Tagged: Juno

Inception regrets nothing

Inception poster; image courtesy of tripwire-magazine.com

I finally saw Christopher Nolan’s Inception at the Drafthouse last weekend. I intended to view it at the IMAX where I caught a midnight screening of The Dark Knight, which preceded an ill-timed traffic jam on the upper deck of I-35. Fresh from witnessing Heath Ledger’s terrifying performance as the Joker, I feared imminent doom. Luckily, the bottleneck was caused by a minor car accident that left both parties unharmed.

But as I filed in for Friday’s 10:30 showing, I wondered if the movie would live up to its colossal hype. Nolan’s reputation looms over each of his productions, and his mastery of filmic slight of hand promised that, if Inception wasn’t in Memento‘s league, it might still keep good company with The Prestige. A month following its auspicious box office debut, I had my suspicions. The movie is about extractor Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leading a team who implant the idea that heir Robert Michael Fischer (Cillian Murphy) cede from the empire built by his mogul father Maurice (Pete Postlethwaite). The squad is employed by businessman Saito (Ken Wantanabe), who represents its chief competitor. Dana Stevens’s tentative write-up was my first alarm, as was the Oscar buzz generated amongst fanboys that Snarky’s Machine noted in her review.

Nonetheless, I was intrigued. Caitlin at Dark Room raved about it, arguing that it bested The Matrix. Pioneer film theorists David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson cataloged many of the movie’s intriguing ideas. Capitalizing on the fervent anticipation of Mad Men‘s fourth season, Pop Watch noted that Inception is essentially telling the same story as AMC’s flagship melodrama (the post also linked to Michael Newman’s blog entry about how the series functions as an allegory for Matthew Weiner’s anxieties over the creative process).

But after all that chatter, what did I think about Inception? Eh. It was okay. The visuals were captivating and the storyline was relatively accessible. I think it’s more of an interesting movie to talk about than watch, though the 140 minutes flew by more briskly than I had anticipated.

I had reservations about Ellen Page playing an architect named Ariadne, but I bought her as a grad student whose speech never overshadows her fancy kerchiefs. Her scenes with mastermind Cobb lack air, but that’s just as much DiCaprio’s fault. Their characters display an intimate connection. Ariande feels comfortable enough with Cobb to utter the movie’s most overtly feminist line when asking of his inability to let go of his wife’s death “Do you think you can create a prison of memories to lock her in? Do you think that’s going to contain her?” But both overuse a knit brow to connote a wellspring of emotion while conveying very little. Though I concur with Stevens on preferring DiCaprio in lighter fare over attempts at Serious Acting, a Nolan picture tends to ensure labored acting.

If only we were this fun and easy-going in our movie; image courtesy of socialitelife.celebuzz.com

Joseph Gordon Levitt has moments as point man Arthur, particularly in the breath-taking zero gravity sequence. Saito and chemist Yusef (Dileep Rao) are given little to do beyond step out of the spotlight for the all-white principal cast. The only person clearly having a good time is forger Eames, who extracts information by convincingly becoming other people, including a flirty blonde who chats up Fischer. Tom Hardy mines the role’s seductive and queer camp potential, purring like a naughty cat who licked up all the cream.

Oh, darling -- it is all about Tom Hardy; image courtesy of nydailynews.com

Caitlin believed the main plot of engineering familial and corporate breach to be predictable, but I found its B-story to be its most obvious flaw. Cobb cannot shake the spectre of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), whose name literally means “bad” in her native French. Mal isn’t so much a psychologically damaged woman whose destructive actions in Cobb’s unconscious contrast with her sweet nature in life. Rather, she plays as a manifestation of feminist film theory’s complaints against cinema’s conception of women and its applications of psychoanalytic thought via the scopophilic gaze. Cotillard does what she can with the role, but it feels like she’s representing, say, Tania Modeleski’s criticisms in The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. This may have been Nolan’s intention, but by rendering Mal as an archetypical femme fatale who Cobb must overcome, he only enforces the notion that female movie characters are not fully realized as complex people but instead mere ideations from the auteur’s mind.

That said, I do find the employment of Édith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” to be particularly fascinating. It remains one of Piaf’s best-known tunes. Though she reportedly dedicated her 1960 recording to the French Foreign Legion during the Algerian War, the song is now thought of as a reflection on the singer’s dramatic biography, akin to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”  It is also Inception‘s unofficial theme. Nolan continually referred to it when writing the script and hoped to put it in the movie. It serves as the squad’s alarm clock, bringing them back to consciousness following a mission and implying the emotional objectivity required in the work of hampering with other people’s dreams. Composer Hans Zimmer also threaded the song’s cadence throughout his overbearing score.

Cotillard as Piaf; image courtesy of guardian.co.uk

For me, it is also evidence that Cobb is still haunted by his wife. The song hails Mal’s French heritage, as well as her fearless break with reality. The song’s literal meaning can be read against Cobb’s feelings of regret and culpability toward the death of his wife. It also telegraphs Cotillard. In 2008, Cotillard won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She portrayed Piaf in Olivier Dahan’s La vie en rose, beating out Ellen Page in her titular performance in Juno and putting her in America’s A-list. Apparently Cotillard’s involvement in Inception was a happy accident. Initially after the actress was cast, Nolan intended to pick another song but Zimmer convinced him that the connection wouldn’t distract viewers. In doing so, however, it provided this viewer an infinite loop of interpretation.

Things I learned from giving a college lecture on race and girlhood with Kristen at Act Your Age

White girls Ellen Page and Zooey Deschanel; image courtesy of blogs.citypages.com

 

Yesterday, I gave a lecture with Kristen at Act Your Age, a friend and colleague since we got to know one another as masters students in the media studies program at UT. We actually didn’t become friends until our second semester with the program, as I was pretty shy during the first semester and was working full-time. But I knew I liked her from the moment we met at a department mixer when she said that she hoped grad school wouldn’t be like that scene in Ghost World where one of protagonist Enid’s classmates shows off her “found object” tampon in the teacup art piece. I’d estimate that our friendship really developed during the thesis process, as we shared an adviser and second reader. Of course, working at the same 9-to-5 keeps us close, as does working with Girls Rock Camp Austin

I may never have admitted this to her before, but I heavily relied on her as motivation when we started collaborating. The first time we worked together on a project was for a Flow column we wrote about 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon and her negotiations with power. Earlier that summer, I was asked by a friend who worked at Latinitas to give a talk about how girl pop stars are represented in music videos. I accepted the offer, which I later bailed on when I had a bout of depression and felt like I couldn’t possibly put together a valuable educational resource. I’ve always been ashamed that I let my friend down and had such little faith in my abilities at the time. So I figured if I worked with Kristen, maybe we could maximize each other’s potential. I’d like to think we have. 

I should note that we also work well separately, though I ask for her feedback on my projects and am  available as a springboard for her. That said, I really like to work with her, less so now because I feel like I need her as motivation, but because 1) we like to model that women can successfully come together and share responsibilities on projects and 2) we like proving that “important” work doesn’t have to be done in isolation. Also, I just like her. 

So we’ve worked together for a while, both on GRCA stuff and on other academic pursuits. We wrote a column together, moderated a roundtable discussion for the 2008 Flow conference, and put together a panel for SUNY Cortland’s Reimagining Girlhood conference this fall. Thus, when our friend Curran invited us to give a guest lecture for his race and media course at UT (a class that transformed me when I took it as an undergrad), we of course accepted. 

This was a bit out of both of our comfort zones. Kristen never gave a college lecture before. I delivered one for my thesis adviser’s undergrad class on gender and rock culture when she was presenting at SCMS. But that was a very different set of circumstances, for even though I organized the screening materials, I lectured on a reading she assigned. Kristen and I created this lecture entirely on our own, picking the topic, readings, and presentation materials.  

We selected the intersection of race and girlhood as our topic, paying particular attention to the exnomination of whiteness and the cultural construction of hipster girls and appropriations of girlhood in contemporary American film. Our case studies were Juno and (500) Days of Summer

Curran (wearing a Shonen Knife shirt because he’s awesome) generously introduced us to his class, plugging our blogs and referring to us as experts. As humbling as it is to be called an expert by a friend whose academic work you admire tremendously, I recognized that we do know a lot about our topic. Kristen wrote about two of the films we discussed in the last chapter of her thesis. I wrote about a few of the films for conference papers. We’ve talked about many of these texts on our blogs and have seen most of them. 

The lecture represented both of us well. Kristen studies mediated representations and sociological surveys of girlhood. I look at convergent music culture from a feminist perspective. Add to the fact that we’re both white women who were both white girls and heavily problematize white privilege and class in our work, and this lecture was basically as close to a scholastic mash-up as you can get. Add our PowerPoint to the mix and you can even listen to it like Girl Talk or The Hood Internet or play it like X-Men Vs. Street Fighter. Plus we call shit on patriarchy and white privilege. Here’s what I learned. 

1. I like building PowerPoint presentations. As Kristen created the one we use for GRC, I wanted to give it a shot and it’s a really effective tool when used properly. 

1A. Of course, it was not news to me that I would stay up until 2 a.m. futzing with layout design. I know myself. 

2. It’s exciting and weird when people write down what you have to say. 

2A. As a result, I’m always going to have to remember to slow down when I talk. 

3. It’s great to watch a colleague be in total control of herself when presenting information. Kristen’s a clear, succinct conveyor of ideas. She’s also patient and calm and clearly has a lot of personal investment in the process, which will make her a great professor.  

4. No bullshit, but I’m great at it too. It feels natural to me. I have much to learn, but I’ll be a great professor. 

5. It’s fun to volley. I kinda knew this from GRC workshops, but sometimes I worry that she carries my weight when I blank or get flustered. This time, I feel like the back-and-forth was breezy and perfect. 

5A. I need to be kinder to myself and recognize that we both share the work and bring out the best in each other. I definitely did that yesterday. 

6. It’s delightful to apply complicated theories from the readings to the lecture topic, especially when the students nod along and seem to get it. It lets you know that you picked the right material and make sense explaining it. 

7. Revisiting essays when selecting readings is fun, as well as a good yardstick for what you’ve learned during the interval between now and the last time you read the piece. 

8. Clips and images really help illustrate points and trigger related ideas. 

9. We forgot to talk about Ghost World! Oh well. Next time. We didn’t talk about TV at all, but have so many texts to discuss. 

10. This was a quiet group, but I think a lot of the students were into the topic and got something out of the lecture. They may have, in fact, actually learned something. To be witness and have a part in that process is the best part of all.

(White) Girly Edition

Mayim Bialik on the cover of Sassy is a good as any image of girlhood that I had growing up; image courtesy of fashionista.com

Hello everyone. So, I’m giving a lecture on Friday with Kristen at Act Your Age for a friend’s class at UT on race and the media. We’ll be talking about whiteness and girlhood in contemporary American film, primarily because girls are often assumed or represented as white. We’re paying particular attention to Ellen Page and Zooey Deschanel’s turns in Juno and (500) Days of Summer, the latter text being held up as an instance of girlhood appropriation. After reading through Spin‘s 1997 Girl Issue and putting together clips and our PowerPoint presentation, apart from being overwhelmed by the whiteness, I was reminded of my girlhood. 

In the interest of sharing, here are some clips from my youth, many of which we’ll be discussing. Please feel free to share. Also, as we’ll obviously be problematizing the exnomination of whiteness with regard to girlhood in our lecture, I’d also encourage people to challenge it themselves and offer mediated images of girls of color.

Why I’m not surprised that Sonic Youth were on Gossip Girl

LES meets UES in matrimony; image courtesy of gossipgirlinsider.com

LES meets UES in matrimony; image courtesy of gossipgirlinsider.com

So, I finally saw last week’s episode of Gossip Girl. For my money, there is nothing surprising about Sonic Youth performing “Starpower” and bassist/guitarist Kim Gordon marrying Rufus Humphrey and Lily van der Woodsen-Bass-etc. The reason, as I will outline chronologically below, is that flirtations with mainstream popular culture is completely in keeping with their career. This cameo isn’t an isolated incident. If anything this network-savvy band pioneered how indie does synergy.

March 1, 1988: Ciccone Youth, a side project formed in 1986 between the band and Minutemen bassist/co-founder Mike Watt releases The Whitey Album. In this configuration, they took part of their name from Madonna’s surname. They also covered some of her songs, including “Into the Groovey” and “Burnin’ Up.” For good measure, they also covered Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.” Were they taking the piss or celebrating 80s blockbuster pop? Maybe both? You decide.

June 26, 1990: Goo is released on DGC, marking their major label debut. 

In 1991, the Goo video album is released, a clip accompanying each song on the album. Among them are “Mildred Pierce” which features Sofia Coppola dressed as Joan Crawford, who starred in the 1945 film noir of same name, “Disappearer,” which was directed by Todd Haynes, and a few clips directed by Tamra Davis, including “Dirty Boots” and “Kool Thing,” which also featured Public Enemy’s Chuck D.

September 17, 1991: Kim Gordon co-produces Pretty on the Inside, Hole’s debut album, released on Caroline, a subsidiary of Virgin.

July 21, 1992: Dirty is released. Two noteworthy music videos come along with it. Actor Jason Lee, then unknown, is featured as a tragic skateboarder in “100%. The clip was co-directed by Davis and Spike Jonze, who just made some movie about kids and monsters based on a children’s book. Chloë Sevigny, once a Sassy intern, stars in “Sugar Kane,” which also showcases Marc Jacobs’ Perry Ellis grunge collection.

August 9, 1993: “Cannonball” is released as the lead single to The Breeders way-ruling Last Splash. Kim Gordon co-directs the music video with Jonze.

September 14, 1993: Judgment Night is released, along with a successful soundtrack from Epic that pairs alternative/metal acts with rap groups. Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill collaborate on “I Love You Mary Jane.”

Cover to Judgment Night (Epic, 1993); image courtesy of brianorndorf.com

Cover to Judgment Night (Epic, 1993); image courtesy of brianorndorf.com

1994: Kim Gordon creates X-Girl with Daisy von Furth, a sister clothing line to Beastie Boys Mike D’s X-Large collection. I see DJ Tanner wear an X-Girl blue jumper on Full House and want one.

August 25, 1994: Sonic Youth contributes “Genetic” to the My So-Called Life soundtrack. Released on Atlantic, the compilation features other Juliana Hatfield, Afghan Whigs, Daniel Johnston, and (of course) Buffalo Tom, who every fan remembers played a show on Pike Street.

Track list to the My So-Called Life soundtrack (Atlantic, 1994); image courtesy of mscl.com

Track list to the My So-Called Life soundtrack (Atlantic, 1994); image courtesy of mscl.com

September 13, 1994: If I Were A Carpenter, a Carpenters tribute album, is released on A&M. An alternafest, acts like American Music Club, Shonen Knife, Babes and Toyland, and Matthew Sweet share time with SY, who cover “Superstar.” In late 2007, the song would make an appearance in the movie Juno.

Cover to If I Were a Carpenter (Rhino, 1994); image courtesy of whizzo.ca

Cover to If I Were a Carpenter (Rhino, 1994); image courtesy of whizzo.ca

October 27, 1995: CBS airs “The State’s 43rd Annual All-Star Halloween Special,” marking the MTV sketch comedy troupe’s network television debut. Sonic Youth is the musical guest. Few people watch (I am one of them), and CBS decides to pull the plug. 

May 19, 1996: Fox airs “Homerpalooza,” The Simpsons‘ penultimate episode of its seventh season. In it, Homer goes on tour with Hullabalooza (re: Lollapalooza), taking canons to the gut to the bemusement of thousands of jaded slackers. Several acts made guests appearances, including Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Peter Frampton, and Sonic Youth. The band also provides an “alternative” version to Danny Elfman’s iconic theme song, perhaps getting closer in tone to what creator Matt Groening had originally envisioned when suggesting that avant-jazz composer John Zorn write the show’s theme song. The song is later featured on Rhino’s Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons: Original Music From The Television Series compilation.

Im so disillusioned!; image courtesy of taringa.net

"I'm so disillusioned!"; image courtesy of taringa.net

June 5, 1996: James Mangold’s debut feature, Heavy, is released in the states. Moore composes the score.

June 1998: I watch the “Kool Thing” video at a Gadzooks in the Mall of America during a trip to Young Life camp in Minnesota.

July 13, 2001: Larry Clark’s Bully is released in theaters. Moore composes the score.

July 25, 2005: Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, the director’s take on Kurt Cobain’s final days, is released in the states. Gordon appears as a record executive based on Danny Goldberg trying to turn the main character’s life around. Moore also served as a music consultant.

May 2006: Former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold joins the band. This has nothing to do with matters of synergy or cross-promotion; I just happen to think he’s kinda cute. He was also featured in a comic strip, but the name escapes me. His catchphrase is something to the effect of “I’m Mark, the bassist from Pavement” but I’m butchering it. My friend Susan told me about it, so maybe she’ll share in the comments section.

Mark Ibold, perhaps around the time he was dating Oksana Baiul and before the Pavement reunion tour; image courtesy of amazon.com

Mark Ibold, perhaps around the time he was dating Oksana Baiul and before the Pavement reunion tour; image courtesy of amazon.com

May 9, 2006: Moore and Gordon appear with daughter Coco in “Partings,” the Gilmore Girls‘ season six finale. 

June 15, 2007: Pitchfork reports that SY will be contributing a new track to an SY retrospective distributed by Starbucks.

November 21, 2007: Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There is released. Gordon’s makes a cameo as folkie Carla Hendricks, who is based on Judy Collins. The casting furthers my suspicion that SY friend Todd Haynes must have been influenced by the band’s fandom of The Carpenters and preoccupation with Karen Carpenter’s tragic struggle with anorexia. They cover “Superstar.” He makes a biopic about Carpenter called Superstar. Coincidence?

September 8, 2008: Choosing not to renew their contract with Geffen, SY sign with indie stalwart Matador.

November 3, 2008: Moore and former Be Your Own Pet frontwoman Jemina Pearl cover The Ramones’ “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” specifically for “There Might Be Blood,” a season two episode of Gossip Girl

February 16, 2009: Gordon debuts a clothing collection called Mirror/Dash for Urban Outfitters.

Is this bad? Hmm, maybe. I suppose it depends on your outlook. I’d say it’s no worse than The Flaming Lips performing on Beverly Hills, 90210 (although, maybe for it to be equal, Wayne Coyne would have to play a short-order cook at the Peach Pit). Beyond paying the bills and circulating their brand, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a fair amount of post-modern, art-school, post-Warholian why-the-hell-not? factoring into all of Sonic Youth’s above-ground forays. Or maybe they (gasp!) like many of these texts and ventures. 

Perhaps the band knows that dabbling with the mainstream is tricky business. Maybe this explains why Moore (and, to a lesser extent Gordon and guitarist Lee Ranaldo, though not media-shy drummer Steve Shelley) cultivated an authoritative presence in recent music documentaries like Punk: Attitude, Kill Yr Idols, and I Need That Record! It may also have fueled a need for an outlet through which to channel more experimental projects, resulting in the band releasing more challenging work through the Sonic Youth Recordings collection, along with Shelley’s Smells Like label and Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label. In addition, Ranaldo has done a considerable amount of writing, creates installation projects with his wife Leah Singer, has an extensive solo career, and has performed improvisatory film scores as a member of Text of Light.

And, you know. The band is still really good. Even as folks mine their discography or weave them into above-ground mainstream corporate media culture enterprising, they’re still challenging themselves and making great music. Earlier this year, the band released The Eternal, their 16th album. Peaking at #18 on the Billboard charts, it also boasts a consistently great set of songs and a painting by late guitarist John Fahey for its cover. This blurring of art and commerce, for good or for bad, is in keeping with the band and their contributions to music culture.

Why I loved Persepolis

Cover of Persepolis (Pantheon, 2007); image courtesy of shelflove.wordpress.com

Cover of Persepolis (Pantheon, 2007); image courtesy of shelflove.wordpress.com

When I saw the film version of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis, it was a pretty rad time to be a feminist moviegoer. In the last month of 2007 and the first month of 2008, this movie came out, along with Juno and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Having just completed a girls’ studies course, I was ecstatic that three different movies, each from a different country, were released with complex, resilient protagonists who were girls and young women.

Two of these movies earned Oscar nominations a few months later. Juno won Best Screenplay. Persepolis was nominated for Best Animated Feature, but unfortunately lost to Ratatouille. 4 Months, which documents the harrowing day of one college student trying to procure an illegal abortion for her roommate during the last years of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s in Romania, won the Palme D’Or at Cannes earlier in 2007, but failed to receive any nominations. For some reason. Perhaps it escaped nomination as a technicality, but I don’t understand why no one, particularly writer-director Cristian Mungiu or lead actress Anamaria Marinca, got any Academy recognition. Perhaps because it lacked the allegorical importance of No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood and cut to very real (and tremendously gendered) issues facing real people in the real world, many of whom reside in developing nations. 

But it is really no matter. No Country, There Will Be Blood, Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There were but more examples of what a very fine time this particular two-month period was for movies. But 4 Months was easily my favorite movie of that year. The movie whose source material will be the focus of this post was a very close second.

Having seen the movie upon its U.S. release, some context has changed considerably upon revisiting Satrapi’s autobiography about coming of age inside and outside of Iran from the late 70s to the early 90s, a time period where the country witnessed the fall of the Shah (aided by the United States), the swift and crushing oppression of its citizens by Islamic extremists, a devastating eight-year war with Iraq, and the neighboring country’s launch of the Persian Gulf War. In late 2007, we were still living under the Bush Administration, so the country’s positioning as part of the “axis of evil” was in my mind, but being pretty ignorant about the country’s political history and our involvement with it past the Iran-Contra Affair, Bush’s branding of the country read more as a promise that the United States were, in fact, going to try and spread democracy by force to all of the Middle East, snatching up its real or imagined WMDs and drain its oil resources in the process. And I knew about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and was disgusted by his views on the Holocaust and heartened by the student protests around his adminstration, but was not yet aware of just what a dangerous despot he is.     

This was, of course, before this year’s highly controversial presidential election, which Ahmadinejad “won” by a suspiciously high margain over rival candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, an Independent reformist. At the time, what seemed more present in our minds in the states was what Twitter was doing to help cover and contextualize the civic protests and how quickly mainstream broadcast news was going to incorporate the still-emergent micro-blogging site’s Tweets into their 24-hour cycle, regardless of how accurate they were. 

As a result, I was a little jaded by the “Twitter users coverage of the Iran election is going to change news reporting” angle many seemed to be taking and instead wanted to know more about how the election was fraudulent, why certain people (specifically journalists, protesters, students, and politicians) were being arrested, what the stakes were, who was doing a good job covering this news story, and, most importantly, what circumstances led to the current iteration of Iran. Remembering that local branches of Barnes & Noble were donating proceeds to the Paramount upon purchase last weekend, shilling out my money to the big box chain for the sake of preserving a historical movie theater seemed as a good an opportunity to buy the book that may provide answers.

And, I’ll be honest. Reading the book left me with more questions than anything else (a similar feeling came over me when reading Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, two books whose timelines stretch past the 70s-90s, but contain a considerable overlap in terms of time with Persepolis, focusing on what was going on with ordinary people in Afghanistan, another contentious Middle Eastern country that borders Iran). It was hard not to check some ugly American tendencies I have toward Islamic traditions — particularly toward its views on marriage, sexuality, gender politics, and dress. At the same time, I was incredulous of how pro-West rhetoric and ideology, alongside our smuggled trinkets of popular culture, could possibly reform a nation, or at least save a person.

Luckily, Satrapi is skeptical of both and, like me and other feminists from all over the world, has a lot to negotiate. She grapples with these issues head-on. She argues with teachers against the physical restrictions and societal double standards that come with the hijab and the burka (sidenote: I know that Faegheh Shirazi, who teaches Middle Eastern Studies at UT and rejects traditional Islamic dress, has written and taught courses on gender and clothing in the Middle East, but any other suggestions for further reading are welcome). She watches her female peers grow up to only want marriage and children, in large part because these are the only things their nation’s leaders believe define their worth. Particularly poignant for this co-habitator, she regrets getting married to a man named Reza because they could not legally live together (or even walk the street) without proof of marriage, dissolving the marriage and leaving for France.

Marjane and friends reject the hijab; image courtesy of rand.org

Marjane and friends reject the hijab; image courtesy of rand.org

Satrapi is a smart rebel who reads constantly, thinks clearly, and never backs down from an argument. She yells at authority figures who bully her or deny that there are any political prisoners in Iran after learning about the loss of her grandfather, who was son and prime minister to the ousted king (a tie that Satrapi suggests is not uncommon).

College student Satrapi damns the man; image courtesy of butterfliesandbears.wordpress.com

College student Satrapi damns the man; image courtesy of butterfliesandbears.wordpress.com

Luckily for Satrapi, she gets through all of this with the love and support of her politically aware and resistant parents, their friends, and one rad paternal grandma. Not so luckily, she also knows and meets lots of folks who suffered for speaking up, speaking out, or just living in the wrong house during an aerial bombing. Something tells me that many Iranians could recount similar tales of horror.

Satrapi also learns that the ways of the West are not always ideal, either. While a pre-pubescent in Iran, she hangs Iron Maiden posters on her wall her parents smuggle from a vacation in Turkey when the government lifted border restrictions. She defiantly walks around her neighborhood, blaring Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” from her Walkman while sporting a Michael Jackson pin. But noting that their daughter’s rebelliousness is hardly a phase and that escalating conflict with Iraq could mean the imprisonment or death of their mouthy teen, her parents send her to live with a friend of her mother’s in Vienna.

Still from the film; image courtesy of whatsontv.co.uk

Still from the film; image courtesy of whatsontv.co.uk

Satrapi finishes high school, barely scraping by as she finds odd jobs, dates dumb boys, takes a lot of drugs, and runs into authority figures who want her to tow the line and behave. She also falls in with a group of radical misfits who dabble with nihilism, Marxism, hair dye, and punk. While Satrapi initially finds a home with these punks and new wave kids, she soon discovers their privilege has made them cowardly, pretentious, self-righteous, entitled, and lazy. Her outsider status also makes her cool, her Austrian peers clearly jealous by what she has seen and experienced without really processing the weight of it between drags off their joints and skims through their copies of the Marx-Engels Reader in their well-appointed bedrooms. It’s small wonder that, when Satrapi finally returns home to Iran after she finishes high school homeless and afflicted with bronchitis, she washes off a punk stencil from her bedroom wall. And while she’s sad that her mother gave away her cassette tapes, she probably wasn’t going to listen to them anyway. She would’ve kept the Kim Wilde tape, however.

So, ultimately, I do feel this revisit of Persepolis helped clarify my feelings about the state of Iran. It also left me with several questions and a need to know more. Ultimately, though, it left me with the sense of universality that exists between people, especially tough, smart women and girls, while at the same time recognizing the particularities that inform their realities. And continues to inform them. Back in June, Satrapi spoke out against the election results with filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalba. Something tells me that her grandmother, who passed away shortly after Satrapi moved to France at the close of the book, would be proud.

Quality time with grandma; image courtesy of rwor.org

Quality time with grandma; image courtesy of rwor.org

Previews: “Bandslam” and “An Education” showcase girl musicians

Two movies are coming out that feature, to varying degrees of prominence, girl musicians. The first is Bandslam, a movie that opened earlier this month and Nikki Finke noted is plagued with misguided marketing decisions. While the material’s quirky charm seems to line up more closely with Juno, the movie is being marketed as an extension of the Disney machine.

No doubt this is cruel irony for leads Vanessa Hudgens and Aly Michalka who, along with Demi Lovato, are trying to distance themselves from the mouse as they get older. I’m not bowled over by the trailer, but am interested in it and hope it finds an audience despite its botched marketing campaign. I saw Juno with a lot of 13-year-olds. I think they’d see this movie too.

Next up, we have An Education, which is British novelist Nick Horby’s first screenplay about a cello-playing British schoolgirl falling for an older man in the Swingin’ Sixties. While I wouldn’t necessarily take a junior high kid to this movie, I know I would’ve loved this movie in high school and made my girlfriends go with me to see it.

In fact, 26-year-old me is still plenty interested, despite a very “for your consideration” trailer that brings to mind The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a stodgy coming-of-age British drama from the 1960s that was saved for me only by Maggie Smith’s performance and wardrobe. To review.

1. Cello-playing precocious schoolgirl, played by Carey Mulligan.
2. Peter Sarsgaard being in the movie (though I have more of a couple crush on him and his wife Maggie Gyllenhaal than a stand-alone crush).
3. A bunch of bad-ass British actresses (Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Cara Seymour, Sally Hawkins) are together in one movie based on a woman’s memoirs and directed by a lady, ya’ll.
4. Many of the aforementioned British actresses are playing characters who don’t want the girl with potential to give up herself for a dude. Some may be worried about scandal, but others (like Williams, who is also smashing on Dollhouse) are hoping she chooses her talents and goals over his interests.

Most importantly, I wanna see how music figures into these girls’ lives, as musicians and as fans.

“(500) (excruciating) Days of Summer”

Poster for (500) Days of Summer

Poster for (500) Days of Summer

Note: The following post about (500) Days of Summer and why I was not charmed by it contains spoilers. I will also adhere to a list-like format for the sake of brevity. However, if you wanna read it as some dig against the sleeper rom-com’s indexical use of number-play, texts are bendy.

It was hard to go into the screening for this movie objectively. I had some misgivings about this movie that I catalogued prior to attending a Saturday matinee screening. They are as follows:

1. The preview is really fucking twee.
2. The oft-mentioned post-coital musical number, complete with marching band, animated bird, and ironic use of Hall and Oates’s great but over-used “Dreams Come True.”

Still from the dance sequence; image courtesy of paisleypetunia.com

Still from the dance sequence; image courtesy of paisleypetunia.com

3. A friend mentioned that Gordon-Levitt’s character moves on from Summer with a girl named Autumn. Seriously.
4. Same friend made quite the indictment on race and whiteness.
5. The “vintage” clothes — while Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt are in adorable outfits, they seem less vintage than Anthropologie‘s upper-middle-class version of vintage. Everything is so tidy and worn once and unlived in. It just made me miss my friend Kit, who almost exclusively wears amazing thrift-store dresses (many of which I know she’s worn multiple times). Her look is much more comfort-based and much less polished. I think I would’ve responded to the outfits if there were at least one loose thread or frayed cuff, especially since Summer is probably not cashing fat checks as a personal assistant to the head of a greeting card company. Sigh. I know; it’s a movie.

But my big problem going in was the self-conscious music geekery. Examples:

1. Gordon-Levitt wears the “Love Will Tear Us Apart” Joy Division t-shirt in one scene. GET IT? Ugh. Such an obvious visual joke. I think if there’s gonna be a music geek dramatic irony t-shirt joke, maybe having him wear a My Bloody Valentine t-shirt would have been better. But is there really a need?

Still of Gordon-Levitt wearing an in-joke

Still of Gordon-Levitt wearing an in-joke

2. A friend said that Summer quotes a Belle and Sebastian song in her high school yearbook. Blech.
3. When they break up, Summer casts her and Tom as Sid and Nancy, respectively. Ain’t nothin’ skid row about these two.

In addition, I tend to have misgivings about movies and TV shows that make music geekery — and its quirky application — so central to informing characterization and narrative (see also Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and Flight of the Conchords). It might be contrarian, but I feel instantly resistant to these kinds of texts because I feel like I’m supposed to like them because of the music geekery. But I need more than that. While I enjoy movies like Adventureland and High Fidelity (among others like Velvet Goldmine, Times Square, Dazed and Confused, and recently Hedwig and the Angry Inch), the music geekery is actually most interesting in the peripheral.

As an aside: it seems the people of my acquaintance who have the most vitriol toward this movie are also the most personally invested in music culture. They’re also pretty cool, but wouldn’t describe themselves as such. This perhaps gestures toward how pejorative and subjective the word “hipster” has become within my generation.

To stay positive, three things about the movie made me hopeful anyway:

1. The leads are appealing.
2. Summer doesn’t want to be in a relationship.
3. Apparently director Marc Webb made iPod playlists for the leads for each scene to help get them into character. This is interesting to me, especially read alongside playlist auteurs like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Wes Anderson, who use music to create scenes and develop characters.

With that said, I hated this movie. So much so that I was relieved that I saw it for free. 

I was pretty turned off from the start. Principally because the trailer and the opening sequence stress that this is not a love story. But that’s a lie. It’s completely a love story. It’s just not between Gordon-Levitt’s Tom and Deschanel’s Summer. It’s between first-time feature director Webb and first-time screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and how goddamn clever they can be. Just how goddamn clever?

1. There is a marching band and a girl named Autumn.
2. There is a black and white French film that plays in the middle of the movie that turns into Tom’s life story as he sees it. I think they’re going for Godard here, but in my limited knowledge of Godard, this seems too cheap for him. He seems like the type who’d have celebrity culture gatecrash into real life, not have real life imitate a French film.
3. Summer and Tom like to have dates in Ikea, playing house in the showrooms. I will overread this as a Pavement reference.

And then there’s icky touches of whimsy that feel forced and disingenuous. Being cute and fanciful is tricky business, mainly because being charming on camera has to seem effortless. The exemplar for me is Jack Lemmon straining pasta with a tennis racket in The Apartment. Here are a few examples that miss the mark:

1. This movie has a narrator (who, as my friend Karin astutely pointed out, is far from omniscient or objective — he’s basically there to align the audience to Tom). In general, I hate movie narration. It reminds me of what I learned from “Charlie Kaufman” in Adaptation. With some exceptions, narration is profoundly lazy storytelling and filmmaking.
2. Tom has a blackboard covering an entire wall of his bedroom. So he can be close to his true passion. Drawing buildings.
3. Summer is so much a fan of artist René Magritte that she’s actually arranged a bowler hat and an apple on her coffee table.

Magrittes The Son of Man

Magritte's "The Son of Man"

4. Tom wants to be an architect, but is somehow saddled with a job at a greeting card company. To convince Tom of his true passion, Summer has him draw a landscape on her arm.
5. After Summer breaks up with Tom, he quits his job at the greeting card company after a rousing boardroom speech about how the industry feeds lies about romance to mankind. When he storms out, his wiseacre friend does the slow clap. (Aside: I actually predicted this by starting my own clap about five seconds before actor Geoffrey Arend did it on screen – gold star for me!)

And then there are things that make no sense:

1. Summer and Tom first get to know each other at a karaoke bar. Summer does “Sugartime,” a delightful little tune from the late 1950s. Apparently she wanted to do “Born to Run,” but they didn’t have it. Then Tom does a rendition of “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies. What karaoke bar has The Pixies but doesn’t have any Bruce on hand? The Boss is who drunk people turn to when they don’t wanna sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” again.
2. It takes Tom twenty days or so to work toward his dream of becoming an architect. Primarily because he starts drawing and making lists on his blackboard and reading books at coffee shops.
3. Tom rags on Summer for liking Ringo best. Who doesn’t like Ringo?
4. This movie takes place in Los Angeles? Really? Locals and natives, help me out. I’ve been to your fine, sunny city several times. I’ve even been in the vicinity of where some scenes were shot. It never looked like New York to me.

And finally, there were four things that I found interesting, but did not think were well-executed. As they were related to issues of gender and age, these missed opportunities made me the saddest.

1. Summer really doesn’t want a relationship with Tom and stresses that from the very beginning. There’s mention of her parents divorcing when she was young, but I think she just wants to be alone and be independent and figure out what she wants in life (both maybe explain why she cries at the end of The Graduate before breaking up with Tom). I thought this was awesome. . . . At least I thought this until she gets married to some guy at the end for some reason.
2. The movie seems invested in making a commentary on how men objectify women, how movies abet that process, and how it results in men not really knowing the women they claim to love (I think Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep was trying to make a similar statement, and failed in my estimation for similar reasons). Tom’s “expectations vs. reality” split-screen sequence is made all the more poignant after the scenes where Tom (along with the camera and the editor) have cut Summer into fragments (her smile, her hair, her laugh, her eyes, her knees, etc.). Because, for all his obsession, Tom never really knows Summer. He may think he sees her everywhere, but he never really sees her. Instead, he sees creepy images like this one.

Summer through Toms eyes; image courtesy of 500days.com

Summer through Tom's eyes; image courtesy of 500days.com

3. Tom has a wise-beyond-her-years kid sister. Too bad she’s not really a person. A good precocious girl is my kryptonite (I love you, Linda Manz).
4. Summer isn’t really a person either. That’s too bad because I think Deschanel could have easily made her one and does fine with what she’s given (as does Gordon-Levitt). I also think this movie would have been more interesting if this sort of character was the protagonist.

Again, I think Summer’s lack of embodiment is part of the point — Tom wants Summer to be a manic pixie dream girl that can save him from his mediocre, humdrum existence, but she never performs as he thinks she should. Thus, Tom becomes obsessed with a woman he never actually knows.

But we, the audience, never really get to know her either, in part because the production personnel seem similarly vexed by her (as I think Tom is really just a stand-in for one of the screenwriters), but mainly because they are so bewitched by their words and camera tricks to give their characters any genuine motive or meaning.