Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Has anyone ever written anything about the visual-spatial-narrative conventions of tunnels and doorways in sf spaceships? (Not just in spaceships - futuristic subterranean lairs and submarine vessels also work.) I'm thinking here, perhaps not completely accurately, of the Alien franchise, Event Horizon, Resident Evil, Sunshine, the rather good Pandorum (Christian Alvart, 2009), Leviathan, Supernova ... one's running from the villain/monster, trying desperately to beat the imminent closing of a portal, or trying desperately to close portals to cut off the v/m. The convention is about as rote as the fireball or explosion outrun by our heroes; I wonder though if there have been unsung developments or experiments in the form and substance of this particular kind of tunnel-portal chase ...

[Similar networks of tropes in these kinds of films - the mutated future of humanity in yesterday's lost ships; insanity and reckoning with the finitude of the cosmos (see also Contact). Also, the question of esoteric knowledge, e.g., a character knowing Latin in Event Horizon, and another decoding Russian in Leviathan.]


In interviews here and abroad, I have constantly denounced America's fetish for small female noses, a phenomenon that may be fairly recent in origin. It seems to belong to the Betty Crocker period following World War II, when domesticity was a primary value and when ethnics wanted to assimilate and become just as bland as the ruling, Protestant country-club class.

Diana Vreeland, one of the great, stentorian dragon ladies of the century, had a granite profile and a will of steel. Who is a better role model for young women today -- Fashion Empress Vreeland or NOW's sanctimonious Patricia Ireland, with
her blankly decorous, WASP features and breathy little treacly voice? Vreeland, with her soaring imagination and theatrical flair, was a survivor of those two splendid decades after the passage of suffrage when female power ran the gamut from Martha Graham to Joan Crawford.

While growing up, I was inundated with detestably perky, button-nosed blondes like Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee, who seemed like sticky, walking marshmallows. (As an adult, I learned to appreciate the talents of all three women.) Barbra Streisand's arrival on the scene in the early 1960s was revolutionary: That aggressive beak of a nose, which she refused to change, was the prow of the battleship of the New Woman, whose feisty spirit preceded the feminist organizations that are falsely credited with all the energy, aspirations and achievements of my generation.

My opinion is that a strong woman should have a strong nose. Look at Sarah Bernhardt, Virginia Woolf, Edith Sitwell, Maria Callas, Joan Baez, Betty Friedan, Monica Vitti,
Raquel Welch, Princess Diana, Sandra Bernhard, Niki Taylor. Now look at Meg Ryan -- no, don't! Thank God for Heroin Chic, after the Meg Ryan era of Saccharine Snippiness.

I'm concerned about young girls having nose jobs too early and getting stuck for life with unfixably juvenile features. Even Cher, who had a fabulous, haughty profile, succumbed to the social pressure and dully evened her nose out at midlife. Downtown Julie Brown is another fashion victim: She was very striking when first on MTV after emigrating from England but then immediately bobbed her nose. Now Courtney Love has done the same thing and reportedly has had to be dissuaded from a second operation -- the Michael Jackson Surgical Addiction Syndrome.

Actresses are very short-sighted when they over-reduce their noses to get cutesy, ingénue roles. Michele Lee and Connie Sellecca are good examples of handsome women whose forceful, ethnic features have matured
dramatically but who are stuck with the teeny-bopper pug noses that won them early popularity. The great roles for adult actresses -- Euripides' Medea, Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, Strindberg's Miss Julie -- require strong, assertive noses.

As an Italian-American, my premises are usually Mediterranean. I've always loved the aquiline Roman nose of senators and generals, as well as the sharp Greek nose, extending evenly without a break from the brow, that one sees on ancient statues of the Olympian gods. It's interesting that you mention Gillian Anderson, since strangers often tell my partner, Alison Maddex, that she resembles Anderson's Scully. All the women I've been involved with in a major way have had strong noses; it seems to be one of my romantic motifs.

Until women in the television and film industry come to their senses and stop mutilating their noses, America will be stuck with this bunny-rabbit model of womanhood -- harmless, appealing and hopelessly fluffy. The Woman Who Would Be President knows better: Gov. Christine Todd Whitman may take that Duke of Wellington profile right into the Oval Office.

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Gaga has borrowed so heavily from Madonna (as in her latest video-Alejandro) that it must be asked, at what point does homage become theft? However, the main point is that the young Madonna was on fire. She was indeed the imperious Marlene Dietrich’s true heir. For Gaga, sex is mainly decor and surface; she’s like a laminated piece of ersatz rococo furniture. Alarmingly, Generation Gaga can’t tell the difference. Is it the death of sex? Perhaps the symbolic status that sex had for a century has gone kaput; that blazing trajectory is over… (Paglia)

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Lady Gaga - who, I think, makes some wonderful pop songs - is "of her age" in a way that the poor provocateur Camille Paglia may not "get" inasmuch as Gaga's whole schtick involves the anticipation of their complex, contradictory, and perhaps overemphasized interpretations (as with reversible films). Aside from the best hooks in contemporary pop music that I know, outside of the New Pornographers & La Roux (not that I'm an expert or even a good pretender to such a thing), Gaga's music and her personality are interesting in that they are aware of the "think pieces" that are to have been written about her. It's not that she's not shallow, or still a mere product of the spectacle, but she's so in a way that deserves a certain amount of credit ...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Friday, September 03, 2010

Believe Your Eyes

"There has never been so much talk about 'the power of the image' since it has ceased to have any. The overwhelming majority of 'images' which have currency on television nowadays are less those which might possess any intrinsic strength than those which represent power and which 'work' for it as 'brand images' work for a company. It is strange that we have needed a war in order to re-discover that the image was also ever a lure (Lacan was interested in animal mimicry, in the eyelets on the peacock's tail and their grotesque manner of 'giving the eye'). A lure meant as a decoy, to divert attention and gain time. Advertising, for example, is less about inculcating selling reflexes than about indicating the power of paying a lot for a space with the sole purpose of no one else occupying it." (Serge Daney, from Cinema-in-Transit)

The old, "naive" realist-belief in an image, or of an image, still resides in the gray area where one isn't sure of what is being faked, or of what might happen: bills & coins flushed down the toilet in The Seventh Continent, footage of pets being (possibly) tortured, moments in which we cannot discern between an actor's emotions and a character's - not simply that we are unable to, but that there is even no hope of an abstract distinction. Fear in the eyes. This takes a certain liberality or magnificence on the part of the filmmaker; it is the artistic counterpart to advertising's own implicit indicating of "the power of paying a lot for a space."

The circus ring, and the caravan of trailers & tents, provide a set of metaphors for cinema to remark upon its own assemblage of attractions - bad films set in or around a circus can be unbearable, unless they're bizarrely, grotesquely fascinating (like with the Joan Crawford vehicle Berserk!); notable films of course like Lola Montes and I Clowns pop up from time to time; and then there's Rivette's 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup, which reserves its footage of in-the-ring performance itself for these dizzying, terrifying moments of uncertainty. (Plus, Sergio Castellito with a suitcase full of plates provides one of the bigger laughs I've had at the movies in weeks.) Rivette is the master of the slow burn, I think because he is also its most dedicated, humble student.