Archive for the 'film' 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.

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.

The Kinkiest Film of the Year

October 24, 2009

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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.

Sweeney Todd

September 20, 2009

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This Week’s Film:    Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Time:   4pm

Place:   FAD 111

Date:    Wednesday, September 23

This week we will be watching Sweeney Todd directed by Tim Burton in 2007.  Neither Julia or myself have seen this film yet.  I think it will be a good intersection into our discussion of coolness as seen by Daniel Harris.  Harris talks about the Halloweenesque goth culture that teenagers embody to become their parents’ worst nightmare.  Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp are the poster children of this aesthetic and I’m thinking that this film will be a visual stunner like Burton’s other films.

All are welcome!

I will remember to bring some tasty snacks!

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First Discussion: Ironic Mustaches, Teenage Angst and “What is the historic meaning of Quaint?!”

September 20, 2009

I think the first discussion was great, despite our cramped quarters on Julia’s office floor.  Thanks Julia for letting us invade your space.  The idea was suggested to move our discussion to the new coffee shop on University Avenue.  Caffeine does go well with conversation and I love coffee!

Thanks Jenn, Julia, Andrew and Charlie for discussing the readings with me.  Your feedback is greatly appreciated!

This week we discussed Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” and the introduction and first three chapters of Harris’ book.  We didn’t get around to talking about the Cuteness chapter of Harris, but we did delve into the ideas of Quaintness and Coolness.  I think it is a challenging exercise to think of artists that fit each of these aesthetics.  Jenn suggested that Karen Kilimnik’s work fits into the camp category and I agree.  I also think that Hernan Bas is another contender for the camp aesthetic.  We talked about the similarities of Kilmnik and Bas in our Painting/Drawing Seminar with Ron.  It is hard for me to think of any other artists that I would put into the aesthetic of camp.  It has to be someone that looks to the past, favors the extravagant and is sincere in what they do.  Andrew suggested the CoBrA artists fit into the camp category.  I will have to do more research on their ideas, but I think aesthetically that they do.

I think that our discussion of coolness was the most exciting to me.  Andrew questioned how the hipster culture fits into the idea of cool, and we discussed poverty chic, goth culture, and the ironic mustache.

Oh Harris, you have proved to us that we are all united in consumerism and it is useless to struggle against it!  (I’m really kidding, but also totally serious!)

I think the Harris book is so important for us to read in conjunction with this discussion because it gets to the essence of kitsch.  When we get to our other book, it will be more revolving around the history of kitsch, but with Harris we are in the right now.  Why do we do what we do?  Why are some images and aesthetics powerful to us?  What is the real urban cultural mythology that is embedded in everything around us?  As artists we can not pretend that we are not surrounded and influenced by consumer culture.  We can no longer believe the myth that it is separate from us.

The discussion involving quaintness seemed to be the most disturbing to all of us.  This is the lowest of the lows in the aesthetics hierarchy.  This is Cracker Barrel.  Julia brought up the fact that she questions the usage of the word quaint and looked up its many meanings.  It is derived from a very ancient term for female genitals.  What?!!!?  I wonder if Daniel Harris knows about this?  I agree that the term quaint is not exactly what I would call this aesthetic.  I never really thought of quaintness as being a bad thing…just of it being reminiscent and nostalgic.  I think that we will have to unpack this idea of quaintness further.  This is truly confounding.

According to Harris…Quaintness is…Cracker Barrel, Renaissance Fairs, new appliances made to look old, clutter, country coziness…

There are many levels to quaintness.

We were unsure over whether Civil War re-enactments were quaint.  We will have to come back to that.  I look forward to our further discussions.

Civil War Re-Enactment Meets Ironic Mustache

Civil War Re-Enactment Meets Ironic Mustache

First Film Screening

September 15, 2009

Thanks to Julia, Charlie and Scott for attending the first Kitsch Camp film screening last Wednesday afternoon!  I think the first screening was a success and that everyone enjoyed the film very much.

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There was lots of laughter whenever the monster appeared on the screen.  The first appearance of the monster’s menacing hand coming out of the water elicited several chuckles.  As the crescendo of the music and the action built, we were quietly watching and then unitedly giggling.

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We will discuss the film tomorrow (Wednesday Sept 16) at 4pm in Julia’s office.  All are welcome!

I really enjoyed the film.  I especially loved the beautiful underwater scenes of the blissfully unaware beauty swimming at the surface of the water and the monster swimming below.  The water changed scene to scene from being murky to inky but the monster was unchanged.  His face portrayed no emotion whether he was killing, drugged or on the hunt.  There is a real sincerity in this film.  That simple sincerity was charming.  I loved the plastic monster, the beautiful shots of the springs of North Florida, the pseudo-science of the plot, and the settings of both boat and grotto.

There is no safe place in this film.  The monster is not safe in his grotto as he is invaded by the scientists.  The boat is not safe for the scientists from the monster.  And the lagoon is anything but a neutral space.  The scientists drug the water and use it as their spear-hunting grounds.

Just as there is no safe place, there is no safe character in this film.  Everyone participates in the hunt or be hunted mentality.  While watching the film, I wanted to feel a softness for the monster, but it was not there.  Maybe it was the unyielding mask that was his face, but I felt nothing for him.

I felt less for the human characters.  I liked listening to the easy ways they spoke and argued with one another, but they were virtually indistinguishable from one another; a crew bent on capture or murder.  I think that the real subject of the film, for me, was the landscape.  These beautiful trees and waterways that are so much a part of my personal landscape.  In the film they represented something far away for the desired viewer–the mysterious Amazon.  But for me they represented a closeness…something I know to be true.

Somehow everything about this film makes sense to me.  Maybe it is embedded in my consciousness?  Even though I had never seen it before, something about it was in my memory.

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

September 5, 2009

For our first screening on Wednesday,September 9th will be the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

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Director: Jack Arnold

Year of Release: 1954

Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!!

Film List

September 5, 2009

Proposed list of films (subject to change)

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls– Directed by Russ Meyer 1970
Pee Wee Herman Show Live at the Roxy 1982
Big Doll House–Directed by Jack Hill 1971
Barbarella–Directed by Roger Vadim 1968
Switchblade Sisters (The Jezebels)–Directed by Jack Hill 1975
Welcome to the Dollhouse–Directed by Todd Solondz 1995
Pecker–Directed by John Waters 1998
UHF–Directed by Jay Levey 1989
But I’m not a Cheerleader–Directed by Jamie Babbit 1999

What is kitsch? What is Kitsch Camp?

September 1, 2009

Kitsch Camp is a blog based on an independent study course happening this semester between myself and Professor Julia Morrisroe.  I am a graduate student pursuing my MFA in Drawing at the University of Florida.  Julia and I met to plan this course based on my desire to demystify kitsch and find its place within both contemporary art and my own art practice.  I also wanted to distinguish between kitsch, camp and cult and discover where the three terms intersect.  We will be meeting each week and alternating between film screenings and reading discussions.  Our two main texts are Daniel Harris’ book, Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism, and Celeste Olalquiaga’s book, The Artificial Kingdom: On the Kitsch Experience.31WCMMV5G6L._SS500_story

We are beginning the readings for the course with Susan Sontag’s essay, Notes on Camp. Other shorter contemporary articles and reviews will also be read.  Any suggestions on readings related to kitsch, camp and cult phenomenons either in film, fine arts or popular culture?  Please share!  We would love to add them to our reading list.

I have titled this blog Kitsch Camp as a play on words.  I feel like Julia and I are entering another world delving into the domain of kitsch and camp.  Putting the two words together creates the place we will be going for our screenings and discussions.  We are going to Kitsch Camp.