Category Archives: Television and Movies

Shifting Aesthetic Sensibilities and the Resultant Discontinuity in “Historical” Representation: Nit-picking at one scene in “Hugo”

[SPOILERS]

Ali G is in this movie. Just kidding, that’s not the spoiler. Okay, onto the rant:

Among other things, Hugo is a love letter to Georges Melies and his work, signed smugly by Martin Scorsese. Its subject is ostensibly historical, but it was made for a modern audience.  Some might say the mission of the film was to fill a gap in the imagined knowledge of the modern movie-goer: Hugo, in part, tries to educate the ignorant masses about the Fathers (and Mothers) of the movies.

Motion pictures are presented as a form of magical realism in Hugo–an art form whose beginnings have/had been tragically forgotten and in dire need of pedantic revival. Toward the middle of the film, we are treated to a history-lesson and picture show, featuring (surprise!) some of the older the actors in Hugo. This scene reveals a living Mother of Cinema: the woman in the scene watching the movie is in the movie! (Cue emotional music meant to evoke nostalgia.) See, she’s right there, in the close-up! Crazy! But wait…something’s missing. When you’re trying to educate the masses, authenticity only goes so far. Apparently you have to make concessions for their delicate aesthetic sensibilities.

The actress playing the old-timey actress is from the present day, playing for present-day eyes and modern (American) gendered aesthetic sensibilities. We flash back and forth to what is supposed to be the same woman, but the long-shots, when the archival footage is being shown, and the close-ups, when the present-day actress is inserted, a consistent image is not maintained. There is a glaring omission in the modern recreation of the early-day film: and that omission is underarm hair. It seems it wouldn’t do to go for full authenticity, however briefly. Body hair on a woman is a no-no these days, especially for those in the public eye. And even if authenticity is discounted as a value that this film was striving for, surely there’s something to be said for visual continuity!

To be fair, the style of the movie was on the fantastical side, and historical accuracy didn’t seem to be as high of a priority as effecting a certain aesthetic mood. But for a movie so drunk on its infatuation with the infancy of cinema, so eager to put the secrets of early cinematic magic on display, it sure dropped the ball on inserting its characters into this historical world. This flub, to my mind, rather undermines Hugo‘s reverent tone. And it would not have been difficult to fix: there are few things easier than not removing the hair from one’s body. So the blatant discontinuity in this one scene seems, well, unnecessary.

Upon seeing it, this scene almost made me laugh out loud in the theatre. Oh, come on! I thought with glee. This is too much–of course the actress doesn’t want to commit to the natural look that would have been the norm back when this old film was made; to the look of her real-life historical counterpart. No, she wants to look pretty to present-day eyes, or the director or other people in charge didn’t want the side-tracking public backlash that might come if the authenticity and continuity had been preserved. Who knows exactly why modern-day gendered aesthetics triumphed over the mission of Hugo to bring early day cinema out of the shadows and give it its due…again. (I won’t get into the how the story of the movie is mirrored by the movie itself, is a layer of the same mission: educating a new generation of movie-going masses on the origins of this entertainment form. Suffice it to say that it’s meta and fractal and kind of awesome in a self-congratulatory way.) But back to the erasure of female body hair: how hilariously amazing…and disappointingly expected.

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Filed under Gender Trouble, Nostalgia, Television and Movies

My Small Beef with “Midnight in Paris”

Forgive me, but I have to get this off my chest.

Why is no one talking about how Woody Allen ripped entire lines and caricatures from Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”? Why is everyone raving about this hacked-together borrowing of fun-facts and stereotypes of long-dead public figures? (Not everyone is raving, but I would say the vast majority are.) It was a double-layered cameo-fest where the historical figures were just snippets of their historically-remembered selves…many snippets of which were not even true. And those that did have a basis in fact were stolen from other people’s works. Why are critics raving about this child’s jigsaw puzzle of a movie?

If I’m going to be honest, though, I actually did enjoy watching this movie. It was fun and an interesting idea and the modern bits were insightful as far as how people relate to one another and lord knows I loved the era-specific costumes…but it wasn’t nearly as deep about nostalgia as it was trying to be, and the embarrassing parade of 1920s characters from “A Moveable Feast” was laughably trite and bordering on plagiarism. How are so many people applauding in awe of this half-assed exercise in bricolage?

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Filed under Contemporary, Television and Movies

Beef So Fresh It’s a Cash Cow

Turning life into food isn't free

First, a disclaimer–this is neither well-thought out nor well written. Also, here is the NPR article that goes with this picture. Photo credit is Greg Zabilski/ABC. Now to the somewhat predictable spin-off rant:

The host of this show (human pictured above) apparently wants people to think about what they are eating. And to think about it as a good American consumer would: in terms of how much it costs. This is veiled in the guise of encouraging more healthy eating (does cheaper automatically equal less healthy?). I’m not criticizing his project as a whole, just pointing to a few implications it has, or, more accurately, the delicious implications of the image above. (I’m also not criticizing the NPR story, which is focused on different issues and is worth reading for itself, especially if you want to know more about the TV show that this image is from.)

I frequently (some might say obsessively) use bovines to explore a lot of cultural issues, and this image and its accompanying article smacks you in the face with a few of them: animals-as-food, commodification of life, and placing monetary value on the spoils of death, to name a few. This cow is being used as a powerful device to illustrate to people how much they are paying for which cuts of meat. It is powerful, for one reason, because the connection between the live animal and its edible products are normally not illustrated so graphically. Cash value has been physically inscribed on a live animal that will, ostensibly, be killed and eaten. This cow stands for the idea of nutritional value for one’s money, and stands for all the beef that Americans consume. (I do wonder if the show at all addresses how value is added to cattle and the various cuts of meat they become…and this reminds me that I should really re-read and do a book review of Shukin’s Animal Capital.)

Honestly, I just love how blatantly monetary value is inscribed on this animal–it becomes a thing, a commodity, right before our eyes, even as it continues to embody movements that might be construed as independent and life-like. But this animals isn’t given a subjectivity of its own. Rather, it is made an object of education; a symbol of itself as a heavily used commodity in the U.S., of American eating and spending habits, of many things, just in this one image. The human next to it uses the animal and makes it mean certain things for his audience; lays his hand on its shoulder as if its body were a blackboard–as, indeed, it has been visually manipulated to become. It is on a leash, and at any moment the man can pick up the other end and have this mobile blackboard tethered to him–the man is in control of this might-as-well-be-dinner educational tool. (Unrelated note: wtf is with the washing machine in the right-hand corner?) This animal is marked for consumption–both as a commodity and as an eventual collection of differentially priced food items.

I just find this all very interesting, is all, and when I come across images such as this one which so clearly capture America’s relationship with food animals and consumerism, I squeal a little inside and have to share it. Mmm…semiotics!

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Filed under Beginning of the Body, Bovinity Infinity, Commodification, Contemporary, Media, Television and Movies