Thursday, March 29, 2012

Into the Canon: 'Mulholland Dr.'

Films mean something unique and personal, yet the experience of them is among the most shared thing in our culture. Recognizing this seeming paradox, I'm attempting a new series called "Into the Canon," where I share the personal meanings behind my favorite movies. As many of my friends know, I have an ever-changing "Personal Canon" of films that mean something to me. In talking with them about how we define "best" and "favorite" movies, how we determine which ones "mean the most," I figured the only way to do that was to write about it. Only then can I really start to decipher why I love what I love.

 Geography gives way to other meanings

I. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

It may have been freshman year of college. It may have been earlier.

I can't remember when I happened upon David Lynch for the first time, but when I did it was like someone lit a fire inside me. Mulholland Dr. was the first Lynch film I saw, which in some ways seems completely backward to me now, as it's probably the most fluid and beautiful expression of his navigation of what dreams mean.

The first time I saw it, I did not understand it. But much as the characters repeat "This is the girl" over and over, I knew one thing -- This is the film.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hungry, Hungry Allegory - 'The Hunger Games'

Watching The Hunger Games, it is almost odd to consider that it was a novel first. Its very conceit is so cinematic, staged as a critique of reality television, violent entertainment, and ideological uses of the media. It's the dark cousin of The Truman Show. More than rats in a maze though, its earnest teenage principals are caught in an act of narrative creation--a decidedly genre-based one--that foregrounds its contrivances even as it embraces them.

But I'll get back to that.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Glee's" fatal move; A rant

If you know me, or have followed my writing with any kind of regularity, you know I love Glee. Its first season wasn't just quite unlike anything I'd seen on network television before, it was a challenge to everything else to combine genres, do away with traditional narrative conceptions about causality, and raise the level of self-awareness to dizzying heights.

I even stood by the show in its all-over-the-place second season, because I saw it as increasing, for lack of a better phrase, the sheer ridiculousness of the show. Characters changed personalities and motives multiple times across episodes, subplots entered and faded away, stereotypes existed and went away, and everything that happened seemed to be filmed like the single most important event in the show. It was nonstop excess, and boy, did I revel in it.

But the common through-line in Glee's spectatorship, or at least, my spectatorship of it, has been this level of self-awareness. Beneath the drama and the (many) tears, the show was funny in ways that the characters weren't always aware of. It stepped in and out of the stereotyped "high school" with reckless abandon.

So in the seconds before Glee went on a two-month hiatus, they committed one of the sloppiest, contrived things any show could do.

They ostensibly killed off Dianna Agron.

Because she was texting and driving.

Now, chances are she'll live (just knowing the show). But she won't be a cheerleader, and the show will probably cripple her or leave her in a weird coma, such that the kids all band together and dedicate their performance at Nationals to her -- and oh wait, she'll show up at the last second in New York City to sing a song that propels them to that long-sought National Championship!

Yeah. It'll probably go something like that.

The question I've been asking myself, over and over, since this episode two weeks ago is: Should I really be upset? After all, isn't this the kind of free-wheeling who-gives-a-rat's-ass attitude about narrative causality that Glee has used nonstop?

Well, no. It's not.

The difference is that it's both horribly contrived and utterly didactic. It's a sledgehammer of condescension.

Glee has kind of imposed on itself a responsibility to represent the ideology of progressive teenage politics.

This last episode, "On My Way," opened with the outing of super-closeted Dave Karofsky, whose tormented subplot has featured some of, I think, the show's best writing. Karofsky, humiliated, tries to kill himself and botches the attempt. We're okay so far. The guy's fragility has been building to this moment. It leads to lots of reconciliations between him and different characters, some nice speeches about how life is worth living.

I'm not complaining about this. I'm complaining that some thought went into writing this plot and making the catharsis work, and then the powers that be (Ryan Murphy) metaphorically put a shotgun to all of our heads in the form of a big freakin' truck that just happens to smash into Quinn Fabray's car.

Because she was texting and driving.

It's because of this soapbox mentality that Glee has gotten a lot less funny and more cringe-worthingly serious over the last eight or so episodes. That "Blame It On the Alcohol" episode, regardless of your feelings about the lesson it was preaching, was still silly. The characters spewed purple vomit on each other while performing Ke$ha, for crying out loud.

There's no comedy in Glee now. There's just contrived writing that's supposed to make us feel bad.

Santana doesn't want to come out? We'll just have someone create a situation that forces her to! Finn wants to join the military and be like his dad? Turns out his dead dad was a drug addict this whole time! But when it comes to Rachel and Finn's weird, rushed marriage, we'll just invent a bunch of silly things that get in the way of the ceremony happening. Like Quinn getting hit by a car.

Instead of poking fun at didactic teaching even as it slides its own morals, it has become that scene from Mean Girls--"Don't have sex, because you will get pregnant. And die." Except it's not satire anymore. With that car crash, Glee has gone into a realm of sheer exploitative drama I don't think it can ever recover from.