Thursday, May 14, 2015

Monks, Dandies and Quaintrelles

I recently saw Monk With a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland, a documentary about a man born to privilege, and immersed in fashion and photography from a young age as a grandson of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar editor, Diana Vreeland. Nicky, as he was called, was known as a dandy who dressed well and appreciated the finer things in life. He gradually turned away from this life and became a Tibetan Buddhist monk with an abbey of his own and close friendships with The 14th Dalai Lama and Richard Gere.

Before meeting a friend for lunch the other day, I visited Columbia College's Museum of Contemporary Photography to see Dandy Lion: (Re) Articulating Black Masculine Identity. It was a well-done, thought-provoking group show. It made me ask if there was such a thing as a female dandy and the answer is yes. According to a recent New York article, female dandies, also known as quaintrelles, are "...wom[e]n who emphasize a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm, and cultivation of life's pleasures." Some notable quaintrelles of the past include Coco Chanel and Marlene Dietrich. I would include Audrey and Katherine Hepburn.

Over lunch, my friend and I identified more contemporary examples. We came up with the following: Lady Gaga, Kate Middleton, Kate Moss, Diane Kruger, Diana Spencer, Ines de La Fressange, and Chloe Sevigny. Some of these women do the cross-dressing thing and others stay feminine, chic. Both groups have a keen eye for detail and express themselves with style.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Lucy

I don't often see films in theaters; for a number of reasons, I prefer to watch them on DVD. Here's why:

First of all, the extras (e.g. interviews with the director and cast, behind-the-scenes stuff, B-roll footage, etc.), which alone are worth waiting the several weeks or months to see the film. Another benefit is that I get to see thousands (about 10,000 at this point) of films for free, courtesy of local libraries. Thank you. There's also the option of pausing and backtracking if I missed a critical piece of dialogue or action. Let's not forget the total immersion into the film, the silence, and the transporting possibilities often absent when surrounded by others who may or may not be there with the same level of commitment as you.

So, Lucy. I didn't once check the timer on my remote to see how much longer there was to go in this 89-minute Luc Besson film from last year. You might laugh, but that's pretty great thing in my book. In contrast, The Immigrant, The Rewrite, and The Horseman had me pushing that button numerous times. The problems were a terribly-cliched story, weak or repellent characters with no redeeming facets, and/or an over-dependence on bad music to prod emotional reactions from the audience. I find it insulting and I always wonder why the directors feel they must resort to these Pavlovian efforts instead of trusting the power of the story. [Some striking, effective uses of music in film, I recommend The Unbearable Lightness of Being (the Czech composer Leos Janacek), Wings of Desire (Jurgen Knieper, German composer), and nearly all of Krzysztof Kieslowski's films (the Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner).]

Back to Lucy. This is a wild story that draws on Tree of Life, The Matrix, Her, and Under the Skin, the latter two of which, like Lucy, feature Scarlett Johannson (or her voice) in the starring role. Someone (I don't know who first did it - maybe Jonathan Glazer? Spike Jones?) had the clever idea to tap into Johannson's inability to act by making use of an innate robotic quality. Scarlett is perfectly suited for these three roles.

Luc Besson's best-known films include The Professional, La Femme Nikita, and The Fifth Element. In all three, beautiful, young, initially-naive, often scantily-clad women are in peril at the beginning, but not for long, as they eventually reveal themselves to be steely fortresses of calm and strength, albeit usually with the aid of a man. The violence is brutal, sometimes gratuitous, but often righteous.

Besson likes interesting music and in Lucy, two standouts are "Sister Rust" by Damon Albarn and the final number, "God's Whisper," by Raury. (Don't watch the YouTube video of the Raury song, though, as it is execrable. The song is much more powerful if you listen to it, as I did, at the culmination of the film. Its odd, powerful eeriness could have fit in easily with the soundtrack to In the Name of the Father.) 

Last but not least, Lucy is also worth seeing because of the impressive special effects, cinematography, and sharp editing. So even/especially if you're not a fan of Scarlett Johannson, you may like her after this film. If not, see Her and Under the Skin for good measure. You'll see what I mean.