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Cronenberg’s Crash – Collision as Coitus

I look left. Two headlights stare into my eyes, beaming unrelentingly. Although my head was only in this position for no more than a second, it felt as though I stared at those lights for an eternity. A scream escapes my throat before I register that I’m about to be the centerpiece to an extravagant explosion of metal and sound. The scream came from a primal fear, just one last cry for help in the face of death.  The cars unite. Airbags explode. My ears are ringing. I’m alive. My driver’s side door is completely smashed in, so I have to jump out of the passenger door. As I run towards the other car to check on the driver, I hear her lamenting to a pedestrian “how could this have happened again?” Once I make it to her door, she looks in my eyes, now welling with tears and dilated, and says, “why didn’t you stop?” 

Every detail of that story ripples on the surface of my mind. I could explain in detail every person I was with, what song was playing in my car, what the airbag’s smelled like, what clothes I was wearing, what the police officer said to me, and exactly where I was. The location is particularly important when exploring my story’s relevance to David Cronenberg’s 1996 film, Crash. 

The specific street which I had my accident just so happened to be the same street which I had to drive down every single time I would go see my ex-girlfriend over the course of our relationship. Every day a part of me would wince in fear as I drove through the intersection which I almost lost my life in. I would have never gone back to that intersection if I could for the rest of my life, but there was a strange psycho-sexual feeling when I did finally arrive to my ex’s house. I had just been reminded of my closest encounter with death and now I’m about to have fundamental sexual experiences. My brain is mired in confusion, but I never failed to return. This confounding sexual relationship I have with car accidents made Crash resonate with me in an incredibly strange way and is the reason I can come to the conclusions about this film’s symbolism and theses that I do.

Cronenberg‘s overarching metaphor for Crash is car crashes as sexual experiences. They change you forever, whether that be physically or psychologically, and you find yourself unable to shake your memories of these experiences, so you become unhealthily obsessed with trying to recreate that feeling. The film sees James get ushered into a community of physically and mentally damaged people who associate with the common interest of car crashes being sexual experiences. Each member of this bunch expresses their trauma through different ways. An alcoholic who appears to have some sort of brain damage, a stoner who wears a full body brace, a stunt driver who expresses his inner desire to be a woman through his playing of other people in his car accidents, culminating in his demise being when he is fully in drag. Vaughn is the ringleader of this group, taking his obsession with car accidents to a demented extent, orchestrating illegal reenactments of fatal celebrity car accidents. Vaughn is an incredibly complex character who operates as a self-criticism by Cronenberg, but also similarly to Frank Booth of Blue Velvet in that he bastardizes sexual experiences and manipulates them, taking the sexualize car accidents to a violent extent. 

Vaughn fetishizes celebrity car accidents and seeks the recreate them as they are inseparable from the celebrity itself, thus making the celebrity immortal. Cronenberg pokes fun at himself through Vaughn, with Vaughn at the drop of a hat completely changing what his project is all about, even writing off his initial statement of purpose as a passable and unassuming Sci-fi facade rather than the sinister passion project about the fragility of life that he later claims is his true goal. 

The final character to analyze is James, played by James Spader, who is a sexually charged individual who is reborn into a new world after a devastating car accident near the airport. This new world James is a part of is thoroughly confounding and fugue-like, with characters like his partner and Vaughn seeming all-knowing to everything not only afflicting James, but the audience too. James spirals deeper down the rabbit’s hole of sexual deviance after his car accident, pushing his sexual exploits to new lengths, even giving in to his own gay desires which his partner may have implanted in his head during an earlier scene. This scene feels pivotal to James, as after this scene he now becomes the aggressor on the road, causing his partner to get in an awful accident and then having sex with her immediately after the accident. James has now become what once frightened him, the car accident, and any subsequent sexual experiences involving cars, has changed him forever. 

Now it may seem as though I’ve just described the horniest film ever put to celluloid, and that may be the case, but I believe Cronenberg is trying to get at the life changing experience that is sex, and how death amplified said experience in a way that confounds the mind and clouds any semblance of judgement. This is truly a film meant to be seen in order to believe, and many interpretations are possible, but through my own experiences with car crashes and sexual endeavors, the film has resonated in a way no other has and is a true treasure of 90s cinema. 

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Blog Retrospectives

Hot Boy Summer – On Lumet’s 12 Angry Men

As legendary as a debut could be, Sidney Lumet’s instant classic 12 Angry Men feels as though it is a tale as old as cinema itself. Lumet is able to translate the teleplay into a work of cinematic genius through camera techniques, something unavailable in the theater medium. Lumet also puts to screen a heartbreaking portrait of how toxic masculinity in heightened circumstances can lead to the direst of circumstances.

When addressing Lumet’s directorial prowess in 12 Angry Men, two different styles of shot composition are employed with wildly different effects while still holding a cohesive and consistent artistic voice. The first style of camera work which Lumet employs is the use of long takes to preserve the theatrical vision of the original text. Where Lumet elevates this style of camera work is with his framing. Lumet frames the courtroom masterfully, withholding the face of the accused until the very end of the time spent in the courtroom and instead emphasizing both the apathy of the judge and the jurors themselves. The first shot in the deliberation room ranges wildly in what Lumet shows the viewer, with action constantly being squeezed in and out of the frame to beautifully set the stage for the hectic environment the room will eventually devolve into. Each character is given a unique function in this shot, with brilliant foreshadowing and characterization of nearly every juror. This six and a half minute continuous shot wouldn’t be any kind of achievement in an actual play, but Lumet elevates the material through shifting the framing over a dozen times, always revealing some kind of new aspect about each character and sowing the seeds of conflict which will eventually be reaped as the deliberation goes on. Although there are plenty of other lengthy takes in 12 Angry Men, none quite reach the impact and deliver so much as this first shot in the deliberation room.   

The second visual style which Lumet uses to take the film beyond its theatrical origins is the use of closeups. Lumet is able to bring the audience face to face with every bead of sweat dripping off of each of the jurors and allow them to see every nuanced expression of internalized pain, prejudice, and guilt which eats at every juror upon their eventual confrontation. Lumet gives every actor a chance to display their talents with these closeups, bringing distinct depth and character to each juror. Lumet’s first true genius use of the closeup is of the accused. Eyes welling with water, fear-stricken, ethnically different from most of the characters previously seen who will decide his fate, and shockingly young.

Another close up from the film which explodes with narrative relevance and shocks the audience just as much as the actual jurors is Juror 8’s reveal of the identical knife. An iconic shot for all the right reasons and never fails to elicit chills upon watching. Lumet uses the medium of film to emphasize details which would be lost or completely unseen if witnessed on the stage.

The first juror to change their vote to “not guilty” is Juror 9, a wise old man who through many years of life has accumulated enough experience to understand both the situation of the accused and Juror 8’s arguments.

Juror 5 changes his vote next, as he grew up in a lower-income area and displays sensitivity to the subject as the other wealthier jurors use the accused’s environment as enough reason to call him a murderer.

Juror 11, a European immigrant who has become fully Americanized faces turmoil in his decision due to his Americanization. Juror 11 wants to believe in the U.S. Justice System but as the case unravels and different angles to the story are presented he realizes that if he truly wants to adhere to justice as an institution he doesn’t have to side with the red-blooded Americans surrounding him and instead vote for what he perceives is just.

Juror 2 is riddled with beta energy, submitting to the stronger will and conviction of the louder and more alpha. Juror 2 exhibits a follower type behavior that allows for him to be easily swayed by the loud-mouthed brutes advocating for the verdict of guilty, however after being trampled over for most of the deliberation Juror 2 asserts his own manhood and through his empathetic tendencies sides with the constantly attacked accused.

Juror 6, a blue-collar house painter switches his vote due to a combination of effective arguments about the logistics of the witnesses along with the classism rooted in the guilty advocates arguments.

Juror 7, the funny guy of the group, changes his vote next. Juror 7’s position feels incredibly important as he serves as a representative of the indifferent everyman who couldn’t care less about the life of a man as long as he gets to watch the Yankees play. When Juror 7 switches to “not guilty,” it feels quite momentous, as the man who has delivered nothing but apathy and a lack of serious or meaningful contributions to the conversation has come to recognize what the right thing to do is in this situation. Juror 7 feels like he may be representing the widest group of Americans, as consumerism and capitalism has reduced their empathy to the point where everything that doesn’t strike them as entertainment can simply be deflected through a joke.

Juror 12, who is constantly flip-flopping throughout the film, is technically the next juror to vote “not guilty.” Juror 12 is representative of the young men who before they even realize it have been corralled into the capitalistic businessman and begin to lose all semblance of their personality. Juror 12 is constantly seen reconciling with his newfound success by trying to seek approval from the older jurors. As Juror 12 deals with this internal struggle he outwardly expresses it through his indecision as a juror but eventually allows for his youthful tendencies to guide him to vote “not guilty.”

Juror 1, an assistant high school football coach who appoints himself to be the jury foreman. Juror 1 is clearly vexed with insecurities due to his occupation and therefore desires to take control over the situation and make himself the “coach” as quickly as possible. Once he senses the tides are shifting to the “not guilty’ party, Juror 9 attempts to continue his guiding role and switches his vote.

Juror 10 is a sickly bigot whose two forms of communication include coughing and ethnically insensitive comments. It is only upon the confrontation of his own mortality that Juror 10 is able to see past his prejudices and recognize that bigotry and assumptions about a group of people are useless and can never play a role in someone’s decision-making or else logic and justice be sacrificed.

Juror 4, a man who doesn’t sweat, represents the stoic businessman type which men attempt to use as their façade in order to hide any semblance of emotion or human attributes. He submits a vote for “not guilty” second to last after all of the evidence of the case has been thoroughly poured through and extensively deliberated, finally breaking through Juror 4’s wall of logical defense.

This leaves Juror 3, the final juror who still votes that the accused is guilty. Although the classism, consumerism, and racism are all present within Juror 3, after all of those issues were conquered, he still believes that the young man is guilty. Lumet has stacked all of the odds against the accused and has now masterfully moved them all to the other side with the exception of one man whose connection to the case goes down to his deepest issue, his falling out with his son. Juror 3 comes face to face with the realization that he could be the one dying at the hands of his son for the way he treated him, but through the goodness of his son he comes to realize that there is no way the accused would kill his father even in light of the years of abuse, and ultimately making Juror 3 realize he has to mend the relationship he shattered with his son.

Lumet’s iconic debut is nothing short of remarkable in every aspect and will always stand as a brilliant tale of both the good and evil which resides in every man.

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Blog Reclamations

Wild At Heart – Missing an Open Three In Your Hotspot

   Twin Peaks’ southern-fried, hyper-sexualized cousin who smells bad.

A unique entry into the Lynch pantheon, Wild at Heart sees Lynch take on the great American road trip film trope with Nic Cage and Laura Dern starring as the fiery couple on the run from the police and a murderous mother. There is clear backtracking for Lynch with Wild at Heart’s echoing of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks’ motifs of putting a demented and trauma-fueled mystery underneath a classic American veneer. Additionally, Lynch steps forward with the less linear storytelling and the concept of a hit being put out. However, Wild at Heart does not capture the magic of either of these Lynchian staples. The explanation for this miss still eludes me, however I will attempt to explicate my thoughts and come to some sort of conclusion for this phenomenon. 

One major aspect which separates Wild at Heart from Lynch’s other films is the setting. The South may simply not agree with Lynch’s formula of presenting a pleasant exterior only to reveal the evil beneath due to the inherent flaws of the American South. The kooky South Lynch creates feels too silly at times of trauma while being unable to woo me with Lynchian charm in its softer moments due to the characters being icky. This makes the messaging of the film feel much more ham-fisted than other efforts from Lynch. It is simply an impossibility for me to feel the same way about a side character who wears a trucker hat with a Confederate flag than one who wears flannel (despite them likely voting for the same party). The lack of Lynchian magic in Wild at Heart brings to light how Lynch was truly at a crossroads with how he wanted to tell his stories because although it dips its toes into both types of Lynch presentation, it doesn’t fully commit to one or the other and is fair at best when it comes to plot. 

Another puzzling aspect of this film is the characters and the way they are performed. On paper, this is a dream lineup. Nic Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Harry Dean Stanton-how could one go wrong? When breaking each performance down, things become a bit clearer. Nic Cage’s performance left me a little mixed. I loved the moments of pure Cage insanity, but they were so few and far between they started to feel unwarranted whenever they showed up. On top of that his accent was very funny but I’m not sure if that makes me enjoy his performance anymore. Laura Dern balls out though, no question. Even though she also sounds silly her moments of pain, grief, and suffering all come off as incredibly real. Willem gives an undeniably great performance, but his character is so forthrightly gross and sinister that he doesn’t captivate me the same way Frank from Blue Velvet does. Harry Dean Stanton’s performance is solid, but his character illuminates the huge lapse of great storytelling Wild at Heart suffers from. I can handle a subplot I barely care about in a TV show, but one in a two-hour movie feels cheap and truly useless. 

So, there you have it, a summation of all of my mixed and lukewarm opinions about David Lynch’s least important full-length entry in his filmography, yet I still feel hollow. It may just be that I’m not used to seeing one of my favorite directors let me down in such a unique way. This feeling which I am experiencing can only be likened to missing an open three in your hotspot. David has been stroking this shot all game, nothing but net. He’s lined up just how he likes it, he even spins the ball in his hand and takes a dribble. Lynch rises up like he has many times before and lets the ball fly, only to be met with a resounding CLANG from the rim and the shot not falling. David would go on to make many more shots from that spot, but I will always remember witnessing that strange miss from that strange man. 

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Blog For Your Consideration

FYC – Under the Skin

Similar to the bug bite on my ankle, Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin has been nagging at me ever since it ended. Coming out of the film, I was relatively bored and unsatisfied with what I had just witnessed. Glazer feels incredibly indulgent in his directorial choices, letting scenes or shots that hold little to no value linger far past the necessary length for the purpose of the shot to be understood. It is a film that attempts to be as much show and as little tell as possible. This approach leads to some stunning visuals at points, but most of these visually appealing shots hold the depth of a neat computer background. The film is built around its obtuse story-telling style, making it so that any further explanation of the characters or plot would make the sluggish scenes feel even less rewarding. The Female, played by Scarlett Johansen, is barely a character and her arc feels impossible to attribute an artistic vision to. The Female displays a complete lack of empathy at the sight of a domestic tragedy on the beach. This scene almost comes off as comical despite the horrific nature of the actions on screen. Later in the film, when luring a disfigured man, The Female takes an overly long look in the mirror and has a change of heart, deciding to not have the man killed and instead lets him go free. The Female’s arc feels incredibly unearned and adds to the overall directionless feeling the entire movie exudes. Having a film be abstract and obtuse doesn’t inherently attribute meaning to a film, and Glazer’s deliberate choices to neglect to tell the audience anything rarely works and makes for an unsatisfying watch. The only point where the slow pace feels effective is in the seduction scenes. These scenes have striking imagery, a score which aides the tension, and the slow tone feels seductive. The mise-en-scène of these scenes beg the viewer to put an interpretive eye to the art they are watching, but similarly to the film as a whole, these scenes feel utterly empty in their attempts to communicate a deeper meaning. During my viewing of the film, I thought Under The Skin may be about the empowering nature of women’s sexuality, however the sexuality of The Female feels sinister and not something which she uses for her own benefit. Additionally, the film following The Female’s change of heart explores a strange romantic encounter between The Female and a nice guy who she comes across after abandoning her van (this van abandonment scene feeling like one of the few that successfully captures Glazer’s vision for the film). This romantic encounter along with the sexual assault The Female experiences feel much more allegorical and work better because a semblance of a plot has started to emerge within the film. The Female’s physical inability for intimacy along with the attack she faces following the unmasking of her true self hold much more weight than the repetitive and boring first portion of the film. Overall, Jonathan Glazer certainly had a defined vision with this project, and I am still incredibly excited to see Sexy Beast (because it appears as though dudes may be rocking in that picture), I feel as though this film is the cinematic equivalent of getting a bug bite. Its uncomfortable, overstays its welcome, but undeniably provides a sensation that will stick with you for days to come.