Friday, November 30, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

From "Onscreen, Women Are Giving the Patriarchy the Pink Slip" by Candice Frederick

"These characters tackle systems of oppression in their own homes, at work and on the streets, and underscore how fundamentally capable and deserving they are without men setting the terms. They’re moving outside the limits put in place by patriarchs, and occupying spaces from which they’ve been dismissed. As a result, they’re taking back what has always been rightfully theirs: the voices that were stripped from them and the power they’ve now clenched. It’s about time."  --Candice Frederick

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Generation Wealth, Consumerism, and the Decline of Civilization

Lauren Greenfield's Generation Wealth compiles all of the director/writer/photographer's work of the past 20 years into one extended meditation on the evil effects of our consumerist/materialist culture, and I found the movie compelling when I wasn't pleasantly bothered by its bleak implications.

Greenfield likes to explore the story arcs of the lives of rappers, moguls, porn stars, Wall Street broker types, plastic surgery enthusiasts, and high level Las Vegas hostesses when she doesn't return to her roots in the Los Angeles culture that produced The Bling Ring and Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. Bret himself shows up to ask "At what price" do we worship at the feet of the goddess of financial success and conspicuous consumption?  Greenfield also likes to examine the ruinous landscapes of defunct luxury hotels in Dubai, abandoned malls, and obscenely large mansions now gone to seed after the economic downturn of 2007. She doesn't spare herself in her examinations either, since her sons like to point out that she tends to overwork at their expense. Later in the documentary, Greenfield slightly over-emphasizes the importance of family and parenting as a way to get away from self-destructive greed and our willingness to exploit ourselves as consumer objects, which leads to some sentimental scenes. Otherwise, the movie depicts a culture in decline quite convincingly. Here's my favorite quote:

"At the end of a decayed culture, we retreat into our own comforting illusions. We build walls to help with the reality around us. People have a hard time separating reality from entertainment, because there is a line. It's a thick line. Corporate capitalism pushes people in this constant search for the next adrenaline rush. People seek that momentary ecstasy to escape from a darker and darker reality. The population is diverted . . . We are dying in the same way that other empires have died throughout history. The difference is that this time, when we go down, the whole planet is going to go with us."

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

from "Tech C.E.O.s Are in Love With Their Principal Doomsayer" by Nellie Bowles

“If humans are hackable animals, and if our choices and opinions don’t reflect our free will, what should the point of politics be?” he wrote. “How do you live when you realize … that your heart might be a government agent, that your amygdala might be working for Putin, and that the next thought that emerges in your mind might well be the result of some algorithm that knows you better than you know yourself? These are the most interesting questions humanity now faces.” --Yuval Noah Harari

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Films I watch repeatedly (a new series): His Girl Friday

After awhile, it feels like therapy. I get out His Girl Friday (1940) or Out of the Past (1947) and watch it for some sort of undefined solace. Joseph Epstein's new book entitled Charm discusses how one can look for the movies of the 1930s and 40s for exemplars of charm, and how Cary Grant could be one on film, but not necessarily one in person (only, it seems, Audrey Hepburn could do that). Why do I love Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday so?  Let me count the ways:

1) Because it depicts a world where the much scorned journalist still had a place of importance in New York City, where one's writing ability (specifically Hildy Johnson's) mattered, where journalists cheerfully congregated around the city jail and scaffold in a grungy office, and where one's newspaper editor expected you at any moment to, under duress, crank out the lead immediately on a manual typewriter.

2) Because the dialogue was quick enough to be comparable to an auctioneer's patter, and somehow screwball comedies were born out of those heated exchanges.

3) Because of the movie's meta- moments, such as when Walter Burns (Grant) describes Bruce Baldwin as looking like Ralph Bellamy, because that's who was playing him. Also, as he also proves in Grant's breakthrough film The Awful Truth (1937), Bellamy plays the perfect dipweed. 

4) Because a colleague of mine shared a theory in film class that, in actually, Hildy Johnson uses extraordinarily indirect techniques to ensnare Walter Burns even though he claims he wants her back in the first scene. (I don't really understand the theory, but it is intriguing.)

5) Because one minor character jumps out of a window in one scene, perhaps to her death, and no one particularly cares given the pressing newspaper business at hand.

6) Because the city officials such as the mayor and the police captain are naturally and venally corrupt, as a matter of course, eager to use a man's execution to further their reelection.

7) Because the three leads go off to eat three open-faced roast beef sandwiches in a local restaurant, drink coffee with a bit of liquor in it, and smoke seemingly constantly, and it all looks delightful, although I know better.

8) Because Hildy (the excellent Rosalind Russell) calls Walter "wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way," and the description suits his charmingly manipulative character perfectly. As D. Cairns points out in his video essay in the Criterion version of The Awful Truth, Grant had to experiment for years in lesser films before he found the perfect persona formula in that, and, 3 years later in His Girl Friday, Grant found a way to distill his act down to minute gestures that work wonders--the moment, for instance, when he places his hand on his chest and then points with his index finger at himself when he says "Excuse me, Madame, are you referring to me?" His supremely nonplussed (and well dressed) performance is full of these refined touches. His gestures and emphases are full of arrogance, grace, and mystery, making it worthy of many repeat viewings.