Tag Archives: Maddie Ziegler

Like There’s Nothing Going Wrong — “The Fallout”

The Oxford High School shooting was two months ago. Who remembers it? How much was it talked about in the week following, when the shooter’s parents went on the run and were caught days later? How little have we talked of it, thought of it, even remembered it since then? Four died, seven were injured, and hundreds were traumatized at the hands of a 15 year-old with a semi-automatic handgun.

How quickly does each new school shooting disappear in our minds? How normal has this become, that we nod our heads and move to another day? If there’s one thing “The Fallout” makes me feel, it’s a hollowing dissonance. I remember how gutted I felt when the Columbine High School massacre happened. I was a kid. It had never occurred to me something like that was possible. I remember how the last…dozen…two dozen…more…school shootings have made me feel as they roll across the news – some echo of that original feeling. The right response, but tempered, fine-tuned so I could continue with my day. What was once a national tragedy that halted the nation is now factored into the everyday cost of education.

How do the children who survive this walk back into a world that doesn’t seem to give a shit, that wants to fix it, but has successfully numbed themselves from thinking it’s possible?

Let’s back up. “The Fallout” follows Vada, a student who hides in the bathroom with Mia during a gun massacre at their high school. The story here isn’t the shooting itself. That scene is brief, but searing. It’s not carried by an action sequence or whirling cinematography, but simply by Jenna Ortega’s Vada, Maddie Ziegler’s Mia, and an unflinching use of sound effects. It’s not a scene about two people hiding. It’s a scene about two children believing they’re going to die.

Past that 10-minute mark, “The Fallout” is simply about the aftermath. It’s about Vada’s journey into a trauma that will never fully leave her. Ortega gives one of the most natural performances I can remember seeing. There’s a fusion between her performance and Megan Park’s writing and directing that carries the film through complex territory.

Movies tend not to handle code-switching very well. Vada is nothing but code-switching, driven by anxieties to make those around her – parents, friends, a therapist – feel like she’s fine even when she’s not. This is complicated by being Latina and white, having a Latina parent and a white one, by being a girl in situations where she can talk freely and situations where she has to perform a certain social role, by being a perfect student and her little sister’s hero and a good friend and someone who can’t be any of those things anymore and desperately needs to act on her own impulses. Very rarely are any of these explicitly called out, but the writing and performance are thick with conveying how Vada’s code-switching deflects concern. I’ve…maybe never seen this handled so deftly, clearly, and naturally.

Most of the film is carried by Ortega – it’s remarkable how close we stick to her – but as Mia, Ziegler excels in what may be her first role that’s centered more on acting than dance. The cast is good all the way through, and actors like Niles Fitch, Will Ropp, Lumi Pollack, John Ortiz, Julie Bowen, and Shailene Woodley all get their moments to…I’d say their moments to shine, but really it’s their moments to come across human, which is so much more important.

“The Fallout” engages in a type of code-switching, too, alternating between more natural and cinematic sequences. There’s a pace to this that can feel like the film’s desperately trying to breathe. There’s a rhythm of tension and collapse that reflects Vada’s own struggle between meeting expectations and not wanting to participate in those expectations any more. We get the sense that the closer Vada is to Mia, the more cinematic the film becomes, but it’s not about that. It’s about Vada’s sense of control over her environment.

“The Fallout” is such a human and understanding character piece that to delve too much into what happens would be to cheapen something that’s more complex than some description could manage. I’d rather delve into what makes “The Fallout” so staggeringly special. Just go with me on the initial metaphor for a minute:

The Ship of Theseus is a philosophical question that asks what happens when a ship is kept in harbor as a museum piece. Over the years, some wood becomes worn and needs to be replaced. Other old parts wear and also need to be replaced. At a certain point, every original part of the ship will have been replaced. Is this still the original ship? What if all the original, worn pieces are reassembled on their own? If the piece-by-piece reconstruction is still the original ship, then what is the new ship that’s constructed of the original parts?

I ask this because trauma can re-write pieces of people. They’re still themselves, but in a way that changes their perspective on who they can be and their place in the world around them, on what ideas like safety and trust are. Enough trauma, over time or all at once, and the perspective they once had is replaced with one they may not recognize and can’t fuse to who they once believed they were.

Trauma applied systemically to a people, a race, a gender, an orientation, a generation…it’s allowed to happen for various reasons. Usually, it’s because it’s profitable to someone – here the gun industry, a militarized policing industry that chews through public money, and politicians who block even the mildest attempts at reform. The shock of that repeated trauma – school gun massacres nearly every week – means that shock is now the norm. What was once shocking is made normal so we can get by. That requires our being given some answer, some reality, that justifies this as normal. A reality that accepts this as normal is inherently not the right one, and so we’re willing to accept in it relationships of profit and power that we otherwise would also recognize as wrong.

As Naomi Klein writes in “The Shock Doctrine”, a person trying to make sense of an ongoing, repeated trauma will more readily accept a new norm, regardless of whether they believe it’s true or even think it’s healthy for them. Having an answer to make sense of what they don’t recognize becomes more important than having the right answer. We live in a country where one party (the Republicans) practices disaster capitalism as their central tenet. They may not have directly prompted the disaster, but if the disaster becomes the new norm, that sure is a lot of capitalism to draw out of it.

Ongoing disasters create a state of fungible reality. People constantly in a state of disaster are constantly in search of an answer, regardless of whether it’s the right one. School shootings? Conditions where they’re the norm are maintained. A pandemic? Mishandle it for the first year and create doubt for real answers like masks and vaccines, while replacing them with fake answers like bleach and horse dewormer until it becomes an ongoing endemic. The Trump administration looked the other way on hate crimes, actively sabotaged and gutted the United States Postal Service, the IRS, the EPA, and made a demented joke out of the judicial branch – not because it was an incompetent administration, but because it was extremely competent at its primary goal: creating as many ongoing disasters as possible, to create a political reality where any answer would do, regardless of whether it’s right.

What does this have to do with “The Fallout”? This is a film that intrinsically understands in its writing, directing, and performances the dissonance of a generation being raised under these conditions, in the midst of ongoing disasters, in the aftermath of one particular one, in its systemic repetition, in the helplessness of a generation looking to understand reality as every child growing up does…but now housed inside a culture where that reality is a shifting, inconsistent, and unimportant fucking mess.

In “The Fallout”, Vada is a Ship of Theseus, trying to recognize all these parts of herself that have been replaced, re-written, denying what she once found solace in as she desperately tries to create some meaning that provides her an answer, regardless of whether it’s the right one.

A person, a generation, a whole culture can be made into a Ship of Theseus, too. Enough shock, enough dulling to the shock at its repetition, enough dulling to make the shock feel normal, enough normal to make the shock expected, unchanging, a part of everyday life, and school shootings go from a national shattering that lasts years to an expected cost of education forgotten the next week.

“The Fallout” is an hour and 32 minutes. That’s relatively brief. It felt more packed, relatable, and consequential than many three hour films. I wanted it to keep going because at least in the film there’s a promise of some change, some healing, some movie magic that’s ingrained in us to hope even if it’s not really that kind of movie. But it ended, and I’m in the United States. What was once ingrained in me to hope…I’m not so sure what it’s been replaced with. “The Fallout” is a great American movie.

You can watch “The Fallout” on HBO Max.

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The Top 5 Music Videos of 2014 (So Far)

Maddie Ziegler in Chandelier by Sia

by S.L. Fevre, Cleopatra Parnell, Vanessa Tottle, & Gabe Valdez

Vanessa here. I asked to do the intro today, because of what music videos mean to me. Music videos are the most watched form of short film. They come in all different flavors – performance videos of your favorite band, dance videos, comedies, dramas, experimental, arthouse. People say the musical’s dead, but it’s very much alive – billions of people across the world watch music videos every day. It’s our modern version of opera, touching narratives and social messages condensed into musical storytelling. And if you worry that speaks ill of our society, you’re watching the wrong music videos.

Our top 5 videos run the gamut – an animation with an ecological message, a socially conscious rap video, an angry social comment starring everybody’s favorite web-slinger, a tearjerking drama, and perhaps the most singular dance performance in recent music video history. But first, allow me to feature a personal favorite of mine.

Roar – Addy
The Make-A-Wish Foundation

This is what music videos mean to me. Here’s a little girl named Addy. She got stage IV cancer when she was just four years old. She went through chemo and radiation. What she says got her through it all is watching her favorite musicians on YouTube. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, a non-profit organization that grants dying children their one wish, was able to make a music video of Addy, thankfully after her recovery, performing Katy Perry’s “Roar.”

What do music videos mean to me? They mean a way to reach out into the world, across cultures, to perceive someone else’s story, their pain, their suffering, their success, five minutes at a time. Five minutes can change someone’s life, give them hope, and communicate the most urgent messages we have the capability to speak.

Music videos were Addy’s lifeblood, and she’s just one little girl. How many little girls, little boys, teenagers, men, women, those suffering pain, heartache or loss, find those five minutes that keep them going another day?

Why this music video? Because not everyone gets to make it out of being a kid, that’s why. Why the next one? Because I don’t own my body in the United States. Why the next one? Because thousands of underprivileged black families’ water is being turned off in Detroit. Why the next one? Because the LGBTQ community still isn’t accepted, and outed people still get beaten in certain places. There are countless next ones.

One of my co-writers, Cleopatra Parnell, wrote about Lykke Li’s “No Rest for the Wicked” (#20 in our countdown) that every country that wages war on a race, gender, religion, or lifestyle has a chance to show “whether we learned…or history repeats itself. The role of musicians and artists today is to be the conscience that refuses repetition.”

Music videos create a major part of our social consciousness now. They are our most readily accessible way to translate stories at no charge across cultures. That can save a lot of Addy’s. That can be a strong conscience that crosses borders. That can change lives. Enough changed lives can change entire cultures. And even if nothing else, at least they saved the lives of girls named Addy and Vanessa when they were unsure if they could make it another day.

Enjoy our top 5, and please keep watching and making every piece of art you can.

-Vanessa Tottle

P.S. Due to music copyright law, you may have to click through to YouTube to watch certain videos.

5. Re – Nils Frahm
directed by Balazs Simon

This is quiet, lyrically animated. It’s a story repeated day after day in a world we care about in voice, but often refuse to take action to save. What’s it like to be the last, lone beast in the scraps of a ruined wilderness? You can run, you can leap, you can be gallant and noble and beautiful, but if something’s meant to die and no one’s there to witness you, what does your beauty and talent mean? One of the best animated music videos I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.   -Gabe Valdez

4. 25 Bucks – Danny Brown feat. Purity Ring
directed by NORTON

There’s a violence in day-to-day struggle more and more families are feeling. It’s not the obvious violence I see in movies about black gangsters and brown drug-dealers and white heroes. The violence is internal and families feel it against themselves. It’s the violence of disappointment and discouragement. When you realize you’re up against something bigger than yourself, the system’s stacked against you, and you can’t win, where else is violence supposed to turn but on yourself and your loved ones?   -S.L. Fevre

3. We Exist – Arcade Fire
directed by David Wilson

It shouldn’t matter anymore whether someone is gay. It shouldn’t get anyone beaten or killed. You would think those two statements are so obvious it would be stupid to write them. Yet we live in a world that’s wasting its time and resources on holding the LGBTQ community down when it wouldn’t make a damn difference to the world what that community does. So it’s still a big deal when Andrew Garfield stars as a transvestite in a major music video released two weeks after his role as Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

But it’s not the old moment when we used to celebrate the specialness of someone’s difference. That moment now is angry – we look at the normalcy of someone’s difference, and instead feel despair and frustration at the violent holdouts who hold back a world that needs to get on with doing something more important than clinging to hate.   -Vanessa Tottle & Gabe Valdez

2. “What is This Heart?” trilogy
Part 1: Repeat Pleasure – How to Dress Well
Part 2: Face Again – How to Dress Well
Part 3: Childhood Faith in Love – How to Dress Well
directed by Johannes Greve Muskat

A young man sacrifices having any life of his own to take care of his grandfather. His grandfather’s nurse falls in love with him. Together, they steal the grandfather away to visit his childhood home. Things go wrong. And the rest of it is about coping, how to learn to rely on someone else, how to learn to give into moments you can’t control. It’s a trilogy of videos still reeling around in my head, being turned over this way and that to get ahold of the story from every angle. Each time I watch the trilogy, I find something new in it. The performances are dramatically sterling. By the third video, the mythical power of the trilogy is astounding. Watch it through. You won’t regret it.   -Gabe Valdez

1. Chandelier – Sia
directed by Sia & Daniel Askill

This was a unanimous choice for #1. If you knew how much this group bickers about every little detail, that would blow your mind. None of us pretended anything else can be here, though, not even for a second. You don’t even need to understand why. You just need to watch “Chandelier.” The level of performance is what you get when you watch Jackie Chan or Mikhail Baryshnikov – less refined but at such a singular level nonetheless that it’s impossible to replicate or find a similar moment anywhere else you look. Maddie Ziegler shares dance solo at its finest, choreographed and performed by an 11-year-old. It’s the most unexpected music video.   -Vanessa Tottle

In any form of art there’s genius. You can’t point to what makes it up, but you know it when you see it. Maddie Ziegler’s choreography and dance here is feral, animal, chaotic, and yet so brilliantly nuanced – every move means something. She’s 11 and yet there’s a maturity that speaks to emotional moments and struggle and pushing forward despite being held back…there are times you think there’s a 30-year-old, weathered dance veteran on-screen. At the same time, there’s an immaturity, a free attitude and irreverence in the moves she’s chosen that reminds me of the experience of being a kid, of overcoming that sense of being overwhelmed in order to learn you can push your own boundaries. How she captures that, how an 11-year-old’s artistic discretion pulls from both ends of the spectrum to create and then perform a dance that speaks to you and sends chills up your spine…it’s an impossible performance, and yet there it is.   -Gabe Valdez

Enjoy the rest of our rankings:
Music videos #15-6.
Music videos #25-16.
Music videos #35-26.