The other day, I came back from my lunch break and noticed Angelina Anderson (I Fry Mine in Butter founder and author of Bitch‘s Snarky’s Cinemachine series; @SnarkysMachine in the Twittersphere) posted the trailer to Burlesque, a new star vehicle for Christina Aguilera and Cher. With its flat acting, rote cinematography, and hackneyed storyline about a dew-eyed girl makin’ it in the entertainment biz, it looks — as Anderson said on Facebook — like Chicago, Glitter, Showgirls, and Moulin Rouge collided. I’ll totally see this on some listless Sunday. If it’s really good, I’ll buy it at discount and watch it with drunk friends late at night, having the movie occupy a position held by Glitter and Center Stage. Why?
1. I’m a sucker for dance movies.Put simply, I love watching dancers interact with cameras and editors. That means I own Center Stage and You Got Served. That means I saw Rize and Save the Last Dance, among others, in the theaters. That means I’ll defend Robert Altman’s The Company beyond the merits of my partner’s uncle’s work as its production designer or Neve Campbell and James Franco’s underplayed chemistry. That means I took an entire graduate course on dance in media culture and wrote my final paper on the employment of dance in Spike Lee’s first three films. That means I support the validity of Irin Camron’s claims toward Dirty Dancing‘s feminist potential. That means I’ll see Step Up‘s 3D installment. That means I saw all the movies Anderson compared Burlesque to, Bob Fosse’s entire filmography, and even sat through Honey, which Missy Elliott’s cameo saved from Jessica Alba’s dependably bland titular performance.
2. I’m a sucker for backstage musicals, and have been at least since I participated in a high school production of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, but probably as far back as when I saw a community theater production of Gypsy with my grandmother as a child. I derive pleasure from stories of people putting on a show. I like witnessing how a character’s personal life informs their performance. And as a genre, I’m interested in why so many offerings focus on young women’s rise to fame.
3. I’m intrigued by female pop stars’ involvement in film musicals, particularly as it offers roles to women of color. Yes, Kylie Minogue played the Green Fairy in Moulin Rouge and Fergie was cast in Rob Marshall’s Nine. It’s especially interesting to see these women play influential female performers in music biopics as a means of linking personas and legacies. Diana Ross did this with Billie Holiday and Beyoncé connected herself to Diana Ross and Etta James. Jennifer Lopez’s career took off after a star turn in Selena. But many get involved with musicals and dance films. Beyoncé also starred in MTV’s Carmen: A Hip Hopera. Marshall also employed Queen Latifah in Chicago, who was later cast in Hairspray. Mentor Whitney Houston and protegee Brandy paired up for Cinderella. I could catalogue indefinitely, as pop stars’ involvement with a film musical has long served as shorthand for pop credibility and crossover success.
4. I’m fascinated by the perennial employment of cinematic vanity projects to expand pop stars’ brands. It’s usually quite a gamble. For every Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Moon is sure to follow. It failed spectacularly in Mariah Carey’s case, with Glitter entering the market when the singer’s waning cultural relevance dovetailed with a well-publicized psychological breakdown and only recently being remembered as a fun but inconsequential movie about a girl becoming an 80s pop icon based on a killer recording of “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On.” In point of fact, I actually find the derided attempts far more interesting as a viewer and in terms of what they may say about the stars at their center.
Burlesque meets each of these four points. I’m nervous about Aguilera’s underripe performance, exaggerated whiteness, bad wig, and the possibility that the movie underlines her limited dance ability over her formidable singing. I’m also curious how the movie might recall OutKast’s Idlewild. Both movies employ a deliberating retro musical sensibility, though I think Aguilera is far more invested in conjuring a postmodern pin-up image than Andre 3000 and Big Boi were in associating themselves with the Prohibition. I’m excited to see Cher, who I liked in Moonstruck, The Witches of Eastwick and Mermaids growing up and will probably enjoy in Come Back to the Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean when I finally get around to seeing it. Plus any movie with Stanley Tucci gets a free pass from me. It won’t be great, but it’ll probably be fun.
Recently, I rewatched Gwen Stefani’s “What You Waiting For?” during a workday lull.
I remember when this song came out, which was her debut single as a solo artist, I was surprisingly into it. I’ve never been a huge fan of Stefani’s work. I liked that she took pride in her athletic body, though has kept her physique slim since she played Jean Harlow in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Her music is fine and at times feminist-friendly (though she of course denies being one, even when she’s on the cover of BUST Magazine). She tends to whine about boys, though.
But hummina does she take a page from distant relative Madonna and graft racial signifiers on her somewhat de-ethnicized Italian American body. In her career, she has appropriated from South Asian and Latina cultures, and also juxtaposed her bleached blondeness against African American masculinity. I also believe that she’s directly responsible for the glamourous pan-ethnic white tomboy Black-Eyed Peas’ hook girl Fergie perpetuates. Miley Cyrus recently appropriated the chola during a performance on the Much Music Awards. With Love. Angel. Music. Baby., she brought the Harajuku Girls into her supposedly post-racial bricolage. I didn’t realize the Orientalism going on until I sang the single at a karaoke bar and discovered the seemingly celebratory line about these young Japanese women possessing amazing style. I didn’t see a problem with it until she assembled a quartet of wordless minions.
That said, I do find the music video interesting. I like how the clip seems to poke fun at the music industry’s willingness to shower its talent with millions of dollars in order to maximize their product’s market potential by showing Stefani go to a retreat to fight writer’s block that’s funded by unseen manager Jimmy (Iovine). I like how it also situates this culture in a specifically West Coast milieu, as Los Angeles has long profiteered off spiritualism from chi chi new age feelgooderies (for more on the subject of how this may dovetail into the emergence of priv-lit, I highly recommend reading Joshunda Sanders and Diana Barnes-Brown’s Bitch article on the subject).
But I wonder what it means that Stefani casts herself as the heroine of Alice In Wonderland in her unconscious in the Francis Lawrence-directed clip. Is the music industry a hallucinatory simply a place that preys upon and infantilizes female artists? I also wonder how the music video relates to Tim Burton’s recent attempt to adapt the story. Assuredly, the clip does more interesting and potentially progressive things with the source material than the misogynistic music video for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” But I wonder if there’s more going on through the looking glass.
I saw Precious today and want to talk about it length, but need to process what I saw. I’d also like to get to Push, Sapphire’s book on which the movie was based at some point before the end of the year. For now, I’ll say this. I didn’t love it but I did like it, thought Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique were great, was heartened that my matinee screening had a good and diverse turnout, and think you should see it. But you may want to see it with someone and encourage your local theater to have a safe space where people can go if the movie becomes too intense or touches on frought emotions or horrible memories.
For the time being, I thought I’d mention the preview of a coming attraction. Nine, Rob Marshall’s screen adaptation of Arthur Kopit, Mario Fratti, and Maury Yeston’s musical (itself an adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2), comes out next week. You can view the trailer here.
So, I know very little about this musical. I only recently discovered the origins of its source material, which I haven’t seen (though, based on my less-than-enthusiastic viewings of La Dolce Vita and I Vitelloni don’t hold high hopes for it, unless Fellini allowed for self-deprication in his autobiographical film the way that Bob Fosse did in All That Jazz, a movie of a similar mold that I love). Beyond that, I knew Raul Julia starred in its Broadway debut back in 1982, the original production won many Tonys, and once heard someone sing “Unusual Way” at a family friend’s wedding, which is a really cryptic song choice for such a ceremony.
As for the film adaptation, I know the players. Rob Marshall directed Chicago and is at the helm here. Daniel Day Lewis plays Guido Contini, a tortured director. The women who populate his life are considerable — Marion Cotillard plays his wife, Penélope Cruz his mistress, Nicole Kidman his muse, Stacey Ferguson (aka Duchess Fergie Ferg) a whore he once knew, and Kate Hudson a fashion writer whose character has a song that was written for the movie. Oh, and Judi Dench is Contini’s costume designer and confidant.
So, I totally suspect a two-hour version of Julio Iglesias’s “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” with generous dashes of love for the authorial presence of male film directors. Also, I think this trailer gives you virtually no insight into what this story is about.
That said, I totally want to see this movie because:
1) I’m always interested in film musicals, whether they are good, bad, screen adaptations of stage musicals, or screen adaptations of stage musicals of feature films. Yes, this means I saw Hairspray and didn’t hate it as much as many of my movie geek friends did. But those matters should be saved for another post.
2) Unlike many people who hated Chicago (several of whom I suspect feel Marty or Roman got robbed out of a Best Picture Oscar for Gangs of New York or The Pianist), I actually enjoyed it. I felt the adaptation stayed true to the source material, deftly staged sequences that are actually going on in the protagonist’s mind, and felt like Catherine Zeta Jones, Queen Latifah, and John C. Reilly were great. I even enjoyed Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere, actors whom I otherwise would rather not watch in a movie. My only real complaint (which Jon Stewart shares), was that Bebe Neuwirth, who won a Tony for her portrayal of Velma Kelly was replaced by Zeta Jones. Otherwise, bring it.
3) Daniel Day Lewis can sing? The same guy who apparently prepared for There Will Be Blood by recording his character’s voice using early 20th century phonographic technology? I am there.
d) I’m fascinated by the presence of female pop stars in contemporary film musicals. As the golden age of film musicals has long since passed, it seems like the ones that do make it to the screen need a familiar face and voice, and they are almost always women with celebrated recording careers. Just as I wondered what Madonna brought to Evita, Queen Latifah brought to Chicago, and Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson brought to Dreamgirls, so too am I curious what Fergie is going to bring to Nine. While detractors might snigger that it’s fitting for the woman who sang “My Humps” and “London Bridge” to play a whore, I’ll counter that she’s the only singer we hear in the trailer. Yes, that’s her singing “Be Italian.”
e) In the movie, I’m interested in seeing a whore play a teacher to our genius director protagonist man. In real life, I advocate the decriminalization of prostitution and would like sex workers to get worker rights and benefits.
f) While I worry that these women are going to be portrayed as long-suffering, one-dimensional objects of Condini’s affection, I want to see a movie that boasts so many actresses. Especially actresses I enjoy, like Cruz, Dench, and Cotillard, who I thought was wonderful in her Oscar-winning turn in La Vie en rose, an the otherwise so-so biopic on Édith Piaf. I’m also really interested in the series of noir-inspired ads she’s doing with La Vie en rose director Olivier Dahan for Dior.
I haven’t seen this many women in an ensemble since I saw Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver (note: Cruz is also starring in Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces and I can’t wait for it to start playing in Austin).
As an aside, the gossip enthusiast in me is also curious about Cruz and Kidman starring in a movie together. Ever since Tom Cruise split with Nicole Kidman and dated Cruz, I always wonder what their interactions are like every time they show up on a magazine cover together. It’s a catty curiosity, but a curiosity nonetheless. I wonder how they would be portrayed in a movie about Tom Cruise’s life, but want very much for this movie not to be made.
Whether this movie is good or not remains to be seen. But I know I’ll rent it at some point. This has Sunday afternoon at-home viewing written all over it.
So, I have two entries drafted on Almost Famous and Sonic Youth’s cameo on last night’s Gossip Girl. Now, I could finish one of them and rush it to publication for you kind, attentive readers. But, I started watching season one of Friday Night Lights this weekend and some profound race relations stuff is going down and I intend to finish disc four tonight. If you’ve watched the show, you understand. If you haven’t, then I highly recommend starting, especially if you’re like me and grew up in a rural Texas suburb.
That said, two dude-friends pointed me in an interesting direction this morning and I thought I’d write a quick post on it. Peter reminded me of one artist I forgot about and David pointed out another act I didn’t know existed (but whose work I had heard sampled on Fergie’s “Fergalicious“). Thanks, guys. That these artists were obscure female rap artists who got support from members of rap group N.W.A. should not be overlooked, especially alongside the widely-held belief that N.W.A., and the subgenre of gangsta rap that they helped pioneer, were sexist and misogynistic (and also homophobic). And I don’t want to discredit those claims, as they have considerable merit. Barring examples from Ice-T, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E’s solo careers, and Dre’s assault on Dee Barnes while still in the group, I don’t think we have to look much further than “One Less Bitch” and “She Swallowed It” off Efil4zaggin).
That said, I think this argument gets challenged by the presence Tairrie B, who was signed to Ruthless Records, who also housed N.W.A. for a time, and was mentored by Eazy-E. It gets further complicated by J.J. Fad, who originally used their initials to form the group’s name, whose debut album, Supersonic was produced by Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince’s production credits. Now, this isn’t to overlook the gendered dimensions of the mentor-protégée relationship (though it would behoove us to remember that N.W.A.’s records often contained samples of records by female artists like Lyn Collins and E.S.G.). It also isn’t to overlook Tairrie’s normative white, blonde good looks, or that her metal career further temper the waters.
But it does emphasize the oft-overlooked presence women and girls of multiple racial and ethnic categories have always had in hip-hop and the support some men in positions of power in the game have given. It may not forgive a statement like “bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks” or level the playing field, but it sure as hell complicates standard conceptions of gender roles and racial norms in hip-hop’s industrial practices.