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frozen swing

Oh guys, be really careful searching for Frozen on Tumblr, people seem to be working through some interesting feelings on there.

No. 9 – Frozen (Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, 2013)

By now, it seems pointless to start a conversation about Frozen. It propelled itself into the canon within a year of its release, surpassing critical and financial expectations when the lights of Disney seemed to have dimmed since its mid-90s glory days. Frozen has been the axis around which so much of culture has revolved, be it appreciation of feminist credentials, turning away from stereotypical tales of princess and one true love, or think pieces on unsettling eye to waist ratio, a triumph of traditional animation, a shot of adrenaline to Disney, alarming levels of merchandise, memes about building snowmen, the bane of karaoke nights, and the spectacular introduction of Adele Dazeem. Frozen has permeated so much.

But I hadn’t seen Frozen. And I’m someone who had seen Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I was fairly confident I knew what Frozen was about, unavoidable as it was, and I had heard the Oscar winning Let It Go, the highest charting Disney single since Pocahontas’ Colours Of The Wind in 1995 (unless you count The Climb from the Hannah Montana movie, which no one does) and certainly more worthy than the whole Oscar winning Phil Collins-does-Tarzan oeuvre. But I kept my Frozen ignorance hidden, to avoid being berated by, you know, everyone. Because it’s not just that Frozen is a good film, or that people enjoy it, and their kids connect with it. People love Frozen. People are obsessed with it. It inspires a degree of passion we rarely seen in a film that isn’t a Star War. Loosely based on the Ice Queen tale, then altered to make the titular queen Elsa not a hero or a villain but a frightened, vulnerable woman with no control over her powers or her emotions, crushed by the weight of expectations, then reviled when she reveals her true self. Or at least that’s the subtext, some pretty complex themes for a Disney film. Which is probably why the film is told through the perspective of her devoted younger sister Anna, locked out by her sister and kept in the dark as the powers manifest. But she never stops reaching out to Elsa, never stops trying to connect, and every other aspect of the film revolves around this central relationship. And it is refreshing not just for a Disney film but any film, where sisterhood is woefully underexplored. Anna’s romantic interests, Prince Hans, who she gets impulsively engaged to, who turns out to be the villain searching for a kingdom of his own, and Kristoff, who she falls in like with but not enough to save her from the last act’s conflict – that’s Elsa’s job.

It’s a nice film. The music works, the faux-Finnish setting allows for beautiful scenery and design, the script and acting is good, though the story is spotty at points (who raised Elsa and Anna when their parents mysteriously disappeared? The castle servants, normally a sure thing for Disney characterisation, have only a few lines. How did Elsa keep a secret when only her parents knew? This seemed very badly organised.). But nothing in the film explained to me why Frozen became such a cultural touchstone. It’s nothing wholly unique – the character design doesn’t tickle my personal fancy, though it’s inevitable that the stylised 3d-esque look of Pixar and Dreamworks would emerge as a compromise between contemporary tastes and the classic Disney of yore. Anna and Kristoff are charming but Elsa is kind of characterless and, Let It Go aside, a missed opportunity for a really interesting exploration (though how much psychological realism should we be trying to shoehorn into a kid’s movie?). And those criticisms are minor in filmic terms, but just enough to push it down my list of Disney favs.

I don’t know why Frozen broke through. The real gem in later Disney is The Princess And The Frog, criminally underrated, filled with beautiful songs, memorable characters, Creole/New Orleans design and a firefly that will make you cry. I don’t regret seeing Frozen, but less than a week later, I don’t remember much about it, apart from what I already knew because of its place in the cultural canon. But I do know we aren’t about to stop seeing Elsas at Halloween for a long, long time.

 

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So you’ve watched and loved The Artist. You liked its smooth leading men, charming ingénues, black and whiteness and best of all, none of that god damned talking. Well, great news, because there’s decades of early silent cinema just like The Artist for you to seek out and enjoy. Here’s my selections for a gateway to the delights of silent cinema.

City Lights

And why not start with the most famous? Chaplin’s little tramp made a simple transition from silent to talkies but didn’t need a voice to make the world laugh, cry and generally feel some serious emotions. In fact, things seem a tad sentimental in the age of cynicism, but that doesn’t take away from the deft storytelling and endearing antics. In City Lights, the tramp falls for a blind girl, and finds himself negotiating the world of work to pay for her operation.

The General

Full feature
While Chaplin is the icon, for my money, Buster Keaton is the genius. Famed for his poker face, Keaton’s films have aged remarkably well. In The General, Keaton is a railroad engineer rejected from the Confederate army for being more valuable in his current role, and is then shunned by his girl for cowardice. He and his train, the titular General, end up stuck between the two armies, and he has to warn his compatriots and rescue his kidnapped love. Combined with treacherous stunts and dry humour, The General is a film out of time, one of the greatest films of any decade, and somehow a huge flop on its 1926 release.

It

It wasn’t only the men who were headlining classic comedies. Clara Bow was one of the biggest stars of the silent era. Her flirtatious naivety and knowing sexuality sets the tone for every female screen comedian since, including Berenice Bejo’s Peppy Miller. In It, the original It girl is a sassy shopgirl who falls for her boss – a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in any romcom today. Bow’s flapper joie de vivre went out of style after the Wall Street Crash, and her thick Brooklyn accent ended her career on the coming of sound, but for a while, Bow was the shining star of the silver screen.

Safety Last

The last of the Big Three screen comedians, Lloyd is responsible for one iconic image – dangling from a clockface off a skyscraper. The enthusiastic go-getter to Chaplin’s wide-eyed tramp and Keaton’s stone faced irony, here Lloyd attempts to make it in the big city, and fails at every point, until he meets a challenge to climb a skyscraper for $1000.

The Girl With The Hat Box

The glory of silent cinema is how easily a film with no dialogue translates across territories, and of course, it wasn’t just the US churning out classics. Amongst others, Russia had an extremely healthy kino industry, more than just newsreel and propaganda but social issue pictures and the occasional delightful romcom, such as this, starring Anna Sten who would go on to make a name in Hollywood. Sten works in a hatshop, and longs for a railroad worker while pursued by a student. Meanwhile her boss has just won the lottery but the ticket has disappeared. Proving convoluted plots could be just as charming in any language, and indeed, no language, The Girl With The Hat Box is as fresh as anything made over 80 years later.

Bonus: Les Voyage Dans Le Lune

It’s not just The Artist that has been raising the profile of silent cinema. Hugo is the culmination of Scorsese’s passion for the form, examining the mechanics and history behind the birth of cinema, and specifically, the work of the visionary Georges Melies, who depicted fantastical worlds with more originality and verve than most directors working today. This is a good use of your time.

Most of my Easter break has been spent watching old Norm MacDonald clips, on account of him being The Best. While this clip from the Bob Saget roast is pretty old now, it is also the exact moment that comedy, as an artform, peaked.

http://videogum.com/flash/mediaplayer.swf

this man is for the birds
– Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

(embed is a bit hit-or-miss, but it’s definitely working directly from the site)

Everyone knows Blondie as one of the most iconic acts of the new wave spectrum, famous for a litany of hits, experiments with different musical styles (disco, punk, rap) and a photogenic steely-eyed blonde called Deborah Harry. Their greatest accomplishment is sadly forgotten, however, as the primary inspiration on the later musical career of the actor Joe Pesci.

More famous for playing a series of terrible haircuts in film classics such as Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino and JFK (this is not a man who suits hair), Pesci’s showbiz career was originally more music-focused, with the release of the depressingly-titled Little Joe Sure Can Sing in 1968. After this first sweet taste of musical infamy, its follow-up came a mere thirty years later, with an album called, according to its unfortunately designed cover, IMAGE LINK Sings Just For You Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (his character in My Cousin Vinny). It is with this album that the Blondie/Pesci rivalry comes to a head, with its most notorious track, a Rapture-sampling ode to the gangsta way of life called Wise Guy.


(better sound quality here)

Any novice music fan can find many differences between the Blondie classic and young upstart Pesci’s rap track. But is it truly fair to compare creative expression? How dare we judge them on anything other than individual virtue? And yet, by his specific choice of musical backdrop, Pesci himself seems to challenge us to draw a comparison between these two musical giants. Did not Vanilla Ice release Ice Ice Baby with the sole purpose of laying claim to his own place on the pantheon alongside Queen and David Bowie? Well, perhaps not.

Rapture became an unlikely pioneer of the rap format, becoming the first rap single to reach number one in the US Billboard charts, thereby proving that anything black people can do as an expression of their marginalisation in a white-dominated society, white people can do with less rhythm and more emphasis on alien invasion. Despite namechecking Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash, the crux of the song focuses on a tale of aliens coming down to earth, eating people, buildings and a variety of cars, all delivered in Harry’s patented detached, slightly angry delivery.

Pesci, however, chooses to tell a very different story. Some people think that, as an actor, the tough guy schtick is simply a performance, a façade, an Oscar-winning façade, but they would be wrong. Pesci, the star of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, is that self-same fuck shit up badass motherfucker from off of the films*, as he proudly explains in Wise Guy, it’s a lovely day in the neighbourhood for a driveby. You see, Pesci proclaims, he is a prolific murderer. Over the course of the rap, he claims responsibility for the death of five people (providing the brother being hit by a truck proved fatal), as well as numerous threats, largely aimed at the listener, including a promise to turn up with some men to “take your eyes”.

However, Pesci preserves his most rampant rhymes for those wiley hos. It’s the bitches that’ll gitcha, Pesci imparts repeatedly, making up a term for get you (plural) that no one has used before or since, because that’s how Joe rolls. Pesci, having clearly had a rough time with the ladies in the past, possibly due to the poor calibre and quality of wigs sported in his filmic output (speculation), and this has left him wary of the fairer sex. There are six instances of violent aggression towards ex-girlfriends, rich supermodels, and generic bitches. Fortunately, Naomi Campbell (cast as “brunette chick whose father Pesci heard had stocks and bonds, leading him to fuck ‘em up and leave ‘em floatin’ in a pond” ) seems to take it in good stead, possibly appreciating how Pesci also gives back to the community, as well as murdering and assaulting select members, as demonstrate in the opening moments of the Wise Guy video where he hands out dollar-dollar bills to street urchins on account of them staying in school.

It’s not all egregious acts of violent misogyny and mafia-related murderisation. Pesci’s is also teaching us the ways and means with which to live the High Life. The President, then Bill Clinton, everyone’s favourite cheating, morally-questionable saxophonist, calls him, presumably for some advice on the proper care and management of reeds, causing Pesci to claim that he will call him back, proving that all men are equal in the eyes of Joe. Pesci celebrates the fact that he never gets a ticket, probably on account of his fine driving skills, or the fact that there’s rarely enough space to park a limousine in high traffic areas. He enjoys visiting sporting events and fine millenary, and values intellect and respect, which conveniently rhyme. He assures us he does not do crack, thereby keeping a clear head to commit acts of massive violence.

It is clear that there is a subtle double-meaning to the song’s title, not simply a reference to his characterisation in Scorsese’s ouvre and indeed the stereotypical of the Italian-Americans in the media, and their unfair association with the mob. Indeed Pesci is a Wise Guy, an individual with a unique and compelling world view with much to teach us in the ways of living and rhyming flyyy tunes. I shall leave you with the most charming quadruplet, that sums up Pesci’s whole attitude, the balance of street smarts and sophisticated eloquence, the yin and the yang, that embody the complex, engaging vitality that ensures he remains at the forefront of our cultural and sociological lexicon:

Her mother didn’t like me, I never gave a fuck
Her brother didn’t like me, I hit him with a truck
Her sister was a rip, everybody got a ride
Her father was a rat, so I buried him alive

* It may or may not be worth noting that Joe Pesci does not appear to have a criminal record.

Above is a thing of loveliness, a short film from the hitRECord collective entitled Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo. A dreamy, steampunky fairy tale with a Joyce-esque nonsense narration that twists and teases language so perfectly that my head almost exploded. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is turning out to be one of these sickeningly productive polymaths (I’m looking at you, James Franco) who thrill and depress in equal measure, with their cool eye for creative wonderments and keen focus in actually getting shit done. Every weekend of this year I have resolved to get a short story started and finished, of any length, of any first-draft-questionable quality, and eight weeks in, I have a couple of stop/start sentences of blaarghable blathering. Meanwhile, JGL’s off Inceptioning and running creative collectives and wearing suits in public AND he got to kiss Zooey Deschenel. But rather than having a teary-eyed resent-filled moment of lust at his prodigious output, let us all learn something from this. I don’t know what that something is, but it’s good to have a soul-crushing realisation chaser to a thing of magnificent fabulosity. NOW LET’S WRITE A STORY.

I am quite sleepy, but between illsnesses and 7 hours of travel and being back to work and generally ennui (that ol’ thing), I suddenly had a revelation about my 2010 retrospective. Not to diminish “Four Lions”, as it is extremely wonderful, but the film that has been bouncing around my headspace since I saw it (apart from when I was compiling my dorky list) was Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth.

Three children have been raised behind the walls of their family home, away from the influence of the outside world. Their father insists they remain there until they lose their dog tooth, a sign that they have reached maturity. He warns them that if they attempt to leave before then, they face the mercy of bloodthirsty cats that killed their brother. He and their mother educate them, teaching them that the tiny yellow flowers that blossom in their gardens are called “zombies”, and that the planes that circle overhead are the size of a child’s toy. When their father introduces a workmate to deal with the sexual urges of their son, she smuggles in VHS tapes of popular films, poisoning their minds with their first experiences of western culture – including Flashdance:

It is strange, shocking, dark, humorous and magnificent, a sordid world fully realised in all its stifling weird misery. I cursed myself when I watched it. It was such a brilliant idea – why didn’t I think of it first? But I doubt I could craft something so twisted, authentic and complete. So instead I make blog posts about it. Super.

I don’t know where September went. I’m missing that month entirely. I know things have, if I may get personal here, slightly gone to shit, cookie-wise, and I can only assume that at some point between a trip home at the end of August, and my return to London in so-called, swiftly-passing “September”, something truly awful happened and all the things that once were good are now bad.

And now it’s Christmas! Perfect time for my favourite and unfairly forgotten Christmas song, “Things Fall Apart” by Cristina. It’s called “Things Fall Apart”, for a start, and also contains the line he licked me like a candy cane. It’s just super.


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