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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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To The WonderIt’s around this time of year that lists start to pop up all over the internet; left, right and centre like bacteria multiplying on the cut side of a browning piece of fruit. I liken these lists to bacteria, for critics, as we all know, are parasites. Parasites, feeding on the creation of culture — chewing it, and swishing it around in our mouths, before spitting it out at our computer screens and seeing what sticks. I think I have a problem with lists.

The irony of my disenchantment with the ol’ listicle is that I, like most human beings I know, am prone to clicking on it. Snackable content is the precise reason why Buzzfeed is one of the most popular websites online right now. Lists are clickbait, and I just can’t resist a sneaky scroll through a good Top 10. And what’s wrong with a Top 10? There are entire websites devoted to lists, like Letterboxd, which allows you to tag films you’ve watched and create lists to keep track of them.

But the problem with lists, you see, is that they create a false sense of urgency. And I think this sense of urgency does a disservice to the very things that the list format claims to celebrate. Lists, especially lists of the Top 10 Best Whatever of This Year sort, are not a good way to clarify and quantify and reflect on the Best Things you have consumed during this calendar year. No. Not so.

We (and more specifically, I) trawl through list after list, looking for recommendations, invariably seeking out validation for where we put our time, our money, our mouths. I see the gaps in my own cultural diet reflected in the lists of others.

There is a strange sense of pressure that we impose upon ourselves, self-proclaimed pop-culture aficionados and anthropologists with our individual inflated senses of self-importance, to cram as much content as possible into the latter part of December. The winter solstice is a time of reflection, but we use it as a time to catch up, watching in double-time, racing against an invisible hourglass in a bid to make sure our lists are fair, considered — things that they can never be.

When we consume to catch up, we kid ourselves that we are consuming in a vacuum, that the film speaks for itself. It doesn’t. I loved the swooning, sunset palette of Terrence Malik’s To the Wonder. It looked and felt rapturous when I watched it on the big screen, but had I seen it on Netflix? I can’t imagine I would have felt the same. And yet, as much as I enjoyed To the Wonder, it isn’t in my Top 10. It pains me to speak of it in the same breath as the spiritual experience that is Malik’s The Tree of Life (a firm fixture in my Top 10 of 2011), even though I understand the ways in which the two films are of the same ilk. The Top 10 of this year does not exist as complete and separate from last year’s, or the year before. Lists neglect to consider the very thing that might render them useful: context.

We aren’t examining why these films are significant — either to us, as individuals, or in the wider context of cinematic output. We aren’t critically evaluating these films in the context that they have been received — by the people who are paid to write about them, or by the people who have paid to see them. We aren’t differentiating how we ourselves have received them — at press screenings, as paying customers, on LoveFilm Instant, via BitTorrent, with bathroom breaks, tired, alone, with friends, hungry, indifferent, fraught with anticipation, newly heartbroken.

Lists suck the meaning out of film criticism. Maybe. Or maybe I’m sucking the fun out of lists.

Are lists fun? I find them fucking exhausting.

But maybe it’s not the lists that are the problem. Maybe it’s List Culture. Our incessant ordering and re-ordering of everything that we read, hear and watch makes it easier to package and sell to other people. If a list is just for us, why does it need to be on the internet? No, we use these lists to better understand other people, and to help people to better understand us, often at the expense of the lists’ content.

And yet so many of these lists refuse to consider the relationship between the films they contain. Can you really (and fairly) compare a sprawling story of love, lust and loss to a documentary about a representation of a representation of a representation of genocide? Is Frances Ha somehow better than Beyond the Hills because I can imagine watching — and enjoying — it again and again? Is Spring Breakers a lesser film than 12 Years a Slave because its agenda is of less cultural, political and historical significance?

What is the criteria that qualifies a film’s entry into a Top 10 list anyway? “It was good” is not good enough. Is it instant impact or staying power? Is it pure enjoyment or a film’s ability to provoke thought and discussion? Is it novelty? Spectacle? Precise execution? These categories aren’t mutually exclusive (indeed, the very best films are all of these things), though they do begin to show how difficult it is to classify a film.

And what do my choices say about me? Am I frivolous because I loved The Hunger Games: Catching Fire? A prude, because I despised Danny Boyle’s pornification of Rosario Dawson in Trance? Secretly right-wing because I found myself awed by Zero Dark Thirty?

The problem with lists is that in order to weigh in on them, we have to have seen the things that they are made of. In our efforts to join in with our peers, we watch quickly and talk authoritatively in repetitive, rehearsed soundbites that defy complexity. In focusing on how to defend our choices (or worse, not justifying them at all), we fail to look closely at our own relationships to these films. We chew, but we don’t swallow. And I, for one, don’t want to binge on films that I might have loved, had I enough time to digest them.

September has been a mixed bag. It feels very weird to witness everybody around me in Back to School mode… and to not be going back to school myself. This feeling hit home especially hard on a brief visit to the Kings College London open day with my little sister.

That isn’t to say this month has been all doom and gloom, though. I spent a week writing for Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival in Bristol, after winning a place on their New Film Journalism workshop c/o IdeasTap and NISI MASA (European Network of Young Cinema). I ate the most sublime pear and chocolate tart from the Arnolfini, interviewed Peep Show writer Jesse Armstrong, and, best of all, got to hang out with some really cool people. The Inside Encounters team hailed from Estonia, France and Romania, as well as here in the UK, and despite the fact that we were staying in a dirty hostel situated above a nightclub (I wish I was joking), it was wonderful. You can catch up on my blog posts from the festival here.

Arctic Monkeys cover Drake’s ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ (a great song in its own right). Much has been made of the Monkeys’ recent restyle — quiffs, sequinned blazers and phoney American accents notwithstanding — but I see this video as proof that Alex and co. are continuing to do what they do best: taking the piss. Not out of Drake, or the song — but out of us. Watch, and you will understand.

The British film industry is having a moment — but where do Black Britons fit into the equation?

I’m not sure where I stand on the pro-porn vs. no porn debate (though I think Cindy Gallop is an incredibly smart woman).

I worry that the notion of porn being addictive lets men off the hook. In much the same way, talking about boys who have been “sexually traumatised” by watching porn diverts attention from girls who are having to deal with demeaning and dangerous sexual demands from young men.

This piece in The Independent has some interesting things to say about pornography and gender.

I unashamedly love Jesse Eisenberg. His column in The New Yorker is the gift that keeps on giving — his voice has all the wit of Woody Allen, but an abrasiveness that is all his own.

Stop telling women to smile.

This really spoke to my love of food writing. Further reading: Nigel Slater, always, and Beth Kirby of Local Milk, for recipes as delicious to read as they are to eat.

Ah, Jonathan Franzen. While his recent essay (or shall we say, diatribe) on modern technology has been widely praised, I found it awfully worthy. I did, however, love this response from The New Inquiry’s Fiona Duncan and Sarah Nicole Prickett, a riff on the work of feminist writer Chris Kraus. It only really works if you’re familiar with Kraus — though if you’re not, now is as good a time as any for me to recommend the brilliant ‘I Love Dick‘.

Texts from William Carlos Williams.

Is online advertising killing music journalism? And could the same be said for film journalism?

Speaking of film journalism, I’m really looking forward to Mark Kermode’s new book, ‘Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics’. The Observer published an extract from it, and predictably, it’s an engrossing, entertaining and compassionate insight into contemporary film writing. Bonus: I spied praise for Hope Lies, the film website created by my dear friend and colleague Adam Batty!

Finally, if you watch one thing today, make it Zane Lowe’s four-part interview with Kanye West. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny his creativity, his passion or his drive. It’s one of the most generous, inspiring and moving interviews I’ve ever seen. You can see part one above, but don’t miss parts two, three or four.

I split last month between Berlin and London. I walked up the Reichstag Dome’s spiral, see-through staircase at sunset. I stumbled across a beach volleyball tournament en route to the Olympiastadion in West Berlin. Both were uniformly glorious. I also spent some time interning at a Very Respectable socially conscious documentary distribution company. August was good.

Once again, Tavi Gevinson delivers some serious motivational gold, proving herself to be endlessly, effortlessly articulate. In this video, she talks about retaining a sense of wonder. Benjamin Law, who I hadn’t heard of before, also asks some really interesting questions at the end of the clip.

Thanks to my friend Charlie, I got to experience 40 Days of Dating just before it went viral. The experiment follows two graphic designers living in NYC who attempt to turn their long-standing friendship into something more. I greedily, guiltlessly binged on the archives when I first got wind of it. The project ends this week, but whatever the outcome, it’s a must-read.

There’s been no shortage of excellent writing on Rookie as of late. My favourite of recent times? This piece, which asks if Eminem and feminism are compatible. The answer is… surprising.

While I enjoy her music, I’m too young to remember how Fiona Apple has been received in the media over time. Luckily for me, these two clever people have published a transcript of their discussion on her definitive moments in music, and in pop-culture.

The Miley Cyrus VMA debacle has generated a lot of think pieces. This one, which delves deep into postcolonial theory, is the most convincing I’ve read.

Eighteen years later, Chloë Sevigny reflects on Kids.

I’ve been enjoying The Dissolve podcast recently. The Chicago-based film blog is made up of staffers who used to write cult blog The AV Club and although in its infancy, is shaping up to be a cinephile’s wet dream.

The line-up for the 57th London Film Festival has been announced and it is quite something. The Gala film in the festival’s Love strand is Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, a sprawling story of self-discovery and romance between two teenage girls. While the film has been praised for its raw sense of passion, the two lead actresses reveal the details of the gruelling shoot and their tyrannical director in this troubling exposé.

And finally, as a self-confessed serial tweeter, I was bemused to discover these guidelines for citing a tweet in an academic context.

The internet is a black hole of information. As I spend my days writing, applying for jobs and flicking between tabs like a lab rat on coke (a vice even I’m uncomfortable with), my eyes scan approximately 500,000 words per day*. Of these words (and sounds and images), I try to keep track of the clicks that made me think — or at least the ones that made me laugh.

The trailer for David O Russell’s latest film, American Hustle. The parts are good (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, the seventies costumes, the rotating camera shots that O Russell loves so much), but the sum of these parts feels more than a little derivative. I’m getting major Boogie Nights vibes though, which is never a bad thing.

One of my best friends is an Aussie, so in an effort not to be ignorant, I’ve been trying to keep up with Australian current affairs. This is a really interesting takedown of new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s disturbing proposed immigration reform. You can find more context here.

The Hour‘s Romola Garai is against the mainstreaming of lads’ mags (and their sale in supermarkets like Tesco). And quite frankly, so am I.

Wesley Morris on the eerie intersection between Trayvon Martin and Sundance favourite Fruitvale Station. Beautifully written, hugely relevant. (via one of my favourite writers on film and race, Ashely Clark)

Rebecca Scherm’s excellent exploration of her own internalised sexism, something that it took an internship at the Don Draper of magazines, Esquire, to unlearn.

This week I revisited The Social Network. Then I revisited this NY Magazine longread. Both are (still) fascinating.

Enjoying AlunaGeorge’s new album, Body Music. I don’t feel that I can use the words “urban”, “hazy”, “summer” or “nineties vibes” to describe it without sounding like a twat. So, ignore my description and listen to some of it for free here.

Beneath its chilly exterior, Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake is full of fire. It is by far the best show on TV right now. Catch up on BBC iPlayer here.

And finally, More Bitches for the BanknoteAutostraddle‘s list of historically significant lady Brits whose faces deserve to denote monetary value.

P.S. I read this last week, but it’s so good that I wanted to share it here. I think it’s one of the best essays I’ve read all year. An aside: I was so captivated by Emily Nussbaum’s writing that I spent an entire afternoon trawling through the New Yorker archives and reading everything that she’s ever written for them. She’s brilliant. Check her out.

*a number I am convinced of, even though I have plucked it from obscurity.

Exactly one year ago, my best friend died.

That’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to be able to write aged twenty, is it?  And yet, here I am, writing it, feeling grief’s vice-like grip tightening around my heart as I’m reminded of what it felt like to lose her the first time around, my hands trembling as I type this because three hundred and sixty-five days later, it still hurts just as much.

Exactly one year ago, I lost my best friend to a six-letter word.

In a cruel twist of fate, my best friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, aged nineteen.  She died six weeks after being diagnosed.  I never visited her in the hospital.

I can feel the bile rising in my throat.  I think about how I didn’t hold her hand through six weeks of aggressive and infuriatingly futile chemotherapy.  I think about how I didn’t tell her I loved her.  Not while she was in the Intensive Care Unit.  Not to her face.

I remember the shitstorm of indignation and bitterness and shame I felt when I heard the news.  I remember the colourless haze of grief that followed.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal, dated 02.11.11:

I can’t wrap my head around the idea that I’ll never be able to have another conversation with her.  I’ll never be able to hear her laugh again.  And it scares me.  I never expected to experience the pain in this detached way.  It hurts, but it’s more of an overwhelming emptiness.  I can’t stop thinking about her.  And I can’t concentrate on anything.

Here’s another excerpt, dated 11.11.11 (after the funeral):

I’m finding it hard to put the pieces of my selfhood back together in the wake of Laura’s death. I know that after seeing my best friend die, after seeing a young person’s life dissipate and vanish in six short weeks, I should be trying to live, in every sense of the word.  But I can’t.  The pain and the numbness (I can never decide which is worse) come in unprecedented waves, washing over my entire being and stopping me from feeling the kind of unbridled joy that I used to feel.  I feel like I’m just existing, like I’m just going through the motions, like I literally can’t face the real world.  America, my friends, my life, none of it seems real or visceral anymore.  It’s like I’m in a deep, deep daydream. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t justifiable and it just happened, and it could have been anyone.  I know that I have to keep in mind that it wasn’t me, and now I have to carry on living.  But I can’t just carry on.  It’s not the same.  I’m not the same.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same.  At the moment, I just feel overwhelmed by the weight of my heart.  The sadness of the entire situation is unbearably heavy. Will I ever be able to feel happy again? I don’t mean superficially happy, I mean the kind of happy that bursts through your veins, the kind that makes you feel as though you’re floating.

To anyone who has lost a loved one: I know how you feel.

And honestly, one year on, I’m not the same.  Losing somebody you love changes you.  It changes the way you see the world, and it changes the way you approach your life.

Laura’s life was cut short – she didn’t have the chance to live out her dreams.  My life – rife with opportunity – wasn’t, and following her death, I was damned sure I was going to live those dreams for her.  And in a funny kind of way, I have done.  I spent five months in New York, her favourite city, having the kind of adventures that we’d fantasized about together.  I took risks and said yes to everything and committed to the idea that I could achieve anything I wanted – something I know she battled with for as long as I can remember.  I try my very best to remember Laura – the whole person, and not a kind of idealised version of her.  I remember her sense of humour, her loyalty, her lipstick, her need to plan ahead.  I remember sitting in many a dark cinema with her, the conversations we had on the phone, the sleepless nights spent talking candidly about our expectations for the future.  I remember the fragility of her moods, her crushing self-doubt, the way she saw herself (which was a thousand miles away from how those who loved her saw her).

Journal excerpt dated 10.08.12:

I miss her, I miss her, I miss her. My soul aches for her laugh. There’s a gap in my life that can’t be filled by anyone or anything else. It’s like a part of me is missing.

The way you see yourself at your worst is not the way others see you.  I wish I could have managed to drum that into Laura’s head.  I wish I could have convinced her that she was more loved than she could ever know.  The vocal influx of love and support I have received from my family and friends over the past twelve months is living proof that people care more than you give them credit for.  If Laura’s death has taught me anything, it’s that life is too short to not do what you love and say what you mean.

But Laura’s death is less a teachable moment and more a sad fact of life.  As the days pass, I begin to understand this more and more.  Cheryl Strayd once wrote:

Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

It’s not easy, but I’m beginning to make peace with life’s transitory nature, to build my life again from the ground up, to learn how to operate without the person who kept me steady during my teenage years.

Laura, I miss you.

I can hardly believe that three months have passed since I arrived back in England.

I had intended to write about the road trip in full this summer, imagining that I would have enough time to both describe the epic, episodic journey and to backtrack.  I wanted to tell everyone about the time I scuttled off to Princeton on a whim to see Jessica Valenti speak one evening, and where to eat in Philadelphia, and my Henry James class, and spring break in Puerto Rico, etc etc.  But, naturally, life has once again gotten in the way of things.

No, instead, I’ve been flitting about the country like a blue-arsed fly and reading things of utter inconsequence (Like Diane Keaton’s autobiography, Then Again and the late Nora Ephron’s acerbic essay collection, Crazy Salad).

In no particular order, this summer, I have: received my very first press accreditation, danced to Let’s Have a Kiki outside the Tower of London, ridden dodgems in a ballgown at the Trinity May Ball, started editing Kubrick on the Guillotine, eaten suicide burgers from Almost Famous, completed a research project in exchange for Amazon vouchers, seen Kanye West cry in person, watched Boogie Nights outside in the pouring rain at Somerset House, driven around the English countryside in a very small car with three of my best friends, had an article featured on The Guardian website, shared ice-cream with a girl I hadn’t seen in six years, cried when Jessica Ennis won Olympic gold and said goodbye to my study abroad-bound friends, among many, many other wonderful, memorable things.