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.
This piece is by our guest writer, Shaun Alexander.
As a part of the Criterion collection release of Andrea Arnold’s 2009 film, Fish Tank, you are treated to not only the Jury Prize winning film, but also three short films Arnold directed previously: Milk (1998), Dog (2001) and Wasp (2003). When you watch these shorts as a collective it is clear to see how they became stepping stones for Fish Tank and Arnold’s other future films, which tackle themes that can disturb viewers at times with intense depictions of sexuality, poverty and family relationships.
The reason for my own personal interest in Arnold’s work is due to the socio-economic setting. Set in and around East London / Essex, Fish Tank has a number of locations which are within walking distance from where I have lived the majority of my life. These are streets I have walked down, these are roads I have driven past and that level of familiarity is not just with the setting but with the characters we see. I am friends with, worked with and went to school with the people that Arnold often focuses on in her filmography – good-hearted people with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Having these personal investments in Arnold’s workhas made it fascinating to rediscover these short films and the way in which their ideas are clear influences on her later work.
WhenStanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey first opened in 1968, critics and general audiences were immediately polarized. Upon its premiere, a Variety review boldly stated, “2001: A Space Odyssey is not a cinematic landmark.” Others argued that it only broke even at the box office because of the time period’s affinity for dropping acid and lapping up that righteously trippy last 20 minutes.
It is now 50 years later, and 2001 is hailed as one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. Christopher Nolan’s restored 70mm print is making the rounds in the United States, coming to my home state of Oregon. The fervent popularity of the hallucinogenic LSD has been replaced with a proclivity for the psychoactive, and much safer, THC. And that happens to be very, very legal here. In fact, the announcer at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland joked, “Have you all ingested your edibles?” before the screening began (Yes. Yes I had). In short, times have changed.
One of the most celebrated and influential movements of international cinema is no doubt, French New Wave. This movement, that began in the late 1950s and continued into the 1960s, is known notably for the work of directors like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, with films like The 400 Blows and Breathless. While most French New Wave films graced the screen in black and white, with plots reminiscent of Hollywood genres like gangster film and film noir, there was a director painting French screens with effervescent, candy-coloured hues of lyrical wit. Jacques Demy is a director that stands apart from the rest, with screenplays that were a tribute to the Hollywood musicals of directors like Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donan. Demy’s cleverly written screenplays intertwine with similar themes (chance encounters, nostalgia, abandonment) and characters. His deviation from the traditional conventions of French cinema delivered a musical unlike any other: The Young Girls of Rochefort.
Just as the 1967 film is an homage to the Hollywood musical, the tributes to it have been returned, most notably in Damien Chazelle’sLa La Land, making it one of the most influential musicals to date. However, for many years, this wasn’t the case. It was overshadowed immensely by Demy’s previous musical venture, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, receiving a lukewarm reception, and disappearing quickly. It would take decades for film historians to see it on the same level of genius as Cherbourg, and equally as long for it to receive a re-release.
In A Woman Under the Influence (1974), John Cassavetes offers a devastating look into the suffocating gendered politics of heterosexual family life, exposing how our cruel expectations of each other can lead to our undoing. The film follows a seemingly simple plot: The protagonist, Mabel Longhetti (Gena Rowlands), appears to suffer from a series of mental breakdowns which prompts her family to commit her into a psychiatric institution.
Watching the film prompted me to ask the following questions: Were those really mental breakdowns, or merely a woman misunderstood by a largely patriarchal society quick to condemn women for resisting their expected roles of mother and wife? Of course, Cassavetes offers no definite answers, only multiple scenarios and therefore, many possible interpretations for Mabel’s behaviour. Here lies the film’s strength – its propensity for ambiguity. Even without watching the film, we know that the dominant narrative is that of the hysterical woman and the madwoman in the attic. In a society that is quick to label women as hysterical simply because they refuse to conform to masculine expectations, Cassavetes’ penchant for ambiguity is an act of resistance towards a singular patriarchal narrative that has heavily permeated much of society for decades.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, often referred to as the Dardenne Brothers, are well known for their modern neorealist films of the working class, especially the lives of those who live on the margins of Belgium society. While many films depicting the working class often romanticise suffering as a means to squeeze out every ounce of our pity, the plots from the duo can be sharply defined by their refusal to patronise their characters. Instead, what their films do is give a sense of dignity to a section of society that is never given any, through focusing on the brutal circumstances that their protagonists are in. Often, these circumstances are a result of the exploitative mechanisms of capitalism, leaving their characters forced to make morally grey decisions, scrambling to do anything to survive. Yet, in these films, the camera never assigns blame to the people, but rather to the environment which made them this way.
In this piece, I aim to offer an analysis of how the Dardenne Brothers critique the capitalist society which thrives on the absence of human dignity and connection in two of their films: Rosetta (1999) and Two Days, One Night (2014). It can be argued that both films make two directly opposing points with their contrasting women protagonists; the former exposing the harrowing conditions one can be driven to inhabit as a result of an internalisation of capitalistic notions of human worth and value, and the latter revealing to us how sometimes solidarity amongst the working class can be our only saving grace.
If you’re into lesbian cinema, then you’ve probably heard of Angela Robinson. Her profile has recently expanded; long after blessing us with the likes of D.E.B.S. and Girltrash!, the writer-director went mainstream last year with her vastly under-appreciated Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. (You can read our LFF review of the film here.)
At Much Ado About Cinema, we cherish LGBTQ+ film, and queer cinema is a core foundation of our lives. Robinson is an example of a filmmaker who constantly centres lesbian/bisexual women in her stories, and produces these stories in a way that often makes us feel validated and genuinely represented – she is a brilliant example of why LGBT stories are told best by LGBT people. Whether it’s through comedic parodies or psychosexual dramas, we’ll be following Robinson’s career wherever she chooses to go. If you’re new to her work, take a gander at the profile below: you’ve got a whole lot to catch up on.