ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
Lana del Rey, our master storyteller
Lana del Rey is our best storyteller-in-song since Pearl Jam. She portrays an image of wealth (or sometimes the emulation of it) and a conscious rejection of consequence that speaks to the profound boredom of excess. Her character is one who’s traded in her own desires so that men can project their fantasies onto her. She narrates with the idealized nostalgia that drove Fitzgerald’s Gatsby to obsession, but plays it with the despondence of Camus’ Meursault, who was apathetic to his imprisonment because he could while away the hours listing off what he once owned.
Through it all, there’s the ghostly afterimage of a soul who might break through were she not so practiced at replacing her own thoughts with the distractions and egos of others. This is mirrored by a fear of old age, of wisdom, of a loss of beauty that would force her to finally face the world as it is, of the dissipation of an illusion created from such thin veneer it threatens to tear apart at the slightest conscious challenge not immediately subdued.
Richard Marshall compares her style to the work of director David Lynch: “There’s the theme of the double in all these songs, where a consciousness of intense eagerness to survive the blackest nightmare places the feelings onto another ego, like in a diabolical pact.”
This is an elegant, thoughtful article about the woman who may very well become the most important musical artist of this generation, and it pairs superbly with last week’s article of the week, Izzy Black’s analysis of the new films of excess.
Rape as Social Issue, or Just a Plot Device
Game of Thrones uses rape as a plot device. That it’s difficult to criticize a TV series set in a medieval world for not interrogating the topic with a modern sensibility is a deflection. Valentine only has to go as far as Mad Men to find another male-dominated world that found a way to fold the topic into its characterization and storytelling.
It’s not that Game of Thrones chooses to use rape as a plot device. It’s that – unlike Mad Men – it fails to fully deal with what this use means, both in its own world and in ours. Thus, it trivializes rape as a MacGuffin, a lazy shorthand to get people from point A to point B, rather than seeking to understand the effects the act has. It is disappointing storytelling from a series that has a lot going for it, but might quickly be burning up its goodwill.
Thanks to Chris Braak for the heads-up on this.
An Interview with Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Peter H. Stone
Marquez may be the most important author in my own life. He was also a rousing and challenging interview. Paris Review republishes Peter H. Stone’s 1981 interview with the man at a time when he was at the top of his art.
A Brief History of the Art-Horror Film
I somewhat object to the delineation between art-horror and regular horror. It lacks defining structural tendencies or stylistic elements that other genres can hang their hats on, and usually devolves into simply separating horror that’s good from horror that’s bad, or horror that’s weird from horror that’s not. Nonetheless, this article at Vulture does a solid job of describing the history of critically applauded horror in the lead-up to Under the Skin and Only Lovers Left Alive.
“Why Historical Accuracy on Film Matters”
A. E. Larsen
Last week, I highlighted an article I didn’t entirely agree with – why the expert review should die. I diverged somewhat from Matt Zoller Seitz’s scorched-earth approach to the subject by saying that expert reviews done by non-experts in that particular field should be avoided. From now on, I’ll differentiate those by calling them the “inexpert review.”
A. E. Larsen, my favorite medievalist film critic, rebuts Seitz with a defense of the expert review that describes our need for more contextual awareness in how we view art.
While researching an upcoming article about the best films never made, I came across this ranking of the Rocky movies by Matt Singer. Ordinarily, I don’t link to best-of/worst-of lists. I’m a recovering list addict and I find many of them – much like the inexpert review (wow, that caught on fast) – go in one ear and out the other. I’m careful about which ones we do here – there’d better be an important reason to make one. For instance, we made our No Miley Here list to highlight under-seen music videos in a year plagued by Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus, and the terrible music criticism that holds their celebrity as an artistic accomplishment.
Well, this ranking of the Rocky movies passes the List Test by reflecting on Singer’s own experiences of the films growing up – defining the moment they changed from character study to superhero movie – and by describing how Sylvester Stallone himself originally envisioned the franchise and the drastic concessions he made in exchange for bigger and bigger paychecks.
“How Hollywood Killed Death”
I wrote about something similar in my Pacific Rim piece last year. American filmmakers have a tendency to treat death as an operatic moment that every single character forgets about minutes later. In contrast, many foreign films have death occur off-screen or so suddenly that characters don’t have a five-minute, slow-motion sequence with its own theme song in which to prepare for it.
It connects a bit with Valentine’s piece above, about the treatment of rape on television. We use death in much the same way, devaluing it as a basic plot point or momentary inconvenience, and not treating it as a searing moment the remaining characters deal with for the rest of their lives. There are some spoilers in this article, obviously.
Kicking a Good Bond While He’s Down
This interview sparked an interesting discussion between some friends and myself, especially after Russ Schwartz’s article on Skyfall last week. Brosnan critiques his run as superspy James Bond harshly, taking himself to task for never fully inhabiting the role.
I tend to think this was an asset – the films he was given were so glossy and empty and badly written that Brosnan’s ability to wink his way through them made even the worst semi-watchable. If he didn’t take them so seriously, we didn’t have to either, and that moved the goalposts considerably.
Thanks to J.P. Hitesman for the heads-up on this.