Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summertime Flicks

Fun is in
It's no sin
It's that time again
To shed your load
Hit the road
On the run again…
Summer skies
In our eyes
And a warmer sun
It's one for all
All for one
All for all out fun

- It's OK by The Beach Boys (15 Big Ones, 1976)

There are many reasons summertime is my favorite time of the year. The previously dreary environment of the outside world is now warm, welcoming, and sunny with joy. Our clothing choices are no longer compromised by having to wear bulky, clunky winter coats coupled with sweaters and long johns. We, and I mean me - can now wear tank tops, pedal pushers, or skirts every single day if we want to. Hell, men and women can walk around naked now and still be comfortable. And, to be more specific to my current and previous age groups, the inspiring freedom of summer vacation allows us to concentrate on what’s most important in life - - doing whatever the hell we want to for as long as we can.

For me, at least for the last ten or so years, that has always consisted of watching as many movies as possible in a 24 hour time span and hanging out with my movie pals until all hours of the morning talking about movies and eating sweet organic junk food. Amazing. However, those are merely the activities I partake in during the summertime hours. There’s a mentality that comes with the territory that is also specific to the warm, sunny days and nights of June, July, and August. By not having to concentrate on the mind numbing repetition of school work and other such things, our minds are allowed to relax and wander into new zones of thought and feeling. I don’t know if this is a decidedly female trait, but during the summertime I have a difficult time completing just about anything because I become so enraptured inside my dreamy, listless world of imagination and enchantment. I'm not actually getting anything done, but I somehow feel accomplished - almost as if my soul becomes replenished during the summertime months because I actually have time to think things through. These feelings have been captured on film more than once and, not so oddly enough, have been captured most frequently by female filmmakers. These are the films of my youth.

Here are five examples of summertime flicks and the things they all have in common:

- The film usually only revolves around two female characters.
- Large chunks of the narrative are spent inside closed areas, which allows the two characters to get to know one another inside and out.
- Either actual or insinuated lesbianism combined with budding sexuality.
- Death.
- A journey - either of the metaphorical kind or the realistic.
- Rich vs. Poor.
- Gorgeous cinematography.

Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994): Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline (Melanie Lynsky) provide fantastical, emotional, and sexual outlets for one another throughout the course of a single year - a year that changes everything forever.

The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999): Though it’s not strictly a summertime tale, Ms. Coppola and Jeffrey Eugenides (the author of the book it was based upon) make the Lisbon sisters’ story of death, depression, and desire feel romantically ethereal and honest while simultaneously honoring the summertime mentality.

Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, 2002): While on a holiday by the sea, two physically opposing sisters discover sexuality only to endure disastrous consequences.

Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002): After the suicide of her longtime companion, Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) takes off on a journey to the Mediterranean sea with her best friend, Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) in an effort to get over the emotional damage and find a new life path.

My Summer of Love (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2004): The manipulated (“Mona,” Nathalie Press) and the manipulator (“Tamsin,” Emily Blunt) take charge in this darkly metaphoric film about the battle between good and evil.

And, I must give a shout out to Tideland (Terry Gilliam, 2006) because it possesses all of the feelings I just discussed except inside the story of a little girl named Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland) instead of a teenager.

And another shout out to The River (Jean Renoir, 1951) because it involves some summertime sass, but not quite enough to make the cut.

However, these are all great movies and I highly recommend a fourteen hour marathon of all of 'em! Or, at least do what I've been doing all summer long and watch one a week.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sex and the City - It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing

Do Whop Do Whop...

Hey Dickwad, I’m speaking!

In Sex and the City: the movie, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha may all sing, but none of them really swing. Or, in other words, they all talk the talk, but these ladies’ don’t really walk the walk.

I suppose it was wrong of me to invest so many of my feminist hopes and female dreams into this one fiendishly femme flick, but all of the signs pointed in the right direction and I must have gotten ’carried away’ with my desires to declare Sex and the City the most empowering chick flick of the year. It’s not. Plus, I was all starry eyed by the impact of the midnight show and being surrounded by hundreds of dolled-up gals. I’ve taken three weeks+ and three viewings of the film (…7.5 hours) to think things over carefully and considerately before declaring my verdict of the film to the world.

And, to be honest, I still haven’t completely made up my mind about the philosophy of SATC’s narrative. Though gray isn’t a prominent color in the wardrobe of these sparkling fashionistas, there sure is a lot of gray matter within their lives that either fails to be addressed completely or is glossed over and not given a second thought, which discredits a lot of the progress the film and TV show attains.

For instance, the fact that Samantha lives in Los Angeles now and, yet, still seems to appear in every single scene of the film. It had never occurred to me before seeing the movie that these friends don’t see each other every single day. The tourniquet-esque editing style coupled with the bombardment of lunches, shopping trips, and general hangouts between the ladies’ causes their lives to seem inseparable from one another. And, obviously, that’s the point of Michael Patrick King’s aesthetic choice and I absolutely love their towering friendship - however, it severely detracts from showcasing the women as individuals. It would be amazing to see Miranda kicking butt as a partner in her law firm and Samantha sassing up her agency. Or, better yet, see Charlotte slowly going insane with her happy housewife status and Carrie actually(!) doing some writing. In fact, about the only time they’re away from one another is when their men-folk are around.
So, what about their men folk? Why do these four talented, smart, absolutely gorgeous women drop everything for love with a sweet cheater, Mr. Blah but sexy, Mr. Blah but rich, and Mr. Blah Blah Blah? God knows they’ve tried, but why can’t the gals’ be involved with men who are as vibrant, passionate, and worthwhile as they are? Back in the glorious days of women’s pictures, it was perfectly acceptable for the man in the woman’s life to simply be “just” an archetype or even be a quadruple Blah (I’m looking at you Van Heflin) because the women themselves were larger than life - at least the life most women led at the time. They always put themselves first and didn’t revolve their entire lives around a man, at least not without wondering why they needed to. The ladies of SATC don’t have that option. Their friendships with one another may always come first, but the men in their lives come second with the third, less proportionate element being themselves as individual people. Why does it have to be that way?
Dare I say, is it because Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda aren’t worth a damn on their own? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Each gal may have her little niche inside the clan, but as separate characters, they’re mentally and emotionally malnourished and only become shall we say, “whole,” when around the other three women, kind of like Captain Planet for mature ladies with designer labels instead of teenagers with earth conservation.

Oh, but when they’re “whole,” glorious things start to happen - feminine love is spread throughout Manhattan and wonderful, sincere girl chat is vocalized and cherished by the three most important people in her/their lives. No other film this year has so completely understood the feminine need for friendship, for loving, comforting companionship. When the girls’ get together, there’s no stopping their powerful impact upon NYC, Mexico, LA, or anywhere else they choose to go. They rule the roost. And, most importantly, they cherish their femininity. They’re not ashamed to be women, in fact, they’re damn proud of it. The film, if nothing else, celebrates their pride and showcases it like a diamond necklace at Tiffany’s.

All in all, Sex and the City is a mixed bag of feminist feelings and ideas. I love the gals’ despite their shortcomings and seeing the movie at the midnight show with so many other women is a memory I’ll cherish forever. I'm also enormously happy to see it doing so well at the box office. Judging by the reaction to the film by critics and box office analysts, I'd say my hopes for studios creating other female-driven flicks based upon the success of SATC is a-go. Progression isn’t at the forefront of thought in either the movie or the show, but by doing its best to honor the code of femininity, I think the movie makes up for some of its falsehoods and meandering ideals.