott says he volunteered to be the one dressed as the shadow to grab Phyllis in the flowerbed. And earlier, Conway talked about how Knotts would ask Trisha Noble to rehearse her new nightgown speech extra times. But, hey, it was the tail end of the 70s and everyone was sexist, so that’s okay...

Or, as I’ve argued time and time again, every film offers a window into the time it was made, and specifically into how men and women interacted, or were allowed to interact. But, more on that tomorrow.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

a little more like me

There's a moment at the end of The Shape of Water that almost undermines a really nice (but subtly done) theme that runs throughout the film. Oh, assume SPOILERS. (Just skip the next paragraph because the film is worth seeing.)

From the start of the film, we know that Elisa (Sally Hawkins) has scars on her neck--one of my lesser complaints is that the film never quite focuses enough on them (though it could easily focus on them too much) and I didn't even realize until just before the potentially undermining moment happens that she has scars on both side of her neck. Early in the film, when Strickland (Michael Shannon) sits Elisa and her friend and coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) down to talk to them, we learn that Elisa was found as a baby near a river, her neck scarred. There's no doubt that these scars (and her having been found by a river) will come into play later. But, I figured on the amphibian man (Doug Jones) either 1) having been responsible for her injuries back then (even though he is specifically from the Amazon and she lives... somewhere in the US, can't remember if they say where. Or 2) he will heal her scars and she will be able to talk and somehow that will be the moment of distraction he needs to escape. Or whatever. You know, I try not to think too far ahead in too much detail. Like when people brag about knowing right away that Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) was dead the whole time, I'm like, why the fuck is that something to brag about? You ruined your own movie experience by overthinking it. But, seriously, in the end of The Shape of Water, it turns out, yes, those scars are on both sides of her neck, which makes the revelation of what they are a bit obvious--she's got gills. She can breathe underwater when the amphibian man takes her with him into the water. Which makes her less a "incomplete" human and more something close to what he is. Which comes very close to undermining the theme twisting its way through the whole movie about different people, outsiders, working together to save the life of this creature from his government tormentor.

If you skipped that paragraph, welcome. The next paragraph has minor SPOILERS. Skip to the one after if you want none at all.

At the heart of the film is a woman who cannot speak, an African American woman, a Russian spy (this isn't really a SPOILER because one of the trailers lets you know that Bob (Michael Stuhlbarg) speaks Russian right after letting us know that the Russians want the creature), and a homosexual man (that one doesn't really SPOIL the story, but it is an element that has nice revelatory moment to it that might play better fresh)--keep in mind this is 1962--and they team together to save the amphibian man from Strickland, from torture and impending vivisection.


The movie is all about the idea that it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, some things are the right things to do and we should do them. Save those who are in need of saving. Help those who you can help. Be good to other people, regardless of where they come from, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of their gender, regardless of whether or not they can breathe underwater.

I have written in this blog many times about how reading stories and watching movies help us to have empathy for other people. So maybe we'll be nice to the old guy who can't keep up in the advertising world when photographs have replaced his art--part of the setup for Elisa's neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins)--or be nice to the woman who has no voice, the woman who faces discrimination everywhere she goes, the man who was sent as a spy but just wants to study a unique lifeform... Or the couple who can't buy their wedding cake at the local baker because the owner is a bigot. Or the guy who gets stopped at airport security every time because his name is Arabic. The guy who gets stops by the police because his skin is dark. The human who gets treated like property because she has a vagina.

Let a few outliers into the mainstream and the men in the mainstream get scared. It's sad, really. Such fragile egos. They're already outnumbered by women; of course the notion that women might want a say is going to rub them the wrong way. But, if they could just read a book now and then, watch a movie, embrace characters and people that are not like them... The way this sentence was going to go was going to imply something simple, but it' snot simple. Not for people who don't want to empathize. Just want things the way they used to be. When women and coloreds and foreigners and homosexuals knew their place.

We need more movies with casts like this one, with a group of characters that are not all white, not all young, not all heterosexual, working together to fight the man. More multicultural, multiracial, multigendered groups saving the day. Maybe, if we make enough movies like that, some folks in the real world might get the idea that spending time in such groups is a good idea, and maybe the real world will get a little better.

But, I'm am more a cynic than an optimist, and I doubt it. We'd likely destroy each other first.

Friday, December 8, 2017

go to a bar and erase the memory of today

No Private Eyes today. Instead a long day culminated in seeing The Disaster Artist again. Took my daughter and her friends.

To be fair, despite my choice of title for today's blog entry, today was not a bad day. It was far from a great day, but it had its moments. I slept in because I've been feeling a little sick the past couple days, then had to deal with some car issues for a few hours, watched a little tv, fell asleep on the couch. Then, The Disaster Artist which, among other things, about embracing the things you do as they are, accepting yourself as you are. There are limits, obviously, to such a thing, but those limits come from actions that hurt other people and making a melodramatic little movie that has become beloved for entirely different reasons than your making it--well, that just isn't that hurtful.

And, I'm there in the theater, sitting there thinkin', you know. About all the stories I've written, the poems, the screenplays, some of them quite badly written really, but some of them, at least in my head, pretty good. And, I'm thinkin' about bad things I've done, good things I've done, and everything in between... Not that I was thinking about every single things I've ever done, of course. I'm too old for that. There are just too many things. But, certain things, things worth remembering time and time again, things worth forgetting (except maybe inasmuch as they got me to this moment right now and Back to the Future taught me long ago that altering the past can be dangerous)...

And, that turned a little flippant in that parenthetical, but that's how it goes. Life in terms of movies. Movies in terms of life. Something like The Private Eyes for example--which I will return to tomorrow (probably)--is like this little slice of joy from my childhood. Like I don't even want to pick it apart and look closely at its dark underbelly and tell all the world (or the tiny corner thereof that reads this blog) what's wrong with it and what sort of shallow or misguided message it sent to my young mind all those years ago.


I imagine a long, indirect line of events from that one movie to the present day, like because I watched The Private Eyes all those years ago, and I was entertained by it, and I saw such simple performances (some quite broad) from the ensemble turn a horrific plot into something hysterical and I was fascinated, and put together with so many other movies from my childhood--all those I've included these past few months in this blog plus so many others that I maybe only saw once or twice when I was young--it fixed in me a need for the big screen, for any story, every story, writ larger than life on the big screen...

Except, not writ larger, because life on its best days can be so large. Those days I was talking about before, the ones worth remembering, the ones worth forgetting. They rip into the fabric of a person, leaving indelible ink stains that shape and reshape who you were, who you are, who you will be.

But also, yeah, writ larger, because movies take so much of life and squish it into an hour and a half (give or take) and then throw it up on that big screen so that a handful of people, or a few hundred people, can experience it all at once, and be both exploded outward into that story up there on the screen, and imploded into their own things inside their heads, their own lives, and the effect is at once universal and individual and seriously, more people need to watch movies, need to go out there into public spaces that at intimate and dark and spread immeasurable joy and immeasurable grief, introspection and escape, and show us who we are and who we can be.

And that makes the movie theater the bar I want to go to. Whether my day has been good or bad. Whether my life is going well or going poorly. A little vacation to put the everyday into perspective.