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October 11, 2011

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David Ehrenstein

Nice review.

This is the first Almodovar I've liked in years. Usually he's too glib for his own good. But the twists and turns in this one are right up there with "The Saragossa Manuscript" and "Three Crowns of the Sailor". What tickles me most about the film is the whole question of "spoilers" gets thrown out the window, cause it would take far too long for any critic to relate the plot in a standard-szied, or even lengthy review -- especially when we get to the third act. In a way it's "spoilersproof."

Asher

For those who like spoilers in their reviews, there's Reverse Shot's, which pans it (as does Slant, as does Time Out):

http://www.reverseshot.com/article/skin_i_live

Glenn Kenny

Wow, I think pretty highly of Michael Koretsky, so I'm a little disturbed to see him striking such a self-righteous pose before letting loose in the Reverse Shot notice. Obviously I don't agree with him. Nor do I agree with Mr. Rothkopf, but I'm finding that while Joshua is a congenial neighbor and all that, we increasingly have less and less in common with respect to aesthetic concerns. The objections I take most seriously are Ed Gonzales', but again, I obviously don't see the film in quite the same way. Seeing it again tonight, will be interested in the audience reaction.

Graig

I don't drink anymore, but I have a hunch that if you ever got me drunk and asked me who the greatest living filmmaker is/was, I'd say Almodovar. Even though he's not necessarily my personal favorite guy, or even in my top five, if you look at his output the last ten, fifteen years -- ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, TALK TO HER, BAD EDUCATION, VOLVER, BROKEN EMBRACES, and now this -- is there another guy currently working who both writes and directs with such a consistent record of triples and homers to his name?

Stephen Whitty

Adored this film, Glenn, and so happy to read your review.

What I find so fascinating is not what he borrows from -- Les Yeux San Visage, of course, but also Rear Window, Vertigo, a couple of giallo films and, I'd argue, a totally perverse reading of Now Voyager -- but how he makes it his own.

It's not hard to quote from other films; some directors have made entire careers on it. But to then infuse that with your own obsessions (power, gender identity, female suffering and survival) and style (vibrant colors, sinuous camera movements, eclectic music)is truly wonderful -- like a great jazz artist picking up a pop song and turning it inside out (while honoring it all the time).

Like you, at times I wondered, "Is he really going to go there?" ("Old Boy," for some reason, was the taboo-busting step I thought he was going to take) and all I'll say is Senor Almodvoar never did what I thought he was going to do, and never disappointed.

What a great film. The lukewarm reaction from some quarters truly puzzles me..

Lex

Yeah, but, Glenn, did you bring your head shot to the screening? Make sure you mail Almodovar your HEAD SHOT!

Pesci Voice: "What the fuck kinda people are they?"

(Sorry, reference from Elsewhere, but some dude's taunt that Glenn goes to screenings pushing his HEAD SHOT on unsuspecting filmmakers is for some reason the Comedy Image of the Week for me.)

Brian Dauth

Great review Glenn. You are spot on when you say that his films are celebrations of life. The other reviewers seem to dislike the fact that Almodovar did not provide them with a tragicomic approach to the material or a narrative structure they prefer. Yet a film about the fluidity of gender expression/sexual desire/sex seems an ideal place to employ a precarious narrative since those categories are precarious social constructs.

Almodovar certainly queered his sources, allowing them to bump up against each other with elegantly controlled abandon. But he provides no conventional character to identify with and root for and watch progress. Almodovar’s way of telling a story feels very close to the way my life and the lives of many queers I know have progressed -- I got to M without having first done G, H, & I. He even starts the film with an allusion to VERTIGO plucked from the center of the earlier film.

I think TSILI achieves a great deal of poignancy, but takes an idiosyncratic route to get there – the genderfuck highway as imagined by a severely luxurious maker of images and teller of stories.

Asher

This isn't what I took from the reviews I mentioned, which, while they do complain about the narrative structure, do so only by way of saying Almodovar's treatment of his themes is (a) too distanced, (b) not "queered" enough. For example, see Koretsky's faulting "the film’s transition from a potentially penetrative look at the shiftiness of sexual identity and the inability of our physical beings to fully reflect that identity, to a surprisingly hetero-centric Almodóvarian tchotchke, complete with Eames-meets-Gilliam interior design and plenty of revolvers hidden in handbags."

Brian Dauth

@ Asher: Among my questions would be how can one determine that Almodovar's treatment of his themes is too distanced? Is there a normative scale to be referred to? I agree that Almodovar does endeavor to distance his audience, but this approach is neither a good nor bad thing. It is just a fact about the film -- like saying the movie is 117 minutes long.

When Michael Koretsky writes that "what could have been an inexorable, tragicomic study of a violently furious and genderless love instead becomes a pointless, meandering shell game played on the audience," I see a critic who wanted Almodovar to follow a different path and is disappointed that he did not. But the tragicomic has never been Almodovar's forte, so complaining about where he is not going in this movie strikes me as being akin to faulting an Italian restaurant for not serving sushi. Surfaces are very important to Almodovar, and he imbues them with a profound complexity and capacity for engagement. When he adds: “I refuse to dance around The Skin I Live In, which in some alternate-reality cut could have been a touchingly tortured pas de deux rather than just a tortuous labyrinth,” I feel he is saying (again) that the work presented to him is not to his taste and he will not engage it (which, of course, is his right). But the feeling of tortuousness might originate in him and not the movie; I agree that the film is a labyrinth, but a sensuous and seductive one – no torture felt here.

Additionally, isn’t part of a critic’s work to engage with artworks on the work’s terms as well as her own at the same time? For example, I do not very much care for TREE OF LIFE, but I also recognize that Malick is working on a wavelength that I am not particularly amenable to. So while the film fails for me, I recognize the possibility of it succeeding (and how this might occur) for another spectator based on the position from which he engages it. It seems clear that Koretsky dislikes where Almodovar goes with his material, but I am not at all convinced that the places Almodovar goes are as forsaken as Koretsky makes them out to be (though he certainly experiences them as forsaken). From the close of his review: “And just when Almodovar seems to be reaching a moment of sentimental clarity in the final scene — in which the whole convoluted thing appears to be tastily reducing down to a finely simmered women’s weepie — he shoots himself in the foot, abruptly fading to credits just before the most difficult emotions would necessarily burst forth.” Which seems to me an appropriate end point for TSILI. The bursting forth of the emotions can be the subject of the next film.

As for things being queered enough – TSILI was plenty queer for me, but again – Almodovar’s distanced hollowing of his material is an aesthetic practice I respond to deeply and easily. His queering moves art from a vertical to a lateral plane (the final shot of Van Sant’s PSYCHO vs. the one in Hitchcock’s PSYCHO is another example of the same type of queering). A critic can prefer the vertical to the lateral, but a vertical work is no greater or lesser than a lateral one.

Lastly, I am happy to advocate for a revolver in every handbag and an Eames chair in every home.

lipranzer

I apologize if the following sounds glib, but I still haven't processed the movie quite yet; this is without a doubt the most batshit crazy movie I've seen this year, but I still haven't quite decided if that's a good thing or not (leaning towards the good, though).

MattL

Any reason I am unable to access the MSN site without a password? I'd like to read the review. I didn't much like the movie and think it is Almodovar's weakest since Kika. But would like to read your review.

Glenn Kenny

Don't know what to tell you, MattL, the links work as they should for me from both a computer and my mobile device, no password prompts or any such thing. Maybe you can try accessing via Google or a Rotten Tomatoes link.

That Fuzzy Bastard

MattL: I had exactly the same problem accessing MSN Movies on Safari, but it seems to work fine on Chrome. See if switching browsers helps.

MattL

I'm on Firefox and attempting to access right from the link here on the blog. But I was able to access the link via Safari and read the review. Don't agree with the review but glad to read it.

One issue I had with the film is the slow build up of the first half. Maybe I'm just getting too used to old 30's WB films but I kept wanting him to cut to the chase. I DID understand - ultimately - why he chose to show us two rape scenes and have a flashback within a flashback. At first I thought they were all wrong but it made sense by the end. Still, I just found the film didn't engage me as a story or cinematically the way his past few films have.

But the second half is better than the first and made the movie worth a look.

Asher

So I saw it, and I have to admit that I have never been left so cold by a film in my life, or seen an ostensibly "crazy" film that I found so utterly detached, unprovocative and thoroughly sane. I have no idea what the critics were talking about with the fractured or labyrinthine narrative; it's hardly more fractured or difficult than Vertigo. Nor did I think the reveal was unnecessarily forestalled; it happens with plenty of time for its implications to sink in. But distanced - my goodness yes. Parts felt like an Architectural Digest special: "Having A Gorgeous Operating Room In Your House - the New Hot Trend." Another big theme I picked up on was that white BMW's, in the right model, are really snazzy. As is Antonio Banderas with his hair slicked back at all hours of the day. A shot here and there of a man gazing at a woman on a closed-circuit monitor does not a study of obsession make. To me it was less Vertigo or Eyes Without a Face than a de-camped version of Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte.

Tom Russell

Does HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE qualify as "camp"? I mean, BABY JANE, and most other psychobiddy films-- WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, AUNT ALICE, AUNTIE ROO-- yes, it's super-camp, wonderfully so, but for me CHARLOTTE was always something very different: sadder, scarier (legitimately so), dripping with atmosphere and decay. Something like HELEN is mostly of interest for its grotesque pre-Toddlers & Tiaras pageantry, religious mania, and repressed lesbianism-- but CHARLOTTE never seemed as trashy or campy to me, HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE always seemed like a great, no-apologies film to be taken seriously.

Maybe that's just me, though.

Brian Dauth

@Asher: TSILI is definitely a cold film -- the intensity of its coldness is part of its greatness. In his career, Almodovar has demonstrated how queering a text can lead to heat (A BAD EDUCATION) or coldness (TSILI). A cold art work may not be to every viewer's taste, but icy precision can lead to the warmest of aesthetic experiences, e.g., THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN. I think one of Almodovar's points is that a "shot here and there of a man gazing at a woman on a closed-circuit monitor" can, in fact, a study of obsession make (especially when the images that surround these shots are the ones Almodovar supplies here). There are more ways to express obsession than the Romantic approach of having an art work go obsessional in technique to convey obsession. A viewer can prefer this familiar, if overused, approach, but it is only one path among many.

@Tom: Finally, someone who shares my love for HUSH, HUSH! From a teenager in New York watching it on the 4:30 Movie on Channel 7, I thought it was a great film and better than BABY JANE by a country mile. Nothing campy about the movie whatsoever (except maybe if viewed through the Sontagian anti-gay sense of the term "camp" as the product of "failed seriousness").

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