Sunday, December 29, 2013

"On the hook, squirming:" 10 notes on the debate over The Wolf of Wall Street

1) How does one square an aesthetic appreciation for The Wolf of Wall Street with Jordan Belfort's real-life deplorable treatment of his victims? How much does Wolf succeed because it partakes in Belfort's cynical sales techniques, thereby making audiences just as gullible to what the movie has to sell? At what point does Martin Scorsese's lovingly rendered satirical portrait of Belfort's conspicuous consumption become a celebration of the venality of the 1%? In an attempt to answer these questions, I assembled these quotes from various folk: 

2) "The specific complaints relevant to the Why-Doesn't-Martin-Scorsese-Take-Us-By-The-Hand-And-Show-Us-These-Are-Bad-People perplex goes way, way back."  --Glenn Kenny

3) "When Belfort — a drug addict who later attempts to remain sober — rips up a couch cushion to get to his secret coke stash, there were cheers.

Then, intercut with Popeye eating spinach, Belfort is irrevocably high on Quaaludes (or 'ludes,' a muscle relaxer) and dumps coke into his nose to remedy the situation —more cheers."  --a Wall Street reaction to Wolf

4) "But there is another, less otherwise admirable quality required of successful salesmen, one which yields the crucial difference between rejection and a signature on the dotted line: you need to be totally, utterly shameless. You need to face the sneering contempt of the prospective client, who loathes your very presence in his office or at the other end of the line, and you need to not mind. You need to accept that literally every single person you talk to in a day will regard you as an abjectly terrible person and you need to sell them something anyway — you need to convince them that you are a good person, a person capable of and eager to save them a lot of money, and you need to do this by believing it yourself."  --Calum Marsh's "The Art of the Sell: Why The Wolf of Wall Street Lets Jordan Belfort Off the Hook"

5) "You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers' fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

And yet you're glorifying it -- you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by The Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you'd be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn't made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don't even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men."  --Christina McDowell

6) ". . . these things do have humor. You don’t have to put it in there. I mean, if you’re going to have a little fun for your company, you want to get them riled up and you want to show your appreciation, and you actually do organize throwing little people against a target – well, that doesn’t just happen off the street. People get together and have a meeting about it. You have to discuss this, OK? So there’s the humor right there.

But there’s also shaving the head of the woman, which is extremely cruel, which brings to mind the humiliation of the collaborators in World War II. There’s the cries of 'Wolfie!' – and I hate to say it, but 'Wolfie' was Hitler’s nickname. Watch those rallying scenes. [Jordan Belfort] gave them something to rally around, to be like him. 'Wolfie!' made me extremely uncomfortable when they started yelling that in the scenes. No one mentioned it, but I sensed it. It’s mind control.

And don’t forget, the movie is an impression. It’s not Jordan Belfort himself. The man is doing what he can right now in his life, he’s got legal issues he’s dealing with, and I can’t judge what he’s doing. But he seemed to be a perfect vehicle for this story."  --Martin Scorsese

7) "By making us understand the appeal of being a part of a conspiratorial organization like Stratton Oakmont, The Wolf of Wall Street becomes a movie that isn’t about 'them' but 'us.' What matters isn’t whether Jordan Belfort gets off the hook or not—though he only serves 22 relatively cushy months in penitentiary for his crimes, a matter of historically-accurate record, there’s little doubt that he’s left in a sort of purgatory at the end of the movie. What matters is that the movie leaves us on the hook, squirming."  --Nick Pinkerton

8) "One of the early conversations we had was about why these people are so detestable. You know, they have no conscience for people outside of their finite little world. I remember talking to Marty about that, and he goes, 'Look, the thing that I've learned about doing movies is, if you make these people as authentic as possible, and you don't sugarcoat that, people will forgive anything, and they will like those characters -- not what they're doing, but they will be invested in them.' It's a very conscious choice that [Winter] made in the screenplay not to show the ramifications of their actions. Throughout the picture, you go on this acid trip with them, without any regard for the people around them."  --Leonardo DiCaprio

9) "If any movie is in danger this year of having 'bad fans' it’s this one (watch closely as Scarface posters in frat houses are quietly replaced with Wolf ones)."  --Rachel Syme

10) "I think all of us, under certain circumstances, could be capable of some very despicable acts. And that's why, over the years, in my movies I've had characters who didn't care what people thought about them. We try to be as true to them as possible and maybe see part of ourselves in there that we may not like."  --Martin Scorsese

Friday, December 27, 2013

"Lower than pond scum": debating The Wolf of Wall Street

When it comes to The Wolf of Wall Street, my wife and I disagree. We noticed this morning, that when it came to critical responses, B clearly favored Dana Stevens' perspective: "The story’s relentless, unvarying rhythm—malfeasance, consumption, more malfeasance, more consumption—leaves the audience drained and annoyed." In my male crass way, I tend to favor Richard Brody's more generous view: "an exuberant, hyper-energized riot. It’s like mainlining cinema for three hours, and I wouldn’t have wanted it a minute shorter."

B: You're already condemning the movie by saying you are male and crass. You really want to say that?

FD: (laughing) [We sit in an IHOP, waiting on breakfast.]

B: I think it's a false dichotomy to base the critical responses on gender. After all, everyone was dehumanized in The Wolf of Wall Street, not just women. Children were like ornaments.  The smaller you were, the less you mattered. Women were mostly orifices.

FD: That's way harsh, Tai.

B: You are referencing Brittany Murphy in Clueless (1995) and she's dead.

FD: I would like to just point out that Wolf is just more fun than American Hustle, which, in contrast, is a comparatively safe movie. Even as I enjoyed all of the 1970's hairstyles, I still miss the much more radical politics of David O. Russell's Three Kings (1999). Like Silver Linings Playbook (2102), American Hustle enhances the plot line of a traditional genre film (such as, say, The Sting (1973)) with unfettered high level acting, but the overall experience seems fundamentally tame in ways that The Wolf of Wall Street isn't.

B: Well, if all you want is spectacle without a nuanced story with any sympathetic characterization, then maybe you're right, but personally, I prefer movies where the motives behind people's actions are intricate and not always pleasure-oriented. To me, Wolf was bereft of humanity. When the only motivation is greed, I don't care about what happens, because it's a no-brainer. There's no surprise. Even in Shame, Fassbinder's character, a sex addict, is still recognizably human. The Wolf is like a world of replicants. That's why when Dana Stevens says it repetitive, that's because it's all Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) can do. I'm really pissed off that Scorsese did nothing to underscore the millions of dollars that Belfort defrauded from people, the lives that were ruined--all of that was swept under the rug just because that's just not fun. The worst thing that Jordan does in the movie is wreck a car, and even that's seen as amusing.

FD: Let me reply. We can all agree that Jordan is ethically reprehensible, but can't we vicariously enjoy the excesses of his lifestyle just as we enjoy that of Jay Gatsby or Ray Liotta's character, Henry Hill, in Goodfellas (1990)?  I see Wolf as being fundamentally punk in its attitude towards its subject matter, and both Goodfellas and Wolf move towards punk music in the soundtrack to reflect that.

B: In Goodfellas, which I have recently rewatched, we get a backstory for Henry Hill and the mob framework for his actions. We get sympathetic characters in the form of his wife, his character's mother. Even the girlfriend is sympathetic, because we understand the motivations behind what they do. And we see the negative aspects of their lifestyle. There's a downside as well as an upside. And Henry is likable because we understand about who he is. It's not just about greed. His characterization and Liotta's acting is much more nuanced, and he's juxtaposed with people who are both better and worse than he is. In Wolf, everybody is despicable. Everybody can be bought. There's no love for anybody. Everybody is a sucker, expendable.

FD: You are generalizing a lot. I found it interesting how often Scorsese included scenes in which Jordan holds forth in front of a crowd, and the last shot is of an audience, as if he meant to include the spectators in the theater as part of the same duped group. But isn't American Hustle also about how we all hustle ourselves, about how the tendency to dupe each other is a fundamental part of the American dream?

B: Yes. That is one of the dreams of American Hustle, but unlike in the case of Wolf, we care about how these characters reinvent themselves in order to avoid crashing and burning. These are people who think on their feet, who understand and empathize. Now granted, they sometimes use that to their advantage, but they are more fundamentally human. For example, when Christian Bale's character Irving Rosenfeld joins the Mayor Carmine's (Jeremy Renner) party and Carmine gives him a microwave, Irving could have easily used Carmine to get what he needed, but instead he goes to Carmine and apologizes. In spite of the fact that he's a con artist. Irving has a Hemingwayesque code of honor and he's man enough to risk getting the shit kicked out of him to apologize. Irving understands that he did Carmine wrong. Even Jennifer Lawrence's Roselyn, given how crazy she is, still has her inability to function without her child and her jealous reaction to Sydney (Amy Adams) entering the room. All of these things are recognizably human. They have a sense of what is going too far. The characters in Wolf have no moral compass of any sort, either from some external source (like a religion), or one of their own making. And that's too easy. Talk about movies that make men look bad. This movie makes all men who like it look like schmucks or dickheads.

FD: But isn't your problem fundamentally with Jordan's point of view, and aren't we supposedly able to look beyond that?

B: Scorsese doesn't let us look beyond it. It's like being repetitively hit over the head with a large mallet. It's a one-trick movie. I only need to be hit over the head one time. Even in the meticulous way Irving works on his comb-over is much more subtle than anything in Wolf.

FD: Who knows if your appalled reaction is to Scorsese pushing the envelope . . . ?

B: He dehumanizes everybody. How can dehumanizing ever be funny? Is Hitler funny? Is 200 years of racism amusing? That's not even counting sexism.

FD: Yes, your sense of outrage may be a key aspect of why the movie will do well both critically and commercially. Scorsese in his way fits right in with the cynical devil-may-care attention-matters-the-most zeitgeist of Miley Cyrus. In order for anything to break through the fuzz of the media clatter, it must shock, and your reaction seems to suit that. Perhaps that's what Scorsese intended.

B: As we sit here intellectualizing this movie, there are tens and thousands of white men who are incapable of intellectualizing anything, and all they see is "I want my own whore to snort cocaine off of." It is Scorsese cynically playing to the masses, and those viewers who believe that the dehumanizing is okay, that I object to.

FD: Good point.

B: If everybody could intellectualize it, then it would be fine. Take something like Django Unchained. Tarantino takes on a hateful subject, but there is still nuanced characterization. So people get their say. You get to look at multiple points of view, and any viewer can decide on their own interpretation. But we don't get that prism in Wolf. It's a harsh narrow ray of light, and you can't see beyond it. Something like Boogie Nights (1997), which concerns the porn industry, has lots of different back stories, and perspectives. And it's not that every bad guy has to be punished. We have to know under what basis they operate. And it has to be more than greed, because it's not very interesting. Wolf is constructed to glorify greed, dehumanization, sexism, classism, racism, in fact anyone who is not a traditional white man. Why should I like that?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas links

---The Christmas Card

---A Christmas message from Edward Snowden

---10 of the best film-studies books of 2013

---Rites of Passage with Joan Fontaine

---David O. Russell's filmmaking tips

---"By now, the militarization of the police has advanced to the point where 'the War on Crime' and 'the War on Drugs' are no longer metaphors but bland understatements. There is the proliferation of heavily armed SWAT teams, even in small towns; the use of shock-and-awe tactics to bust small-time bookies; the no-knock raids to recover trace amounts of drugs that often result in the killing of family dogs, if not family members; and in communities where drug treatment programs once were key, the waging of a drug version of counterinsurgency war. . . . But American over-policing involves far more than the widely reported up-armoring of your local precinct. It's also the way police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter."

---"when Hollywood knew how to portray women"

---the depth of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

---"the objective of this system is nothing less than the elimination of individual privacy worldwide."

---Audrey Totter in The Unsuspected

---"I saw this film half a dozen times at the Bon Marche Mall cinema in Baton Rouge when it was in its initial release, and it was a huge inspiration to me. Looking at it now, I can see why: the things that are great about it don’t/didn’t have anything to do with having a lot of money (Catherine O’Hara trying to confuse Griffin Dunne while he attempts to remember a phone number), so it seemed within reach to an aspiring young filmmaker growing up in a suburban subdivison. Sure, there’s plenty of the patented Scorsese formal flourishes, but nothing that can’t be achieved with a standard Fisher dolly, and that’s why it all seems possible; it’s humor, insight, style, and impact are built out of a series of brilliantly constructed small things" --Steven Soderbergh

---The Clash on The Tom Snyder Show

---The Pulp Magazines Project

---behind the scenes of American Hustle

---"The Second-Hand Illusion: Notes on Cukor" by David Phelps

---"The Best Film Writing of 2013" by Movie Mezzanine

---trailers for Transcendence, Interstellar, White Bird in a Blizzard, Yves Saint Laurent, Jupiter Ascending, Edge of Tomorrow, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Art of the Steal

---"The Best Sister Acts of Hollywood History" by Nathaniel R

---"Basically, if we wait even a few years to implement anything less than a fossil-fuel starvation diet, momentum already built into the system nearly guarantees the climate is toast."

---The Art of the Time-Lapse

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Remember who the real enemy is": The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the propaganda of our media overlords

"The spectacle is the ruling order’s nonstop discourse about itself, its never-ending monologue of self-praise" --Guy Debord

"It’s certainly strange that a blockbuster film that raked in $158 million on its opening weekend revolves around a storyline about people in power actively shaping media to appeal to our sensibilities in a way that maximizes profit and marginalizes dissent." --Sarah Mirk

“Your job is to be a distraction. Your job is to smile, to read the cards that Effie gives you, and to live happily ever after.”  --Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson)

"Donald Sutherland wants to stir revolt. A real revolt. A youth-led uprising against injustice that will overturn the US as we know it" --Rory Carroll

Commodified revolt, the situationist spectacle, mass distraction--these things kept flashing in my mind when watching The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. As an installment of a popular franchise written by Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire is unusually adept at calling attention to its meta-commentary on media manipulation. The movie allegorically telegraphs its simulacrum phoniness in ways that struck me as almost realistic. It makes one wonder: who are our media overlords? How much is our information flow controlled? Let me point out some of the ways in which the movie rings true:

1) the growing disparity between the rich and the poor--This weekend in South Carolina, fast food workers in Charleston went on strike for a higher minimum wage. As a new study finds, "The wealth gap between the top 1% and the bottom 99% in the U.S. is as wide as it's been in nearly 100 years." In its dystopic way, the filmmakers of Catching Fire scarcely need to emphasize that point.

2) commodified revolt--businesses take the frustrations and the gestures of youthful revolt and convert them into commodities, thereby profiting from and nullifying the original impulse in the process. Catching Fire embodies this process unusually well. One can think of the entire hipster phenomenon of slacker dudes with beards drinking craft beer as a passively pseudo-rebellious lifestyle sold back to the young for emulation.

3) distraction--why worry about the injustices and the cruelty of American foreign policy (the drone strikes on Pakistani villagers) or domestic policy (insidious new political agendas concerning reproductive rights) when we can be more concerned with Kim Kardashian's weight loss or the current headline on TMZ.com? Katniss and Peeta understand all too well their function as distractions for Panem.

4) news and the spectacle--Catching Fire encourages the viewer to wonder how much of our media is governed by amorphous entities who promote and craft their versions of reality for us. Every news source has a bias, so that you have to compare and contrast them in order to get a vague fix on what happened. Given all of these slants, we turned to social media like Twitter to find out, for instance, how the revolution was going in Egypt because that more individualized source appeared to be the most honest. Occasionally, a crack in the organized spectacle of the media might appear in the form of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, but that was quickly shut down by riot police just like dissent is squelched by the jackbooted Stormtrooper-esque "peacekeepers" of the Capitol in Catching Fire.

5) Roman decadence--my significant other enjoyed the campy fashions of the rich Capitol public relations people such as Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks, who at one point wears a butterfly dress that serves to emphasize how disconnected from nature the city-goers have become). The chariots, the tribute parade, the display of fascist power, and the gladiatorial fights themselves all cheerfully connote Roman depravity. Just as the Romans had vomitoriums, so do the Capitol parties include beverages that will provoke throwing up so that one "taste everything." All of this triumphal imagery suggests how America is a similar empire in decline, and that so much power requires repressive crackdowns on the increasingly poor populace to maintain a semblance of control.

6) the crackdown--part of the fun of Catching Fire's use of Katniss' limited point of view (mostly during her Victor's Tour with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)) is that she only catches glimpses of the insurgency and the increasingly oppressive measures of the state to clamp down. She manages to peek at footage of rioting in the other districts and she directly witnesses a new invasion of "peacekeepers" taking over her own District 12 who flog and execute rebels in the main square, conduct random search and seizures, and finally firebomb the citizenry as needed. Catching Fire revels in the increasing cognitive dissonance between the happy talk of the grotesque Entertainment Tonight official media show (with Stanley Tucci's slimy Caesar Flickerman consistently stealing every scene that he's in) and the vicious crackdown going on. As Katniss' rebellious gestures continue to inflame the populace, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) seek to use their media overlord powers to equate Katniss with oppression, and thereby diminish her appeal. As Heavensbee says, “What dress is she going to wear? Floggings. What’s the cake going to look like? Executions.”

7) nature--Katniss attracts followers due to her self-reliance, and the disconnect between pure nature (the wild forbidden countryside where she learned to hunt) and the artificial nature of the Games creates a space for her to excel. The rulers of the Capitol do not want people to experience nature because that would give them the opportunity to be self-sufficient. As a professor friend of mine said, "In many dystopian novels, the protagonist looks to nature to thrive. Totalitarian regimes seek to keep people dependent."

8) the self-reflexivity of it all--just as the citizens of Panem live vicariously through Katniss' struggle as they watch her on their hologram screens, so does the movie comment ironically on its audience doing the same. Like other forms of detournement, Catching Fire teaches us to question the message in the medium. Do not believe what I'm writing. Beware of the official story. Remember who the real enemy is.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

surveillance dystopia links

---"If anyone besides famous people knew what it was like to be a famous person, they would never want to be famous. Imagine the stereotypical highly opinionated, completely uninformed mother-in-law character and apply it to every teenager with a computer in the entire world. Then add in all bored people, as well as people whose job it is to report on celebrities. Then, picture that creature, that force, criticizing you for an hour straight once a day, every day, day after day.

That's what it's like, even the smallest bit of it. Of course, that's if you even allow yourself to stay in touch with the world using public media. If I were famous, I wouldn't."   --Sia Furler

---There Will Be Blood / Through Numbers

---Chinese freeloaders in IKEA

---Terminator 2 in 60 seconds

----"The most popular forms of entertainment involve putting people under surveillance and watching what they do."

---"14 Screenwriters Writing"

---“We are living in a time of cinematic bounty. In multiplexes and beyond, movie lovers have a greater, more dizzying variety of choices—and of screens, large and small—than at any time in history.”

---Linklater / On Cinema and Time

---Aaron Bady's "Sunday Reading"

---"how even the anti-image is, always, an image in and of itself."  --Anne Helen Petersen

---"20 Great Shots from the Films of 2013"

---"New Wave artists aging gracefully"

---"How Fox News Built Its Scream Machine"

---"How the NSA Is Tracking People Right Now"

---"I think it’s better that they should be reading Pauline Kael reviews in the New Yorker than Derrida." --Daniel Mendelsohn

---"His and Hers: Jonze and Coppola" --Sara Maria Vizcarrondo

---"Yes, but, I think 'Typical Girls' is more making fun of girls who read magazines, put lipstick on, and stuff like that. I never liked that divide. I never liked the whole 'we’re the cool girls who play music and you’re the stupid girls who go to the mall,' because I was the stupid girl who went to the mall and then later got into music. I feel like 'Girls Like Us' is a statement that there’s no unity. And there shouldn’t be unity. There are no 'girls like us.'' --Kathleen Hanna

---The History of Hollywood Censorship and the Ratings System

---"Please Mr. Kennedy" of Inside Llewyn Davis

---Actresses Roundtable

---"It's palpable, that tunnel. Damp and earthy. In each shot, you can feel all the effort and determination that went into carving it, one small shovel scoop at a time. The tunnel is the physical representation of the POWs' refusal to give up or give in. It's also their lifeline. All of the prisoners' hopes are invested in that tunnel, and so when they end up 20 feet short of the trees beyond the prison camp, it isn't just a logistical or strategic crisis. It's a dagger to the heart."  --Jason Bellamy

---trailers for Amazing Spider-Man 2, 300, Beauty and the Beast, and Cymbeline

---Hyper-reality: A New Vision of the Future

---The Journeys of Martin Scorsese

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Frances Ha, cinematic movement, and the French New Wave

Last June, I had the good fortune to visit New York City for a week. The first night there, I saw Frances Ha at Lincoln Center. In comparison to my usual experience at the Regal Cineplex, the subterranean theater was austerely quiet and serene. We watched a trailer for Dirty Wars. Then, we watched Frances Ha. I was stunned. How could the rest of our visit compete with that? Since then, I've gotten the movie on Criterion Blu-Ray, and I'm still in awe of it.

Frances Ha musically alludes to Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962) and The 400 Blows (1959). The beginning of the movie, a rapid sequence of scenes establishing the close friendship of Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) resembles the clipped opening shots of the beginning friendship of Jules and Jim, and Frances makes a kick while mock-fighting with Sophie that directly alludes to the French New Wave classic. The black and white cinematography also evokes Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979). The wonder is that these references don't prove pretentious. Whereas Jules and Jim allow themselves to be bewitched by Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), writers Noah Baumbach and Gerwig stay away from ever allowing Frances to get entangled in a love affair with anyone. What matters in Frances Ha is the relationship between the two women, and Frances' oftentimes pitiful attempts to live up to what she perceives should be her standard of living in New York. She also tries to succeed as a dancer, but as she points out, "I don't really do it." Often as not, Frances finds herself humiliated due to her old age (28), her "undateable" status, her goofiness, her tendency to live inauthentically, and her lack of money when compared to her trust-funded friends. Frances Ha works in part because it remains so merciless in emphasizing how little Frances matters to others, how easily she gives in to peer pressure, and how transitory her moments of victory can be. For much of the movie, she flounders about, and yet her portrait is subtle, extraordinarily concise, and never sentimental.

In part, Frances Ha is a study in cinematic movement. Baumbach alludes to the sweeping shots of bicycle riders in Jules and Jim, the running scenes of The 400 Blows, and he adds on several key transitional moments such as when Frances joyfully dances and runs along a New York street to David Bowie's "Modern Love" (she runs in the symbolic wrong direction, to the left, in part perhaps because she's just moved in with two guys who patronize her relative poverty). During a key montage when Frances visits her parents for Christmas (in actuality, Gerwig's parents in Sacramento), the sequence is framed by a smooth moving shot of Frances going down an escalator at the airport to her parents (who wait down below with a poodle), and then another one of her ascending at the end of her stay. The montage does not provide the usual satirical commentary on the idiocy of parents. They seem perfectly nice, supportive, and Frances appears to have a good visit, but there's also a sense that she's just treading water. She's visited them before, and all of this family support does nothing to fix her failure to progress back in New York. The parallel escalator tracking shots convey the gliding futility of the young perpetually financially dependent on their wealthier parents.

Frances Ha ultimately meditates on two kinds of movement--the fruitful and the doomed, and the difficulty of determining the former. Only late in the movie does Frances understand that her artistic ability to choreograph dancers matters the most. Otherwise, she's condemned to move from place to place, relationship to relationship, without reason or purpose, with a yo-yoing hopelessness. On impulse, Frances decides to visit Paris for a weekend and pay for it with a new credit card. Perhaps not coincidentally, she borrows a Parisian apartment from a lawyer played by Josh Hamilton who starred as Grover in Baumbach's first film (another classic) Kicking and Screaming (1995). The latter film treats with a whimsical black humor the dead-end pursuits of several recent Vassar graduates who refuse to grow up (Frances also returns to Vassar in the course of Frances Ha). Throughout Kicking and Screaming, Grover does his best to deny that he misses his girlfriend who had the gall to go to Prague. In Frances Ha, Hamilton appears in one dinner party scene as a lawyer named Andy, but his character's largely unused apartment in Paris reminded me of Grover's longing for Gail (Catherine Kellner) in Prague and the American tendency to romanticize European capitals.

Suffice it to say that, to the ironic tune of Hot Chocolate's "Everyone's a Winner," Frances' weekend stay in Paris is solitary, jet-lagged, pointless, and beyond despairing. She walks along the brick edge of the Seine without quite jumping in as Catherine does in Jules and Jim. Towards the end of the sequence, Frances Ha finds herself sandwiched in a small old-fashioned apartment house elevator, her face framed by the closing door much like Jean-Pierre Leaud's face is framed by the cage of his imprisonment in The 400 Blows. Baumbach's vision of Paris (with its Arc de Triomphe evoking a scene in Godard's Breathless (1960)) remains somehow the best thing about Frances Ha. In spite of all of the delightful cinematic allusions surrounding her, Frances has to learn how to fashion her own culture and be her own artist. The French New Wave classics supply the spontaneity and the visual pleasure to balance Baumbach's and Gerwig's frequently bleak portrait of Frances. By the end of the film, Frances moves beyond them.   

Friday, November 22, 2013

film links

---Pharrell Williams' Happy

---an excerpt from Jason Bailey's Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece

---Bjork explains television

---The Look of Frances Ha

---Stabilized Zabruder JFK Assassination Footage

---"50 Years of Film Comment"

---"The kids are mostly horrible. Emma Watson's character is especially vile, pouting "I want to rob!" in one scene and then, when she's caught, excusing herself: "I think this situation is a huge learning lesson for me." But the movie gives you no easy position of moral judgment, because it of course replicates the very glamour it criticizes, down to the list of luxury brands thanked in the credits. The movie's pleasures are the same as the teens': the supernatural ease of breaking into beautiful homes (it seems no harder than clicking on a link), the pleasure of the stolen glitter and silk, and the fact that they get away with it for so long despite their obvious stupidity. The LA night is soft with marine haze, and celebrity houses in the Hollywood Hills are lit up like transparent gems. Moreover, the real "Bling Ring" teens, fictionalized with different names in the movie, were in some cases let off with probation because (as I learned from the DVD extras) the case's LAPD detective served as a consultant on Coppola's film. Simply by watching this movie, you've helped pervert justice." --Eleanor Courtemanche

---Magnifying Mirror by Catherine Grant

---"an organized list of filmmaking links"

---Alexander Payne on Nebraska

---Slow Burn

---filmmaking tips from Spike Lee and Roger Deakins

---"I really believe in history, and that’s something people don’t believe in anymore. I know that what we do and think is a historical creation. I have very few beliefs, but this is certainly a real belief: that most everything we think of as natural is historical and has roots — specifically in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the so-called Romantic revolutionary period — and we’re essentially still dealing with expectations and feelings that were formulated at that time, like ideas about happiness, individuality, radical social change, and pleasure. We were given a vocabulary that came into existence at a particular historical moment. So when I go to a Patti Smith concert at CBGB, I enjoy, participate, appreciate, and am tuned in better because I’ve read Nietzsche." --Susan Sontag

---"Otis Ferguson and the Way of the Camera" by David Bordwell

---a scene from Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

---a history of cloud computing

---Sutherland hopes that the young adult franchise sequel the he has a role in will foment revolt

---the spaces of Being John Malkovich

---"You see, film studios aren’t the biggest fans of things like Netflix, Redbox, or Hulu. You know, those things that allow you to pick and choose what you want to watch when you want to watch it for a reasonable, affordable price. The reason is that it eats into their sales of DVDs and pay-per-view rentals, for which they get a much higher cut of the profit. As DVD sales drop, movie studios panic." --Ashe Cantrell

---the arrogance of the Beatles

---"Directing a film is like being pecked to death by ducks" --Buck Henry

---trailers for Duel, Mob City, Noah, Some Velvet Morning, and Pablo

---Aningaaq

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Define worse": 7 notes on Thor: The Dark World and its villainous elves

1) In comparison to last year's witty, winning The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World has a perfunctory air as if the people at Marvel studios sulkily churned out what little they could under the commercial obligation of maintaining the Thor brand (I prefer Captain America). The result is hallucinatory but campy, leaving me wondering where I've seen such tropes like multiple realm convergences (Tomb Raider?) and villainous elves before. We get planets like Vanaheim, where the frost monsters dwell, and Svartalfheim where the abandoned husks of Dark Elf spaceships lie scattered about the barren plains under brooding shadows. At least the names are creative.

2) Many years ago, in the fairy tale beginnings of Asgard, Dark Elf Malekith the Accursed (a very pale Christopher Eccleston with blonde hair extensions) and his lieutenant Algrim vow revenge after the Asgardians place his beloved Aether under a stone column (as some Asgardian says, "Bury it deep"). The Aether is a powerful but a vague substance suitable for overthrowing the Nine Realms, a kind of red tendrilly CGI murk, good for any nefarious purpose or plot point.

3) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) still has his red cape, a bulky physique, and a cute little hammer. Just as vampire Edward loves his mortal Bella Swan, Thor has a weak spot for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who has an infinitesimally brief life expectancy in comparison to his mighty self who can live for 5000 years. Thus, Thor's love for Jane is roughly equivalent to a human falling in love with a comely mosquito.

4) Meanwhile, in the abandoned-warehouse outskirts of London, Jane falls asleep after a leaf-strewn portal sucks her to some indeterminate metaphysical place where it just so happens that the Aether penetrates her flesh and makes her glow reddishly. Did the Aether somehow know that she loves Thor? Soon, Jane finds that she has the otherworldly power of blowing up any guards who may otherwise impinge upon her space later when she visits Asgard. As an ordinary human, it helps to have something to make Jane stand out amongst the proud warrior Asgardians who only vaguely resemble Norse mythological figures.

5) As part of his Dark Elf skullduggery, Malekith stabs Algrim with a dagger and then sticks a red Aether lava rock in the wound. This procedure causes Algrim to writhe and turn into molten lava with super powers. Wearing a rhino/Minotaur/bull mask on his head for dramatic effect, Algrim then frees the enemy warriors from their dungeon in the depths of Asgard, thus wreaking havoc on King Odin (a perpetually bemused Anthony Hopkins with a gold eye patch) and his warrior God kingdom. It's always something.

6) As the shapeshifter trickster figure Loki, Tom Hiddleston easily dominates Thor: The Dark World because he's subversive and unpredictable in comparison to the monotone Thor and all of his bland Asgardian warrior clan stuck within the limited acting parameters of a Marvel-heroic amber. Somewhat like Iron Man in The Avengers, Loki gets all of the fun lines like "Trust my rage" and "Wanna have a rousing discussion about truth, honor, patriotism?" and "Define worse" and "Satisfaction is not in my nature." Hiddleston cheerfully holds one's attention even when he's just sulking and reading a book in his forcefield-bound dungeon cell.

7) Later in the movie, after the Nine Realms start to Converge (causing CGI circles of different planets, Svartalfheim included, to appear the sky over Greenwich, England, of all places), Thor and the evil elves duke it out underneath a gigantic blade-like elf spaceship (a Harrow) that can disappear when it feels like it. The warriors keep falling in and out of various portals, reappearing in other realms amidst Jotenheim frost monsters, etc. At one point, while still fighting, Thor and Malekith land upon the Gherkin building in London and make a squeaking sound as they slide down the side of the skyscraper, alarming the office workers inside. So does Thor: The Dark World slide out of one's brain as one walks out of the Regal cineplex.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

continuous partial attention links

---"Are you taking over
or are you taking orders?
Are you going backwards
Or are you going forwards?" --Joe Strummer

---Kurt Cobain on Identity

---"'We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening.'

'I've done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I'm used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.'

In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes." --Greg Ray

---"Ernst Lubitsch's charming pre-Code transgressions" --Kim Morgan

---blooper reels for Star Wars, Back to the Future, and Silence of the Lambs

---The Eye of the Beholder

---"The nagging, omnipresent digital media have produced a version of the Attention Deficit Disorder that psychologists began identifying in children decades ago: Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). A former Apple employee, Linda Stone, coined the term in 1998, differentiating it from multitasking, or the pairing of a 'fairly automatic' activity, such as eating lunch, with one requiring concentration, such as making a phone call. CPA results from 'a desire not to miss anything,' to be plugged into sources keeping us 'in the know' and, artificially, at high alert. Between smartphone, laptop, e-reader, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube, says novelist Walter Kirn, we’re like the 'stiff-backed lady operators' in old movies, 'rapidly swapping phone jacks from hole to hole as they connect Chicago to Miami, reporter to city desk, businessman to mistress.'" --Thomas L. Jeffers

---the titles of animated films and video games

---Selfies at Funerals

---Robert Grieves Showreel

---John Sayles--12 films that influenced his career

---"For me there’s no question that cinematically ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is the best Bond film and the only one worth watching repeatedly for reasons other than pure entertainment (certainly it’s the only Bond film I look at and think: I’m stealing that shit). Shot to shot, this movie is beautiful in a way none of the other Bond films are—the anamorphic compositions are relentlessly arresting—and the editing patterns of the action sequences are totally bananas; it’s like Peter Hunt (who cut the first five Bond films) took all the ideas of the French new wave and blended them with Eisenstein in a Cuisinart to create a grammar that still tops today’show fast can you cut aesthetic, because the difference here is that each of the shots—no matter how short—are real shots, not just additional coverage from the hosing-it-down school of action, so there is a unification of the aesthetic of the first unit and the second unit that doesn’t exist in any other Bond film. And, speaking of action, there are as many big set pieces in OHMSS as any Bond film ever made, and if that weren’t enough, there’s a great score by John Barry, some really striking sound work, and what can you say about Diana Rigg that doesn’t start with the word WOW?" --Steven Soderbergh

---trailers for Years of Living Dangerously, Only Lovers Left Alive, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Immigrant, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Robocop

---David Thomson's Moments that Made the Movies

---Richard Linklater on cinema and time

---How Calvin and Hobbes Inspired a Generation

---"There is a kind of audacity in something like Lincoln, in which important white men get discursive about the moral quandary in which slavery mires the country. That debate required men to search their souls and vote accordingly. But after enough of these movies, you're just hot with insult. You have to stop accepting apologies, accepting, say, The Help, and start demanding correctives, films that don't glorify whiteness and pity blackness, movies — serious ones — that avoid leading an audience to believe that black stories are nothing without a white voice to tell them that black people can't live without the aid of white ones.

McQueen and Ridley turn that dynamic inside out. Their movie presents the privilege of whiteness, the systematic abuse of its powers, and black people's struggles to get out from beneath it. A different movie might have taken this story and turned it into a battle between Epps and the white men who feel a duty to free Northrup. That's what we're used to. There have been complaints that the movie is too violent, that it depicts too many lashings, too many cruelties, too much interracial abuse, that all the gashes on all the backs (what Toni Morrison poetically described as chokecherry trees) are just too much. But that's a privileged concern." --Wesley Morris

---Three Reasons: The Crowd

---The Walking Dead: A Decade of Dead

---how an SNL parody trailer gets made

---"Slippery People" live

---The Federal System of Biometric Identification

---"Notes on the Mirror Visions of Modesty Blaise" --Catherine Grant

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Don't talk to me about Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch

Don't talk to me about Donna Tartt. She holds up a mirror to all of my tweets, my link lists, my retweets, all of the times I have checked my stats and my twitter interactions (especially when others favorite my retweets), the many times I have, in my boredom, looked for some answering response to the copy of a copy of a gesture of an allusion of a website hastily glanced at. Her work casts a baleful light on the narrowness of all of this Internet activity, all of this accumulated chatter, acres and acres of sloppy hastily written and eminently forgettable verbiage, whole landmasses of debased attention-seeking words always obliging the poor blogger to write another post or list some more links or the skimming reader will move on. No, I am not bitter.

What does Donna Tartt propose instead? Two passages of her new novel The Goldfinch stand out. I especially enjoyed this nihilistic blast:

"But depression wasn't the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn't he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom" (476-77).

In contrast to all of this flood of distraction and continuous partial attention, Donna Tartt exemplifies detachment and craft. Out of her aesthetics that holds much of what is valuable of the nineteenth century literary tradition, Tartt demonstrates how not to tweet, not be beholden to a machine, since she (reportedly) handwrites drafts in a notebook, cultivates "language for texture," and takes her time (11 years or so) between novels. Instead of "'Epoxy-glued' . . . shoddy work, and cheap things generally" (418), Tartt celebrates the discipline and pleasure of restoring antique furniture:

"By contrast Hobie lived and wafted like some great sea mammal in his own mild atmosphere, the dark brown of tea stains and tobacco, where every clock in the house said something different and time didn't actually correspond to the standard measure but instead meandered along at its own sedate pace tick-tock, obeying the pace of his antique-crowded backwater, far from the factory-built, epoxy-glued version of the world. Though he enjoyed going out to the movies, there was no television; he read old novels with marbled end papers; he didn't own a cell phone; his computer, a prehistoric IBM, was the size of a suitcase and useless. In blameless quiet, he buried himself in his work, steam-bending veneers or hand-threading table legs with a chisel, and his happy absorption floated up from the workshop and diffused through the house with the warmth of a wood-burning stove in winter" (395).

By building a novel around a young man's relationship with a painting, Fabritius' The Goldfinch, Tartt meditates upon our relationship with Art, but nevermind. Don't talk to me about that. I have a link list to compile.

Friday, October 18, 2013

deep focus links

---The NSA video

---Rebel Rocket Attack

---"My offer is this: nothing"

---The Art of Editing in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

---behind the scenes of Escape From Tomorrow

---Pudovkin's Five Editing Techniques

---“Our latest research and statistical analysis shows that you are currently the citizen of an objectively humiliating nation wreathed in a miasma of pettiness, sloth, rank stupidity, and failure,” the report read in part, adding that this—this goddamned disgrace of a culture and system of government, if that’s what you call whatever the hell this is—is where you live, where you are from, and where you will likely die. “Decline and dysfunction are currently the first things people across the world think of when they hear the name of your place of origin, and, by association, these are the first words that would come to mind when they think of you as well.”

---the spaces of Dial M for Murder

---“In virtually every scene in Kane,” Friedkin continues, “the foreground, middle ground, and background are in equal focus. It’s described as realism but to me the photographic technique is expressionist; in life we don’t really see all things in absolute focus. The technology allowed for the visual style of the picture but it’s all in service of telling a great story that has meaning and reverberation.”

---22 seconds of Chungking Express

---"I’m not very interested in contemporary American realism, or books about marriage, parenting, suburbia, divorce. Even as a child browsing at the library I distinctly remember avoiding books that had the big silver Caldecott award sticker on the front, because I loved fairy tales, ghost stories, adventures, whereas the Caldecott prize stories often had a dutiful tone that tended more towards social issues. Those things were not my cup of tea, even when I was small, and I knew it — although if something’s written well enough, anything goes. To paraphrase Nabokov: all I want from a book is the tingle down the spine, for my hairs to stand on end."  --Donna Tartt

---the 3D and the sound and the vfx and the cinematography of Gravity

---anatomy of a scene: 12 Years a Slave

---"As soon as a screen can produce something that can move, it becomes a passive medium, whereas I feel that comics are a very active medium. The appeal is they masquerade as a passive medium, but they're not at all. It takes a lot of effort to read comics, even though it seems like they're easy. It seems like they need to be fixed on paper to have a certain power – my wife always tells me never to use the word magic, but I can't help it, there is no other word: there is a magic when you read an image that you know doesn't move but you have a sense that something is moving, if not on the page then in your mind."  --Chris Ware

---Notes on Film Noir by Paul Schrader

---split diopters

---"Bay Watched" by Nathan Heller

---"how do you live life as a feminist — espousing the straightforward ethical belief that women are equal to men — when the world that surrounds you pummels you with encouragement, both implicit and explicit, to act and think otherwise?"

---Vice interviews Slavoj Zizek

---Chapter 2: Rushmore and Seitz's interview with Anderson about The Royal Tenenbaums

---trailers for The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Monuments Men, The Counselor, Natan, and Dear Mr. Watterson

---"Kurosawa is setting up the information, locations and visual rules of the film," Aronofsky says. "His attention to geography is brilliant. He's a war general, in that sense. In Seven Samurai, when the samurais draw in the sand and lay out the plan, he tells you the entire movie, right there. You get so many films today with shootouts, where you don't know what the hell's going on. But when Kurosawa picks his shots for the battle scenes, everything makes perfect sense."

---"Jean-Luc Godard: The Spirit of the Forms"

Thursday, October 3, 2013

moronic links

---The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

---making A Hard Day's Night

---a scene from Gravity

---Bergman's Dreams

---"Tim Burton related Batman to things that were happening then—the fetish underground, the transgressive elements, the Gothic elements which were coming out of music as well. There was a real heavy punk element to the whole thing and Batman very quickly adapts to that; he was a black leather figure in a cave."

---the legacy of 2001: A Space Odyssey

---Grand Theft Auto V Time Lapse

---"no matter how much you love a film and how many good notices it gets, it's the bad reviews that stick. Always."  --Mark Kermode

---live in Rome: Talking Heads

---Keloid

---This Is the End bloopers

---Rumble and Sway

---"What other country could magnanimously spend $4-6 trillion on two good wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against lightly armed minority insurgencies without winning or accomplishing a thing?"  --Tom Englehardt

---Jhumpa Lahiri at work

---del Toro's opening titles for The Simpsons

---"What hallucinating, self-serving monsters have you become?" "We looked at our great legacy of self-government and we handed ourselves over to the reign of morons."

---Errol Morris on filmmaking

---American Hustle

---trailers for Foxcatcher, Secret Ceremony, Inequality for All, Jimmy P, Under the Skin, Need for Speed, and La Venus a la Fourrure 

---"Speaking purely objectively, Fischer's plays are utterly inspired. We get to see large chunks of two of them: a theatrical adaptation of Serpico, the Al Pacino film from 1973 that was itself a landmark of hairy cinematic anti-heroism, and Heaven and Hell, a blood-soaked depiction of a Vietnam war raid ("You'll find a pair of safety glasses and some earplugs underneath your seats. Please feel free to use them"). The Serpico play is enlivened by a fantastic model train stage set, and the hilariously idiotic casting (I particularly like the kid on the radio dressed as a nun, squeaking "I got something!" The same kid trills "Let's rock, Esposito!" while calling an airstrike in the second one). The staging is even more elaborate in Heaven and Hell, with Fischer shimmying down a rope onto the stage, minature aircraft swooping across the proscenium, numerous explosions and gunshots – even a flamethrower."
--Andrew Pulver

---"Everything Wrong with World War Z"

---Scorsese on the birth of the modern movie

---"Do these moping women find their purpose when their reservation ends? Do they pack their bags and depart the hotel with a knowing smirk? Are they moving forward with resolve and a rolling suitcase trailing behind? Do they leave their place of transition at the end of the story?"

---Happy Birthday, Brigitte

---"For the role of Rosemary's opportunistic husband Guy, Polanski settled on the New York actor and director Cassavetes. Perhaps fittingly given the nature of the material, it was not a marriage made in heaven and ultimately these two strong-willed men of opposing sensibilities did not get along. As a director, Cassavetes was freewheeling and improvisational, where Polanski was precise and methodical; as an actor, Cassavetes was Method trained while Polanski preferred a more naturalistic style. Polanski was never entirely satisfied with Cassavetes' performance, but I think he underestimates its effectiveness."

---10 tips for writing a Hollywood blockbuster

---Unsentimental Education: On Claude Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes by Catherine Grant

---“Ingmar, the people you know must be monsters."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"The lifestyle that everybody kinda wants": 5 notes on Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring

"I think we just wanted to be part of the lifestyle, the lifestyle that everybody kinda wants." --Marc (Israel Broussard)

1) I enjoyed Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring for its humor, its almost motherly portrait of youth culture gone astray, its Bret Easton Ellis-esque vision of a supremely superficial Los Angeles, its fetishistic tracking shots of designer pumps and jewelry, and its allusions to Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Notorious (1946), but one can also see the risks that Coppola took in adapting a Vanity Fair article by Nancy Jo Sales entitled "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" for the screen. In contrast to the more intimate, autobiographical Lost in Translation (2003), The Bling Ring views like a sociological indictment of vacant consumerist celebrity worship, a fundamentally religious world where one can commune with the objects (designer clothes and accessories, the real stars of the film) of one's deities (Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom) by stealing the signs of their glamour for oneself, but there are problems. For one thing, by relying on mostly unknowns to comprise the ring, Coppola's film lacks the charisma of, say, Warren Beatty, even though Emma Watson does what she can to lend her air of ritualized-degradation-of-corporate-franchise-built-Hermione-innocence to the gang (her portrait of valley girl self-deluded cluelessness is hilarious). Brilliantly built, The Bling Ring retains some of the shallowness of its source materials, but the superficiality of characters who lack a clear sense of self may be part of its point.

2) "America has this sick fascination with the Bonnie and Clyde kind of thing." --Marc 

The Bling Ring shares with the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde an early scene where the two leads walk along a street, but whereas Arthur Penn uses the moment to introduce a waitress to a young man fresh out of jail for armed robbery against the backdrop of Depression-era small town Texas dreariness, Coppola has Marc and ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) "checking cars" (stealing wallets, purses, bags of cocaine) in a rich neighborhood of LA. Later, after robbing a gorgeously stylish home, Rebecca opts to leave in a different car, this time a Porsche convertible taken from the house's owners. Clyde switches cars in a similar fashion in the 1967 film, surprising Bonnie in the same way. Both movies dwell on how popular culture feeds the delusions of its characters. Just as Bonnie gazes adoringly at the "We're In the Money" song and dance routine of Gold Diggers of 1933 (ironically, just after Clyde shot and killed his first victim), so does Coppola include clips from TMZ of Lindsay Lohan (the titular deity of The Bling Ring) walking stylishly (with proper blond hair extensions) into court. Even though the Ring visits Paris Hilton's home six times, she stills lacks something in comparison to Lindsay. Lohan shares with the Ring a criminal record, the accusation of jewelry theft, and she embodies a twist on celebrity where one's transgressions enhance fame, just as Bonnie and Clyde could deliberately feed their infamy by submitting gangster photos and Bonnie's poetry to the newspapers. As Nancy Jo Sales writes, "I think they [the Bling Ring] were obsessed with clothes as a means toward crafting a new identity for themselves—a fantasy identity. Putting on someone else’s clothes is like putting on a mask. If I’m going to a nightclub that Lindsay Lohan might even be in, and I’m wearing her shoes, and I’m wearing her jacket, then how am I any different from her?, I guess the thinking goes."

3) Predictably, the Bling Ringers develop problems once they've been thieving awhile, since their selfie/Facebook-posting culture demands that they feel validated only when they can show off their new acquisitions to others. As Coppola said, "It is almost as if your experiences don’t count unless you have an audience watching them." Such conspicuous consumption that includes bragging of your exploits to friends makes it comically easy for the police to catch up with them (The Bling Ring is the only film I've seen that actually places the LAPD in a sympathetic light).

4) So what are the values of this youth culture? You are your image. Privacy no longer exists. Every event is a fashion shoot/music video/press conference/surveillance feed. Your home is a shrine to yourself (see Paris Hilton). When possible, wear designer shades on the beach, stare up at the blue sky and palm trees while driving a Porsche, and share a jail cell with Lindsay Lohan. Beyond these levels of fame are even greater ones, yours for the asking thanks to The Secret. As the real-life ringleader Alexis Neiers said, “God didn’t give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous. I want to lead a huge charity organization. I want to lead a country, for all I know.”

5) My problem with the movie is that it ends too soon. Bonnie and Clyde (spoiler alert) die in a hail of machine gun bullets. The Bling Ring receive their jail sentences, but their real punishment will likely happen when the media stories dwindle and they return to that distinctive circle of hell--the post-reality-TV star obscurity of the merely ordinary. What will they do for attention then? As Garrison Keillor once sang, "You better be famous. You better be famous every minute. And that People Magazine, you better be in it."