Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Deflowering of Ariella Von

piece I wrote originally published in the NoBudge Newsletter, 2013:

Slashed through with punk-45-sleeve hues, The Deflowering of Ariella Von [Marianna Ellenberg and David Louis Zuckerman] represents a new Breakfast Club, that is, a similar odyssey-of-inertia, now taking place in New York’s upper sides, A and B, with its avatar this Ariella Von. In the sense that she doesn’t slum-it, she attains status as a cultured persona, an artist / creative, — Ariella’s as sham an aristocrat as Erich and Josef Von or Ludwig Van. And she, too, is an anachronism, miring herself in the retro style mash-up that makes new again the sartorial vocabulary of an older New York or, not so new again, a postmodern idiom. 

The film begins with a call to arms by way of The Mo-Dettes’ classic “White Mice,” which I first ever heard on WFMU’s Evan “Funk” Davies Show and always wanted to use for a film of my own — so eternal jealousy/ingratitude to Ellenberg and Zuckerman, alongside pleasure and cheer for this world they have chosen to depict for young Ariella — it’s a Jewish Hogwarts wherein our heroine early-on has to fend off the two JAPpy heads of a veritable anti-AV club. “Am I a woman?” ponders Ariella in the opening scene, and then you have her mother, the archetypal Jewish girl’s-best-friend / incessant nag who raises a l’chaim-with-qualifications at the delayed onset of Ariella’s period dribbling down her legs — Harriet Potter and the Sacrificial Calves.

Although this movie isn’t being properly released till 2014: in Ariel Kavoussi we have one of the finest performances of the past year; she is more interesting than Chiwetel Ejiofor, and this is a film at least as interesting as 12 Years a Slave — no, much more so. Much more to say about this Deflowering in the future.


Saturday, September 16, 2023

Spring Breakers

Chicken Money

Teleos Vision

I didn't intend to begin this with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. But you have to start somewhere, somehow, and it can be as arbitrary as anything, — I'm just selecting SVU as a point of 'springboard' since it happens to be on the tube...

Yet this might be natural, linking the ethos of the long-running NBC terrestrial series to Harmony Korine's tremendous 2012 Spring Breakers. I think, in my voice, American terms about LAOSVU (with one eye cast backward in time; just cuz I like calling it Lost View of Laos) because of the series' self-assured cunning, its prosecutorial mandate and bent, and its "thou dost protest too much" framework of rape and sex-assault and various faits divers ( — de la une aux épisodes!; the forthcoming Man Disasterson entry is certain to garner season-high ratings) — all set in a seemingly everlasting Giuliani's-New-York where essentially no-one accused truly gets off (when it does happens it's seldom). 

Side-note aropos later on in the film, at the trap: A claustrophobic wheezing of heat in the garage — as with the opening sequence at spring break — the sky a pink and blue gradient such that the crowds run toward the clouds of 9/11, Tuesday night lights snapped to power like with Frankenstein's monster. Idea of America gone-to-seed? — one might say it happened with the atom bomb... Korine's Manhattan project seems to be through for now.

Harmony shows us a new state of the union. Metaphorically it's eschatology; literally it's Florida. 

"Hi Grandma"

Selena Gomez strides up the night sidewalk. Once her girls make the decision to hit spring break, then once well into arrival, she starts making calls to her grandmother, just checking in... A voicemail: "I'm starting to feel this is the most spiritual place I've been..." As a result of Harmony's reported closeness to his own grandmother, we can take note of the stuff in Gummo with the toe-BB, the Yonkers house for Herzog to sermonize in julien donkey-boy (filmed, I believe, in Korine's grandma's own house) and so on... Grandma-memories live on a spectrum, although NPR's food show remembers only the warm aroma wafting round a cup of Earl Grey.

Go On Trance with Your RX...

In America there's this phenomenon of the "strip-mall church." The sacred spaces have taken up residence next to nail salons and vape shops. Selena (regularly?) attends one of these satellite functions on or off campus. The 'pastor,' as one is called (because neo-Baptist-screed writes a 'fake' faith such as my friend recently articulated as that which "has no foundational texts such as the Qu'ran, the King James Bible, or the Torah," — cf. Mormonism), is played by professional wrestler Jeff Jarrett who barks psyched-up, in a quick scene that passingly recalls julien donkey-boy's "Black albino straight from Alabama": "Krazy Kevin, you krazy for Jesus?" 10 minutes 55 seconds in already feels like a year — not boring, just content-packed. (What a foolish term... it's the difference between 'content' as we think of it now — see also 'creatives' — and as the actual intellectual-stuff, the grist, the mechanics, — aesthetic web.) Selena, with a character name of "Faith," escapes from one milieu to the next — college to spring break — and it's her prerogative, choosing which she finds prettier. — Prom: Trance King / Trance Queen, but he insists on Tramp King

Action Figures

Sprayng brayk is on, y'all. We're now well into the 'liquid narrative,' as Korine has described it ever sense the interview circuit for Spring Breakers. He was referring to the structure, the colors, which have something either to do with the 'vibe' of Florida or with color-correction on this film shot in 35mm. (A disquisition on directorship of photography and post-production should land on this blog at some point...) (Some precursors but not all of them: Wong Kar-wai, Tran Anh-hung, Hype Williams.)

They're broke, so the solution is to don ski-masks and rob the registers and customers at this local restaurant called the Chicken Shack. "Just act like you're in a video game!" while Nikki Minaj showers down from the soundtrack. "Let's just get that fucking money and go on spring break, y'all." 'You coulda been a logline...' 

They pull the heist off (in a remarkable, but unflashy, tracking shot taken from the interior of the girls' car as she circles the establishment) and embark upon their journey into the post-Busch Gardens "Dark Continent"... Spring Breakers from this moment initiates Harmony's Florida tales in earnest, which span SB and go up to the new stuff, but also include his unfilmed script for The Trap...

"Like, we'll have this moment together forever..."

A World of Totally Fungible Tokens

Long-term short-term liquid memories. Girls don't wanna have fungible tokens. (— Anachro-/anarcho-dr1ft...) Hanging in front of the liquor store singing Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time", a couple years after the starlet/pop-icon's purported 2007'ish breakdown (I prefer 'backlash') — zeitgeist and the egg, or the chicken with the wang... vino, or veritas?

The girls get hauled off to jail, where shortly after they're bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a Riff Raff stand-in, a 2012 Skrillex drop that brings back The Prodigy c. 1997 and The Fat of the Land. "Who ARE you?" "I'm ALIEN, but mah name is AL. Truth be told, ah'm not from this planet y'all." 

"Looka mah SHYIT! Ah got SHORTS in every fuckin' color, ah got designer T-SHIRTS, ah got gold bullets, motherfuckin' VAMpires, ah got SCARFACE on rePEAT, SCARFACE ON REPEAT, constant y'all, ah got Escape, Calvin Klein Escape, mix that shit up with Calvin Klein Be... Ah smell nice, ah smell nice,... Looka mah SHYIT, looka mah SHYIT... Ah got mah byig Kool-Aid, ah got mah muthafuckin' NUMCHUCK. Ah got shuri-KEN, ah got different flavors... ah got the SAIS, I got SAIS, and BLADES... Looka mah SHYIT! This ain't nothin! Ah got ROOMSA mah SHYIT."

Selena experiences a small breakdown from experiencing the trap: that is, shirtless blunted Black gangstas with gold-plated fronts shooting pool. The trope of the small-town girl who gets in over her head. Why does this particular moment get to her? 

I Don't SEE Race — I Just Searace

Little Latina girl Faith sexually intimidated by Alien/Franco, and the pervasive fear of miscegenation-rape instilled in (within) Faith by the Black guys milling around in the background like — not 'extras' — but the French word 'figurations'. As Harmony says in the audio-commentary track on the Blu-ray, "The bodies would begin to look more sculptural..." A long history of the role of celebration and representational critique of Black bodies runs throughout the States, the continents, — art history and (distinct from the aforementioned) the art world. Spring Breakers is a paradox whose origins go all the way back to Korine's scenario for Larry Clark's Kids. Joyce: "History is a nightmare from which I'm trying to awake." Add this to the paraphrase of a remark by Harmony, again on the audio-commentary: Jim Crow is a nightmare from which we're trying to awake.

Hip-hop culture and its music-videos' aesthetic  have grown parallel to, and are now the equivalent of, or have been outpaced by, video games. A distinct line as the Crow flew. Gucci Mane represents the end boss — his assassination echoes the killing-off of Colonel Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Things grow indistinct...

Swivel-Arm Battle-Grip

Remarks from Harmony Korine from the audio commentary:

"Again you know these are kids who would've grown up watching Kimbo Slice videos." (RIP Kimbo Slice, 2016)

"...the kind of kissing you would learn in porn. Porn is 'romance' now."

32-minutes in: "the weird tripping morphing effect"

"uniquely American"

"coded interlogic"  


Monday, September 04, 2023


You See Berkley

Jacques Rivette, 1998, "The Captive Lover": In Starship Troopers [Paul Verhoeven] uses various effects to help everything go down smoothly, but he’s totally exposed in Showgirls. It’s the American film that’s closest to his Dutch work. It has great sincerity, and the script is very honest, guileless. It’s so obvious that it was written by Verhoeven himself rather than Mr. Eszterhas, who is nothing. And that actress is amazing! Like every Verhoeven film, it’s very unpleasant: it’s about surviving in a world populated by assholes, and that’s his philosophy. Of all the recent American films that were set in Las Vegas, Showgirls was the only one that was real – take my word for it. I who have never set foot in the place!


A whispered legend, at least until Rivette's 1998 interview from Les Inrocks, which over the years initiated a gradual spread from cine-cult circles to a wider realm, and seems gradually to have set into motion a re-evaluation of the film by, well, let's not call it the mainstream — but by a somewhat wider audience. Perhaps more than to Rivette's remarks, the film owes its reappraisal in part to the old adage of "They don't make 'em like they used to." It behooves me to step around a commentary dedicated to the fact that Verhoeven's 1995 moral tale couldn't be made in 2023 — too sexual, too non-PC, and to repeat Rivette, too guileless. A film that conflates the male and female gazes in lanes of unmitigated tragedy and desire.

Elizabeth Berkley provides a fearless performance, one that critics and commentators in the past have traduced by referring to it in so many misogynist (PC?) terms as ditzy and blank-eyed. Berkley throws everything into her performance, a tour-de-force of raw physicality coupled with a naïveté misread as evidence of cerebral deficiency — no sympathy or empathy for either character or actress: I'll take Berkley's Nomi over any role of Meryl Streep's in the latter's crafty career.

Gina Gershon 'gives a best-ever career turn' as Berkley's bisexual nemesis, the lead of the "Goddess" show at a mid-level Vegas outlet, with Kyle MacLachlan as Gershon's svengali lover. Once the trio's card-house collapses, all routes point to a Thelma & Louise climax — but instead there's only a masochistic tenderness remaining between Berkley and the then-hospitalized Gershon, before an ironic ending that few directors or writers would aim towards in the present-day, in which they'd err instead on the side of the non-scenaristic — which, of course, is needless to suggest, explicitly, 'the storytold.' Showgirls is no longer a story the studios want to hear, which practically by default alone registers this film as an American classic.