All posts by basilmarinerchase

Silent All These Years — The Accounting of a Woman

by Vanessa Tottle

She had a personality once. It cost her dearly because it didn’t include baking cookies. It cost her dearly because it didn’t include choosing drapery.

It included being a lawyer, going undercover to investigate racial integration in schools, offering legal aid to those who couldn’t afford it, having a career.

And the 1990s asked us how we could trust her if she wasn’t baking cookies.

So she baked you some fucking cookies in between declaring my rights are human rights, and getting health insurance for 11 million previously uninsured children through S-CHIP.

You don’t remember S-CHIP. You aren’t a child who lived because of it, or who avoided pain because of it. You proclaim her 1990s health care drive a failure.

You don’t remember when women’s rights weren’t human rights, or live where they still aren’t, or suffer because they closed your Planned Parenthood down. You proclaim Hillary Clinton a failure.

Then there are those who need her. There are the marginalized communities who supported her. Latinx voters like myself. Women voters like myself. And Black voters. And LGBTQ voters. And more. We all asked for your help. We all asked for your vote.

Did you give it?

She is the victim of a philandering husband, yet Bill is her fault. From the Right, she couldn’t satisfy him. From the Left, she couldn’t keep him leashed. Why didn’t she divorce him, you ask. Your news feed answers with Angelina Jolie and Amber Heard and Gwyneth Paltrow, a parade of men’s voices screaming hate and vitriol and threats for the simple act of leaving their men.

Now you tell her she has no personality, she’s cold, she can’t be trusted.

Let me tell you something: I have no personality. I am cold. I cannot be trusted.

When I was the best student in class and I was told my grade would be held down unless I sucked my professor’s dick, I took the lesser grade and brought it up to the administration. He kept his job. Nothing changed, except I lost a piece of what makes me a person.

When my passport was held at bay in a foreign country unless I slept with my host, I became warm and gracious and cloying, but that was all a lie. Inside, I was as cold as I have ever been. He didn’t get a thing, but I left behind the warmth of trust.

When I’ve been at a bar, and I’ve lied that I have a boyfriend, or that I’m married, or that I have an STD, or I spilled a hot toddy to get a hand off my arm but called it an accident, I couldn’t be trusted. There are a hundred environments where a woman is prepared to be untrustworthy just to survive, just to be listened to, just to be legitimate.

You contemplated your vote and saw that she has no personality, that she’s cold, that she can’t be trusted.

If your career is under threat, your goals are under threat, your legitimacy is under threat, you look back across your life and see the history that combination covers, the evolution from there to here of self-protection: the loss of personality, of warmth, of trust.

Many turn to us and tell us the act of voting for Hillary Clinton proved how little we know. But we look upon our experiences, and the pieces of us those experiences have wrought: the personality, and warmth, and trust it’s cost.

We wonder what a privilege it is to not recognize these losses in another because you have never lost them. You think these are simply traits of a woman’s personality, instead of badges women earn through time. They are marks of survival. They are deep scars. They are how I understood a warrior who held onto herself through it all; they are how you understood a whore, a nasty woman, a lack of character.

I saw a woman who offered me freedom from the scars I earn; you chanted, “Lock her up.”

The costs for a woman’s place at the table vary, but those costs are asked of us everywhere.

We finally saw a woman who could become president. She had paid some of these costs and refused to pay others, and she threatened to rewrite all of this ugly accounting that asks women to pay in the currency of our personalities, and warmth, and trust.

Your response was to tell us she lacked personality, and warmth, and trust.

How do we reply to you? With anger, with laughter, with tears? Or with a straight face because that is the practice this accounting asks of us? With ledgers in our eyes? With all the numbers in the red that we’ve accrued? With a history of costs and a map of the pieces left behind?

She just wasn’t trustworthy, you’ll explain. In the back of your mind, you’ll wonder why I don’t smile more. Shall I for you, after what you’ve done?

Yes. I think I’ll bare these teeth at last.

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Dear Men: This is How Trump and Sexual Abusers Weaponize Our Silence

Donald Trump, Billy Bush, Arianne Zucker

by Gabriel Valdez

I see a lot of people wondering why Donald Trump bragging about groping women is the instance that breaks his presidential campaign. Republicans already knew who he was. The recording of Trump bragging to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women is just as violent and misogynist as other things he’s said. So why are Conservatives only backing away from him now? Why not earlier?

A few weeks ago, before the first presidential debate, I was incredibly apprehensive about how it would go. I wrote this to a friend:

“I think Clinton may just win not because she acts human or suddenly becomes likeable to the masses, but because America will be deeply uncomfortable with a man beating up on a woman in that way…and not because America objects to the idea, but because America objects to acknowledging that it accepts the idea.”

Now, I already think Clinton acts human and is likeable, but I don’t think America perceives her that way. More to the point, the U.S….and much more to the point, men are too comfortable with the idea of other men boasting about assault.

The Republican party, the middle independents, the evangelical Right…they already knew who Trump was. This isn’t the objection of a Right wing that can’t accept what Trump said. This is the objection of a Right wing that doesn’t want to acknowledge how much it accepts every day what Trump said. Its Achilles heel is being forced to look in a mirror in front of the voting public.

But that’s how this operates. Billy Bush nervously laughed and added another few jokes for Trump to guffaw at. If Billy Bush had gotten off that bus with Trump and warned actress Arianne Zucker that Trump was contemplating sexually assaulting her, and done so in front of Trump, for all of his braggadocio, Trump might’ve thought twice the next time.

And if other men, over the years, had done that as a regular habit, for all his sociopathy and means, even Trump would have considered the environment hostile toward his groping and the multiple sexual assaults of which he’s been accused. It might not have changed who Trump was, but it might’ve changed the environment enough so that he didn’t feel he had others’ tacit approval when assaulting women. Maybe that means fewer women would have been assaulted.

But Billy Bush didn’t do those things because he doesn’t object to the idea or the act. He objects to acknowledging that he accepts the idea or the act. And if no one forces him to acknowledge that he accepts it, then he’s more comfortable endorsing it, and Trump and all the other sexually violent men who feel they are endorsed by the Billy Bushes of the world go on assaulting, knowing that they are protected by others being much more comfortable with endorsement than confrontation.

This thought has already been said elsewhere, but don’t be thankful you’re not Trump. Think of the times that you paused and chuckled nervously and gave tacit endorsement to someone who is like Trump. Because if you’re a man in the United States, there have been times when you’ve been Billy Bush. That’s because male society teaches us from youth to be quiet in those circumstances, to think of it simply as “the way men talk.”

We’ve all had moments in our lives when we’ve been quiet, or laughed, and not stood up. I’ve done it. Every man has done it at some point. Don’t excuse it and don’t say you haven’t, because you have. Look at that as a failure in your life. Don’t excuse it. Don’t say, “Well, I was younger.”

Look at that as a time when you did not rise to the occasion, when you justified in your own head being a coward because it was more comfortable. That’s how I look at those moments in myself. It’s all right to have failed. It’s not all right to keep failing, and as men, on the whole, we keep failing spectacularly.

We cannot teach others that, “No, I never failed in that way,” because that is just passing on the same endorsement. That is just teaching other men how to justify silence within their own minds. We cannot teach, “Here’s how I can still excuse the moments I chose to be silent in the past.” We can’t always have a reason why we didn’t stand up. We can’t always say, “Well, I didn’t know better.” Because it doesn’t change the fact that we know better now and that we can teach out of our mistakes rather than excusing them.

I’m a man. That means there are points in my past where I should have said something, but didn’t. Yes, I was young. That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t change the fact that I was a coward and I failed.

As men, we have to teach out of ourselves, out of our mistakes. We cannot keep translating to other men that we are incapable of mistakes because that is what they will learn, too, that is what we will endorse in them, and that makes silence in the face of those like Trump easy.

There were times in my life when I was a coward and failed. There were times in your life when you were a coward and failed. Acknowledge it, admit it, and recognize the high cost that this kind of failure can have. Admit to other men how painful that failure can be, so they will know not to sit there and nervously chuckle, and tacitly endorse because it feels safe.

Trump isn’t the scariest part of this. The scariest part of this is how many men will look at Billy Bush’s position in this and feel sorry for him, because they’ve been him and they feel sorry for themselves because they’ve never figured out how to stop being him.

If we as men constantly justify and excuse the position he took, rather than looking at it and calling it a failure, then we excuse those moments when we’ve endorsed the violent through our silence, and we teach other men that it is excusable and to keep on doing it.

There are times in our lives when we were cowards and we failed in this exact situation. That is what being a man is. It is still cowardly and it is still a failure if we cannot admit that, if all we can do is justify our past mistakes. If we can’t acknowledge our own silences, our own nervous laughs, our own failures, then we are not the generation with whom it stops, we are not the generation that truly objects to the social endorsement of sexual assault. If we can’t admit our own failures, we are just translating to the next generation of men the best practices to avoid acknowledging that they accept the idea, too.

I am a man, and because of that, there have been moments in my life when I was a coward and I failed. Comments like Trump’s aren’t unique. We’ve all heard them, and we’ve all had moments when we were silent before them, or nervously laughed before them, or even added to them with the thought that others might accept us better. And with our silences, the Trumps of the world have all the permission they need to injure.

We might think our silences were fleeting, our endorsements at most implied, but the injuries they fuel last a lifetime. As men, we need to take ownership of our failures, individually and as a whole. Without doing so, we’re just side-stepping the problem and pretending we’re solving it better than we are. Doing better starts with admitting to ourselves when we have contributed to doing worse. Period.

The 10 Best Albums of 2016 (So Far)

by Gabriel Valdez

It’s been a strange year for music, with the loss of legends and one essentially recording his own epitaph. Yet it’s also been a year of gifts – of rollicking country and an unexpected comeback from a band many had given up on, of Mayan hip-hop and gothic folk songs. My number one album of the year (so far) is from a woman whose heartbreaking work I feel stands at the juncture of Nirvana and Neutral Milk Hotel.

So let’s dive in:

10. Gag Order – Vainhein

Vainhein (roughly translating to “heinous vanity”) started off in the San Francisco drag scene as a lip-sync performer. In the last five years, he’s moved into producing original music as Vainhein (or Vain Hein). There’s not a lot out there, but you can listen to the debut album Gag Order on the Bandcamp page.

9. Collect – 18+

18+ maintained near-total anonymity for the first three years of the band’s existence. They’re difficult to describe – a band that takes the way love and relationships are portrayed in modern music and throws the formula out. They seduce in a manner that blends carelessness with deep feeling, through music that’s deconstructed to impressionism almost to the point of falling apart before it finds its way back.

8. Pawn Shop – Brothers Osborne

Yes, this is one of the most eclectic lists I’ve ever put together. It’s a testament to just how diverse 2016’s been in music. Brothers Osborne can push out anthemic country songs at the drop of a hat, but the best part of Pawn Shop is how often they drop the love song pretense on which country too often depends. The album is wickedly varied, stopping to comically sing the praises of the pawn shop or break down into a slow one-part bayou, one-part honky-tonk testament to rum. This is the kind of country I almost never go for, but this album’s just too good.

7. Freetown Sound – Blood Orange

Blood Orange has been carrying Prince’s musical torch for a few years now, so in the year when Prince died, it’s reassuring that Dev Hynes’s band continues to explore a similarly easygoing yet soul-baring musicality. Blood Orange has never found the kind of breakout hits that Prince did – they relent when it comes to that extra edge, that musical and social insistence that Prince brought – but that’s not exactly what Blood Orange is. They slant toward chilled out.

6. Strangers – Marissa Nadler

Strangers is a step back for Marissa Nadler, but a step back for the woman is still better than the vast majority of other music that’s out there. Her July was my choice for Album of the Year in 2014. It was so patiently stirring, a masterpiece of lamenting, gothic folk. Her music sounds like a message from another time, like black-and-white footage of old funeral processions. There’s sadness and importance, even celebration, but it all feels so beautifully removed, like watching (as in her 2014 music video “Dead City Emily”) the silhouettes of lovers dance out-of-focus from behind smudged, scratched glass. It’s always someone else’s sadness, someone else’s lament, and there’s a profound sorrow in not being able to share those pains.

Her music often evokes the frustration of empathy, of witnessing pain in another yet falling short of being able to truly understand and experience it, to heal it. It’s a rare evocation in any form of art: to have your empathy evoked and stilled, to witness yet be frozen, to stand on the shoulder of that passing funeral and yet not know it. The tragedy of people passing in and out of our lives is the tragedy of their moments – the experiences that let us step outside ourselves and into the connection of loving others – traveling further and further away. Yet there’s something to that disconnection that only makes us strain all the harder to step outside ourselves again and again. Nadler’s songs and albums and career are almanacs of connections made and treasured and lost, and so her music rests right against the bones like only nostalgia and closure can.

5. Blackstar – David Bowie

I’m weird when it comes to Bowie. My favorite period rests in his late 90s/early 00s experimentation combining industrial and jazz. Not all of it worked – in fact, some of it was downright bad – but it was supremely different to anything I’d heard before. Bowie’s Blackstar will always be remembered most for how it’s written to anticipate and guide Bowie through a death he knew was coming fast.

Blackstar picks up so many musical threads throughout Bowie’s career, so many stylistic endings left unfinished, yet among those endings, he also starts new ones. He seeks to process what’s come before, to conclude much of it, yes – but he doesn’t end there. He also pushes forward into new realms, starts new musical ideas he knows he’ll never finish. This is the way to go, he seems to say in Blackstar, by saying goodbye and wrapping things up not to conclude this life, but so he can say a fresh hello to whatever life is next.

4. A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

Finally. Only the second album Radiohead’s released in nine years shows the time that went into it. For many, this is the first time Radiohead’s broken new ground in those nine years – while 2011’s The King of Limbs was good, it didn’t convey Radiohead’s irrepressible ambition. Maybe they fell off, we thought. Then five years passed. Maybe they disappeared. Then their site went offline. Their social media presence was pulled. Maybe that’s it, we thought. Just like that. And then A Moon Shaped Pool dropped, this whole new challenging, chaotic map of dreamlike and nightmarish places to tour.

3. Tributo a Los 20 Nawales – Balam Ajpu

This is a tribute to the 20 spirits that represent each day on the Mayan calendar. Balam Ajpu is a Guatemalan rap group that’s part of a growing movement of Mayan-language hip-hop. The verses on their album alternate between the Mayan dialect Tz’utujil and Spanish. In Guatemala, 60% of the population is Mayan, yet the country is rarely represented this way – both domestically and abroad. Hip-hop has been one way for the Mayan population to coalesce around surviving elements of Mayan culture.

Balam Ajpu combines hip-hop with a stunning number of styles and instruments. Salsa, reggae, and cumbia are all folded into the songs. The array of musical instruments and the talent behind them here is ridiculous. Guitar, cello, pan pipes, a host of drums, xylophone, and sounds from nature all underlie a patient album about spirituality and social change.

2. Not to Disappear – Daughter

Remember a moment when you failed to cope with the damn unfairness of it all. Now trap it in amber. That feeling of crashing against the shore, when you could barely hold your head up because the lump in your throat was so overwhelming. When you were numb and angry and your tears were the best act of vengeance you had against the universe. When your teeth grit and your lips quivered and your breath caught. When you sobbed and the time of day didn’t seem to matter. Daughter makes music of the moments trapped before catharsis. Thank God, because those moments could use some understanding of their own.

1. Puberty 2 – Mitski

She destroyed me in two-and-a-half minutes. Took me apart suddenly weeping. That was on track four, “Fireworks.” Then she did it again two songs later with “I Bet on Losing Dogs.” If it doesn’t share the same sound as Nirvana’s most plaintive moments, it shares the same character.

“I bet on losing dogs
I know they’re losing and I’ll pay for my place
By the ring
Where I’ll be looking in their eyes when they’re down
I’ll be there on their side
I’m losing by their side.”

Sometimes, it can be easy to feel like one of those losing dogs, still running because it’s what we know, because it’s the process – through repetition – for which we begin to believe we’ve been made. It can be the role we’ve been taught to play in relation to those around us, or the role we’ve been taught by a specific person. It can be hard to break out of being a losing dog, and to break out of the habit of betting on them. Is it an act of care to do so? Is it enabling? Can you create of someone else a losing dog?

These aren’t the questions directly posed to us, because Mitski isn’t a philosopher on her tracks. She’s the character, inhabiting every moment, and we witness every mistake, every want and need, every tiny victory and major defeat. Music often tells stories about experiences viewed through lenses, non-specifically emotive enough to be universal. That’s not what Mitski gives us. Her emotions are hers, her stories are deeply personal. It’s in the personal loss, in the impacts of defeat, in the hardening of herself to the world around, that we find connection. Her struggle to remain soft and loving despite it all is our struggle. Songs here aren’t wasted, they aren’t filled out any longer than is needed. This is an album of bare mental, emotional, and sometimes physical survival. It’s heartbreak as a way of practicing for mortality, and the resistance to heartbreak as a way of denying our mortality, the way each wears us down and builds us.

Marissa Nadler (whose Strangers I highlight above) is how I found out about Mitski. Nadler highlighted her favorite Mitski lyrics in article for The Talkhouse. This turned out to be from “Fireworks,” a melancholic take on…what, exactly? One’s own journey toward entropy? The desensitization of loss, both inside and outside oneself? That desensitization itself is a loss one must desensitize to? A lover’s simultaneous capability for support and inadequacy to heal?

“One morning this sadness will fossilize
And I will forget how to cry
I’ll keep going to work and he won’t see a change
Save perhaps a slight gray in my eye.

I will go jogging routinely
Calmly and rhythmically run
And when I find that a knife sticking out of my side
I’ll pull it out without questioning why.

And then one warm summer night
I’ll hear fireworks outside
And I’ll listen to the memories as they cry, cry, cry.

I will be married to silence
The gentleman won’t say a word
But you know, oh you know in the quiet he holds
Runs a river that’ll never find home.

And then one warm summer night
I’ll hear fireworks outside
And I’ll listen to the memories as they cry, cry, cry.”

Mitski Miyawaki sings about surviving through entropy, about becoming a bastion and falling apart, about betting on losing dogs, about being one. I once was told that Led Zeppelin didn’t make songs, they made musical monuments. Mitski does, too…but the focus is anxiety, using, being used, giving in, being unapologetic, forgetting how to apologize to yourself, settling on how you should be treated, remembering how to treat yourself. Here are monuments to the cycle of falling apart and constructing oneself never to fall apart again, and falling apart anew, and constructing anew, ad nauseum. It stops at some point, right? The album’s called Puberty 2, and it’s not named that because she recorded a Puberty 1.

Feature image comes from Impose Magazine.

“Sicario” — The Best Film of 2015

by Gabriel Valdez

“Sicario” is a masterpiece of the inevitable, of the unavoidable, of the moment you know you’re leading to your entire life and dread facing, because you know you’ll be less coming away from it. And yet everyone involved must, because they are who they are.

The architecture of this is brilliant:

The visuals frame the dust hanging in the midday sun, the evening clouds, the ground underneath your feet, all as unfeeling and silent witnesses to what takes place before them. The textures of these interstitial moments are felt and given room to breathe even as the action takes place before them. It makes the story smaller, and in feeling smaller it becomes more personal. This is no epic. This is the ruination of a week in front of our eyes.

Lives are cast asunder. The music sometimes hunts you. You can hear it lurking around the bend. Voices yearn at something beautiful. The strings plunge deeper than you thought they could. The horns fret and cackle amongst themselves. The music is a vulture. The music is the sand, shifting yet immutable. The music is your thirst, some nostalgia for an ideal of a world that requires your willing ignorance to believe in. There’s a string you can cling to, high and disappearing.

We live our lives discovering who we are and why we are that way, of learning ourselves better than we did the day or week or month before. Of putting one foot in front of the other. Our hearts will break and heal, and break and heal, but they are rarely stolen out from our chests in ways that force us to relinquish our Who and our Why. “Sicario” takes that away. “Sicario” plunges a hand into one woman’s chest over the course of a film and takes away who she is, why she is.

“Sicario” is the husking of people, in a broad sense through the political games of the Drug War, and in a specific sense in the decimation of how one woman’s shaped herself over the course of her lifetime.

“Sicario” is conscious of this, and so it gives you breaks to breathe. Yet the horror is in the breathing, in those moments in between. It is a film of anticipations, of hearing the hunt around the bend. You look around and you see the dust in the air, the clouds in the sky, the ground beneath your feet. It makes your story smaller, it makes it more personal. It makes you wish you didn’t have that chance to breathe and recognize these things.

“Sicario” is a vulture. It picks the bones of people clean. It takes the best of us and shows her to be useless in the face of an unfeeling system that has its own agenda. It is a masterpiece of meeting your fate, and having no self left into which you can recede.

Sicario poster

Images are from Space and Jo Blo.

“Girlhood” — Best Films of 2015, Runner-Up

by Gabriel Valdez

“Girlhood” opens with a football game. Despite being a French-language film, it’s American football, not soccer. Both teams are composed entirely of women. It makes no sense within the context of the film’s story. It doesn’t seem that a disadvantaged school in France would feature a women’s football program. What’s really going on?

“Girlhood” doesn’t care about your expectations, that’s what’s going on. The film, about four young women growing up, cares about its characters and it will fiercely defend them. In a movie that feels as remarkably real as this, if a football game suddenly needs to happen, or the lights go out upon a first kiss, it doesn’t matter that it’s not real. It’s real to the characters. What’s remarkable about “Girlhood” is how protective director Celine Sciamma is of their experiences.

Everything in “Girlhood” is real, until a particular feeling requires that it stop being real. What else is more accurate to the world of a child? These moments may only happen a handful of times in “Girlhood,” and they are usually understated, but they are special.

“Girlhood” is a film about safe harbor – the lack of it at home, the ways we learn to stand up for ourselves and others, the moments we step into our lives utterly alone and scared because of it, how we learn to create our own safety amid the worst of life. It presents moments where fantasy doesn’t always take place, but characters somehow always strive for fantastic ideals anyway. Sometimes they do so blindly.

After that football game, we see the group of high school-aged women walk home at night. They split into groups, fewer and fewer as they each get closer to home. Bands of men wait for them, to leer, to harass. At first, the women talk so much you can’t make out a word…but when they near the men, they all fall silent. It seems a simple thing, but Sciamma handles it with a deft hand. It’s the silence and its nature that feel overwhelming. In the face of it, hearing so much you can’t keep track becomes a comfort.

The strength of “Girlhood” is that it’s a coming-of-age film that feels experiential. It puts you in every moment, lets you inhabit it alongside its characters. The moments in between major events mean as much as the moments when something crucial is happening; they reveal how a character understands and fits into her world.

The French title of “Girlhood” is more accurately translated as “band of girls.” It may’ve been translated the way it is to take advantage of the similarity to last year’s critical favorite “Boyhood.”

I had a problem with “Boyhood” that Alessia Palanti stated better than I knew how. She wrote in her review, “After so many years the final result is dotted with formulaic plot points, cliches, a number of feel-good heteronormative Americana stereotypes, and an uninteresting family…I can see why it would capture an audience’s attention, and how its middle class, familiar, life scenarios could forge mutual understanding between film and viewer. But is this what boyhood really is? And if so, should we really be so celebratory?”

The problem with “Boyhood” wasn’t just cultural. It was the nature of it. It was nostalgic, not experiential. It didn’t feel like life as it was lived, but rather life as it was remembered. “Girlhood” feels like life as it’s lived, and it mixes in the greater fears and hopes of everyday living because of it. This is my runner-up for film of the year.

Girlhood poster

Images are from Variety and PSU.

 

“Clouds of Sils Maria” — Best Films of 2015

by Gabriel Valdez

“Clouds of Sils Maria” feels like a captivating play, which is appropriate because it’s about aging actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) taking on an incredibly challenging play. The role that introduced her to the world was the ingenue Sigrid, a young manipulator who sends an older woman reeling toward suicide.

Now, Maria returns to play the older woman, Helena. How does this fit into her life, with her own divorce, and the fresh death of the man who wrote the play and originally cast her? Her closest friend is her young assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart). They read the parts, discuss the play, hike the Alps.

“Clouds of Sils Maria” isn’t really a movie about what happens to its characters, it’s a movie about what’s thought by its characters as the world turns around them. It’s a movie about acting, aging, maturity and immaturity, layers of meta-commentary, the generational evolution of taste, the clash of perspectives that creates, the boundaries where socializing and social media meet. It’s a film of interplay between two people who love each other and work together and act together, and increasingly don’t know where those lines begin and end.

There’s a melancholy to the film, yet also a pleasure to its performance. It doesn’t uplift so much as it insists that life is a continued resurgence. It’s a chamber drama, but one of the best in recent years. In my book, Binoche gave the best performance of last year and Stewart wasn’t far behind.

There are some moods in which you don’t want to watch a think-piece, yet “Clouds of Sils Maria” has a natural quality that transcends this. It’s a complex film easily accessed, captivating in the same ways a play can be – it relies on its writing and acting, and doesn’t get in the way of those things. There’s a feeling of being in the theater while watching it, despite its number of locations and outdoor interludes. There’s a feeling that you should applaud in the end and step out into the warm night to compare it to other plays, to meet the actors backstage afterward and hear the particular foibles of the show that night.

In that way, “Clouds of Sils Maria” feels like a very private experience as a film. I wonder if I come back to watch another night, what inflection Binoche might do differently, what timing Stewart might adjust. It wouldn’t surprise me. Some films feel like you can leave their worlds and the characters will still exist without you. “Clouds of Sils Maria” feels like you can leave its world, and the actors will still be running their performances. It doesn’t make the film feel less real, it just makes you aware of all the levels on which it can be real. It’s a rare feeling that makes this a unique and special film.

Clouds of Sils Maria poster

Images are from The Amherst Student and IMDB.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” — Best Films of 2015

by Gabriel Valdez

What is there left to say about “Mad Max: Fury Road?” It’s arguably the greatest action film ever made. It’s thematically thick and boasts a nuanced story that unfolds its characters through action rather than dialogue. It doesn’t treat the viewer as stupid or needing explanation. It simply leaps into its world and expects you to keep up at its breakneck pace.

Because everyone else is going to talk about it in particular ways, and I’ve already discussed its feminism and how it uses choreography to create visual myth, I’m going to do something more esoteric. I’m going to tell you why the film closest to “Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the last you’d ever compare it to: John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

They’re both broadly sci-fi, but for all intents and purposes, they belong to completely different genres – “The Thing” is alien body horror. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is post-apocalyptic demolition derby. One takes place almost entirely in one location. The other never stops moving.

I compare the two because of the specificity in each film. Both enjoyed an overly long scripting process. “The Thing” was pushed back considerably. Because of this, director John Carpenter decided to take the time to plot out extra elements in the film. It meant small details that would’ve normally been overlooked instead got their own unspoken story lines. There’s a throwaway argument early in the film about who had keys to emergency blood transfusions. It might’ve served only as an opportunity for characters to turn on each other and cast suspicions. Carpenter noticed layers he could add to this. He added notes for each scene, including moments that hint the keys’ potential paths via subtle details in other scenes. It’s always backgrounded, and it’s unlikely you’ll notice on first viewing, but it gives you the sense there’s more going on in the world than just what’s happening in front of the camera.

For a film where the very question of who’s human and who’s a flesh-ripping alien creates the tension of the story, these extra details – even if we don’t consciously notice or connect them at first – serve to ground us in the film’s reality. There are stories happening that we only see pieces of, suggestions of. These elevate the horror of a film by letting our mind run wild with the possibilities. Instead of a routinely effective story, we’re offered a more complete glimpse into a nuanced horror world. That wouldn’t have been there without the delay that allowed Carpenter to keep on making notes, to add the details that make us feel his world’s rhythms.

George Miller effectively worked on and revamped the story and sequences of “Mad Max: Fury Road” for a decade. The stunts and shots were already mapped out in extreme detail by the time the stunt crew even started working on them. But this is detail and what I’m looking for is nuance. The film is filled with suggestions about when it might take place in the original “Mad Max” trilogy’s timeline. All the details disagree, adding even more fuel to the concept that we’re being told a myth that transcends time rather than a story that fits within it.

Character is realized through action, but the action is so detailed that it feels expressive in the way dance often is. I’ve long said the best fight scene should act like the best dialogue scene. Something should change for everyone within it and we should understand what that is. This is precisely what happens in a movie where action scenes almost never stop. Most action scenes have a few moving parts – that makes them simple and we’re left to rely on emotional investment to suspend our disbelief. “Mad Max: Fury Road” has that emotional investment, but it doesn’t waste it filling in cracks in its artistry. Instead, each sequence is detailed in ways that make us understand how dozens of moving parts interact together. That’s brave, and it’s the kind of madness earned through years of pre-planning.

To get even more tangential, developers have sometimes said that the holy grail of video game development would be a world that takes place at the level of detail our own does: a block of a real city, where real people make unpredictable decisions that are unique to their own complex motivations, and even those motivations evolve. Worlds can be built in grand scopes, but the way they translate to audiences is via details so minor you don’t always register them in a conscious way. This is the true measure of world-building. This is what films like “The Thing” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” do. They marry genres built for grand scale to the finest detail imaginable on a cinematic level. That’s how you transcend genre, by delivering a world so nuanced, it feels like it could live without the artist’s hand.

Mad Max Fury Road poster

Images are from Nerdist and Coming Soon.