General Feelings

Dissecting Movies & Videogames Since 2012

Spectre/Autobahn

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Dear Reader,

the new James Bond movie Spectre has just been released and this time they really seem to pander to the German market:

Fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn!

Fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn!

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Colors, Paris, Texas

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Dear Reader,
Wim Wenders‘ movie „Paris, Texas“ (1984) opens with Harry Dean Stanton‘s character Travis Henderson wandering through the American desert. He is wearing a red cap, wearing a white shirt, and walking in front of the blue sky.
And so it begins...
Red, white and blue. Those are the three colors of „Paris, Texas“.
Films are a visual medium, and use of color is an important component of any visual artist‘s toolbox. A lot of the time color is there to make a movie pretty. Most of the time this is its sole purpose. But now and then a director and his crew elevate the use of color from merely being decoration to having actual meaning. But even then it is often limited to only a couple of key-scenes. And then, every once in a while, a film is so well planned and thoroughly constructed that even the colors of the world bow to it in every shot. „Paris, Texas“ is one of those movies.
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Red, white and blue, the three colors of the American flag. The majestic mountains with their white and red stone against the blue sky. This is how it begins. And lost among them Travis Henderson with his red cap and white shirt. His white jug of water has a bright blue cap. For roughly four minutes these are the only colors of note.
But then suddenly, when Travis enters a dark, dim store in the middle of this American nowhere, green and black hit us. A green billard table in black shadows breaks the red, white and blue sequence.
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Travis collapses from exhaustion and wakes up in a doctor‘s office. Everything is tinted green. Now we have our full cast of colors. On the one side red, white and blue, the American dream, and then by contrast, green and black, the waking up in reality.
Travis‘ brother Walt is informed and travels all the way from L.A. to Texas to pick Travis up. We are moving again, we are back to red, white and blue. Two brothers on a road trip through the land of the free. Both dressed in shirt and jacket. Partner Look.
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But even on a road trip with your estranged brother, you have to make a stop to call your wife. And hence, the world turns green. Walt‘s wife is an intruder, disrupting the bonding of the two brothers.
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Back on the road the dream lives once more in all his colors. Red, white and blue means movement, means being in control, means getting the exact car you request at the rental service. Green and black mean stagnancy, being held back, sometimes by the need to rest and sleep, other times by a commitment to other human beings.
Finally they arrive in Los Angeles at Walt‘s house. They are greeted by Walt‘s wife on a green floor.
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But it is not actually her, who is the intruder here, Travis is. In this house everything was going according to plan, everything was moving in its designated ways. It was a red, white and blue family with red, white and blue shoes living in a red, white and blue house.
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And then Travis came and disrupted it, sitting among the green grass. He is here to see his 7-years-old son. A son that had been raised by Walt and his wife as their own, when Travis and his young wife disappeared four years ago.
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Then we learn a little bit more about the characters‘ past in the form of a Super 8 film shot on a vacation. It is mostly washed out red, white and blue.
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But then green strikes again. This time in the form of a jacket, Travis is wearing.
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Back in the present, things seem to be all red, white and blue, but green is always lurking in the background.
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As the movie continues and Travis and his son start to warm up to each other with ups and downs, so changes the color.
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Eventually Travis and the boy decide to look for Travis‘ wife, the biological mother of the child, who also disappeared four years ago, just as Travis did. Of course this means disrupting a powerful, established bond. The bond between a mother, that raised the child for the last years, and her adopted son. A break of such enormous scale, it can only be expressed in heavy, all-out green.
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For Travis and his son, however, everything is in motion once more. They are driving their metallic blue-white car through the United States and wearing their red shirts. Partner Look.
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They track down the mother in Houston, Texas, and of course they do it by chasing a lot of red, white and blue cars, passing red, white and blue buildings and looking at red, white and blue street art on the walls. Whoever did location scouting and set-dressing for this movie absolutely deserves a medal.
The two eventually find the woman they were looking for in further, absurd amounts of red, white, blue. The woman herself is wearing red, has pale white skin and blond hair, as she should. Even in the etablissement Travis finds her in, a Peep-Show, everybody is playing their part. „Nurse Bibs“ is wearing her white and red fetish uniform, while handling a red and white blow-up rubber horse in a little blue room. Another employee roams the halls, tinted in red and blue light, in her white and blue sailor costume. However, finding his old lover and wife within this strip-club, throws Travis into another crisis, as the green grass in the middle of the black road informs us.
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After a good talk with his son, a lot of alcohol and some sleep, Travis decides it is time to reunite his son with his long-lost mother and so they head back to Houston, again wearing matching red shirts.
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Back there, a change occurs. Travis records a voice message for his son and does so in a greenly lit bathroom looking over a green park. He is wearing black. His son, while still wearing blue jeans and red socks is also wearing black, as he listens to the message. A red bottle of ketchup stands next to him.
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Travis meets his wife once again in the Peep-Show. She is wearing black. Partner Look. He tells her to meet their son in the hotel room. When she shows up there, she is dressed in green. So is her son. And even the city in the background is nothing but black and green. Travis is not in the room. He is down at the parking lot, which is flooded in green light. He watches as mother and son reunite, then gets into his car, and drives into a red, white and blue night.

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There is not much left to say, except to sum things up.
Red, white and blue means everything is going according to plan, everybody is playing their part, everything is under control, everything is moving.

Of course this does not mean that the plan is a good one, or that everybody is moving into a positive direction. It just means, they are moving. After all, one can pretty much argue about every single decision Travis makes in this movie. How is it supposed to end? Will his wife raise the son from now on? Alone and working in a Peep-Show. While the woman that raised the child so far, is heartbroken, her family ruined. Will Travis’ wife eventually just bring her son back to his aunt and uncle, where he was raised anyway for the last four years. With Travis wandering the country aimlessly, and her working far away, everything would just go back to the start of the movie. We don‘t know.
And then there is of course green. Green means crisis, but also family, means commitment, means intrusion and disruption. Green means reality, means uncontrollable change. Everything comes to a halt.
I am not entirely sure, why they chose green as the color of crisis. There is a green whine bottle visible in the Henderson‘s kitchen once and we do learn that Travis had (and has?) a severe drinking problem, so maybe there is a connection. Green is also linked to nature. Travis likes to sit in the green grass, while staying at the Henderson‘s house and in their green kitchen, there is a (possibly fake) vine decorating the cupboards. This would maybe indicate the link to forces, that we cannot control.
Of course, these are only interpretations and one can debate wether this is what it actually means or not. But one thing is certain, all these colors have meaning. They were put there on purpose, none of the above is just accidental. The colors themselves are part of the story.

The Dog Boy Rises

Christopher Nolan’s Batman meets Charles Schulz’ Charlie Brown Christmas Special.

General Feelings presents: Challenges for Game Designers!

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Dear Game Designers,
I‘ve got some design challenges prepared for you! And I have even prepared stupid achievements, as a meaningless reward! How cool is that?!

Challenge 01: Out of the dark.

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Look, I know how it is. Whenever you think atmospheric lighting, you think small portable floodlight.
It is just wired into our human DNA. A small construction site floodlight is simply the most dramatic, most romantic, most artistic and most expressive lightsource there is. Period. So it is no surprise that an estimated 76% of all level designers use it as a source of light every single time. Here are some examples from “Uncharted – Golden Abyss” (2012), “Max Payne” (2001), “Spec Ops – The Line” (2012) and “Shadowrun Returns” (2013):

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I myself once was in a situation where we needed some lighting for an awesome movie. Obviously we turned to the good old tiny floodlight we found in my parents‘ garage. It was just natural. It also was my best 13th birthday ever. But variety is the spice of life, so maybe try something else sometimes… I don’t know… maybe the sun?

Challenge 02: No ebony, no ivory.
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“Spec Ops: The Line” has at least three of them, “Max Payne 3” has about four, several (maybe all) of the “Final Fantasy” games have one, “Bioshock” and “Dishonored” feature them. I found one in “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Something called „Princess Isabella: A Witch‘s Curse“, that I found, while googling „piano screenshots“ has one and there is probably one in „Rock Band“, too. Pianos are everywhere in video games.

Pianos

Is there a study showing that games with a high concentration of pianos sell better? Is a piano just easier to build, than say, a trombone?

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Whatever it is, stop with the pianos! I hate pianos! No, wait, that‘s not true, I love them…. what was the point again? How about more cembalos?

Challenge 03: Keep it down, up there!
This is a crazy one.
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The mass murderers William Unek, Woo Bum-kon, Martin Bryant, Anders Behring Breivik and Andrew Kehoe (I chose to pick them from all around our beautiful globe – think of them as a diversity rainbow of gruesome death) come together to a total of 270 murders. Here‘s a chart, I made for you with supplies stolen from a kindergarten for orphans that I used to sell synthetic drugs at:

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Mass murderers:

Andrew Kehoe: 44
William Unek: 57
Martin Bryant: 35
Woo Bum-kon: 57
Anders Behring Breivik 77

Videogame Protagonists:
Captain Walker (Spec Ops – The Line): 827
Nathan Drake (Golden Abyss): 530

Don‘t get me wrong, I love killing just as much as the next guy, it‘s just when I see these numbers, I really have to ask myself, if people claiming videogames to be violence simulators, may have a point somewhere. Obviously a virtual murder is not actually murder, it is just some rag-doll physics, polygonal meshes and red sprites. But do we really need hundreds per game? Don‘t we want our atrocities to mean something? If we use violence and death completely inflationary, where are we heading? Don‘t we devalue our precious knifings and headshots by this?
As I said, I am not against violence in videogames. I play violent videogames. Sometimes I even enjoy  them. But here are a few things to consider. Do we really need genocidal bodycounts? Do we ever really need spines getting ripped out of someone‘s otherwise still functional body? (I‘m looking at you, “Mortal Kombat”) X-Ray Cams showing bones breaking on the inside? (Still looking at you, “Mortal Kombat”) How often are these things actually important to the message of a game? Are we just holding onto them, because we are so used to them? Because it is tradition? Are we defending those things simply out of spite against the ones that want to take our toys away? Our beloved, lead-poisoned toys? Would we really miss them? Doesn‘t it become a merciless grind, if there are so many forgettable enemies? A chore? Isn’t the exact same task performed again and again just bad game design?
And we don‘t even have to get rid of them completely. Just cut it down a little. Reasonable killing is just fine. And there are games out there that prove it can work without those mass murders. Games we love. The Wanderer in “Shadow of the Colossus” finishes the game with a bodycount lower than any of those murderers above. Nobody got killed in “Portal”, “Journey“, “The Unfinished Swan“, “Dear Esther”, “The Stanley Parable” or “To The Moon”. Some of those games did not even feature fights at all. “Metal Gear Solid”, “Dishonored” and “Deus Ex” all allow a non-lethal approach to dealing with enemies.

So next time you are designing a game, just tone it down a little bit.

If you are a gamedesigner and you have qualified yourself to be rewarded one or more of the achievements above, please write me. I will send you the achievements per mail and you can glue them into your album. Please do note, that due to technical restrictions not all achievements can be awarded retroactively.

Sincerely,

General Feelings

The Tunnel-Visions of Mr Gaspar Noé

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Dear Reader,

„A life is like a tunnel. And to each his own little tunnel.“
(I Stand Alone)

One could play a wickedly cruel drinking-game while watching the movies of Argentinian filmmaker Gaspar Noé.
Every time you see a tunnel or an image almost entirely composed out of rectangles, drink a vodka. Every time you see a circle shape right in the center of the screen, have a sip of beer. And every time you hit the ultimate jackpot of the Gaspar Noé key-visuals, the round lightsource right in the middle of the screen, empty the entire bottle of your current beer.
At the end of the night you will either have died of alcohol-poisoning, suicide or misery.
I did mention that the only proper way to play this game is on your own, alone and isolated. I did mention that, right?

Cowering naked in fetal position, if possible.

Having just raped your daughter, if available.

The three movies we are talking about are „I Stand Alone“, „Irreversible“ and „Enter The Void“.

I Stand Alone (1998)

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Short summary: A butcher, having served time in jail for stabbing a man, after being led to believe the man had raped the butcher‘s daughter, tries to start again. He does not love his new wife, but she is pregnant and has money. Driven more and more into desperation he beats up his wife, steals a gun and heads to Paris. Nobody is willing to give him a job and so he decides to put the three bullets his stolen gun still holds to good use.

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Considering the very bleak events of the story, it might sound somewhat surprising, but this movie is actually pretty entertaining. At least as far as a Gaspar Noé movie can be described as „entertaining“. It even shows signs of humour. Very dark humour for sure, but humour nonetheless. Don‘t get me wrong, some scenes will shock you. This is a Gaspar Noé movie after all. It can get very intense and very disturbing.
I was scared to watch this movie, after having already seen “Irreversible” and “Enter The Void”, both quite devastating experiences. I figured this movie would be even more cruel, considering it was his feature film debut: a young and wild director trying to make an impact, and also taking into account that this movie probably had a relatively low budget, meaning less oversight by people wanting to create a financial success.

But much to my surprise, it turned out to be Noe’s most restrained and disciplined movie. And it‘s great.
It is probably the only movie in history that has its protagonist have sex with his traumatized, mute daughter and makes you feel „Well, all things considered, that wasn‘t too bad, now, was it? Could have been worse. Almost glad he went that way.“

It also introduces us to Mr Gaspar Noé’s most favourite thing in the world: the theme of tunnels; a visual theme that is dominating all of Mr Noé‘s movies and has evolved throughout them.

Also, rectangles. My god, this movies is basically built out of rectangles.

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Hallways, overpasses, doors, radios, posters of horses, beds, faces, and of course tunnels, everything is square in this movie. Which is really quite the shock, if you go into this movie expecting a busload of circles. Seems like Gaspar had not quite found his shape yet! Ha!

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But then, half-way through the movie, there it was, the one key-visual that from here-on would define Noé‘s movies: A round lamp in the center of the screen. An artificial sun, the cheap imitation of a live-giving giant of the cosmos. A bright and centered circle; the light at the end of the tunnel.

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Irreversible (2002)

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Short summary: The movie, similar to Christopher Nolan‘s „Memento“ (2000), tells the story backwards, starting out with the gruesome finale and ending in the happier past.
In regular chronology, it is about two men, Marcus and Pierre (Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel) going to a party with a woman named Alex (Monica Bellucci). After an argument she leaves early and gets brutally raped by a stranger (Which of course the movie shows you in its entire length. This became one of the most infamous scenes in recent movie history.)
Marcus, after seeing his almost dead girlfriend being taken away by an ambulance, goes into a rage and decides to seek revenge. We follow him and Pierre on their search through the city streets, where they find the alleged rapist in a hardcore gay-club and eventually kill him, after nearly getting raped themselves. The viewer, however, knows that the killed man was not actually the man who raped Alex.

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Due to the counter-chronological storytelling, one might assume that this movie gets actually easier to watch the longer it goes, since the situation seems to de-escalate and becomes more and more normal. Sadly, that is not the case. The second half of the movie, taking place before the rape, feels often even more unbearable. The viewer knows now, that at the end of this night every character‘s life will be wrecked forever, nothing they do or is done to them can ever be undone. And still we have to witness their petty arguing, jealousy and arrogance.  It is torture.
It is only the very last shot that gives some kind of relief: Kids playing and running around a circular water sprinkler, centered in the middle of the screen, the camera revolving around it, everything brimming with saturated colors.

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By the way, the rape takes place in a rectangular tunnel.

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This is also the movie that introduces us to the wild flying camera that just swirls through the space, seeking out round sources of light. A style even more prevalent in Noé‘s next movie.

Enter The Void (2009)

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Short summary: A young man and his sister live in Tokyo. During a drug deal gone bad, the man gets killed. From now on his soul observes the lives of his sister and their friends and enemies. He witnesses the events after his death and relives key-memories.

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In this movie Noé leaves behind the almost monochromatic, desaturated color palette and goes full-on psychedelic. And just as the colors are, the camera gets fully unleashed, too. It flies through the city, buildings, walls, into bodies, through the universe and the fabric of time. Nothing can stop it. No centered round shape is safe from it. A chase that goes on for two hours and 40 minutes (which, to be honest, is way too long).

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There is something oddly mesmerizing and spectacular about the camera work in Gaspar Noé‘s films. He has given us the entire range a camera can make us feel.
It remains uncomfortably still while witnessing violent rape in Irreversible, not moving for ten endless minutes, maybe in a frightened paralysis but also seemingly unshaken by the events. In Enter The Void it lulls us in a false state of triviality, just to instantly send us into a state of shock by showing us one of the most frighteningly depictions of a car crash ever banned on film (which of course takes place in a rectangular tunnel; the headlights of the on-coming truck are both circles).
The camera makes us dizzy with its ever persistent dutch angles and flies us wildly through neon-flooded cities, copulating bodies, hallucinating minds and circling star-systems. Often it seems to be taking the point of view of a gigantic, yet discarnate, wickedly tripping mosquito, blindly circling every round shape, object, hole or lightsource in time and space ever known to man, even including metaphorical and hallucinogenic ones. Always searching and drawn to false suns, always ending up in an odyssey of failure.

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The three movies seem to be a connected not only in style, but also in themes and story. Tunnels and holes are found everywhere in all of the three movies. In fact, I Stand Alone, the first one in this quasi-trilogy, almost gives introductions to the two other movies. Irreversible opens with a scene showing I Stand Alone‘s butcher recounting events of his life and is therefore obviously part of the same movie-universe that Irreversible takes place in. And it is also I Stand Alone that does predict the theme of the third movie, when the butcher tells us: „Soon, the void.“

Sincerely,
General Feelings

P.S.

Be it the opening conversation of a naked fat man sitting in bed and talking about having sex with his daughter, the following sequence in a hardcore gay sex club culminating in a head getting bashed in, or of course the infamous 10 minutes long  unedited sequence of Alex getting violently raped, let me tell you „Irreversible“ is not the movie you want to watch on your mobile device while riding a public train and having strangers sit right next to you.
If however you own a private train, do go ahead, by all means watch Irreversible on it. It was probably meant to be viewed that way. On a private train. Choo-chooo!

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Tropico (2013) – Review

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Dear Reader,

„In the land of gods and monsters, I was an angel,
Lookin‘ to get fucked hard.
Like a groupie, incognito, posing as a real singer,
Life imitates art.“

These lines from the song „Body Electric“ by Lana Del Rey pretty much describe Tropico (2013), the half-hour short movie screenplay and acting debut of Mrs Del Rey.

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The trailer led me to believe that this would be the hipster version of a Baz Luhrmann film: colorful, surreal, heavily dependend on the soundtrack and just a little bit too much in love with itself.

And strictly speaking that is what it really turned out to be. Just bad, pretentious and nonsensical.

The movie opens with a dream sequence in the garden of Eden with Marylin Monroe, John Wayne, Elvis and Jesus, followed by a music video, followed by a voice-over enumeration of mostly random words for almost three minutes, followed by a music video, followed by an excerpt of Allen Ginsberg‘s poem Howl, then a monologue by fake John Wayne, followed by a symbolic rebirth and baptism of the two main characters (not motivated nor explained by anything, they just change their outfits from stripper black to yoga white), followed by a music video, and eventually abduction by UFOs. Credits!

MAJOR SPOILERS: They get abducted by UFOs in the end.

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What did Lana Del Rey write? There is almost no dialogue, there are no real characters, there is virtually no story. Did she write the visuals and the symbolism? At times the movie consists almost purely out of symbolism. Well, symbols. It is not a story laced with symbolism, it is just an arrangement of potential symbols that could work if we were given a more specific context for them (I know what the apple and the snake symbolize, but what meaning do they actually have within the framework of this movie? I. do. not. know.)

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While the story (guy who hangs with the wrong crowd participates in an armed robbery and then dances with his stripper girlfriend in a meadow, before getting lifted into the sky by 1950s UFOs) does not give us much, there are at least themes in this movie. Like sex. Sex is a pretty good theme, so maybe we are finally going somewhere. The movie is cluttered with male and female symbolism. Maybe this is what this ultimately is: a tribute to vaginas and penises and the lovely people that wear them. Guns, snakes, blossoming flowers, tongues with vanilla ice cream on them, gazing into a rubber plunger, this movie has it all!

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It even has weird sex scenes, that lack any chemistry, passion or arousal. Watching Lana Del Rey and Shaun Ross having sex wearing Adam and Eve costumes ordered out of a „How to unsuccessfully spice up your marriage“- catalogue is awkward, embarassing and, quite frankly, disappointing.
Lana Del Rey and the snake have better chemistry than her and the guy. It is incomprehensible how a movie about passion so completely lacks it. Lana Del Rey does not seem to be passionate about anything. She has one mode of expression, one look and that‘s it. She only really wants to create cinematic moments and look good in them. And I could appreciate that, if these moments highlighted something meaningful. Instead of just being a montage of nothingness shot entirely in instagram.

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It is very clear that Universal made this movie solely to promote Lana Del Rey‘s music. An experimental half-hour music video covering four or five songs. Almost all of it boring. How much of this is actually Lana Del Rey‘s vision and how much was dictated by a marketing division? I am not even sure if I can call it a movie. When I started to watch the first scene about Elvis, Monroe, Wayne and Jesus in the garden of Eden I thought it could only get better. Looking back, this opening sequence is the best part of the entire thing. If it would have been followed up by an actual story with characters this might have gone somewhere. The way it is, the entire movie is just a random daydream, wishful thinking and fantasizing. And I don’t event want to start on how this movie sets back the emancipation of women by 60 years. Lana Del Rey’s character is the most passive, dependent on a man creature I have seen in my life. She does nothing in the entire movie apart from dreaming of her man and John Wayne. Nothing! You could have cut her out of the movie and it would not have made a difference.

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There is however one very interesting moment in the film. When the movie converts into a music video for the first time, we hear Lana Del Rey sing, with her lyrics referring and explaining the somewhat cryptic images we are seeing.
Using song-lyrics of the soundtrack to clarify cryptic images shown on screen seems to actually be an interesting way of incorporating music into a film in a more prominent role without becoming a full-blown musical.
Unfortunately, the songs seem to be sung by Lana Del Rey, the pop star, even though the images depict Lana Del Rey‘s character, a poor stripper-girl. Which means the images tell the story from a point of view of an on-screen character, while the singing voice, that belongs to the actress depicting said character, does refer to the very same visuals, but from the point of view of a person that is not part of this movie‘s universe. It just does not match up.

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At the 20 minute mark, with ten more minutes to go, I started hitting the alcohol.
And when the UFOs arrived I just laughed. I laughed out loud and hard and dirty. I could not help myself. Is this all just a joke? Is Lana Del Rey just fucking around with us or is she failing miserably at pretending to be the personification of womanhood?
Is this supposed to be David Lynch meets John Waters meets the last episode of Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie? A nightmare dream-sequence of sexualized Camp with a joke ending?

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Whatever it wanted to be, it was not anything I would recommened for watching. It is just meaningless. Is that part of the message? A stab at our pop-cultural habit to replace complex values with iconized stereotypes, that eventually become interchangable, hence the opening sequence with our new religious saviours, Movie-Jesus, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis? Rapture and redemption, the promise of heaven, being nothing more than an abduction by Flying Saucers?

…you know what, forget it, I changed my mind. They get abducted by U F Os in the end and it has a unicorn. It‘s brilliant, I love it.

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Sincerely,
General Feelings

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Dancing Down The Drain – American Dance Movies of the 60s and 70s

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Dear Reader,

dance-movies are movies about dancing. The 60s and 70s were a colorful era full of peace and love. So what could be more fun than dance-movies from the 60s and 70s? Absolutely everything as it turns out.

They shoot horses, don‘t they? – People are the ultimate spectacle (1969)

„They just wanna see a little misery out there. So they can feel a little better maybe.“DancingDownTheDrain_fig1_TheyShootHorses

Set in 1932, depression-era USA, the story revolves around four couples participating in a dance marathon. With the exception of regular short breaks all the couples have to continously dance for days and weeks, until there is only one couple left standing. The winner gets 1,500 Dollars.
Our protagonist is Gloria (Jane Fonda, who got nominated for an academy award) a world-weary young woman who tried to make it in Hollywood, but failed, and now ended up in this dance-hall, dancing with a man called Robert, who just showed up by accident.
The dance-marathon soon becomes a metaphor for life: everybody trapped in a confined space one cannot escape from, having to go through demeaning, exhausting, mindless, pointless tasks with arbitrary rules, being forced to deal with people you don‘t know, don‘t want to know, and are in direct competition with, running in circles. Every once in a while somebody drops out of the race, but everybody else just keeps on dancing and dancing in the hopes to maybe make it one day big time. Somebody always loses, but nobody ever wins.

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What follows is a steep descent into madness. When the first racing-competition takes place about one third into the movie you might think this is as insane as it can get, but it always gets worse. What follows is an awkward sex-scene, with the two desperate „lovers“ dirty-talking about the death of their closest relatives, an old sailor having a heart-attack during the second race, his possibly dead body being dragged on by Gloria on her back, who at this point is close to a complete break-down herself, and a pregnant, sleep-deprived woman singing in front an decadent audience throwing pennies at her, while she nearly collapses.
And while sometimes you might find yourself laughing at it, it never is funny, never is a comedy. You just can‘t cope with it otherwise as a viewer.

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Imagine it as the game-show sequences of „Magnolia“ set in the ball-room of „The Shining“. An atmosphere of repression, depression and suppression.
The movie ends at about 1433 hours into the dance-marathon, with Gloria asking Robert to please just shoot her and him obliging. Gloria‘s death is probably the only uplifting moment in the movie. She has finally escaped this mad circus and has found peace and salvation. I am not sure I have ever seen another movie, where the depiction of an assisted suicide is the most positive and sensible thing about it (Gloria falls into an imaginary meadow of flowers on a sunny afternoon). And while the movie ends there, the dance-marathon never does, we never learn who is the winner, since there will never be one, we just dance on and on forever.

Death toll: 1-2 persons and 1 horse.

Cabaret – Life is a Cabaret (1972)

„I think it is my duty to corrupt you, agreed?“

DancingDownTheDrain_fig5 Cabaret

One could argue if Cabaret actually qualifies as a dance-movie. But it certainly is a movie and it does feature several song and dance numbers. Also it was directed by a dance-choreographer, so that is good enough for me.
Set in 1931‘s Berlin, the story follows Ms Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli, winning an academy award for this role) a young singer in the Kit Kat Club, who meets Brian, who just arrived from Britain. She introduces him to the glamorous nightlife of Berlin, where their relationship soon gets complicated by the arrival of the charming Max, who starts an affair with both of them.
The movie centers mostly on the decadent, colorful and promiscuous life of its characters chasing glamour and intrigue, living life to its fullest, creating their own little bubble and finding romance even in the darkest places.
But all of this is set up against the slow but steady rise of the National-Socialist Party, which at the beginning seems to be just a small annoyance, but ends up taking over and crushing everything in its way with terror and violence. There is also abortion, people getting beaten into bloody messes and dead dogs. One scene, in which Max drives with Sally and Brian through the city, becomes almost a perfect contradiction to the colorful world of the cabaret, filled with its constant motion and dance. The three drive by a scene of a dead body, covered with a grey blanket, a splatter of blood next to it. All of the police-men and all of the by-standers stand there surreal, silently and frozen. Nobody moves, except the car driving by.

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Every time the movie shows the Nazis attacking, their acts of violence get visually intertwined with dance-numbers from the Kit Kat Club. The cabaret becomes a means of escaping and ignoring the harsh reality outside. A fatal distraction, where dream and nightmare live side by side.
After a day of decadence at Max‘ manor the three lovers dance together in a ball-room. When the record suddenly stops and the music dies, there is a moment of soberness, an uneasy silence and eventually even collapse.
The movie ends with the image of a distorted reflection showing a swastika, followed by a dead-silent credit roll. And you thought musicals were all about happiness and laughter.

„But when I saw her laid out like a queen, she was the happiest corpse I‘d ever seen.”

death toll: 2 persons and 1 dog.

Saturday Night Fever – Where do you go when the record is over… (1977)

„You can‘t fuck the future. The future fucks you.“

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Tony (John Travolta, who got nominated for an academy award) leads a humble life in New York City. He lives with his religious family and works in a paint store. But when the weekend comes, he is the king of the dance-floor. All the ladies want him and all the men want to be him.
His favourite club is the „2001 Odissey“, which is holding a dance contest. Here he also meets Stephanie. She dances almost as good as him and leaves quite an impression. She, unlike Tony, is not working class, however. She works in Manhattan with the stars of show-biz, which she reminds us of every chance she gets. She does not think much of Tony in the beginning („You‘re a cliché. You‘re nowhere. On your way to no place.“ ) and so his odissey to win her over at least as a dancing partner begins.

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And while all this might sound quite innocent, Saturday Night Fever basically is the Irreversible (2002) of dance-movies: rape, racism, homophobia, people getting their faces beaten bloody (people, who then turn out to be innocent) and death. It‘s all there.
The subplots of the movie aren‘t much more fun either. Tony‘s brother, a priest, losing all his faith in god („One day you look at a crucifix, and all you see is a man dying on a cross.“); a young man facing a forced marriage and an unwanted fatherhood falling to death („I‘m paralyzed, I got no more control.“); a woman in love with Tony getting rejected over and over again, before giving herself to Tony‘s best friend and then getting raped by some other friend of his („Are you a nice girl, or are you a cunt?“ – „I don‘t know. Both?“).

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When Stephanie and Tony eventually win the dancing contest, Tony is enraged, since he knows they were not the best and did not deserve to win. Tony is an artist, when it comes to dancing. A perfectionist. Disco is his religion. He only wants the praise and the recognition he really deserves. And just like his brother left the church, because he could not longer believe, Tony has to leave the club and his former friends, because he can no longer believe the lies, too.

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„There‘s ways of killing yourself without killing yourself.“

death toll: 1 person

FUN-FACT: all three movies feature a sub-plot about an unborn baby! One of them gets aborted, one leads to the father falling to death and the third one‘s parents end in poverty, complete exhaustion and agony. Wasn‘t that truly a FUN fact?

Contrary to my initial statement above the 1960s and 70s in the US were actually a time of economic hardship (the worst since the Great Depression in the 1930s, where two of the aforementioned movies are set), the shock of the Vietnam-war, growing civil unrest and generally a time of trouble. So it does not seem all that surprising to see movies trying to deal with these bleak times.

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A little bit surprising, however, is that all three movies chose to contrast that bleakness with the cheery facade of an entertainment industry that might be able to distract from, but not cure the problems and leaves our protagonists dis-illusioned and broken or simply unable to change anything. Be it Sally Bowles working in the night club, who simply ignores the rise of the Nazis and dives ever deeper into her frivoulous life, or Gloria, hoping to win money in a dance-contest, who eventually just can‘t go on anymore and chooses to die, or Tony, who gets completely absorbed by the disco subculture only to find out that all of it is a meaningless lie.
Apparently not all dance-movies are about a group of racially diverse young suburban kids, who if given the chance, really show what they‘ve got, impress even the stiff old business tycoon and eventually win enough money to save the old youth-club from being torn down.
Some are also about white people being miserable.

DancingDownTheDrain

P.S.
Next up: a look at dance-movies from the 1980s! “Flashdance – Take your passion… And make it happen!” (1983), “Footloose – All he wanted to do was dance.” (1984) and “Dirty Dancing – First dance. First love. The time of your life.” (1987). Which also makes me feel miserable. But at least there is some welding.

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P.P.S.

The scene in Saturday Night Fever, when Tony explains to Stephanie all he knows about the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, is actually quite heart-warming. Sitting on a bench in the park with a girl and talking about bridges – at least one thing in life that is not a meaningless lie.

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