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November 09, 2010

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Roger J.

While Lena Dunham may not be a cinematically clumsy as Joe Swanberg or other similarly talentless hacks, she serves up the same kind of autobiographical material. I've just got zero stomach for young directors who are so self-absorbed and turned off to the rest of the world that their own mostly privileged lives are the main/sole focus of their work. Ugh.

John M

Interesting. From your Twitter feed, I got the sense you weren't crazy about Mead?

Boy, at this point the movie's positively begging for a backlash...

Glenn Kenny

@ John M: Well, like I said, on my Twitter feed I have tended to be more "on" or "out there" than I would necessarily be in other walks of life. So being snarky about Mead before I'd actually read the article was par for that course. In reality I have nothing against her and tend to enjoy her work.

@ Roger J.: If I may defend Dunham for a bit: yes, 'Tiny Furniture" has a strong autobiographical aspect to it, as does Woody Allen's "Manhattan," which I wasn't actually aware of until I actually looked into a bio of the guy recently. Turns out he really HAD been dating something like a seventeen-year-old. Weird! In any event, in Dunham's case the content is further made suspect by the casting. But let's think: the character of the mother, played by Dunham's real-life mother, is such a monster and so disagreeable that one would have to conclude that in order to play the part Dunham's mom would have to be either a moron...or somehow genuinely committed to participating/performing in this picture that's being made on a budget that's such that the production can't necessarily afford to pay actors. I know Dunham's a rich kid but given the actual economics of the production rather than her life I can understand her decisions in this respect. By the same token, while the characters are obviously related to people in Dunham's life, they have been, in the film, for all intents and purposes, creatively transformed. I think the script for "Tiny Furniture" had to have been a pretty sharp one. The story has a real structure, there are well-used dramaturgic elements in it, and the dialogue is often sharp and funny. It is VERY different from one of Swanberg's amorphous, provisional, meandering quasi-artistic exercises in exploitation-disguised-as-edge. Dunham has a very good idea of—God help me for using this formulation—what she wants to say. Which makes me interested in seeing/hearing more of it.

I think Cassavetes was very smart, and maybe very fortunate, or probably some combination of both when he began making his personal projects and he DIDN'T cast himself or any of the folks who became a part of his ostensible rep company in them. The "backlash" John M. mentions is likely inevitable, but Dunham's been subject to suspicion since the film began to garner good press during its tour of the small festivals. And it's certainly not out of line to ask questions about class and privilege and artistic distance relative to this project—hell knows I've asked them myself, and hell knows I've ranted and raved, both here and in more personal interactions, about the weird blurring of lines that's happening in this "scene" and the breakdown of journalistic ethics...and God knows I can build up as frothy a head of disgust about a lot of stuff I see as anyone else. And it's exacerbated some genuine conflicts in my personal life, which is never pleasant to have to deal with.

For all that, I think, as problematic as it is from several angles, "Tiny Furniture" is a "real" film (in a way that something like "Kissing On The Mouth" is absolutely NOT), and for that it has my critical respect.

Roger J.

@Glenn You offer a solid defense. Your critical eye and honest thoughts are always appreciated.

I think it's the weird blurring of lines you speak of that bothers me most and makes me so quick to be suspect of work of this nature. And really, I haven't seen anybody ask those questions about class and privilege, which is sadly about par for the course. The New Yorker profile does little but to reinforce some of my concerns on those fronts.

Zach

I just read the New Yorker piece, and while my interest in seeing the movie is veering ever further into the mild curiosity zone, I don't think the article will win Dunham any new fans. A quote like "I am not a particularly political person, but, as a Tribeca resident, the commodification of September 11th is offensive to me" is pretty much the best ammunition you can get if you want to call out her unexamined entitlement.

John M

Zach's Dunham quote should be silkscreened on T-shirts. (To be sold on the street in Soho?)

Roger J.

And now this tweet:

@hammertonail That @TinyFurniture party was some serious NYC indie film star studdation.

J.R.

Glenn, I liked it better when you were raking Lena Dunham over the coals for her philistine dismissal of Nicholas Ray. It's a little painful to watch you try to force your foot in your mouth now that The New Yorker has weighed in on the subject.

Glenn Kenny

J.R., I'm likely violating Fussell's Law by responding thusly to your taunt...but fuck it. My Dunham "revisionism," such as it is, began well before the New Yorker piece appeared, first of all. Secondly, said revisionism affects not a whit my opinion of her statements concerning "Bigger Than Life," which I still consider both ill-informed and ill-advised. Thirdly, The New Yorker has also, it happens, weighed in on the work of Joe Swanberg...which I continue to loathe as much if not more than I ever have. So I wonder how the theory you seem to be working towards squares with that. Actually, don't tell me.

Asher

You know, BIGGER THAN LIFE is my least favorite Ray film I've seen (my favorite's probably PARTY GIRL or JOHNNY GUITAR, masterpieces both) and I was rather gratified the other day when I was looking at notcoming.com's reviews of Ray's films and it turned out that they felt the same way. To me it's the THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW of Ray's filmography, a film that's been feverishly overrated precisely because its director eschewed caring about his characters for once in favor of making some not particularly interesting but oh-so-subversive and susceptible-to-analysis statement about them. Though at least in BIGGER THAN LIFE, Ray's ideas are fairly incoherent (not ambiguous, just incoherent), whereas Sirk in THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW is so one-note didactic the movie practically writs its own Cliff's Notes. I also hate the movie visually. The colors are so muted; the framing, frieze-like. The last time I watched it I turned it off halfway and started watching TWO RODE TOGETHER (now there's an underrated masterpiece) and felt an almost physical sense of relief from Ray's Scope frames.

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