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."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

urbex links

---"In its first week on the air, ET made good on its promises to affiliates, earning a 12.6 national rating—enough to make it the highest-rated national newscast. But early reviews were not kind. The hosts were 'dreadful'; the news was 'so soft it squishes'; it was 'People Magazine without that fine publication’s depth.' One critic deemed it a 'press agent’s dream,' calling out a recent on-set visit to Paramount-produced Grease II as pure promotional propaganda. In decrying ET’s intimacy with the industry, critics were in fact criticizing the designed cooperation between the production cultures at ET and the studios. In other words, ET was intended to be a press agent’s dream and serve as a promotional vehicle for Paramount, not an independent journalistic outsider. These functions were not intended to be visible to the average viewer, only the savviest of whom would even realize that the show was produced by the same corporation as Grease II."  ---Anne Helen Petersen

---Interiors journal considers A Single Man

---Adrian Martin's "A Walk Through Carlito's Way"

---Introduction to Color in Digital Filmmaking

---"The cultural origins of urbex would include, to my mind, Tarkovsky's Stalker, the fiction of JG Ballard, old-school mountaineering and caving, blasts of steampunk (there is a love of girders, rivets and brickwork), console culture (Bioshock), apocalypse dreams (from Planet of the Apes to The Road), the Mission Impossible films and (inevitably) Guy Debord and his situationist dérive – the randomly motivated walk designed to disrupt habitual movement through the cityscape." --Robert Macfarlane

---Pauline Kael talks with Stan Brakhage

---a Short Term 12 featurette

---Karyn Kusama introduces Fat City

---"But Kraus had changed me. When I gave up on short stories and returned to my novel, I was mindful of his moral fervour, his satirical rage, his hatred of the media, his preoccupation with apocalypse, and his boldness as a sentence-writer. I wanted to expose America's contradictions the way he'd exposed Austria's, and I wanted to do it via the novel, the popular genre that Kraus had disdained but I did not."  --Jonathan Franzen

---First Fassbinder

---behind the scenes of Rosemary's Baby and The Three Colors Trilogy

---"Everyone, including Dietrich herself, agrees that her Sternberg period was her greatest. In his films her toughness and sexual provocation were not so much veiled as enhanced and counterpointed by something protective, caressing, resigned, and even sad in her gestures and intonations, something dreamy and mysterious in her appearance (the result of virtuoso camera work). This is true even in The Blue Angel where she plays a cheap and callous little tart." --Gabriele Anan

---Kind of Blue live

---a final shot montage

---Generating Utopia

---trailers for Broken Circle Breakdown, Gravity, Open Windows, The Last Days on Mars, Design is One, and Nebraska 

---an interview with Alfonso Cuaron

---25 essays by David Foster Wallace

Sunday, September 8, 2013

hiatus links

Due to a challenging semester with new class prep and the need to direct a play, I will not be able to write my usual amount of blog posts for the next few months (much as I would like to). With films like Riddick, Getaway, and One Direction: This Is Us in 3D in theaters, it scarcely seems to matter at the moment.

Some links:

---The Fox

---Anne Helen Petersen amongst the theoryheads

---The Importance of Depth of Frame

---from Richard Rushton's The Politics of Hollywood Cinema

---filmmaking tips from Wong Kar-Wai

---"Why hasn't the US fixed this yet? A. It's complicated. To burn down Oxford would be sad. Do nothing, and Britain remains dangerous."   --Teju Cole

---"Today, everybody expects to be entertained, and they expect to be entertained all the time. . . . [E]veryone must be amused, or they will switch: switch brands, switch channels, switch parties, switch loyalties. This is the intellectual reality of Western society at the end of the century. In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated. But in our century, they want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom. A sense of time is on our hands, a sense of nothing to do. A sense that we are not amused."  --Michael Crichton

---a scene from The Zero Theorem

---after you finish your script

---how to make your microbudget film

---"observations on the long take"

---The History and Science of the Color Film

---the NSA will not tolerate mockery

---a BBC documentary on the Coen brothers

---making Metropolis

---Hoffman's Lester Bangs

---"[Love Is Colder Than Death] also thwarts conventional audience identification with its protagonists. They are like mannequins, posed in static tableaux, often in stark, white rooms. Fassbinder’s camera rarely moves as it surveys their follies in self-consciously long takes. But his attitude toward them never seems patronizing; rather, he distills behavior into gestures, and language into basic, childlike words. In a 1969 interview, he called these characters “poor souls . . . who didn’t know what to do with themselves, who were simply set down, as they are, and who weren’t given a chance.” Though Fassbinder was influenced by Hollywood and French New Wave depictions of the criminal underworld, there’s no glamour to the lives of gangsters in his world—he sees them not as cool rebels but as symbols of capitalist exploitation, victims of bourgeois society, and therefore as trapped in the muck of the everyday as everyone else." --Michael Koresky

---"20 Directors to Watch"

---What do you mean?

---Anne Billson chooses the most pretentious films

---Frame by Frame: The Art of Stop Motion