Archive for April 2012
Do you know what you want to work with for the rest of your life?
I wish I did. At the age of 44 I’m still fumbling in the darkness. Deep down I realize that doors probably are closing every day, but I cling to the idea that they’re all still open. The opportunities are endless if I only could make up my mind.
My ideal job would be one that I was moderately passionate about. For sure you should enjoy what you’re doing. But the things that you enjoy most of all are the things that you rather should keep as a hobby, so you can keep enjoy doing them.
I know there are a lot of people in the film blogosphere who secretly (or sometimes not so secretly) hope to one day get into the business side of film. To get PAID to do what you love so much that you spend all your free time doing it anyway. Could it be better?
It can. If you don’t believe me, a comment that I stumbled over at A Life in Equinox perhaps can serve as an eye-opener. The comment was made to a post where Univarn talks about how blogging about movies has sucked the fun out of movie watching and why he needs a break. It’s as heartbreaking as it’s honest and I recommend you to read it.
And here’s what ”Ilsa” wrote in her reply:
” Many people feel this ennui in the entertainment industry. For me, I wanted to work in entertainment my whole life; I watched hours and hours of TV/movies growing up. I loved disappearing in the worlds on the screen. To make this comment short, since then, I’ve been living in LA for over 10 years. I’ve worked on big films and with big stars and for 3 major studios.
Despite these great life experiences, I can no longer watch movies. At all. I can’t even go to the theater. I can only watch TV if I multi-task on the computer.
It’s like the magic is gone. When I was younger, I could disappear for hours into movies, but now that I know how movies are made and how the business is really run (surprise! it’s not just insanely creative people running around having loads of fun!), it just ruins the magic.
So, recently, I took time away from the industry to pursue creative interests of my own. This hiatus definitely helped get my creative juices flowing although, not so much that I can go back to the theater.
I hope that your own hiatus re-invigorates your joy in movie watching!”
This resonates so much with me. The way she describes how she can’t work with movies anymore, how she can’t even go to a theatre after working in the industry, reminds me of when I had a paid position a non-profit organization.
My employer had a very good reputation among people, so when I told them about my job, they often gave me that special look consisting of equal amounts of envy and admiration.
I’m not sure what they thought I was doing all day long. In reality I had an ordinary office job, consisting of an awful lot of planning and reporting. But in their eyes I was living the dream! I was working for a Good Cause and made a living on it! And I got to see all those awesome people who were committed to do the same thing all day long, I must be the happiest person in the world!
It was just that I wasn’t. In the end a job is a job is a job. If anything this particular job was WORSE than any other I had had, since all the idealistic people assembling around the organization expected us to perform miracles out of no budget at all. No matter how hard we worked, we were bound to let the believers down. But there was no way I could explain this to anyone.
Eventually I left the organization, on the verge of a burn-out, which I’m still recovering from. And even at this point, years after, I don’t buy anything wearing the label of my former employer, regardless if it would be for a good cause. It still gives me bad vibes. Been there, done that, thank you very much. I’ve developed resistance against this particular brand of magic sparkles.
The privilege of the amateur
I assume that not all people who work in the film industry hit the wall. While many of them fake it, I believe that some of them sparkle for real. They love what they’re doing, even if it’s probably pretty far from what people assume that they’re doing in the film industry.
But still: I think there are more Ilsas out there than we realize: people who lost their heart to movies so badly that they started to work with them professionally, with the consequence that they’ve lost their appetite for it altogether.
Rather than sulking over that we won’t get a job in the film industry, perhaps we should rejoice over that we don’t have to walk that path.
Being an amateur doesn’t mean that you’re bad at what you’re doing. It means that you’re a “lover”, strictly translated from the Latin origin.
We love what we do. And we want to keep that love. We want to feel the magic, either we watch a movie, write about movies or even make our own movies at home.
So we find something else to work with for the rest of our lives, something that we like but don’t love. Something we can afford losing.
The question is what that is. I’ve got just about half of my life left to figure it out. Wish me luck.
It took me a long while to get around watching The Help.
I don’t know what it was that put me off so much. Perhaps it was the poster. There’s something about intensively yellow film posters that irks me.
To be honest it might have to do with that my mother-in law recommended it so strongly. This is a bit embarrassing since it reveals my prejudices against mothers-in-law, but that will be a topic for another post.
There was just something about The Help that reminded me of the typical Swedish dish “Smörgåstårta”, “sandwich cake”. For foreign readers: a sandwich cake is what it sounds like: a cake that is made out of sandwich ingredients. Apart from bread it usually contains ingredients such as egg, shrimps, mayonnaise, caviar and salmon. I guess the idea is that there should be something in it for everyone. It’s supposed to be a safe card – not too spicy, not too foreign, not too challenging. For sure people won’t remember it, but they’ll eat it. At least that’s the idea. As of me: I hate it and I won’t eat as much as a spoonful of it, not even to make someone else happy. I’m a sworn enemy of smörgåstårta, period.
Needless to say my mother-in-law takes every chance she gets to serve smörgåstårta, and she also took every opportunity to recommend The Help. And I think that’s why I came to connect The Help with the dish. My brain had wired them together so I stayed away.
It wasn’t until last week that I finally caved in and rented it. To be perfectly honest I had the same reason to pick it as people who serve sandwich cake: the lowest common determinator. I tried to find something that various family members might have an interest in, and The Help seemed like a good choice. Or at least I that was what I thought in the video rental shop.
In the end it turned out that my daughter passed on it, referring to it as something intended for older people. She wasn’t keen on watching movies intended for her grandmother. I had myself to blame of course. I had been too successful transferring my prejudices to the next generation.
Eager to please
At that point however I already brought the cake home with me. So what could I do? I cut a slice. I cut one more. Actually I ate the whole thing and didn’t feel bad about it at all. It was surprisingly easily digested and tasted better than I had feared. If this was a sandwich cake, it had a better recipe than the average.
I don’t deny that it’s eager to please – possibly a little bit too eager for its own good. It’s a little bit generic and predictable, and like with all sandwich cakes, it lacks spiciness.
On the other hand you could as well look at it from another direction, arguing that this is a piece of classical, well crafted Hollywood production – easy to get into, easy to engage in, providing a nice balance between laughter and tears. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing!
I was moved, more than I had expected to be, and some of the acting performances were classy. I don’t argue about the win of Octavia Spencer or nomination of Viola Davis. I didn’t buy into Allison Allison Janney’s character, which I feel a bit guilty about. I suppose it’s not her fault, but for me she’s eternally stuck in the role of CJ and I can never quite see her as anyone else, as little as Larry Hagman could get out of Dallas. The curse of strong TV series performances.
So this was the top layer of this cake, but let’s dig a little bit deeper and look at what lies under. Let’s look at the message and the politics about The Help. Because this is the point where I get confused.
The thing is: I don’t walk around daily thinking about how things used to be before I was born, which is not too long ago thinking of it, how abhorrent the racial laws were and what courage and efforts it took to make them change. As far as I recall, history classes in school usually ended somewhere around WWII. Of course I know those things happened, but it’s not top on mind.
For this reason it felt as a bit of an awakening to get this reminder about phenomena such as special seats on buses and weird ideas about keeping separate toilets for people of different skin colour. All those practices that seem barbarian now were common practice not that long ago. And if I, a middleaged woman, had forgotten about it, how aware are the younger generations? Do they even know or do they take the current situation for granted?
I honestly didn’t see any wrong with the movie in this aspect, on the contrary, I thought the intention and the message was great. For sure, it shows a society that is under influence of racist ideas, but this doesn’t mean that the film conveys racism anymore than Mad Men is discriminating for showing mistreated women. If anything The Help was a source of inspiration, particularly to upcoming generations. You too can make a change. Even if it scares you, even if the consequences can be bad, you can and should speak up about injustices.
But from what I’ve picked up from the internet buzz, it seems as if the film wasn’t perfectly OK from a political standpoint, and this is what I can’t quite wrap my head around it. The best articulated criticism I’ve seen so far came from Wesley Morris (recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize, that’s how I spotted him.) But I still can’t quite see the problem. So – the girl who writes the book is white and the maids are black. Wasn’t this how things were back in the days?
Perhaps it’s a blind spot, coming from my privileged position. Maybe I just don’t see all the traps and how you unintentionally discriminate minorities.
Or perhaps there isn’t any way to win this game? If you want to nitpick, you can always find a way.
The cake that was The Help might not be my favorite dish, but it was far from as bad as I’ve been told
The Help (Tate Taylor, US, 2011) My rating: 3,5/5
I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it felt like the natural thing to reflect over after watching Bobby Fisher against the World.
This is a documentary about an American chess player who went from fame and glory. In 1972 he grabbed the eyes of the entire world were fixed on him as he became the first American to become a challenger for the world champion title. The stakes were high, since this was in the middle of the cold war and the reigning champion was from the Soviet Union. He was the idol for millions of people, but soon he fell from the top to the bottom. Most of his life was spent in a state of mental illness and misery and he ended up as a fugitive from his home country, known for his bizarre conspiracy theories about Jews and the US government.
How could someone so smart all of a sudden do so stupid things? Did all those calculations about the billions of possible combinations on the chessboard and the efforts to anticipate every move from the opponent make his brain melt?
Can you be “too smart”?
I think quite a few of us would like to answer the last question with a “yes”. It gives a bit of comfort to all of us who aren’t particularly bright or good at chess. At least we can tell ourselves that we’re sane.
So we embrace the idea that genius and insanity are two sides of the same coin and that a chess master needs both.
However only took me a quick peak in Wikipedia to realize that the assumption was wrong. As a matter of fact there isn’t any confirmed link between being chess skills and intelligence. If anything there might be the opposite connection; one study hinted that smarter children were worse chess players.
So let’s leave that beginning and the faulty theory behind us and begin in a different end:
A few months ago I watched the documentary Senna about a Formula one driver from Brazil, who was as good at car racing as Bobby Fisher was at chess playing.
The film about Bobby Fisher reminds me a little bit of this. We get to follow the career of someone who is obsessed with what he’s doing and very good at it.
As opposed to Senna Bobby Fisher wasn’t very likable. In his youth he was arrogant and annoying, and from that things went worse until he ended up like a lunatic.
His ideas were repulsive and this film makes no secret of this. And yet I can’t help pitying him, or at least regretting that things turned out the way they did. All I feel when I watch this film is sadness. It was sad that he got badly hit by mental illness early in his life and that noone really could help him against himself. It was sad for him, it was sad for his family and friends, it was sad for the world.
Someone in the documentary compares it to as if Picasso only had gotten to paint for a few years instead of an entire life. There were so many chess games that never were played. Personally I can’t tell the difference, but from what they say Fisher’s way of playing was beautiful, like music. He was so exceptional at what he was doing that even his opponent, Boris Spasski, stood up and gave him applause out of admiration after losing one particularly well played game.
Not about chess
Only the very best documentaries have the ability to make you absorbed even if you don’t bother all that much about the topic as such. In the case of Senna I couldn’t have cared less about Formula one and yet it turned out to be among my top movies of 2011. And it’s the same thing with Bobby Fisher against the World.
I’m not interested in chess. I play it so rarely that I have to look up the start position for the pieces every time since I don’t remember how they’re supposed to stand. Besides I’m really bad, so I avoid it since I’m a bit competitive and don’t like the humiliation of losing.
But Bobby Fisher against the World isn’t about chess. It’s about the cold war, the media landscape and currents in the opinion at that time. It’s about a strange man with a beautiful, but broken mind.
It’s not as heartbreaking as Senna, but it’s just as fascinating and I can’t recommend it enough.
Bobby Fisher against the World (Liz Garbus, US, 2011) My rating: 4/5
All of them but me.
Believe me: I thought long and hard about it. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve got a bad memory, I’m easy to please or I’m good at avoiding movies that give me regrets. The result is the same: I couldn’t’ come up with a single one.
For sure it happens that I come across a movie once in a while that turn out to be pretty bad. But even a bad movie experience can turn into a good one. Actually a seriously crappy movie can be superior to an average one, since it makes for better discussion and blogposts. The more poisonous the rant is, the funnier is it to write and read.
I think I look on bad movies the same way as the Swedish icon Pippi Longstocking regards her freckles. One day she passes a beauty shop and sees a sign with the rhetorical question: “Do you suffer from prickles?”. She enters the shop and says loudly and clearly: “No!”. “I don’t suffer from freckles!”. “But dear child, says the shop keeper, you’ve got your entire face full of freckles!” “Yes, but I don’t suffer from them. I like them!”
Of course there have been occasions when I have had reasons to regret my choice of film for a night. There were several candidates and I picked one and afterwards I realized that I might have been happier with another movie. But usually I’ve had the chance to pick up with the other movie another night, so no harm was done in the end.
Sometimes I’ve regretted talking other people into seeing a certain movie. For instance there was this time when I brought my daughter to watch Pan’s Labyrinth in the belief that it was more or less a standard fantasy movie. Seeing how upset she became I felt like a horrible mother. And taking the entire family to watch Martha Marcy May Marlene as a Christmas movie experience probably wasn’t my best idea. However those regrets are recommendations I’ve made to others, not about my own movie watching, so I don’t think it counts.
Reasons for regrets
While I don’t have any regrets, I still tried to come up with some reasons which theoretically could make me regret watching a movie. I came up with three:
1. Too much gore to handle
At heart I’m a bit of a squishy. Until pretty recently I avoided anything that appeared to contain a lot of violence, especially if it was realistic. Chopping off heads of monsters wasn’t an issue. Abuse of children and rape however was more than I could stand to watch. Nowadays I force myself to watch movies even if they’re violent, movies such as Drive, which is too good to miss out. But I’m sure there are movies that I would regret watching if I did. Movies about human centipedes for instance. So I don’t.
2. A badly advised revisit
Some movies are better in your memory than in reality. You need to pick carefully which movies you visit again or you might end up with an unpleasant surprise.
This includes directors as well. Unfortunately not all of them can keep their hands off their work. So they go back and add 3D or temper with them just for the sake of tempering and getting a few more bucks out of it. I try to stay away from that kind of brush-ups. They’re just bound to give me regrets.
3. A heartbreaking failure
I walk into every movie I see with the best intentions. I want them to be good. I want them to be successful. And especially so when they involve an actor or director who I happen to like and admire. I never rejoice at the failure of someone else. I wish that I hadn’t seen it so I could pretend it didn’t exist.
But all of this is on the paper. In reality I chime in with Edit Piaf:
And here are the regrets of my fellow Swedes. They’ve written in Swedish, but as always Google translate is your friend.
Addepladde – Paradise Lost
Blue Rose Case – The last house on the left
Except Fear – Grease
Fiffis filmtajm – Flying Virus
Filmitch – Varning för Jönssonligan
Filmr - Highlander 2
Fripps filmrevyer – Raging Bull
Jojjenito – The Haunting
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord – Planet of the Apes (2001)
Voldo – Son of the Mask
Please explain it to me.
Is there any reason why a woman should fall for him?
Pitying I can understand. It’s a shame that the kind man who brought this orphan to his family as an act of Christianity dies, leaving him to the mercy of the less than kind stepbrother.
But still. It boggles my mind how this guy could become a faint love interest for any girl. What do they see in him?
In Andrea Arnold’s version of Wuthering Heights, they’ve switched his skin colour, making him black instead of a gypsy, but as soon as you’ve gotten used to it, you see that it’s only the surface that has changed. He’s still as grumpy, violent, cruel, hateful and constantly swearing as ever before. Most of the time we see him, he’s staring sullenly, observing the world while saying nothing at all. Sometimes he gets violent and threatening. Very rarely does he seem to consider the interests of someone else, offering affection, friendship or love. Is he even capable of loving? Or are the cravings he apparently has for Catherine in fact a different force?
Heathcliff is someone who tortures puppies hanging them in bushes in their necklaces. So when Catherine finally decides to marry the rich brat of a neighbour rather than him, I don’t blame her for a second. Rather I wish that he would leave her alone, letting her live the rest of her life happily. But of course my hope is in vain. Heathcliff returns as he always does, to take out his aggression and get his revenge.
Not a romance
Compared to the novel, a lot of the story is left out. For instance the parts about the second generation are completely gone. But the core remains the same.
And I think to myself: maybe I’m doing it wrong when I’m looking for some kind of romantic love story about a couple that were made for each other but are wrongly kept apart by circumstances?
Maybe Brontë and Arnold didn’t intend me to cry over the misfortune of Heathcliff. It could be a different kind of story: one about the category of women who for some strange reason is attracted to men who treat them badly, heavy drinkers and abusers. Regardless of what they do, they’ll always excuse them since they’ve been treated badly in the past.
It could also be about physical attraction in its purest for, animalistic lust that has very little to do with romance and good behaviour. But if that was the case, I think Andrea Arnold misses the target a little. Apart from a little bit of innocent wresting in the mud, I don’t really sense the chemistry between Catherine and Heathcliff. The steam isn’t dense, so to say.
But let’s leave the Heathcliff mystery aside for a while. What did I think of the movie? Could I like it, even if I didn’t fully understand this relationship? Oh yes, absolutely! Above anything else I was absorbed by the cinematography. I’ve seen those areas on the screen before, but this was different. It felt as if someone for the very first time had managed to really capture the soul of the moor, showing the dampness, the loneliness and the darkness and at the same time the beauty of it.
I was so pulled into the landscape that it almost made me shiver. Instinctively I took cover under my parka, using it as a shield against the chill and the misery that poured out from the screen. I haven’t felt as cold as since I watched Winter’s Bone.
All those close-ups of plants and animals and insects might make you wonder a bit if Arnold or her cinematographer is planning for a career at the Discovery channel and I’ve seen some critics grumble about it. If you ask me, it’s what makes this movie so enjoyable despite all the misery. What could possibly be better than to explore the wildlife from your armchair, safe from blisters, thunderstorms and midges?
Heathcliff remains a mystery. But Andrea Arnold brought me closer to the moor. And for that I loved Wuthering Heights.
Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2011) My rating: 4/5
It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
I wish I had found up those words myself, but I’m afraid I haven’t. It’s Georges Méliès who says them in a scene in Hugo as a film screening is about to start.
I don’t know who put them in his mouth. Maybe it was John Logan, the screenwriter. Maybe it was in the original book. Or who knows, maybe it was Martin Scorsese who had come up with them in the hope that he one day might use them in his Oscar speech?
Regardless of which, something happened inside me as I heard those words. It felt like a beam of light finding its way into a forgotten storage room. Something came alive, just like what had happened to the automaton in the movie.
Once again I felt the magic of cinema and it sent shivers along my spine.
When Hollywood embraces you with a group hug that includes all filmmakers and film fans from the dawn of movies until today, it’s hard to not to be moved, especially if you’re a cinephile.
I’m not entirely sure how well it works on non-cinephiles, who don’t care particularly much for film restoration projects and wouldn’t watch a silent film even if they were paid to do it.
If I had been a member of the marketing department at the film company, I probably would have had some doubts about the potential of this movie. I would ask a lot of uncomfortable questions.
“Exactly who do you think is the target audience? Who did you have in mind? Adults? It’s a fairly tale! Kids? It’s about silent films, can they care about such things? Can we really get back the money it will take to make all those effects you have in mind? Why not settle for something… simpler?”
But fortunately I don’t work there. And fortunately Martin Scorsese has probably been so successful in the past that he’s allowed to do something that is more personal than commercial. He’ll be forgiven.
So here I was, enjoying the hell out of this film, splashing in cinematic enthusiasm and nostalgia and sense of wonder.
Sure, the 3D effects didn’t add all that much to be honest, but at least they were so well employed that they weren’t in the way for my enjoyment of the film. Well, apart from when it got really emotional on a couple of occasions and I started to cry. Crying with glasses on is never a good idea. For movies like Hugo, they should provide them with wipers.
For various reasons I feel a bit under the ice as I’m writing this post. While not completely broken, I’m kind of scratched. A little bit emo if you want to put it that way.
But if Hugo taught me anything, it is that broken things can be fixed. There’s hope even for the mechanisms you thought were beyond any help.
Come and dream with me, says Scorsese to me. He doesn’t have to ask me twice.
Hugo (Martin Scorsese, US, 2011) My rating: 4/5
Under the header “Hot or not”, a fellow film blogger argued in bullet-point style about a few female stars whether they were “hot” or just “attractive”.
While I know now that it wasn’t the intention, it came off to me as quite sexist. However for some reason I couldn’t collect myself to write a proper reply. Instead I just threw away a couple of tweets.
“Feeling a bit disappointed seeing a film blog I like turning into a boy’s locker room at high school all of a sudden.”
“Also disappointed at my self for not speaking up about it. Don’t want to come out as an old, grumpy bitch. So I turn away, cowardly.”
I’m not particularly proud of my acting. There’s something passive-aggressive about it. I was just letting off steam without contributing constructively to the discussion. Lazy. That was what it was. Lazy. And also a bit egotistical.
I told myself that no one listens anyway if a 40-something old woman complains about guys talking about hot chicks as items. It would only confirm the image of the grumpy old feminist who just is bitter over not being a hottie herself. Criticism against the article would bite better if it came from young men.
So I didn’t say anything more on this. Then, by a coincident, I came across Ashley Judd’s article about the judging of women’s appearances in media and the whole thing started to grow on me. I couldn’t but see the hot-or-not post, as innocent as it might have been intended, as a part of the same system that Judd was talking about.
I went back to the post and found that the discussion already was running. While I had been knitting my fists in my pockets, others had taken action. There were thoughtful comments from Ryan at The Matinee, Joanna at Man I Love Films, Ashley at Pussy goes Grrr and Corey at Just Atad, who wrote an entire post in reply.
All those wonderful people have already said what I’d like to say about this in a way more poignant way than could and I won’t repeat their arguments. Kai, who wrote the post, has explained his point of view, assuring he didn’t have any bad intentions, that he’s not a sexist and that it was just a piece of fun, nothing to take seriously. And I believe him.
Basically I could and maybe should just leave it and move on without adding my two cents. The pile is big enough as it is. Point has been taken, there’s nothing more to see here.
And yet: here I am, still processing what just happened. It’s as if I can’t get it out of my system quite yet.
I’m still thinking about why THIS little post got such a shit storm while so many other posts, FAR more sexist, pass without anyone taking notice. Maybe it was just coincidences, bad luck, bad timing with Ashley Judd’s post.
Like Walpurgis night
I got to think of the Walpurgis night celebrations on April30. In my city, following an old student tradition, this is the biggest party day of the year. In honour of the arrival of spring, people are eating and drinking everywhere and don’t think twice about leaving their garbage on the spot where they were sitting. The entire city is turned into a dump and most people take this as an excuse to litter, arguing that their trash doesn’t make any difference since the ground already is covered.
The hot-or-not post is comparatively innocent to so many other articles on the web. It’s as if someone spit out a piece of chewing gum on Walpurgis, while other people are dumping anything from pizza boxes and bottles to chairs, tables and even sofas. And here we are, obsessing over this chewing gum! It’s unfair!
And yet, at the same time: litter is litter. If we just give up completely about it, shrugging at everything from chewing gum to sofas, arguing that “there’s nothing we can do about it anyway”, where does that bring us? Isn’t it better that people engage and say something, than that we just let everything get a pass since the film industry is so sexist anyway?
My approach to Walpurgis night has always been to pick up my own litter, regardless of how other people do it. But I’ve never ever called someone out for leaving litter, never picked up the litter of someone else. “To each one his own” has always been my mantra. As long as I haven’t contributed, I’ve been fine.
But maybe I should think this over again. It can’t just be the responsibility of young men to take fights like this. So what if I’m middle-aged and a woman? It shouldn’t prevent me from speaking up.
I learned a lesson from this too. And now it’s finally time for me to move on. Let’s drop the chewing gum. There are armchairs over there on the lawn.