Category Archives: movies

the red shoes

iris and i accidentally watched a wonderful movie last week: the red shoes. the film is based on the hans christian andersen fable of the same name about a girl who lusts after a pair of fancy red shoes. when she first puts them on she dances happily, but soon realizes she has lost control of the shoes: they are stuck to her feet and will not stop dancing. she ends up dancing to death.

in the film the red shoes, the ambitious dancer victoria ‘vicky’ page dances the lead in a ballet adaptation of the red shoes to tremendous success. but alas, she is fated to the same tragic end as the character she performs. her sick quest for perfection leads her to sacrifice love, happiness, and ultimately, her life.

iris pointed out that, while certain ballet scenes are enhanced with the magical moviemaking effects of technicolor, much of the movie forgoes the usual cinematic storytelling cues. each scene begins and ends quite abruptly, and it’s impossible to get a sense of how much time is passing. in many ways the movie actually possesses more of the ingenuousness of theater than the slickness of cinema: every character’s movement is blatantly choreographed and the movie sets flaunt their artificiality. all of this artlessness creates an enchanting fantasy land of exaggerated innocence.

in the opening scene, for example, students scramble to grab a seat in the bleachers of a theater. the scramble, though, is chaos-free, with a pleasant undulation of heads bobbing and hips wiggling as the students make room on the benches.

then there are the perfectly rhythmic cities of the red shoes. what clean, friendly places these cities are, where everyone is exactly where they are supposed to be, moving pleasantly in time with one another.

victoria page and julian craster in monte carlo

this nighttime scene in monte carlo epitomizes the eager simplicity employed by the sets of the red shoes. we aren’t told explicitly, but this might be the scene where julian craster and victoria page first fall in love. they are full of excitement about their future, and the set echoes their charming naïveté. silly plastic trees are lit by the unnatural pinkish glow that imbues the entire scene. the actors stand no more than a few feet from a painted, dusky backdrop, their hair softly blowing in the type of wind only a fan can create.

the staged nature of the film very effectively leaves us viewers unable to resolve where reality stops and the performance begins. we understand how vicky was consumed by dance, because we’re not really sure if she ever left the stage. we realize that the entire movie has been a part of the ballet; those artfully bumbling students and plastic trees were all a part of the inescapable red shoes performance. the theatricality had seemed to create a good-natured artificial reality, but really we were seeing the trap that locked vicky in those dancing shoes. the film’s hokey theater language has all the sparkling innocence of a pair of red shoes, so, like vicky, we mistook a horror story for a fairy tale.


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calypso fever

van dyke parks’ take on calypso music is so seductive and fun–it’s impossible to be sad while listening to it. download discover america here, then start dancing like lydia deetz

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visual and other pleasures

la grande odalisque

i finally watched tom ford’s a single man.

the film practices the homosexual male gaze in the most alluring manner, depicting men as ripe and glittery objects.

it’s not like i’ve never seen beautiful men onscreen before (i have watched casino royale quiiite a few times), but i’ve never seen men so unaware that they’re being ogled at, so vulnerable to being consumed with my eyes.

the women are beautiful too, but they are seen as a set of beautiful parts: soft lips dragging on a cigarette, perfectly manicured eye makeup, shiny mary-jane shoes. they are not a whole entity that can be possessed.

i think laura mulvey would be quite proud.

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i see specters

while I was flipping channels yesterday, a spirit photography scene from the sixth sense caught my eye.

toni colette frowns at the family photos hanging on the wall.  she touches a wisp of light floating next to her son in one photo.  the camera moves from framed photo to framed photo, and her face becomes more and more distraught.  that blurred streak is present in every image.

the photographic medium is able to visually reveal what she cannot figure out on her own: her son can “see dead people.”  his supernatural power  is diagrammed out in their family snapshots.

photographing phantoms is not limited to the sixth sense.

this is an albert von schrenck-notzing photograph of a medium taken in 1912.  the photo is old, and the practice of spirit documentation seems trite, until tom gunning explains it in his essay invisible worlds, visible media:

“as it developed over the nineteenth century, photography extended human vision beyond its physical possibilities, showing things that no person could see.  the invention was undoubtedly a triumph of technology and science, yet its strange intertwining of the visible and the invisible also produced the apparently irrational deviation of spirit photography.  if today we find the concept of photographing ghosts risible, we have to wonder if this is simply because we no longer believe in spectral activity, or if it is because we have learned more about photography.”

the practice of spirit photography also feels disturbingly familiar both in the sixth sense and in the von schrenck-notzing photo. my visual understanding of the supernatural is so entrenched in early spirit photography that no explanation is needed for me to read blurs of light as magical apparitions.  and if the same decoding is required in a 1912 photograph as in a 1999 movie, i have wonder how much our understanding of metaphysical has changed.

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nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm, orgasm

this morning i watched woody allen’s deconstructing harry. the film’s genius lies in its ability to easily slip between the actual occurrences in the protagonist harry block’s life and the wonderfully embellished imaginings of these same events.  allen has a knack for condensing our most intangible and widespread fears into witty, one-line kernels of wisdom and clear, physical illustrations.  one particularly striking example of this talent in deconstructing harry was the condition of characters literally being out of focus.

this specific state of being out of focus is only perceptible visually, though the fuzzy way the character appears to us onscreen reveals a lot about the character’s personality that can’t be seen.  allen uses this visual affliction to demonstrate his character’s selfish disconnect from everyone around him.  instead of trying to sharpen his appearance, the character actually makes his family wear these absurd glasses in order to see him clearly.

i just thought this was such a poignant representation of what it feels like to be lonely.  to be out of focus is to be not only different from everyone around you, but actually imperceptible to them.  such a withdrawn person is unlovable; their true essence is not even available to be loved.  the real tragedy though, is the way this malady makes harry block hurt the people around him so that they can access him even on the most superficial, visual level.  his insecurities and depression have made him be cruel to the people he actually loves.  which in turn makes him even more undeserving of their love.

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lick the star

sofia coppola’s debut short film “lick the star”

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thanks to donielle kaufman for showing me this amazing video reyner banham loves los angeles:

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