Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In Memory of Dawn Wiener

I watched Todd Solondz's (does anyone know how to pronounce his name? I think it's sa-lanz (soft "a", long "a" and a soft 'z") film Palindromes last night. I had read and heard enough about the film to know that he employed multiple actresses for the main character (Aviva), and from what friends who had seen the movie within the past two weeks had said, I knew the basic premise. Aviva is a young Jewish girl -12ish- who desperately wants to become pregnant in order to love someone unconditionally. In her premature pursuit of this goal, she gets mixed up in sex with a family friend (Judah), and man in his late 30's, early 40's (Earl).

I approached this movie wary of Solondz's slap-in-the-face preoccupation with all things squeamish, and wanted to see this movie because:
1. I'm interested in the way that he is approaching storytelling in his most recent movies (Storytelling is, incidentally the name of his film that preceded Palindromes).
2. I find watching films on a television severely disappointing but figured there was probably enough for me to think about (around) this film that watching it on one would not put me to sleep.
3. I love palindromes, my favorite being "Go hang a salami I'm a lasagna hog".
4. I love to watch a film after people tell me about it- I love to see what they've seen, knowing what they reacted positively and negatively to. I also like watch a film that other's have described to me and note what they opted to edit out of their review. I find this instructional of the friend.
5. Welcome To The Dollhouse is an amazing movie.

With those five reasons in mind, I was pretty disappointed with the content but not the form of the film. Solondz's choice of subject matter- abortion, child sexuality, pedophilia, fundamentalist liberalism and Christianity- makes for an explosive and challenging movie. And although I respect and admire his ability to challenge and frustrate viewers (talk about "bravery"- in a battle between Solondz and Ang Lee, Lee's big budget butt would be whooped) but Solondz's machinations have become cliche, and his use of multiple actors was lost within the conceptual confusion that resulted from his trying to fuse so many incendiary topics into one film.

However -and much to Solondz's credit- it is no small feat to ask your viewer to accept the main character of a film to be played by multiple actors throughout a film and he deals with this well. He broke the movie up into chapters causing the viewer, after a few of them, to expect that with each new chapter we get a new actor. This reminded me of Lars Von Trier's Dogville. Dogville, also divided into chapters, took a different path with Von Trier laying out precisely what would be coming up in the next chapter in order to undermine the viewers tendency to get lost in the tropes of film. Both Palindromes and Dogville, share an affinity to Fellini's 81/2 by addressing the film within the film(is "meta-film" a word?). I find this exciting- most filmmakers can't make me suspend my judgment long enough that I simply watch their film- and despite the shortcomings of the subject matter the activity of watching Palindromes was worth the hour and a half of my time.

Two things were left out of my friends' reviews that I think are essential to the film: One being that the movie begins with the words "In Memory of Dawn Wiener". Dawn is the hapless geek protagonist of Solondz's film Welcome to the Dollhouse, and her death casts a shadow over the entirety of Plaindromes. Dawn's death is also, by and large, the reason that Aviva wants so badly to be pregnant. So again, the layers of meta-film build...and makes me think of years ago when I would read novels by Tom Robbins and be so happy to be back in the presence of an author who, as he guided me with his words, always made it plain that what he was doing was writing.

Second (and this is it for writing about this movie), my reviewing friends made no mention of Solondz's characterization of the Jewish men in the film. The characters are, in essence, character-less, and all but the abortionst are geeky, unattractive, and spineless. The ultimate example is Aviva's father who sits by dumbly and allows his wife to force their daughter to have an abortion (all the while the look on his face making you realize how easy it is to destroy a person's life). I trust that this was intentional on Solondz's part. If nothing else, he does move forward with great intention. What it means? I'm really not sure.

Interview with Solondz

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