Wednesday, April 12, 2017

#QuoteOfTheMoment: Words of Wisdom from 2017 Pulitzer Prize Recipient Hilton Als to a Young, Aspiring Artist

You're giving yourself a gift of your own imagination & creativity.  A lot of people don't have that and are threatened by it.  So let them be threatened, but do your work.

New Yorker Theater Critic | 2017 Pulitzer Prize Recipient
via Rookie Podcast*

*You can listen to the entire episode here.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

#ArtistOfTheWeek: Christine & the Queens | "Tilted"

Whilst perusing the myriad Marina & the Diamonds videos on my YouTube suggestions feed (as per "uge"), I came across Christine and the Queens, another quizzically-named solo artist whom Marina mentions as having loved in various interviews.  I'd actually already heard of Christine and the Queens (which exists in the tiny, gamine form that is Héloïse Letissier) for a long while now, always at the suggestion of some friend or other; so I curiously decided to finally look her up, only to instantly fall in love with her fresh take on pop, particularly the above song, "Tilted," the mega-hit single off her self-titled US debut (with the international release titled Chaleur Humaine), released in 2015.  

Armed with a background in Theatre (which she studied as a university student in her native France) and inspired by the work of drag queen musicians she encountered upon her arrival in London (hence her stage name), it is no wonder Letissier calls her particular brand of pop, as it were, "freakpop."  This, as it turns out, is quite complementary to the walking contradiction that is Letissier: boyish but feminine, minimalist yet bursting with emotion -- all embodied in quirky choreography set against steady beats.  It is refreshing to see more artists like Letissier's Christine and the Queens still challenging the boundaries and notions of what it means to be a pop star.  Who knew something so seemingly off-kilter could sound so good?

Give the song (and her album) a listen -- I dare you to get it out of your head!


Friday, April 7, 2017

#Randomosities: The "Is It Spring Yet?" Edition

via charmaineolivia
Ah, it's been a while since I did one of these!  

After the dreary, bleak climate we've been having these past couple months or so (both weather-wise,, otherwise), I've been looking for some much-needed inspiration to see me through to Spring.  For one thing, the constant prettiness and overall positivity that is Instagram has certainly helped bolster my energy -- if you've been following me here, you'll have noticed I started a separate one for my literary blog starts & stops, here.  (Give a girl a follow, will ya?)

Some other items of interest tiding me over 'til Spring kicks in:

Kerrigan-Lowdermilk Announce Residency at 59E59 Theaters.   Yesterday, after a crazy-making (for fans like myself, anyway) Facebook campaign surrounding the mystery behind the announcement, composers Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk, gave away the exciting news.  The three-year residency, during which they will premiere a new musical each year, is in collaboration with the aforementioned 59E59 Theaters and Prospect Theater Company.  The first of these musicals will be a long-awaited New York production of The Mad Ones -- previously known as The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown (which had a successful run in 2011 at Goodspeed Musicals and starred Meghann Fahy and Melissa Benoist).  via Playbill

The Before Trilogy and the Art of Collaboration.  The great people at The Criterion Collection put together a couple of excerpts from the supplemental features on their recently-released edition of Richard Linklater's Before Trilogy, including one from Chevalier director Athina Rachel Tsangari's behind-the-scenes documentary,  After Before, wherein we see the actors rehearsing the climactic hotel scene for Before Midnight.  (You can read my #FilmStrips essay on the first two installments of the Before Trilogy here.) via The Criterion Collection

One of the World's Rarest Films Just Showed Up on YouTube.  Un Femme Coquette (a rare early work by the godfather of French New Wave himself, Jean-Luc Godard), the AV Club reports, is now available for viewing on YouTube.  Once considered the "holy grail" for many art-house fiends, a copy of Un Femme Coquette recently surfaced on various digital sources before eventually finding its way on the popular video streaming website.  Definitely giving this a watch when I'm jonesing for an avant-garde cinema kick!  via AV Club

How Playwrights are Changing The Way We Think About TV.  Speaking of collaboration, David Canfield over at Slate deconstructs the oft-complicated relationship between Playwrights and the ever-elusive creative medium that is Television, and how this has changed in the wake of its newfound Golden Age.  Shameless writer Sheila Callaghan states: "Because a lot of people were trained on writing spec scripts … it’s harder I think for somebody to deliver their own voice, when they’ve been busy replicating other voices." An interesting read, for sure -- and one I may or may not write some thoughts on in future. via Slate

Critics Should Learn the Language of Disability.  From diverse voices to diverse descriptions: Howard Sherman, director of the Arts Integrity Initiative and US columnist for The Stage, wrote recently on the various ways critics can (and should) write, in terms of disability depicted onstage.  via The Stage

The Dark, Twisted Fairy Tales Beauty and the Beast is Based On.  Like everyone else, it seems, I saw the recent live-action version of the Disney classic Beauty and The Beast, a couple of weeks ago.  As always when seeing an adaptation of a literary classic depicted on celluloid, I became curious as to what the original Fairy Tale version was like.  Here, Huffington Post compares how Disney's well-known version fares against La Belle et Le Bete, its original counterpart.  via Huffington Post

Lin-Manuel Reads from The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  And finally, something to listen to on those rainy days: an excerpt of Lin-Manuel Miranda narrating Junot Diaz's The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, upon the recently-updated release of its audiobook.  You're welcome, internet.  via Time

Friday, March 24, 2017

#FilmStrips: Wong Kar-Wai's IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE & Luca Guadagnino's I AM LOVE

The Pulchritude of Passion
Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love
and Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love (io Sono L'Amore)
show us just how beautifully tragic love can be

There's no question about it: I am a very visual person.  As this blog will certainly attest to, it's perhaps no surprise that the films I gravitate towards are ones that not only strike the viewer emotionally, but also aesthetically.  In this edition of #FilmStrips, we'll be looking at two films that do just that -- and memorably so: Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (2000) and Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love (2009).  Through the use of strong audio-visual cues – intertitles, vibrant images that seem to spill off the screen, and sweeping music -- all set against the lush backdrops of Hong Kong and Milan, In the Mood for Love and I Am Love both provide a breathtaking view at love's potent power.

In the Mood for Love [Mood] follows the story of two neighbors, Chow Mo Wan (or Mr. Chow himself, Tony Leung) and Su Li-Zhen (here referred to as Mrs. Chen, played by Maggie Cheung), whose respective spouses have become involved with one another.  After crossing paths several times, the two start an unusual bond.  At first, the basis of their friendship surrounds them meeting so they can “re-enact” their spouses’ affair, in the desperate hope that they would find out how it began.  Gradually, their relationship starts to run on a deeper level; they start spending more time together, collaborating on Chow’s martial arts serial and continuing their pretend affair.  Eventually, it no longer feels like a “rehearsal” and they start to develop feelings for one another; in the act of trying to understand their spouses' infidelity, they unknowingly doing the same. 

I Am Love [Love] goes off into a forbidden love affair of its own, though one with ultimately very serious consequences.  Starring (and produced by) chameleonic actress Tilda Swinton, Guadagnino's film follows Swinton as Emma, a Russian ex-pat living in Milan as the matriarch of the prominent Recchi family.  The Recchis are overseers of a longstanding textile-production dynasty, and the film starts at a very important turn in their fortune: for one thing, patriarch Edouardo Senior announces his retirement, handing over the company to his son and eldest grandson (Recchis Tancredi and Edouardo Junior, respectively).  Secondly, the younger Edouardo, or Edo, not only introduces a new woman with whom he is smitten and intends to marry, but a new man, as well: Antonio Biscaglia (Edouardo Gabbriellini), a modest chef with whom he partners on a restaurant venture.  However, it is the discovery of a recent affair between her daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rorwacher) with another woman -- not to mention Emma's own mounting affection to Antonio, which sets the rest of the story into motion.

Top: Maggie Cheung as Su Li-Zhen
in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (2000);
Bottom: Tilda Swinton as Emma Recchi
in Luca Guadagnino's 
I Am Love (2009).
There are certainly notable contrasts between each of the two films: where Mood is almost entirely set in claustrophobic spaces, Love revels in juxtaposing its characters against spacious, scenic locales -- particularly, that of grand architecture and nature.  Where Mood centers around the tension developed between its two main characters from the restraint and constricts of the 1960s, Love is all about the fulfillment of unbridled and unabashed desires at the turn of the New Millennium, no matter how forbidden.  Yet, despite these differences, each film takes similar cues which center on a singular, universal truth: the throes of passion and its consequences.

Both Kar-Wai and Guadagnino jump in, head-first, into their respective stories and the emotional arcs each one takes simply through the presentation of each of their respective films.  In a way, each film reflects the temporal sensibilities of the other -- Mood, a film set in 1960s-era Hong Kong, is presented with a simple red-and-white intertitle, evoking a more contemporary feel.  Meanwhile, Love's opening title card harkens back to quite a different time than the Millenium-era Milanese milieu (try saying THAT five times fast) it immerses us in.  Wong Kar-Wai's use of quotations in the intertitles which follow Mood's initial introduction helps us settle into the film's time and place, delving us deeper into the emotional landscape of the characters.  This device is typical of in the films of Kar-Wai -- most particularly, in the informal trilogy of films set in 1960s Hong Kong, of which Mood is a part (the other two of which include Days of Being Wild [1990] and 2046 [2006]). Guadagnino's own use of titles does the opposite, merely serving as a device for the audience to -- quite literally -- orient themselves in the landscape in which the story is set.

It is interesting that Kar-Wai should choose to use words as the device in this instance, as it is words themselves which are scarcely used in the interactions between his two characters, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chen.  The two characters meet as Mr. Chow and his wife move into the same apartment building at the same time Mrs. Chen and her husband do.  They exchange niceties and occasionally, as neighbors are often wont to do, and encounter one another: up and down the steps on the way to the noodle stands, in alleyways and of course, in the halls of the apartment complex.  For a while, it is as if they are but two ships passing one another in the night; this all changes, however, when the two discover that their respective spouses are cheating on them with one another.

Because of the societal restrictions Ms. Chen and Mr. Chow face, it comes as no surprise as to why its mise en scene are all so flamboyantly flaunted.  Everything -- from the sets, costumes, to even the food -- is carefully constructed and framed, to an almost fetishistic degree.  This offsets quite nicely against the depiction of the two characters, both of whom spend much of the film interacting silently, with dialogue peppered throughout.  Their encounters are whittled down to a glance, a gesture, a touch -- whilst everything else around them does most of the talking.

As described by 
The Nerdwriter's Evan Puschak: "Every shot [in Mood] exists in a 'frame within a frame.'  Visually, the private moments between the two would-be lovers, as they spend more time with one another, are expressed in the film with the camera's gaze "peeking" through and against various types of barriers -- gates, curtains, mirrors, and corridors.  Despite its insular appearance, this secret world we're watching is inhabited "not by two, but four people," Puschak argues, and this constant awareness of the lives of the two other people involved in the unwitting love-quadrangle is further heightened through these physical barriers.     We never see their spouses' faces, but we do see them, framed by people (yes, people), doorways, and mirrors -- the latter ultimately a device used to foreshadow and literally reflect on the doomed outcome of Chan and Chow's own affair.  

The motif of hidden secrets and Audience-as-Voyeur are certainly seen in Love, as well.  The voyeurism starts early, with the camera zooming in on family photographs during the elder Edouardo's dinner party, giving viewers the impression of a seemingly happy and comfortable family life.  However, it is primarily through Elisabetta that we begin to see more examples of private moments unwittingly witnessed:  at first, slowly, with Betta and her then-boyfriend behind closed doors; then later, with Emma stumbling upon a stowaway letter from Betta to Edo, wherein she confesses her love for another woman.  This discovery of her daughter's passions ultimately leads to the unfurling of her own.

If strong visual cues are used to let the audience in, it's the music that keeps them staying.  Both films' inclusion of music are completely intentional, carefully selected by their respective creative teams in order to lead and heighten their narratives.  Those familiar with Kar-wai's oeuvre certainly know the importance of music in his films.  In Mood, themes of nostalgia and memory are heavily evident.  From the moment Shigeru Umebayashi’s “Yumeji’s Theme” (from the film Yumeji) starts, we are in for an emotional cinematic ride, Wong Kar wai-style.

In "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas," Nat King Cole sings: "Siempre que te pregunto/ Que cuándo, cómo y dónde/ Tu siempre me respondes/ Quizás, quizás, quizás" -- which, in English, translates to: "You won't admit you love me/ And so how am I ever to know?/ You only tell me/ Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps."  Here, the music echoes and embodies the unspoken passions and desires never fully expressed by the characters themselves.  It feels as if it were written especially for the film itself; yet another characteristic familiar to discerning Kar-wai viewers. 

This is very much the case in Love, if in a different way.  The film uses composer John Adams' music (particularly, selections from his operas Nixon in China [1987] and Death of Klinghoffer [1991], as well as Shaker Loops [1978] and Century Rolls [1996]) throughout.  An early moment in the film utilizes his composition "Lollapalooza," wherein Emma sees Antonio whilst on a trip to Sanremo and proceeds to give chase.  Reminiscent of something out of a Hitchcock film, the piece stops and starts just as she does, literally underscoring Emma's every move, as she inches her way closer to Antonio's figure.   The scene has an almost dreamlike quality and is executed almost entirely without dialogue. 

 With their distinctive visual styles and storytelling techniques, both In the Mood for Love and I Am Love have earned their respective places among the pantheon of tragic romance, each serving as a pars pro toto: a perfect part to a beautiful whole.