Archive for the 'anti-cute' Category

She’s evil…and not just high school evil.

November 17, 2009

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I saw the movie “Jennifer’s Body” a while ago and it has really stuck with me.  I knew after seeing it that it really relates to the discussion of this course and blog.  I want to see this movie again, but it is out of the theaters now.  I am waiting for it to come onto DVD so that I can watch it several times in a row.  I was surprised to find that this film did not get such great ratings from the critics, despite the fact that it is written by Diablo Cody.

The reviews that I read stated that it fit into the horror genre comfortably.  I feel that is just a surface read of the film.  Sure, you can watch it and enjoy it without a close reading.  It has beautiful actresses, gore, complicated sets and contemporary costumes, but I feel that simply watching it loses many of the intricate cultural criticisms within it.

Firstly I see the two main characters as both playing within and also dismantling stereotypes of the genre.  There is the mousy character of Needy and the sensual character of Jennifer.  They are opposing, yet within the confines of the film they are best friends.  Yet they do not remain in their stereotypes.  As characters, they surpass them.  I saw this film as a great metaphor for the kind of toxic close friendships that many women experience in their adolescence.  Every woman has been a Needy and every woman has been a Jennifer.  Rather than stereotypes, I saw the two characters as archetypes.

This film feels very “of the now” with the embedded references to the Station nightclub fire, the rise of adolescent vampire chic and the cultural acceptance of the Emo male heartthrob within television shows like Gossip Girl and the OC. But it turns those conventional cultural landmarks on their heads.  The Emo heartthrob is actually a comedic satanic practitioner who wants to “make it big” with his band, the nightclub fire is a backdrop for the characters rather than a life changing event and the moody emotionless male vampire (Twilight, Angel, True Blood) has been replaced with a strong sexual woman who hungers for more than just flirtation.  The climatic scene in the film which occurs on Prom Night, rather than taking place in the dark hallways of the highschool has moved outside of the school.  It has been misplaced to an abandoned mansion’s pool filled with living fauna and flora.  The mansion as well as an earlier setting in the film of an abandoned subdivision speak to the landscapes teenagers have always sought out, yet are currently more available due to the economic downturn.

I felt that this film was a film for women, rather than a typical teen horror film aimed at men.  Diablo Cody has rescued actress Megan Fox from the likes of Transformers 2 and made her an interesting, flawed and real monster.  In the end, the film was about the relationship between two women, which I can think of no other horror film that fits that description.  Here’s hoping that this film will encourage other women writers to tackle the genre of horror and bring their cultural baggage into it.  This film felt a lot more messy and a lot more fascinating than any other horror film I can think of and I can’t stop thinking about it.

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Giants and Toys

November 17, 2009

Yesterday I had the pleasure to watch the 1958 film Giants and Toys (Kyojin to gangu) directed by Yasuzo Masumura.  Netflix had recommended this film to me, and I must say that yet again Netflix knows me better than I know myself.  I loved this film.  The look of it was amazing and the plot I found to be very significant in our readings of Harris and Adorno.

The film’s main character Nishi is a young employee of the World Caramel Company in the advertising and marketing sector.  World Caramels are in direct competition with two other caramel companies and it is the time of their advertising launches.  This is the heyday of product giveaways and promotions to sell a product and Nishi is learning to navigate the harsh environment.  Nishi interacts with members of his rival companies in a bar and it is through them that he learns of the realities of business.  World Caramels creates a superstar in Kyoko, a young girl with horrible teeth that Nishi sees on the street.  Kyoko and her dreadful teeth become the face of World Caramels and the promotion is settled on a giveaway of spacesuits and space toys.  Traditionally, Nishi would become the powerful in this film and Kyoko would become the used and thrown away as another postergirl was found for the product, someone fresher and more viable.  But that is not the case with this film.

I was thinking about Adorno and Harris’ ideas while watching this film.  I was thinking about the culture of advertising and Adorno’s culture industry.  Nishi is not aware of what he is getting himself into and neither are we as the viewers.  The industry here is pervasive and wicked and both Nishi and Kyoko are its instruments.

The look of this film is so wonderful.  I love the seas of businessmen in suits and the photos of Kyoko selling her caramels.  The transformation of Kyoko is remarkable as a character and also aesthetically beautiful.  She becomes something much more than caramels.  Although I love the look of Kyoko as she first appears in the film with her high ponytail, bangs and tin can of tadpoles, she is barely recognizable in her final performance scene at the end.  All of the tomboy charm and wild energy is replaced with calm and glamor.  She has truly embodied the essence of the postergirl, the it girl, the star.  The final advertising clip that Kyoko shoots for World is so strange and surreal.  She in her spacesuit surrounded by mayflower queens is a strange sight.

No matter how much Nishi and Kyoko are different from the advertising industry and the culture industry, they get sucked into it and it changes them.  As much as they believe they have control, they are controlled.

Sweeney Todd

October 24, 2009

Julia and I met to watch ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’.  The film was a musical, which neither of us had realized it was going to be.  I knew that it was a film adaptation of a Broadway musical, but I had no idea that the film was also going to be a musical.  I figured that it was going to be a version of the story with no songs.  The songs were okay, but I think that it would have functioned better without them.  It was a little jarring when the characters began to sing.  The songs seemed really conventional, flat and ordinary compared to the aesthetics of the film.

I had no knowledge of the story walking into the film.  I knew that the original musical was really bloody but I think I was not prepared for the amount of blood in this film.  It was a theatrical gushing of bright red that upstaged all the actors and became, for me, the center of the film.  The blood became the unexpected other in the cast of characters, more vivid than the gothic setting of shades of black and grey.

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I would like to discuss this film in relation to the aethetics of consumerism of Daniel Harris.  I was thinking about Harris’ proposal of quaintness during this film.  But I think that Sweeney Todd operates in both the realm of quaint and anti-quaint.  It is quaint in a sense that it is a period piece, so therefore an idealized version of the past.  But instead of idealizing the typical quaintness of London in the late 1800’s with warm cheery interiors, it idealizes an anti-quaintness of drafty, dirty coolness.  The anti-quaint is not authentic.  This is not a real dank basement filled with corpses and a machine that turns them into pies.  It is imaginary, even within the constrains of the film.  This is evidenced by Todd’s barber shop where the killing occurs, yet it remains as clean as a stage set even for all the gushing blood.

The dream sequence in the film is pretty extraordinary.  The anti-quaint aesthetic is transported via the characters to a scenery where it simply does not fit, the sunny beach.  The characters are not transformed in the change of locale, they remain their ever-morbid selves.

Watching this film and thinking about Harris’ book, made me realize that the aesthetic of this film, that of the macabre, is something largely ignored by Harris.  He talks about it in the chapter on Coolness, but I feel that it is much larger than that and is deserving of its own chapter.

If I am able to find the anti-quaint in this film, and the anti-cute is prevalent in so many films (Bride of Chucky, Problem Child), this makes me wonder how many other anti-aesthetics are out there?  Is it possible to have an anti-aesthetic that negates or respond to each of the aesthetics outlined by Harris?

The films of Tim Burton are prime examples of the pop-macabre genre.  The macabre is cool rather than seriously dark, and also rebellious and humorous.  Theatrical is a good way of describing his works.  Playful rather than austere.  All elements of the film are self-aware of their rebelliousness, which is perhaps the charm of them.