16 June 2013
Look at those old photos of your parents, when they were young and trim and beautiful. Mysteries inhabit those images. Were they as happy as they appear, before the children came? Were they compatible back then? Were they self-conscious of the camera?
Sarah Polley’s brilliant film Stories We Tell doesn’t try to answer those questions. Rather, she lets her own family tell stories to the camera, stories full of wishful thinking and contradictions — all told by the charming members of her family, expert storytellers all, even if they’re a bit nervous and self-conscious before her camera.
This is the best film I’ve seen in 2013. It might be better than everything I saw in 2012, too.
Polley specifically focuses on her mother, who died from cancer when Sarah was only eleven. Diane Polley was lovely and vivacious and is captured in an almost too perfect series of super-8 home movies (later, we learn why so many of those perfect home movies exist). Diane dances through those scenes so quickly and magically that we can hardly get a glimpse of her except to feel drawn to her like moths. No wonder Sarah, blonde like her mother, is so riveted.
But those shots are intercut with interviews with her siblings and her father, Michael Polley (a British-Canadian actor I know from the wonderful series Slings & Arrows), interviews that reveal not just contradictory views of their home life but also some secrets only half lurking in Diane Polley’s history.
In fact, Sarah lets her father tell a goodly portion of this story; knowing very little about the film, I was nevertheless surprised to see it open with him in front of a microphone, reading his own prose about his wife’s brief and complicated life.
This is surprising because (and I’m not really spoiling anything here, I promise) a goodly portion of the story ultimately revolves around the question of whether Michael really is Sarah’s father.
But let me assure you, you’re not going to see this film out of prurience. Rather, it’s because ultimately 1) Sarah’s family can tell some fucking stories; 2) her family’s history has the most wonderful, literary twists and ironic turns that it’s downright better than fiction; and 3) she ultimately crafts a film that gets at something larger than the truth of her parentage.
If it sounds pretentious to say that she’s more interested in the stories we tell, let me assure you it isn’t. Maybe because I come from a family of storytellers; maybe because my academic work is preoccupied with stories; maybe because I’m fascinated by family stories in particular — for all these reasons the film entranced me. I thought simultaneously, “I’ve got to show this to my students” and, “I’ve got to show this to my family.”
But in the end, I found Sarah Polley’s own place in the film to be the most interesting. On the one hand, the story is very much about her parents. But on the other, she removes herself as an emotional character, stepping back and appearing only to show herself crafting the film, making decisions about its narrative, and asking her father to repeat a line for emphasis, or to give it a nicer reading. That restraint (modesty? honesty?) is so beautifully conveyed that it feels like a masterful work of analysis. She even allows Michael Polley to read one of the best lines (his own prose):
When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood … It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.
[Updated, 8:47 pm: Aldine reminds me that this isn't Michael's prose -- it's lines from the Margaret Atwood novel, Alias Grace. This is what I get when I neglect to write about a film until 2 weeks after seeing it!]
And you know in your most gut level how hard it must have been to sit in her position during the creation and telling of this story. What a smart, delicate film this is. The bar is very high.
10 June 2013
So we walked out of the theater after seeing the new Star Trek movie (my review: “That was ridiculous and awesome.” My partner’s review: “Meh.”) and we saw a poster for one of the movies that had been previewed during our screening — the new Denzel Washington/ Mark Wahlberg vehicle, Two Guns. Which reminded me to be re-outraged by the sausage fest.
I’m hesitant to ask you to watch this trailer, because it’s so stupid. (Denzel and Marky Mark are friends?) But note the use of The Girl (Paula Patton).
She appears at 1:00 to say something inane in an interview room (this scene did not appear in the theater’s abbreviated version of the trailer), but her key appearance occurs at 2:10, when she takes off her shirt, walks around in her panties to the tune of “All Along the Watchtower,” and says something forgettable while being topless.
If that’s not enough for you, she finally appears at 2:32 tied up and in need of saving.
Doesn’t that sum up our summer blockbuster choices (including Star Trek, which wasted no time getting Dr. Carol Marcus into her bra & panty set)?
Now, lord knows I love a Denzel flick. I consider him to be my longest-running uncomplicated crush, dating back to the TV series St. Elsewhere and Biko. Mark Wahlberg, however, is another matter; he’s someone I’ve loved to hate for the past 20 years, with only several exceptions (I sort of liked him in The Italian Job). Also, he’s way too ubiquitous at the moment, becoming a homophobic and over-steroided version of what poor Katherine Heigl used to be.
I could be accused of picking on this movie except that it’s essentially identical to every other blockbuster trailer you can find. Damn, is this a bad year for women in film, or what?
Be not afraid, my friends, of the vitriole here — for I do have a merry heart, poor fool, it stays on the windy side of care. Plus I have some great love for smaller films which I’ll talk about later this week. Films, that is, which had a more complex pitch than:
It has Denzel and Marky Mark, and it’s called Two Guns.
Makes you want to go vegetarian, doesn’t it?
30 May 2013
Living under a rock? Then perhaps you haven’t read Kate Fagan’s great profile of Brittney Griner in ESPN-W and ESPN The Magazine in which she says so many awesome things that I have a crush all over again.
Too busy to read? Take a look at Buzzfeed’s piece, “13 Moments Brittney Griner Stole Our Hearts in Her ESPN Profile.”
Wish my school had enough money to bring her here to speak.
The photos don’t hurt, either. No they do not.
The only distressing part of the profile was the recent behavior of Kim Mulkey, Griner’s old coach at Baylor. I can rationalize but not excuse that behavior. And I’m disappointed because I find Mulkey to be a interesting gender case all her own. Oh well — a girl’s gotta live with the contract she signed with a conservative university. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
27 May 2013
26 May 2013
CANNES — Child rapist and film director Roman Polanski, who has evaded sentencing and punishment by living outside the U.S. since 1978, has wowed audiences with his defense of sexism while at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
“Hearing his wise comments on gender relations has utterly won me over,” offered one Hollywood producer, who asked that his name not be released. “It makes me feel so much better about supporting an Arnold Schwarzenegger project that we’re tentatively calling ‘Booty Call With a Vengeance’.”
Polanski left few topics untouched in his wide-ranging
rant commentary on relations between the sexes. Female equality is “a great pity”; “trying to level the genders is purely idiotic,” he continued. The pill has “masculinized” women and “chases away the romance in our lives.” He further opined that women cannot pull off comedy, and complained that sending a “lady” flowers is now seen as “indecent.”
“You gotta give him credit,” said one female attendee emerging from viewing Polanski’s new film, Venus in Fur, which draws on the notorious novella by Baron von Sacher-Masoch (from whose name the term masochism is derived by a 19th-century sexologist seeking to define various sexual perversions). “Lots of 79 year olds who’d pleaded guilty to rape of a 13-yr-old and who’d lived in exile for 35 years might think to themselves, ‘Maybe I could keep my views of sex to myself for, like, ever.’ Not Polanski!”
The vast majority of film critics also raved about both the film and the director’s views of women. “I was riveted during that press conference,” said one U.S. film critic. “I just kept thinking, ‘With views like this, we could eliminate laws that allow wives to keep their own wages! Even the right to vote might not be secure for women!’ I tell ya, it was amazing.“
Critics interviewed admitted that their views might be skewed, given that 78% of top film critics are men.
Although he failed to win the Palme d’Or (the highest prize awarded a film at Cannes), Polanski and his fans remain hopeful that his heartwarming sexism and mission to reinstate a pre-Pill world for women will have vast effect on the filmgoing public.
In the meantime, he remains closely tied to the film festival, which featured a whopping one female director (out of 20) in its main competition this year.
Further storm clouds dimmed the bright sunlight of sexism this year with the arrival of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK, as he likes to call himself) and the ensuing hubbub over that alleged rapist/pimp’s new girlfriend. Strauss-Kahn, who gave a financial settlement to the New York maid who accused him of attempted rape, has left his popular wife (the journalist Anne Sinclair) and arrived on the arm of a new woman, all in the midst of the investigation into the charges that he procured prostitutes for sex parties in both Europe and the U.S. The complaints about DSK by cranky, unfeminine feminists made his arrival less glorious at Cannes than one might ordinarily expect.
But DSK fans should not be alarmed: one of the most exciting pieces of news to emerge at the festival was that a film about DSK is now in the works, starring tax evader/ drunk driver/ now-Russian citizen Gérard Depardieu, whose recent antics include peeing in the aisle of an Air France plane. Joy, indeed!
Note: A surprising amount of this satirical essay is true. Follow the links for information about Polanski’s press conference (all quotes are true), DSK, Depardieu and the new film about DSK, and the number of female directors at Cannes. Quotes from attendees are the one aspect I invented.
Women’s basketball phenomenon Brittney Griner has been an out lesbian since her freshman year in high school, but most fans only learned about it after an interview she did last month with Sports Illustrated. Turns out that’s because her university told her to be quiet about it.
She now chalks it up to recruiting — coaches told her that parents wouldn’t let their kids come to Baylor if it appeared this private, religious, conservative university condoned the gay, as she explains in an interview with ESPN.
Because Baylor, which has “affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm,” explains in its sexual misconduct rules that “Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching” and that the university will “strive to deal in a constructive and redemptive manner with all who fail to live up to this high standard.”
Which raises a few interesting questions. First, did anyone at the university ever tell Griner she had “failed” to adhere to their rules for sexual conduct, and seek to “deal” with her? Second, did the university set those standards aside in Griner’s case — because she was, after all, leading the women’s basketball team to glory — but not in the case of other LGBTQ students who, like Griner, are gay in plain sight? And finally, will the public acknowledgment of Griner’s out identity change the anti-gay culture at Baylor, given that people will ask these questions?
After agonizing a while about yesterday’s angry/ desperate post on a guerrilla response to rape culture, I opened up a new novel last night.
After reading the first five pages of Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, I want to kiss her on the lips. Here’s how it begins on p. 1:
How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.
I’m a good girl, I’m a nice girl, I’m a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody’s boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents’ shit and my brother’s shit, and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty fucking years old, and I’m good at my job and I’m great with kids and I held my mother’s hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father ever day on the telephone –every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it’s pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to say “Great Artist” on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say “such a good teacher/ daughter/ friend” instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.
Don’t all women feel the same? The only difference is how much we know we feel it, how in touch we are with our fury. We’re all furies, except the ones who are too damned foolish.
And with that, I’m now 5 pages in and feel as if I have a new best friend who’s also a Betty Friedan version of those visionary doomsayers of days of old, who looks a little disheveled perhaps but then lapses into otherworldly trances like Sybill Trelawney in Harry Potter and scares the shit out of you. Just wait till you read (on pp. 4-5) what she means by The Woman Upstairs (and those of us whose first thought was Madwoman in the Attic are on the right track).
This is going to be scary and awesome, like having to run through a house on fire. I feel like I’m being tugged by the hand by my new unfiltered visionary friend, and I might have to dedicate the afternoon to her.