Tagged: Joy Division

Is Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” saved by the soundtrack?

The first time I saw the trailer for Sofia Coppola’s third movie, which featured New Order’s “Age of Consent” . . . the word you’re looking for is “stoked.” I watched the movie several times when it came out. Indeed, the subject of my first grad school conference presentation (originally developed as a term paper) was about the use of popular music in Coppola’s movies and paid particular attention to her third feature. 

Some friends at the time dismissed the song selection as evidence that this was to be Coppola’s A Knight’s Tale. To me, this suggested short-sightedness (short-hearedness?). While I wasn’t sure whether the movie was going to be good so much as pretty, I knew the meaning of this biopic on Marie Antoinette would be gleaned from the music. Selecting a song about coming of age and its desperate, doomed implications from a band who, at the time of the song’s recording, had reformed after the recent loss of their young lead singer to suicide at the dawn of the Reagan/Thatcher era? Using it to frame the inevitable tragedy of a young woman who unknowingly inherited a fallen regime? Pitch perfect, if you ask me. You can say what you want about Coppola’s movies, but she knows how to pick a song. Or at least she knows how to pick a song selector, in this case music supervisor Brian Reitzell, to clear some post-punk classics from her youth.  

The movie itself appears apolitical, as would seem appropriate as it focuses on a clueless and ridiculously wealthy group of young people who have no idea what kind of tragedy they’re about to inherit after generations of neglect. The audience, on the other hand, know Marie Antoinette’s life will end at the hands of righteously pissed poor French people who cut off her head. Some characters clue others in on the contentious relationships France has with itself, Austria, Poland, and a set of colonies that was becoming the United States. Most people are too busy buying shoes, throwing parties, trying to extend the family line, or having affairs. 

The musical selections serve to politicize the movie. The deliberate use of anachronism intrigued me, particularly when creating analogues between the political unrest of pre-Revolutionary France and England’s recessionary 70s and the early days of Thatcher’s reign. Class distinctions aside, it’s easy to draw connections between the unseen revolutionaries and the somewhat subcultural art school punks and New Romantics, many of whom drew from this era in their own work. Thus, I was thrilled that Coppola’s imagining of Versailles last days included Adam Ant, Siouxsie Sioux, Bow Wow Wow, and Converse sneakers. 

Take the opening sequence as an example. The movie begins with an opening credit sequence accompanied by “Natural’s Not In It” from once-anti-capital post-punk band Gang of Four. The song indicts the empty pleasures of consumerism. The screen is black, with personnel credits appearing in hot pink. Only one vignette is shown during this part of the movie. It is of the young queen complying with the mythology of the frivolous heiress. In this scene, she lazes while an attendant puts on her shoe. She absent-mindledly runs a finger across an elaboratedly iced cake, licks off her treat, and addresses the camera with a decided air of self-satisfaction. Let them eat cake off my finger, bitches. 

In tribute to my friend Kit, who could watch this scene on a loop; image courtesy of tinkersdamn.wordpress.com

 

Unfortunately, Gang of Four sold out big time. Did anyone see catch reunion tour? I didn’t, but I heard they charged $20 for merch. Upon hearing this news, I let out of a sigh, looked up, and nodded to irony’s unseen deity. 

There are several moments where post-punk is used. One scene uses a cover song to highlight the sexy but empty promises of commodity fetish from a pre-fab band with a pre-teen girl singer who was marketed as sexually available by their Svengali. Another scene highlights the spoils of youth during moments of celebration with a song performed by a band that were supposed to be Joy Division but became New Order. The scene at a masked ball suggests a Western mindset that criticizes the packaging of girls like consumer goods with a song that has racist assumptions about Eastern traditions from a female punk who played with fascist and Orientalist imagery. The last scene seems to endorse the belief that sexual awakening, like many white people’s romantic notions of a monolithic Native American culture, is primitive and innate. Yowza. Of course, if you don’t know these songs you may lose these layers of interpretation. Thus Coppola’s movie demands that you listen as well as look for meaning.     

Coppola also does a good job stealing from other people’s movies. The jump cuts suggest indebtedness to the French New Wave and the mise-en-scène recalls Barry Lyndon and The Leopard. But musical cues suggest other cinematic references. Witness Antoinette’s morning routine, which is shown three times during the movie. It’s scored by Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto alla rustica,” originally composed in the early 1730s.  These scenes are supposed to convey the repititious and dehumanizing nature of her existence. The song is used the same way in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, except instead of playing as a young heiress gets dressed in front of the female members of the court, it scores a director-choreographer pounding Dexedrine and Alka-Seltzer.   

Coppola hedged her bets by casting Steve Coogan, perhaps because of his performance as Factory Records impresario/post-punk godfather Tony Wilson in Michael Winterbottom’s 24-Hour Party People, as the queen’s long-suffering advisor who knows Versailles, like Rome, is about to fall. It could also be argued that Marianne Faithfull serves a similar function in her role as Antoinette’s mother Maria Theresa. Not only did she inherit a matrialineal heritage of Austrian nobility, but she’s also a hardened, toughened relic of the swingin’ Sixties and a survivor of the sexism behind its free love ideals.  

Marianne Faithfull as Maria Theresa; image courtesy of artandmylife.wordpress.com

 

This movie could’ve been really great. It sets out to do something fresh and modern with period pieces, deliberately disorienting the viewer with moments of anachronism, not only in music, but also in dialogue, characterization, and costuming. Coppola said the intent of these moments is to humanize the people behind this history, some perhaps interpretting the movie to be autobiographical. But I don’t think Coppola ever fully humanizes her subject. I also don’t believe the movie is really supposed to be about her, her jet-set life, or the ridicule she received for her performance as Mary Corleone in the final installment of her father’s Godfather series. Though if you want to read Marie Antoinette as Coppola’s attempt at a biopic, she does cast her boyfriend Thomas Mars in the movie, whose band seranades the young queen. 

Coppola does accomplish something far more interesting here: by distorting place and time to such an extreme, she obliterates the idea that period pictures adapted from historical biographies ever attempt to be historically accurate. Indeed, there is no real history. The past then becomes open to interpretation, with no reading a true, definitive version. Indeed, history as a discipline becomes an unreliable narrator. 

But the movie never quite works for me as a text so much as a theoretical exercise. 

I hate to blame the success of a project on one person, but Coppola made was unwise in casting Kirsten Dunst. Past her performances in Little Women, The Virgin Suicides, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, and what I’m told is a noteworthy turn in Interview With a Vampire, Dunst is a limited actress. I used to think that Dunst was believable in her portrayal of the young dauphine and that, once she had to play the queen of France and had to demonstrate (or believe she was demonstrating) emotional maturity, I was kicked out of the text. This opinion presents an interesting challenge, which I’d pose to Kristen at Act Your Age: what does it mean when an adult actress can convince an audience that she’s 14 but not 30? Also, I think the movie should end once Marie Antoinette is crowned. By stretching on into her adult years and stopping short of her death, the movie no longer seeks to revise the period biopic and instead becomes one. 

But upon review, I find that I don’t buy Dunst at all. She gives a servicable performance if Coppola set out to turn a magazine photo shoot into a movie, an argument I remember my friend Karin making. The movie could be so much more than Nylon‘s take on Versailles, but Dunst can carry it. I don’t buy her losing her dog, having a baby, embarking on a torrid affair, or saying goodbye to the palace and her life. I also never believe the complex angst she’s supposed to be feeling about her sham marriage to late-bloomer Louis XVI (played by Jason Schwartzman) or all of the ridiculous expectations placed upon her narrow shoulders. 

This is about as close as Dunst gets to inner turmoil; image courtesy of iwatchstuff.com

 

One scene completely kicks me out of the movie. Leading into the buyer’s remorse porn of the “I Want Candy” montage, the dauphine breaks down and decides to rebel against the court by turning spending sprees into a lifestyle. This could be a very powerful moment in an ornately feminine movie about one of the most maligned and notoriously well-appointed female figures in European history. The camera is uncomfortably close to the subject, peering at her convulsing face and heaving chest with voyeuristic intent. This could be an ugly scene with a decidedly feminist subtext in line with Linda Williams’s reading on the abject qualities of melodrama, horror, and pornography in her seminal essay “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess.” Except there is nothing to see. Dunst provides no tears, no facial distortions, no gutteral sobs. It’s easily one of the prettiest and most detached fit of hysterics I’ve seen. 

It would seem that this is the performance Coppola wanted, and that Antoinette’s release comes from shopping. This also suggests that Antoinette can’t cry, and that her upbringing does not allow her the ability to lose composure. But I have to wonder if it would be easier to empathize with a character played by someone who is acting instead of modeling. For a movie that attempts to humanize a villified historical subject, this scene actually suggests that she’s inhuman. Perhaps it’s because she’s a theory and not a person. And if that person isn’t presented as complex, at least the theories that cultivate her existence are a minefield.

Dammit, Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, America's sweetheart; image courtesy of villagevoice.com

At the risk of sounding aloof, I’ve been ignoring Taylor Swift for some time. Readers might notice that I haven’t said a peep about her beyond an observation about how she might be a continuation of the girl group tradition after she hosted SNL. When the VMA debacle happened, I didn’t care. I thought Beyoncé was classy about it, and I thought Kanye was right in his opinion, if wrong in execution (seriously, “Single Ladies” is one of the best videos of all time, and perhaps the most iconic of its decade). I thought Swift seemed a little unnecessarily entitled when she was gave her acceptance speech later in the broadcast, but other than that I thought very little about it. 

For a while, I actually didn’t know who this Taylor Swift person was. First I thought she was on The Hills. I work under the assumption that any famous white person on MTV is a Hill. 

Just so we're clear, none of the girls in this heterocentric male gaze imagining of a slumber party are Taylor Swift; image courtesy of nydailynews.com

Then I saw her take some Southern kid to the prom on MTV. Then I found out she was a country singer from Pennsylvania who loved Def Leppard and covered Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which didn’t help her cause. Then I heard the pop version of “You Belong With Me,” promptly motivating me to listen to the slightly twangier original. From here, I reduced her to “country Avril” and went about my business. 

Cover to the "You Belong With Me" single (Big Machine/Universal Music Group, 2008); image courtesy of buzzworthy.mtv.com

Swift, not unlike Depeche Mode in their own way, may be a good gateway artist into more interesting and challenging music. Being a pre-teen Depeche Mode devotee led me to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, and Nick Cave’s various incarnations (admit it, DM fans: your band is at best a singles act; only Violator and maybe Black Celebration are essential in an otherwise mediocre catalog). Likewise, Swift might lead fans to The Dixie Chicks, Neko Case, Rosie Flores, Janis Martin, and Wanda Jackson. But my opinion of Swift is, “fine, she’s young and plays a guitar and writes her own songs (with Liz Rose) . . . but I’m totally bored by her.” 

Kristen at Act Your Age and my friend Asha forwarded this Autostraddle article to me. Asha asked me what I thought about it, and an outpouring of opinions bubbled up. Apparently I can get my screed on over a musician I have no personal investment in. But as I watched her wide, ordinary Grammy performance with Stevie Nicks (who sounded ridiculous singing “she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers,” BTW) and yelled at my television when she gave her folksy “we’ll tell our grandchildren about this” Album of the Year speech, I discovered that I do have a personal investment in her fame. So here we go. 

I’m pretty much in line with the writer and have brought up Swift’s privileged upbringing, pedantic songwriting, normative femininity, her handling of the VMA debacle, and inauthentic authenticity when talking to other people about her. 

I agree with the writer about how there wasn’t really anything to hate about Taylor Swift until she started racking up important awards. I get her appeal, but I have no personal investment in her career. She writes inoffensive love songs you’d hear on the CW or romantic comedies women are supposed to love (like Valentine’s Day, which stars Swift and features her music). 

Above all, Swift’s music is inoffensive to the point of offense when you factor in its success. When I think about Swift’s age alongside the teenage output of acts like Schmillion, Roxanne Shanté, ESG, Mika Miko, Björk’s work in KUKL, and some girl in her bedroom whose music I have yet to hear, I’m far more interested in that music. It’s weird and flawed and brave and inspiring. It’s really easy to forget about Swift when this music is also available. I wish more people would take the time to find it.

I’d like to point out that the Album of the Year Grammy isn’t as important as the writer suggests, nor should it be to you. In the grand tradition of award ceremonies and canons, the Grammys have long esteemed mediocrity and blandness. Sure, some cool people have won. But lots of boring and past-their-prime people have also won. And some great artists haven’t won Album of the Year but continue to make enduring music, as a Jezebel writer pointed out at the end of a recent article. 

I can also counter the writer’s closing paragraphs, which are pretty hyperbolic. I’m not sure how much of a punk Lady Gaga is, or what, for that matter, the value of the word “punk” means when you can apply it to Vivian Westwood couture, coffee table books, and Hot Topic. That said, I too am inspired by mainstream female pop stars who explore and own the complex dimensions of their sexuality, particularly P!nk, Janet Jackson, and Christina Aguilera. I only wish there were more of them, or that Gossip’s Beth Ditto or M.I.A. sold enough records to qualify. 

Beth Ditto: my kind of pop star; image courtesy of brooklynvegan.com

I don’t really take issue with Swift being a weak singer, in that I don’t think evaluating singers in terms of their technical abilities is always a fruitful exercise. I’d be happier with her being a weak singer if she did something interesting with her voice, but I basically feel like she’s doing karaoke when she sings. This could have a charm to it if her phrasing and sense of dynamics weren’t also really obvious. And she often acts out lyrics in a way that I find insulting to the audience. Sure it’s a continuation of the girl group tradition. But do you really need to mime picking up a phone to let listeners know that you’re talking on the phone with some boy? Is it your way of helping out your international fan base? Or is just so you can remember the exact words that comprise the trite rhetoric you’re selling? 

Thus, if we have to make problematic either/or value judgments, I think it’s better to evaluate singing not as good or bad, but as present or absent. Lots of artists lack technically proficient or “pretty” voices, but get you with their commitment to creating sound and the feelings behind it. Likewise, lots of singers have pleasant voices, but sound like they’re thinking about checking their e-mail or getting on a plane. So, I actually take issue with how removed Swift sounds from her music. And then I really take issue with how she sings about romance with a disingenuous approximation of sustained wonder. For me, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard does something similar and it drives me up a tree. Add some faux-authentic lyrics about ripped jeans, pick-up trucks, sneakers, and faded t-shirts and I don’t think you’re emoting so much as lying

That said, I think this quote is a little insulting: “Swift simply hasn’t had the life experience and doesn’t inherently possess the emotional maturity to create great art.” It smacks a bit of “she’s just a girl; she hasn’t experienced life yet.” As women who work with girls, Kristen and I include Swift in our music history workshops. We don’t do this as fans, but because we know she means a lot to many girls, some of whom are just learning how to play music or are picking up instruments for the first time. Some of you might be reading this now, and I totally respect your preferences and value your opinions. You may be die-hard fans, or you may grow out of her music and find something else. You may believe in the kinds of fairy tales Swift trades in, though hopefully you’ll come to them with a revisionist bent like Lady Gaga, Bat for Lashes, or St. Vincent

Whatever you choose, all I hope for as an older, cranky lady who doesn’t like Swift’s music is that you never stop discovering new sounds as you develop your own. And I promise never to bore you with stories about how awesome and progressive my pop idols were in comparison to your music, because no text is ever above inquiry. Swift is problematic, but so is Björk. As I have faith in your awesomeness, I have no doubt that you’ll come up with something that’ll blow me away. And if you wanna bitch about Swift and turn that rage into something completely new and original, I’ll be here to listen.

Covered: Sleater-Kinney’s “The Hot Rock”

Welcome to a new decade, readers. I was wracking my brain for what the first post of the teens should be yesterday. It should be something substantial and prescient in big capital letters. But that puts a lot of pressure on a person. As a result, I backed away from my laptop and got a little bit of much-needed post-New Year’s Eve napping. I also burrowed deeper in Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, which I felt I needed to finish before I could think about anything else anyway.

But now that I finished the book and am heart-broken over tragic Laura Chase, let’s ease into my first entry of the new decade by writing about an album that came out in 1999.

Cover of The Hot Rock (Kill Rock Stars, 1999); image courtesy of wikipedia.org

This album came out my sophomore year of high school, but I didn’t listen to it until I was in college. I knew of Sleater-Kinney because magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin paid lip service to them. Later in high school, I heard some of their earlier hits on KTRU (you know, “Words and Guitar,” “Little Babies,” “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”). But I never really had my adolescent Sleater-Kinney feminist music geek phase like a lot of my contemporaries, probably because I was listening to Björk, Liz Phair, Cibo Matto, Erykah Badu, and PJ Harvey instead.

I would’ve made a little more room on my CD shelves, but I don’t actually remember seeing a Sleater-Kinney album in a record store until I was in college. The first cover I saw was All Hands on the Bad One. But the second one I saw was this one, and I’ve stared at it a lot more.

The Hot Rock is also my favorite Sleater-Kinney record, though The Woods and One Beat nudge for top ranking. Part of the reason might be that I felt like I discovered it. While I obviously hadn’t, I’d never heard any songs off this album until I was doing my own radio show. I wonder if this has anything to do with it being poorly received upon initial reception, as many bristled at the band smoothing over its once rawer sound (though I know at least one person who would disagree with that opinion). I also seem to remember some folks derisively referring to it as their “dance” record. But its dancability was a huge part of the record’s appeal for me.

It also let me know that they must be Joy Division and New Order fans. Listen to Brownstein and Tucker’s guitars on “End of You” or “Get Up” and tell me that they’re not doing their version of guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist’s Peter Hook interplay.

This was really important for me. New Order ruled much of my adolescence, along with Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Erasure, The Pet Shop Boys, and Electronic (Sumner’s side project with Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant and Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr). Before I heard The Hot Rock, I liked Sleater-Kinney fine but felt that their interests in classic rock like The Who and Led Zeppelin, while interesting in terms of gender, gave me little to relate to musically. But this album made me think, sing at the top of my lungs, and dance my ass off.

Speaking of dancing your ass off, feel free to listen to one of their last shows, courtesy of NPR.

Also, I gotta give the ladies credit for setting the stage for what was to come. By 2004, people wanted to give credit to bands like The Rapture for creating dance-punk. I think Sleater-Kinney beat them to it, and managed to sound less dated in the process. They also gestured toward a band that I think had a continued impact on the music of this decade. At the beginning of the decade, a lot of people thought the key indie rock influence was going to be Gang of Four, but every third band I hear these days swipes from either Joy Division or New Order. How’s that for prescient?

Okay, I think there’s some of Gang of Four’s clangy electric guitar on this album too. “Memorize Your Lines” is one example I’ll offer.

But I can’t think of this album without poring over Marina Chavez’s cover photo, studying these three tough, professional ladies. Brownstein’s hailing a taxi to drive them to some unforeseen destination that I always imagine is the gig. Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss haul their gear and glance furtively at something outside the frame, ready to protect the unit from any unseemly element that doesn’t recognize that they’re not with the band but rather, they are the band. Wherever they’re going, they’re getting there together and splitting the cab fare. It’s as strong a feminist message of band solidarity and as hopeful a symbol of the untraveled road as I can find, and a gift I hope to share with you readers as we all embark on a new year together.

“(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.

Parker Posey’s Mary: Party girl and librarian music geek

Party Girl poster; image taken from charm.net

Party Girl poster; image taken from charm.net

For today’s post, I’m gonna try to bring together both the music and the geek, via the librarian.

So, I love information sciences and sometimes think I should go back and get an info sciences degree. Perhaps like many academics, I’ve long wanted to run a library, particularly a music library. Either that, or I’d love to work as a music archivist. I’d kill to work on something like the Hiphop Archive.

While I gravitate toward archival work (it is my job), librarians rule the world as far as I’m concerned. If you wanna find out about anything, you’ve gotta go through them. And they usually know more than anybody. They’re also benevolent creatures, as they create order.

Of course, librarians have been cultivating cool cred for some time. Like New York Times writer Kara Jesella, this reminded me of Party Girl, the 1995 movie starring Parker Posey as, Mary, an NYC party girl turned librarian. While I maintain that the movie ends terribly, I like everything else about it.

I especially like the scene where Mary devises an ingenious record filing system organized by specific and overlapping dance sub-genres for Leo, her deejay friend. See? Librarians are cool. They can organize your record collection. I appreciate this scene, as I’m in the process of creating a database for my books, records, CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes. It’s a task. The scene is both funny and awesome, and since I can’t find it on the Interwebz, I’d encourage seeing the movie for just this scene, if interested.

Oh, and I also like this scene (start it around 1:12 if you haven’t already seen the movie). Who doesn’t love a montage?

Things I like about this clip.
1. Mary talks to herself when she’s figuring out where things are. I do this too, especially when I refile stuff at work. Sometimes I also do this while putting on an accent.
2. Mary dances at work, reconfiguring a totally mundane environment into something more fanastical and fun. I dance at work too (also, we seem to have learned our moves from the same person — Lady Miss Kier of Deee-Lite; between Lady Miss Kier, Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, and TLC, you have the complete inventory of my dance repertoire).
3. I seriously heart the song “If You Believe” by Chantay Savage.
4. Mary learns the hell out of the Dewey Decimel System. You should take heed.

Hit and miss: Rockville CA

Deb and Hunter, meeting cute (naturally); image taken from the WB

Deb and Hunter, meeting cute (naturally); image taken from the WB

Sigh. The things I do in the name of research.

I finished watching the first season of Rockville CA, an irritating Web show brought to the masses via Josh Schwartz, the wunderkind behind The O.C., Chuck, and Gossip Girl. Who knew 20 six-minute Webisodes would weigh down on me like a lead balloon?

Note: After hearing lead fanboy Hunter crack whip-smart for about two hours, I will resist all urges to make a Led Zeppelin reference.

My friend Kristen brought the show to my attention, as she does with many things, after sending me this interesting New York Times piece on it.

So, I’ll be honest. I kind of have an axe to grind with the Schwartz empire anyway. Mainly because it has commodified music geekery in the most generic, bland, pretend-smart, pretend-cool way possible (shooting daggers at you, Seth Cohen).

It could be a knee-jerk reaction. Schwartz’s right-hand lady, music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, who co-produced Rockville CA and, like me, also got her start in college radio, has a job I’d kill for and know I could do so much better if I wanted to use my record collection to underscore beautifully-lit, woodenly-acted scenes of teen angst and lust. In short, my irritation could be simply reduced to “bitch took my job.”

But it’s never that simple.

Or is it? Christ, the things that are wrong with this show are so by-the-book.

1. The set-up. Oh, you know this one. If you’re seen any romantic comedy, ever, you’ve got this one down. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets . . . you know what? Not even gonna finish the sentence. You’ve got it.

2. You know the couple — Deb and Hunter — are in love because they hate each other instantly and start arguing. I don’t know where this narrative contrivance began, but this has never happened to me. Usually, if I like someone, the attraction has nothing to do with wanting to rip the person’s face off until enough people are like “hey, you two would make a cute couple” that I think “you know what, you’re right! This annoying person who I cannot stand is actually pumping my ‘nads.” No, when I purport to not find you appealing, I don’t actually want to go on a date and kiss in the rain or whatever. I actually don’t want to be seen with you socially at all.

3. Perhaps I’m being unfair about my next point in conjunction with point #2, as many romantic comedies hinge on adult couples not meeting cute, but this premise seems very high school. Especially for men, as Hunter sweats and stammers immature misogyny. Through 17 of the 20 episodes, his actions and banter seem to say, “I don’t like her, she has cooties! She scares me . . . I think my body is changing. I’m compelled to her, but I don’t know why. Foul temptress! I was much safer with my comic books, G.I. Joe figurines, and Ramones records!”

In fact, perhaps unsurprisingly given Schwartz’s involvement, this show reads like a high school melodrama. The nerdy hot girl with glasses. The pretty blonde girl who is friends with the nerdy hot girl with glasses that the male lead originally finds attractive (there’s a bit of The Truth About Cats and Dogs in there too). The unattainable hunk that the nerdy hot girl with glasses likes (at school it’d be a football player; here, it’s a bassist). The wise elder who is charmed nostalgic by all the angst and endearing awkwardness. And even though the show takes place at a venue (where the show gets its name), it could just as easily take place in in the high school gym, made all glittery for prom, or in the library, during weekend detention. I’ve been to Southern California. It’s a little dangerous and a little seedy. That’s part of its charm. This show turns it into an American Eagle ad. Or a womb. Whatever.

4. If this is what music geeks are really like, we are insufferable. By that, I mean, if we are, in fact, indexical, socially-inept, commodity fetishists. If all we do is make snide comments, droll asides, and catalogical recitations of bands and their output, we are lame. The show would also suggest that we are completely beholden to capitalism and instant gratification, blind to corporate enterprising’s hold on us, what with the show’s incessant plugging of Heineken. In short, if we are what this show suggests we are, we are sheep.

5. Goddamn, is the music awful. A perhaps promising trapping of the show is that each episode takes place during a different concert. However, almost everyone sounds like a reduced, flattened, laminated version of some pre-existing band (usually Joy Division or U2).

And, as you can imagine, almost all these bands are comprised of white dudes. Earlimart, The Duke Spirit, and a couple others are exceptions, but I’ll bet you know what position most of the women (who are the lone female in each band) occupy. Also, Lykke Li is in an episode, which kinda bums me out, as I like Lykke Li. But I already heard “Dance Dance Dance” at a Victoria’s Secret and “I’m Good, I’m Gone” on American Idol, so she’s already been co-opted.

6. The “clever” banter. Puns are the lowest form of comedy, and any punchline based on making a play on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is lower still. Hunter is the worst perpetrator, but Deb slings her share of barbs as well. Plus, people are never that funny and quick. It was unbelievable in the first half of Juno, when all the characters were always so damn quippy. Like Dawson’s Creek before it, the dialogue is completely fictive in Rockville CA.

Kristen’s big question at the time she sent it was “Web series that codes the music geek as male maybe?” And one thing that is good about the show is that I can say “No, not exclusively.” However, I must qualify . . .

It’s true, Deb is a confirmed music geek. And a music professional as well (fresh out of college, she works in A and R; I hope she finds a nobler calling in the biz soon). Thus, in many ways, Rockville CA is a workplace comedy for her (not so much for Hunter — he basically, and appropriately, sells digital ad space).

Unfortunately, Deb’s not very discriminating, stating that almost every band playing at Rockville is “major” (a doubly-unfortunate connotation, bringing to mind both Victoria Beckham and the corporate label system; indeed, any time she says a band is “major,” she may as well be saying “ready for the majors!”).

Also, while she does get to exhibit geek savvy, like correcting her crush (Syd, the elusive bass player for Australia) when he says Ian Brown was the frontman for Teenage Fanclub (he actually sang for The Stone Roses), she is given the cold shoulder and reminded by Callie, Rockville’s leggy waitress, that guys, um, like, like to be right sometimes and, like, don’t like to be proven wrong. And while Deb vocally rejects Callie’s advice, it doesn’t keep her from looking in the mirror and taking her hair out of its ponytail at the end of the episode (I think the black-out came just before she took off her glasses).

Thankfully, Deb is not alone as a music geek, a fact that Shaun is happy to exclaim. Though Callie and Isabel, Deb’s needy friend who wears stripper heels “ironically” to seduce a musician she hooked up with previously, are a bit regressive — though both seem like true friends to Deb — Shaun has potential. For Shaun, who owns Rockville, the show may also be considered a workplace comedy. Shaun’s presence is heartening; she’s tough, smart and also a hot, older single lady (picture Allison Janey playing Kim Gordon — not the worst, right?).

However, she ends up selling out, signing her bar over to Chambers, a tow-headed poser, and his business partner, who wants to phase out the bands and bring in more DJs. This happened in the finale. I’m hoping that if the show gets a second season (and I can bear to watch it), Shaun becomes a tough entrepreneuse and fights it. I sense a benefit on the way.

By the way, while I love deejays, I take the new (evil, soulless) owners’ hope to maximize profits by bringing deejays in as a way to suggest that the artform (and its raced, classed implications) as being denigrated alongside of the show’s clear investment in rock, perhaps aligning with Lisa Lewis’s assertion that early MTV catered to “rock’s white-male bias” (see “The Making of a Preferred Address” in Lisa A. Lewis’s Gender Politics and MTV: Voicing the Difference). There’s several mentions throughout the show that rock is the supreme genre in popular music, suggesting that it is pure and authentic and ignoring the ways in which rock steals from other genres, and the white-washing that occurs in the process.

Which brings me to race. If you’re picturing a bunch of white people bickering with one another when they aren’t kissing or playing, you’d be right. There are two people of color on the show (three if you count Isabel, who is played by Natalie Morales).

One is the doorman, Hugh, who is African American. He kinda had a promising bit at the beginning of the first few episodes where he’d freeze Hunter out of the club because he didn’t like him. This would create moments where Hunter would exhibit painful displays of white guilt by trying to seem down and then fearful that he accidentally said something racist. Deb, who is Hugh’s friend, would get him in as her plus-one. In these episodes, Hugh would be reading a different book, like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. In other words, a smart guy with layers who wasn’t charmed by Hunter. More Hugh, please.

The other character is Annie, the Asian photographer who never speaks (the actress, Chris Yen, is Chinese American). SHE NEVER SPEAKS. In all 20 episodes, not a line of dialogue. While it’s interesting that she’s a photographer, and is always snapping shots of the bands and the venue’s denizens, having her be a silent outsider distanced by the camera kinda, you know, others her. Let’s get her to strike up a conversation with somebody. A great instance would be when Shaun threatens to set her on fire if she takes any pictures of her. Kind of an unfortunate line, as I tend to think of this image. Anyway, Annie could totally put down her camera and call Shaun out. But she doesn’t.

And that, in its way, encapsulates Rockville CA. A fair amount of promise, a lot of missed opportunities.