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

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Second Obstruction

This is a house on Beall's Lane in Frostburg, Maryland. It's a few doors down from Kim's mom's house and it's always for sale (my guess is that the utilities are so expensive that most people in the area don't have jobs that pay enough to maintain it). The house is wood, has two big porches, a great sunroom, and all of the original woodwork throughout the house appears to be intact. It also has a beautiful yard and nice outbuildings. One night, when Kim and I were just beginning to spend time together, we laid down under the Black Walnut tree in the backyard and talked. This was the night that Kim told me about having to have an operation for scoliosis when she was in the 8th grade.

When I visited Frostburg over the holidays, I parked in front of the house and the first thing I did when I got out was take this picture.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The First Obstruction

In DC a few months ago, at a Gay Owned hamburger joint where the bill was delivered in a used woman's' shoe, Kim thwarted my efforts to channel William Eggleston:

Monday, January 23, 2006

Superstars Clowning and Krumping

Kim and I watched David LaChapelle's documentary Rize last night. For those who haven't seen or heard of it, Rize it is concerned with Clowning and Krumping- two types of dancing borne out of South Central Los Angeles, and specifically a response by one dancer (Tommy the Clown) to the Rodney King riots of 1992.

If you saw any of the previews, or read the article in the New York Times Magazine last summer, you get the idea of what the documentary is all about: Kids with nothing to look forward to, opting to dance at birthday parties, and competitions in lieu of joining one of the ubiquitous gangs in the area. The reality of premature and violent death is so prevalent in these kids' world that a local strip mall houses Payless Caskets- a cut-rate casket showroom with the signage of a dollar store. The owner glibly tells one of the kids to make sure that his parents know where Payless Caskets is located in case/when they need a coffin for their son. In spite, or maybe as a result of such palpable death, the kids create their own alternate existence through their dancing. They do this dancing daily, and it evolves at a such a rapid pace that the dancers claim to be able to detect if someone hasn't danced for even one day.

The dancing is nothing less than wild. With their rapid-fire-twitching-hips, convulsing torsos, flailing arms, these kids look as though they could be handling serpents and drinking strychnine in some LA shrine- one tucked into a sprawling and unmistakably, LA spillway . LaChapelle does these kids a favor and makes them super-saturated superstars of their small, dangerous world.

LaChapelle asserts the dances' influences by including archived footage from the two riots that have come to define life in South Central LA (Watts Riots of '65 and the King Riots of '92), as well as images of African dancers preparing for, and participating in traditional dance ceremonies. These ceremonies show the African dancers moving in ways not dissimilar to the kids in LA. I can imagine that his inclusion of the images from Africa caused consternation for some - LaChapelle does not frame the inclusion of the images with dialogue from an anthropologist, or other specialist, but instead goes out on a limb and assumes that in 2005 we, as a "First World" culture, fat from consuming thousands of sophisticated images daily, can make the leap with him and understand how kids could go from being exposed to African heritage, to assimilating aspects of that culture into their own. I think this is the subtle grace of the film- we don't need a specialist to tell us that people learn from seeing. Everyone, and everything we know is living proof that we are a sum of our parts. We are mash-ups of every image, sound, taste, and touch that we consume.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Life Without a Tail

It has been over 10 months since I buried Annabelle. Increasingly, what I miss is seeing her tail - from above- wag as we walked down the sidewalk. We walked three times a day- she'd sniff the traces of the other neighborhood beasts, and I'd sniff too. I'd playfully squeeze the skin above her back hips- signaling that I wanted to play- and she'd run ahead a bit, benignly throwing her head back and acting as though she wanted to nip my fingers. On Grove Avenue, she got into the habit of running the last half block of our walk. She'd sprint ahead of me - stopping a house before ours- and look back to make sure I was following and that it was okay for her to continue. And when she saw that I was, and that she could, she'd dart the rest of the way, bound up the steps, turn around, and wait for me to open the door. How automatic it was that I pet her jowls, and called her "the nose" as I ascended the stairs, thinking about the day that lay ahead of me.

Walking is lonely (and quiet) these days. Kim, Todd, and I walk together- but it's different. I talked and listened to Annabelle in ways that I've never done with anyone else.

Friday, January 20, 2006

New Direction

I routinely sift through my negatives, and am pleasantly surprised by recurring themes that I'm not fully aware of. By the looks of it, I can't seem to stop taking pictures of women when they are not looking at me.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Memorials of Hair

When I was first in college and had a lot of time (and a lot of hair), I used to take the hair out of my hairbrush and make bracelets for my friends. I don't have that kind of time, (or hair) these days, but memorial hair wreaths and jewelry pops up in my mind or in conversation with a pretty regular frequency. It's pretty interesting and this quote makes it clear why I'm writing this:

Hair was valued for sentimental reasons at a time when there were no photographs. In lieu of photographs, young girls kept scrapbooks of their schoolmate's hair, usually with a name and verse to go with it identifying whose hair it was.
Here's a little bit of the history of made-with-hair mourning jewelry from www.victorianhairartists.com :

Jewelry made with hair is dated back to at least the 1600's, when hair bracelets were given as love tokens by both men and women. During this time one was likely to find the hair placed under glass and used as a background for initials or some other personal symbol to the wearer. Hair jewelry stayed popular until the late 1800's. Many people today believe that hair jewelry was made only for the purpose of remembering a deceased loved one. While that was one function of hair jewelry, many pieces were also made for sentimental reasons, as tokens of affection.

Queen Victoria gave pieces of jewelry made from her hair as gifts, many of these pieces were given to her children and grandchildren. Napoleon wore his watch on a chain made from the hair of his wife, Empress, Marie Louise.

There is even a museum and I bet it's worth checking out. It's in Missouri:
Leila Cohoon 's Hair Museum 1333 South Noland Road Independence, MO 64055
(816) 833-2955

I once went to the Polka Hall of Fame in Cleveland- it was great.