Joey Nolfi

Started at the POPSMUT, Now We Here: The End and Other Beginnings

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As a true American legend/general staple of the Oscar blogging community, I feel that as I move forward into 2014 and beyond, I must reveal that sentiment, above all, is kind of my thing.

We’ve been close since elementary school, the days when I used to come home on Fridays with a lunchbox bursting with plastic forks and spoons I’d accumulated during the week–utensils similar to the ones I saw my classmates tossing into the trash like they were nothing. But mine? No. I held onto mine dearly. “My mother gave these to me,” I told a lunch lady who dared to question my actions from atop her stained-yellow Keds of judgment, watching me place a used spork back into the box.

I don’t part with things easily. As many of my friends know, I linger in the movie theater long after the final scene is whisked away by the credits. I soak up the moment, the music, the experience that I’d just bathed in for the last two hours. It’s hard for me to get up and walk out–unless the movie was American Hustle or something.

Parting with this blog, however, has been a long time coming. I so tactfully named a future professional tool after something that sounds like an Xtube user handle belonging to a Scotch-laden man with an intense interest in geriatric male-on-male fellatio. I guess it’s more difficult to say after the fact that this blog was started as something for me to mess around with. It’s since grown into the foundation for a career I’m so desperately trying to have.

It’s through this space that I’ve been able to meet some incredible artists. I’ve interviewed celebrities, artists, designers, directors, writers–people, more than anything else. I’ve written about love, regrets, passion, resentment, life–strung together with the thread of film and pop culture, of course. But, the one thing that’s remained the same is the person behind the keyboard: me. I’ve single-handedly taken this blog from a silly side project into something I’m extremely proud of.

But, it’s time for something new. I am ending POPSMUT.

As I grow increasingly interested in writing as a career (screenwriting, journalism, etc.), I learn more and more with each passing day that the potential realities of breaking into the industry at age 24 (or “6th Anniversary of 18”, as I like to call it) are rapidly dwindling. Self-publishing (for more than just fun) is the route I’ve decided to take.

On August 25, 2014, I will launch Serving Cinema at http://www.servingcinema.com, alongside my longtime collaborator and friend, Alice Groesbeck. It will focus on Oscar season, the film industry, and culture in general. Our first major feature will focus on the release of a few key films during the New York Film Festival in late August (we’re in negotiations with one of our writers who’s going to be at the festival to bring his reviews exclusively to us). We’ve got a fantastic web designer who’s in the final stages of bringing our vision to life. We have tons of features lined up that will add a youthful life force into the crusty Oscar Blogging industry pool, and have gathered a great group of writers, collaborators, interns, and others to help make this a multimedia sensory extravaganza that will find a home in the hearts of tens of millions of adoring people across this great nation (or so we modestly hope).

We eventually hope to expand the site from mere videos, podcasts, and articles into an outlet for online-only independent filmmakers to showcase their work in a monthly spotlight/theater feature, but that’s all for phase 2. Phase 1 has barely left me any time to sleep in the past few months, so one step at a time.

Over the course of the next month, however, I’ve got a ton of other projects coming to life as well. Anaka Records will be flying (AKA putting me on a train because I’m terrified of air travel and refused to do it. I wish I were kidding, but I’m really rolling up for a business trip on rails) Alice and I to New York City on August 7 to collaborate with Alex Young (a singer I first interviewed on this blog in 2010, mind you) on a series of documentary-essays and web episodes/video projects surrounding her artistry and the city itself.

On September 6th, I’ll be traveling to Toronto to cover the Toronto International Film Festival–a legitimate Oscar precursor festival–for Serving Cinema as its first major feature.

My first short film (that I directed, acted in, and co-wrote with Alice), Dealing, is nearing completion, and will be edited (and released) by the end of the year. I’m also in the process of partnering with the Three Rivers Film Festival here in Pittsburgh to do some cross-promotion for my site and their list of filmmakers on this year’s slate.

I’ve accomplished so much (being humble apparently isn’t included in that assesment), and this blog as been there right by my side. It’s grown into more than just an outlet for expression. It has become an instinct, a gut-reaction for sharing ideas, an extension of myself as I try to write as personally as possible. I can’t do it all by myself if I want to expand, so we’re taking my little ball of passion and turning it into that Indiana Jones boulder (if that Indiana Jones boulder were a handful of people passionate about staying indoors/blogging about film).

Learning to exist with sentiment makes me a stronger person, a stronger writer and, hopefully now, a strong businessperson (with the help of my good friend Tyler Marchinetti, who’s helping out with some of the business aspects, like teaching Alice and I what “net gain” means and that people can actually sue us for the shade we throw now that we’re a business). Speaking of which, I know that if throwing shade at Jennifer Connelly and Argo over the years could translate into success, we’re already “recouping” (is that the right business word, Tyler?) whatever shame I brought upon myself by naming this blog “POPSMUT.”

Sentiment is my thing. Saying goodbye, however, is not. I’ll hang on to the craft I’ve perfected on this blog over the years and give it new life in a new home very, very soon. Hopefully we’ll uphold a legacy far better than Argo is upholding the Best Picture legacy from the clearance bin at your local supermarket (one last jab, for old time’s sake).

So, goodbye, PopSmut. You’ll be the used spork in my lunchbox of life forever. *pops Cristal in the hot tub* *clinks glass with my angel-winged ego of the future*

Joey.

Look for Serving Cinema to launch on August 25, 2014. 

Finding Summer Sunshine in ‘Tammy’ Beyond the Muck and the Fat Jokes

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By: Joey Nolfi

Twitter: @joeynolfi

What makes a movie worth something? In the blistering months of summer, we find ourselves flocking to the theater in droves to see them: the good ones, the bad ones, the everything-in-between ones. We accept the notion that this is a supposed to be a time for relaxation, a time to drift away from the 40-hour workweek and into the soft caress of increasing temperatures and cool breezes in that wide open space that’s in between your front door and your air-conditioned sedan.

But, being the good cinephiles that we are, we shut ourselves away in tiny, cramped, darkened little theaters and let others create the fantasy for us. We still associate film with escapism, just the same as we hold onto the coded image of summer as if it still bears the same fruits that three months of nothingness ahead of you in the waning days of May did when you were 15 years old.

Of course, the reality for adults is much different. Summer is simply supposed to be synonymous with easy, but the film industry often kicks into overdrive during these months, pummeling us with male-driven tentpole after male-driven tentpole in a cycle that’s driving its top-heavy films into the ground, pushing “minority” characters and stories to the side, and testing just how much audiences will put up with (grosses for 2014’s summer flicks thus far trail last year’s grosses by 15%, according to Deadline Hollywood) en route to a monolithically-male American film culture.

In an industry where real female characters in front of the camera are rare and a female eye behind the lens is even harder to come by, it’s unfortunate that a film like Tammy—one undoubtedly meant as a lighthearted tread through fields of breezy summer tastes that appeal to the masses—lands itself amid an inescapable storm of web-based chatter from all possible perspectives. People don’t want to let the film be as it is without all the extra baggage it may or may not be carrying with arms of its own. Still, we talk; “Tammy is a film about equality for big girls” some say. “Can we please stop talking about Melissa McCarthy’s weight?” others, like Entertainment Weekly’s Karen Valby did here) chime in. Tammy is being pulled in a million different directions so much that feels like we’ve run the course with it even though we’re still a good 24 hours away from its official opening.

What is true “worth” when talking about a summer blockbuster, then? If we tip so heavily to the side of male taste, is there room for anything else—even, say, a subpar overall film like Tammy—to be worth something in bits as opposed to as a whole?

Heavy discourse might be valid when talking about a film that’s worth something in the eyes of the masses, which Tammy will be if good word of mouth carries it past the modest $30-$40 million holiday haul it’s poised for, though we seem to be more preoccupied with throwing our own words around prior to seeing the actual film than seeing Tammy for what it is; a ridiculously uneven spectacle that digs its own holes that are similar in size and size and scope to the ones dug by others it so desperately seeks to climb out of. But, in the age of the internet court, where everyone’s voice is falsely validated by their ability to fit it into a 140-character space, criticism becomes something that altogether precedes content, and it’s dangerous to glob a film like Tammy into a grey box in an industry that so blatantly separates gender into black and white despite its shortcomings.

We have to pick and choose what we pull from films like Tammy, which stars Melissa McCarthy as a 30-something slob with an ex-job, soon-to-be-ex-husband, and an excommunication from a reality, as she attempts to capitalize on her newfound freedom with a road trip to Niagara Falls with her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), though they veer far off track and the film careens into all-over-the-place territory as Tammy embarks on a true journey of self-discovery. McCarthy’s script (co-written with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also directed the picture) feels like a series of aimless vignettes that wear the same comedic gimmicks that McCarthy has relied on for three years now so extremely thin that the barely-there thread connecting everything feels as if its about to snap and coil in on itself if one more self-deprecating fat joke or improvised run-on slithers out of McCarthy’s mouth.

Take it like any subcultural film movement appropriating the normative culture’s use of words that are derogatory (the “f” word, the “n” word), but McCarthy’s use of fat jokes at first doesn’t seem like a harnessing of control, but rather feels like a repetitive reliance on an easy gag. The laughs are there, but the punch isn’t. For that reason, it’s nearly impossible to leave the discussion about weight and gender at the door, namely because the film is more than attributable to McCarthy’s own doing: she wrote the script, after all, and her husband called the shots on set. That doesn’t do much for objectivity on their part, and it makes for a film that feels more self-indulgent on McCarthy’s part than it does self-revelatory for the character she’s created on the page and on the screen…for the first half, that is.

So, the overwhelmingly negative response the film is receiving from initial screenings is warranted for the most part: the film’s first half is a silly romp that does very little to elevate itself above the rest of the summer muck. Again, we must be careful, as so rarely are we given female characters like the ones in Tammy that the film surrounding them takes a backseat to the importance of their existence as characters in the first place. The film’s back half, however, turns the nose of the sinking ship toward the sun.

For starters, it’s become quite common to observe that Melissa McCarthy’s body type doesn’t fit in with the normal blueprint Hollywood has drawn for women to build upon, and when lines like “you didn’t fuck the ice cream man just for the ice cream, did you?” and “I kind of got into the pies” punctuate a film that includes scenes of an overweight woman struggling to climb over a small counter top and falling to her knees after dropping three feet off the top of a table, what is an audience supposed to think? McCarthy begs us to view her body as a comedic tool, and while that makes it impossible to leave discussion about its star’s body out of the equation, it does indicate that there is a consciousness to her methods.

xmelissa-mccarthy-susan-sarandon-tammy.jpg.pagespeed.ic.KmtdTVSL3lTammy is a studio production aimed at pleasing the crowds, and it will do that on some level, but the film also explores things you’d never see in the male-driven industry today, thanks largely in part to McCarthy’s power as a box-office draw and audience darling. There are female characters (even lesbians!) that are defined by more than their sexuality and/or their relationship to a man—in a Hollywood production! Though the lack of objectivity and more creative license given to McCarthy in terms of script and performance speaks to her power as a female star with a box-office draw, her decision to include the fat jokes in her own script indicate a comfort and an acceptance of her body. That’s obvious. It’s just wholeheartedly discouraging to see her reducing herself to fodder for trailers with material that’s just not very creative, and altogether makes her body something that we have to think about as something someone has to “accept” in the first place. Is there something wrong with you if you aren’t Melissa McCarthy but have Melissa McCarthy’s body type and no outlet to show off your self-deprecating humor?

Sure, we can say that it’s unfair to talk about women’s bodies and focus on the weight, but Melissa McCarthy’s films seem to fixate on it more than the rest of us do: the jokes are at the expense of her weight and wouldn’t work on a skinny person. McCarthy doesn’t use these jokes as a crutch beyond the first half of the film or so (they’re peppered throughout the entire thing, but ultimately don’t define it), she’s just playing up her assets, and she treats her body as such; she doesn’t create a character who’s disgusting, but rather someone who’s in control of losing control of her body for comedic effect.

It’s this consciousness of what makes McCarthy “different”—both as someone who doesn’t fit the “normal” mold of Hollywood actresses and as a powerful woman in an industry dominated by men—that makes aspects of Tammy accessible in a way we’re not used to seeing in a big-budget Hollywood production. There’s a deliberate effort to construct a non-mainstream, non-typical woman and give her the agency that beautiful, rail-thin leading ladies in other films don’t even get. Without spoiling anything, we do see Tammy getting a choice along her path to romance, the freedom from hinging her life’s decisions on the pursuit of a man, valuable, complex relationships with women based on things that don’t have to do with men, and the power to be the agent of her own story, not dangle from the hands of someone else. This is a story about women helping women, even if the beginning bits distracted us along the way.

So, what does Tammy want to be, and what does it end up being? It’s a line we can’t clearly draw because the film itself is so structurally misshapen, but we can appreciate what little glimmer there is to be extracted from the earnesty of its all-poweful female star and screenwriter. We can’t blindly accept films like Tammy as a whole simply because there are elements that subvert the norm. A mediocre product from a woman, starring a woman who contrasts what other studios are pushing doesn’t make it a great film, but you can make a dry, crusty, dirt-browned potato shine like a juicy red, freshly-plucked tomato; you just have to tilt it a little and lift it into the sun for closer inspection.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

Cannes…from the Heart of an Outsider

Leila Hatami, Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion, Jeon Do-yeon, Carole Bouquet

An American boy on the sands of Cannes, France: that’s how I’d imagined myself ever since I was seven (maybe eight?) years old, yearning for transcontinental air travel and a responsible adult to accompany me to the grandest of the world’s film festivals.

It’s a rather odd dream for a child to want to travel to a small town that comes alive in the international spotlight only once a year to celebrate an art that’s far beyond his comprehension. It’s also rather selfish. What the kid in me didn’t understand was that spending thousands of dollars of your hard-earned coin to relish in the best that world cinema has to offer benefits little more than the airline, taxi service, and bellhop who carries your bags. Casual Cannes-goers ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme of the festival circuit, where moneymaking is all that’s left for anyone in an industry that–when it comes down to the life and death of it–could disappear off the face of the earth with little more than a monetary crater in its wake.

I don’t think, in the early months of 1997, my little brain even knew who Ang Lee was. If you would’ve asked me to sit through LA Confidential or Funny Games, I’d have told you I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies. The understanding of film, however, is an ever-evolving entity, and Cannes fosters an appreciation for the various perspectives in film that make it such a diverse, captivating industry.

But, how characteristic of a child is it to yearn after the flashiest, most sensational aspects of something you don’t quite understand? I wanted nothing more than to be a part of the machine that makes Cannes tick. The stars are out in full red carpet glamor, the journalists buzz about, the businessmen shake hands and exchange their millions.

Of course, Cannes is all about business, too. Just today, a $20 million deal for a film was inked by Paramount for Amy Adams-starrer Story of Your Life. There are deals here and deals there, as beautiful films from the brightest artists still come with a hefty price tag.

I can now read about who purchased what or who thought what about which film in the trade papers, but the fact remains that I am now, and always have been, a Cannes outsider. The way I view Cannes is filtered through the lens of those in attendance, and the type of coverage I could  be giving from my cramped, wood-paneled bedroom only speaks to my career aspirations that may or may not come at a later date; most bloggers like me only have the luxury of covering other coverage when it comes to festivals like Cannes or Toronto or Telluride. I’m either building a foundation to get paid to write about Cannes–from Cannes– in the future, or I’m wasting my time on a ship that will never set sail. Either way, I’m not there now.

But, that’s the flaw of living in the quick-fix film industry of today. It’s all rather infantile, really. We’re told that we all matter. My desire to cover Cannes without being there is difficult, but Hollywood consistently pushes each of us up the ranks of self-importance. We’re told that our dollar is worth spending on every tentpole that comes out. We’re pushed en masse to the theater, encouraged to tweet our reactions, to wear the t-shirt, to rep the brand for free under the guise of engaging in an elite sort of fandom; though, when it comes down to it, we’re all outsiders to the heart of the industry that beats at a place like Cannes. We lose sight of that from time to time, so perhaps it’s best if some things are left to the protected, sacred mystery of exclusivity.

Though, it’s funny how in such a fast-paced, easily-accessible world, we can still feel so disconnected from something as widely-covered as the Cannes Film Festival. There’s only so much a review of the opening night film or a photo of the crowds lined up to see the day’s most buzzed-about feature can do to satiate one’s yearning to be there. It’s difficult to put your finger on just what makes the festival so alluring, but it has got to be something, because the appeal is wide.

Cannes draws celebrities, filmmakers, publicists, and businesspeople from around the globe; the jury that decides the recipient of the festival’s top prize (the Palme d’Or) this year is made up of Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Winding Refn, Leila Hatami, and Willem Dafoe among others; essentially a mishmash of someone from here, someone from there and everywhere in between.

The films in and out of competition represent diverse artists above all else. They have a place there because their films matter. They’re different. They’re things we haven’t seen before. They’re not bogged down with spandex, capes, and cheap romantic subplots.

There are films from established directors, and films from people we haven’t seen much from before. In that sense, Cannes makes insiders of the outsiders and places them on the same plane of presentation as the big boys, giving them a stage for the rest of us to see at some point down the line when the hoopla of the festival has withered away and all we’re left with is a remote and a subscription service with On-Demand capabilities.

It’s the job of the journalists at the festival, then, to make Cannes really mean something in the moment. We’ll all be invited to the party of opinion at some point, but these are the people who travel–sometimes on their own dime–to the waters of Southern France all for the sake of seeing, posting about, and championing films that will likely make it stateside within a few short months. These people sacrifice their sleep, sanity, and time, but it’s really a donation of all those things when you look at the big picture; world cinema–often under-appreciated in large markets like the US–is covered. It’s truly covered (in every sense of the word) by the hordes of writers who pack the screening rooms day after day and present their impressions to readers. Why? Because they’re the insiders who’ve been chosen to make it known. The prestigious torch is theirs to carry. They have a responsibility to promote the art in a climate that fosters the desire for spectacle versus creativity. They can’t afford to lose sight of the types of films that are shown at Cannes.

The journalists, while heralding films of worth, can also destroy the stragglers of the pack. Just yesterday we witnessed the downfall (more like the kick while it was already down, following a nasty dispute over final cut between Harvey Weinstein and director Olivier Dahan) of Grace of Monaco, the festival’s opening night film, which didn’t seem very Cannes-y in the first place. Still, the film’s stars (namely Nicole Kidman) and creators showed their faces, gave interviews, and upheld the tradition of a Cannes insider.

For most of us, all we’ll ever be to Cannes is someone hovering around the perimeter, holding out our basket, hoping to be thrown a few scraps here and there. We won’t show our films at special screenings, we won’t know how the sunlight hits our faces through the flash of paparazzi bulbs, how the salt air of the Mediterranean Sea wafts over the crowds waiting for the morning’s first screening. We won’t know how the wine tastes at the cafe around the corner from the best screening room. We won’t know what it’s like to be shut out of a screening because our press pass hasn’t been upgraded to “pink” from the standard “blue.”

We will always know, however, what it’s like to consume. Isn’t that the goal of it all, when you break it down? The filmmakers, the artists, the studios, the stars; each of them are vying for our consumption of their product.

We outsiders know nothing about the actual experience of Cannes, yet reap so much from it as these consumers. The kinds of films that have been shown and championed at Cannes rarely ride their glory all the way through to Oscar season, but the esteem is enough to last a lifetime. Tracking Oscar potential at Cannes is to miss the point entirely, though. Correlation is tricky to pinpoint, and it doesn’t matter. The Oscars have their ideology (and are a preservation of adult and art films in their own right), and Cannes has its own. Cannes is a celebration, a showcase, a hand on the ticker of the industry propelling world’s artists forward as they come together to say “look at what we can do,” and so we do just that. We obey, and we look on.

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I’m lucky now to be older, wiser, and more aware than my 7-year old self to know the whys, the ins, and the outs of why I want to be there in the first place: to experience that magical confluence of minds, talents, and to get swept up in the waves of collective appreciation shone from the world stage.

That’s something else I didn’t understand as a kid; the importance of Cannes across so many mediums speaks to the unison the art of cinema promotes. People spend thousands of dollars just to be there in the moment, in the magic of it all. People watch multiple movies–back to back–each day, writing about them in rented flats, cramped hotel rooms, and buzzing cafes.

People travel across oceans and trek mountains for the movies.

Though I can now experience the festival after sifting through journalist’s Instagram accounts, festival hashtags on Twitter, and hourly updates on the trade sites, I am still there secondhand, and that menas I’m not really there.

Cannes is a cloistered shell with pearls on the inside. Its mystery and allure are prestigious, and a great way to pinpoint the art we often lose track of. The exclusivity keeps the world’s eye on the prize. It elevates film to the level of the all-important instead of demeaning it to the easily-accessible. The films are challenging, complex, and fueled by creative passion from international perspectives, but at the end of the day, we’re all watching movies; alas, that’s the point–Cannes is so magical because it’s not about simply seeing a film, it’s about watching them and looking out for the ones that matter, because they often find a home there. We’ll all get that chance sooner or later.

So, as I sit here, some thousands of miles away from Cannes, I take pleasure in looking forward to upholding my end of the bargain when I buy my ticket to Foxcatcher or Maps to the Stars in a few months. It’s all about grasping the thread when it passes by, and I trust everyone at Cannes to push it in my direction.

We must trust that Cannes is one of the few remaining treasures left for world cinema. We trust that the filmmakers, artists, journalists, and insiders value the preservation of this congregation, that despite business deals and publicity, the fruit of the labor isn’t measured in such petty terms. They’re there for the art, for the treat of inclusivity, for the treat of being there when it all happens. They’d better enjoy it after all; they’ve moved across mountains and oceans to get there.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi

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.

One Year, One Voice; Remembering Amy

It’s been one year, down to the day, that one of the greatest voices in contemporary music was silenced forever. July 23, 2011 marked the death of Amy Winehouse; an artist’s death that affected millions around the world. As we go one year without the voice that inspired so many, I want to revisit an article I did for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last summer, explaining my frustrations at the outrage over the media coverage of her death. As we endure an age where media oversensation runs rampant, I wanted to touch on various aspects of celebrity culture I think are entirely important to cover in the news. Detractors cite her various addictions as reason to “expect” her death and, in turn, somehow justify it as something trivial and unworthy of our attention. I wanted to cover these topics in the article. The fact remains that Amy’s voiced touched millions, and while her physical voice may be silenced, the part of our hearts she illuminated will sing forever.

ORIGINALLY POSTED IN THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, JULY 2011

He can only hold her for so long,

The lights are on, but no one’s home.

Amy Winehouse, “He Can Only Hold Her”

It’s a seemingly trite verse lifted from a tune which appears on the late Ms.  Winehouse’s sophomore (and, unfortunately, final) album “Back to Black.” Without  context, it doesn’t mean much. When examining the all-too-brief life of the  woman who wrote it, though, it becomes as searing as her out-of-this-era  voice.

The lights were certainly “on” in one way or another for Ms. Winehouse. Five  Grammys. International sales certifications named after every precious metal in  existence. Top 10 hits in what seems to be every country that hosts broadcast  radio.

But no one seemed to be “home” to discipline the young lady with all the  accolades. Certainly not Ms. Winehouse herself.

Images of the singer trolling the streets of London, barely coherent, come  quickly to mind. This seems to be how the media favored her. She was the celebrity screw-up. The headline disaster that struck once a  weekend. An easy target. The butt of the joke. All for being brutally honest  about her life, including her addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine.

She was an addict. But she was also one of my biggest inspirations.

Fans know the tragic last years of her life as the “old” Amy. This wasn’t the  Amy they wanted to see come out with another album. This was the Amy that  whenwillamywinehousedie.com preyed upon; certainly not the Amy I hoped would  survive.

The media awaited — and at certain points, even I painfully expected — the  breaking news of her death-too-soon.

“I’m absolutely disgusted that her death is receiving more coverage than the  tragedy in Oslo,” one of my friends said to me. “People are crying for Amy but  can’t even point out Oslo on a map,” he continued, “It’s just proof of this  country’s pathetic obsession with fame as well as the total lack of empathy with  the common person, albeit in a different part of the world.”

His frustrations have been echoed by many a hipster-Greenpeace-vegan hybrid  since the news arrived of Ms. Winehouse’s death. I mean, “anti-establishmentism”  is the bees knees nowadays.

It’s not hard to see that Ms. Winehouse was a godsend to many. The fact that  news of her death impacted so many people is no fault of the media which is  reporting it. If a story is being read, it would only make sense for an outlet  to cover it. The public has spoken, and news of Ms. Winehouse’s passing seems to  be hitting home with far more than just those “pathetically obsessed with  fame”.

News of her death hit me as hard as the first note I heard escape her tiny,  delicate frame. I was 16. She was around the same age that I am now. But her  voice smoldered with tinges of another era (though it’s done heapings of  injustice by any comparison whatsoever) that took me to a place I could  experience only by way of headphones and “Back to Black” on repeat.

The time I spent with her music was time I spent getting to know her. Loving  Amy was not, for me, about an obsession with fame, as my friend seems to think.  When an artist becomes a celebrity because she expresses extraordinary  creativity, as Ms. Winehouse did with every song she wrote and performed, she  forms a relationship with her listeners. Not only of a consumer-supports-artist  nature, but even on a spiritual level.

The darker side of life pervaded Ms. Winehouse’s music. Whether it was in  crooning a beautifully subdued rendition of the 1958 Teddy Bears’ hit “To Know  Him Is To Love Him” or tackling original tracks like the disturbingly honest  “Rehab,” Ms. Winehouse never downplayed her struggles. She needed no safety net,  and the public certainly never provided her one.

Underneath the veil of fame was a dark, lonely, self-deprecating human being  who placed herself on display through her art. Any fan of hers will tell you  that. Her songs are like a diary, written for all of us to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big of a Britney Spears fan as the next guy, but  I’ll never be more than a “fan” of music products like her. We feel safe with  products. Ms. Winehouse was anything but “safe,” in both her artistry and her  personal life.

She was a danger to herself and no one denies that. But her public struggle  made her a shoulder to lean on for so many people she never knew. And it made  her death more tangible to those who loved her. Ms. Winehouse’s lyrics touched  the similarly afflicted hearts of those who clung to her as the second coming of  Billie Holiday.

Many of the hundreds of thousands mourning her death are simply mourning a  friend. We’re not elevating her death above the tragedy in Norway; we’re  grieving a personal loss that just so happened to coincide with an unspeakable  act of terrorism.

As a culture, we seem to have an “I told you so” mentality. Amy Winehouse  detractors “aren’t shocked” or “couldn’t care less” about her death, as I gather  from countless Facebook postings and conversations with friends. Now that their  “prophecy” has come true, the stake needs to be driven deeper. It can’t suffice  that she succumbed to a disease that’s little different from a fast food-induced  heart attack or smoking-induced lung cancer. We feel the need to keep talking.  Like it’s an addiction.

The song “He Can Only Hold Her” continues:

How can he have her heart,

When it got stole?

Ms. Winehouse’s heart may have been damaged and easily stolen in her search  for acceptance, but I’m thankful that I was given at least a piece of it in  recompense for the part of mine she’s since taken to the grave.

Rest in peace, Amy. I have a feeling the angels will be doing more listening  than singing thee to rest.

Coming Full Circle; “The Dark Knight Rises” Runs Rings around the Superhero Genre

Eternity; the pang of our unyielding hunger for more Batman goodness has endured for what seems like one. An insatiable need for the raw, the real, and the nitty gritty from the underbelly of the often overly commercialized “superhero” action subgenre birthed itself after our exposure to the cinematic tools (rising above mere goodie-slams-baddie-with-amazing-CGI gimmicks) contemporary auteur Christopher Nolan brought to the table in 2005’s Batman Begins. It was a reboot of an aging film franchise no one dared rouse from its defeated slumber since Joel Schumacher’s 1997 disastrous Batman & Robin, a rebirth which not only taunted the sleeping giant but forcibly prodded its awakening with brute force and cinematic mastery.

The release of Begins’ sequel, 2008’s The Dark Knight, saw Nolan exacting a razor sharp precision and understanding of the essence of his iconic subject; the aura of darkness which surrounded the mythos of the Batman universe oozed from every corner of the film, fully deconstructing our ideas of what a “superhero movie” should be. With these two films, Nolan became the “fantasy” killer; a harbinger of a new breed of “superhero movie” that wasn’t a “superhero” movie at all.

And so, we come full circle. Seven years; the amount of time its taken The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan’s fantastic conclusion to his Batman trilogy, to see the light of day. Seven years well-spent, building to a momentous finale that’s as viscerally pleasing as Batman Begins yet lacking the lyrical, sinister darkness that made Rise‘s direct predecessor the crowning jewel of the entire franchise, Nolan or non.

In Gotham City, eight years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent (a political figurehead and defender of Gotham) is dead, the crime rate is down, and the city’s sole beacon of hope hobbles around its decrepit mansion like an old man after one too many whiskey sours. This is a mere shell of a man, limping and struggling to regain composure after one scene sees a woman half his frame and a quarter of his build literally knock him off his feet; this isn’t the man who went toe-to-toe with the Joker but a single film ago—that’s the point exactly—this is Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), the “human” behind the mask, fading away in the shadows of Batman, a face Mr. Wayne can no longer wear thanks to the murderous accusations which taint it. Gotham no longer needs a hero, for Harvey Dent lives on in post-death legislation and honorary holidays immortalizing his protective legacy…or so they thought.

And alas, the image of security can only sustain for so long; Gotham needs Batman once again after a devious plot to destroy Gotham comes via Bane (Tom Hardy), a mysterious brute originating from the Ra’s al-Ghul (Liam Neeson, who makes a brief cameo here) school of villainy, hell-bent on carrying out his forefather in crime’s wishes of scraping scum like Gotham City from the bottom of earth’s boot. Bane’s plot involves shutting Gotham off from the rest of the world, making routes into and out of the city impassable via some impressive explosion sequences, staging a jailbreak of Gotham’s most vicious criminals, and instigating an all-out overthrow of the bourgeois world people like Bruce Wayne inhabit. After a few weeks of the underdogs rising against “the man,” a nuclear weapon will detonate, destroying everything within a six mile radius.

The initial “attacks” range from visually stunning (an airplane sequence which opens the film) to socially commentative (an attack on the stock exchange) to a combination of the two (a football stadium is eviscerated), culminating in a grim tone that, in true Nolan fashion, forces the audience to examine their own commercially conditioned morals, seeing as bourgeois societal control is an equal partner in crime here.

Bane’s villainous intentions share similarities, in many ways, to those of Heath Ledger’s now-infamous Joker in The Dark Knight. Anarchy is key for both men; at the very least it’s stripping power from those who have been deemed worthy only by a public system of urban politics and blind submission of Gothamites, citizens who have been taught to fear Batman because he supposedly killed Harvey Dent, but willingly indulge in the monetary splendors Bruce Wayne pumps into the city. Once Bane shows up, however, they’re more than willing to embrace the former. The point being; power (through fear or through money) rules Gotham, and once fear trumps money and renders it useless, well, what else is left to do other than submit? And it’s here that we truly start to miss the antics of the Joker. Where the Joker played upon the morals of his victims, Bane is a mere brute wall (literally and figuratively) of villainous flesh, a chunk of evil who’s too bulky and cold to inspire empathy yet too fantastical to take entirely serious. Bane is a force where the Joker was a presence, and in that transition of evil we lose a sense of depth (and a key character with whom we could have identified with) along the way.

The Joker, in essence, is the sort of villain birthed from the societal confines of depravity, going after the elite social order that it was, at times, hard not to will the destruction of in The Dark Knight. Part of his appeal (and the film’s appeal, for that matter) was the ease with which we could understand (not necessarily “agree with”) his intentions. Attempting to fill that void in The Dark Knight Rises is an outcast in the form of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), also born into the lower echelon of Gotham’s class structure, who’s made a career of stealing from the rich and willing the demise of the bourgeoisie; her ideas of overthrowing Gotham’s first-class citizens are realized, albeit not by her own hands. Willing something to happen means nothing if action isn’t taken, and she straddles a fine line between “light” and “dark” that only a wishy-washy, pseudo-villain-with-heapings-of-charm could. While Hathaway is the best “performer” of the actors in the film, her character’s presence is unjustified and, to be honest, entirely unnecessary except to balance the unmotivated “necessity” for Bruce to find love where the death of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in The Dark Knight left a void. It’s difficult not to compare Hathaway’s Catwoman to that of Michelle Pfeiffer’s in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, if only to place into perspective the former’s frivolous presence. Hathaway is playfully sassy and Pfeiffer was darkly sinister, the latter a consummated affair where former is but a mere striptease.

In fact, it’s the film’s superfluous elements which ultimately detach The Dark Knight Rises from any level of supreme greatness it could have achieved. The screenplay is bloated with far too many characters, events, subplots, and other excess fat which could have been easily trimmed to narrow the focus. But, I get it; the scope of the Batman universe has never been about downplaying anything, and the task of wrapping up one of the most inventive reboots in cinematic history is no easy task. The strength of the film lies within its ability to simply remain faithful to the tone and scope of Nolan’s initial blueprint in Batman Begins; whereas the evils of The Dark Knight were much more disturbing, complex, and brimming with the passion of indulging within its own sinister mythos, The Dark Knight Rises feels cold and calculated, thrilling on the surface but, thankfully, twisted and morally ambiguous in its own right. It is, at times, difficult to choose a moral “side” of the battle, primarily because the power of Nolan’s Batman saga as a whole has always been the ability to present the material slightly ambiguously; yes, we think killing is “wrong” and there is a clear distinction between “hero” and “villain,” but who can’t feel inclined, at least in part, to side with someone like the Joker, morally corrupt but with intent to destroy an equally corrupt system of bourgeois politics and societal oppression?

Perhaps I’m getting too philosophical for my own good. The savory bits of the conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy really don’t lie within the individual film itself. The importance of The Dark Knight Rises is, in a sense, its ability to successfully wrap up the series which birthed it, and it does a sensational job at that as the last exciting breath of action-packed air to escape (not as subtly as I would have liked) from the lungs of the saga as it dies. A hero is not perfect, and neither is Nolan’s conclusion to his fantastic trilogy, but at least he was able to show us that over the course of three complimentary films that work as an overall package, despite their various shortcomings. Nolan’s interpretation of Batman has always been a fantasy for the people of Gotham; a beacon of hope in a shadowy underworld, the city a mere reflection what we as an audience should see within ourselves, questioning our own governances and societal positions. The line between patriarchal rule and violent force is something which has become altogether blurred through Nolan’s lens, The Dark Knight Rises his Fourth of July fireworks display; the capstone of his blossoming small-scale revolution.