The Lowlands

Lowlands CoverA book about a network of women building lives in those spaces left open to them by political conflicts and foolish men. And yet, the book is never explicitly about this. In fact, the book’s form embodies the narrative’s central problem: it has a story to tell about women’s lives but narrates it in relation to these men and this politics. So its subject emerges, in a sense, outside of it’s pages.

The result is a gentle, troubling book.

The Matrix Trilogy

I rewatched this series of movies for the first time since they were in the theatre. (I’d seen the first many times, but the last two each only once.)

It’s better than I remembered.

Filming multipart releases in one extended shoot has become more common post-Lord of the Rings. The Wachoskis were ahead of their time in this regard and many of the things that drove me batty the first time watching the series were, I now realize, missteps in handling the episodic realities of an ambitious three-part story.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of IgnoranceI liked this when I saw it because of the moments of magical realism. They walked a tight rope between fantasy and realism without tipping either way and without lasting too long.

The rolling backstage drama of the final days of rehearsals which serves as the backdrop for a sympathetic portrait of an actor struggling for identity as late middle-age creeps away conjured up memories of John Cassevetes’s Opening Night in a way that made me patient of the film’s indulgences.

Thinking back to it now though, I don’t remember much that would make me watch it again.

The New Rijksmuseum

The New RijksmuseumA film that documents the massive renovations of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Even after extensive cuts, it’s a long film, but this allows it to capture the structuring apparatus of the institution while also presenting a variety of fascinating and humane portraits of the people living interesting lives within it.

The film captures the frustration involved in working with organizations that have become too massive to control but it also suggests the extent to which they reflect and protect the beauty of the odd people that work within them.

The uncut version of the film exists and when it circulates, I’m going to watch it.

StorySpace

A first beta of the new StorySpace has been posted for people in the Tinderbox Backstage and I’ve downloaded it with blind excitement.

“Blind” because I’ve never used StorySpace before, but I am currently straddling the divide between linear and hypertext writing and feel very unsure of which way to go with a couple of stalled writing projects. Linear writing means these projects will never be published. Hypertext writing makes publication easy. I worry though about the way it tempts me to avoid the fruitful challenge of ordering material. Overcoming that problem has been key to all my successful writing in the past. How do I work without it? Or beyond it?

“Excitement” is less complicated: curiosity in this case feels like hope.

Aliens

Aliens SEWatched the director’s cut of Aliens, which I’d never seen. Realized two things.

First, the story of the longer version was really engaging. I realize length is an issue with feature releases, but sometimes it is worth letting a film’s story breath.

Second, Sigourney Weaver was acting this movie to pieces. I think the genre of the film makes that easy to discount, but her performance is very, very good.

Alien 3

Alien 3I disliked Alien 3 when it came out and had never watched it a second time. My brother convinced me to give the director’s cut a try.

It is like a different movie, and Sigourney Weaver is drop-dead amazing. Her performance invents layers beneath and between the lines of the action-horror script, recreating the film as both sensible and engaging.

A new favourite instalment in the series.

Fight Club

fight-club-bookThe movie hews close to the novel everywhere except where it counts: the end.

The novel is much more critical of straight masculinity than the film. I think get now why so many people I know love the film without seeming to care one way or the other for the book.

The Kingsmen

The KingsmenAbercrombie people playing ironic British spies in a film that sits halfway between Dr. No and Naked Gun. It lifts its central plot problem from an episode of TLC’s What Not to Wear.

All of this makes the film a very silly thing. Yet it also somehow manages not to become an obviously dreadful thing either. Which I suppose counts for something.

Une Nouvelle amie

Une Nouvelle amieI find François Ozon’s embrace of his influences fascinating. Hitchcock and Sirk are powerful ancestors and many filmmakers would run from them for fear of being crushed.

Ozon hasn’t. He’s latched on and in his best films clambers up onto their shoulders and creates real beauty. 8 Femmes and Dans la maison are good examples.

Une Nouvelle amie is not as good overall as these two films, but the scene in the queer bar where a drag queen sings “Une Femme avec toi” is one of the best moments he’s staged in a long time. Interestingly, it is also the one moment in the film where Ozon leaves Hitchcock and Sirk to the side.

And in leaving them behind, the scene in the bar reminds me of Ozon’s best film, Le Temps qui reste, a movie that confronted directly the problem of telling stories—and especially queer stories—without a preexisting model.

Mr. Turner

Mr. TurnerTurner barely speaks, mostly grunts. I’d like to see the script.

People walked out during my screening. An odd person sitting beside the Beav and me laughed maniacally at random and inappropriate moments. It was summer, it was hot, the air conditioning couldn’t keep up, and in the first half hour, someone opened a can of tuna behind us and then dropped it, spilling the juice everywhere and making the theatre smell like fish.

So did I love the movie or did I love watching it? Tough to tell, but I definitely loved at least one of the two and left the cinema happy.

Proust

Proust CoverEdmund White’s biography of Proust is like his fiction: dense and intellectual but gossipy. He always seems to be watching you with twinkling eyes, waiting to see if you’ll realize how salacious and funny all this serious stuff is.

Proust’s spectacular climb to social success and wealth is the focus of White’s story, and he explains how Proust’s social climbing and the strategies he uses to accomplish it create the material for his fiction.

Yet, if Proust’s social climb provides the skeleton of the biography,  his sexual behaviour is its flesh and blood. There are tales of Proust’s love affairs with young men, quotations from letters bluntly proposing to his friends that they should masturbate each other, the outraged calls for a dual by pistol when he learns that someone has suggested he is homosexual. White presents this tangle, explaining how Proust uses and transforms it in his fiction. In the process, he establishes that even Proust’s heterosexual moments aren’t.

Interestingly, White refuses to rationalize the contradiction between Proust’s bald expression of desire privately to intimates and the theatrical violence of his rejection of the role of public homosexual. In our era of celebrity outing and legalized gay marriage, such a disjuncture can easily appear like repression, closeting, or an act of bad faith, but White doesn’t speak in these terms. Instead, he offers a frank (and gossipy) account of Proust’s sexual behaviour without assuming that this behaviour must define his identity (or that he must have one).

As a result, Proust–a character I found thoroughly unappealing–emerges from the shadows of the past as refreshingly and provocatively queer.

Stranger at the Lake

inconnu du lacA French queer sex-on-a-beach drama. (Yes, that’s a thing.) This one feels like a scary version of Presque rien with adults rather than late adolescents.

It’s also the kind of film in which characters, who are upper-working-lower-middle class don’t speak. They don’t express emotions and then, when suddenly they do, the emotions are bigger and more bluntly stated than seems possible.

The key feature here is that the protagonist inexplicably decides to do the one thing that is obviously the most wrong thing to do in the given context, the thing that is so crazy and/or stupid that it’s impossible to see why anyone would ever do that thing. Ever. But the protagonist does it, without emotion or explanation, and the movie goes forward from there.