Tag Archives: Sight & Sound

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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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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Link Dump: #67

This week’s kitty is from Scary Movie 2, and it’s a lot less benign than most. I mean, it’s been beating the shit out of Anna Faris, and now it’s giving her the finger! Bad kitty! But still, it’s a kitty. Anyway, here’s a bunch of cool links…

We just have one particularly over-the-top search term this week: “violence horror pussy bloody operation.” That says it all, really.

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Link Dump: #14

Since Ashley insisted that I couldn’t choose kitty pictures anymore, the above image of Scar and the obnoxiously playful Simba is her pick. And a great pick it is! Scar is a deliciously, mincingly evil villain, probably more charismatic than Claudius, the Shakespearean usurper on whom he’s based. And of course that’s all because of Jeremy Irons, whose voice trumps any hackneyed dialogue or fickle hyenas. When cartoon Jeremy Irons says “Jump!”, you ask, “How high?” With that, I give you this week’s links.

  • Courtesy of Mary Ray of The Bewitched, I found out about this awesome 4th Amendment apparel – for when you want to stick it to the (TSA) man in writing.
  • Amanda Palmer’s vulva is NSFW art!
  • Here’s another awesome Tumblr blog called Screen Goddesses.
  • Apparently all (or at least most) of the planets have been featured in sci-fi literature. The more you know!
  • Robert C. Cumbow wrote an essay about one of Hitchcock’s greatest, Vertigo (1958). Give it a read; it’s very sharp.
  • From The Sheila Variations, here’s a piece about Ann Savage in Detour, easily one of the greatest femmes fatales ever.
  • Imogen Smith wrote a long, fantastic essay about Pre-Code movies, complete with Joan Blondell in a bathtub.
  • Dan Callahan attacked the “Rich Girl Cinema” of Sofia Coppola and Lena Dunham in Slant; then Cinetrix fired back by saying, “I enjoy being a girl.”
  • An inventive YouTube user mashed up Edgar Wright’s first three films into one awesome trailer. How can one director pack in that much pure awesome?
  • As part of the drive to raise Vincent Price awareness, a really cool blogger & graphic designer named Eric Slager made this snazzy poster of Price’s face adorned with the titles of his many films. (Via Classic-Horror.com.)
  • Sight & Sound announces its critical favorites for 2010! Unsurprisingly, The Social Network and Uncle Boonmee top the list. (Pssst: I’ll have some 2010 film lists of my own in the near future.)

Alas, we’ve had no astoundingly bizarre search terms as of late (unless you count more requests for Simpsons porn). Someone searched for “tom waits poster,” for which Ashley recommends this. (Tom Waits is lovably grizzled and makes excellent poster fodder.) Another searched for “witch burning in movies,” for which I offer the spellbinding, terrifying witch-burning sequence in the middle of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1958). And finally, “hanged cat film.” That’s no good. In keeping with our feline blog name, we’re launching a campaign against cat violence here. Seriously, people: end the kitty bloodshed. Meow.

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Body-fascism in Avatar and homophobia everywhere

So: my first week of spring term has come to an end, and I’m finally ready to blog again.  I’ve watched a lot of movies lately, started some classes, read some comics & nonfiction, listened to the new Evelyn Evelyn album, and of course read a bazillion things on the Internet. Lately both Ashley and I have been browsing the very awesome website Sociological Images, which has stirred all kinds of new ideas about how bodies are presented in the media.

Speaking of which! This morning I was reading the latest issue of Sight & Sound and received a pleasant surprise. In the Letters section on the last page was a missive from Dariush Alavi complaining about Avatar; he pointed out how S&S‘s review of Cameron’s mega-opus was, like everyone else, “cheering the money” despite the film’s “execrable politics.” (Politics which Ashley and I have attacked ourselves at great length; see here.) Alavi’s letter really struck home with one particular portion, which highlights some very problematic parts of the film I noticed, but hadn’t been fully able to vocalize.

Avatar must be one of the most racist, body-fascist and unimaginative high-profile American movies I’ve seen in a long time… With their cornrows and ‘generic African’ accents, [the Na’vi] represent all the worst aspects of the notion of the ‘noble savage’, and are evidence of the movie’s patronising attitude to its characters and audience. The uniformity of the Na’vi appearance – from the perfect teeth to the ridiculous waists – is almost as horrific as their facial features, which seem to be an extrapolation of the ‘nipped and tucked’ look favoured in California.

I think this letter makes some fantastic points. Superficially, Avatar is a simplistic man vs. nature epic, contrasting the technology and violence of the humans with the Na’vis’ spiritual connection to their environment. But the Na’vi (aka symbolic Native Americans/Africans) aren’t given subjectivities of their own, and Cameron colonizes them – and all indigenous peoples by extension – just as much as his evil humans do. They’re not characters so much as aesthetic objects, and they remain entirely passive (albeit still so visually pleasing) until brought into action under Jake Sully’s leadership.

And this passivity and objectification is intensified by Cameron’s total disinterest in individualizing the Na’vi. They live communally, I guess, so they don’t need to bother with any but the most cursory personalities – the chief, the priestess, the princess, and rival, and… the rest. Most of the Na’vis’ roles in the film pretty much amount to being eye candy – their director’s motion-captured harem. As Alavi points out, this isn’t just creative laziness: it’s also a desire to put good and evil in the most audaciously obvious of physical terms. Colonel Quaritch is scarred, therefore he’s evil; the Na’vi are enviably tall and thin, a race of Mary Sues, therefore they must be good. The most apt descriptor for them as a race isn’t even “peaceful” or “meditative” so much as “beautiful.”

As was discussed at length, Avatar‘s story basically mirrored that of District 9, but made everything so much easier. In District 9, Blomkamp asks his protagonist and audience to empathize with a race of spat-upon, crustacean refugees referred to only with the pejorative “prawns.” But who’d think twice about becoming a Na’vi? Every subversive piece of Cameron’s story was itself undercut through extreme use of cliché, and the glamorous, better-than-human appearance of the Na’vi fits in this pattern. I think “body-fascist” is the perfect word for a movie that makes its oppressed minority into a species of supermodels, out of the fear that if any Na’vi were possible fat, or ugly, or not quite so sparkly as Edward Cullen, then the audience might fail to identify with them. By which I mean, fuck James Cameron.

Anyway! That’s enough for now about Avatar, the movie so bland it earned a zillion dollars. Why don’t we move on to something more interesting, like flatworm reproduction? Or alternately, also worth discussing: another letter from Sight & Sound, in which Andrew Brettell writes, “Why do film directors feel the need to add these qualifications to works about gay characters?” He refers to a statement from A Single Man‘s director Tom Ford, wherein he said, “It’s not a gay story, he just happens to be gay.” This ties in beautifully to a book I’ve been reading for months, Vito Russo’s classic study of LGBT images in film, The Celluloid Closet. [Caveat for what follows: I have not yet seen A Single Man.]

Russo introduces the chapter “Frightening the Horses” with a series of quotes from filmmakers involved with LGBT-themed movies of the ’60s and ’70s – William Wyler (The Children’s Hour), Rod Steiger (The Sergeant), Gordon Willis (Windows), Rex Harrison (Staircase), and John Schlesinger (Sunday, Bloody Sunday). The gist of all these quotes? The films aren’t about homosexuality; they’re about some other, non-gay theme, usually loneliness. It’s strange that despite the passage of 40 or so years and the flowering of a whole queer independent cinema in America, directors of mainstream movies about homosexuality are still compelled to qualify their work, and even when the directors themselves are gay, like Tom Ford.

I don’t necessarily blame the people making these statements, but I think it does provide insights into our straight society’s attitude toward stories about, gasp, gay people. It’s as if straight moviegoers need to be cajoled into the theaters. “Don’t worry; you won’t be asked to share in Colin Firth’s homoerotic desires. It’s just about loneliness! You can identify with loneliness, can’t you?” So maybe this method of framing movies is double-edged: it certainly looks like cowardice, backing down from the content of your own film, but it can possibly serve as a Trojan horse, a way to lure vaguely homophobic or at least homo-anxious people into a movie they might not otherwise see. They sit down in the theater, they start identifying with Colin Firth, and by the end they might say, “Wow! Oppression based on your sexual orientation does suck!”

So that’s a possible defense of these wishy-washy statements, which admit that the characters are gay, but insist that the movie’s about more universal themes: they’re giving a special point of entrance to ignorant, self-absorbed straight viewers. I think this also reveals a lot about how straight is seen as the incontrovertible default or norm. (Kind of like, oh, how women are women and men are people, or how black is an alternate option.) Even now, homosexuality is identified as, yes, different, strange, abnormal, wrong, sinful, and of course as synonymous with sex-obsessed. So gay men can’t be trusted with Boy Scouts, for example, or if you try to incorporate a gay character into children’s fiction, you’re perverting them and soiling their innocence.

Do you remember the outcry over King & King? Or any number of books for children with totally nonsexual presentations of gay characters? This is the big issue here: even though stories for kids are absolutely full of hetero relationships, whether it’s between princes and princesses, or mothers and fathers, or animals that fall in love, once you switch the genders, then it becomes dirty and sexual. Because male/female relationships are always pure and chaste and kid-friendly, and they reproduce in clean and unobjectionable ways, right? But if you say the word “gay” to a child, you may as well be shouting “ANAL SEX!” in their ear over and over. Except… that’s not true; the image of homosexuals as always craving and having sex is just a malicious stereotype. However, since the people (men) in charge – whether socially, politically, or economically – decide the stereotypes, they decide the children’s books, and they decide what’s normal.

There’s also been an outcry over mentioning homosexuality in middle/high school sex ed courses. Which basically shows how parents want their kids to grow up either not knowing that gays exist – invisibility – or else regarding them as weird, vaguely predatory, but ultimately pitiful creatures who crawl around the fringes of cities (i.e., the dominant image presented pre-1960s, and sometimes post-). There are so many entangled fears here that it’s hard to straighten them out, but I think a huge one is fearing that their sons/daughters just might be gay (“I knew I shouldn’t have listened to so much Elton John when I was pregnant!), and if they learn about homosexuality in an accepting social climate, then dear God, they might just feel comfortable coming out. And then not only will the queers have invaded the TVs and radios with their icky, anal-sex-having selves, but they’ll have invaded poor God-fearing folks’ families, as well. As if homosexuality is a tumor you can eliminate with enough bigoted chemotherapy.

So that’s my brief take on, oh, the fears that put the “phobia” in “homophobia.” It reminds me of a basic tenet from my melodrama class last year, propounded by Linda Williams: “home as a space of innocence.” One of her exemplars of this theme, it’s worth mentioning, is D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, which could make a pretty good template for the kinds of new homophobic myths that have been developed over the past few decades. According to these hateful, deluded people, they’re just protecting their homes – be that literally, or  referring to all of America as Reagan’s “shining city” – and spreading homophobic lies is just like preemptively nailing all the doors shut or putting up a fence. Thankfully, through the beauty of tolerance and increasing education, that’s all starting to change.

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