2015: A Year of Writing in Review

monalisa

Toshio Matsumoto Mona Lisa 1973, video still

Writing is really, really hard.

I spent this spring in a haze of self-pity after getting my heart crushed spectacularly at the start of the year. At the time, I felt as though my ability to arrange words was dissolving; leaking and draining in quick, silvery swirls before I could collect myself.

But I still wrote.

In fact, this year I’ve written more than ever. I wrote about sex and Catholicism in postwar popular Italian melodramas. I wrote about the erotic aesthetic of violence in Japanese samurai movies. I wrote about teenage girls and cross-dressing in African diaspora cinema. I wrote a treatment for a feature-length film about the secret, smothered history of India’s partition. I wrote about erotic thrillers. I wrote about Carly Rae Jepsen. I wrote for editors and friends and for myself, in long, detailed emails, and in my journal.

Not all of it was good, but I wrote it anyway.

Here are nine of my favourite things I’ve written this year:

Adventures with UK audiences: taking two films by Josephine Decker on tour – BFI
Decker’s films are not easily categorised, shifting between the disparate genres of mumblecore, horror, erotic thriller and art film. Yet Decker is a young white woman on New York’s indie scene and the conversational tone of Butter on the Latch has drawn inevitable comparisons with the work of Lena Dunham (another young white urbanite woman). It is taken for granted that Decker’s audience is made up of people like herself, something that Desai is keen to disprove. Her strategy is to accompany the tour’s London screenings with themed post-screening discussions that “dismantle panellism” and challenge assumptions about who deserves to speak on stage.

British Cinemas Need to Do Better for Black Audiences – BuzzFeed
The road to a theatrical release is fraught with complications for a contemporary black drama, with films forced to rely on festival screenings (Pariah), self-distribution (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty), and streaming deals with platforms like Netflix (Ava Duvernay’s The Middle of Nowhere) in order to reach audiences. Even the critically acclaimed Fruitvale Station struggled to secure a distribution deal, ending up with a limited theatrical release of just 40 screens in the UK almost two years after its 2013 premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Gimme the Loot, and Girlhood have fared a little better at the cinema – but it’s no coincidence that these films were made by white directors. The suggestion seems to be that black lives only matter when they are filtered through a white auteur’s lens.

Cataloging Frank Ocean’s Obsession with Film – Pitchfork
Pitchfork’s own Ryan Dombal described Ocean’s 2012 album Channel Orange as a Magnolia-style cross-wired heartbreak epic”, with its collage of multiple narratives connected by the thematic through-line of unrequited love, and indeed Paul Thomas Anderson’s film would fit neatly within the canon of new New Hollywood movies from the 1990s that Ocean references. But Channel Orange and Ocean’s 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra don’t just engage with independent films—they also reference Gen X blockbusters and big-budget, conservative films like Pretty Woman and Forrest Gump. Ocean—a bisexual black millennial—uses these films to insert himself into a distinctly American mythology. He is neither fanboy nor voyeur. He is Richard Gere in a tux. He is Jenny Curran. He is Leaving Las Vegas. He is the history of American movies, revised.

Different Strengths: women to the fore and (aft) at London 2015 – Sight & Sound magazine
Suffragette is the successful product of female creators who pooled their power, the high-profile buzz around the film cementing it as the spearhead of Stewart’s strong-women movement. Yet mapping the burden of representation onto a historical drama compresses the feminist struggle and crystallises it into a moment of history. The over-emphasis on films that vaunt their feminist mantle often obscures the ones that are less explicit (though not necessarily less effective) in their intentions to challenge patriarchal agendas. More powerful are the films in this year’s festival programme that have reached beyond didacticism, finding value in creators who filter their characters and their worlds through a distinctly feminine lens.

Fast-track to fandom: Where to begin with Todd Haynes – BFI
The didactic nature of Haynes’s filmmaking – and the density of the filmic reference points he favours – might seem daunting for the less cine-literate. However, it’s important to note that while Haynes is explicitly interested in intertextuality, this is never at the expense of the emotion at the core of his films. If you wanted to frame your Haynesian odyssey, Sirk would be a good place to start (I suggest the 1955 film All That Heaven Allows, which directly inspired Far from Heaven), though it’s not necessary. There is reward in both the choice to contextualise Haynes’s filmography before getting stuck in, and the decision to use Haynes as an entry point into the wider canon of queer cinephilia.

Moving On – Filmme Fatales zine
Mazursky’s commitment to constructing Erica and Elaine as rational, coolheaded women is commendable, but even better are these glimpses into their flashes of weakness and vulnerability. Erica laments having an emotional response to getting her heart broken, wishing, desperately, to just be over it. “I feel guilty about my feelings,” she says to her therapist, whose response is swift: guilt is “kind of a manmade emotion.” Is guilt manmade, or is it made by men?

On Gina Prince-Bythewood – Little White Lies magazine
A film doesn’t have to shock or even surprise to succeed; it simply has to delight. Whether they’re sharing a breakfast burrito by the beach, Lady and the Tramp-style, or sitting in Kaz’s truck watching airplanes fly overhead, the quiet moments of connection that punctuate Prince-Bythewood’s stakes-high romantic melodrama are special. These scenes radiate a rare frisson, an indication of Prince-Bythewood’s ability to pull startlingly sincere performances from her actors. Both Noni and Kaz describe their jobs as “crazy highs” and “better than any drug.” With Beyond the Lights, Prince-Bythewood, recreates the crazy high of falling in love, a drug all of its own.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated – Little White Lies magazine
There’s also a short sequence around the film’s midpoint that sees Mark and Eduardo go on a double date (though it’s more like a double fuck), locked in adjacent bathroom stalls with their respective groupies. The scene opens on Eduardo furiously kissing his date, though he pulls away abruptly, motioning her to listen to the happenings next door. She doesn’t care, but Eduardo is rapt, straining to hear the sound of his best friend getting a blowjob. The scene cuts from the stall door to a shot of the boys standing smug and rosy-cheeked outside of the bathroom. Mark looks straight ahead. Eduardo looks at Mark.

The Star-Crossed Stars of Showgirls, Crossroads and Glitter – cléo journal
For all of Crossroads inability to disguise Britney’s lack of acting experience, the film contains moments where her innocence reads as charming. Tears pool in Britney’s doe-eyes as Lucy tells Ben (a friend of Mimi’s and their rent-a-hunk chauffeur) of her lacklustre reunion with her mother, her face crumpling convincingly into an ugly cry: “She said that my father made her have me, and that I was just a mistake.” In moments like this, the line between Lucy and Britney blurs, making it hard to feel anything other than tenderness towards either of them.

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