Interesting take on the James Dean Myth; I mean, I’m not actually personally familiar enough with his work or public persona (apart from the most basic knowledge that James Dean = cool) to evaluate Life’s take on him relative to the standard Myth, but it’s looking at the immediately pre-fame period of his life, mostly through his relationship with the photographer Dennis Stock. It’s a weird dynamic–surprisingly not as homoerotic as expected (although still pretty fucking homoerotic)–with Stock being increasingly desperate to get Dean to commit to this feature for Life magazine, which Stock needs to advance to the next stage in his career, and Dean constantly evading him. There’s this ambiguity in terms of how much of the relationship is purely professionals using each other for their careers (and to what extent does Dean actually care about fame?), artists admiring each other, or, like, people with some level of genuine mutual affection. And all of that resentment non-celebrities feel for being compelled to worship celebrities and celebrities feel for being put on a pedestal.
And Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson are both just pretty compelling. The pairing of this and Personal Shopper (see below) made me notice that both Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are really good at projecting this sense of unease or discomfort in their own bodies that can come across as (and perhaps just actually is) bad acting in some contexts, but works super well for certain types of characters in certain types of films–like Life or Personal Shopper. It maybe even could have worked for Twilight with a better script and different fan expectations; Bella and Edward are both introspective characters who aren’t at ease with themselves, their physical bodies (Bella’s oft-discussed and way-overplayed clumsiness, Edward’s whole state of being a 107-year-old vampire trapped in a 17-year-old’s body), their respective places in the world, etc., so in retrospect, the casting choices seem interesting and thoughtful. Let’s imagine the weird alternate universe in which we had an arthouse film adaptation of Twilight instead of the big-budget YA franchise.
Personal Shopper (FR 2016/US 2017)
How did I feel about Personal Shopper, or at least, what was the deal with Personal Shopper? It’s one of those movies where it feels like every single thing that happens onscreen is very much a deliberate choice imbued with some sort of meaning. In theory, this should be the case for all movies, but they don’t always always feel that way–they somehow lack that air of intentionality that you get from movies like this, Inherent Vice, everything Nicolas Winding Refn has put out, etc. Now, having the air of intentionality doesn’t actually mean that the intent itself is super clear or super deep. For example, in Personal Shopper, Maureen (Kriisten Stewart) is constantly touching things–surfaces, clothes, etc.–and the camera draws attention to it. So there’s more to that than just serving as an indicator for her general twitchiness, right? Like something about tangibility vs ghosts, I would imagine. Does she touch things to in some way ground herself in the material world, to distance herself from the supernatural and remind herself of what is “real?” (What is literally felt, rather than “vibed.”) I don’t know.
Stewart’s weird fidgety/brooding energy is super compelling and yet also really anxiety-inducing to watch–one just wants her to be still for a moment. And man, imagine a movie with her and Ben Whishaw–off-the-charts twitchiness. But right, as mentioned above, Kristen Stewart is really good at conveying this sense of awkwardness/anxiety/hesitancy in every gesture, word, etc., as if simply existing is costing her so much effort. It’s hard to imagine her playing a character that exudes confidence or even just a sense of being at-ease. And from her demeanor in interviews, it’s possible that to some extent the awkwardness is not a performance choice, and is just her, but I don’t know how much that matters. I think versatility in actors is overrated; there are enough actors (and aspiring actors) out there that each one doesn’t need to be amazing at all things–if they specialize in a particular type of role, well, so what? (I guess: so at some point it becomes harder to see them as [insert character] in [insert movie] rather than [insert actor] doing their Thing in [insert movie]. See: Benedict Cumberbatch).
Also, goes without saying that Stewart is super hot in this, although wow, once you stop viewing her through that special fictional lens that makes you sympathetic/complicit in all of the protagonist’s actions, Maureen’s behavior is, like, pretty socially inappropriate in a not-hot way. I guess kudos to the narrative for taking us to the point where we watch this character trying on her boss’s clothes, masturbating, and then falling asleep un her boss’s bed, and we see it as some sort of empowering victory for her and just don’t want her to get caught. And then bringing in the murder case element makes us view those actions at more of a remove and realize how…abnormal and off that is. Which, of course, is what the actual murderer probably noticed when he first met Maureen and listened to her slag off her boss and go on to talk about her dead brother and her belief in ghosts within–what, like five minutes?–of meeting him. So we have this unreliable narrative, because Maureen looks so cool on her Vespa, with her hipster disdain for her current job (although unclear what she actually wants to do or how she got this job in the first place, because personal shopper for a celebrity doesn’t seem like a career option you just default to). And we see all of these beautiful clothes on hangers when Stewart’s perfect body is right there to model them; plus, her boss is apparently a bitch, so wouldn’t it be some sort of justice for Maureen to try them on and look just as good, if not better, in them? So yeah, there’s that.
There’s also obviously something about technology and ghosts–explicitly, with the examples of spirits communicating via Morse code and the whole iPhone thing. (The choice to display the texting so literally has been derided a lot already, I think. TV shows and movies over the past few years have found more artistic ways to display texting onscreen and those have basically become standard, so, again, the choice to not use any of them seems deliberate. But why?) The fact that we only see Gary (Maureen’s…boyfriend? Close male friend?) via Skype and Maureen only communicating with her boss through letters–also significant to the whole blurry ghost story thing.
The role reversal of the ghost story in having Maureen as the restless spirit stuck in Paris until she solves her unfinished business–also a Thing, although I’m not sure what the ending in Morocco (?) means for that.
Remaining questions: Are we meant to think that Maureen’s dead brother is possessing/speaking through his girlfriend’s new boyfriend, because that was a weirdly intimate conversation between Maureen and the new boyfriend otherwise? Is there implied twincest, with the whole being drawn to forbidden things aspect of Maureen’s personality? Or is it just not possible to portray fictional twins without implying twincest? What the fuck was I supposed to get from that ending and was I too dumb to get it?
Valhalla Rising (2009)
I know I’m always like “man, I wish this movie had more dialogue” but man, I wish this movie had more dialogue, even though I guess I knew going in that the protagonist doesn’t speak. But had to watch it for the Mads Mikkelsen/Nicolas Winding Refn factor anyway.
As per usual, aesthetically great, plot- and character-wise…nopppppe. But it’s kind of ridiculous that it was even made at all and I appreciate that, because we usually think of period pieces/historical dramas all being done in a specific style that this very much isn’t. Like, yes, there is a trippy, arthouse Viking film in existence that places way more emphasis on ambience and style and raw emotion than getting across any sort of historical lesson (accurate or not), and that is amazing.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Man, this is great. I’m surprised it’s aged so well; all I had seen of it beforehand was the Marilyn Monroe “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friends” clip, which is super gross if you see it out-of-context and assume that it’s being played straight, but really works in-context. Although I take back what I said about finally “getting” the Marilyn Monroe appeal when discussing Some Like it Hot, because yeah, the sexy baby persona on display here is just…NOPE. I mean, I think it’s meant to be a caricature? But gross dudes still probably thought/think it’s super hot, so who even knows. Jane Russell is a fucking LEGEND, though (let’s…not dig into her irl political views).