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YOUR GUIDE TO: Bound (1996, dir. Wachowski Brothers)

15 Sep

Bound movie poster

“I had this image of you inside me.”

For those that loved:

Gilda, The Last Seduction, Prey for Rock and Roll, Sin City,

For those that are writing on:

Representation of femininity/sexuality, positions of spectatorship, film noir, neo-noir, femme fatale, images of women in the cinema, masculinity in crisis, crime cinema, violence in the cinema, symbols of femininity, lesbian identity, queer cinema

In a nutshell
Before they brought The Matrix to the masses (and then undid their good work with ‘those’ sequels), the Wachowski’s produced this slick neo-noir crime caper. Corky and Violet show Thelma and Louise how rebelling against the constraints of an oppressive patriarchal rule really works. Knowingly vampy Tilly and charismatic Gershon  also have twice as much fun and provide twice as much entertainment while they do it.

Plot

Sick of being trapped in an oppressive relationship with made man Ceaser (Joe Pantaliano), deceptively plucky mob moll Violet (Jennifer Tilly) hatches an escape plan with ex-con Corky (Gina Gershon). A daring scheme, involving the theft of 2 million dollars of mob money, inevitably things don’t quite go to plan.

Why should I watch?

Although much is made of the lesbian relationship between Corky and Violet, there is far more to Bound than two pretty neo-fatales kissing. While Bound achieves a genuine eroticism (no doubt aided by the enlisting of a ‘sex therapist’ to choreograph sex scenes between the leading ladies, and the sexually-charged chemistry between Gershon and Tilly), it is also a visually enticing and well crafted entry into the world of neo-noir.

While the male supports deliver capable caricatures of mob masculinity, it is Gershon and Tilly who shine here, both existing in the kind of grey space that makes characters worth watching. Both are somehow resourceful and resilient, yet fractured and vulnerable. The journey each characters undertakes throughout Bound serves to make the film’s conclusion both satisfying and believable.

Consider/Further study etc

  • Within film noir, the femme fatale is often shown to rely on her sexual prowess and manipulation of the men around her to achieve her goals. Do Corky and Violet reinforce or challenge this claim?
  • Do Corky and Violet reinforce or challenge the classical femme fatale archetype? Do they reinforce or challenge traditional understanding’s of femininity?
  • Considering the patriarchal structure of the Mafia, Corky and Violet’s transgression against Ceaser and his associates could be seen as a challenge to an oppressive patriarchal social order. In what other ways do Corky and Violet challenge traditional patriarchal expectations?
  • Does Bound reflect a continuation of or break from traditional film noir?
  • How does Ceaser (and the other Mafia men) initially view Violet? How does this differ to the way Corky sees Violet, or the way that Violet sees herself? Consider in particular the difference between Violet at the beginning of the film, to the way she appears at end.
  • Within Bound the hand is eroticised as a sexual organ. In a sense, sexual potency is reassigned from (implicitly masculine) phallic symbols to the hand. How does this affect the representation of both feminine and masculine sexuality within Bound?

Further Reading

  • Oliver, Kelly and Trigo, Benigo, 2003, Noir Anxiety, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
  • Place, Janey, 1998, Women in Film Noir, ed E Ann Kaplan, London, BFI Publishing
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YOUR GUIDE TO: Hard Candy (2005, dir. David Slade)

1 Sep

hard candy

“Go on then. Worship me.” 

For those that loved:

Freeway, Kill Bill (part one), Halloween

For those that are writing on:

Representation of adolescent femininity/sexuality, positions of spectatorship, revenge cinema, images of women in the cinema, masculinity in crisis, relationships of power (especially in relation to representations of masculine and feminine sexuality)

In a nutshell

Far more brutal than a Mean Girl, and anything but Clueless, sharp-witted and ever-resourceful Hayley Stark is a teenage force to be reckoned with. This is ‘girl power’ in it’s truest, and most dangerous form. An understandably difficult but rewarding film.

Plot

When charming 32-year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) strikes up a flirtatious online ‘friendship’ with seemingly naive 14-year-old-student Hayley Stark (Ellen Paige), the suggestion of a face-to-face meetings seems wrought with danger for Hayley. However, after going back to Jeff’s secluded suburban home, Hayley reveals a strength, intelligence and taste for revenge that throws them both into a tense cat-and-mouse struggle for power. As Hayley forces Jeff to confront his past indiscretions, the viewer is left to ponder the truth behind not only both characters actions, but both characters themselves.

Why should I watch?

Despite the R 18 rating, Hard Candy is not an explicitly violent nor explicitly sexual film, especially when compared to the numerous ‘gore porn’ features (Hostel or Saw anyone) that have found success within recent years, or even the slasher-pics of yore. However, the sensitive subject matter – adolescent sexuality and paedophilia –  at times make Hard Candy a difficult, albeit intriguing watch.

Slade masterfully maintains a tense and uneasy atmosphere throughout Hard Candy, and despite being hampered at times by an occasionally cheesy script, his artful direction and deft editing choices keep the film running at a cracking pace.

Playing out like a cinematic stage play, the relationship between Hayley and Jeff develops in a perhaps not entirely believable, but engrossing way, thanks to skillful performances from both leads. Wilson delivers a problematically charismatic performance, and when considered against the manipulative and almost monstrous Hayley, it is hard to know which side you are cheering for, if any at all. 

Consider/Further study etc

  • Initially Hayley can be seen to embody a fantasy image of adolescent femininity. How does Hayley subvert traditional characteristics of adolescent femininity? How dors she challenge the normative status of such characteristics?
  • How are women and women’s bodies represented throughout Hard Candy
  • Is the act of looking represented as an empowering or disempowering act? 
  • Consider (particularly in relation to Laura Mulvey’s theories of cinematic spectatorship) the spectatorial structures within Hard Candy. Does the film support or challenge Mulvey’s association of the gaze with masculine power and the act of being looked at with feminine submission?
  • Consider the roof scene, towards the end of the film. Here, Jeff’s ‘phallic’ weapon (his knife) is rendered useless. Are there any other instances within the film where a phallic symbol becomes disempowered?
  • Vision and voyeurism play an important role within Hard Candy. How does Jeff view women – ie does he worship them? Fear them? Hate them? What might this suggest about the representation of ‘traditional masculinity’ within Hard Candy?

YOUR GUIDE TO: Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002, dir. Lone Scherfig)

9 Aug

wilbur-wants-to-kill-himself-3

“Everybody always loved Wilbur” 

For those that love:

Off-beat – and at times, quite dark – humour, anti-feel good films that bring equal parts tears and smiles

For those that are writing on:

Mental illness, suicide, black comedy, masculinity in crisis, the representation and construction of family, mise en scene, art direction

In a nutshell

Suicide as a way of life; certainly no laughing matter, but this quirky British gem manages to put a refreshing and believable spin on the ‘disillusioned loser learns to appreciate life again’ tale.

Plot

Despite several unsuccessful attempts, Wilbur (Jamie Sives) still wants to kill himself, much to the dismay of his long-suffering and impossibly good natured brother Harper (Adrian Rawlins). However, when Harper marries single mother Alice (Shirley Henderson) and she and her young daughter come to live with the brothers in their recently inherited bookshop, Wilbur is forced to confront the possibility of a life worth living.

Why should I watch?

Self-destructive and seemingly hopeless, Wilbur is the archetypal anti-hero. His initial disregard for almost everybody around him, and his determination to – as the title suggests – kill himself should make him an entirely unlikable character. However, Sives delivers a winning performance here, instilling Wilbur with an inexplicable charisma that draws in not only those around him, but the audience as well.

The genuinely funny moments peppered throughout this film produce an easy kind of laughter, that feels neither uncomfortable nor desperately essential, despite the serious nature of the subject matter at hand.

Thanks to strong lead and supporting performances that are both subtle and engaging, by the films end each characters personal story arc feels genuine and affecting. 

Beautifully shot, at times Wilbur’s almost sepia colourings perfectly compliment the modern-day fairy tale feel of the film. A truly enchanting experience.

Consider/Further study etc

  • Consider the characters of Wilbur and Harbour. What similarities do they share? What differences? By the end of the film, in what ways have each of the characters changed? 
  • Again, consider the characters of Wilbur and Harbour. How is death and suicide represented in relation to each of these characters?
  • Wilbur undoubtedly deals with a dark subject matter, often in a humorous manner. Is it ever appropriate to treat such subjects with a comic effect? Why is humour used to investigate dark subject matter?
  • What does the art direction suggest about the setting of Wilbur

YOUR GUIDE TO: Brick (2005, dir. Rian Johnson)

8 Aug

brick

“Ain’t bodies got a right to be curious?”

For those that loved:

Pulp Fiction, Magnolia, Layer Cake, Donnie Darko

For those that are writing on:

Adolescent cinema, representations of masculinity (and femininity) in contemporary film, noir, neo-noir or suburban noir, construction of the self (many philosophical possibilities arise from the relationship between Brain and Brendon)

In a nutshell

Drugs, thugs, scheming dames and noir intrigue set amongst a Sunny suburban landscape. Expect heavy lashings of teenage angst; this is Sam Spade, the junior years.

Plot

After receiving a frantic call from his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), teenage loner Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) must unravel the mystery that surrounds her disappearance. Inserting himself into an underground drug ring lead by the scheming Pin (Lukas Haas), with the help of his seemingly only friend Brain (Matt O’Leary) Brendan is determined to “make Em’s troubles mine” until he can uncover the truth.

Why should I watch?

In the strangely parent-less world of Brick, kids converse in hipster noir lingo that seems to be at odds with the sun-streaked suburban locale. The usually banal high school setting is inflected with an eerie seriousness, as are the characters that inhabit this bleak landscape.

An intricate murder mystery is slowly unravelled by the unflappable man-with-a-plan Brendan and while the story is perhaps familiar ground for anyone even vaguely familiar with the noir tradition, it is a story worth telling.

Solid performances are delivered by a relatively unknown cast; Gordon-Levitt in particular shines as Brendan. Having escaped the hell of child stardom (he played Tommy in 90s sitcom ‘Third rock from the Sun’), Gordon-Levitt seems only a few more wise character choices away from indie-to-mainstream, Gyllenhaal-styled stardom (hello, (500) days of summer?).

The almost Western styled guitar strains that echo throughout Brick add to the intence, haunted feel of the film and further emphasise the care put into this production. A promising first feature from director-to-watch Rian Johnson, Brick is the kind of intricate film that benefits from repeat viewings.

Consider/Further Study etc

  • In what ways does Brick resemble classic noir? In what ways does it subvert noir conventions to present a contemporary suburban image of film noir?
  • Film noir is often suggested to be a ‘cinema of paranoia’. In what ways is this reflected within Brick?
  • Consider the last scene that takes place between Brendan and Brain. Without wanting to give too much away, notice Brain’s last path of movement. What might this suggest about his relationship with Brendan?
  • Emily, Kara and Laura all embody vastly different representations of femininity. In what ways are these characters similar to the classic femme fatale archetype? In what ways do they differ?
  • Throughout Brick, Kara is shown in many different costumes, each creating a distinctive representation of femininity. What might this suggest about contemporary understandings and constructions of femininity, and the normative understandings of femininity?
  • In the final exchange between Brendan and Laura, she whispers a “dirty word”. What might this suggest about the representation of masculinity within Brick?

Further Reading

  • Oliver, Kelly and Trigo, Benigo, 2003, Noir Anxiety, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
  • Tasker, Yvonne, 1998, ‘New Hollywood, New Film Noir and the Femme Fatale’, in Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema, London, New York, Routledge
  • Telotte, J.P., 1989, Voices in the Dark: the Narrative Patterns of Film Noir, Urbana, University of Illinois Press