Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thursday Night Procrastination Links

I’ve been driven to distraction lately, trying to pack and organize for a move to another part of the state. It’s frightening and exhilarating at the same time. I really shouldn’t be spending any time on the internet, but I wanted to check in and let folks know that I will try to keep this blog going, if it kills me, from my new western Massachusetts home of Northampton (also home to Sonic Youth!). A few things I wanted to mention:

-I’ve been following the Mumblecore movement, a series of films by filmmakers who highlight the inarticulateness of 20-somethings and their awkward navigations through relationships. Here’s the latest interview with Andrew Bujalski, who just wrapped his newest lo-fi project in Austin. Unfortunately, as of yet there's very little info about the new film, besides from it being similar to his other films. And Jo Swanberg’s earlier film, LOL, is released on DVD on August 28 by Benten Films, a new venture run by Filmbrain (Andrew Grant) and Aaron Hillis.

-Every day this summer I’ve said I’m going to become a vegetarian; it just hasn’t happened yet. Not sure when (or if) it will. But, I now pay more attention to where my food comes from, which is often quite disturbing. Check out this video about the fuel costs associated with getting "fresh" vegetables to your doorstep. Not a cinematic wonder, but filled with great factoids that make you think twice about the travel costs of our food.

-Turns out Boston is a the bloggiest….who knew? New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Boston is the city where no one ever turns off their laptop.

-I haven’t been very happy with the Boston Film Festival in recent years, but perhaps this year’s Fest will get a jumpstart from former Mass. Film Office Director Robin Dawson. Fest happens Sept 14-21. In other fest news, tomorrow is the deadline for entries to the Boston Irish Film Festival, happening November 8-11 at the Brattle and the Harvard Film Archive.

-This summer, many bloggers have obsessed over the validity of film lists, such as the AFI list and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists' list. Here’s a couple lists that further prove my point about the consumption of sex in American film. I am hoping to write more extensively about this obsession with lists and the "fragmenting" of sexuality in American cinema, but if you don’t care to think about sex scenes theoretically, well, as you wish:

-Gratuitous Male Nudity
-50 Greatest Sex Scenes in Cinema

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Let's All Go to the Drive-In!

To cap off the summer, my Movie Meetup Group is organizing a trip to the Mendon, MA drive-in at the end of August. I won’t be going as I move to Northampton the following morning, but I have been thinking about thinking about how and why people get so excited at the idea of this nostalgic pastime.

I don’t remember attending the drive-in as an adult, only as a kid and into my teen years. The attraction for the drive-in when you are nine is staying up really really late, walking around in public in your pajamas (well, to the concession stand, anyway), and the endless stream of entertainment just outside your window. Films I saw at the drive-in including Disney flicks like Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World. (I think there were lots of Kurt Russell retrospectives.) Of course, this is also where I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and the very first installment of Star Wars. Up through the '70s, you had to drive up to a pole with a speaker on it to listen; into the '80s you learned to turn on an AM radio station in your car, and this was was considered high tech at the time.

Although the drive-in was around as early as the 1930s, their numbers (and size) exploded in the ‘50s as there was a need for developing entertainment for the newly discovered Youth Market. It wasn’t long before these hot spots were dubbed “passion pits.” My parents, keenly aware of this more salacious aspect of the drive-in, did not allow me to go there as a teenager—at least not with boys (car + boy + Catholic parents = stay home).

Today, numbers of drive-ins have dwindled to about 400 in the U.S, but that hasn’t stopped many folks from attending or even creating their own. Since 2002, there’s a DIY aesthetic to this outdoor moviegoing phenomenon, which includes the Santa Cruz guerrilla drive in, which hopes to "reclaim public space," and just celebrated a five-year anniversary, and MobMov, another guerrilla "mobile movie" movement group with members all over the world (thanks to TamaLeaver for the link). Of course, it makes sense that there should be an environmentally friendly version, and some have called for pedestrian-only or bike-only "drive-ins."

I guess I’d like to end this post by asking folks what their memories are of the drive-in, what they saw, and what really makes them so appealing today. If you never went to a drive-in as a kid/teen, would you go now? Does this make the moviegoing experience a more communal, shared one, rather than catching a flick at the multiplex? And does the movie even matter?

More info on drive-ins:
-A site dedicated to drive-ins, and here's another.
-Ross Melnick's great Cinema Treasures site lets you search for theaters and has an exhaustive, historical list of American drive-ins that are open and closed.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Lady Chatterley

Recently, I have taken up watching a lot more French cinema. This isn’t my area of scholarly expertise (I'm starting to wonder if I really have one), but a new fascination that has developed over the past year.

Pascale Ferran’s Lady Chatterley (France, 2006) is adapted not solely from D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but from a second published draft, John Thomas and Lady Jane. What’s notable about this filmic adaptation is that it is the first directed by a woman. Perhaps this knowledge affected my experience of this film, which is more about pleasure and sensuality than about the more narrowly framed ideas people have about sexuality and infidelity, but this also brings up questions about audience identification, which I don’t really have time to address here.

Lady Chatterley goes against many of the expectations one would have about a film that charts the adulterous affair of a bored Lady (Marina Hands) with the gamekeeper Parkin (Jean-Louis Coullo'ch) on her estate, a form of escape from a loveless marriage to a wheelchair bound aristocrat, Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot). The film clocks in at nearly three hours, and the first 45 minutes or so include almost no dialogue, no sex, but instead scenes of a woman waking up to her natural surroundings as if for the first time. It helps that the cinematography (by Julien Hirsch) is stunning, with Hands always central and striking against the woodland landscape in various seasons.

Also refreshing is the almost complete lack of conflict that arises from the affair itself. Not once do these lovers seem scared they will get caught; there appears to be no need for jealousy, resentment, or regret; even the threat of pregnancy does not appear to pose problems. The conflict of class is alluded to infrequently; when Lady Chatterley asks her husband about socialism, he laughs at her, and tells her to think about how she interacts with her servants. Class is an issue the gamekeeper brings up, but one that his Lady frequently dismisses as inconsequential.

At times, Ferran may focus nearly ten minutes on the miracle of Lady Chatterley’s legs sans stockings, a pair of hands, or the back of a neck. This minimal and more pensive approach is its strength and not its weakness; while some critics take issue with the lack of animal-like desire of Lady Chatterley and Parkin’s couplings (perhaps these folks are conditioned by how sex is rendered in American cinema?), Ferran understands that desire first develops via imagination and fantasy in the mind, and this leisurely gaze, or cinematic foreplay, will ultimately lead to consummation (six times). The Lady’s pleasure is central, since this story is more about her than her lover, and is not complicated by the ideas of Love until the film is nearly over. Ferran’s feminist interpretation of the Lawrence story does take its liberties, but these are made essentially to illuminate Constance Chatterley as an early modern woman, stripping away a lot of dialogue to let images and bodies speak for themselves.