Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tim Burton

Latest Spec article, expressing emphatic hatred of emo kids:

Burton’s angsty ‘Wonderland’ is more cliché than creepy

Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" confirms his popularity among young adults, but also cements the increasingly cliché nature of his films.

Published March 23, 2010

With the release of “Alice in Wonderland,” it’s clear that director Tim Burton is more popular than ever before. He has not only created another blockbuster but is also the subject of a popular Museum of Modern Art retrospective—running through April 26—honoring his work. Lines for the exhibit often stretch around the block and timed admission tickets have sold out every weekend. MoMA’s website praises Burton for “reinventing Hollywood genre filmmaking as an expression of personal vision.” This vision, however, is rapidly becoming stale—especially for his older fans, who are already well-acquainted with the pop-gothic surrealism that made him famous in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Die-hard Tim Burton fans fall in the curious milieu between punks and hipsters, in the no-man’s-land best classified as “emo.” Emo, though distinguished by a music genre somewhere between pop punk and indie rock, also doubles as a cultural teen movement. In high schools, the emo crowd disguises its moralistic or religious undercurrents with a dark, alternative exterior. Emo by nature is grounded on the consumption of goods (What would the store Hot Topic be without emo kids?). Punk revolts against consumer culture, while emo embraces it.

It would be helpful to remember that in the Victorian age, gothic novels often had hidden religious agendas. Frankenstein, the gothic narrative par excellence, is equal parts cautionary tale and spook story. Likewise, Burton’s films always feature similarly well-meaning but grievously misunderstood characters, giving Burton films their angsty teenage tone. For example, despite their initially scary appearances, Edward of “Edward Scissorhands” is kind and gentle, and Jack of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” only seeks to make the world a better place.

Many students gravitate toward Burton’s films because they can relate to the characters’ struggles. “These are young-adult themes. These are things young people deal with,” Daniel Conn, CC ’10, said.

Burton stories in nature are moralizing Disney tales with a darker twist. There’s nothing nihilistic about them. He works best with gothic stories because he is able to imbue a little romance into something twisted and macabre. There’s no mistaking it: Burton has an idiosyncratic style that has influenced countless other films (last year’s “Coraline,” for example). Then why does it seem as if Burton hasn’t made a truly imaginative film since the mid-’90s—perhaps with the exception of 2003’s “Big Fish”?

Perhaps Burton has gotten overly adept at his own self-created genre. He is unable to think outside of the box he himself has constructed. Upon watching a recent Burton movie, the viewer has the impression that he or she has seen it all before: gnarled branches, spidery limbs, deathly pallors punctuated by weird neon colors. Burton has become a cliché.

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” is by nature an extremely fascinating and creepy novel. Even the 1951 Disney animated version was unable to instill it with a singularly moral message. Alice, the quintessential Victorian priss, meets character after character in her surrealist dreamland. Burton managed to warp this tale completely, transforming Alice into an angsty teen feminist trapped in the absurdities of Victorian society. “The original [movie] was exponentially creepier than this,” Conn said.

Somehow, Burton has managed to take one of the most whimsical, absurdist stories of English literature and sap it of its essential creepiness—all in the name of his pop-macabre aesthetic.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Education, obligatory rant, etc

Excellent film! It's everything it's cracked up to be. However, I couldn't escape an enormous feeling of deja vu, since Lucy's blog post from before the film was even released in New York. In any case, if you want to retain that feeling of surprise, don't read this, Lynn Barber's real-life story on which the film was based. Hard to refrain, right? Well, it's a captivating tale nonetheless.

My favorite moment of the film actually occurred near the end, when the protagonist, a seventeen-year old schoolgirl named Jenny, visits her English teacher's house begging for help. The camera zooms in on Jenny's reaction to her teacher's house. This is the only unmarried woman she has ever visited, and she understands what it means to attempt an unmarried life as a woman in the sixties-- the freedom combined with the societal stigma. She does a double take. Perhaps it is possible, she thinks, to lead a happy life through learning, even as a woman.

Perhaps I'm projecting. But it was a very touching (albeit brief) moment. That said, I didn't much like the ending. More of a deus ex machina resolving itself in the span of ten minutes. But you can judge for yourself. And yet, Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan are extraordinary!


Since the film is tangentially on the topic of British public school education (i.e. private schools in America), allow me a little rant. After spending the past 6 days living with self-proclaimed yuppies/bobos (boboes? like oboes? David Brooks, some help here?) in the Bay Area, I've come to the conclusion that there are a number of things that I don't believe in. Most of these are widely accepted by the American social system (or at least upper class residents of the Bay Area) as a "good thing". I'd beg to differ.

Disclaimer: if you disagree with any of these, please don't hound me about it. I'm not sorry and I'm not changing my views anytime soon. I don't care if Whole Foods makes awesome granola (though they do). I'm skeptical about most things in life, and tend to be pretty opinionated in general. (Perhaps a testament to the Columbia English major's unsurpassed powers of critical thinking? ha.)

or am slightly distainful of, or disapprove of, or am highly skeptical of:

1. Whole Foods
2. Obedient children
3. Suburban sprawl
4. Pot used as tranquilizer (instead of party drug)
5. The obsession with perfect parenting
and, most importantly,
6. Private school (K-12), especially any private school that does not offer full scholarships for the underprivileged.


1. The owner of Whole Foods is a libertarian asshole and I'd rather not support his business. Also their food is way more expensive than Trader Joe's. Only the upper middle class can afford a diet wholly based on this chain. (see New Yorker article)
2. Obedient children do not our nation's future leaders make. Also children by nature are not supposed to be obedient. So it frightens and annoys me when they are.
3. Self-explanatory. I've made my hatred of the suburbs pretty evident to all who know me.
4. A pothead is a pothead. When it comes to the point of a person not being able to function as a normal human being without their morning toke, it's a problem. Yes, even in California. Also people are generally more annoying when they're high. Which is why I think I prefer it being a party drug for most people. Unless, of course, you're the Dude.
5. Kids will take care of themselves. Try not to hit them and it'll all be ok. Nurture them to death and they'll resent you later. In the past week I've been exposed to a parenting technique in which the child learns only by playing. So, instead of being taught to read at an early age, they should "come to it" naturally. In my experience, this is completely bogus. Skills like reading and writing aren't just "fallen upon" like the ability to stand on two legs or learning to speak. And hey, I learned to read at age 3, and I turned out ok. Ish. "Parenting with Positive Discipline" is just another way of wringing money out of the pockets of the perpetually stressed-out upper middle class.
6. Equality of opportunity would inherently entail a complete abandonment of the private school system. Different methods of teaching are all well and good, but if those methods aren't available to the entire spectrum of social, economic, and racial classes, private school becomes just another way of perpetuating the class system. I'm an admirer of the Waldorf schools, but I wish those could be available to the larger community and with greater amounts of tuition remission. Prep schools, however? An absurd concept.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lollapalooza speculation

According to various websites, the headliners for this year's Lollapalooza 2010 are most likely to include:

-Lady GaGa
-Green Day
-Arcade Fire
-The Strokes
-Infected Mushroom
-Flaming Lips
-Dirty Projectors
-Hot Chip
-Beastie Boys

Incredible! Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors, Arcade Fire, the STROKES! I hope this actually pulls through. Last year was amazing but three days of nonstop music was pretty taxing; maybe this year I'll buy a one-day pass and go to aftershows at the Metro. Will definitely try to see the day Gaga plays (of course!). Maybe Ke$ha will also play? I love this girl.

I have a very strong urge to write an article describing how Ke$ha and Gaga are revolutionizing feminism, each in their own particular ways. Beyonce and Rihanna are almost-but-not-quite doing the same things. Also, I don't mind the new "Telephone" video. Talk about Tarantino fetish!

In other news, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland was an utter disaster. Will write a serious article on this later this week.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wes Anderson

Spec article from last week that I forgot to post.

Exploring the permanence, appeal of director Wes Anderson’s college classics

Wes Anderson's films are college favorites—but why?

Published February 24, 2010

Wes Anderson, director of the Academy Award nominee “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” is known for his quirky and divisive filmmaking style.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

A select few films fall into the collegiate must-watch category. Students can overhear their famous lines echoing through the halls of Carman and John Jay on drunken Friday nights—”The Big Lebowski,” “Fight Club,” “The Graduate”, and perhaps most notably, Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore.”

What makes a film like “Rushmore” appeal to the college crowd? “Rushmore” describes a semester in the life of Max Fischer, an eccentric teenager, and his obsession with Rushmore, an elite private academy. Although “Rushmore” tends to be collegiate in nature, it is also representative of Anderson’s oeuvre as a whole, and shares many elements in common with other Anderson favorites, like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” currently nominated for 2010’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Anderson is a modern-day auteur, a filmmaker who strives to control every aspect of production, resulting in a series of films with a very distinct personal aesthetic.

Something about this aesthetic resonates deeply with young adults. All of Anderson’s films could be considered standard Friday-night college fare, and the passion that young adults often feel for Anderson is unparalleled by any other director, except perhaps the Coen brothers. According to Andrew Balmer, CC ’10, an Anderson devotee who recently hosted a “Rushmore”-focused movie night in his East Campus suite, “Anderson markets to younger adults, although I suspect his audience includes a wide age range. His soundtracks, which include some popular songs, the actors he routinely casts—Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke and Owen Wilson, Bill Murray—and the sense of humor he employs all seem attractive to a younger generation.”

Anderson is also known for his distinctive color palettes, which make his films look painstakingly composed. He employs highly saturated primary colors, which make his films appear slightly outside the normal bounds of realism. Even before “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was produced, Anderson’s work was compared to these particular qualities of Roald Dahl’s novels.

Another aspect of the “Anderson look” involves the use of long takes and “dollhouse shots.” “He pans from one part of a set to another, revealing different simultaneous activities. It was great to see his use of this technique in his stop-motion ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox,’ since he was unrestricted by some of the inherent limitations of live-action,” Balmer said. “For example, Anderson could pan between three rooms in three neighbors’ houses, plus a system of underground tunnels linking them, all in a single take.”

The combination of these aesthetic choices with signature classic rock soundtracks—often including names like The Kinks and The Rolling Stones—makes Anderson endlessly appealing to the indie generation. As Anderson is such a beloved director, it is perhaps odd that none his films have ever received an Oscar—although “The Royal Tenenbaums” was nominated for Best Screenplay. Is Oscar gold truly the definitive standard for a good film? Are Anderson’s films actually subpar, and are students just going along for the aesthetically pleasing ride? Is it possible that Anderson’s often homogenous fan base of young, hip intellectuals restricts his mass-market potential at the Oscars? Has Anderson become “too cool for school,” or at least, too cool for the Academy? Perhaps. But, as in the case of Godard, mixed critical reception has often been the mark of a true auteur.