...Refn makes it clear the Driver isn’t fit for the spotlight, nor does he want to be caught in it. Instead, he lurks in the shadows waiting for the scanning lights to vanish – a sign of his opportunity to assimilate with the rest of humanity. He is nothing if not a reluctant super hero decidedly unaware of his powers due to their quotidian function in his life.
by James Hansen
The opening scene of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (winner of Best Director at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival) provides a gut check for the stoic, passionately low key Driver (Ryan Gosling). With almost no dialogue, the Driver runs through an entire mission. Clenching his fist, he sits in his car. He waits patiently, listening to the slow crackle of his gloves, the gentle hum of his car, the reports of a police radio, and the excited voices calling the final quarter of a basketball radio broadcast. He negotiates the information gathered through this array of sounds, perfectly timing his escape from approaching squad cars and choppers with the outpouring of fans from the Staples Center.
The bright lights of downtown Los Angeles shoot around the screen, as do the flashing blues and reds of cop cars and the bright white beam of a helicopter’s spotlight. Despite these apparent dangers, the Driver’s world is understated, simple, and perhaps second rate – he waits on the end of a Clippers game, not the Lakers. He is in such control of his surroundings and the given situation, nothing comes as a surprise.
While the scene bristles with excitement, the Driver’s gaze is casual, if not practically bored. As the criminals shudder with fear in the back seat, the Driver remains defiantly neutral and unaffected by the perils of his situation. His knowledge of the darkness of the streets, as well as his day job as a Hollywood stunt man, grants him a sense of ease. He absorbs urban complexity, supposed danger, and potential failure and projects them as decidedly simple, non-threatening, and undoubted successes. With this early scene (not to mention the appropriately praised soundtrack which underlies the dated, otherworldly textures which permeate Drive’s swift running time), Refn makes it clear the Driver isn’t fit for the spotlight, nor does he want to be caught in it. Instead, he lurks in the shadows waiting for the scanning lights to vanish – a sign of his opportunity to assimilate with the rest of humanity. He is nothing if not a reluctant super hero decidedly unaware of his powers due to their quotidian function in his life.
As Drive continues, it becomes clear this is impossible. He isn’t a normal guy. He can’t escape his heroic destiny. It is just a matter of time before the spotlight catches up and shines on him. Refn confronts this notion through questions of family, allegiance, and protection. Although Driver lacks such personal qualities, he finds them through his interactions with his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son. Their relationship is brief and dreamlike – they float around unexpected places in Los Angeles building a solemn, yet deep rapport through glances, sly smiles, and light touches. Refn refuses a clearly delineated romantic narrative – an element that will surely frustrate many viewers. The extreme brevity seems a hollow short cut, but it importantly mirrors the temporal nature of Driver and Irene’s relationship. They don’t have many moments together, but, when they do, it always means something. Refn understands a standard romantic narrative would never happen. Rather, like a flickering light, their “love” can only flash up for a split second before it disappears.
When Irene’s husband returns from prison, Driver sits idly by, even as the chances for a love connection are complicated. There are some brief moments of tension (benefited by the great performances), but Driver’s willingness to remain on the sidelines of the family indicate the stronger psychic willingness of his character to just be there – something Irene’s husband is unable to do. Driver doesn’t aggressively pursue Irene. Instead, he finds her husband in a difficult situation and tries to put his talents to use for them. This isn’t a competition for Irene, and Drive’s narrative seems wholly uninterested in this being deemed a love story. But if love means someone always being on your side, the Driver abides.
In the final act, the impossibility of the situation takes over. Drive, initially so restrained, is taken over by extreme violence, hostility, and heartless backstabbing. Driver can no longer maintain his blank slate status. Echoing the opening scene, as the situation crumbles around him, the Driver knows every move he has to make. This time, though, he steps into the sun and accepts his role as the hero (as the soundtrack makes completely obvious). Still, he can’t be hugged, accepted, or celebrated as such. Unable to be the heroic everyman, he must fade away, once again, into shadows and darkness.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
Simultaneously adaptive and original, the music video lays claim to both sources of inspiration through disjunctive unity and its own originality. Is this a Didion adaptation, a distinct music video for Kahane’s song, or a Lewis Klahr video? Like the lead character in all three forms, LA maintains this wonderful, contradictory status.
by James Hansen
Adapted for Gabriel Kahane's single "LA" and based on Joan Didion's novel Play It As It Lays, Lewis Klahr's music video LA echoes the soft repetition of Kahane's song as it quietly reflects upon the larger narrative of Didion's novel. (You can view the video here). Klahr’s work may be the third element of connective tissue here, yet its unique assemblage harmonizes origin and adaptation by placing them in direct dialogue with one another. At the same time, Klahr’s LA is a dual adaptation of each dialogic element thereby becoming its own link in this inspired chain. Simultaneously adaptive and original, the music video lays claim to both sources of inspiration through disjunctive unity and its own originality. Is this a Didion adaptation, a distinct music video for Kahane’s song, or a Lewis Klahr video? Like the lead character in all three forms, the video maintains this wonderful, contradictory status.
Beginning with a highway of unsettled lights, a blonde woman drives. If not on the road, she sits in various rooms staring towards an out of focus television, busily rotating a tuning signal. The object is so unsettled it fails to serve its own function – providing a proper image. A shot of loose, dangling keys puts the woman back on the road. Shuffling through an endless array of cars and flashes of newspaper clippings, she seems to settle, briefly, near City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
As Kahane begins to sing (“The color wheel and the western sky...”), Klahr's video fades to black then comes back to the same location. The black-and-white female figure enters the scene. She arrives in a split plan – the corner of the Klahr’s cutout of the building creates a harsh black line, separating her from the landscape. A dangling tree limb on the right side of the plane nearly matches her eyeline. Hidden from view behind this figurative tree, she recedes behind the picture plane as she moves toward the building, disappearing into an invisible, non-existent (perhaps psychic) space beyond the city. (“The reflection of a stranger in a strange fluorescent light”) Her shadow reflects on her plane – in her private space – but it cannot carry over into the public space of the city.
Suddenly amidst a colorful crowd, she wanders through a group of dancing couples who provide a view of life drastically different than her own. Echoing Didion's novel, Klahr, in this moment, reveals her detachment from and inability to communicate with the people of Los Angeles and the modern world at large. Colorless, she is unable to place herself among this crowd. Instead, she wanders through these spaces in order to pass the time. She smokes, drinks, and has casual sexual encounters with men. Distressed and exhausted, she doesn't live in her own world. Rather, as seen in the several moments throughout the video, she hovers above it, fades in and out, and is also pulled down - literally and figuratively - into endless malaise.
Through the rest of the song, Klahr reveals a series of events caused by this cycle. A series of different colored circles unites the video. Floating through the space or spinning in place, the circles rotate like a tire across a neverending landscape. Klahr plays off the imagery of Kahane’s song (“The man puts on the yellow gloves,” “She sees herself in stereo”) and Didion’s novel (needles, pills in hotel rooms, mental anguish, frozen clocks in clinics, rain) creating a dialectical narrative through his signature, cutout style. Where does this all lead? The woman continues to drive, but, caught in a closeup, a sharp, white light burns her memory away. The road is her pathway to nowhere. Still, she has to keep moving. The selfish city wins again.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Self-restricted by their punch-line premise, Gregory and Huyck fall back on their concept to an unbelievably cookie-cutter degree. By the time Orgy ends, it is nothing more than a turgid Vegas fantasy: random sex, t-shirts, and no consequences.
by James Hansen
With a title like A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, writers/directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck aren’t afraid of their central concept. Surprise, surprise – it actually is about a group of 30-something friends, headed by Eric (Jason Sudeikis), who attempt to configure an orgy as the final party in Eric’s East Hampton summer home. There isn’t really much development past this. Instead, Gregory and Huyck let Orgy wander hoping the cast provides the magic for their sketch.
The strangest thing of all is that it almost works. Despite his friend’s sexual inhibitions and concerns – “it’s an orgy, not The Accused” – Eric eventually convinced everyone to participate in the orgy. Just as this happens, he starts crushing on Kelly (Leslie Bibb), the realtor responsible for selling the house. Sudeikis gives a great performance, playing Eric as soft and considerate while also having a real connection full of in-jokes with his friends. Charming as hell, he builds a nice rapport with the chameleonic Bibb who manages to look like a different person in every scene.
Discussing the exploits of today’s teenagers, Eric hears that “blow jobs are the new French kiss.” However, his sweet and slow approach run counter to the nostalgiac desire to relive adolescence. For a few fleeting moments, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy appears as if it may turn the corner from a summer dude movie to an effective rom-com, carefully treading through the contradictory desire for liberating, meaningless party sex and the nurturing touch provided by a caring relationship and a series of small kisses.
Self-restricted by their punch-line premise, Gregory and Huyck fall back on their concept to an unbelievably cookie-cutter degree. By the time Orgy ends, it is nothing more than a turgid Vegas fantasy: random sex, t-shirts, and no consequences. While hardly unexpected, Orgy overlooks the good it has going for it in favor of easy laughs. Though it stands out as a surprisingly decent summer comedy, if Orgy has some guts, it could have been a keeper. Instead, it was only interested in a one-night stand.