Saturday, May 30, 2015

Female Filmmaker Project: Girlhood (Celine Sciamma, 2014)

Girlhood. The very title is more than any movie could handle, and being brandished with such a huge name would speak to the very complexities that girls go through as they reach womanhood, and the difficulties of portraying that in a film. The idea of a universal girlhood is a misnomer as no such thing exists. Girlhood is then chiseled down into something singular. Girlhood is what you make it. Girlhood is a film about one teenage girl growing up, but the connotations of her narrative speak to the type of movie that isn't as easy to pin down as an exhibition of sisterhood, as Vic's tale is more important than the relationship she has with her friends along the way. Bande de Filles is then a misleading title as Bande de Filles turns into the story of Vic, but it was always only about her, even with diamonds by her side through much of it.

Celine Sciamma's film is a portrait of a young girl fumbling through adolescence without a lot of options. Marieme (soon to be redubbed Vic by her friends) is refused the chance to retry the last year of schooling she failed, her home life is constricting to her internal sense of freedom, and she doesn't appear to have any sort of connection with anyone except her younger sisters, and a rocky relationship with her brother. That all changes when she befriends a group of girls who give her life a spark, and some sort of meaning. She gains confidence through the group's overall strength and eventually starts to find her footing. It isn't perfect, but then what life is? The group engages in petty crime and sometimes fighting, but it's all through the guise of youth. These tools have always been extensions of films about white characters, but in the hands of characters who aren't white there's often this sense of concern trolling over where their lives are headed (in Hollywood this often means the inclusion of a white saviour, even though the white saviours kids participate in the same kind of victimless crime, look to Dazied and Confused and Boyhood for similar instances of Adolescent Crime), and it's refreshing to see Sciamma giver Vic the space to explore her age and her choices.

In one transcendent scene Vic reaches the apex of her teenage years, and finds an identity through her friends and a song. That song is "Diamonds" by Rhianna. Sciamma frames the sequence in close up shots of her friends respectively, and doused in shimmering blue (the films colour palette is extremely strong). They begin lip singing to the track in the dresses they just took from a department store. In this one moment the entire world takes a back seat to a singular emotion and the film itself also becomes secondary to the song that it cuts a hole through everything, movie included. It's the sort of thing that sounds regular on paper...."And then the girls sing a song together", but when treated as the single most happy moment of growing up it becomes something else entirely. In a moment of finality Sciamma takes the close up angle away from her friends and onto Vic's face as she contemplates letting herself go completely and singing along to Rhianna with her friends. She decides to join in, and in doing so closed one chapter of her life and opened another. When the moment ends the film struggles to gain back that momentum, but it speaks to the importance of seemingly small moments being the most memorable in growing up.

Girlhood's narrative feels so fresh, and Sciamma's confident filmmaking are joys to watch, but despite remaining fascinating throughout Girlhood struggles to maintain consistency When the film takes a steep right turn in act three and becomes a narrative of personhood and choice after she sheds her gang of friends to move forward with her life the movie seems to be confused of where to go. This could partially be seen as an unsureness on Vic's part, but I think it has more to do with Sciamma having 2 parts of 2 separate films. On it's own the third act, which cycles back into Sciamma's queering of gender (See chest binding above & which relates to gendered presentation in Tomboy) is strong, but within the context of the first two acts there's a real struggle to find it's footing once more. That isn't to say that the final 20 minutes aren't worthwhile, because they absolutely are, but there's an aimlessness that makes the final third feel more plodding than it should. Which is a shame, because Sciamma is entering into  Fassbinder territory by way of her own applications of gender that are really interesting. Vic's hyperfemininity in her new job, the rejection of said hyper-femininity in favour of masculine presentation in her home life, and the possibly queer relationship between her and another girl are all threads left stranded that could have been made more interesting if she gets to this segment of the film a little quicker.

More cinema like this should exist, because it's unfair to be burdened with the weight of an entire group of people to deliver something resonant. We don't often ask that question of films about White, Straight, Cis Men, because they've been given the chance to be everything they could possibly be in cinema. Those same opportunities haven't been granted to other kinds of people. Girlhood isn't a perfect movie. It's far too shaky in it's delivery to be given the highest of accolades, but it's very good. If cinema is to reach it's truest heights then Girlhood needs to be bested time and time again. Cinema humanizes in a way that is like none other. It makes the different relatable, and gives life to those without a voice, but those voices must first be heard. Hopefully Girlhood will be the first in a trend instead of an outlier in a sea of adolescent pictures of white boys. Who knows, maybe even one of those hypothetical films about a black girl will have her become a boring photographer heading off to college, and we'll all call it a universal masterpiece. I hope cinema gets there.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Blood and Ballet: A Top 100 in Horror

I've always tried to unpack why horror appeals to me and why I like to tread closely to the edge of some of the most depressing and upsetting violent cinema that there is but I've never been able to come up with a clear cut answer. I think part of it has to do with having grown up feeling fractured and broken, and horror is oftentimes about women who are trying to figure out how to put the pieces back together in their lives. I haven't watched nearly as much horror since I've grown happier, which lends weight to that theory I suppose, so I have to assume it's accurate. Up until last year I lived a pretty miserable life, and horror ended up being the safety net I latched onto oftentimes in all those years prior. Not all of these films fit the bill of being about fractured characters, but a lot of them do. I like horror that lingers and sticks with me. The kind of horror that slips into your bones and can't be scrubbed out. I suppose I like trauma then, and the effects of dealing with it. Laura Palmer comes to mind when I think of horror, and Laurie Strode, Carrie White and Rei. These are broken characters, and up until last year I considered myself among them. I still slip into those modes, but not nearly as often as I used to. I'm grateful I had women who actually felt like me along the way though, and I still sometimes go back to them and wish I could help fix them. 

Having said all that. Suspiria still sits at number one, because above all else just give me witches. For I've been called evil in my life simply for my life choices so why wouldn't I align myself with those of Satan? I appear to be already if my family is any indication.

Hail Satan.....Hail Horror.

1. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
2. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

4. End of Evangelion (Hideaki Anno, 1997)

5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hoober, 1974)

6. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

7. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)

8. Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)

9. Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)

10. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)

11. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

12. Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1995)

13. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
14. Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)

15. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)

16. Inside (Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury, 2007)
17. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 1970)

18. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

19. The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)

20. Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
21. The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)

22. [SAFE] (Todd Haynes, 1995)

23. Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
24. Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)

25. Halloween 2 (Rob Zombie, 2009)

26. Day of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1985)

27. In the Mouth of Madness (John Carpenter, 1994)

28. The Happiness of the Katakuris (Takashi Miike, 2001)
29. Gremlins 2: The One With Hulk Hogan (Joe Dante, 1990)
30. Bastards (Claire Denis, 2012)
31. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)

32. Hausu (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

33. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)

34. The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
35. Ginger Snaps (Jon Fawcett, 2000)

36. The Thing From Another World (Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks, 1951)

37. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier)

38. Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)
39. Les Diaboliques (Henri-Georges Clouzout, 1959)

40. Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)
41. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
42. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)

43. Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)
44. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

45. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

46. I Walked With a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)

47. Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)
48. Gozu (Takashi Miike, 2003)

49. The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)

49. After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985)

50. Alucarda (Juan Lopez Moctezuma, 1976)

51. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar, 2010)

52. Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009)
53. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
54. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

56. The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1983)

57. Evil Dead 2 (Sam Raimi, 1987)
58. Tenebrae (Dario Argento, 1982)

59. Rosemarys Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)

60. Don;t Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973)

61. Christine (John Carpenter, 1983)
62. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919)

63. The Masque of the Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964)
64. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)
65. Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)
66. May (Lucky McKee, 2004)
67. The Hitcher (Robert Harmon, 1986)
68. Martin (George A. Romero, 1977)
69. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
70. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2009)
71. Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)

72. The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009)
73. The Stepfrod Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975)
74. 3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)

75. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)
76. The Ghost of Yotsuya (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1959)
77. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)

79. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
79. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)

80. Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter, 2001)
81. The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne, 2009)

82. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
83. The Curse of Frankenstein (Terrence Fisher, 1957)
84. The Addiction (Abel Ferrara, 1995)
85. Cigarette Burns (John Carpenter, 2005)

86. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
87. Village of the Damned (John Carpenter, 1995)
88. Trick 'R Treat (Michael Dougherty, 2007)
89. The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)
90. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922)

91. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)

92. Witches Hammer (Otakar Vavra, 1970)
93. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
94. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
95. Girly (Freddie Francis, 1970)
96. Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012)
97. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest, 1971)
98. Dracula's Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)

99. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)

100. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)