After shelling out the $14.50 to see Everything, Everything at a nearby cinema, my expectations were kept pretty low. I thought to myself, at worst, I was in for an hour and a half of cringe-worthy dialog. At best, I would wind up watching a heartwarming love story. What I got instead was an exercise in deep healing, and a narrative that featured a couple of pretty kick ass characters.

The Backstory

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, Maddy is an eighteen year old who was diagnosed with “SCID” (Severe Combined Immune Deficiency) which is a disease caused by a genetic mutation, that leaves the individual with a severely compromised immune system. (Fun fact: SCID is also known as the “Bubble Boy” Disease, made famous by SCID sufferer, David Vetter.)

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING: Not Exactly Everything, But Almost
source: Warner Bros. Pictures

While most people with SCID don’t make it past childhood, Maddy seems to thrive in her sterilized home, which she has not left since she was an infant. Her mother and nurse tend to her several times a day and she occasionally meets up with her nurse’s daughter, who is the same age. There are some plot holes here, like: how is Maddy’s body unaffected by these people’s potential germs and viruses? If she can be near her nurse’s daughter, why can’t she be near her next-door neighbor? But maybe those plot gaps are there on purpose.

The Pure, Untouched

Maddy passes her time by constructing models for her online architecture class, plus she reads a ton and even writes book reviews. She is a “class-A” nerd who could have easily fallen into the “pure, untouched virgin” trope (the girl has literally never left her house).

But while, at certain points, her character broaches the innocent, naïve stereotype, she is also a take-charge kind of young woman. Yes, she crushes hard on the boy next door and does not know what to do with herself when she meets him, but she is also the one calling the shots. While at first it seems like Olly (her love interest) is being incredibly forward, Maddy soon turns the tables by writing to him online, opening up to him, and ultimately planning their (or really, her) escape.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING: Not Exactly Everything, But Almost
source: Warner Bros. Pictures

A Breath Of Fresh Air

Maddy’s character is truly a refreshing take on the used-up coming-of-age arch; although it may seem like she would give up anything to be with Olly (“love makes you do crazy things”), it is also clear that she needs to find out for herself what it means to be alive. Maddy defies her mother like any eighteen year old would, stealing time in the dangerous outdoors and chatting with Olly into the wee hours of the morning.

Her overactive imagination that really keeps the plot going; I love the scenes where projections of Olly and Maddy converse inside of the model structures built by Maddy.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING: Not Exactly Everything, But Almost
source: Warner Bros. Pictures

A young woman with many talents, Maddy is portrayed as a creative, intelligent individual who forges her own reality. Of course, it helps that the film was written and directed by women (J. Mills Goodloe and Stella Meghie, respectively) and based on a book by Nicola Yoon, the #1 New York Times best-selling author. (Screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe is also the creative force behind The Age Of Adaline, The Best Of Me, and Pride.)

Trigger Warning

As someone who is no stranger to chronic illness, and who has danced between the lines of the so-called “real” and the “psychosomatic,” I probably should have expected to be triggered. But sometimes, momentarily returning to the past can bring about momentous healing. Without giving away too many spoilers, it is safe to say that the power of suggestion is a theme of this film, and is something that rings true to our everyday lives.

Everything, Everything brought about a slew of coveted embodied emotions as I watched. Looking on while Maddy and Olly fell in love, I began to re-experience my first love, and to feel the sense of freedom that comes with teenage-hood and the search for identity. I embodied her entrapment, her hurt, and her mind-warp.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING: Not Exactly Everything, But Almost
source: Warners Bros. Pictures

In some ways, Everything, Everything was a great escape. But I have to say, I felt simultaneously engaged in and disconnected from the present as I watched.

Conclusion

Everything, Everything easily made it on my list of films for personal healing. I was so glad to be proven wrong regarding my expectations (I actually turned to my friend before the movie started and said, “this is going to be a bad movie”). In short, if you are looking for a film to jumpstart your feeling body and throw you back into what it was like to be 18, then give Everything, Everything a go. You may just come out of it a wiser adult.

Everything, Everything saw release in the US on 19 May, and will be released in the UK on 18 August. Find international release dates here.

This post was originally published on Film Inquiry.
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"Have You Ever Seen A Real Woman Before?" Body Imagery In WHITE GIRL
source: FilmRise

First-time filmmaker, Elizabeth Wood recently made a film that has people talking.Vice even compared it to Larry Clark‘s 1995 film, KidsThe film is White Girl, a coming-of-age drama/thriller about a 19-year-old named Leah (played by Morgan Saylor), who gets caught up in a drug-deal gone wrong and winds up bailing her friend out of jail. As the audience, we glimpse into the ceaseless and indulgent privilege that comes with being young and white in an increasingly gentrified New York City.

The film took me back to when I was (very briefly) a student at a liberal arts school in upstate NY and would hear about kids who, as a joke, would wake their friend up in the morning by placing a bit of blow right under his nose. The difference here is that characters in White Girl club hop while kids at my old school go to frat parties.

For Ms. Wood, the story is personal, if not at least somewhat self-indulgent. She lived the life of the Midwestern-transplant-party-girl during her college days, when she moved into the largely Puerto-Rican neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens. As Emma Brockes of The Guardianarticulates, Wood was “safe in the knowledge she would have the option to one day move out.”

To be honest, I would rather hear the stories from her neighbors in Queens. Despite its obvious cultural and racial significance, I couldn’t help but see the film from an anatomical level, oddly enough. If you pay attention, there are quite a few shots of Leah with her face either covered or just out of frame.

The Rebel Body

Toward the beginning of the film, I was excited by Leah’s championing of her sexuality, and was ready to view the movie through a feminist lens. In fact, in one scene, one of Leah’s new neighbors points and laughs hysterically at her roommate’s hairy armpits. Leah’s roommate, Katie, sits back confidently and asks, “Have you ever seen a real woman before?”

"Have You Ever Seen A Real Woman Before?" Body Imagery In WHITE GIRL
source: FilmRise

Like Katie, Leah is (mostly) in control of her body and her sensuality; she sleeps with her love-interest, Blue, because she wants to. She’s a hedonist, but at least she’s calling the shots. At least, this is her M.O. for the first half of the film.

In the early sex scenes of the film, Leah appears alive and empowered, usually making the moves with her partners. I felt comfortable knowing that her character was owning her own sexuality. But later on, she becomes less of a rebel and more of a robot.

The Animal Body

Throughout White Girl, Leah is heavily sexualized, though mostly on her own accord. The depiction of her body on screen seems to reflect the unconscious desire to return to an animal-state once reality sets in. In the beginning of the film, she owns her body and her sexuality, choosing whom she has sex with and when. But as the film continues, she almost becomes a body, losing much of her personal identity to drugs, mindless choices and the corruption of a crumbling world around her.

In a later scene, when Leah finally makes enough money to pay for Blue’s lawyer, she celebrates in a drug-induced three-way. The whole scene, which takes place in the bathroom of a club, is framed by blurred edges, keeping our vision tunneled and increasingly hazy.

"Have You Ever Seen A Real Woman Before?" Body Imagery In WHITE GIRL
source: FilmRise

We see a shot of Leah’s belly; suddenly she becomes a disjointed body and we see only pieces of her. This is the moment where she becomes material, almost animalistic. We only see her face again once she passes out due to an overdose.

In another scene, Leah is animal-like in the sense that she is helpless, victimized. After she meets with the lawyer, to discuss Blue’s case over dinner, he rapes her while she is passed out on the couch. Again, Leah is an expression of the body, this time not by her own free will.

Body Genres

Feminist film critic, Linda Williams, describes a similar phenomenon in her essay, “Film Bodies.” According to Williams, who quotes fellow critic and film studies professor, Carol Clover, the “Body Genre” encompasses a type of film that “privileges the sensational.” One obvious example is pornography, where seeing a woman’s body in the throws of ecstasy is commonplace.

"Have You Ever Seen A Real Woman Before?" Body Imagery In WHITE GIRL
source: FilmRise

Williams also discusses the notion of excess in regards to body genres, stating how a female character in a body film will experience extreme pleasure, fear or pain at several points throughout the film. How the character embodies this excess, and how that emotion is consequentially felt in the bodies of the audience members, defines the body genre as well.

To call White Girl a body film is not to necessarily call it pornographic, although Leah and her body are pretty well exposed, to say the least. We see Leah move her body (while dancing at parties or night clubs and while having sex); we see her put substances into her body (i.e. coke) and we see her process emotions through her body (when she breaks down in front of her boss, and again with Blue’s attorney).

But as Leah becomes increasingly inebriated throughout the course of the film, her drug-induced emotional numbing transcribes into her physical body. She becomes less “sensational” and more stagnant. To me, this is the most gruesome part; watching her move from energetic to literally unconscious at points is pretty horrifying.

Conclusion

Overall, White Girl reflects the embodiment of societal and interpersonal dysfunction. And Leah’s expression of personal angst makes her a poster child of reversion to a pre-conscious state of being.

Leah gets trapped in the animalistic world of drugs and dancing, swept up in the whirlwind of being young in New York. She is a hedonistic woman driven by instinct and desire, whose choices whether conscious or unconscious, often come at a high price. Leah is neither victim nor perpetrator, but seems to fall somewhere in between.

— SDC

White Girl is available on Netflix.

This post was originally published on Film Inquiry.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to catch a screening of the documentary, Cameraperson, at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY. Director, producer and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson was also in attendance. She took to the stage afterward for a brief Q&A, which was moderated by Academy Award nominated filmmaker, Joe Berlinger. Much to everyone’s delight, she spent much of the interview skirting around the theater aisles, getting up close and personal with audience members.

Johnson spoke of dealing with the grief – and occasional guilt – that often comes with making a living as a cameraperson. As always, there are cuts to be made, and subsequently, footage that falls through the cracks. She referenced hours of unused footage from past projects, specifically, a documentary centered on two Afghani teenagers that never made it past post, due to a conflict with one of the film’s subjects. Thankfully, much of this footage found its second home in the making of Cameraperson.

She also discussed how the audience shapes a film and ultimately decides its meaning. Therefore, the image on its own holds a future and is ever-changing. Cinema is a two-way relationship, a dance between eyes and screen. (Perhaps a hint at a possible theme?)

Cameraperson is equally disjointed and harmonious, sound and upsetting. We are jolted around and carried, virtually turned upside down and gently left to settle. Johnson possesses the unique talent of telling a story with the potential to change with every viewing.

After the screening in NY, I was (admittedly) far too shy to approach the director in the flesh, so I reached out to the production team afterward, to ask if they might pass along some questions toJohnson. Much to my delight, she was able to carve out some time in her busy schedule to respond! Below are her answers via email.

Sophia Cowley for Film Inquiry: How did you get your start as a “cameraperson” ?

Kirsten Johnson: Today this question has somehow made me think of a long-forgotten story my parents used to tell about me as a toddler. Apparently at the age of 2 or 3, I was picked up from some hours at a babysitter’s house and I stated very strongly, “Me never go back. Me no wanna go back!” My concerned mother asked why and I said, “No pictures on wall.” I have cared about images as long as I can remember and apparently even earlier than I can remember.

An Interview With Kirsten Johnson, Director Of CAMERAPERSON
source: Janus Films

Cameraperson seems to me like a film that is centered largely on relationships. In fact, I was struck by a statement you made during the Q & A, that “the image is a relationship that continues.” Would you mind elaborating on this concept?

Kirsten Johnson: I believe this very strongly now because of the experience of making this film and watching it over and over with audiences. The initial set of relationships is between the people making a film and the people being filmed. What gets filmed may or may not make it into a movie. The people may keep knowing each other or the experiences may only live on in each of their memories, but whatever evidence of what happened between them that lives on in a movie is reactivated by the audience who watches it.

Literally every time I speak with an audience about Cameraperson, I encounter a new way of relating to the film. There has been no end to the creation of relationships and insights generated by new people watching the film. This creation of connection through the camera obsesses me.

An Interview With Kirsten Johnson, Director Of CAMERAPERSON
source: Janus Films

Do you feel that the film accurately represents your memories of the people and places you visited? How does experiencing life through a lens affect your understanding of the moment? 

Kirsten Johnson: Accurate is not a word that I believe relates to memory. Memory is fragmented, abstract, and ever-incomplete. What is filmed is also only a fragment of a moment. But film and memory both help us conjure that which matters to us. The film represents as much filmed evidence as I could bring together in an hour and a half about what matters to me about camerawork. I believe that seeing through a lens changes one’s relationship to time and space.

Where do you believe the line is drawn between documentary and the frequent, almost obsessive recording of daily life that goes on in this age of the iPhone?

Kirsten Johnson: I am not particularly interested in drawing lines that separate people or their activities. I believe that when people film they are searching for something. The evidence of what they are searching for is in the footage.

Who are your current inspirations? Have you found support from other women in film?

Kirsten Johnson: I am currently wildly inspired by the work of Mehrdad Oskouei, Laura Poitras, Wojciech Staron, Michal Marczak, Kitty Green, Brett Story, RaMell Rossand Khallik Allah. I am lucky to know all of them enough to talk to them about why they are making some of the choices that they are. I am always searching for the chance to actually talk to people who make the work which moves me. I am surrounded by women who make films and who support me. My entire career is built on the support of women. The credits ofCameraperson are an extensive list of the world of women who help me exist.

An Interview With Kirsten Johnson, Director Of CAMERAPERSON
source: Janus Films

In the past, Kirsten Johnson has collaborated with Academy Award winning director, Laura Poitras, working as cinematographer on many of her films, including CitizenFour. Kirsten Johnson has also directed, shot and edited a multitude of highly acclaimed original shorts and feature length films. We could not be more grateful to Johnson for providing us with some insight into her brilliance.

Cameraperson was recently released in the UK and is still showing in select theaters in the US. For more information and for entire film credits, be sure to check out the film’s website here

 This post was originally published at FilmInquiry.com

— SDC

mustang

source: Ad Vitam

“It’s like everything changed in the blink of an eye. One moment we were fine, then everything turned to shit.”

When I heard those words in voice-over I thought: yep, that’s what it feels like to grow up. In Deniz Gamze Ergüven‘s debut film, Mustang, five orphaned girls fight to escape the oppressive nature of their adoptive family and cultural surroundings.

The banding together of women in transition is a natural process, especially when their collective goal is to counter a patriarchal force. We see this, “us against them,” separatist mentality in films like Thelma and Louise, Fried Green Tomatoes, and even Kill Bill. But the narrative behind Mustang is a bit darker and more historically conscious.

Current Day Turkey

Actually, Ergüven received some violent backlash from her homeland of Turkey over Mustang. Perhaps this was because it hit a little too close to home. The director’s portrayal of conservative traditions like arranged marriage and modest dress for women, as well as violence among men are reflective of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s (frankly archaic) views on gender roles in Turkey.

source: Ad Vitam

Ergüven believes the plight of women in Turkey is, “now very grave,” which is another reason why her film is so important, as it successfully brought about heated discussionin the Turkish sector of women’s rights. With last month’s attempted coup against the Turkish government, the rest of the world is now rightfully paying attention.

Premonitions about Turkey’s instability are present in Mustang as we witness men rebel and generations clash. There is a pitch invasion at a national football game, leading men to be banned from the next match. In addition, the young women who feel empowered to think more freely are forced into shapeless frocks.

Seeing The World Through The Eyes of Girls

In an interview with Huffington Post, Ergüven said, “For me, it’s very important to look at the world through the eyes of girls. In cinema history we have always been looking at the world through the eyes of men.” I think Ergüven succeeds with Mustang in creating a new world where women (specifically the youngest sister, named Lale) are its guide.

From the POV of the sisters, we can quickly see the absurdity of societal and familial pressures facing them, and we can also understand why they must band together. When the girls are seen “pleasuring themselves” on the shoulders of boys (they were playing a chicken fight game in the water) they defend each other fervently against the hands of their grandmother. She literally has to pry each sister away one-by-one as they cling on to each other.

The Presence Of Touch

One key to expressing emotional closeness on screen is the presence of human touch. Through shots of the girls lying down together, playing like little children or simply embracing, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven invites us to feel the familial love that exists between the young women of Mustang. In fact, the film both begins and ends with an embrace, creating a circular sense of love.

source: Ad Vitam

When tragedy strikes the family, the girls take to resting in darkness, lying lethargic in bed. One sister lightly brushes her fingers against another’s arm, comforting her. The girls lie in a pack-like fashion, as if they were wolves. Someone’s foot touches another’s leg. Their hair blends together. They sleep for what seems like days, mourning a loss. But their soft affection for one another brings them back to life.

Cinematography And Color

The color palette in Mustang is beautiful: blue, grey, and cool tones reflect rural calm. Since the girls are forced to spend most of their time indoors, they are often seen in relative darkness, the mood somber. But interspersed with these darker shots are playful, sun-lit moments. The light of day brings softer colors like light pink and seaside blue, which wash over the screen.

At one point, the girls move from the dull, quiet countryside to an energetic red-toned soccer stadium. Brilliantly, the camera moves swiftly with them, in a hand-held style. The contrast between shots in the home and this new kind of movement is obvious and electric. Boredom meets excitement, the thrill of freedom captured in loud light and sound.

“Women must be chaste and pure”

During one scene, a voice from the television says, “Women must be chaste and pure, know their limits, and mustn’t laugh openly in public.” This statement eerily reflects President Erdogan’s views on women and reminds us of the reality facing many Turkish women. The girls of Mustang are marred by the cultural ideal that a “a woman is above all else a mother,” leaving no room for extramarital affairs or anything that would taint their reproductive duties (a.k.a. going to sports games, socializing, etc.)

source: Ad Vitam

The sisters are shamed for playing an innocent game with members of the opposite sex and are swiftly turned into wives and mothers-in-the-making. They sew clothes, learn to cook traditional meals, and meet with prospective partners.

In Conclusion

Based on the very little I knew about this film before watching it, I was honestly expecting more of a cultish thriller like Dogtooth. But what I got was something closer to Like Water for Chocolate meets Virgin Suicides. I hesitate to make any comparisons, though, as Mustang truly has its own flavor.

All in all, this is a film grounded in cinematic beauty and visceral sensation. Ergüven, along with cinematographers David Chizallet and Ersin Gok, appeal to the tactile senses, creating intimacy within the frame. Equally as important, though, is the emotional bond cultivated between the sisters.

Mustang offers us a glimpse into the conflicted world of the Turkish woman: her struggles, her joys, her need for freedom. Though the film portrays only a small subset of Turkish women, Mustang provides a much needed voice to a population that is ready for rebellion.


Originally published at www.filminquiry.com on August 22, 2016.

— SDC

Up-and-coming filmmaker John Carchietta has co-directed and produced several thrillers like Late Fee and The Hills Run Red. He is one of those true horror fans who really knows his stuff. But recently Carchietta proved that he can tackle multiple genres with the debut of his first solo project, a queer romantic thriller called Teenage CocktailHis film premiered at the 2016 SXSW festival and is now making its way through the international festival circuit.

I was fortunate enough to catch a screening of Teenage Cocktail at the Greenwich International Film Festival this past June, and have been telling everyone (mostly other queer young women) about this film. Why? Because we deserve a good movie about us.

The plot of Teenage Cocktail is essentially this: two girls, fed up with life in their hometown, plan to run away together (to, you guessed it, NYC). Wild-hearted Jules convinces the more timid Annie to do webcam modeling with her as a means of funding their getaway. Somewhere along the way, they fall in love and begin taking more risks, Annie always trailing slightly behind Jules. More than anything, both girls want to be together, and to simply be away.

teenagecocktail1

I was curious — if not a little bit skeptical — why Carchietta decided to write about two teenage girls, and how he pulled it off so well. So I reached out to the writer/director on Twitter and was fortunate enough to conduct an email interview with him, despite his hectic schedule! As it turns out, Carchietta is just one of those rare filmmakers who aspires to tell a love story that people can actually relate to.

In a private Twitter message before the interview, I told Carchietta how excited I was to find a lesbian romance that didn’t feature a nine-minute-long sex scene (not to throw shade on a certain French film). He responded by saying that more than anything, he wanted young women to like the movie. More than half his crew was female and he collaborated with the two main actors to make sure no scene felt uncomfortable to anyone.


Sophie Cowley: Congratulations on your first solo directing debut! You’ve worked on several film projects before, but was it like branching out on your own for Teenage Cocktail? What inspired the switch from horror to more of a romantic drama focus?

John Carchietta: Thank you! Well, to be honest, it was pure self-validation. Very gratifying. At one point deep into editing I had shown the film to a friend and was complaining about who knows what. She flat out told me to shut up, that I had just made a movie for crying out loud. Then it sunk in. Wow, I made a movie. Like an actual real movie! And I’m very proud that it all came together in kind of an old fashioned way.

But I think that’s gotta be one of the most important moments for any filmmaker, to be able to sit down with yourself after the first one and acknowledge that you finally did it. That you never gave up. The pat on the back is important. There’s no stopping us after that and I think a lot of the time you can see that new level of emotion and drive, for better or for worse, in a director’s second film.

As for moving away from horror… don’t get me wrong, I grew up on horror movies. Without the impact they had on warping my adolescent brain I’m not sure I would have ever become as obsessed with movies as I am today. It will forever be my foundation. But as much as I adore the genre, worlds like Teenage Cocktail are where I like to hang out. At least for now.

Who or what inspired Teenage Cocktail‘s main characters, Annie and Jules?

JC: I’d be lying if I didn’t admit a lot of it comes from me and my relationships, friends, enemies and experiences. I think it’s important to write about what and who you know, regardless of the story. For me there always needs to be a high level of truth in the writing. I think an audience will always respect and gravitate towards that. I know I do.

teenagecocktail3

When you and your co-writers sat down to write Teenage Cocktail, did you expect the film to be received largely as a queer coming-of-age drama?

JC: I was aware of that reception but it wasn’t necessarily on my mind while writing. I never really set out to make a queer specific film, which I think lends a hand in creating its honesty. Early on I was very adamant about not pitching the movie as a “lesbian love story” because to me it’s just simply a love story.

I think a lot of films that touch on the subject try to ring the alarm and constantly remind you that this character is queer. Like it’s some sort of excuse for every decision the character makes. I don’t understand that. The characters just happen to be two girls. I thought that made the most sense. Love is love regardless of gender. It’s all the same and super normal.

There’s literally no difference between any of it so why treat them any different? Do couples constantly remind each other that they’re straight in other films? No. It’s like having your characters remind each other to breath every ten pages because we’re human and need oxygen. That’s just dumb.

What feedback have you received from the LGBTQ+ community on the film?

JC: So far the reception has been overall very warm and positive. I’ve gotten some really sweet emails and messages which is surprising only because the film hasn’t seen many audiences yet.

One issue that I’ve found with movies like Blue is the Warmest Color is their explicit nature, which is often male-oriented. Can you talk a bit about your shooting process in Teenage Cocktailand how you managed to create authentic intimacy between the girls, without exploitation?

JC: I opened the script up completely to Fabi and Nichole. I’ve never been a teenage girl before so I let them know that if a piece of dialogue sounded silly or a situation that maybe they experienced felt boyish, that they should flag it. They both knew the script inside out and really respected what was on the page which made it a breeze to improvise as much as we wanted.

The three of us rewrote a lot of stuff on the spot according to how things felt at the moment. Having that level of trust and collaboration with my actors is everything. There’s almost no point in going forward without it.

Another huge element was the tender and respectful eye of my cinematographer, Justin Kane. He made the comfort of the girls a priority that never got in the way of the work. I’m sure it probably also helped that the majority of my crew was female.

But at the end of the day, when considering the risk of exploitation, I never once thought any kind of nudity belonged in the picture. It just wasn’t necessary and I felt I would be abandoning anyone who believed in Annie and Jules.

Can you name a few of your favorite movies/directors?

JC: The list is far too long and will always change by the minute. But right now, today’s top 5, in no particular order would be Paul Thomas Anderson, Amy Heckerling, Bogdanovich, De Palma,Jeremy Saulnier. Those folks have been on my mind a lot lately.

I just rewatched Martha Marcy May Marlene the other night. Still haunts me as much as the first time I saw it. Everything about that film takes my breath away. It opened so many doors for me as a writer. John Hawkes singing “Marcy’s Song” still gives me goosebumps, even now just thinking about it. And how those frames hang till you’re about to fall off your seat.

teenagecocktail2

There’s also this moment in that same scene where you hear like a child talk or something in the background, a couple of lines into the song. Obsessed. Shout out to Sean Durkin!

Any upcoming projects on your mind?

JC: Right now I’m focused on writing a couple more love stories, both set in wildly different worlds. One of them very personal. I guess you can say it’s a fictional autobiography. Whatever that means.


All in all, Teenage Cocktail reminds us that love is pervasive. Plus, there’s plenty of genre mixing and a splash of violence thrown in for good measure. The stakes grow higher and higher as the girls’ plan transforms from a playful pipe dream into something more tangible and ultimately dangerous.

When I asked what inspired his film as a whole, Carchietta wrote to me over Twitter: “I tried to think about what if Amy Heckerling had directed something like Cape Fear. Not sure I got it quite there but it was still a fun ride.”

What do you think of Carchietta’s film? Would you go see it?

Teenage Cocktail is currently playing festivals worldwide. You can follow John Carchiettaon Twitter or check out the film’s Facebook page for updates and more information.

SDC 

(This post was originally published on Film Inquiry.)

seth

I first watched Party Monster a couple of years ago, when once-infamous club promoterMichael Alig was released from prison, where he served 17 years for brutally murdering his drug dealer. The 2003 biopic, based on James St James’ memoir, “Disco Bloodbath”, flew under the radar during its initial release. But the film’s subject, “Club Kids” of ’90s Manhattan, once commanded TV screens across the country.

Since my first viewing of Party Monster, I have developed a minor obsession with underground club culture and am convinced that the film is just as relevant in 2016. Today, the need for safe spaces and occasional escapism is at an all-time high, as our society awakens to its deeply rooted discrimination toward marginalized groups. Party Monster offers lessons on the importance of self-acceptance, self-expression, and how to live for the moment.

Needless to say, Party Monster also shows us the downside of the underground club world. This film, in part, serves as fair warning to anyone chasing the high life, as what begins as innocent fun takes a dark and twisted turn.

A Brief History of Club Culture

Although Michael Alig was the original “Club Kid,” the clubbing scene began long before his time. Young socialites have flocked to underground dance parties since the 1920s, with the formation of speakeasies in Prohibition-era America. And in the UK, nightclubs existed as early as 1912, with the opening of Frida Strindberg’s The Cave of the Golden Calf.

New Year's Celebrations at Club USA

Club kids and denizens (from left:) Michael Alig, Richie Rich, Nina Hagen, Sophia Lamar and Genetalia attend New Year’s eve festivities at Club USA in New York City, 1994. (Photo by Steve Eichner/Getty Images)

In the book “Club Kids: From Speakeasies to Boomboxes and Beyond, the early lure of nightclubs is described as an escape from the monotony of desolate rural (or suburban) life. People were excited by the anonymity, freedom of expression and poetic darkness that surrounded urban night-life. Plus, alcohol and drugs (especially cocaine) were plentiful during a dry period, and the dancing didn’t end until dawn.

Once the late ’80s rolled around, raves took over the party scene in NYC. Here’s where the Club Kids came in to play. The same pleasure-seeking behavior that drove flapper girls to speakeasies brought young people of all backgrounds to the electronic music-fueled world of the underground club scene. It became a world of “shared bodies, ecstatic flesh and alternative communities, who seize the cover of night and turn the darkness into their playground,” as stated in Club Kids.

“One Big Party that Never Ends”

Alig, played Macaulay Culkin in the film, was a midwestern transplant with big dreams. As he declares in his opening monologue, “One day I realized, I didn’t want to be like all the dreariesand normies. I wanted to create a world full of color, where everyone could play. One big party, that never ends.”

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Party Monster unabashedly exposes its subject’s hedonism, maintaining colorful and loud to its core. Seth Green, as fellow Club Kid James St. James, embodies his most playful and absurd character yet (second only to his role as a horny teenager in Can’t Hardly Wait). The film follows a mockumentary style that allows Culkin and Green to address the audience like we were sitting in the room with them.

We watch their mentor-protégé dynamic morph into a twisted, but genuine, friendship. We also see the pair partake in elicit drugs – everything from coke and ecstasy to heroin – and throw illegal parties in donut shops.

But most of all, we get to watch Macaulay Culkin prance around in heels, wearing over-the-top costumes and theatrical makeup. And maybe that’s enough reason for Party Monster’s cult status. (It’s worth noting that a real-life documentary on Michael Alig exists, though it is ten times as frightening as the 2003 Party Monster.)

Of course, all good things must come to an end. Alig’s inevitable crash arrives in the second half of the film, with increasingly shocking party scenes, hard drugs and trashed hotel rooms. Not to mention the heinous manslaughter of Angel Melendez, fellow club-goer and drug dealer. Writer/directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato certainly don’t hold back when it comes to their blatant, at times almost comical, portrayal of murder and addiction.

“I don’t do, I just am.”

In one scene, the Club Kids are featured on a talk show. Everyone is drenched in glitter and body paint, and James St James is dressed as a literal troll. When the host asks James what he does for a living, he replies, “I don’t do, I just am.”

In my opinion, his statement is both an indicator of upper-class privilege and a nod toward the “come as you are” attitude of underground club-culture. Yes, James is definitely a trust-fund baby who can afford to party in Manhattan without a real job. But I think his statement also says that he doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.

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As the film progresses and Michael begins recruiting Club Kids from around the country, he attracts eccentric teens who – like himself and James – have been socially outcast by their peers. The “Kids” (one of whom is played by Chloë Sevigny) run to him looking for new, glamorous identities. Michael frees the Kids from their closed-minded backgrounds, nurturing their creative expression (before turning them on to drugs, of course).

Film as Counterculture

All theory aside, Party Monster feels a bit like a wannabe John Waters film. Its kitschy, B-movie aesthetic speaks to avant-garde filmmakers who made movies with a group of their friends on a $1000 budget. But the irony here is that Party Monster had a budget of $5 million and was produced by Hollywood big-wigs.

The film made $742,898 in gross profits but achieved its cult classic status because of its so-bad-it’s-good quality as well as appearances from cultural icons like Chloë Sevigny, Marilyn Manson and, of course, Macaulay Culkin.

The DIY directing style of Party Monster, despite its Hollywood construction, is representative of counterculture in general. I don’t think the film would have made sense had it been shot more traditionally, without the staged acting or low camera resolution. The Club Kids did not conform to the mainstream, so why wouldn’t a film about them be equally eccentric? The relationship here between mainstream (Hollywood) media and the subject of counterculture is rather interesting, though.

Conclusion

Party Monster takes camp to a level that probably should never have existed, though I’m glad it does. At times cringeworthy, the film embodies the frightening-yet-fascinating counterculture of the 90’s club scene. We are dragged into a world created by outrageous characters who tell us that it’s okay to be different. The risqué parties, the extravagance, the costumes – these were all tools used to build a space where people could be free.

But as the film continues and history unfolds, we can see this idealism wearing off. It’s hard not to be a little disappointed in Party Monster as a film, because the story it tells is a rather disheartening one. That being said, Club Kids were – and are – a significant piece of subculture history, and one that deserves some notice.

Luckily, if nothing else, Party Monster will definitely demand your attention.

SDC

originally published on Film Inquiry

*This review contains spoilers*

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Directed by: Natalia Leite

Written by: Natalia Leite

Stars: Dianna Agron, Paz de la Huerta, Chris Zylka

We focus on a girl, dancing alone in silence at a night-club. Lights flash and we see her face illuminated by a spotlight; she looks almost directly at the camera. The girl desperately snorts coke in the bathroom, our first introduction to the abrasive lighting that carries into the next scene, at the grocery store. It is here we meet our main character, a young woman named Sarah. Even outside of the supermarket, in Sarah’s own home, the screen is drenched in white. Outside, overcast skies follow.

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Sarah is quiet, the timid dreamer, in need of direction. Angelic light trails her every move, until she meets  Pepper, a drunken, wayward woman without a home. It’s not that Pepper necessarily draws in darkness (both in the technical, cinematic sense and more metaphorically). But she adds a shadowy complication to an already jaded Sarah. I wanted more from Pepper, more spark and intrigue, rather than the frankly boring character we are handed. She’s eccentric by small-town standards, an outcast in the New Mexico town. On one hand, I can understand Sarah’s attraction to Pepper; she’s never met anyone as free. But we as the audience (who have presumably stepped foot outside of our hometowns) have a harder time falling for Pepper and can sense the inevitable disappointment from the get-go.

So instead of enjoying bearing witness to a developing love-affair, I found myself instead waiting for the collapse. And when their romance did disintegrate, it was unsurprising, anti-climactic. That being said, I think the development of Sarah and Pepper’s relationship is realistic in that they move slowly, uncertainly, always with a subtle danger building in the background. (Almost like “Carol,” if Cate Blanchett played a homeless drug dealer.)

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“Bare” moves softly, but is full of spaces, empty like lives of its characters. Luckily, the film is (at least, in part) redeemed by three things: interesting lighting, a feminist queer narrative and its discussion of small-town sex workers.

In a frankly half-assed adventure, Pepper takes Sarah to Reno, an electrical cityscape lit by loud neon. The girls escape to casinos, their hedonism fueled by flashing lights, bright sounds and colors. The grey is gone, along with the loneliness and metonymy of their home town. Noticing her bewilderment, Pepper says to Sarah, “You should see Vegas.”

Soft light is brought back in an intimate sex scene, powered by Pepper’s truck headlights. This feels real (or at least more real than the famed nine-minute-long sex scene of Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color.)  Here is where the perspective of a female director shines through.

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Whether intentional or unintentional, I was appreciative of the feminist agenda behind Bare.  Sarah’s boyfriend continually tries to “save” her as he notices her changing– she starts stripping and enters a lesbian relationship– but all he knows is that she isn’t the same scared girl he knew before. Her boyfriend tells her she isn’t being herself, that she needs help, thus attempting to define her. Meanwhile, Sarah is more free than she has ever been, which means she is a threat in the eyes of the patriarchy. Sarah is routinely shamed by men; first her boyfriend and much later the cops, who treat her like a dejected animal.

Sarah often watches women, including her mother, smoking alone. To me, this image speaks to the culturally inflicted isolation of American women, who are raised to be lost without a partner (man) and/or children. Of course, these things are changing in our society (!!) but I think the image is still a very powerful, sad one. In one scene, Pepper says to Sarah: “If you don’t make your own choices in life, life makes them for you.” By life, we can presume Pepper means fear, socially constructed expectations and, ultimately, men.

Sarah is afraid, but for good reason. Taking charge of your life is no easy task. Sarah starts her journey by having a smoke with her mom, under the soft light of the sun. (Before running away, of course.)

 

— SDC