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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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.

Contemporary Color & the Merging of Arts

I wrote a review for The Film House on The Standard: http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/08/21/film-house-contemporary-color-and-the-merging-of-arts

The film starts off with a vague idea of what is about to be revealed to us. However, once you’re there you find yourself learning about something you should’ve known about a long time ago, which is colour guard and David Byrne’s Contemporary Color.

Contemporary Color is a performance event conceived by Byrne, of the new wave band Talking Heads, and co-commissioned by Brooklyn Academy of Music and Toronto’s Luminato Festival.

Byrne had realized that colour guard, an under-appreciated “sport of the arts” that is usually performed during half-time shows at football games, could be transformed into an event specifically showcasing their talents. These high school and college level “dance” groups are used to being secondary entertainment or competing against each other.

In an event like Contemporary Color, 10 lucky 20- to 40-persons teams are chosen to perform in a celebration of what they do. With artists such as Lucius, Nico Muhly and Ira Glass, Nelly Furtado, St. Vincent, Devonté Hynes, How To Dress Well, Zola Jesus, Ad-Rock and Money Mark, Byrne and Tune-Yards pairing up with the teams to create original pieces for them to perform to, it is truly an event like none other. A lover of any of these artists would appreciate these interpretations and, additionally, be introduced to other musicians accompanied by these remarkable visuals.

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Directed by Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV, the film shows us what happens when two arts merge together and interpret each other.

What better place to screen Contemporary Color than at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, a place that celebrates variety and diversity.

It would be too simple and too narrow a description to call Contemporary Colorjust a documentary. It does more than that. It introduces us to the world of interpretive art. The musicians, the dancers and the filmmakers are all given that challenge to understand each other art. What is difficult here is the openness and the receptivity that is required to do well in communication such as this.

As the audience, we can only appreciate this type of silent art with what the Ross brothers choose to translate to us. There are no flashbacks and no over-used backstories. There is only the respect that they all have for each other, knowing the time and effort it has taken to get to where they were. By the end of it, we are able to see all the many different elements that had to come together to produce something so transcendental.

With such silent non-explanations for the determination it takes for them to do what they are doing, the film resembles the films shown at the time of Expo 67. Hearing the voice-overs, seeing them perform at their neighbourhoods, the superimpositions, the slow zooms and even the music itself all give the film a dream-like and almost hallucinatory energy. As a result we are given these peculiar visuals of the merging of the arts.

Contemporary Color is an educational, entertaining and unique experience. It is so captivating that you leave unsure of whether you want more films like this or if you want to go see Contemporary Color live.

A Ghost Story & How Ignorance is Bliss

http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/07/30/film-house-a-ghost-story-ignorance-is-bliss

A Ghost Story is an experimental film that goes beyond expectations with each scene. It’s a trip without the hallucinogens, one that brings on a sense of calm yet will also leave you uneasy and tense.

Written and directed by David Lowery, A Ghost Story stars Casey Affleck, an actor whose career has seemed to reside on the fringes of Hollywood. However, since his Oscar win for his starring role in Manchester by the Sea this February, he has been working non-stop. Emerging from his brother Ben Affleck’s shadow, Casey has solidified his place as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors.

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The film also stars Rooney Mara of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fresh off the buzz of the much talked about Carol, Mara surprises us again with a completely different choice in role.

Affleck and Mara play C and M, a couple who seem to see each other as the only people in the world, their world; the only place they feel safe. The characters are genuine. They disagree with each other, they reconcile, they kiss and they caress one another. There are walls but there is understanding. Not long after we come to understand their love, C dies in a car crash. From this point on C is a ghost, a bed sheet over his head like a lazy kid dressed up for Halloween.

The plainness of C’s ghost somehow makes the character both ominous and melancholic as he drifts through scenes unnoticed. He watches his partner’s journey through mourning and he becomes fixated on reading a note that she has left but the pace of the world and the people in it makes this difficult. C’s ghost can only observe.

His helplessness and the frustration that accompanies it is what keep your attention rapt. There are people who suffer and there are witnesses to suffering, but there’s little that can be done. This becomes the film’s unique perspective.

The film makes us wonder about the continuity of history and the never-ending changes that build it. What happens today isn’t likely to matter in a few years as there are so many experiences both good and bad that await us.

A Ghost Story also calls into question notions of life after death. Do the dead, especially those who haven’t lived a completely fulfilled life, witness the ignorance of the living? The realization that mistakes are repeated and poor decisions will always keep being made is an idea that haunts this film. It explores the strength we must maintain to endure our own foibles. The source of this strength is the love that C and M have for one another. For the ghost of C, the note he’s desperately seeking to read represents that.

A Ghost Story is a film that could easily play on clichés and horror tropes but it avoids them. It’s a cosmic trip that actually explores these clichés and why they’re so prevalent. There are scenes that are filmed seemingly in real-time and then there are scenes that skip generations, all revolving around one unchanging element, the ghost, the watcher.

A Ghost Story will leave you with many questions: What is history? What is spirituality? And what is good and what is evil when love is not absolute?

Léon Morin, Prêtre & Existentialism

Léon Morin, Prêtre (1961), even though not explicitly a noir film, displays a lot of the director’s influences about the perception of character and the misuse of someone’s position. The film seems so contradictory to itself and in the end resembles L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961) in that nothing is definite. Whether the narrative is this or that, it does not change, completely uninterested and unaffected by what is applied to it. This is reflective of the noir convention of the blurred line between the good and the bad in that it adds to the confusion between the characters’ behaviours and their desires. Melville does not give us any directions to what the characters’ intentions are. He just allows us a peak into their lives for what seem like brief two-minute scenes, quickly changing from the office to the church to Barney’s daughter to Morin’s apartment and to Barney’s place. This style only adds to the anxiety and uncertainty that Barney experiences throughout the film.

This brings us to existentialism, which is tied to other film noir qualities like its distinct visual style, the presence of crime, the sense of nostalgia, and pessimism. “As a philosophical school of thought it has included both Christian and atheist, conservative and Marxist.” (Porfirio, 213) Melville used this dilemma of spiritualty and politics and placed it in the setting of a war, more specifically the German Occupation. Barney embodies this dilemma. Her questions about God and how one should live their life according to the teachings of Christ partly come from her communist identity and her experiences with Catholicism as a child. She unknowingly seeks those who share her feelings and doubts. She desires understanding. When Léon Morin tells her that God is an experimental, individual reality and therefore incommunicable she repeats the last word and says, “how awful.” The thought that God is never definite, which is reflected in the style of the film, only adds to her anxiety about existence.

She learns, however, a priest, Morin, sympathizes with these doubts. He shares some of her communist thoughts about the church. For example, he mentions that he does not believe that a man needs three priests to burry him. After all, priests are not morticians.

She took comfort in his apartment, a place that’s only defining features were the piano, the bookshelf, and his desk; a place that seems to breed isolation. “I felt more at home there than I ever had anywhere, in that parlor that looked like an abandoned laundry and whose floor shone like a mirror.”

As all her doubts and thoughts were shared with Morin, or at least understood, one thing was not, her sexual desire. The film starts out with her voice over telling the viewer about her infatuation with Sabine Levy who is higher in ranking than her at work. This infatuation later moves onto her coworker, later friend, Christine. This infatuation only lasts in three interactions between them and then quickly forgotten. First, Barney slaps Christine then Christine kisses her on the forehead then Barney caresses Christine’s cheek. As for the rest of the film, the attention is shifted onto Morin.

Traditionally, there is something duplicitous about a woman who is attracted to both men and women. In the case of Barney, she is considered almost ill. She is ill to the point where her attraction to women specifically is completely disregarded by the halfway mark of the film. As Morin says to her right after she tries to touch him, “its no longer mademoiselle Sabine. That’s progress.” At that point, she is considered sexually deviant as someone who masturbates with a stick, as she mentions to Morin, and as someone who seems to be attracted to anyone with superiority over her. Her attraction to woman is only a symptom to this illness. The world of the noir protagonist is “capable of any action, without regard to conventional morality, and this is as amoral . . . as his antagonists.” (Porfirio, 214) Worried about her place in the world, Barney’s morality concerns her. She considers herself a confused and sick woman for having these impure thoughts.

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What is different in this film than in American film noirs is Melville, with his fragmented narrative that seems to lack a beginning, middle, and end with the random order of scenes, managed to undermine these binary sexual identities. It did not matter who she liked. All that mattered was her stability and self-control. Except, there is still this awareness of gender in terms of authority. There is something telling about how Barney acts on her desires for Léon and not Sabine even though both actions are looked down on. He is a priest and Sabine is a woman. Even in the beginning of the film, Barney refers to Sabine as someone who reminds her of a young man. Note that Barney is her subordinate. However, that statement seems to imply that Sabine is somehow incomplete to Barney.

Léon is a complete male figure to her and seems to hold all the answers to all the questions she has. He makes her feel ashamed for her feelings and succeeds in converting her even though not for the right reasons. She does it out of shame and guilt. As he tells her in one scene, “if only you called to God as you call to a man.” However, we should note, there is a scene where an American soldier threatens her by not returning her daughter’s bag to her and says he will return it when she goes upstairs with him. She refuses to the point where she tells him to take her daughter’s bag. This shows that she does not submit to any kind of offer out there and that she does in fact have self-control.

Léon, however, is aware of his authority and power over Barney and seems to take advantage of his license, his license to touch her or even talk to her bluntly. He only has women come to his apartment for discussions on religion, which can be viewed as an exercise of power over women for him. It is fair to assume that is derived from his childhood, which he spoke of briefly in the film, where his mother beat him. He operates with barely any tact to the point where Léon can even be considered the femme fatale of the film. The last lingering shot of him standing there in the top of the stairs and then cut to Barney breaking down in the street shows his ever lasting and damaging effect on her.