27 July 2006

I See Movies Sometimes: The Devil Wears Prada

Hathaway, Streep, and the always-hot Tucci (even when playing an effete fashionista).
Plus check out that FAB plaid suit.

Why add my voice to so many others regarding this trifling film? Two words: Meryl and Streep. She makes a meal out of the Anna Wintour-inspired Miranda Priestly and perhaps invents a way of chewing scenery through understatement. Honest. Directors have finally figured out that she's a terrific comedic actor, and "Devil" gives her plenty of time to show off by not showing off. The scene where she quietly dresses Anne Hathaway down by detailing the fashion history behind the color of Hathaway's shitty bargain basement sweater is worth the price of admission all by itself. And now on to destroy the rest of the film.

The above-mentioned scene is the keystone to why the film ultimately doesn't work because it economically reveals what the film could have been but is not: well-written and featuring a fully-realized protagonist. Anne Hathaway fails utterly to project the necessary intelligence required for this character. That's the acting failure. The above scene also shows the writing failure (which is expected, mind you, since this is a Hollywood movie), because if the Hathaway character were truly as smart as the script tells us ad nauseum, then Streep's explication of the genealogy of the color of Hathaway's sweater would make sense to her and this scene would be her "Ah-ha" moment. It is not. Rather it is the "Ah-ha" moment for the audience as we watch the film dispose of itself so neatly, because if the quality of the writing in this scene, or I should say in Streep's monologue, were indicative of rather than in exception to the rest of the movie, we might have had something really cool. Instead, we get yet another workmanlike retread of a Cinderella story with a half-hearted feminist twist. The subplot involving Hathaway's friends and boyfriend is so pathetic and perfunctory that it's this side of unbelievable, and certainly on the other side of involving in any way. The film seems constantly unsure of what to do next--except when Streep or Stanley Tucci (as Streep's right-hand man cum tart fairy godmother to Hathaway) are on screen--or even of who the Hathaway character is. It does not have a consistent opinion of the value of fashion, the value of Hathaway's experience under Streep, or even the value of Hathaway's independence. This is the kind of shitty "writing" that occurs these days--an enterprise done by committee, product placement, moronic producers, and test audiences. In other words it's less writing than a projection of a hive mind.

Anyway, it's nice to see Streep doing her thing, even if it is often over a cardboard cup emblazoned with a STARBUCKS logo, when such a character would never drink that coffee and certainly would not drink it out of a cardboard cup. And that image represents the coalescence--perhaps the apotheosis, perhaps an obsolescence--of how narrative, character, and art will always experience the wobble introduced by the powerful gravitational field of economics. Quel reprise, Hollywood.

22 July 2006

A repost of a repost of a riposte: BigMuscle.com 3

Please don't read this.

A long while ago, I posted two installment about BigMuscle.com--this is the third in a long series of such online vomitus, which began as a sort of running critique of BigMuscle on BigMuscle. Needless to say, most people on that site didn't give a damn about what I was saying, but I got some nice comments on those posts from time to time, nonetheless. To get the proper effect, you should really read the first ones, but hey, this is the Internet, and I sure can't make you read anything you don't want to read.

Don't read the FIRST and SECOND posts.

16 April 2003

One way we can engage with the question of who we are is to think about our relations to another, to the other, if you like. And again, we might return to the question of jockeying for the other's gaze, for his glance, his stare, or his appraisal--however one may read that eye on one's body. But beneath this notion, like the submerged frozen mountain under the iceberg's salient tip, there is another question, a literal question in one sense, in that what we are asking, what we are always asking in our dancing before this other eye, in our dialogues and questions, in our choice of clothing, haircut, gym, and workout schedule, all which always have to do with love, and that question of love is formulated every time, is implicit in all our convoluted gestures, words, and sighs:
What do you want from me?

This question, and the ways we have attempted its answering, the ways we imagine it being answered, has everything to do with who we think we are and who we want others to think we are and who we want to think we are--which, of course, are never the same thing no matter how much overlap occurs among the three. But we do all this work because we imagine it is what the other wants, what the other wants from us, what we need to do, for example, to get all those eyes turned in our virtual direction, all those eyes listed in a Who Likes Me list that are saying, Yes. This much, here, this is what I want from you. And all along, no matter the satisfying frisson of that growing number of eyes rising like some thermometer measuring our heat, we never know what that thing is that has hooked the eye of the gaze. We never know what the other really wants. We always disappoint and are always disappointed.

Don't read the FIRST and SECOND posts.

11 July 2006

Fun With Shakespeare's Sonnets! Sonnet 94

This is the second in a series that closely reads several of Bill's sonnet cycle. The first is over here. Apologies to Helen Vendler, to whom I owe most of what is good in here.

Sonnet 94

They that have pow’r to hurt, and will do none, Q1
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmovéd, cold, and to temptation slow—
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces, Q2
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flow’r is to the summer sweet, Q3
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flow’r with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their own deeds; C
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

What is going on in this strange sonnet to the young man?. First of all, this is a rare example in the cycle of an entirely impersonal sonnet—there is no mention of “I,” “you,” “we,” “our,” or the rival poets. There is a sense that pronouns are being studiously avoided and a cautious strategy employed. In Q1 and Q2, we only have an enigmatic description of some sort of, it seems, exemplary person; but what sort of person is this who could do harm, who exercises that power over someone, or someones, yet never does so? What does it mean to move others—is it his beauty that gives him this second power? But the third line describes something more peculiar in that they that have this power are like “stone” and in the fourth line are described as “cold.” Being stone-like and cold aren’t usually positive qualities; moreover, these people are “slow” to temptation, not immune to it. Q2 gives the screw another turn with the not-quite-so-logically derived revelation that they “rightly” are in the good graces of god, or heaven, and are the conservers or caretakers of nature’s bounty, only to describe another odd quality: they are in complete control of how they appear, of their emotions, their faces; yet, others who may be excellent themselves, do not own that excellence as a lord, but only mind it, as a butler or steward would.

Now, as if this weren’t weird enough, in Q3, the speaker suddenly, bafflingly, changes gears altogether, and considers the image of a flower, which suggests that something about the argument in the first eight lines may be intractable or insoluble. Perhaps this complex depiction of the social realm and this “they” that live in it has become confused even for the speaker, and so he revels in the fantasy that the young man (we assume) is a flower, a thing to enjoy for its beauty, but that gives nothing back, since “to itself it only live and die,” no matter how sweet the summer may find it. The speaker clearly has mixed feelings about his subject, since his tenderness moves him to go from a portrait of a sort of person to a description of a flower. But we’ve already seen this back and forth in Q1 and Q2: are these powerful people good (they spare their power, are in favor with heaven, and responsible for nature), or are they bad somehow (they are deceptive in their appearance, cold, and unmoved by others)? The flower is also aloof, but it is free from the problem of doing something, instead, it “meets” with a base infection. It’s not the flower’s fault if it becomes infected—and here we return again to the discourse of medicine, sickness, disease, and infection that reappears constantly in the Sonnets. Furthermore, the event with the flower is a subjunctive one, an if/then statement of possibility and result, not present certainty: the flower in question isn’t infected, but if it should be, even a weed has more dignity. An ambiguity, a doubt, however, about the powerful person in Q1 and Q2 insinuates itself from the tension among the words “doing”/”showing,” “cold,” “unmoved,” and “lords and owners of their faces”: there is an implied discrepancy between appearance and action here. Similarly, while the delicacy of the flower quatrain shifts the register away from the stern social dimension, and while an innocent flower is said to have its infection thrust upon it unlike in the deeds-based moral space of human free will, the rapid degeneration demonstrated by “flow’r,” “base,” “infection” (line 11) “basest” (12), “sourest” (13), “fester,” “smell,” “worse,” and “weeds” (14) makes the qualification of “to temptation slow” (4) seem disbelieved even as it is uttered.

We must now look closely at the couplet (C), since it, and uniquely so among these sonnets, splits itself thematically as the sonnet itself does. The first couplet line resolves Q1 and Q2 (the description of the, until this point in the sonnet, irreproachable person) while the second half of the couplet does the same with Q3 (the innocent flower, now lily (a famous symbol of purity), that might meet with infection). Yet there is an overlap in that “sweet,” which has only been applied to the flower, now describes a thing that can do (i.e. a person), that has a will and the power of action (“deeds”), and therefore, the power to hurt described in the first line. Also, superlatives appear for the first time in “sweetest” and “sourest,” and while the couplet at first appears to split its two lines into individual commentaries on the two sections of the poem, the superlatives join the couplet into a unit analogy: as sweetest turns sourest by deeds, so do lilies that fester smell worse than weeds (not festered lilies, but lilies that almost seem to have chosen to fester). We can only conclude that the unspecified, undone “shown” thing in line 2 has been done.

Historically, this sonnet was interpreted as a detached observation on human nature, but it is clearly, and in the context of the surrounding sonnets, a direct address to the young man, who has done something very wrong to the speaker—the power to hurt finds its object in the sonnet speaker himself. In this light, the sonnet is a demanding admonishment, offering an image of someone the young man could have been if he had chosen, and even offering the flower as an exemplary image of innocence and beauty, only to sabotage any praise the sonnet might have given by way of the many, tiny, intricate logical explosions within the sonnet structure that destroy all tribute in the way a building is brought down in demolition. So, on the surface, though the speaker seems to offer a moral description that could apply to anyone, he intends his message for only one person’s eyes. Yet, touchingly, the speaker appears unable to express his hurt or anger directly; he cannot even bring himself into the frame with “I” or the young man with “you”—intimacy seems dead in the universe of this sonnet. Instead, the speaker expresses his disappointment in generalities, and so a despairing impotence pervades the poem, and the true import only shimmers and shivers among the play of words and meanings, and defines itself in the backwards revising gaze of the couplet. We confirm the final sense of the poem’s meaning in sonnet 95, where the unnamed “deeds” of 94 erupt as “vices” and “sins,” and where “evil” resonates phonemically throughout, as though the frustration of being unable to say how the speaker truly feels in the poem in question has finally surged forth into 95.

That was so cool, don't you simply just have to read the first one? I won't be mad if you don't....