Monday, April 16, 2012

I Have Mermaids Swimming Around On Threadless

I have a design up on Threadless, available to be scored. As my ability to draw and paint surpasses my graphic design abilities by about a million, I'm a little worried it won't fare very well. It looks like this (but without the background and, like, on a T shirt):
So, kind people. Please vote, and vote high. Double Mermaid - Threadless T-shirts, Nude No More

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Girlfriend Experience

I'm beginning to feel that I just don't get Steven Soderbergh unless he's in Hollywood mode. I watched his 2009 film, The Girlfriend Experience staring porn star Sasha Grey last night and thought it was dreadful. I was going to couch my feelings in less blunt terms, but I think I'm running a fever, so screw it.

I'm really not sure what Soderbergh is trying to say with this film. It is set (and was likely filmed) during the economic collapse in 2008 during the lead up the the Presidential election. There's a lot of anxiousness exhibited by boring finance guys. Sasha meets with web designers and whatnot to advance her business. She meets with a sleazy wannabe pimp who runs a review site for hookers and wants her to exchange her services for a positive review and for the chance to participate in a potentially lucrative trip to Dubai.

I'm very unclear about what the point is. The Dubai/website guy later publishes a scathing review of her services and she cries. The thing is, everything he says seems to be completely accurate. He paints her as being boring, affectless, uncultured and unsexy, which from everything we've seen, she is. I've never seen any of Sasha Grey's pornos, so I can't comment on what she's like to watch when she's actually having sex. Mostly because I'm essentially a colossal prude (as is, I think, Soderbergh - more on that in a bit). Maybe the movie has more meaning if one has seen her porn films, maybe there's some frisson I'm missing. Maybe I'm supposed to be comparing the awesomeness of Grey in the sack to the listlessness of everything we're seeing in this film. I don't know anything about Grey, and all I know about how I'm supposed to feel about her is from this movie and there's not anything there.

The older I get, the less enchanted I become with sweeping analogies. The interest for me in this young prostitute's business isn't so much in how it's just like the larger economy, but how it isn't. There's so much in this film about how the service Grey's character provides is more than, or other than sex. This is where it all falls apart for me. In order to demonstrate the essential emptiness of this world, Soderbergh shows Grey sitting and have boring, listless conversations with her clients. Yes, Grey is very pretty. But the world is full of pretty girls available to really rich guys at the amateur, semi-pro and professional levels. Back when I was a very young girl in NYC, I knew a few young women, who used to essentially live off of dating very rich men, semi-pro, Holly Golightly-style (let me be clear: not me. See above re: me being a colossal prude). They tended to be vivacious and fun to be around in addition to being really pretty. The pretty young girl market is super competitive in NYC, and Grey's character, not being a famous porn star, doesn't seem to be bringing that much to the table. Which brings me to the prudery problem.

Grey's character's business is sex. There's no sex in the movie. There could be an argument that the movie isn't about sex, it's about commerce. To which I cry bullshit. I think Soderbergh is trying to have it both ways. The titillation of stunt casting a porn star in his movie which elides the subject of sex entirely, while sort of dancing around it and pretending it's not the point. If it wasn't for the sex, none of these rich guys would be paying Miss Grey a dime. Period. There's a confusing sequence in the film in which Grey half falls in love with one of her clients. I say confusing because we never really see any interaction between them. Everyone in this film is an idea for a character standing in for an actual human being.

I kept thinking of Godard's film Vivre Sa Vie, which I rewatched recently. It's a spectacular film in which Anna Karina plays a young prostitute. It's one of my favorites, and is everything The Girlfriend Experience is not. It inhabits a world of people who actually exist, it contains events and surprise and spontaneity. In contrast, the control exhibited by Soderbergh in his verité-manqué strangles any possible life out of it.

It looks lovely. Sasha Gray is lovely. Her clothes are lovely. It's shot in a faux-verité style in a Manhattan that actually looks like street level Manhattan. I'm glad I watched it on our shiny new TV, because it's so pretty. It looks precisely like a fashion spread for Muse or Vogue Italia. High class call girl wears nice clothes and is beautifully photographed in a spurious documentary style and looks blank and/or sad. I've seen this before, after all, it's a huge cliché. I've never seen a movie before that reminded me of a mostly forgotten magazine spread.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

James Ellroy and Red Riding 1974

Many, many years ago (before some of you were born, no doubt), I picked up a paperback copy of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential without knowing anything about it. I liked the cover. I liked hard boiled detective fiction and I liked St. Marks Bookshop - which was still actually on St. Marks Place back at the dawn of the 90s.

Ellroy's L.A. Quartet are the blackest of noir. He uses a gigantic canvas to tell his long, violent story of corruption, crime and the emptiness at the heart of the dreams of post-war Southern California. His style is baroque and deeply profane, troubling to its core.

A few weeks ago the Curtis Hanson directed film of L.A. Confidential aired. Trav and I hadn't seen it in a good long while, so we watched it and it's... fine. But it's awfully clean for a film about the ugliest perversions and the deepest corruption. The movie is a well made, intelligently plotted period piece with some nice performances. It doesn't wear its period particularly comfortably and those suits worn by all those cops look awfully new. It seems a little small compared to the book, which is a different sort of animal entirely. There are two (!) serial killer subplots (both excised in the screenplay), dozens of characters - including many clearly based on real people including Walt Disney (who commits suicide), spanning nearly eight years. When I first read it I was dying to see it as a movie, but thought it was unfilmable. I was right, in order to film it, it had to be cut so far to the bone it had to become a different species entirely.

Most telling, the movie's villain, corrupt police Captain Dudley Smith, is killed at the end. James Cromwell is perfectly cast, but in the movie he is just a villain, a bad man doing bad things. In Ellroy's books he's the devil himself. All human greed and corruption made flesh. And like evil itself, he's unkillable. He can be momentarily neutralized, but never destroyed. In the books, taking down Smith destroys Ed Exely utterly, and Smith still isn't dead.

L.A. Confidential is a perfectly respectable movie, but what it needed was HBO and the fulfilled promise of novelistic storytelling television has given us in the last decade or so.

All this brings me to last night when I watched Red Riding: The Year of Our Lord 1974. I haven't read David Peace's quartet of books of crime, corruption and perversion in Yorkshire in the 1970s and early 80s, but I have a feeling they were given the sort of treatment that would have served Ellroy's books well. Set in Yorkshire (the West Riding, I believe, Brontë country) the landscape is bleak indeed. I don't know it for a certainty, but I wouldn't die of shock if Peace was influenced by Ellroy. Both have police so corrupt, they murder and torture, both contain serial killers who attach the wings of birds to the back of dead children. The film is violent and sometimes hard to watch, but it's awfully beautiful. Filmed in gorgeous 16mm, its period setting is perfect.

Yorkshire is thousands of actual and conceptual miles from sunny L.A., but they share the same corrosive misery, a baroque inescapable violence and doom. The young reporter who ineptly tries to sort out the killings and the corruption and lies that surround him is destroyed utterly. Bam. The end.