Saturday, December 17, 2011

Warhol at the Frist

Back in August I made a weekend getaway to visit a girlfriend outside of Nashville, Tennessee. After an early morning flight, we stopped for pancakes and coffee, before swinging by the Frist for their exhibition Warhol Live: Music & Dance In Andy Warhol's Work.

I really enjoyed this show because it was completely accessible. You need not know a thing about Warhol, Pop Art, or music and dance to be able to move fluidly and confidently through the galleries. The show was approachable and open - with gallery spaces bleeding into one another through the use of music playing intermittently. Films were projected on walls, couches appear for lounging, a silver clouds room was created to stage a screening of a Merce Cunningham performance, and a space was designated to recreate an Exploding Plastic Inevitable show (ie Factory era early Velvet Underground performances).

I had a lot of fun, and was happy to have a chance to play in the Silver Clouds and excited to view a clip from Horse (1965), a film I went to the Warhol Museum to view for my thesis. I even managed to sneak a picture with the clouds!!
   warholfristsilver clouds

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life / Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

In October I had the opportunity to attend a sneak preview of the film Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) / Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life at The Music Box Theater. The film was a whimsical interpretation of the biography depicting the life of the artist and musician, Serge Gainsbourg. Written and directed by the graphic novelist Joann Sfar, the feature film reads much like a contemporary graphic novel, combining elements of fantasy and non-reality with the harsh truths of history that intertwine with Gainsbourg's biography and larger-than-life rock star persona.

Let me begin with a statement of both fact and opinion regarding tastes:
If you like French films, you will like this.
If you like films set in the 1960's, you will like this.
If you like French films from the 1960's, you probably won't like this.

There is something about Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) that felt incredibly French. Yes, it was made by a French artist/director/filmmaker, and yes, a majority of the movie took place in France. So naturally, it should feel French. But what solidified the française feel wasn't in the set or plot, but in the way things pan out for the people in the story - a sort of effortlessness that goes into leading a charmed and fulfilling life. Beginning in Paris in the late 30's, the story shows Gainsburg, then known as Lucien Ginsburg, a young boy dealing with the mingling issues of adolescence, coming of age, struggling to learn to play piano, Nazi occupation, and just plain being a boy. As a means of grappling with his day-to-day dilemmas, Ginsburg uses his imagination to escape the mundane and begins to question his sense self. Creating an alternate personality known only as his "mug", which acts as both his voice of reason and his inner demon.

Gainsbourg's "mug", a whimsical puppet via source
The issue of identity is the driving force of this film as Gainsbourg struggles to understand himself as an artist and musician by the means of reinventing himself. Like the great Cubists working in France at the turn of the 20th century, Gainsburg's persona is fragmented to the core. With pieces of his childhood-self coexisting and intertwining with his contemporary being. In order to assert his identity, Gainsbourg uses the tools of  fashion, music, visual art, and charm as a means of defining himself as a musician and artist - much like Andy Warhol did in the late 50's in New York. With his reinvention, Gainsbourg finds a woman to shape him and stand in as his muse, including iconic beauties like Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. And with each reinvention of the self comes a new musical styling, ranging from the structured jazz of elite night clubs, fun French new wave pop, raunchy spoken word epithets of sex, rock, and drugs, to his later islander inspired tunes recorded in Jamaica.

Gainsbourg and Bardot collaborating in a charming musical number via Music Box Theater
What makes this film work is the cohesiveness of the many different versions of Gainsbourg that fill the space of the story. The youngest Ginsbourg played by the delightful Kacey Mottet Klein is both a young man and an old soul wrapped into one. He prophetically smokes cigarettes like the man he is to become, and flirts with woman regardless of age or beauty. The adolescent through aged Gainsbourg skillfully played by Eric Elmosnino carries the film from decade to decade. Elmosnino perfectly evokes the Gainsbourg of each new personal creation, tapping into the charm, wit, and inner-turmoil that the musician carries with him. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life acknowledges Gainsbourg’s womanizing through depictions of his affairs and marriages, but it depicts him in a humane and honest way, attributing his imperfections to his lack of identity – giving the viewers a better understanding of the man he was, a man of great talent spurred from the great heaviness of becoming and being Gainsbourg.
Eric Elmosnino as Gainsbourg via source

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Future

Last Monday I met up with a few gal friends at The Music Box Theater to see Miranda July's The Future, and damn was it good. MJ has gotten a lot of press about this movie, some of which has been less than complimentary. It seems as though she has been lumped into the twee and indiexcore of film making, and after the acclaim that Me and You and Everyone We Know recieved, it seemed inevitable that critics and filmgoers alike would have impossibly high expectations.

I read every article, every blog, and every review I possibly could before seeing this movie which prepped me emotionally, if you will. A lot of reviewers were turned off by how serious this film was, excpecting something light, humorous, and full of the kind of whimsy that we associate with July's films. But as an avid supporter of her work, I was excited for July to take her film making, directing, writing, and acting in a completely different direction.

What I loved about this movie were the subtle differences and choices that July made in relation to Me and You and Everyone We Know. I know, as a critic, doing the good 'ol fashioned compare and contrast is a total copout - but seriosuly, after giving this movie a week of marinating in my analytic brain, I found some really interesting connections.

1) The Bildungsroman ie Coming of Age Story - Where Me and You and Everyone We Know was a coming of age story from the perspective of an aspiring artist, a separated single parent, a teenage boy, and a young child - The Future was also a coming of age story. A couple finds an injured stray cat, lovingly named Paw Paw.  They bring it to the vet, and then decide to keep him, knowing that he probably won't live very long. They go to get Paw Paw, and the vet tells them it needs to stay for a month - but following the wait, the cat could probably live for 5 years plus. This deadline of five years jolts the couple into asking questions such as "Where am I now?" and "Who will I be in five years?" - with an especially poignant line in which Jason, played by Hamish Linklater says, "I thought I'd be smarter".

Jason and Sophie then embark upon an exciting and nearly impossible goal to get out of their mid-thirties malaise and achieve endless goals over the course of the next month until they pick up Paw Paw, whose voice is played by July. Sophie and Jason quit their jobs. Sophie chooses to try to choreograph 30 dances in 30 days, Jason tried to save the planet, canvasing with the message the the world can be made better one tree at a time. Over the journey of the film, Sophie and Jason discover things about themselves and their future finding that their expectations and goals have not been met in fulfilling or satisfying ways. This Bildungsroman is a sadder one than that of the precurser film, but important nonetheless.

2) The Moon - Where Me and You and Everyone We Know is very much about the Sun and daytime, this film focuses centrally on the Moon and nighttime. The moon in fact plays a central character for a portion of the film, offering wisdom and solidarity to Jason in a time of need.

3) The Colors - Me You and Everyone We Know features bright bubblegummy neons that are so sweet you can almost taste them - total and complete eyecandy. July made a conscious effort to pick a completely different color palette for this film, picking rich ochres and jewel tones. The previous movie is light and hot, whereas this one is dark and cool. Interesting how something as simple as color can be so effective at setting up a mood for an entire film. Fun fact: Miranda July picked out the palette for The Future by laying out a set of pens from the Muji store and picking out the colors she was drawn to. Read about it here.
from Me and You and Everyone We Know
Picking out colors for The Future
The Future is currently screening at The Music Box Theater and will be opening at locations today all over the country. If you want to see a serious, thoughtful, and beautifully made film, I urge you to check this one out. I might even try to see it a second time while it's still playing on the big screen.