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Archive for the ‘Christina Hendricks: Goddess Of Her Craft’ Category

The Neon Demon

26 Jun

The Neon Demon ­– directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. Drama. 117 minutes Color 2106.

★★★★

The Story: A naïve adolescent girl on her way to be the world’s top fashion model.

~

The difference between the A Star Is Born with Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland is that the Garland version shows the talent involved, the Gaynor does not. Gaynor just stands there.

Likewise, the talent involved in the Neon Demon is that the young woman on her way to superstardom just stands there, because all she is is particularly pretty. So she stands there as a medium with which others’ talents paint. They paint her to film her. They dress her to film her. They pose her up as an artist picks up a paintbrush and, with the ruthlessness proper to paintbrush selection, makes something with her.

Elle Fanning’s character, Jesse, is the perfect instrument for the artistry of others. She is entirely without artistic expression of her own as a model – except irony in her slight smile as to how others use themselves using her. And in the power she holds just standing there.

The predominant color of the director’s pallet, the red of dried blood, along with a ruthless camera style, well-suited to the ruthless business of modeling, entertain and hold us almost as a story in itself.

But the story itself decays before our eyes as it enters the realm of allegory.

Allegory is a delicate mode. It is a narrative of internal drama wholly. Its external characters and action are the machinery inside the human: psychological contraptions such as temptation, loyalty, veracity.

When Una in Spencer’s The Fairy Queen enters on a white mule, veiled, and led by a dwarf, we are actually in the presence of human essence pure inside any human. When Duessa appears looking exactly like Una, we are actually in the presence of an imposture of human essence pure, which we lead ourselves to believe is the real McCoy. Looks tasty. Is poison. Lies that lie like truth.

When this sixteen year old, wearing a dress of fantastic beauty, is chosen to climax a major fashion show, she is turned from a cherubim into a demon before our eyes. Wonderful.

But ever afterwards her hair formerly something painted by Botticelli becomes ordinary cover-girl hair. And the story is lost.

The story is the demonstration that fashion modeling is not done to adorn and present the female body to men – for romance or marriage or love or trophy. No, it is clear and it is also true that high fashion is created only to crush other women with it.

So this story is badly undermined by the entry into it of a lesbian character.

In fact, the desire of women to crush other women with the battle-axe of high fashion is one with no sexual content of any kind. In humans, admiration is followed by love is followed by a desire to be the desired one, is followed by hatred, and it all peters out in the exhaustion which the obsession to hatred leaves one with. No sex is involved.

Particularly as in this case, evil lesbianism. Lesbianism which kills what it can’t have or be or conquer. And if lesbianism, why evil? A wrong allegory move anhow. Human envy does the job. The other models are sufficient. Sex is miscast.

So the story collapses with its own false version of itself. Until then and even after it is watchable. Arresting. And special.

Keanu Reeves plays a seedy motel owner well. And the magnificent Christina Hendricks grants us her executive confidence as The Great Model Agent Of The World.

How beautiful Christina Hendricks is. How interesting. What a subtle and distinguished actress. How noble in bearing. And what is the story to be filmed to encompass all this more valuable than anything in this film?

So many gifted actresses among us! So many actresses of rich character and talent! Did we really need this story of modeling? What is high fashion, after all, but gold lamé trash?

No elegant woman ever got her elegance out of a fashion magazine.

 

 

Ginger And Rosa

18 Apr

Ginger and Rosa –– directed by Sally Potter. Drama. Two young best friends enter the arena of adolescent betrayal. 90 minutes Color 2012.

★★★

I went to it because Sally Potter directed Yes, one of my great movies.

But this one – oh, dear.

The problem is that it is based on an unrecovered resentment, a form of autobiography which always lacks penetration and balance. The author/director has not gotten over it, whatever it was. She’s still getting back at the one that done her wrong. The consequence is that a load of approval falls on the shoulders of one girl, Ginger, and scants the other, Rosa. Emptiness results.

It all ends with a confrontation scene, identical to the one at the end of another current film, The Company You Keep, in which the love-object justifies her miscreance by spouting liberal political boilerplate. Neither scene is well directed. And in this film the actor with the liberal agenda, simply does not go for it enough to make us realize what a hollow old lie he is telling.

I also went because Annette Bening and Christina Hendricks are in it, and, yet the picture is not about them. Christina Hendricks proves once again what a magnificent actress she is. Annette Bening, of course, by now doesn’t have to prove it at all. Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt circle around the proceedings and are in fine fettle, but their parts are shelved largely because of the imbalance of attention give to Ginger (ably played by Elle Fanning).

I can only say that I await Sally Potter’s next film with abated interest.

 

Mad Men — seasons 1 – 4

21 Aug

Mad Men. TV Series. Life in big time New York advertising in the heyday of Madison Avenue in the 60s. Color 2007 to the present.

★★★★★

It begins so feebly in terms of direction, script, writing, costumes, interesting characters, period, business reconstruction, and with one exception, performances, that I could not imagine what the fuss was about. It was good to see Bobby Morse after all these years up to his invaluable mischief, but John Slattery seemed vacant in the part, which needed someone like Robert Preston or James Garner or William Shatner, or some actor with a good deal of imaginative sparkle behind him. One hoped he would ripen into the role with time. Elizabeth Moss as the little Catholic secretary from the Bronx who aspires to better things, seemed an interesting choice to play a character who remained usefully mysterious. She was, and she remained, always incorrectly costumed. In fact the designers get the female costumes wrong throughout, since everyone looks like they never wore their costume before and never would again and since the costumes mostly do not arise out of what women in business or home wore as everyday outfits. Women of that period on low salaries did not have a new dress every day. They wore skirts and blouses. January Jones is particularly the victim of this failure, since she prances into each scene caparisoned in bouffant dresses zinging with petticoats, which no one would wear in the home. As an actress she does not hold my interest nor does her attraction to her husband have any content, even sexual, no matter what is said. She is a character who bases her survival on appearances, her own particularly, and after she discovers her husband’s peccadillos and her idea of his appearance is shattered, she is reduced to playing relentless reproof. There is nothing behind her, not even an actress. However, it seems the actress is so good at it that it calls into question one’s ability to separate the actress from the role. Is her want of temperament a function of her part, or is it a deficiency in the performer? Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell seems perfectly cast, and his nastiness encourages one to watch further; he also can act like a June bug, so that’s okay. The leading actor, Jon Hamm, seems quite wrongly named since he is the opposite of a ham, for he seems to have no response mechanism as an actor at all. This plays into the secrecy of the character, and one notices that he is very good in the office scenes, where he can bust any man’s balls with a flick of the bitchdick of his mouth. But, if I buy it, I buy it reluctantly. He’s the sort of actor who either disgusts me or leaves me cold. I don’t want to watch his turtle eyes, I don’t want to watch his corseted mouth. I don’t buy the power of humorless taciturn males. I am repelled by his seductions — more than no one ever saying no to his wink, everyone must say yes, whether he wink or no. His struggle with his secret life lacks depth because the secret does, and once I meet her I wish the actress who plays his first wife had a lot more to do. His handsomeness is technical: he just looks like an advertisement for something. The settings seem all right, although they leave me with no sense of being in New York City exteriorly. And I am not convinced about the agency life at all. I worked on Madison Avenue in exactly the same size agency as this one, Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, at exactly this time. There was no liquor in the offices, that I remember, not much womanizing, and while we all smoked we never did so to this degree. I have a friend who worked in a similar agency in Detroit (Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac – accounts just as big as General Mills which I worked on), and she says the cigarettes, liquor and womanizing in Mad Men are absolutely accurate, so somewhere they were. But what bothers me most is the lack of work being done. Our work areas were full of activity. I was a copywriter, and there were deadlines to meet and product obligations to be served. The excitement and paperwork and fear are missing here. This leaves us with the only person towards whom we can extend our hearts, curiosity, and allegiance, Joan Holloway, played by Christina Hendricks. At Dancer, Bud Greenspan had a secretary of her appearance, so I accept the physical type. Joan is the sort of female every man imagines himself to be not man enough for. For whether they are sexually attracted to her or not, because of her appearance, they take themselves as obliged to be in sexual relations to her. Hendricks makes her Joan a deep-hearted woman, Madame Wise, competent beyond all living expectation and easily so. Because of her stature, Joan appears tall, whereas Hendricks is 5’7”, but it is the carriage she has given her that gives her that. She both stands tall and stands asymmetrically. When she is viewed from the rear, she walks with a measured stride, her arms crossing in front of her. In the way she arranges for Joan to carry her head and shoulders, I am reminded of Louise Brooks, the movement of whose dancer’s shoulders moved everything in her being and drew you to her nature. Similar here. Hendricks’s hair is red and worn up, over a small head, with a rich expressive mouth and large wide-spaced eyes, a plus for any actress. She holds this head with great self possession on a long strong neck. The conduct of her head for this character instructs us in dignity, variety, and power. Hendricks makes of Joan a person with spine. For it is her rendering of Joan that draws one’s attention, respect, and care from the start, since, although masterful, Joan is overlooked in the power she obviously possesses for the power she might possess if allowed to. She alone is really vulnerable. I long for her to play Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. And I long through all four seasons for this character, Joan, to be given a chance, given attention, given the focus of episodes and scenes and story. So far it has not happened. But what does happen is that everything negative I have said about the other actors and this series on first impression dissolves as either irrelevant or corrected. I become compelled to see every episode; I set other things aside; I want to know what is to become of them. It is not just a case of the actors getting to be really good, as John Slattery by the second episode becomes, it is rather that they were good from the start. If the characters didn’t interest me, now the characters do. How this comes about, I cannot say. Can you tell me? I am become but one of many Mad Men fanatics. Surely by now the secret must be known.