‘Star Wars Celebration Chicago 2019’ Reminded Me Why Fandom Matters

Introduction – My Star Wars Story

On December 18th, 2015, Star Wars awakened once again; a pivotal moment for the last decade of mainstream entertainment. And what made The Force Awakens a graceful, triumphant return was the fact that it was both a nostalgic trip back home for all those who were already invested in the Star Wars franchise, and also a call to people closer to my age to partake in its broad cinematic legacy.

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My photos from before the opening night of The Force Awakens on December 15th, 2015

I remember skipping a whole day of high school with my friends so that we could head straight to Disneyland in the morning, and then to AMC so that we could get the best seat possible in that bustling theater. I already had a history with Star Wars because of my family’s expansive DVD collection, but I was particularly eager to finally have a new trilogy of these films to call my own. I was wearing a quickly thrown together Han Solo costume, I got seated in the middle row, with only my friend and a bag of m&ms at my side when the projector lit up. My eyes gleamed up at the opening crawl, for I was ready to be transported once again to that galaxy far, far away– content with knowing that people like me had a place amongst those stars.

And when I came home from the cinema and fired up the Tumblr log in screen so I could write my first post about how much I loved the new Star Wars, I wasn’t aware of how that love would, in retrospect, become my first steps into a larger world of fandom.

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What ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ Teaches Us About Ethics and Faith

Content Warning: Mentions of trauma, bombings, violence, and death.

Marguerite Duras’ and Alain Renais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) has been most famously celebrated as one of the pioneering films of French New Wave. Two strangers meet wholly by chance, and spend the next twenty-four hours ruminating on the poetics of loss, suffering and memory. Of course, the title itself alludes to the bombing of Hiroshima, which immediately situates the film within the challenging politics of re-presentation. Can we ever do justice to the atrocities of war? Is it crude to talk about Hiroshima through a lover’s discourse? How to talk about Hiroshima? How can we not talk about Hiroshima?

To this end, Duras herself affirms in the synopsis of the screenplay that it is impossible to talk about Hiroshima, for any attempt to represent Hiroshima would amount to a “made-to-order picture … a fictionalised documentary” (10). To begin representing such devastating violence then, is to first foreground that we are unable to talk about it nor accurately articulate what had objectively happened. For this reason, Duras says that the lovers’ “personal story, however brief it may be, always dominates Hiroshima” (10). She does not negate that Hiroshima had happened, but rather acknowledges that our inability to empirically represent the event also means all we have is our personal perceptions of the event. For Duras, it is only through the personal can we approach, and interrogate the political. It is thus unsurprising that the establishing shot of the film is an extreme close-up of the two lovers in a tender embrace: we are unable distinguish them, and their skins are soaked in what Duras describes as “ashes, rain, dew, or sweat, whichever is preferred” (15). The juxtaposition between the ashes from the bombing and their loving embrace blurs the boundaries between the personal and political, and shows us that perhaps the two aspects are not as disparate as we would like to believe.

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Emmanuelle Riva in ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’

In fact, I argue that Duras and Renais shows us that approaching the political through the personal allows for a possibility of an ethics, where the radical difference and heterogeneity of another is respected. For context, the real world we live in is clearly far from ethical. All we do is reduce people to essentially fabricated categories (i.e. race, gender, sexuality, etc) for the purposes of violent classification. Such categories may be constructs, but they are constructs with harrowing material consequences all the same. They are constructs we have made in order to comprehend another according to our history, our knowledge, and our genealogy. To fix the other in our own image is to neccessarily transform them into an object, rather than allowing them to acquire their own subject status. Through this process of comprehension, we eradicate radical difference, and thus fail to cultivate an ethical relation with those around us. Continue reading “What ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ Teaches Us About Ethics and Faith”

Female Director Spotlight: Elaine May, Renegade Improv Comedienne

A natural performer from the start, director Elaine May allegedly began her career in 1935 at the tender age of three, performing in her father’s Yiddish theater company (although she conceded in 2010 that this origin story isn’t “strictly accurate”). At age 16, she married a toy inventor, with whom she had a daughter, then divorced him a few years later. After holding a series of odd jobs, including as a private detective and a roofing salesman, she decided she’d like to enroll in college—the problem was, she lacked the high school diploma that California colleges required by law. With just $7 in her pocket, she hitchhiked to Chicago, where this rule didn’t exist, to pursue an education.

Here, she met future legendary director Mike Nichols through mutual friends. The pair bubbled with comedic chemistry, and in 1955, they joined the off-campus improv group, The Compass Players. Two years later, Nichols was asked to leave the team for being “too talented,” and May quit with him. Soon, they developed their own act, forming stand-up comedy duo, “Nichols and May.” Their undeniable talent eventually landed them their own Broadway show, and “An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May” became a bonafide hit, performing for full house shows and even winning a Grammy for Best Comedy Performance. Sadly, Nichols and May disbanded in 1964, citing difficulties with keeping their act consistently fresh. Over the next several years, Nichols would go on to begin a wildly successful film directing career with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and May would try her hand at playwriting. She also acted in various screen roles, including an uncredited cameo in Nichols’ The Graduate, until she gained the experience to direct her first feature.

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The Triumph of Morally Ambiguous Women in ‘Line of Duty’

Why Do We Hate Morally Ambiguous Women On TV?

The portrayal of morally ambiguous women in television and film has never been particularly well-received by critics and audiences alike. Often, such a portrayal of women evinces misogynistic criticism, without much consideration for actually analysing characterisation, plot or themes. This special consideration seems to be solely reserved for the criticism of morally ambiguous male characters, who are afforded the luxury of being analysed as complex. In contrast, the criticism of morally ambiguous women eschews analysing the technicalities of characterisation altogether. Instead, this criticism is usually directed towards her gender and consequently, how she should behave as a woman within a specific cultural context. It seems that implicit in the word complex, is the de facto accepted face of the white, heterosexual male, whose race, gender, and sexuality no longer matter because they are the norm against which all marginalised groups are measured by. Only when these attributes (i.e. race, gender, sexuality) are backgrounded, can the technicalities of his characterisation be foregrounded and fleshed out in the wider context of criticism. Unfortunately, the rest of us aren’t so lucky. The marginalised are never complex. We are almost always negatively defined in relation to the norm, and that is a definition which lapses back into homogeneity and sameness. Complex is a word which denotes possibilities beyond what is universally accepted, and the idea of the beyond horrifies those in power who rely on the fixity and determinacy of essentialised categories like race, gender and sexuality. Continue reading “The Triumph of Morally Ambiguous Women in ‘Line of Duty’”

Film Awareness In Under-Exposed Areas

There’s the potential for a cinephile in everybody we meet, probably with varying intensities, but there’s the potential nonetheless. There is always a hidden untapped passion brimming underneath the surface that even they might be unaware of – not necessarily cinephilia. But cinephilia was mine. Once I recognized the dormant passion that always resided in me and put it to exercise, I felt like a new man. It was like a new chapter for me. So, with this potential in mind, why do African nations in particular lack the knowledge and accessibility to lesser known, indie movies that are widely regarded as some of the best cinema today among more cine-literate circles? You can already tell this is going to be a personal essay which it very much is, but I’ll also evaluate connections between my own experience and the larger scope of things. Be ready to cringe because I’m about to get deep.

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‘God’s Own Country’: A Discovery of Connections Beyond the Landscape

‘God’s Own Country’ is traditionally a term used to describe the vast, open, scenic landscapes that mold the county of Yorkshire’s unspoiled countryside. But, Francis Lee’s directorial debut, ‘God’s Own Country’ (2017), focuses less on the poetic beauty of the landscapes. It uncovers and reworks the expression to draw attention to the lands people, who often go unnoticed in mainstream media. What accompanies the land in ‘God’s Own Country’ are the sensations of isolation and solitude that are felt by, and have become an integral part of the film’s protagonist, Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor), a young, gay farmer.

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How the Unlikely Claustrophobia of ‘Phantom Thread’ and ‘The Favourite’ Moves the Needle on Prestige Period Dramas

In the midst of the scandals and snubs that have dominated the conversations surrounding Best Picture nominees of recent years, Phantom Thread and The Favourite are two contenders that have drawn the most specific comparisons. Given that they’re both British period pieces at their cores, and are helmed by prominent directors — Paul Thomas Anderson and Yorgos Lanthimos, respectively — these films seem just as primed for predictable Academy recognition as star-studded melodramas or Sam Rockwell playing racist characters a little too well.

But even as The Favourite and Phantom Thread have received well-deserved buzz and tick many of the boxes that often lead awards cycle domination, the general consensus remains: there’s something offbeat and singular about how these stories unfold. In spite of their lavish settings, the films seize upon social codes of the time to exacerbate conflicts between their characters, until the resulting atmospheres become increasingly confined and oppressive. This intentional, rather ironic claustrophobia helps the films to plumb deeper themes that arise from certain historical circumstances, moving the needle on what a “period piece” can explore.

By the time that Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) first encounters his lover and muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps) near the beginning of Phantom Thread, viewers have already been thoroughly exposed to the painstakingly choreographed rituals that dictate the designer’s opulent life. The film marks Paul Thomas Anderson’s first departure from the restless Americana of his seven earlier features, as he and the notoriously method-oriented Day-Lewis delved into the refined world of 1950s London couture houses.

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Much more reliant on tradition than Paris — the other European dressmaking capital of the time — London fashion was predicated on the occasions of the city’s upper class. Scenes of royals and women of high society ascending the spiral staircase of the “House of Woodcock” to meet with Reynolds as Jonny Greenwood’s score swells carry an air of choreographed theatrics because they are meant to — these carefully manicured businesses are beautiful, but so steeped in privilege and British customs that they can easily turn suffocating if one steps out of line.

Continue reading “How the Unlikely Claustrophobia of ‘Phantom Thread’ and ‘The Favourite’ Moves the Needle on Prestige Period Dramas”