Thursday, May 29, 2008

Madeline Kahn appreciation day

Madeline Kahn appreciation day on Stinkylulu. Unfortunately, today has not left me a huge amount of time to blog, but I wanted to put down a few thoughts.

I was thinking about which movie to write on, and remembered I have What’s Up, Doc, which I have seen so many times it feels almost uneccessary to watch again. Eunice Burns. Madeline Kahn’s debut was (and is) spectacular. She controls the screen as Eunic, against some real comic heavyweights playing bizarre characters, among them Austin Pendleton and Kenneth Mars. In the midst of this, it’s Eunice we remember. Her being dragged out of the ballroom, her next to the wig that is styled to look exactly as her own hair would look in that style, and favorite line readings like “Those are Howard’s rocks.” Eunice manages, and by the end of the movie finds someone perfect to manage. It’s Kahn’s comedic sense of purpose that keeps the role so laser sharp. That voice! And even more I was realizing thinking about favorite roles of hers, her body.
She is all angles as Eunice, a big square trying to make herself look rounded. But as Trixie in Paper Moon she is all curves. Once again, she is laser sharp in her character, and aware of what Trixie has to offer. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role, but I certainly can’t imagine another actress summing up an entire character, her pathos, self knowledge, and place in the world with “Let Miss Trixie sit up front with her big tits.” Hysterical and heartbreaking, which was her specialty.
Mel Brooks used her to great effect several times, most notably with the back to back whammy of “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles”. In one an uptight society matron that needs a surprise visit from a monster to bring her in touch with her sexuality, and in the other a sexual creature who thinks she knows it all and is surprised by love. Both of these roles are a hoot, but she brings a bit of class to the proceedings, using her voice and body to fill out, if you will, the characters. There are too many lines to quote here, but you probably know most of them yourself. Watching her hit Marty Feldman with her purse is worth the price of admission. I could go on and on if I had time, but for some many reasons, I think Madeline Kahn is one the top comedic film actresses ever.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Supporting Actress Smackdown 1999

So tomorrow morning, Stinkylulu is doing the 1999 supporting actress smackdown. So here are my picks.

Overall, it's a strange experience where you're looking at actresses who are currently in the prime of their careers. We're still watching them, and now reviewing performances that are the crystallization of that thing they do in most cases, is wierdly offputting, meaning I felt I couldn't be as objective as this usually feels with a little more distance. This is also the first year where I still have memories of watching the majority of these films when they were released. Overall, it's a strong year, but I was kind of surprised at which performances fell flat a bit for me. So here goes

Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense. I loved this performance. I do love Toni Collette, even though I feel some of her earlier performances were a little "actory". This is the first performance I was really blown away by, feeling that she dropped doing to much and did just enough. And in that, delivers the scene that I remember most in the movie. I think the nomination is probably based on that scene, but watching it again makes me realize it's the woman she's set up, the one who cares for her son deeply, that makes it as resonant as it is. It's a great scene, but her more than solid work before that makes it even more brilliant. It's my favorite performance in the film by far. Even more than Mischa Barton as Linda Blair.

Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted. She delivers what by now feels a standard Jolie performance--fascinating, energy sucking, combative, more than present. She takes any light in the room, and is fascinating on screen. The perf feels almost bigger than the movie, and it's one of the three in this year that verges on lead. She does great work, and pulls us into the character the way Ryder's character is. Strangely, though, I didn't quite believe the scene in the basement (perhaps because what came before it was so in your face it was challenging to believe this character would breakdown; perhaps because I have difficulty with any time I'm supposed to believe Ryder as assertive). I do think it's a great performance, and like Sevigny is the catalyst for most that happens, but it's second for me to Collette. And in the end, I was more emotionally interested in the scenes with Britanny Murphy--even to the point of feeling that hers is the most suprising performances of the film. And I love Ryder's mental istitution equivalent of the workout montage (I need to find the link from Stinkylulu, but he's written about it in most male/army films)

Catherine Keener in Being John Malkovich. I love this movie. I kept watching it thinking "I can't believe this got made". Still. Against all odds, it would seem, it completely works. Diaz gives one of her best performances freed of having to be the most chipper and beautiful girl in the room, and there are some brilliant supporting performances from Mary Kay Place and Orson Bean. He's just excellent. Keener does almost a fantasia of her own tough cookie, smart and sassy broad roles she's known for, seemingly speaking only in lines that most actors would have as subtext for something much more polite. Her scenes have a great improv feel to them, and I can't imagine anyone else in the role. Like Jolie, though, I think it's almost another lead. I also don't quite think there is much of a transformation in the character. Maybe it's shortcoming of the script, but it feels that she's having such a great time being arch that the other stuff falls a bit away. And without that, I don't quite believe the ending.

Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown. I don't think she's helped at all by the script (though it must have been easy to learn her lines--haHA), but I was left a little confused by the character. I did leave wondering if she was slow, challenged, or just easily confused. Unfortunately, she's constructed as something for Penn's great characterization to bounce against. As such she does her job, and some of her luminous comes forward, but I was mostly confused about what she was thinking, or if she was thinking, and then equally confounded why the main character was so pulled to her. I saw her trying to bring the tenderness to the role and give us some hook into the relationship, but she ended up feeling like an incomplete thought from the director. I remember her moment with the tire, and caught some transendence there, as well as a the poignancy of the last scene, but the performance in the end was disappointing to me. And that's sad, because I really love her as an actress. And I love the director, and his choice of actresses. It's a wierd disappointment for me from both of them, mostly I think from him. It even makes me sad to write that. :(

Chloe Sevigny in Boys Don't Cry. How this movie was passed over for Best Picture in favor of Cider House Rules and The Green Mile is beyond me. It's brilliant. Even more considering she made it in thirty days. It's emotionally devastating, and driven by an astounding central performance. Hilary Swank more than deserved that Oscar, especially since I think she kind of pulls Sevigny along with her on some level.This is the third perf along with Jolie and Keener that's almost a second lead. Sevingy's native insousiance works for the bored teenager Lana, but she's unable to break through it later in the film. Though she's definitely present, she comes alive more in the intimacy of the relationship than when the sh** really starts to hit the fan. It's during the violence and the difficulties where she feels a little lost to me, losing the screen to what's happening around her. I just didn't believe that anything that awful was happening, and her breaks felt more like tantrums. Incomplete for me, but in no way diminishing Swank's accomplishment or the brilliance of the film.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

p123 meme

Stinkylulu just tagged me for the p123 meme. So here are the rules and here's my entry.

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Locate the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences on your blog and in so doing...
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged me.

That might be more damaging in the long run.
"Who is it?" he came right out at lunch once and asked her. "Who is it?"

From "Knights and Dragons", a novella by Elizabeth Spencer in the collection that includes "The Light in the Piazza". I'm still reading the first one, and I don't know if I will read "Knights and Dragons". I'm even more amazed at the musical now, by the way.

I'm tagging some live journal people over at LiveJournal, but who knows?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gay Film

Last night, at the Tuesday dinner I go to with a bunch of men to watch trashy television, I brought up the subject of gay film since I've been kind of wondering about Stinklylulu's questions he posed:

One: what's the most tedious trend in gay film? Two: what work does independent queer cinema have left to do? In short, what do you hate and what do you most yet hope to see?

There were some really interesting and enlightening answers. I was challenged for sure, and as always, that makes you hone your ideas into a more cogent cohesive form. For me, it was the above question that we ended up talking about. Here is a random report as I remember it, and then my thoughts as well.

Two men said that there was not a good gay film between Longtime Companion and Brokeback. We brought up that the current generation (those kids!) didn't really have AIDS as a motivator or looking at their sexuality as a disease to get over (to which Sean replied "Well, good!" which is very true). Someone said they didn't need to see specific gay content, and still others talked about gay actors. Someone brought up that actors should be able to play anything they'd like, and I said Tyler Perry wouldn't cast an all white cast in his film to pass them off as black, so why is it such a thing that straight actors play gay characters and gay actors aren't allowed? One person volunteered that he doesn't buy gay actors as straight once he knows they're gay. I asked why do we allow straight actors to play gay then? Wish fulfillment was his answer, which is probably true--we want to pretend straight actors are gay, but not the other way around. I have a feeling it may be something about emasculating them by coming out as well, though who knows. I think that's another interesting topic, but a side note. And there was a strong voice telling us he liked it when we were more secret, off the map, liminal--finding ourselves as thieves and drunks or on the edges of other stories.

I was asking why we need gay film at all, and I seem to keep coming to the fact that we need to see ourselves, and not just in the "swish'n'fetchit" roles that we seem to suddenly be relegated to. You know, we're the "fairy" godfathers who make sure the straight couples meet, fall in love, and have a tastefully appointed place to go to. That's when we get out of our narcissism or boy chasing. Though never having sex. And, of course, most of the images are completely body conscious. I think it's interesting that two of the most out of character gay men created recently are on "The Sarah Silverman" show, created by a straight woman. And Brokeback was written by a straight woman, adapted by a straight woman and straight man, and directed by a straight man starring two straight actors. My big question is, and still unanswered, why are we seeming to not be telling more nuanced stories? I don't think it's impossible, but I find myself going to European cinema for more interesting portrayals of gays (Adventures of Felix and Bearcub being two recent examples, though I've loved I am My Own Wife, My Beautiful Laundrette, Beautiful Thing). I know this gets into (as was pointed out last night) that I'm thinking there is a "correct" way for us to represent ourselves. I don't. But I do think we have this glut of images that are making us somehow see ourselves as homogenous. And it's fascinating to me that I hear people saying we don't really need gay film, representation, anything since we're everywhere now and people accept us. I don't think that's true. There is still much to be done. But the danger in this is a generation losing its voice and believing what its being marketed--I think there is a danger that by thinking we don't need to tell specifically gay stories that we will lose our voice altogether. There is a new stereotype being created, and we're buying into it. I know this is a problem with representation with any "minority." I also think there is so much homophobia out there, even with ourselves, that we find it challenging still to even see ourselves and our relationships in a serious light.

I also think we need to tell stories that deal with us as complex adults outside of a coming out or disease narrative. If there is anything that irks me about gay film it's that you have to be under thirty and have little body fat to be interesting--unless it's a comedy. I suppose this is just a microcosm of Hollywood, but still--I'd love to see it challenged. One of the most interesting things that was said last night was when I mentioned Robert Patrick's exhortation to younger gay writers to read what's out there already so they don't tell the same story. Someone said "Did he tell you also that he writes porn reviews for {I can't remember the name}? That's what he does to make money." And it's telling. I don't know his life, but I do know he wrote Kennedy's Children, and many specifically gay plays, and obviously doesn't make his living at it now. But for someone who has had a play on Broadway, and writes specifically gay material (like his Decades plays, which I really love), there is not a larger market. Perhaps it is all a question of the market. People have skin in their movies because it sells. Jeff Stryker sells out shows here because at the end he takes off his clothes. That's the world. If I have one wish for queer independent cinema, it's to tell real stories. I know money and sex are great motivators, but I'm hoping we can see more of things when it's not. I feel sometimes that there is a lot of gay content, and it's all the same.

Then again, so is most of Hollywood. So I guess my wish for queer cinema is my wish for all cinema: tell us a good story. Don't bore me.

And you know--this probably isn't even fair and slightly reductive, considering things like "Brothers and Sisters" and "Line of Beauty", but that's English. Anyhow, it's interesting to think about now that content in all media is increasing, and we are finding our place in it. And I don't even have logo, so I'm bad. Or just lucky? Hee hee. More further along.....