Thursday, March 31, 2016

it's movies

(Starting the blog entry a while before the movie today. Sitting in a hotel room in Florida, brought my Fire Stick on the trip to have access on the room's TV to Hulu, Amazon, HBO and Netflix. The modern Western world--am I right?

Anyway, long day, with a little sleep on the plane and a bit of a nap here at the hotel before dinner. About to judge some practice rounds with our students, give them some last minute notes for this weekend's competition. In the meantime...)

Swingers is all about that scene, the answering machine sequence. Like the Groundhog Day Project is all about sharing and nitpicking and being who you gotta be... No, being who you want to be. Like our speech competitions are all about finding the piece that fits you, and you it, and figuring out how to put it to the audience in the best way you can. And, all that may sound a little generic, a little obvious, but I suppose that's on purpose. As I've stated before, the thesis of this blog, if there is one singular point to all of this, is: "our lives can be measured in movies and movies in our lives and profound and profane depths can be found in the intersection thereof." Not just at a literal Fever Pitch kind of level but also inasmuch as (most) any given film is of its time and its place, and what we (as a population) choose to watch and celebrate can measure the whole of us as much as our individual viewing choices can measure who we are individually.

In terms of Swingers, it's about a bunch of individuals who are self-centered, hard-to-impress and leaning (sometimes too much) toward misogyny. But, even if we are not like them, we can understand who they are, why they are the way they are--especially if we were around in the mid-90s when these kind of guys were a thing... not to imply that such men don't still exist, but this particular collection of personality traits is very mid-90s, very Hollywood club scene, and if I were offering up lists of movies to define particular decades, Swingers would definitely make the 90s list.

(Practice rounds of speeches, coach meeting, now Swingers then maybe some late night time at the hotel pool.)

This movie is quite dependent on location--the third-rate casino, mobile home the airstream camper, Mike's barely furnished apartment (which was Jon Favreau's actual apartment at the time), Sue's much more lived-in apartment, the various clubs (e.g. Dresden) and diners. And, this movie manages, with little effort (like filming without permits at least some of the time) to offer some very real background characters. Like this casino waitress--Christy (Deena Martin)--with only a handful of lines, and disappearing from the film entirely after the first act, manages to come across as a real person, a lived-in character. Part of this, of course, is that most of the background characters are really just background people. The parties were actual parties, the bars actual bars, filmed during operating hours.

don't need expensive sets or special effects to make something entertaining.

That should be obvious.

Meanwhile, the blog is the blog wherever I am, and movies are movies, but travel is tiring. Haven't written nearly as much tonight as I thought I might.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

tell me that wasn't money

Flashback to the mid-90s, when big bands and swing music seemed to be making a comeback... They never quite managed, right? (Had swing dancing been a thing beyond Porto-hipster levels, I would have had a head start, actually, because we learned dancing, including swing, at the private school I attended.) But, while they were there, we got a movie like Swingers.

Gotta love the answering machine telling Mike (Jon Favreau) to put his life in perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

Picture me, sitting on the floor as usual, a few hours early as I'm heading to Florida later, but I'm forgetting what I meant to write about this movie for its day one because it has been a good while since I've watched it and I'm just amused as hell.

"I just get, like, this thing where I want to be be a gentleman and I want to show respect." Love that Mike calls that a "thing" like it's not what he's supposed to do. Of course, that is what Trent (Vince Vaughn) is trying to instill in him--that he should skip the respect thing and be... well kind of a jerk, forward and overbearing. Meanwhile, Mike is awkward. He says he's a comedian immediately after a joke fails. He says, "we all have stories" right before everyone is quiet. His timing is all off. He just had a breakup after six years with a girl and he really shouldn't be out trying to pick up new pieces when he clearly wants to pick up the old ones.

But his "I just want her to be happy" gets the two girls in Vegas feeling for him and Trent sitting around awkward in a towel. A nice twist before things head back to Hollywood.

 

 

 

 

 

These guys are so horrible, sexist, privileged, but oddly endearing even at their worst. And, you gotta appreciate Charles' (Alex Desert) "This place is dead anyway, man" when the place clearly isn't dead.

Mike getting embarrassed about the Starbucks job application, while talking to the girl who works at Starbucks, was a sad sight to see. He's trying to present himself as Mike would instead of as himself when he was doing okay until he, you know, tried.

And then there's the scene. The classic answering machine scene. Painful but played just right that we can laugh at it even while we sympathize.

 

 

 

 

 

And, that's all for today. The month is coming to a close and I'm a bit worded out. Tomorrow, though, Swingers again, and maybe I'll be my usual wordy self.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

anger as a positive emotion

In an interview in Vanity Fair, the interviewer started with, “This is the most romantic film I’ve ever seen with this much fighting.” Star Julie Delpy replied, “The most romantic film about fighting!” Amusingly, a piece in Elite Daily says, “No epic love stories were written about complacency from years of living in the doldrums of lame ass bullshit.”

Before Midnight, taken on its own, is not particularly romantic. But, it also is not supposed to be. The Celine and Jesse story has moved beyond romance. That does not mean that it has moved beyond love. The present (and near future) of Celine and Jesse’s relationship actually gets wrapped up in the car conversation; Celine announces that she may take a government job and this exchange happens:

JESSE
No, you don’t want to work for him.

CELINE
Why not?

JESSE
For the government?

CELINE
This is different. We need laws. That’s the only way this is gonna happen.

JESSE
That’s not the only way. You guys have been getting a lot of good work done.

CELINE
I’ve been thinking. This is the way to go.

JESSE
Okay then, let me remind you that you do not like that guy. The whole time that you worked for him before, you complained about him, constantly.

CELINE
He can be an asshole. He gets things done. That’s how I’m gonna be from now on—

JESSE
Okay.

CELINE
—a real bitch, okay?

JESSE
Well, every time I look at that guy, all I see is ambition. I mean, I’m sorry, I don’t trust him. The only reason he’’s going from nonprofit to government is to have people kiss his ass.

CELINE
I don’t care about him.

JESSE
And I think you’re gonna be miserable, alright, just with all that politicking and compromise.

CELINE
Whatever. I’ve made my decision. I’m tired of being the do-gooder that rolls a boulder up and watches it roll down.

Her return to a previous employer, Remy, is basically her marriage in a nutshell. Sticking it out with a man she doesn’t necessarily like so she can have a stable enough life to get things done. There is politicking and compromise in marriage. There is fighting. The non-romantic view is this: it is not necessarily that you being with that particular person is the greatest thing, but that it is greater than the alternatives, greater than being alone to be sure. In his piece about the first film in the Before series, Robin Wood (1998) writes, of the “unknown destination” of its ending, “if we want them to form a relationship (as surely we do), then it must be of a quite different order from anything offered by the familiar models” (p. 327). The familiar models being romantic novels, romantic films (especially romantic comedies, even though the Before films are not comedies).

Just now, Stefanos (Panos Koronis) and Ariadni. (Athena Rachel Tsangari) were fighting in the kitchen... sort of. A minor dispute over food preparation, and Stefanos is holding a knife, Ariadni tries to get it from him and Celine says, “You guys are fighting... With knives? Okay, stop it. Stop fighting with knives.” Ariadni says, “We’re not fighting. We’re negotiating.”

Negotiating.

And, they call their relationship a “system.”

But, a “system” is not romantic. In film, we usually want romance, or we want its opposite, however you want to define it. Destruction, I guess. Romance is like the creation of something, but that something is not that exciting in and of itself. But, that is entirely what this third film in the Before series is about. Just look at the dinner conversation, everyone talking about what is practical between men and women, what is more important than romantic love.

Before Sunrise is easier to love because it’s about the new, the romantic. There is implicit action in it, even though so much of it is internal, invisible. We can imagine or remember being in that situation, discovering love. Then, that film ends and we are left hanging. Before Sunset brings us back, offers us hope because a love lost, misplaced, missed can be found again, rediscovered, reinvented, replaced. Before Midnight, though... Its climax is angry, its climax is sad, its climax is this painful... thing, hard to watch if you’ve ever been anywhere near that kind of situation (and maybe painful for those who have not been, but I wouldn’t know). I have, of course, complained more than once in this blog about how many people just want film to be pleasant, enjoyable, brief escapes from reality. Like a fight in the reality of a relationship to clear away hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and disagreements, a good hard film can be better than pure escapism sometimes. A difficult watch exorcises demons.

Sometimes, you need to hurt.

Sometimes, your demons need to get out and stretch their legs.

(That being said, the most painful part of tomorrow’s movie is played for laughs, so I shall end this month a little easier.)

Like Celine and Jesse walking around the Greek countryside, walking around Paris, walking around Vienna, we all need to get out there, stretch our legs, find people with which to spend time. And, we also need to let out our darkest selves from time to time. Doesn’t mean you act on horrible urges if you have them, but you acknowledge them and move the fuck on. Make room for our best selves.

Three films, eighteen years, nine days, time to let Celine and Jesse go. I have a less painful film for the next three days, then Groundhog Day on the 2nd, then... I don’t know yet. I’m off to Florida for a speech tournament tomorrow; the new month will get going while I’m there. I have not tried to plan ahead. Just going to let the blog and I settle into some new pattern as life continues, as it will usually do.

Monday, March 28, 2016

it's not perfect but it's real

I find I can't--or don't want to--write about the third act of Before Midnight. But, who needs to get that far into everything anyway? Instead, I could talk about punctum, or a series of puncta. If you're new, or you've forgotten, a punctum, by way of Barthes, is the piercing, wounding moment that pulls you in, that forces you to identify with a character perhaps, that puts you fully into the story, the small detail that makes it all real for you in the moment. I can avoid the greater wound by dealing with the lesser.

(As Jesse is left behind, Hank gone, music starts up and it feels intrusive. I'm sure there was background music in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset but I really don't remember it. If it was there, it wasn't intrusive. Here, and a few instances later in this film, the music is a bit too noticeable, making this film feel more like a movie than whatever the previous two films were.)

The first punctum, I suppose, is in the car. The girls are asleep in the backseat so Jesse decides not to stop at some ruins the girls wanted to see. Celine acts like that is a bad choice, but then when the girls wake up and one asks about the ruins, Celine immediately backs up Jesse. "Oh, they were closed," she says. Co-parenting conspiracy. In that moment, there is the first real sense of Celine and Jesse as a couple as parents. The opening scene offers Jesse as father, but with the girls asleep, the conversation in the car is mostly talk or still focused on Jesse as father (though Celine talking on the phone with Hank, or talking about private conversations with Hank, especially talking about him kissing some local girl which was something she was sworn to secrecy on, is pretty good, too.

(Jesse claims that his third book--the pretentiously titled Temporary Cast Members of a Long Running But Little Seen Production of a Play Called Fleeting--took longer to write than the first two put together. While this could just be hyperbole, it is worth pointing out that it cannot be literally true, unless the second book was written superfast. It took Jesse 4-5 years to write This Time. He cannot have written That Time until after the events of Before Sunset, and it has been nine years since then. Barring a time loop, he had nine years to write two more books... (assuming the lower end of Jesse's estimate as to how long This Time took to write--four years) the only way this is possible is if That Time took two years or less to write. Leaving seven to eight years to write the third if it has only just been published, but since the old guy has read it, that seems unlikely.

This is actually a weird nitpick from me since I wrote my first (badly written) novel in only a month, my second (slightly better written) in three months, and unless I finally finish the novel I left unfinished in 1999, three months is probably the longest any of my novels took to write. To be fair, I am not prone to writing drafts. Which should be obvious if you read this blog at all regularly; I don't really rewrite. (That's actually one of the weirder things about my master's thesis, something that is making it take longer than I expected it would take--I wrote a couple drafts of the opening chapter and just today put together a remix of the literature review sections that I had been keeping separate.)

But, Jesse took four years to write (and rewrite) that one night in Vienna into a book. Is it really likely that he took only a year or two to write that hour and a half (plus days of sex) into the second book?)

Another punctum: Celine is talking about when they played pinball in Vienna, how she lost on purpose to let him win and as she is talking, Jesse is talking under her, "The foundational lie to our relationship," and you get the sense this exact exchange has happened at some other dinner party with some other crowd of friends. They're talking past each other, but you just know that they are both very much hearing each other's words as well. A couple minutes later, it happens again when Celine announces that he wants her to move to Chicago and he says, as she is still talking, "That's not what I said. I missed him." And, this is entirely scripted and rehearsed. They are not improvising. This dialogue is not just happening. It was planned this way, designed this way.

I'm reminded of the devices I used when writing for nearly a week (836 837 838 839 840 841) about Ex Machina: LEVEL 1 was the programming of character on character, LEVEL 2 the programming of filmmaker on character, LEVEL 3 the programming of society on filmmaker. Linklater and Hawke and Delpy, taking all these LEVEL 3 ideas about what men and women should be like, what mothers and fathers should be like, "husbands" and "wives" (Jesse and Celine have never actually married) should be like, and they infused (LEVEL 2) their script with those ideas, manipulating Celine and Jesse to turn what was once this great romance into something a little too close to real life for comfort, so that Celine and Jesse play off one another (LEVEL 1) both cutely, romantically and antagonistically. At that last level, you have Celine expecting certain behaviour from Jesse, Jesse expecting certain behaviour from Celine, and it is not just about those characters.

(And, that was a weirdly long sentence. That is not like me at all.)

Another punctum: Celine has just said she's losing her hair, Jesse calls her "baldy" jokingly and Celine looks confused by the reference. Not offended. Confused.

 

 

 

 

 

The next punctum comes after the top of Celine's dress is down. First they're kissing a bit, then they're on the bed, but then the phone rings and the conversation continues and she still hasn't pulled up her dress. There is something more intimate about that than if there was a sex scene. It's casual, it's intimate, and it's real. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Delpy says, "I think it is hard to argue with a woman who is naked and exposed but also totally comfortable starting a fight with her breasts out." in GQ, she says:

I wanted it to be realistic! Sometimes I see films where people have sex with a bra on. I mean what country do they come from? I don't think I've ever had sex with a bra on in my life, except maybe once. It's not the most comfortable thing to be acting topless. I've never actually showed my body that much, even though I'm a French actress. It was a big deal for me to do it. This movie isn't fantasy. This is a film for people who can handle a pair of tits.

In a script idea I had for a very self-referential, meta- story, one of the visual jokes was going to be that the couple who had a sex scene actually had L-shaped sheets on the bed, so that right after they had sex, the female could be covered and the male uncovered. Because, that is what real people do after sex, immediately cover up... Well, they might do that if they are horribly ashamed by the sex they have just had. But, in movies, yeah, Delpy's right. Sex is unrealistic because it has to look a certain way, or not look a certain way. Body parts are hidden in order to make things less awkward or avoid a different rating from the MPAA. In this regard, I rather appreciate that scene at the beginning of Forgetting Sarah Marshall when Sarah (Kristen Bell) is breaking up with Peter (Jason Segel) and he's naked and he refuses to get dressed because who the fuck wants to think about putting clothes on when you've just been devastated like that? The movie plays it for awkward laughs but I think it's actually pretty damn realistic.

So, Celine doesn't pull her dress back up until she separates from Jesse and goes to the other side of the room. Jesse doesn't pull his pants back on until he gets up from the bed. Meanwhile, the conversation continues. That's real.

One more punctum before I go: when Celine walks out the first time, Jesse tells her, "You forgot your shoes," and his tone is not like he's being a smartass. He has legitimately noticed that she's leaving without shoes on. If she had left in any other mood than anger, he still would have said the same. That's real, too.

weren't we here yesterday having this exact same conversation?

The one who frowned and the lady. (And, if you get that reference, bully to you.) But, who gives a damn about closure?

Every story ends in death if you keep telling it--and, if there is a fourth film in this series, rather than the phrasing-appropriate Before Noon, I hope it's called Afternoon and someone's dead. That would be the appropriate thematic end to this story...

Hell, already in this driving and talking sequence, there's talk of death--Celine's Cleopatra kitty story is horrible.

But, I don't really want to fabricate a fourth story. I've already written recently about how I don't like people thinking the movie needs to match up to their ideals for it. Wood (1998) would agree with me, I think. He writes--in a piece entitled "Rethinking Romantic Love: "Before Sunrise" by the way:

I believe in the possibility of a "definitive" reading of a work only in the sense that is is definitive for myself at a certain stage of my evolution, that is "defines" not the work by my own temporary sense of it, the degree of contact I have been able to achieve, as clearly and completely as I can... (p. 318)

For me, as this month of the blog turned from versions of movies into an exploration of films about marriage and divorce and romance and love, I'm thinking about when and where I saw these films. Since I've been an adult, most movies I have seen have been by myself. But, Before Sunrise, I may have seen with one or both of the youngest of my sisters, Bobbie and Brooke. I don't specifically remember seeing this movie, but expect, given the timing, that I saw it at the underground theater in Old Town. Before Sunset--that was with my wife, probably at the Playhouse 7. Before Midnight was me, alone. This movie is all about (at least through its middle) expanding the world of Celine and Jesse. Like this dinner scene--along with Jesse and Celine, we get older couples, and a younger couple (plus, we've already learned that while his Jesse's son was visiting for the summer, he kissed a local girl in Greece), and nearby there are kids, and I saw this film alone. I watch it alone now. I know this entry will get pageviews, maybe the facebook link will get some likes, but I doubt anyone will comment.

The thing is, we do everything alone. Even the things we do together. "But," as the old man just said, "at the end of the day, it's not the love of one other person that matters, it's the love of life."

I think of the... Is it irony? I saw Before Sunrise and had never experienced anything like the romance at its heart. I saw Before Sunset and wanted a happy ending because I thought I had mine. No, I had mine. But, the story really only ends with death, and I haven't died yet, so I saw Before Midnight and the separation and the anger hit home...

 

 

 

 

 

The other night, a friend was asking me about my marriage, if we'd ever get together. This as our final divorce papers have been signed and I guess we're just waiting for them to be processed, and this as literally as my friend is asking me about this, my ex is getting mad at me because I'm distracted and not texting but a few words at a time and...

Most of the time, I am happy with my life as it is. Especially since I went back to school, went to grad school, started teaching. Sometimes, life angers/saddens/bewilders me.

Then, a new quarter starts (tomorrow) and life is orderly for eleven weeks and I don't have to think so much about it. The truth is, I am happy, but I am also depressed. I'm just really good at doing the happy side... being the happy side in recent years.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

do i seem like i'm in therapy?

Today's blog entry is brought to you by the number four and the words che and pussy, if you'll forgive some crudeness and poetry.

A couple not so serious things before I move on to Before Midnight. Except isn't all discussion of film serious, really? I kid (but I don't).

Plus, I just livetweeted through two other movies (Final Girl (sucked) and The Final Girls (awesome)), so I'm 1) maybe running out of words (as if that would happen) and 2) I might be prone to short bursts because, well, Twitter.

First an aside: I like Jesse's answer about the end of his book. "It's a good test, right? If you're a romantic or a cynic." There's not supposed to be an answer. At least prior to the existence of Before Sunset. The end of the movie is a note of hope at the tail end of a story that talked remarkably often about death while operating upon our notions about love and romance. But, whether we think that hope means Jesse and/or Celine will show up in Vienna that December... Makes me think of "The Lady or the Tiger" (and it's sequel, "The Discourager of Hesitancy") and how the point is not what happened but what you think happened. It makes me wonder if someone more normal than me would think that Before Sunset detracts from Before Sunrise because it answers the question that audience members were trying to answer in their heads for nine years. Did they or didn't they? Or as Robin Wood (1998) phrases the more important question, "Would it be better if they did or if they didn't?"

But, I was going to be flippant and crude.

First, che. An echo. Obviously, late in the film, Celine picks up her cat, and his name is "Che." Jesse hears that name and jokingly calls her a "Commie." She points out that in Argentina, che just means "hey." A little more than that in its regular use, but yeah, she's right. But, regarding the Ernesto Guevara link there--and why I call this an echo--at his book signing, talking about the idea he's got maybe for a second book, Jesse describes the main character, as "this guy. And, he's totally depressed. I mean, his great dream was to be a lover, an adventurer, you know, riding motorcycles through South America..." Which is like one of the romanticized images we have to Ernesto Guevara, before he was "Che." Just watch, or read, The Motorcycle Diaries--it's like the dream Jesse's describing. Yet, later, he jokes about Celine being a communist, not just the "Commie" line but also at the cafe when she talks about visiting Warsaw.

That cat, though, brings me to--and maybe this is just my internal 12-year-old being silly--a potential pun. When they are on the garden bench together, Celine asks about the specific words Jesse would want to hear during sex. She asks what he thinks of the word pussy. Later when she keeps referring to her cat as her "kitty" I'm putting those two things together. She's talking about her kitty and Jesse follows her up those stairs to her apartment and whether or not they are literally about to have sex, metaphorically, that's what's happening at the top of those stairs. He know she's staying. She knows he's staying. They look at each other as they head up those stairs like they looked at each other in that listening booth at the record store in the original--it's a point of no return. Hearing her sing is just an excuse (though she did just say she has a song about her cat (the bench scene just happened) and I'm flashing back to that girl's story at the beginning of The Squid and the Whale)--

(And, weird me, connecting everything to everything, I like that the boat Jesse and Celine ride on leaves from about the same spot where Duncan McLeod's barge always was in Highlander, an echo of immortality for me in this story that is so much more about being in the moment than being timeless... Or maybe arguing that the two are one and the same. Being in the moment is timeless.)

--and she has openly talked about them having sex--actually claiming that they didn't then admitting later that they had sex twice. And, she brings up her friend's questionnaire about sex, she asks about pussy. Like this walking and talking is just foreplay...

Which, though I'm not usually one for puns, brings me around to the number four. It's been nine years since Before Sunrise. Jesse took three to four years to write his book, which means he also waited three to four years before he started writing it; his book signing tour is new. His son Henry is four, a creation he values more than anything else that came of his marriage, the same age, effectively, as his book. Plus, coincidentally, the boat's next stop is Henri Quatre (Henry Four). Also, Celine lived in New York for four years. And she has lived in her apartment in Paris for four years as well. In numerology, four is about practicality and organization, the stuff that Jesse and Celine are moving away from here. It's not just relationships that get old after a few years but everything, every chapter in life. The seven-year-itch, maybe. Or the four-year-itch, or whatever. Celine argues that we couldn't live if we were in the "constant state of excitement" of a new relationship. But, anything new is exciting. If you don't figure out some other way to deal with it, without that initial excitement, yeah, it's going to get old. It's going to get boring.

And that's why stories end with "and they lived happily ever after." It's that bullshit piece of hope that Jesse and Celine's plan to meet in six months was at the end of Before Sunrise. Showing them end up together, like she didn't get on that train and she ran back to Jesse on that platform--that doesn't guarantee some eternal happiness for the two of them. That's no more hopeful than the promise of coming back in six months. Similarly, the ending of this film--that's not much more hopeful, either. It's more concrete, but there's still no guarantee. Right now, as I'm typing, Jesse is telling Celine about dreams--

I'm standing on a platform, and you keep going by on a train, and you go by and you go by and you go by, and I wake up with the fucking sweats...

His dream isn't about getting her. It's about her being just out of reach. But, just out of reach is also close. She's constantly passing, constantly within reach but slipping away. It's that hope at the bottom of Pandora's Box, ruining reality because of course some dream is going to be better than whatever your actual life is like. That's what dreams are supposed to be. But, you wake up, and maybe you have some passing thoughts about four and che and pussy, or you watch too many movies and go to bed late because what else are you supposed to do with your life? You make of the present what you can.

And, it occurs to me now, Celine is contradicting herself by commenting so positively about how Che looks around at the courtyard every morning like it's brand new. That's that constant state of excitement she said would give us an aneurysm. That's her dream. She says it's not possible but it is exactly what she wants.

It's what we all want.

And when we can't have it, we get depressed or we move the fuck on. Neither option is fun.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

that this was real

I wanted to write a review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice for my other, far less regular movie blog (the one where I actually review movies sometimes), but kept feeling it would end up being a list of nitpicks about the nitpicks (not that I am above nitpicking) and I didn't feel like writing that sort of thing--

plus, I already had a movie scheduled for today-Before Sunset

--but oddly, or maybe not so oddly, something I wanted to say in that nonexistent review dovetails into something worth saying in regards to this movie, both within its story and without its confines (i.e the way the audience might react to it). That is, what you want out of something or out of someone is a far cry from what you should expect. Or, it should be. I mean, Internet reviews and comic book nerds are harping on Batman v Superman yet the audience (and I realize this is just anecdotal evidence) where I was seemed to love it, applauded at the ending and everything. The thing is, so much of the mass audience does not have detailed expectations about what should or shouldn't be in a Batman film or a Superman film, but comic book nerds do. For example, I've seen complaints on Twitter, Facebook and IMDb about how Bruce Wayne is not much of a detective in this film yet Batman, traditionally, is the greatest detective in the world. Take this film as its own thing and it never says that Batman is a good detective; in fact, his horror films-esque take on attacking criminals after 20 years of doing so suggests that he has been much more about brute force than any detection. Meanwhile, on the IMDB board for Before Sunset, I saw some people debating whether or not Jesse makes sense as a writer, whether or not he was "literary" enough in Before Sunrise. Like, people made up in their minds who Jesse was after the first film and got stuck on that idea rather than adjusting to who he actually turned out to be.

Actually.

Because this is a true story, as is every other film, and all of these characters are real (even though Celine specifically claims otherwise), and though we only knew Jesse and Celine for that night in 1993 and now this 80 minutes in 2003, they lived those nine years in between and the 20-something years before. We get a window. I choose to assume (unless awful writing and acting makes me think otherwise) that characters keep living before and after the confines of the film.

That being said, why is it that comic book nerds, who should be entirely familiar with characters changing over time and characters existing in different incarnations depending on who is writing them or who is drawing them or what particular universe they are in, have trouble reconciling a new version of those characters as something... acceptable? I mean, you can accept a multiverse and Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Age of Apocalypse but you absolutely need this Batman to be your favorite Batman and this Superman to be your favorite Superman... Actually, that's not even it. It is not about favorite. Sometimes the character being some flawed version of the ideal in your head is what you want when you're a comic book nerd but it still has to be a very specific version of that flawed version so you can echo the complaints you've been making with every damn issue, every damn month, because you certainly wouldn't stop reading just because you don't like the current writer or his idea of who Batman or Superman or Daredevil or Wonder Woman or whoever is. Truth be told, I don't read that many comics anymore. But for a good while I went to my local comic book store every week, had a pull list, read all the obvious books plus an increasing amount of eccentric ones. And, there are versions of characters I like more than others. There are versions of characters I wish made it to the big screen. But, I try to take one medium separately from the other. I try to take one film separately from another. (Barring franchises, of course; like Superman in this latest film is supposed to be the same Superman as in Man of Steel.)

Who I thought Jesse might be, here--that doesn't matter once he shows up again... Unless the two versions (see that parenthetical just now) don't seem congruous. I think we were all so enamored with both Jesse and Celine because they were both rather intelligent, or at least they were thinkers. That a thinker would become a writer--that makes sense. Plus, to avoid this film jumping off from a silly coincidence, either Celine or Jesse had. To be at least a little famous so that the other could find them. While Celine was, and now is far more, political, she seems too independent to be a politician or some public figure. So, what better way to make Jesse famous than to make him a writer, especially since he has only written one book so far, a book that took him four years to write, and that book is clearly an effort to capture something he missed, or thought he missed. (Just as, perhaps, Celine's waltz song is.)

Plus, there's this: whoever I think a character should be, unless I invented that character (and sometimes not even then; just ask Kimbly Freemartin in my book Lion Horse Tree), I must put that aside for the character as it is. Hell, even when watching a film I've seen before, my understanding of a character can change from one viewing to another. Like when I saw Before Sunset in 2004, and it got to that final scene and that last shot of Jesse smiling and touching his wedding ring, I questioned his choice. Watching it now, I'm glad he stays. That is because who I was in 2004 is different from who I am in 2016. I was married just two years before Before Sunset was in theaters. I'm four years past our initial separation now. My ideas about romance and everything that is wrapped up in couples, generally, Jesse and Celine specifically, has changed... Or rather, my impulses regarding as much has drifted to another point along the continuum of what I will think, do think, have thought about love and romance and relationships.

Jesse married his wife because she was pregnant. In Before Sunrise, he told Celine about how his own parents got married under the same circumstances and were never really happy together, eventually got divorced. Of course, he's going to have a damaged view of his own reality. Celine's parents have been together for 35 years but are still happy, but Celine has been disappointed by the men she's been with, so she actively tries not to get too attached. We see our world as we see our world. How right or wrong is secondary. How accurate or inaccurate, as well. What we see becomes our reality.

(The nifty thing, though, is that we can deliberately change our reality to change what we see or change what we see to change our reality.)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

to answer that would take the piss out of the whole thing

Before Sunrise ends with a montage of shots--locations where Jesse and Celine have been, but now they are not there. It's an empty echo of their story. Before Sunset begins with such an echo, a montage of locations where Jesse and Celine will be. (Just in case you have never seen Before Sunrise, there's also a montage of scenes with Jesse and Celine as he answers questions at his book signing. (His book, This Time is basically the first film.

Jesse tells his readers about an idea for a new book, one that will take place within the span of a pop song. He talks about two moments happening simultaneously, and we get one more shot of Celine from the previous film--that moment when Jesse takes her "picture." And, in the present, there is Celine at his book signing. Jesse is supposed to catch a plane in about an hour, but he goes off with Celine anyway. More walking and talking, but this more in real time than the first film.

Within minutes, Celine asks if he showed up in Vienna that December. She says she didn't because her grandmother died. Jesse says he wasn't there, but he soon admits that he was. (To be accurate, he says neither of these things, but those are his answers.) Amusingly, she asks if he met another girl and he claims that he did, an obvious lie.

In the original film, Jesse and Celine are young, optimistic, capable of meeting and falling in love in one day. Now, they have lives. The conversation continues, but it is different. She's more political, more cynical. He's... well, his changes take a while to come out. (He got married and has a four-year-old son.) Physically, the only way he's different, according to Celine is the line between his eyes, a wrinkle of getting older, but she compares it to a scar. Which isn't that inaccurate a comparison; what are the lines of old age if not scars left by the passage of time?

Jesse spent four years writing about their day together. Celine has trouble remembering some of the details--like whether or not they had sex. Yet, she also talks specifically about how unique each person is, how much she appreciates the details... "Memory is a wonderful thing if you don't have to deal with the past," she tells Jesse at one point. Later, she tells him:

People just have an affair, or even entire relationships... They break up and they forget. They move on like that would have changed brands of cereal. I feel I was never able to forget anyone I've been with. Because each person has... their own specific qualities. You can never replace anyone. What is lost is lost. Each relationship, when it ends, really damages me. I never fully recover. That's why I'm very careful about getting involved, because it hurts to much. Even getting laid. I actually don't do that. I will miss on other person the most mundane things. Like I'm obsessed with the little things. Maybe I'm crazy, but when I was a little girl, my mom told me that I was always late to school. One day she followed me to see why. I was looking at chestnuts falling from the trees, rolling on the sidewalk, or ants crossing the road, the way a leaf casts a shadow on a tree trunk... Little things. I think it's the same with people. I see in them little details, so specific to each of them, that move me, and that I miss, and will always miss. You can never replace anyone, because everyone is made of such beautiful specific details. Like I remember the way, your beard has a bit of red in it. And how the sun was making it glow, that... That morning, right before you left. I remember that, and I missed it.

Counter that with her not remembering that she and Jesse had sex (though she admits later that is a lie), or the other story she tells him about her childhood, how she created a memory of a a man who didn't exist because her mother was paranoid about her being abducted on the way home from school. Memory is, of course, fluid. Jesse wrote and rewrote their night together into his book. How much more accurate can his version be than hers? How much more, as she suggests, is his version idealized? The reality doesn't matter as much as his memory, as much as her memory. Or as much as our own memory of the earlier film; isn't that the point to sequels much of the time? (Leaving aside the cynical notion of sequels being made to make money, because Before Sunset didn't make nearly as much money as Before Sunrise and Before Sunrise was hardly a box office smash, demanding a sequel.) To operate upon our memory and our attachment to the original, to offer us up something to replace or supplement our imagined future for the characters in question.

Celine compares her relationships to that one night. That makes sense within the reality of the film. Jesse spent four years on the book, so clearly he does the same. But, what is fascinating to me right now is how much I (and presumably everyone else in the audience for the original) does the same. Movies, even the painful ones, are like idealized relationships we have, an hour and a half or so at a time. And, often, our lives in comparison, must not seem like much.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

i don't want to be a great story

I remember when I was in Woodstock, Illinois two years ago--that's the filming location for most of Groundhog Day, if you must know, this blog's namesake and the film I watched for 365 days in a row and still come back to at least once a month--and I imagined being stuck in that location for a repeating day, and there was a "homeless" guy--really, he was just out of work and had made his way to Woodstock from a nearby town because he knew the crowd would mean he might be able to get more handouts from sympathetic passersby--that is, more people overall, more sympathy just by playing the percentages not that he was as cynical about it as I think I just sounded in describing it--and he was a nice enough guy, but unfortunately, I couldn't give him any cash because I saw him on my third day in Woodstock and I had run out of cash--I did offer to buy him Starbucks, I think, because I had just emerged from Starbucks, which is right by where Phil Connors hugged Ned Ryerson and the often (in this blog) cited as offensive "homophobic shock" though, of course, the Starbucks was not there at the time, and to be honest I'm not even sure if I offered him Starbucks--that might just be me imagining a better version of myself, like it's Day Two or Day Three of my time loop in Woodstock and I've seen this guy, I've talked to this guy and I just know that what he needs is Starbucks because all too often in my life of teaching and parenting and studenting I absolutely need Starbucks, need the caffeine, not to wake up exactly but to keep myself from coming back down from the excitement of the day too early because I've got classes to teach, damn it, classes to take--except, I don't have any more classes to take, just a thesis to finish writing, a thesis defense to manage with aplomb, and then I'll be out there looking for a job (or jobs) as a teacher, but in the meantime, it's writing and writing and more writing--between this blog (yesterday's entry was somewhere above 2500 words), my political tweets and rants and occasional entries in my old political blog, and my thesis (somewhere around 30 pages written so far, expecting it to come in around 100)--plus I'm still toying with ideas of where to take this blog, or rather my interest in film and leanings toward--well, it's not criticism, exactly (though I would certainly be open to being some sort of film critic if I could get paid to do so), but whatever you want to call it--talking about film, after the third year is complete because, yeah, I could just keep doing this same thing, watching movies, writing about them, I could do this for years, but at some point you gotta want something more and I wish often for a wider audience (not that this particular entry is the kind of thing that will pull in the masses, or really are most of them, as they can't all be well-timed #OscarsSoWhite entries, or earn yearly pageview spike I get on the Groundhog Day holiday, but sometimes these things are so dense, or just so damn long, that to expect anyone to casually happen upon them and choose to stick around even to the end of that particular entry, let alone to read another entry or to come back another day and another day and another day is madness) and a wider audience cannot really be found in blogging, not unless this blog got picked up by some larger website, and I don't think that the rambling, meandering nature of this blog, drifting from one movie to another and another, while avoiding most of the time what constitutes film criticism is conducive to getting picked up, which means it is not conducive to a particularly wide audience, but don't get me wrong, I've got regular readers, but not a lot of them, and since Maolsheachlann has taken a vacation from the internet it seems like no one wants to comment on entries anymore, so there's that, but I want more than that, something like a podcast audience or a YouTube channel audience, but then I get self-conscious about how I'd look on a vlog or what have you, or how I might sound on a podcast, even though I make a living talking in front of crowds, and I know I should be better than that, or at least I want to be better than that because I'm forty fucking years old and if something I want is a recording (or a series of recordings) away, I should just get on with it, but first things first, finish the thesis, then toy with the idea of a Groundhog Day Project book--based mostly on entries from the first year as well as some of the content I'm putting together for my thesis and some in-between sections looking back at the experience with a bit of my self-help, preachy tone that shows up in this blog from time to time, and Jesse and Celine are in the cemetery now in this third day with Before Sunrise, and I'm wondering if you've even read this far, if you get it, if you by chance were here yesterday for the Joyce discussion or just recognize the stream-of-consciousness approach to writing as a poetic echo of both the love-affair-in-a-day premise of Before Sunrise and the fix-your-damn-life-in-a-day-or-do-it-again-and-again premise of Groundhog Day, but also an echo of this whole blog, the nine hundred sixty four entries that came before this one, the hundreds (hundreds?) of films (not to mention the thousands of films I have seen in my life), the arguments about gender and race and life and film and especially the recent line that all movies are part and parcel of one big movie, one big story, and we are all both audience and participants, characters within and lookers on without, because I've got a hippie sort of thing going on in my head where I have so much trouble with war and violence (in the real world, at least, because, growing up on American films, especially action films in the 80s, I have less trouble with war or violence as storytelling devices) because we would all be so much better off if we just accepted that we were in this together, but then again, I am a hypocrite because I can preach such bullshit easily enough, and I can watch Groundhog Day, which is all about appreciating the people around you, for an entire fucking year and yet I still don't even know my neighbors, nor do I have many friends that I do things with regularly, because I am far from the social beast I wish I were, so much so that--coming back around to my Woodstock story (and also, finally, bringing this comfortably into Before Sunrise before I move on to Before Sunset for tomorrow)--it's no wonder that after I saw the Old Man stand-in and may or may not have offered to buy him Starbucks because I didn't have any cash (but, in retrospect, I'm remembering that there may have been a bank right off the town square, and surely it had ATMs, but did I even check, or was talking to the "homeless" guy just something to tick off of some mental checklist for my Groundhog Day pilgrimage?) and then I saw my Nancy Taylor stand-in a block off the Square, while I was heading off to find the public library because I had heard there was a Groundhog Day exhibit there (you can see the library photos in an old entry in this blog, of course), and of course, I didn't approach here in the present, because imaginary time loop and whatnot, I could catch her on the next resumption and figure out what makes her tick, what makes her make noises like a chipmunk, if you will, or maybe we'd just wander the town like Jesse and Celine, live our entire relationship in the remaining hours of the time loop because, on the one hand, why stretch shit out for a second or a third day, or a week, a month, a year, an actual lifetime, when surely it is possible to get to know one another in just one day of walking and talking, and you don't have all the deeper attachment that will make departing such sweet sorrow, except there I go countering my own point by referencing that Romeo and Juliet line, because isn't that line from that first night Romeo and Juliet meet, the balcony scene, and isn't the deep connection the damn point to the walking and talking, sharing, dating, holding hands, kissing, hugging, fucking, or is it really just that initial madness that makes all of life worth living, and love just a twisted form of obsession (and a reunion in the vein of Hedwig's (by way of Aristophanes, or Aristophanes by way of Hedwig, I guess) "The Origin of Love" between incomplete people, where maybe the length of the reunion is not so important as the vitality of it) that can have mind blowing and life altering power in a moment as much as in a day as much as in a lifetime?


this constant conversion of my fanciful ambitions

Before Sunrise begins on June 16. Some might know that day as Bloomsday, a celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses, which takes place on that day. I, however, am one of those people who tried reading Ulysses and never got very far. But, I can read about Joyce and have done so. Did so again today. The following is--because, as Luke McKernan puts it in his film blog, 19 July 2014, "Richard Linklater's Before trilogy is more subtly and rewardingly Joycean than any literal transcription of his work to the screen"--me mapping Before Sunrise onto the structure of Ulysses (which itself is mapped onto the structure of The Odyssey).

(Admittedly, some of these will be stretches.)

Ulysses is told in eighteen episodes. As I understand it, the labels for those episodes were not included by Joyce but he used them in his letters and offered them to his friend Stuart Gilbert, who later published the schema.

Episode One: Telemachus, named for Odysseus' son, in my mapping fits the first train scene. Since I want to stretch this whole thing a bit, I'll even say that the German couple fighting (reportedly accusing one another of being alcoholics, but I don't speak German and cannot confirm that) are like the war. Telemachus apparently translates as "far from war"--clever guy that Homer. Celine (Julie Delpy) moves away from the war and finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke).

Episode Two: Nestor, named for an argonaut that Telemachus goes to for information, but he has none. Apparently, this is the part of Ulysses that people quote a lot. I wonder if that is just because not that many people manage to read much further. In my mapping, this is the Lounge Car. The first bits of information. First level of their social penetration as well. In Ulysses, this episode takes place at the school; if I wanted to really stretch things, I might mention that they talk about Celine being a student at the Sorbonne here. In the schema, the art for this episode is history. There is a bit of history here for Jesse and Celine--talk of childhood. (Even as Jesse's story about his grandmother is also the film's first big reference to death.)

Episode Three: Proteus, named for the old man of the sea, and this section is written in a stream of consciousness style. Thematically, this doesn't quite map to my pick, but I put the lead up to and the conversation with the two guys about their play here. This section in Ulysses is a male monologue, so it also fits in that way. Plus, a misbehaved cow seems like just the thing one might come up with when just writing. This scene also doesn't really add to the "plot" and the plot really gets going after this. So, as the first three episodes make up the Telemachiad, this fits as the third, strange, piece of that introductory section.

Episode Four: Calypso, named for the nymph who traps Odysseus to be her husband. In Ulysses, this shifts time backward and gives us another main character. Here, this would map to Jesse and Celine in the tram asking direct questions. Also, while Celine later says she fell for Jesse when he told the story about his grandmother, I think this is where Jesse really gets attached to Celine. She opens up about politics and he can barely take his eyes off her.

Episode Five: I wanted the record store sequence to map ontoAeolus, but the order did not work for that. Instead, we have next Lotus Eaters, which instead of mapping music onto the wind, maps music onto narcotics, I suppose. And, Jesse certainly eyes Celine like she's having a narcotic effect on him (and vice versa).

Episode Six: Hades, named for the god of the underworld, takes place in a graveyard in Ulysses and maps right onto The cemetery scene, Celine and Jesse at the Friedhof der Namenlosen.

Episode Seven: Aeolus, named for the god of the winds, maps onto the carnival sequence, beginning with Jesse and Celine up in the sky in a Ferris Wheel. In Ulysses this episode is told in segments, with headlines dividing them. Here, we get our two leads on the Ferris Wheel, then walking around talking about generations and happy relationships (or the lack thereof).

Episode Eight: Lestrygonians, named for giants and somehow involving food. I couldn't find details too readily on the food connection (the schema refers to "The Lunch"). But, here, we've got Jesse and Celine at a cafe, spotting the monks then interacting with the palm reader. We don't actually see Jesse and Celine eating, but they do seem to have at least had some coffee.

Episode Nine: Scylla and Charbdis, named for a monster and a whirlpool; Odysseus had to choose between these two evils. I wanted to map this onto the walking conversation at the carnival--like the two evils are a relationship that will never be good enough or loneliness, but the map didn't work out that way. Instead, this has to map onto the bit where Celine talks about the Seurat posters/paintings. She talks about people dissolving into the background, the environment being stronger than the people, humans being transitory. This scene doesn't last very long, and I have trouble showing the two evils... Given Celine's minor political bent in this film (and increasing political bent in the sequels), one could stretch this into an environmental thing. Us versus the environment. Or, metaphorically, this could go back to the two evils above--a lie or loneliness. People/relationships matter in the present--this film is all about that--but then they dissolve into the background of your life. On the one hand, you must lose the individuals. On the other, you get to meet new ones.

Episode Ten: Wandering Rocks, named for a danger Circe warns Odysseus about. Also, slightly out of order per The Odyssey--it should come before Scylla and Charbdis--but this is where it is in Ulysses. In Ulysses, this episode is told in nineteen vignettes. Here in Before Sunrise, Celine and Jesse are in the church. Celine's take on the church as linked to the pain of many generations is interesting. She means it positively, but if you think about it, it's quite negative. The "Technic" of this episode in the schema is "Labyrinth." The topic of discussion in Before Sunrise is religion.

Episode Eleven: Sirens (which, per The Odyssey, should have been much earlier), and Celine and Jesse are by the water. In Ulysses, there are music motifs here but what I noticed in Before Sunrise is how there are several background characters who we can assume have their own stories going on. Jesse and Celine are just one couple out of many, two people out of many more. This story is not supposed to be big and important. Between the last section and this one, it's almost like--assuming my mapping fits to any plan on the part of Linklater and Kim Krizan--they wanted to deliberately counter the references backward to The Odyssey because that story is so obviously full of important things, big things. This is Jesse and Celine's first fight, though.

Episode Twelve: Cyclops (should've been earlier), Polyphemus, who Odysseus blinds. There is an unnamed narrator for this episode in Ulysses. And, here in Before Sunrise, we have the unnamed poet.

Daydream delusion
Limousine eyelash
Oh baby with your pretty face
Drop a tear in my wineglass
Look at those big eyes
See what you mean to me
Sweetcakes and milkshakes
I'm a delusion angel
I'm a fantasy parade
I want you to know what I think
Don't want you to guess anymore
You have no idea where I came from
We have no idea where we're going
Lodged in life
Like branches in the river
Flowing downstream
Caught in a current
I carry you
You'll carry me
That's how it could be
Don't you know me?
Don't you know me by now?

Episode Thirteen: Nausicaa (also, should've been earlier, per The Odyssey), about unrequited love. Here, Jesse and Celine play pinball while talking about their exes. This episode in Ulysses apparently goes into parody of romantic stories. In Before Sunrise, among other details, Celine tells her psychiatrist a made up story about a girl who wants to kill her boyfriend. Celine talks about being obsessed with people who you don't really like that much and Jesse finally talks about how he came to Europe with his exgirlfriend and they just broke up all over again in Madrid. Cheerful talk about breaking up.

Episode Fourteen: Oxen of the Sun, named for the Cattle of Helios that Odysseus and his men killed and were punished for killing. Supposed to be more parody here, also some Latin and confusing slang. This is where Jesse talks about Bonobos (though he refers to them as "breeds of monkeys." He's making a point about how sex leads to peace and Celine sees it as a male fantasy. Jesse is the optimistic one; he saw his grandmother in the water droplets, he sees peace in these monkeys. Celine is the cynical one; she fears death 24 hours a day, sees a sexist fantasy in these monkeys, and kills the one man on Jesse's hypothetical island. The gender talk continues in the vicinity of the belly dancer--the "birth dance." The conversation ventures away from the camera briefly, letting Celine and Jesse be a part of the crowd. Then, the dance conversation and the gender roles stuff continues. Ultimately, Celine pronounces:

I believe if there's any kind of God it wouldn't be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there's any kind of magic in the world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed, but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.

Episode Fifteen: Circe is written as a play script in Ulysses. Reportedly, it deals with hallucinations as well. The corresponding scene in my mapping begins with other people, other conversations, none of them in English. Finally, we get to Celine and Jesse and their fake (i.e. hallucinations) phone calls. Structurally, this episode mirrors the tram conversation with the direct questions. It's less natural conversation and more of a gimmicky way of getting at leftover vital information. Regarding the hallucinations, Jesse also suggests that Celine is a Boticelli angel. Extend this episode to the balcony and the boat, like a three-act play. Additionally, the notion that they can remain together until morning and then never see each other again is itself a hallucination. They even both seem to realize it but cannot admit it until later.

Episode Sixteen: Eumaeus, the first person who sees Odysseus when he gets home. Also, the beginning of the conclusionary Nostros bit. The beginning of the end for Celine and Jesse. He talks a bartender into giving him a bottle of wine, she steals glasses, and they end up lying together in the grass talking about whether or not they should have sex if they have no future together. In Ulysses, reportedly, this episode deals in confusion and mistaken identities. In Before Sunrise, this is Celine's and Jesse's chance to shape their limited future based on the decision they made on the boat. The confusion is in the past. Celine talks about watching the sun rise with other people and feeling she wanted to be with someone else. But she is happy to be with Jesse. The mistaken identity is the urge to remain attached versus their decision on the boat. Jesse talks about how he has never experienced anything where he wasn't part of the experience, about being sick of himself, about how as a couple they would similarly get sick of each other. But, being with Celine, he feels like he's somebody else. Celine doesn't want to have sex but then instigates their (presumably; we don't actually see it) having sex. This whole scene is about losing yourself, including through sex and love.

Episode Seventeen: Ithaca, Odysseus's home. In Ulysses, this is in the form of a very organized catechism. Here, we get the last conversation between Jesse and Celine. "Back in real time," as Jesse puts it. They talk about what will happen when they go to their respective homes--she will call her mother, he will go pick up his dog from his friend's place. They dance after happening upon someone playing a harpsichord with an open window. (Dancing, of course, was compared to sex in the previous scene, another way to lose yourself.) She lies with her head in his lap. For Odysseus, Ithaca is home. For Jesse, his literal home is elsewhere, but in this moment, being with Celine is his home, which brings us to...

Episode Eighteen: Penelope, named for Odysseus' wife. In Ulysses, this episode is only eight long stream of consciousness sentences. Here it is the rapid-fire desperation of two people realizing they don't like the plan of not seeing each other again. There's limited time as Celine's train is about to leave. They're holding onto life and love that shouldn't survive. What Odysseus has been doing throughout his Odyssey. Penelope is not waiting yet; this is more like the promise of her being there.

In the Chicago Reader, 2 July 2004, Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, "I suspect that [director Richard] Linklater uses the Ulysses reference because, like Joyce, he's interested in giving a lot of weight to the everyday." I'd call that spot on. Sure, the film deals in love and romance and death and the future, but really, the film is so grounded in the basic interactions (though not quite in real time like Before Sunset will be) that it is more about the mundane than the profound. Or rather, it is telling us that the mundane is profound. Love--so grand in other stories--emerges from simple conversation here. And, really, that's where it comes in reality, as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

a tedious collection of hours

Who needs a plot anyway? Who needs plans, our for things to end up how you want them to end up? (Or for a blog month's theme to outlast its novelty... twice.) Changing gears a little today with Before Sunrise.

Jesse's (Ethan Hawke) 24-hour reality show idea has, of course, been surpassed by YouTube and Twitter and Tumblr and Snapchat and Vine and Facebook and whatever else everybody's using...

It amazes me that with the setup of a thing like Boyhood anybody hoped for a plot. Linklater is kind of the anti-plot director. I mean, this Before trilogy, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, SubUrbia; even Bernie which is based on a true story kinda meanders. Before Sunrise (and its two (so far) sequels) is quite deliberately plotless. It's just two characters wandering around Vienna, talking about anything and everything.

Good mid-90s fun. The epitome of such films actually got the title Walking and Talking. Unlike a lot of these films, Jesse and Celine (Julie Delpy) are not... bored with life. Celine seems to have a fairly good grasp on who she is, in fact. Funnily, after writing that, I read in Roger Ebert's review that he would call this movie, "a "Love Affair" for Generation X, except that Jesse and Celine stand outside their generation, and especially outside its boring insistence on being bored."

For the record, and because I just looked it up, Roger didn't seem to react too negatively to Walking and Talking. "How did I feel at the end of 'Walking and Talking'", he asks. He answers: "The earth didn't shake, and I didn't feel in the presence of great cinema, but I felt cheerful, as if I had gone through some fraught times with good friends and we had emerged intact." Sounds like an amazing cinematic experience to me. He continues, referencing two characters from that film: "And I found myself remembering Bill, the video clerk and Fangoria reader, and wondering how his book is coming along. He's writing the life of Colette." On the one hand, there lies the road to fan fiction--wondering where characters go after the credits roll (or the book ends)--but also, for me, that's entirely normal. That was definitely how I felt after watching Before Sunrise the first time. Nine years later, when Before Sunset came to theaters, I was eager to see it. Another nine years after that, Before Midnight and while I thought the middle of that one dragged a little, I loved its end. And, I loved that characters that weren't action heroes or genius detectives got sequels,, and those sequels actually added a lot to the overall experience.

 

 

 

 

 

(Pardon my silence, but I have realized this movie will probably be a three-day affair, and I'm tracking some stuff as it goes.

But, nevermind that (at least until, say, tomorrow).)

In the meantime, it is worth mentioning just how much of the conversation in this film keeps coming around to death, or at least mortality. Mortality as an excuse for love, I suppose. It is this film as microcosm for life; you have some time, you don't want to be lonely, so you find a friend or a lover or both (or a few of both), and you pass the time together. Still, you die (or get on the train/plane). (I think back on airports where I have said goodbye... Goodbye is a "little death," a darkness that may seem to last forever, until you get to live again.) In the interim, absent loneliness, you get to enjoy things a bit more.

Monday, March 21, 2016

happy to be in america

Watching Midnight Special in the theater today, yesterday's theme came back to me. First of all, great movie, takes a potentially huge narrative and squeezes it into a very small scale; writer/director Jeff Nichols set out specifically to explore the strength of a father/son relationship, what it means to be a parent. And, I'm watching this movie and thinking, there it is again; we're embedded with Roy (Michael Shannon) so we understand that he loves his son (Jaeden Lieberher), so when he pulls a gun on a cop, or his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) shoots that cop, we are sympathizing already even before we understand what's going on with the boy, and where this story is going.

Watching Mrs. Doubtfire one more time, I gotta reiterate, the whole birthday party scenario plays the way it does so we sympathize with Daniel (Robin Williams). Miranda (Sally Field) tells him, "Don't make me out to be the monster, here," but the movie has already done that. In movies, if not in reality, anyone who shows up at a party and turns the music off abruptly is a de facto nuisance, especially if that character is a parent (or spouse) of our protagonist. Miranda is coded as the bad guy. Then, through the movie, as we get to know her a little better through her interactions with Mrs. Doubtfire, the film adds Stu (Pierce Brosnan). Stu isn't all that bad a guy, but the film frames him like the douche invader Daniel believes him to be. The film doesn't let us be objective.

And, that's how movies work. We're with the protagonist so we need to sympathize/empathize with that character. When he does his worst--smashing through a police barricade or dressing up as an old British woman to violate a court order--we're there.

(I imagine a more recent version of Mrs. Doubtfire in which Daniel figures out that he was a woman all along, something like Transparent but with younger children.)

But, as I said yesterday, that's got potential to be a very dangerous perspective.

(In Arizona, yesterday, protesters blocked a highway to keep people away from a Donald Trump rally. You know, standing there, protesting a man and a message they believe is dangerous. They're there because they know Trump needs to be stopped and they have to do something. But, on the other hand, some conservative folks online (not even all Trump supporters, mind you) were calling for the protesters arrest, because the audience has a right to hear Trump speak and protesters should not block traffic. Because, see, the other side knows they're right, too. (Some even called (only somewhat indirectly) for their deaths, but fortunately, those posts were few and far between.) When a truck drove (slowly) through the crowd, people on one side were cheering on the driver because the crowd shouldn't be there, the other side was angry at the driver for (barely) endangering the protesters. And it is difficult to imagine any headway between the two sides. Growing up on American movies, Western myths, it's all put a bit of effort in and you will get what you want, and you are the good guy and you will beat the bad guy and all that black and white bullshit. I mean, I look at so many politicians, old white men, and imagine they all grew up watching Westerns. Guns solve everyone's problems. Bad guy loses. Good guy wins. (Nevermind the deconstructionist Westerns--and if you want more on Westerns and you're new to this blog, find any entry from last June.))

The resolution of Midnight Special--SPOILERS--demonstrates how right Roy was to steal his son from the cult who had been raising him for the past two years. Aside from a few injuries (and, presumably, a couple representatives of the cult killed along the way), everything works out for the best. So, nevermind the law, Roy helped his son get to a better place.

Meanwhile, the resolution of Mrs. Doubtfire brings Miranda over to the side of accepting Daniel even though he hasn't really earned it. As Roger Ebert puts it in his review, "Mrs. Doubtfire turns out to be the nanny from heaven, so firm, so helpful, so reassuring, that if Daniel had been at all like this, he'd still be married." (Like, he could have appreciated Miranda's organization in the kitchen cabinets before he put on a dress.) But, would a movie about a father figuring out how to be a better... Hm, this is interesting. I was going to ask if a movie about a father learning to be a better parent (absent the ruse of Mrs. Doubtfire) be as entertaining? Then, immediately a) I thought of Mr. Mom and 2) rejected that example outright because Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) is not offered up as a bad parent in the first place. He loses his job, his wife gets one, and roles reversed, hilarity ensues because no way can a man handle a vacuum cleaner or an iron or a meal. Of course, that's got John Hughes behind the scenes, so that helps. But, again, Jack Butler is not a bad parent becoming a better one. He's a never-had-to-be-a-parent learning how to be a parent at all. Daniel Hillard, on the other hand, is a bad parent... pretending to be a good one. Now, pretense can easily become reality if one holds to it, but the problem (or, another problem, I guess) here is I'm not sure the movie ever really shows Daniel changing into a better father. His transformation into Mrs. Doubtfire is immediate and then he's just playing the role until... he isn't.

But, (presumably) loving father gets to spend time with his kids; isn't that a wonderful ending? I mean, it could only be more Hollywood if he and Miranda got back together. (Or Danielle and Miranda got together to really embrace the San Francisco stereotypes.) I find it fascinating that I trust Roy holding a shotgun as a clearer example of a loving father than Daniel rushing to change his costume in a bathroom stall. Of course, I grew up on American films, so yeah, guns demonstrate that you mean business. Crossdressing--not so much. That's the Hollywood impulse. The former means we cheer and applaud when the bad guy is beaten. The latter means we laugh.

It's refreshing, actually, that a good guy with a gun is very much not a fair way to characterize Midnight Special. As filmmaker Jeff Nichols tells The Verge, "I don't really care about plot very much. I think plot is very overrated. Plot is obviously necessary, but what I really care about is emotionally affecting the audience."

One thing Midnight Special and Mrs. Doubtfire have in common, actually--plot is secondary to feeling. Of course, the feelings are very different.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

it often disappears with age or entering politics

"Can we get back to politics?" - Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton

If we do take Mrs. Doubtfire seriously, it stops being cute. Sure, it's still got, as Saer put it yesterday, watching the movie for the first time, "the feelz" but just because Daniel (Robin Williams) is hurting doesn't mean he should get what he wants. In fact, we're shown the troubling version of Daniel in the opening scene. He's doing voices for a cartoon and he's too concerned with "I've got to do what I've got to do" to realize that what he's got to do is his damn job so he can, you know, make money, and help Miranda (Sally Field) out with their kids. That's the real world. Instead, Daniel lives in a world where he feels just fine quitting that job (and note Lydia's (Lisa Jakub) familiarity with the idea of him getting fired) then spending however many hundreds of dollars it costs to rent a mobile petting zoo for his son's birthday party (which Chris (Matthew Lawrence) was not even supposed to have because of his bad report card).

Hell, I think the old next door lady calling Miranda about the party like she's telling on a kid breaking the rules is there just so we impulsively side with Daniel. No one likes a nosey old white lady. If the party had just run long and Miranda happened upon it, the result would have been... Well, probably the same--

(The same inappropriately scene-making behaviour seen... (Had to look it up because I thought it was the same year) two years earlier in Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, not just from the mother but also the boyfriend interrupting the obviously formal event going on. I mean, can you not just deal with your anger in private after taking someone aside? No, that wouldn't make the movie happen. Hollywood wants a scene, literally. Why have realism when you can have noise?

For that matter, Chris is turning twelve. Does he need a mobile petting zoo? No, but that makes Daniel's impulses just crazy enough that we could consider (but certainly not take) Miranda's side in things. The movie, as it is, lumps the three kids together and infantilizes them beneath their respective ages. Even that deleted scene I linked yesterday, which offers Lydia some focus away from her siblings, treats her like someone much younger than fourteen. If Natalie (Mara Wilson) asked Daniel to "pretend" it would make more sense; she's five.)

--but it would not provide the easy in for the audience to side with Daniel. However outlandish a party he's throwing, when some old lady calls the cops, our impulse is to side with the party because who doesn't love a party?

But, we shouldn't like that party. Bringing barnyard animals to that residential neighborhood without appropriate permits (or fences) is not a good idea. Throwing a big party assuming you can clean up before the wife gets home is also not a good idea. The movie makes Miranda shrill because that makes it easy for us to support Daniel; he's just trying to do right by his kids, right? But, then Daniel's idea of doing right by his kids extends to violating a court order, committing fraud against his wife and his kids and his court liaison. But, Robin Williams is funny, so we laugh, and oh, he clearly loves his kids, so we forgive. But, so many bad parents love their kids.

(An aside: the dysentery scene is weird. Daniel actually says, "I'd hate to hear that she came down with amoebic dysentery or, you know, piles." Natalie asks what amoebic dysentery is, Chris explains graphically how it leads to death and Natalie asks why her father wants her mother to die, when that's not even what he said. I mean, sure, he's a sarcastic guy, and referencing those afflictions is a joke, but the joke is that he does actually care how his ex is doing, but he, as usual, takes things too far in his dialogue to make his point. But, nowhere there did he say that he wants Miranda to die.

But, then Miranda arrives an hour early to pick up the kids after dropping them off an hour late, and she doesn't knock, insults Daniel's new apartment (aside from still having boxes to unpack, the place seems rather nice), and complains about how busy she is, because the movie absolutely needs us to dislike her. (But, we won't want her to die, either.))

There is actually a dangerous message at the heart of this film. One that pulls me toward political discussion, actually. The film relies on the same impulse seen in oh so many action films--if you're the good guy, it doesn't matter what you do to win. It the justification for protest, the justification for a bit too much energy (read: violence) at rallies. It's on either side--not to embed this particular blog entry entirely in the present--of Trump's events. Like the big one in Chicago that was cancelled last week. Wherever the anger arose, wherever violence happened, either side could justify it because they're right. It's a message constant to American stories--not just action films--and American politics. Generally, outside of the worst of cinematic (or comic book) villains, no one ever really believes him- or herself wrong. Maybe you made a bad decision here or there, but in the long run, you're a good person, right? And, you want to do what's right for you and yours, and when it comes time to vote, you want to vote for the man (or the occasional woman) who will do what's best for the country. Objectivity be damned. You chose rightly because you're not a bad person and, after the fact, what you have chosen has to have been right because why else would you have chosen it? And, you must stick with it and defend your choice or admit you were wrong in the first place.

In Mrs. Doubtfire, the judge suggest in the end that Daniel might need to seek mental help, and the judge might actually be right. At a certain point, the pathology of pretending to be another person every day has got to be more than just a silly ruse. Lying constantly is hard, unless you start to believe the lies. And, you could twist that one right back into politics. I mean, when they're running for office, on the one hand, you can barely believe everything that a candidate says. But, on the other hand, you're supposed to. The candidate is supposed to become what they say they are. The rally-attendees, the protesters--they certainly believe what is being said...

Of course, what is a politician if not his or her rhetoric writ into action? What is a father like Daniel if not his impulses writ into misguided (and illegal) action? And, who are we to judge if can understand the impulses behind it? Right? He's just a father who loves his children and is willing to break the law and commit potentially psychologically damaging fraud to spend time with them. It's perfectly understandable.

And, if Euphegenia Doubtfire ran for office, she'd probably be really into fascism and really strict laws, limitations on free speech and whatnot. But, just because she loves us all.

they should have a little disclaimer

"One person is not just one person." -Father Lantom, Daredevil*

Right away, in Mrs. Doubtfire, it's pretty clear that this movie wants to tell us something. Daniel (Robin Williams) is a voice actor and he adds lines to comment the presence of smoking in the cartoon he's working on, then walks out when his producer(?) gets mad at him. It's been a long time since I've seen this film and I get the impression from Daniel's preachiness that the movie might get a bit preachy, too. If it can refrain from just sitting back and letting Robin Williams get carried away with jokes and impressions (many ad libbed).

(* Because that was most of my day, today--watching the second season of Daredevil. It's spring break and, while I hope to get another section of my thesis written before school is back, I've got to waste a little time, too.)

I think the film is going to end up favoring the comedy over the potential drama--like these deleted scenes--and when it does get dramatic, I'm guessing it's going to be a bit one-sided. Like right now, Daniel and Miranda (Sally Field) are fighting about the extravagant birthday party (with barnyard animals) he just threw for their son Chris (Matthew Lawrence), and she's shrill, he's calm, she's complaining, he's just reiterating that she's the one complaining. And then she asks for a divorce. The way the kids were excited by Daniel showing up to get them from school, I was thinking the film started with them already being divorced.

Speaking of letting Williams loose, just watch the quick cuts of his voices after his court liaison asks what it means that he "does voices." It's like the movie stalls for a moment to let him do a comedy bit. Which isn't entirely a bad thing... At least each individual time. Just like his titular nanny character--she's amusing in small doses but a little... much when the movie's running over two hours. Given the right character and the right setting--say, Parry in The Fisher King--letting Robin Williams loose can work, but in this film, the premise is basically that all of his outlandish stunts and jokes in the face of real life are the problem and he's supposed to do better.

The problem is, the film expects us to not only forgive Daniels' antics but support the ruse he puts on to violate a judge's order. What's really going on is that the only way Daniel can be a good father (and a good husband, actually) is by not being himself, by pretending to be an old British woman. In part of the deleted scenes mentioned above, the oldest daughter, Lydia (Lisa Jakub) asks him why they can't all just pretend to be a happy family and he points out that then they would just be a pretend family. But, maybe if he'd pretended to be a responsible adult earlier he would have, you know, become one.


 

 

 

 

 

It's a sitcom plot expanded to two hours. But, make it two hours and we almost have to take it seriously. It has its moments, but it opts too often for a one liner or a visual gag.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

mom and me versus you and dad

Collective of wedges in your hand
Bounce together, their tips joined as one
Circle created, their joining done

Break it

Middle mangled, broken
Stripped away to the wrong owners, pieces like tokens
Wedges damaged, misshapen, alone


 

 

 

 

 

Today's reason to talk about divorce again: because fuck you all, sometimes I'm still dealing with it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

together we stand, divided we fall

(And, to think I did not know this: Bill Murray was apparently supposed to play Bernard, but backed out to do Broken Flowers. For the thousandth time, if you're new here, note the damn title of this blog. Though I was not, like, the biggest Bill Murray fan before I watched Groundhog Day for a year, I have a tendency to obsess about people and places and ideas related to that film.)

A father who signs a copy of one of his novels for his son "Best Wishes," a student who writes a short story about her vagina, a son who over-emulates his father's pretensions, a son who masturbates in public places and leaves his semen on books in a library and on a girl's locker, a mother who... Actually aside from cheating on her ass of a husband, she's not that bad. She doesn't comment on how her son can do better than his current girlfriend, doesn't invite a 20-year-old student to live with her, doesn't try to fuck that student. "This is a great family, and I don't know why you're screwing it up," Walt tells Joan, and it's a quite deliberate attack, not at all true. And, I'm not even sure that he believes it. He has already proven to dislike his mother. (I explained a bit of that yesterday.)

But, what I want to talk about is animals... And peanuts. (Or cashews.) (Or pickles.)

(But, not groundhogs.)

The titular squid and whale are an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Walt recounts a story to his therapist about seeing that exhibit as a child... (He's talking about going there with his mother.)

We'd do things together. We'd look at the knight armor at the Met, the scary fish at the Natural History Museum. I was always afraid of the squid and the whale fighting. I could only look at it with my hands in front of my face.

When we'd get home, after my bath, she'd go through all the different things we saw that day at the museum. And...

And we'd get to the squid and the whale, and she'd describe it for me. Which was--

It was still scary. But, it was less scary.

Anyway, it was fun. It was fun hearing about it.

His therapist asks about where his father was.

I don't know exactly. He was...

He was downstairs, maybe. He didn't ever come to the museum.

The obvious metaphor is that Bernard and Joan are the squid and the whale. Forever fighting with one another, an exhibit there to frighten and damage Walt. Man and woman forever in conflict. Walt--Joan calls him "chicken." Frank, she calls "peanut." (Also "pickle" but I'm not sure that suggests anything that different than "peanut" does.The former seems an obvious commentary on how Walt is really weak-willed, soaking in his father's personality in place of having his own. The latter, aside from being a crooked reference maybe to the cashew Frank has up his nose through most of the film, suggests something small, insignificant.

While the climax of the story revolves around Frank's increasing consumption of alcohol as well as his not wanting to be around his father anymore after being left behind, Walt's storyline holds more weight. Given the numerous scenes of tennis or ping pong in the film, I think a good way to think about it is this: Frank is the ball being passed between Bernard and Joan, Walt is more like Bernard's racket... Until he isn't.

 

 

 

 

 

And the match goes on even after they separate, after they divorce.