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February 27, 2013

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Bob

You mention Koppelman and Levien all the time, why identity cloak them now?

Glenn Kenny

On behalf of the third person, who's not one for all this Internet nonsense.

O

Belly is total eye candy. Can't say much for the writing or acting, but visually, it is incredible, as good as anything Noe's ever done, and probably what Korine should have been aiming for with Spring Breakers.

David Ehrenstein

"Cut your throat in your sleep" evokes Jodie Arias. As for Lena Dunham, she's a hack with a pehnomenally effective pubicist. Nothing more.

Buzzfeed is racist.

Joel Bocko

On the other end of the "morally objectionable" spectrum, Glenn Greenwald is crowing about the "humiliation" of Zero Dark Thirty and offering his thoughts on just why film critics are so politically vacuous (an unexamined and incorrect assumption upon which his whole house of cards rests, much like the assertion that ZD30 celebrates bin Laden's killing, which he considers so obvious he doesn't even address it and focuses on torture instead, but I digress).

I'm trying to keep an open mind about Dunham, but the self-satisfied hype surrounding her makes this so hard, especially the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too feminist stuff, whereby questioning the show's social perspective is met with missing-the-point celebrations of her gender. The fundamental issue in society is not race or gender, it's power. That it is often distributed along racial or sexual lines is a feature of the central problem, not the end of said problem, and squeezing in token faces here and there is a cosmetic repair to a dysfunctional system. Social media should be knocking down this door, not readjusting the doorjambs.

Does anyone else find it curious how neatly 21st century identity politics dovetails with unquestioning upper-class complacency? No wonder conservatives were eager to fight culture wars in the 90s and even today. It may make them look out of touch, but it also tends to drag bourgeois liberals further away from the rhetorical populism and egalitarianism which prove their firmest platform. I think one of the best lessons of OWS (and the first Obama campaign before it) is the strength of a solidarity message, which we're seemingly in the process of unlearning.

Joel Gordon

Other Joel: You don't need to keep an open mind about Dunham. Nobody does. Nobody needs to think about her at all, ever, or really about any single other celebrity, whether or not that celebrity puts their persona out there for love, mockery, or whatever. Just watch her TV show. It's very funny, the characterizations are sensitively drawn, and at its best it evokes the kind of microcosmic social satire that Nicole Holofcener has been doing well for the past fifteen years. And I did not think much of Tiny Furniture. Needing to have an opinion about a celebrity is a very strange personal dilemma for the social-media age. It might be the publicists' fault. It's certainly, in part, that celebrity's fault. But no one says we need to take the bait.

Joel Bocko

Other other Joel: just to clarify, I agree that who she is as a person is irrelevant. By "keeping an open mind about Dunham" I mean her work as an artist, namely Tiny Furniture or Girls. I have a huge backlog of movies and especially TV shows right now, and both are on there; until I get to them, I'm trying not to form too strong an opinion, harsh or otherwise on her - that's all. The opinions/impressions I do share (like the above) should be seen as indicative of the buzz/hype not her as an artist, since I don't know enough about the latter category yet.

Gordon Cameron

Haven't read the Buzzfeed jazz-hate piece (nor do I understand why I would bother, as I already like jazz and doubt the article would convince me to stop liking it, nor could I convince its author the other way), but it reminds me of my habit of googling the term 'X + overrated' (X can be anything from cilantro to Paul McCartney). Invariably someone has ranted on a blog somewhere that X is overrated. Shakespeare is overrated, Mozart is overrated, Kubrick is overrated, wine is overrated, sex is overrated.

Contrarianism is hardly a bad thing although there's a sort of laziness to the way it's often expressed in these sorts of articles, a tendency that is perhaps encouraged by the rapid-turnaround, low-barrier-to-entry nature of Internet discourse generally.

I'm coming dangerously close to saying that free exchange of ideas is bad, and telling crazy kids to get off my lawn. Perhaps the thing to do is just to ignore this stuff. It's like the conversations that happen a million times a day in every high school all over the world, except written down. It often has less to do with the topic under discussion than with a person's desire to see herself as somehow standing out from the crowd, voicing an unpopular opinion, and 'telling it like it is.' Which seems to be a pretty common impulse in the human animal.

Incidentally, I loved Tiny Furniture and have immense respect for Lena Dunham. She not only made a feature in her early twenties, but she actually made a good one. That is more or less precisely what I dreamed of doing after film school, but lacked the guts or wherewithal to accomplish. I'm congenitally incapable of disdaining it in others, even if she came from privilege or had a nice house to use for a location.

Joel Bocko

Gordon, personally I see no reason to hold the circumstances of production against praise of the work. Art is the result, not the process. I do, admittedly, find it curious when circumstances of production are NOT held against praise of production itself. Which is another way of saying, to the question of is Tiny Furniture is great or good or merely ok (or terrible, for that matter), how Dunham achieved financing or promoted herself is immaterial. But if we're asked to admire and praise her for getting it made and reaching an audience and people who could help her reach a wider audience, the MOST important question we can ask is, was her path imitable?

Not necessarily in every single detail, nor for every single person (I think a reasonable parameter would be a young person with at least some financial obligations and a steady paycheck, although even that's asking a lot these days). But at least for the general population in statistically average or below-average circumstances. Was Film X made with luck, financing, and connections that are at least accessible to that person? If the answer is no, I'm not sure what/why we are praising. It's a question of choices: if one makes recourse to privilege to make a better film, well a better film is a better film and that's fine in and of itself, but I do think that filmmaker and their partisans lose bragging rights as far as ingenuity goes.

And, importantly, this is not an academic question because with the threshold of technology, financing, and distribution lower than ever, we desperately need examples of how new tools can be utilized in a new, widely-duplicated way. I do not think Dunham's rise is seen as encouraging in this way; the usual response does not seem to be 'I could do that.' Which, as far as that particular question goes, is a problem.

David Ehrenstein

"She not only made a feature in her early twenties, but she actually made a good one."

Well imagine that!

I gather you've never heard of Xavier Dolon.

Jeff McMahon

Non sequitur. Also that person's name is Dolan, not Dolon.

Gordon Cameron

>I gather you've never heard of Xavier Dolon.

I confess I have not. Did Xavier Dolon also make a good feature in his early twenties? If so, he has my respect too, at least for that.

lazarus

He's only 23, and has already written, directed, and edited three well-received films.

His most recent, Laurence Anyways, is a masterpiece, and probably the best thing I saw last year alongside Holy Motors.

Should see a U.S. release this year.

jbryant

Yes, because more than one person has made a good feature in their 20s, we should no longer be impressed when it happens. Sheesh.

I liked TINY FURNITURE and I love GIRLS. It really does help to ignore the negative commentary that dogs Dunham's every move, or at least treat it as so much white noise (especially since 90% of it seems to boil down to "who cares about young privileged white girls and their problems, and why can't Dunham keep her clothes on?"). I don't know if she'd cut anyone's throat in their sleep, but she knows what she's doing, as you can tell from her post-episode commentaries every week.

Posted by: jbryant |

Gordon Cameron

Thanks for the tip lazarus! Look forward to catching his work.

Gordon Cameron

>who cares about young privileged white girls and their problems

Do people actually make this argument with a straight face?

Who cares about millionaire newspaper tycoons?
Who cares about ancient Greek warriors embroiled in a war in Turkey?
Who cares about pedophilic professors in love?
Who cares about disgruntled Danish princes?
Who cares about French aristocrats on a hunting holiday with an aviator houseguest?

It's hardly even worth responding to.

Joel Bocko

Gordon & j, I think the issue is not so much the milieu as conflation of milieu w/ the 'this is HOW WE LIVE' buzz. Which is probably true for a lot of media figures and their kids, but gets grating after a while.

rcocean

"But really, the worst part of despising jazz is when people say ‘No, no, you just haven’t heard the good stuff! Blah blah blah Miles Davis Charles Mingus blah blah blerg.’ Actually, I have. I have, and I hate it.”

Haha. How true. Glad someone put the tedious Jazz snobs in their place. Davis may have been a musical genius, but 98% of us find him tedious. Give me Louis Armstrong or Benny Goodman.

Kurzleg

@ rocean:

Jazz snobs don't like those two? Well, they might not list Goodman at the top, but I'm pretty sure they all respect him and his music.

I don't want to take Spiegel's piece too seriously given its shallow and uninformed nature. (Jazz songs never go anywhere? Scat singing isn't "for real"?) But criticism that takes the form of "X is overrated" always amuses me because typically it really boils down to "I don't like it". Well, for the most part I don't care for hip hop, but I'm not about to proclaim the whole genre overrated, not least because when pressed on the details I'd be wholly unable to make an informed and coherent case.

Which brings me back to Spiegel. In the end, all she's really saying is that she doesn't like it. Her "reasons" for not liking it are, shall we say, less than descriptively accurate. Again, I don't want to take her too seriously, but I find this sort of thing borderline obnoxious. And now that I think about it, maybe that's its sole purpose.

Oliver_C

Who the hell is Amy Rose Spiegel and why should I care? Her Twitter feed makes LexG's look instructive.

Kurzleg

@Oliver_C:

It did occur to me that it isn't a real person, just a moniker under which to spout uninformed contrarianisms (among other things).

James Keepnews

98% of those people who found Miles tedious sure weren't stepping up when Cecil Taylor made his famous crack about Miles playing pretty good for a millionaire. To paraphrase Mao, struggle resolutely against imbeciles online. You're way ahead of us, Glenn, go get 'em. And thanks.

I.B.

“Lena Dunham will cut your throat in your sleep.”

Lena Dunham can drink my milkshake.

David Ehrenstein

"Who the hell is Amy Rose Spiegel and why should I care?"

Lena Dunham has her on speed-dial. And as you should well know we're all required to care about Lena Dunham's every thought, word and deed.

IT'S THE LAW!!!!!

jbryant

When the media tries to shove someone down our throats, we're not obligated to buy into it. A lot of the chatter and buzz about Lena Dunham, whether positive or negative, is annoying. But it has no bearing on my enjoyment of her work. TV shows need publicity and buzz to survive, so their makers have to play the game to some extent. Media writers tend to overhype the things they love, because most of the stuff they have to write about is crap. Therefore, GIRLS, MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, LOUIE, etc., will get more fawning coverage than the average show, despite ratings that might get a major network series cancelled after two episodes. The hype can be a bit much, but it doesn't affect my enjoyment of these shows any more than scathing reviews would (or do). But some folks can't just accept that you like what you like without accusing you of buying into the hype, as if hype alone could make you enjoy something.

Noam Sane

I don't care about Lena Dunham, I bailed out of the first episode of Girls because it struck me as both overly precious and kinda boring, but that doesn't mean that David Ehrenstein isn't a huge asshole.

A lot of modern jazz is just savory-but-for-special-tastes. Not for everyone, and that article could have been written about clams or sports cars or dress shoes. But 15-minute solos comprised of 90% "out" are pretty wearying. Personally, I rarely get too far into "My Favorite Things" before I start planning dinner. As Mose Allison asked, "does it move, or does it meander?"

David Ehrenstein

What are you having for dinner, dear? A zesty risotto perchance?

DeafEars

I find the hype around Dunham annoying, but if we're going to talk "privilege," let's not forget that Rossellini, Visconti, and Louis Malle were all rich kids, Bunuel got money from his mommy to make UN CHIEN ANDALOU, and Kubrick hustled his uncle for the dough to make FEAR AND DESIRE. IIRC, Tarantino also came from a tonier background than he let on, his years as a video clerk notwithstanding. But they're all great filmmakers. Lots of rich kids go into film and still don't have the chops to make it. I haven't seen TINY FURNITURE or GIRLS, so I've no opinion yet of Dunham as an artist, but there does seem to be an element of sexism in the focus on her background.

jbryant

DeafEars: I'm gonna put your excellent comment in my back pocket and use it the next time this issue comes up somewhere. Which should be any second now.

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