In Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna’s introduction comes in the first 3 minutes of the film; she is seen taking a selfie with a Polaroid, laying on the carpet of the hotel floor, surrounded by cards, while Urgent by Junior Walker is playing. The easiness of her charisma exudes throughout that scene. Until the film ends, all that I can think of is her, and how her presence is so palpable, you would feel the sharpness of what she is. That feeling tells me a lot, yet not so, about the woman I am about to see; be it in the film itself or in her consistent career.
First, a little background about Madonna. She used to be a dancer and even received a scholarship for it in Michigan, where she was born and raised. However, she decided to drop out of college and later moved to New York. Working as a waitress and dancing backup for Patrick Fernandez, however, didn’t feel right for her. She wanted to be more. So she decided to go on a solo act by the name given to her – Madonna.
Madonna is best described as an enigma. She is the ultimate icon, consists of all the great flairs of what makes a star, a star. She has that certain je ne sais quoi quality about her that makes her the epitome of the 1980s aesthetic that everyone strives for. Being the multifaceted woman that she is, we should all thank her for her role in the creation of the pop culture canon that we all know now. Dabbling in music, film, activism, lifestyle (Hard Candy Fitness or MDNA Skin anyone?), and anything else you could ever think of cannot be easy. If we set aside all the controversy that she is a master of, Madonna’s appeal as a star is broad, encompassing generation after generation, and leaving each of them a legacy of the Madonna of their own time.
Reality television has a tendency to become all-encompassing. Whether through demonstration of talent (The X Factor, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Project Runway), the close observation of an isolated group (I’m a Celebrity, Big Brother) or semi-scripted personality-driven chaos (The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea), this brand of entertainment asks for very little from its audience, while delivering a uniquely involved experience. ITV2’s Love Island is no different. The concept of the show is fairly simple: throw a group of young adults into a Spanish villa, instruct them to couple up, arrange some drama here and there, and the hoards of viewers will tune in nightly, becoming increasingly obsessed with the grafting, bitching, crying and scheming that naturally occurs once straight people are encouraged to find a partner. At the heart of the show, however, is a genuine charm that’s rarely found in reality shows, and a secure knowledge of an audience that has brought this controversial title its fame.
Any fan of Love Island knows that the daily hour spent watching the Islanders’ antics is only the tip of the iceberg. Memes, hashtags, and viciously opinionated factions explode across the internet, providing ample content with which to pass the time between episodes, or even during ad breaks. The producers encourage this interaction, with the Love Island Twitter and Instagram accounts updating frequently to note key developments, and the voting portion of the show being entirely based within a downloadable app. The essence of experiencing this immensely popular show relies on a shared viewing event – even if the people you are sharing it with are situated miles away.
This essay is by our guest writer, Harrison Hughes.
When it comes to capturing the complexities of human relationships, there are few directors as bold and profound as Christian Petzold. Born in Hilden, Germany in 1960, Petzold graduated from the German Film and Television Academy Berlin in the mid ‘90s with his debut feature Politinnen (1995). Released on German television to critical acclaim, Politinnen depicts the close relationship between two working women as they drive across Germany selling cosmetics. Although distant in age, the two women bond over their mutual exploitation and grow closer as they navigate the German landscape. With Politinnen, Petzold establishes his cinematic approach to human relationships and interactions as they develop and unfold on screen. Jump forward 19 years and nine films later, Petzold directs Phoenix (2014), his most ambitious and successful work to date.
Set in the rubble of post-war Berlin, Phoenix explores similar themes to Petzold’s early films such as the confusion of identity and the uncertainty of love, but with a much more ominous tone. The second film in his self-proclaimed “Love in Times of Oppressive Systems” trilogy, Phoenix, is not so much about love, but the distrust that surrounds it. In the wake of WW2 and its horrors, post-war society was afflicted with a great scepticism that haunted the bombed-out city streets like a spectral reminder. From religion and politics to modern civilisation and the nature of mankind, everything was questioned, and nothing remained the same. Phoenix explores this scepticism on an individual level by questioning the extent to which we can truly know ourselves, the world, and the ones we love.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the cute and quirky love interest that skips around in films that feature moody men who long to escape their current mundane lives. This archetype has existed since the beginning of cinematic history, but did not receive a proper title until Nathan Rabin’s 2004 review of Elizabethtown (Rabin, 2007). Rabin says that “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Though he later apologized for coining the term, Rabin was critiquing the one-dimensional female characters that are constantly displayed in the movies (Rabin, 2014). Many viewers enjoy the whimsical, fairy-like girls that seem to skip around due to their unexplainable amount of confidence. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl lacks motivation, significant or human-like flaws, and the ability to grow past their state of being simply adorable.
Many female characters that seem a bit out of the ordinary by dressing with a unique sense of style or reading a certain poet wrongly receive the Manic Pixie Dream Girl label. Sadly, viewers have grown used to seeing underdeveloped female characters who are only there to propel forward the male protagonist. This is where Breathless differs. Patricia Franchini, played by Jean Seberg, displays the Manic Pixie Dream Girl aesthetic: her blonde hair is cut in a short pixie style and she studies journalism at the Sorbonne. She also enjoys talking of romanticism and philosophy and her American status just adds to her appeal. But Patricia is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
You could say that David Cronenberg is something of a Freudian fanboy.
His body of work is frequently dissected by esteemed film critics and scholars using psychoanalytic approaches, particularly with his early career horror films that plunge you into the visceral and the venereal. This is no surprise – after all, psychoanalysis carries a heavy emphasis on images and metaphors relating to sex and the body. However, when considering psychoanalysis from a modern day perspective, it is clear that it has its issues. We currently live in a time where sexuality and gender allow for fluidity, making Freud’s rigid adherence to the male-female binary appear rather stale. For Freud, the “male” is always antecedent to the “female”; as if consulting the story of Eve being born from Adam’s rib, so, too, did Freud view the female as a derivative of the male.
This essay is by our guest writer, Amanda Walencewicz.
Selecting the most indelible images from In the Mood for Love is somewhat of a fool’s errand, as Nathan Rabin alludes to in his review of the film for The Dissolve: “A coffee-table book commemorating every unforgettable image in In the Mood for Love would run many thousands of pages long and include literally every frame of the film,” he writes. But I would venture that for most viewers it is the gently swiveling hips of Maggie Cheung as she walks in her qipao, with her placid face and perfect coif. Her partner in the film, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, conjures a similar image, of impeccably tailored suits, slicked-back hair, and a face that displays only the quietest renderings of emotion. From their impenetrable physical presences comes not a stilted or awkward romance, but one that is deeply seductive.
Romance would seem to stem from openness, from unburdening oneself from the superficiality of one’s surroundings, from releases of tension and admissions of attraction. In the Mood for Love, instead builds that tension and never releases it, creating an unbearable longing for the characters and the viewer, which is satisfied only through the decadent visuals of the body. It is not a cheap tease, however, that director Wong Kar-wai goes for. It is not the idea of finding great pleasure in the small concessions given out of deprivation, the glimpse of the ankle on a fully-covered woman as it were. The body is a constant presence, a surrounding in which the viewer is immersed, excessive and lingered upon. It is both a counterpoint to the restraint of the characters and a result of it – the unintended byproduct of their very conscious actions.
Many film critics and industry publications will tell you a version of the same concept, that the age of the Hollywood star is over.
What they mean has more to do with power behind the camera than screen presence. Where we still find visible old-school star power doubling as negotiating power seems to rest mostly with an older generation of actors who also run production companies. Brad Pitt and Plan B Entertainment, Leonardo DiCaprio and Appian Way Productions,Tom Cruise and Cruise/Wagner Productions.
Rarer still is the helming of an extended franchise, from production to release, at the hands of a single person, with that same person as its star. There are a few franchises that have done this successfully, molding them into cinematic touchstones: Sylvester Stallone with Rocky, Vin Diesel with the Fast and the Furious franchise (though this arrangement took place later in the series’ history), and Tom Cruise with Mission: Impossible.
These are case studies in what it means to have outsized power in a landscape that is already wildly unequal. These are predominantly action franchises willed into being, or into continuation, by men who command extensive studio contracts numbering in the ten of millions of dollars. These are endeavors commanded by a kind of arrogance (or “ambition”) that has to exist for such an idea to gain traction. These are structures built on the auspices of “family”, moral fortitude, trust in the loyalty of others, and the singular conviction of their protagonists to succeed against impossible odds.
These are idealized redemption stories about what it means to make movies.