Monthly Archives: August 2012

Link Dump: #75

This week’s fluffy kitties are actually murder weapons from Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980). Because horror movies just aren’t about cats getting hurt! Sometimes, they’re about cats hurting people. And now, the links…

My favorite search term of the week was “меланхоличный эротизм,” which is Russian for “melancholy eroticism.” Also someone searched for “butt secks,” which is always funny.

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The Pataki Files: Helga and the Nanny

This is out MUCH later than I originally anticipated! No excuses, I just suck as a blogger! Hope you stuck around for more in-depth analysis of the Pataki family! If you need a reminder on what the hell this is you can read the introductory piece and the first post about Olga’s homecoming!

In “Helga and The Nanny,” we get to see how Helga reacts when a positive but unfamiliar force enters her household. When Miriam gets community service (drunk driving? In other episodes it’s mentioned that Miriam has also lost her license), Bob hires a live-in nanny to pick up the slack. Nanny Inga is the embodiment maternal nurturing, with just the right blend of firmness and encouragement. When Inga attempts to create structure for Helga (forcing her to eat a healthy breakfast, giving her afterschool schedules, etc.), it shows the viewer how thoroughly normalized neglect is in the Pataki household. Helga perceives the introduction of a positive authority figure as a threat because she’s spent most of her life cultivating fierce independence as a method for coping with her parents’ behavior.

Helga resists Nanny Inga to the point of actively sabotaging her: she frames Inga for the theft of Bob’s prized beeper belt, effectively destroying any chance she has at a future career in housekeeping or childcare. As in “Olga Comes Home,” Helga feels briefly victorious before her conscience gets the better of her, riddling her dreams (once again) with bizarre, guilt-fueled imagery. During their last meeting, Inga, who earlier in the episode pointed out that Helga was a “nervous child,” says bluntly that if Helga continues to shut out the good influences in her life, she’ll never be able to work through all of her anger and will ultimately suffer. Never before has someone seen through Helga so easily and the fact that all of her vulnerabilities are so transparent to Nanny Inga leaves Helga deeply shaken.

Nanny Inga’s spot-on assessment of Helga’s demeanor leads into one of the most profound scenes in all of children’s television: Helga has achieved her end, Nanny Inga is long gone, and things are back to normal in the Pataki house. Helga grabs the mail while Bob shouts at a despondent Miriam, who has a drink in hand; the yelling continues as she returns upstairs and can still be heard as she reads a postcard from Inga, who hopes her home life is back to normal. Helga looks up sadly as the screams from downstairs continue, and you can see that she’s wondering if just maybe, this isn’t really what she wants but merely what she’s used to. She then picks up the needlepoint that Inga recommended to soothe her nerves, and starts to sew.

In this scene we get a sense of how truly troubled Helga’s psyche is. She’s so caught up in protecting herself and maintaining the status quo (because change is scary, and how do you cope with change when you’ve been navigating an emotionally abusive  landscape your entire life?) that she doesn’t realize until it’s too late that things could have been different if she’d been able to let down her walls. Where is the line between self-preservation and accepting help when you’re a young child who has had to learn the arts of deflection, defensiveness and violence? How do you figure out how and when to cross it? “Helga and the Nanny” brings these questions to the forefront but offers no easy answers.

What do you think about Helga’s coping mechanism and how do you think Nanny Inga could have helped Helga if she hadn’t been pushed away? Comment to let me know and hopefully the next Pataki Files will be out in the coming weeks!

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Sight & Sound and the Fury

Some thoughts in the immediate aftermath of Sight & Sound’s 2012 “Greatest Films of All Time” list…

1) Vertigo is #1, narrowly edging out Citizen Kane. What does this mean? Not a whole hell of a lot. Both movies are still great: still formally and thematically dense, still fun to watch and write about, still excellent representations of their directors’ respective skills and obsessions. But of course these poll results will still stir up a lot of shit like “Kane was overrated; glad it lost” and “Vertigo isn’t even Hitchcock’s best.” Then, over the next decade, Vertigo’s new status will probably lead some folks to ascribe “cultural vegetable” traits (you know: boring! slow! unwatchable!) to what is, more or less, a lurid thriller. So, the same old posturing and bitching that always follow huge announcements like this.

2) But here’s the thing: this is really an opportunity. Kane’s “downfall” after 50 years (though come on—it’s still at #2!) can function less as a regime change than a reality check, inviting us to view the poll less hierarchically. Because that illusory “greatest film” hasn’t changed over the past ten years; critical reputations have. Maybe without that one canonized-since-1962 title at the top of the list, it’ll be easier to see that. With a new #1 for the world’s most prestigious film poll, maybe anything goes. Vertigo’s ascendance could grant us a new perspective on the poll and recenter the experience around the sheer fun of listmaking and list-reading.

3) Because, as always, let’s not take this too seriously. Let’s take it as a spark to light up our enthusiasm. As a series of great viewing suggestions. Lest you treat the S&S poll as more than a loose critical barometer, remember that it relies entirely on consensus accumulating around certain titles; if a filmmaker (like, say, Howard Hawks) doesn’t yet have a single canonical masterpiece, it’s near-impossible for them to squeeze in. (Although, impressively, Ozu ended up with two movies in the top 15.) Honestly, I’d prefer a poll run according to Kristin Thompson’s suggestion from earlier this year:

I think this business of polls and lists for the greatest films of all times would be much more interesting if each film could only appear once. Having gained the honor of being on the list, each title could be retired, and a whole new set concocted ten years later.

Now wouldn’t that be fun?

4) Silent cinema! This year’s top 10 saw four movies (Singin’ in the Rain, Battleship Potemkin, and Godfathers 1 and 2) traded for three: The Searchers, Man with a Movie Camera, and The Passion of Joan of Arc. Which means two new silent movies! And the voting body couldn’t have selected a better pair: one a playful blurring of art and the mundane, the other an austere descent into religious mania and torture. If I may indulge my inner statistics nerd: the top 10 has grown older since 2002, with the average release year going from 1952 to 1946. (Or 1946.2, to be exact.) On the one hand, this goes along with the poll’s tendency to ignore the bulk of recent cinema. (Only 13 out of the top 50 were made post-1970.) On the other hand, I don’t mind that, because Vertov and Dreyer are so much more in danger of being forgotten than, say, Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson. I still love those latter two directors, but more silents on such a prominent list can only be a good thing.

Wow, I just got so meta about film culture that I made myself dizzy.


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