Sofia Coppola’s metier is the direction of seemingly unguarded moments — a girl lounges in pink sweatpants, a boy grins dorkily as he bounces up and down on a dance floor, teenagers play dress-up and go gun crazy — so the more this strained to be on point with its observations about stalker culture and celebrity status, the less I liked it. Still, as a snapshot of a world gone crazy circa A.D. 2013, its verisimilitude is mostly undeniable, and it’s still a bit invigorating when movie girls are allowed to have the kind of disreputable fun the movie boys have always taken for granted.
Coppola has plundered young Hollywood for talent — cinematographer Wally Pfister’s daughter Claire Julien is here, as is Vera Farmiga’s (much) younger sister Taissa and even the actress (Georgia Rock) who, at 7 years old, was chosen to be the vaguely creepy drummer girl in the motion-graphic logo for Mandate Pictures (you may have seen her in front of The Purge last week) — and the actors are all just about exactly as good as they need to be to keep the endeavor afloat. Emma Watson has obvious fun playing a Calabasas girl with Beverly Hills pretensions, and Coppola pulls off the pretty good balancing act of making her characters thoroughly despicable and yet not completely unlikable — the quick glare that crestfallen Israel Broussard shoots at a passing pair of pink pumps when the jig is finally up is kind of heartbreaking.
Comparisons to Spring Breakers are both unavoidable and legitimate, though it’s hard to measure a straightforward narrative film directly against Harmony Korine’s dreamier, more deliberately anhedonic work. In its portrayal of the short history of a tiny fallen empire, The Bling Ring is most evocative of Coppola’s own Marie Antoinette. Kirsten Dunst even drifts through one scene, a lovely ghost — and, for those of us who don’t even know who the hell Audrina Patridge is, a spectral reminder of how quickly and decisively youth culture moves forward.
I’ve been aware for years of this movie’s reputation as “that X-rated Richard Dreyfuss film” but until I spun it up on a whim via Netflix — which is streaming a 720p encode of MGM’s surprisingly nice HD transfer — I didn’t realize that it was also a very early Bob Hoskins film, nor that Veronica Cartwright co-starred. Further, if you had told me that Jessica Harper (now of Suspiria fame) spent most of the film’s second half topless, well, I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken me this long to find time for it.
Well, the writers’ strike is on. And as tempting as it is to pontificate on the role of the director as the real authorial voice in filmmaking, or to suggest various roads to amiable compromise, I have to say go writers. That screenwriters are still being compensated for video sales at a compromise rate agreed to when home-video was still a rental market seems unjust to me, given the profitability of DVD sales — and demands for royalties on Internet-distributed content that outpace what they originally got for VHS are morally defensible from a won’t-get-fooled-again standpoint if nothing else. It seems disingenuous to suggest that the content industry won’t be able to monetize the freaking Internet. (See Jon Stewart, above.) Big Corporate versus Organized Labor — this is how the system is supposed to work.
When I was a kid growing up in Southern Colorado, my grandfather had one of those black-and-white TV sets with a screen a few inches across that sat in a box a little bit smaller than a tower PC case. He kept it near his regular chair at the kitchen table, where he smoked cigarettes and worked crossword puzzles. I can’t remember exactly how, but I discovered that under certain conditions you could use that set — and no other TV in the house — to tune in the independent channel 2, broadcasting out of that metropolis 120 miles to the north, Denver. And if you tuned in weekdays at 5 p.m. and squinted through the snow, and were willing to sit there at the kitchen table staring at a tiny, black-and-white screen, you could see the Adventures of Superman series in syndicated reruns. It seemed like it was worth going through just about any inconvenience to see Adventures of Superman.
Early in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., one guy describes a
recent nightmare to another guy over breakfast at a Sunset Boulevard
Denny’s. (It’s called “Winkie’s” on-screen, but it’s clearly a
Denny’s.) Struggling to catch the quality of dream light, he says that
the dream took place in a “half-night.” He may as well be describing an
old Hollywood movie. Scenes that were supposed to take place after dark
were usually shot in broad daylight, with the light filtered or mostly
blocked on the way into the camera. The resulting image has an
inadvertantly unreal quality, where figures cast long shadows even
under cover of alleged darkness. In Hollywood, such photography is
known as “day for night,” but Europeans simply call it “American night”
— the term that gave Francois Truffaut’s essential movie about
moviemaking its title.