Author Archives: Alice

About Alice

Alice was born north of the Arctic Circle, has a BA in Cinema and Media Studies, and has written about film somewhere or other (mostly at Pussy Goes Grrr) since 2008.

Viewing Diary June 2017

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Being John Malkovich (1999), directed by Spike Jonze

When I watched this back in 2008, I felt bad for Craig, the solipsistic schlub played by John Cusack. Years later, I lack even a sliver of sympathy for him, but I’m touched by the tender relationship between his wife Lotte and his would-be paramour Maxine. The two women start out at opposing ends of a love triangle, but—with Malkovich as their fetishistic intermediary—soon become ardent lovers. They end the film poolside, now a pair of cute, gay soulmates, and it feels exactly right. The film could scarcely have ended any other way. Craig may be the author stand-in, the same sort of frustrated artist who crops up throughout Charlie Kaufman’s work, but he still gets shoved aside. The writer’s instincts supersede his self-pity. (Kaufman reminds me a lot of my estranged father, who was born a few years after him. Both spent the late 1980s writing unproduced screenplays and working jobs they hated in Minneapolis. In the early ’90s, Kaufman moved to Los Angeles to write for sitcoms around the same time that my brother and I were born.)

So kudos for the lesbians, though the straight men telling their story seem only able to imagine trans or homoerotic yearnings via surreal sci-fi. Absurdly low ceilings, chimp therapy, celebrity puppeteers: all these weird jokes exist on the same plane as two women who have sex through an actor’s body. Cameron Diaz, her hair frizzy, her cardigans unbecoming, lends her high and desperate voice to the conceit. It flutters over shots from Malkovich’s first-person POV: “Ohh, I feel sexy!” Catherine Keener, meanwhile, smirks archly. I found her sexually intimidating back in 2008, but now I see a lot of myself in her. We’re both tall, slim, and sultry in a button-up. She models a level of confidence I wish I had. If I watch this again in another decade, I wonder if I’ll be even closer to Maxine.

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Viewing Diary May 2017

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Shooting Stars (1928), directed by Anthony Asquith and A.V. Bramble

As revealed by the BFI’s recent restoration, this sly meta-satire is a gem of late silent cinema. Its love triangle plot—a starlet strays from her leading man husband to a slick comedian—is pretzeled by irony and layered with visual subtext. Dizzying crane shots survey the breadth of a studio’s operations. Onscreen text limits the need for title cards. (The actress stands by a window at her lover’s flat, for example, and a marquee outside flashes the title My Man.) Films-within-the-film apply alternative tones to their love stories: slapstick, melodrama, the hokey romance of a cheap western. But Shooting Stars, wielding that triple entendre of a title, is a tragicomedy right down its bitter end. It’s like an inversion of Murnau’s Sunrise where the moral burden’s on the wandering wife, and not even movie magic can release her.

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8 Years??

That’s a long time to maintain a blog, especially in this fast-paced online ecosystem. Hell, I’ve been using Pussy Goes Grrr as a writing platform since I was a teenager. In the context of my life, it feels like the digital equivalent of those towering redwoods that grew from saplings over a span of millennia. Other apps and profiles may since have fallen by the wayside, but here I am, still typing on this likely antiquated website. It’s seen me through half a dozen distinct disillusionments, with writing or film or criticism; periods of dormancy and regret. After all that, I’m still struggling to hone my writing, and this is as good a place to hack away as any. At this rate, maybe I’ll find some creative satisfaction midway through the 2020s. In the meantime, well, I suppose I’ll keep on posting.

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Viewing Diary April 2017

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Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), directed by Doris Wishman

The camera follows a fugitive housewife through a series of drab apartments. (Here’s a painting of two Siamese cats hanging on a bathroom wall; there’s a clock in the shape of an eight-pointed star.) It roams the streets of late-winter Manhattan, leavening the film’s somber sexploitation with a soupçon of documentary. Actors’ faces receive little attention. It’s camouflage for the shoddy post-synchronized sound. Voices drift, untethered from mouths, in a miasma of lounge music. “Oh, what can I do?” gasps the displaced damsel while Gigi Darlene, the actress playing her, paces in lingerie. She’s the victim in this catalog of abuses, this no-budget Life of Oharu. Trauma and tedium overshadow the film’s slivers of titillation. Its “hell” is no moralizing fantasy, but rather the here and now: a crummy couch, a beat-up fridge, any room cheap enough to shoot in.

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Viewing Diary March 2017

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The Marquise of O (1976), directed by Éric Rohmer

In static medium shots, actors share the screen with candlelit curtains, household statuary, and bowls of fruit. The camera keeps their delicate faces at arm’s length. Rohmer meticulously blocks their movements for the Academy ratio frame. Sometimes he composes whole shots within a doorway or ends them with a fade to black, swaddling the action in layers of decorum. The arcane rules of aristocracy circumscribe the widowed title character. Her destiny depends on her perceived sexual purity. When she grows visibly pregnant, her straits worsen, and her parents entangle her in a string of emotional gambits. Both her father (who forsakes her) and a persistent suitor (her likely rapist) lay claim to her. A marquise’s body can be anyone’s but her own.

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Viewing Diary February 2017

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The Man I Love (1947), directed by Raoul Walsh

Ida Lupino’s eyes have heavy, steady lids. Her lips curl into a pout—is that insolence, or is it sorrow? Her face anchors the frame. She leads the cast of this noir melodrama as a torch singer lovesick over a jazz pianist. They wander the waterfront together. She calls up the club where he’s been working: “Is he there?” The bartender goes to check, and as she waits in the phone booth, the strains of her sweetheart’s furious playing pour through the receiver. “No,” lies the bartender. “He ain’t here.” She’ll end the movie by walking toward the camera, her eyes full of tears. She deserves happiness, especially after patching up her sisters’ love lives and extricating them from the grip of a sleazy impresario. But this is a downbeat Warner Brothers potboiler, so she’ll have to keep chasing her happiness after the credits have rolled.

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Viewing Diary January 2017

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You and Me (1938), directed by Fritz Lang

As a parolee love story, this is frustrating. As soon as the premise is established, it’s clear that the wife will eventually fess up about her past, and the husband will backslide toward burglary. Each plot point till then feels like it’s marking time. So I’m grateful for Lang’s love of strong diagonal lines, and the emotional eyes of the two romantic leads. (George Raft’s: narrow and weary. Sylvia Sidney’s: wide and mournful; incapable of keeping a secret.) On the few occasions when You and Me becomes a Kurt Weill musical, however, it’s astonishing. An opening anthem mocks department store consumerism; a sprechgesang torch song echoes “Pirate Jenny.” These numbers slip into the movie, and suddenly you’re watching something strange and didactic and sublime.

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