NO HOMO: Beach Rats

What the film audience seems to yearn for nowadays is to see the intricacies of a story without the support of a beginning and end. There is a relief in finding others stuck in limbo just like we are. Uncertainty becomes reflected onto the storyline and the viewer is no longer intimidated of the obligatory disclosure. A film that does this quite exquisitely is Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman, 2017). For a film like this to break out of the confines of Hollywood’s generic definitions, reflects exactly on the characters’ experiences. It champions the uncertainties of identity and does not shame it in any way. Hollywood films tend to illustrate the answers than pose questions and encourage uncertainty.

With the use of visuals, location, and technology Beach Rats is revolutionary in its commentary on spectrum. The main character struggles with his sexuality as it simultaneously disrupts his gender performance with his friends. He finds that his association to a girl gives him a superior image in his surroundings. One that he knows would not be possible if he were to admit to himself his attraction to men.

With the concept of identity in mind, Beach Rats opens to its main character, Frankie, lifting weights shirtless. Immediately, with the camera’s explicit objectifications of Frankie, we understand his performance of gender. One could also assume that attached to such a clearly defined gender is heterosexuality. This takes part in defining this ‘precarious manhood’, as psychologists call it, that many men strive for. In some form men have allowed for this objectification as long as it depicts them as superior. An example would be when Frankie and his friends test their strength at a high striker.

However, Frankie “doesn’t really know what he likes” as he repeatedly says throughout the film. With the loss of his father, the only male figures that are available to him are his friends. As an added weight, he also takes on the role of the only male figure in his household. As a result, he questions the value of everything in his life and what is worth letting go and worth exploring. There is an awareness of queerness being interchangeable with weakness, which disrupts his sense of masculinity. Frankie’s struggle only shows the dangers of categorization as everything ultimately is linked and labels do not permit that. Gender and sexuality are linked but they are connected uniquely within every individual. Sometimes that connection is not portrayed in any of society’s categorizations of sexuality and gender leading to an individual’s sense of othering.

The film’s raw nature of filming also implies a primitiveness to the story that has the potential of being contradictory. There is a blurred area in whether primitiveness implies a black and white way of living, where men are hunters and women are gatherers, or encourages a spectrum of sexuality and gender that is not pressured by societal rules.

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Similarly to Fucking Åmål (Lukas Moodysson, 1998), the location of the film acts as another character. ‘Beach rats’ is a name given to the boys who are seen at Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn, NY. In contrast to how they project themselves to each other on the boardwalk at night or at home, when they are at the beach in the sun they become objectified with a completely different purpose. This is the point where the viewer truly becomes a voyeur in that not only do we find beauty in their bodies but also in their ignorance of the world. Their confinement to this the place reflects on how they also are unaware of the infinite possibilities that they can explore and self-identify with. They have become unknowingly restricted to a two-dimensional performance of gender and sexuality because of their lack of access. Part of what might encourage this confidence in location is technology. In the era we live in now, technology disguises confinement.

For Frankie, through technology came this desire to categorize even within his sexuality. As his encounters through gay webcam websites’ try to pin him down to a certain type, he repeats hopelessly that he does not know what he likes. In the beginning of the film, he only stops to chat with older men online giving it a Freudian subtext as his father is in his deathbed. However later on in the film, he decides to broaden his choices in men. He meets with a younger man his age who is more open in displaying his sexuality than Frankie is. His overt queerness though is what allows Frankie’s friends to beat him up and steal his marijuana. This pushes Frankie further back into a cocoon of masculinity. Having witnessed how being queer can project weakness, he becomes confused about how his queerness defines him as an individual. As everyone he seems to encounter, including the gay men he meets with, ask him to define himself, he loses sight to the possibility of him embodying multiple genders and sexualities.

Beach Rats argues against the notion of spectrum being terrifying. In a world just in the beginnings of accepting labels, it is crucial to understand that labels are only useful in the initial phases of identity fulfillment. If they are still in use in the final stages then we have trapped ourselves yet again in a societal invention.

The film ends with Frankie in the same state he was in the beginning of the film. All the audience has learned in between those two poles is that gender is an illusion. As a result, the use of labels can lead to a loss of identity as much as they can help in identity fulfillment.

Beach Rats’ elusiveness can be regarded as a film unsure of its message. In my opinion though, its vague poetic nature is precisely the film’s intention in showing the pleasures of spectrum.

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2 Great Films on Unrequited Love

Here are two films I always think of when discussing or contemplating unrequited love.

With so little words, they are the visual epitome of the inner-turmoil of a person in love with someone that does not love them back.

  1. Hable con ella (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002) – unrequited love is like necrophelia

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2. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001) – unrequited love IS insanity.

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USA New York Philippe Petit Rest

Philippe Petit: Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge – and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope.  – Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)

Have you ever wondered if you’re going to be that person that falls in love with that passionate person or if you’re going to be that passionate person that everyone falls in love with?

Man on Wire is about this. It is a film about relationships. Its about someone so passionate about something and how his relationships are affected by this.

 

Blaxploitation & Intersectional Feminism

Approaching subject matter on race or relating to race there is always the question of where to draw the line between representing reality as a way of protest or defying it by displaying what is needed. This is already an existing argument in relation to class and whether African American struggles are realistically depicted on the screen. Sydney Poitier’s importance in black film history and in the civil rights movement initiates such an argument. He arguably did not utilize his platform as a leading African American on the screen and instead acted as a concept for the white viewer to find comfort in. Marvin Van Peebles similarly factors into this argument but, contradicting Poitier, he reinforced stereotypes of the community by way of being separatist. Ultimately both stars represent the extremes of the spectrum of black visibility on the screen turning us back to the question of where the line lies for the most effective visibility in films. Identification, resistance, and, as a result, progress all factor into what makes this visibility possible. However, what magnifies this issue even more is the representation of women.

“Black films were. . . subject to critical interrogation. . . Critical, interrogating black looks were mainly concerned with issues of race. . . They were rarely concerned with gender” (bell hooks, 2000, pg. 231). As Ed Guerrero states while discussing Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Marvin Van Peebles, 1971), there was a “significant absence of any black feminist criticism of the film at that time… [A] politicized black women’s agenda was generally submerged under a male-focused black nationalist discourse” (1993, pg. 91). The concentration on men and their desires and, as a result, degradation of women is prevalent in film like Sweet Sweetback and She’s Gotta Have it (Spike Lee, 1986). These films have denied “the body of the black female. . . [and] the woman to be looked at and desired is ‘white’” (hooks, 2000, pg. 231) In She’s Gotta Have It, Greer says he should date a white girl implying that the race of a girl determines the success of a relationship. This treatment of women is prevalent within other races as well. In The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), Connie gets kicked around by her brothers and her husband and is expected to be inferior to them. In short, The Godfather and certainly She’s Gotta Have It and Sweet Sweetback all represent a reality where women do get treated like objects rather than human beings.

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On the other hand however, Foxy Brown (Jack Hill, 1974) is a film that embraces female objectification and treats it as empowering. Pam Grier appeared as a strong independent maternal feminine woman. This was unusual then as women, especially black women did not have this type of agency on screen. Grier redefined the black woman’s role in film and treated their beauty, womanhood, and sexuality as completely their own and nobody else’s.

Foxy Brown, similarly to the dynamic of Poitier and Van Peebles, represents a polarity to the Second Wave feminism that rose to prominence in the ‘70s with now-popular icons like Gloria Steinem by its side. Second Wave feminism, with the help of radical feminists like Catharine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin, was anti-pornography. This included exploitation films and material that needed, in their eyes, censorship or removal of any explicit sexual content. Ultimately, their position was to fight for women’s empowerment by proving that they too can be as masculine as any leading man. Characters like Ripley in Aliens (James Cameron, 1986) and Sarah Connor in The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) resemble this desire to depict female heroines as masculine. (Holmlund, 2005, pg. 97) This mirrors Sydney Poitier’s approach in African American visibility on the screen in that he too wanted to show that blacks can be just like the whites.

The trouble and difficulty with attempting to represent a type of reality is the resulting condemnation of a group collectively as something, does not matter if it is good or bad, just something as a whole. The result of which can be reproducing another kind of reality. That is what James Baldwin was ultimately saying in his 1968 essay in Look. One man (Poitier) cannot represent a whole community. Neither can a movie formula (Blaxploitation). It is Hollywood’s responsibility to make certain that there is a full range of visibility for each community, which is more than possible. For that to happen, audiences must realize that the line between representing reality and defying it is becoming a resisting spectator, as bell hooks calls it (2000, pg. 230). While watching a film, viewers must remember to be critical of what they are consuming. They must realize the power in financially supporting films and also demanding that there be more diverse writers and directors making films.

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What Ed Geurrero, when talking about the issues of Blaxploitation only briefly mentions, is Hollywood’s ability to find ways in masking its racism but also simultaneously making profit. It does not represent or defy reality; it is “perpetuating fantasy of American life” (Guerrero, 1993, pg. 74.) Hollywood is still “restrict[ing] its political vision and mask[ing] its conservative assumptions about race” (Guerrero, 1993, pg. 78). The repression of a group shifts to another and the resisting spectator of the black film theorists is not aware of that. This awareness is essential because, as Stuart Hall says, identity is not outside representation but within it (1989, pg. 80). How else can stereotypes be broken than for there to be abundant visibility and awareness of spectrum instead of only extremes. Manthia Diawara, analyzing The Birth of a Nation, said, “the black experience is rendered absent in the text” (1988, pg. 70) Many Hollywood films render many experiences as absent to this day like Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker (2008) that seemed to make sure to show that the only victims of the Iraq war were the Americans and no one else. Even now, with the stars having easier access to a social platform, Hollywood takes advantage of that. An example would be casting an unknown actress with a strong and routed political stance against Palestine. This is Gal Gadot, from Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017).

To conclude, it is correct to say that the resisting spectator is necessary but the resisting spectator is not aware enough. We must recognize Hollywood’s incessant need to have an object, representing the American dream, in disguise with all the power. We need to take that on as a whole, and resist that. If we only resist portions of it, it will shift to another group.

 

“Real life is the life of dreams”

Said by the character Marilena to the main character Wanda in Lo sceicco bianco (1950, Federico Fellini).

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If ever you need a film to show you just how, whatever route a woman takes in her life, it is not what she believes it to be.

This is why progress in the women’s movement is slow because sexism is so deeply imbedded in our system that it has become part of a cycle. Either way a woman takes, she is still lesser than and thus within the realms of control.

Wanda is disappointed in finding herself in a marriage so mediocre and dull that she seeks the character of her fantasies. Once she finds that there is no such world as simple as it appears in her weekly romance photo comics, she returns to her husband convinced that she has the best that the world can offer.

Brigsby Bear & Self-Acceptance

http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/10/02/film-house-brigsby-bear-and-self-acceptance

Kyle Mooney offers us a film about self-acceptance and embracing one’s inner-child as a way to finding our most creative self.

Brigsby Bear (2017) stars and is co-written by Kyle Mooney, who we know as one of the cast members of Saturday Night Live.

Dave McCary, who directed the film, also works as a segment director on SNL. However, even without this information the film clearly has a distinct sense of humour. With Andy Samberg, as a member of the comedy group the Lonely Island who made popular the SNL digital shorts and is famous for his SNL musical collaborations with Justin Timberlake and Beck Bennett, another SNL cast member, the comedic timing of the actors is performed so smoothly that those who watch it should mirror the characters on the screen and not take themselves too seriously.

The film shuts down any attempt in making any situation seem traumatic or any character seem tragic. Mooney’s character, James, has only just gotten to see the real word after being abducted by a couple and living with them in a locked up house for most of his 25 years of living. When people just assume that he has led a difficult life, he is quite clueless about it and does not completely understand the commotion over it. He believes his life has a been a positive one so far as a result of the TV show Brigsby Bear. He finds out that he was the sole viewer of the show as his abductor father made it especially for him. However, he does not perceive the bear as a product of his confined childhood like his real family does but as a vessel for his imagination and motivation to share this unique show and character.

The film starts out appearing nostalgic. The way James dresses, the cassettes he plays Brigsby Bear with, and the computer he uses to blog about it are a mixture of fandom and nostalgia. In addition to that, the man who plays his abductor father is none other than Mark Hamill who is known for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars film series. Star Wars remains one of the most financially successful films of all time. It has influenced many young filmmakers, and still is, just like James is encouraged to make a Brigsby movie. It is also known to have an abundance of merchandise similar to James’ clothes and bedroom decoration.

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There is also this sentimentality to it about how people’s insensitive remarks to such an obsession can stunt one’s creativity. Once that changes and there is support, your imagination can do wonders. In other words, embrace your eccentricity and act clueless to those who wish you nothing but failure.

When coming from the underground ’90s world to the present world, there is a need to simplify things. As an outsider, the basics are seen as the answer and its what makes the film’s comedy bits timeless.

The film becomes transcendental in its depiction of James’ mind and imagination. By the end, we understand that the only way to be content with one’s way of living is through self-acceptance and being oblivious to those with negative intentions.

What we are exposed to since birth is what has shaped us. Our attitude to life, our health, and our intelligence come from the values that were depicted in the films and shows we watched and the music we listened to.

Certain Women & the Denial of Vulnerability

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Certain Women (2016), Directed by Kelly Reichardt

What a cinematic experience Certain Women was and perhaps I should’ve guessed it would be so with a Reichardt film. You sort of become hypnotized and captivated by the longer than usual attention that is given to each character. It is beyond what words can explain. The characters themselves would not admit to feeling such emotions that are displayed on the screen. It is only given some air when not being looked at it but immediately goes into hiding when there’s a threat of appearing vulnerable. Jamie, played by Lily Gladstone, and Fuller, played by Jared Harris, are the only ones who let themselves feel and act on their emotions. The outcome for them is pain.

This might be a commentary on womanhood and the requirement for extremes in order to be taken seriously.