Month: August 2012

Reality Bites; Film Should, Too

A scene from Warner Bros.’ “Gangster Squad,” which will be removed from the final cut due to its likeness to the July shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

We fear bullets. We fear emptiness. We fear life. We fear death.

But in an age of overwrought political correctness, astronomically ridiculous all-inclusivity, and children who get medals simply for “participating” in a little league game, our biggest fear seems to be insensitivity.

A month ago in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman entered a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s fantastic conclusion to his three-part social parable also known as a Batman trilogy. He opened fire, killing twelve people. That’s a reality.

The fiction of the films, however, are so much more than an glorification of violence. Nolan speaks to us on readily understandable levels of cinematic comprehension, albeit begging, in his own right, for small scale social revolution filtered through a pair of black tights and a pointy-eared mask.

The media began a connection between the film and the shootings, often calling the incident the “Batman Movie Massacre” or “The Dark Knight Tragedy;” headlines seeking to link a very tangible act of terror with the impressionistic experience of going to the movies.

In the weeks prior to the shooting, Warner Bros. Pictures was running ads for its period film, Gangster Squad, as it was set to be released in late September of this year. The film boasts an impressive cast including Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Sean Penn. From the looks of the trailer, it’s a beautifully shot film with impressive sets, costumes, and explosive action. Near the end of the trailer, we see a few armed men enter a movie theater from behind the screen, tearing through it and opening fire on the audience. At no point during the trailer (the first time I saw it was prior to the Aurora shootings in a packed theater) did anyone seem to show any sort of concern for the victims of the onscreen shooting. Nor did they seem alarmed when the trailer ended without the perpetrators being apprehended for killing anyone in that theater. The film is fiction, and the audience accepts that.

Following the Aurora shooting the ad was pulled. The film was placed into “release limbo,” and reshoots were deemed necessary out of respect for the victims of the Aurora shooting. The scene (which was gorgeous, at least from what I could gather from the trailer) is cut from the film, replaced with something completely different (hey, Monty Python) when the film sees release in early 2013.

Not only are the film’s Oscar chances severely dashed (early year and mid-year releases hardly ever see a nomination), but an entire artistic endeavor was compromised for nothing. Are we to the point in our society that we can no longer accept fiction for being fiction, and must begin distorting fiction to make us feel better about our reality? Although Fox News viewers would have you believe otherwise, the majority of the American public is smart enough to understand the difference between a news report and a scene staged for a film. A reshoot will not bring back the victims of the Aurora shooting, nor will it make the memory of the shooting any less impactful.

Life and death happen. If anything, movies are the first ones to tell us that. If cinema didn’t contain death, it would be entirely too difficult to suspend our disbelief. We engage with films because of their likeness to our reality. A world without death is a world not grounded in reality and difficult to accept. Bullets kill people. Sometimes in a movie theater. That’s part of life. It happened. And to compromise a film’s plot and an artist’s vision simpy because it coincides with our “reality” at any given moment does not, in fact, erase our reality.

Perhaps HBO Films should have shelved the release of 2001’s Wit ,a brilliant drama revolving around one woman’s battle with cancer, because countless millions are infected with the disease worldwide. Perhaps we would have forgotten about World War II if Saving Private Ryan never saw the light of day. Perhaps your 90-year old grandmother with Alzheimers will remember who you are if you don’t watch Away From Her. Ignoring reality in cinema is propaganda. And, in this case, an insult to the victims in Aurora.

But maybe, just maybe, you’ll actually remember to go see Gangster Squad now because Warner Bros. has successfully associated it with the tragedy, sending news outlets clamoring to the sets of reshoots to inform you that you’re being compromised.

And the day we start compromising escapist fantasy, ladies and gentleman, is the day we truly die.

Savoring the “Cinematical” Cord

“The Tree of Life” (Malick, 2011) and its lyrical musings on birth, life, and death.

The womb is the womb. Acceptance and recognition. This is the place which birthed us X or Y years ago.

A cave is the womb. The stone temples of ancient Egypt. Sifting and snaking through columns and crevices, recreating the physical mystique of this primordial pouch.

Things to represent it, things reproduced in its likeness. You must accept that this is where life begins.

It’s funny, then, that over the course of my academic career I would spent countless hours studying cinema. Why? It’s inevitable that at some point during a stuffy film lecture from a “seasoned” (or garnished and overcooked, dry crusts and all?) professor, you’ll hear them boldly equate some element of the medium to sex. What follows is usually the class’ collective “inner vomit,” filling the room with a pungent awkwardness and bitter aftertaste boasting hints of multiple “I just thought of Dr. Anderson’s wrinkly balls.”

But as awful as imagining unsexy people’s sexy exploits always will be, one of the most beautiful things I harvested from the impossibly pretentious film studies crop is the ability to recognize the almighty power of the symbol. From the basis of “Introduction to Film” all the way to “Advanced Film Seminar,” the filmgoer’s experience is constantly likened to that of a fetus’ engagement with the outside world from the womb.

One of the most beautiful comparisons came in the Spring of 2012. Marcia Landy, an accomplished academic and author in the film studies community, helmed the capstone course of the University of Pittsburgh’s film program from the head of a long wooden table, uncomfortably shoved into a tiny nook of a classroom on the Cathedral of Learning’s fourth floor. The room was about forty feet long and fifteen feet wide. Pipes and other structural framework poked out from every crack and corner on the ceiling, the windows blacked out with thick matted paper. This was a room where light was unwelcomed; a submarine quarter with a crew of fifteen students huddled around the table, our captain sitting focused and rigid at the head of the table. She was a small woman with a delicate frame. Her style and stature begged us to make jokes about Edith Head cheating death as she sat before us. Her eyes danced around to each of us as we performed standard introductions, a gaze which burned her genuine interest (albeit blank expression) into our skulls. We finished. Her eyes shifted around the room, making sure we knew she was going to connect her carefully-chosen words with our solitary surroundings.

“Welcome to the womb. Birthing ideas, that’s what we’re here for.”

As ridiculous as the comparison sounds, you can’t help but appreciate cinema’s likeness to the flux and flow of life. Its key defining moments throughout history have only, for lack of better words, birthed new schools of thought, consumption, and pure indulgence. Méliès and Godard, postmodern flair and avant garde innovation, Wilder and Hawks, Tarantino and Herzog…minds and movements spring forth from an ooze, a fetal framework set in motion so many years before. The medium as a whole is a child itself, growing, evolving, expanding beyond its humble beginnings as a cheap, disposable art which critics looked upon as a mere passing fad.

A fad which grew because we chose to expand it. Unlike a child, it is not inherently programmed to blossom on its own. It can’t develop its mind, it can’t write a poem, a song, or fall in love for the first time; it is dependent on our experiences and what we choose to do with them to make its transition from childhood to adolescence. The beauty is that it will never grow old. Will never die, will never leave its loved ones with a void they will try to fill for the rest of their lives.

I didn’t know it then, but when I was fresh from the womb myself (maybe a year or two old?), a void was filled to the brim. I was petrified. Fear, the governing emotion of the day, took hold of my hand and thrust it into my grandmother’s as she coaxed me into the theater. It was a re-release of “Snow White,” playing mid-afternoon at a theater that’s no longer there. She towered over me, protective, watchful, holding me close as we moved closer to the bright lights at the end of this mysterious tunnel I’d only “seen” once prior in a hospital room. I didn’t want to. I really didn’t want to. But she made it OK.

Another inch, both of us still standing in the middle of the aisle.

I welcomed comfort as I felt her hands on mine, her encouraging whispers filled my ears with loving disregard for the other sets in the room that were trying to hear the film, not her.

Another inch.

Was it the darkness? The bright light from the screen? The uncertainty of what lies within either one?  The inexperience of having to think of these things as a child with an undeveloped sense of the world?

Another inch. A few more this time.

Forty-five minutes later, half the movie over, and my grandmother’s patience not a hair thinner than it was upon entry, we sat down. And from that moment, I fell in love. A love was consummated, giving life to a passion that exists to this day.

I thank my grandmother for giving me that. If it weren’t for her (or my dad, mother, and pretty much everyone else in my family) forcing me into things as a child, I don’t think I’d have such intense passions for anything I’m, well, passionate about. It was a birth in itself, pushing and inching which gave way to a new entity that still grows and evolves with me as I grew. Went to school. Graduated college.

There were periods when the passion became routine. During the later parts of my furthered education, film became a chore. A weekly paper. A monthly exam. But I guess every child goes through the difficult stages. I was eating up thousands of my parent’s dollars as this was going on. Munched away at savings like film snacked on my sanity.

But alas, social maturity in college affords us other exploits. And, hand in hand, I learned that films are like one night stands; the bad ones forgotten, the good ones savored, the great ones growing into relationships spanning eternity. As sex is a natural part of the human evolutionary process, a passion is a similar byproduct of yourself, a child that never leaves your side (but also doesn’t bitch about wanting a pair of ‘cool kid’ jeans).

As I position myself as a college graduate, these sorts of experiences are all I have to go forward. I see the other students clamoring into their dorms, nervous about whom their professors will be. Whether they’ll like their roommate. If they’ll still talk to their best friend from high school three years from now. Leaving the “little kid” inside them at home, where they’ll revisit here and there. A new life, a rebirth.

For though I am childless, I wield my passions like a tiara-clad toddler dancing around onstage in that hooker outfit from “Pretty Woman.” I am scared now, approaching my new life as a “real” person. The previous 22 years (I tell everyone I’m 19 at parties) mean well, bidding my childhood goodbye and pushing me out into the cold hands of Dr. Life.

Inching closer to the light, holding my grandmother’s hand.

Catching Up with Alex Young: Excerpts from my Interview with her from East End Fashion Magazine

“It was a sweet bird,” she says, fumbling for words in the most endearing way possible. “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize birds before this particular photo shoot, but now I know they have a lot of personality. They’re really willing to pose.”

She’s ever a gracious soul, even to feathered co-stars unable to understand a single thing that comes out of her mouth.

It’s a good thing humans easily understand the effects of sweet, sonically seductive musical stylings is as easy as kicking back and switching your brain’s pleasure dial to the tune of “indulge.” It’s the essence of grace that makes indulging in everything about up-and-coming New York City-based pop singer Alex Young so unbelievably satisfying. One day her crystalline voice wafts through a set as the opening act for Cee-Lo Green, the next she’s modeling gorgeous vintage clothing alongside toucans and a python, poise and grace successfully intact for both.

So, let’s give her credit; she has actually far outgrown the generic label of “pop singer.” After all, you don’t make it to MTV’s airwaves without paying your dues, although it helps when talent is imbued at a young age. She says music has been a huge part of her life ever since she was a  child, with memories of her childhood involving parents who filled the house constantly with music, embedding it in her mind and forming a warm relationship that endures to this day.

Sentiment aside, her contemporary career was built upon electronic and pop sounds, but her latest single, “Don’t Play With Me,” threw a funky wrench into the musical machine, complimenting her signature quirkiness and flamboyant performing style.

“The song was just a natural evolution and progression. I’ve always been a lover of old-school Motown and funk music,” she says. “I wanted to incorporate funk somehow… and we took it from there. I’m really excited with the sound.”

The risk paid off. “Don’t Play With Me” garnered Young extensive airtime on MTV-U and the music video for the single (featuring Young in a dazzlingly stylish old-school red jumpsuit) now has over one million views on YouTube.

“You work so hard on putting music together and getting the right sound,” she says of creating the song. “Thankfully the fans were very receptive of the new style. I wanted to go in a slightly different direction, so I don’t think it’s a departure from my sound. It’s derivative of my music, but I always want to push the envelope and keep things new. When you start to concern yourself with what other people are thinking, your music is totally screwed. Your focus is external when it should be internal, and I try my best to concentrate on only that.”

If there’s one thing that’s clear about Young’s career, it’s that she harbors a deep appreciation for the fans that make her work possible. Always a present force on social networking sites, Young never misses an opportunity to interact with her growing set of followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook, 30,000 of which she’s netted on the former. Her page promotes her latest endeavors and projects while Young communicates with her fans, shining a bit of positive light on those who make her career possible.

Along with the new single, Young says she’s currently working on a killer follow-up album to her debut LP, “Amazing,” released in 2009. The album is a return to her roots in electronic pop, while moving in a new direction entirely less traditional than funk.

“Trap” music, as it’s known, is a relatively new stylistic subgenre incorporating elements of dubstep and urban dance, although infinitely “more listenable” than those, Young assures of the new style we can look forward to on the album.

“It’s really an evolution of dubstep. There are a lot of DJ’s playing it right now. It’s very, very new and a lot of people haven’t heard of it yet, especially from a mainstream artist” she says. “I really wanted to bring it to its full scope. It’s relaxed, it’s not as hyped up…it’s that groove that keeps you moving, listening, and involved.”

As for what’s inspiring these slight alterations to her music career, Young says it comes in the form of, well, typical everyday experiences.

“I take a lot of my creative process through ordinary things. The city is constantly inspiring me, and fashion on the street is a huge part of that,” she says. “In New York City you never know what you’re going to see. When you walk on the subway you’ll see someone in a bumblebee outfit or an outfit that’s pop art with a modernistic touch, huge headpieces, leggings and platform shoes… all kinds of style that’s always pushing and inspiring me.”

While we won’t be seeing Young take to the stage in costume as a five-foot insect in stilettos, her appreciation for unabashed confidence and fashion shines through in her clothing line, simply titled A Young Rose.

The line, a collaborative endeavor with her stylist, Arlinda McIntosh, is a minimalistic reinvention of the classic, funky styles of yesteryear.

“The next installment is going to be old Hollywood with a lot more funk,” she says. “I want to throw some fun colors in there and have some fun. Arlinda is in her 50s, I’m in my 20s and it’s an interesting dynamic between the two of us creating a line that speaks to everyone. There’s no age base, it’s style-based.”

Young also cites two very interesting inspirations for fashion and style in general. Audrey Hepburn, the classic film beauty who exudes class and regality. The other? Studio 54 legend Rollerina, a large-and-in-charge drag queen personality straight from the heyday of the club kid scene, whom Young recently had the pleasure of meeting.

Cranking out pieces for a fashion line isn’t the only way Young unleashes her inner fashionista. She creative directs many of her photoshoots, including the aforementioned shoot where she posed with various birds and reptiles.

“I love creating concepts and imagining a scene, whatever it might be, how it relates to my music, and producing it,” she says of the visual creative process. “This photoshoot was always a dream of mine, from the setting to the clothing to animals to the dark and mysterious, yet powerful tone, it’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

But, there are some aspects of her career, found in the most glamorous of places, which test her fearless demeanor.

“Alright, I did have mixed feelings about the snake,” she admits.

Alas, the end result is gorgeous. The snake looks happy. She looks comfortable.

So, Ms. Young does have limits. Luckily for us, she isn’t prone to paying them much attention.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Peep Me (and my article) on ANTM Winner Naima Mora’s Website

I just wanted to take a quick time-out today to point my faithful readers (all two of you) in the direction of “America’s Next Top Model” winner and Galaxy of Tar frontwoman Naima Mora’s website, “Model Behavior,” promoting the release of her upcoming self-help book of the same name. She’s poured her heart and soul into the project and I’m very thankful to her and her publishing team (namely Tracy Saville) for working with me on this. The shoot was a blast and Tracy’s guidelines for the article challenged me to step a bit outside of my usual “bitching about pop culture” box and write something semi meaningful.

Check out www.naimamoraonline.com if you just can’t get enough of my beautiful face.