Scrawls Top 10: Top 10 Moviegoing Experiences

In honor of the reopening of the movies and the “new normal”, we brought in our very own Seth Monyette to look back on the past to remind us of what we have to look forward to in the future.

Note from the writer: Hello folks, here at Scrawls on Cinema we are launching Top 10 Week. None of the other Scrawls contributors have agreed to this, nor have I run it by a single one of them, but I find that lighting a fire under someone’s… YOU KNOW WHAT… often leads to one’s best work. Be sure to tune in over the course of the week for some industry-shattering listicles.

Folks, in honor of the imminent Return to the Theater, I have decided to finally document some of the more colorful moviegoing experiences I have accumulated in my lifetime. Yes, it is time to put these encounters from pen to paper to scanner to computer to Word doc to Scrawls on Cinema. 😊 What follows are but a few of those once in a lifetime movie-going experiences that happen to us all, which lead us marching right back into those hallowed grounds of cinematic bliss – a movie theater.

#10 – That Time Leonardo DiCaprio Entered my Theater with a Flamethrower and Torched a Dude Alive to Promote Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

“Leo! Leo! Leo!” – the chant echoing in that theater as this occurred is forever engrained in my brain. We even convinced him to pop a few un-popped kernels left in the bottom of our popcorn bag! Unforgettable.

#9 – When I Accidentally Saw the Parody Film Dumbkirk – AND LOVED IT

An excellent parody film that beat for beat follows the events of Dunkirk however, and here’s the twist, every character speaks at an alarmingly slow speed, and none understand how to operate a gun. Low stakes, but hilarious!

#8 – When Jared Leto Dapped Me Up in the Men’s Restroom and Then Challenged Me to a Breakdance Battle While Still in the Men’s Restroom

Our battle lasted hours, until finally Jared conceded. Afterwards he handed me a t-shirt, and by the time I read it I realized he had adorned one himself. The shirt read, “The Piss Break-dancers – Starring Seth & Jared”

#7 – That Time I Did a Butter Keg-Stand for No Reward

Although you could argue that there certainly was a reward!

#6 – That Time I Yelled at the Projectionist: “Ehhhhh how about ya do better next time pal! The movie was upside fuckin’ down!” 

Look folks, we all know that Projectionists usually bring their A-Game. Usually, I love and adore the artistic interpretation that a projectionist can bring to the movie-going experience, but in this instance the guy blew it and I got a chance to provide a critique directly to Hollywood (which was heard by the way, as my next movie-going experience provided a right-side-up film!). As the final cog in the Hollywood machine the projectionist’s role is oft-overlooked, yet ever so critical and with a surprisingly large amount of artistic input. I for one, am typically in love with that classic projectionist-director back and forth, where the projectionist says, “No this shot should be over HERE now,” or, “how ‘bout a little bam bam flipadoo when the plane does the spinny maneuver!” But the director’s over there screamin’, “No! No! My vision! My vision! Oh God, here we go!” What comes of their marriage… This is why we love the movies.

#5 – When Santa Entered the Theater While Die Hard Was Playing and Proclaimed it Not a Christmas Movie… But a Channukah Movie???

Look I know we all get sensitive about this kinda stuff, especially around this time of year, but the man himself cleared it up and so let’s shut the argument down, alright PC Police!?

#4 – When Steven Spielberg Sat Next to me During War Horse and Kept Leaning Over to Whisper in My Ear “This is my favorite part.”

My craziest brush-in with a Hollywood GOD to date. Have you ever had to hush one of your idols? I sure have!

#3 – That Time I Saw Aquaman in 4D and Nearly Drowned

Talk about immersion! I was immersed in water! (RIP to my good friend Alex, who did not manage to escape the theater in time.)

#2 – The Time the Ticket Salesman was Actually James Cameron Doing an Undercover Boss 

As he is the boss of the movies, James decided to see “what it’s like” for a regular old movie theater employee, and boy was he stunned when I recognized him underneath that beehive wig!!! What can I say, I know my James “Camera-Man” when I see him!

 #1 – “Run Forrest Run!”


Blog Hot Takes

Support Your Local Contrarians: A Manifesto for Local Filmmaking

This is a manifesto for local collective filmmaking. My experience is with Georgia and UGA but is not isolated to it. Student filmmaking has been a place where I’ve seen creative people ground down to shiny, marketable, employable good workers. I’m really tired of being a good worker. I care about film more than I care about any other medium; I find it uniquely communal in its production and exhibition, and I think that it’s a beautiful way to textually fix the energy of a collective of like-minded and self-motivated creative people. How does making a Hollywood-style short student film document the collective happiness of making a movie with your friends?

A still from my short documentary of the same name documenting Scrawls on Cinema in our first official production venture.

Have we lost that understanding of film as a communal endeavor? Streaming services and COVID have exacerbated the atomizing tendencies of the past 20 years, and with newfound vertical integration and monopolies forming in Hollywood, how is making films that play into that same mindset any form of resistance? I’m not naive enough to think that a few people banging out ratty student films on VHS and Super-8 is going to be a viable alternative to the pretty hand of Hollywood that’s so tightly gripping my peers’ necks, but at least it’s something local. Why does Georgia have such robust film production infrastructure but no indigenous film scene, no unique feel? Are we so comfortable with runaway production that we’ll aspire to be enveloped within it? I’m surrounded by bright people in my classes who don’t have the film culture necessary to cultivate these things. The piecemeal program at UGA as it is, a brief two years where you can essentially graduate without having ever watched a screening for class, is creating technically adept filmmakers but not nourishing ambitions toward art cinema. I don’t say that just to be a pretentious film snob; making anti-Hollywood films is a way in which one can resist the corporate hellscape to which we’re so bound.

It starts locally. Athens is a place that fostered a significant music scene years ago and its shadow still looms large over musicians here today. Why isn’t the same thing happening in film? We have Ciné, a place all of us should be attending regularly and in as large of groups as possible. We have caring and intelligent teachers in entertainment and media studies, film studies, and video art. We have ties to industrial figures in Atlanta for film production and post-production. We have a small (but committed) film club and production offshoots of that. The component parts are all here, but what’s missing is a dedicated fire under the ass and the potential to see student filmmaking as something more than résumé builders or portfolio padders for when we go into the “real” world. What’s so fake about right now? Student filmmaking is an independent venture that gives you leeway in being risky and shitty and creative and ambitious. It will always be seen as worse than large-scale industrial filmmaking, and that perception is only getting worse with the ballooning budgets of Hollywood pictures. If it’s doomed to be a failure from the start, why not fail boldly? 

Student filmmaking has the benefit of already being pejorative. You can’t get much worse than having you work called “amateurish” or having “film school” used as an adjective to describe it. Isn’t that freeing? Film began from individual hobbyists, bricoleurs who took component parts from different technology and used them in search of moving images. We owe Citizen Kane to the humble sewing machine. Have we lost that sense of experimentation? Of wonder at discovering a new language with no Rosetta Stone? Celluloid is old, but it’s not all we have to work with: VHS, shitty DV, webcams, your old DSi; the medium with which you work is unique and you are not required to have high end equipment to make something beautiful and, more importantly, authentic. You don’t need an Arri Alexa, you don’t need a DSLR, and you certainly don’t need permission to start expressing yourself with film and video. The only gatekeeping that matters is that of personal taste, and that’s something that you should constantly be working to define and refine. Having a good grasp on the films that came before you and align with your sensibility isn’t about having pretentious name-dropping bonafides, it’s about learning the vocabulary and grammar others have used to express the same feelings you have. You are learning how to read so that you can learn how to write.

Learning how to write is a lot of work and it’s certainly not the path of least resistance. It’s very easy to sit back and watch whatever series has just dropped on Netflix. It’s okay if you do this, but you have to understand that you are working with the ultimate goal of producing with everything you consume: everything that crosses your gaze must be turned into grist for the mill. Working toward this, again, is a lot of effort. Here are the ways in which I’ve learned to try and do this for myself. It should go without saying that this becomes exponentially easier when you’re doing it with a group of people as well. Watch at least one movie every day and do a small write-up about it. Letterboxd is ideal but a notebook for yourself will do just fine. It can be a short film for all I care, but say something fucking original about it. If you miss a day, watch two the next day to make up for it. Be cine-literate. Watch films you haven’t seen before. Watch boring films, foreign films, problematic films, perverse films. Watch things that challenge you. Watch your friends’ films. Contribute to their goals and ambitions. Have some damn ambitions of your own. Have a personal canon and a point of view and an ideological project that you are advancing with every work you make. Never put your name (above the line, at least) on anything that you don’t believe to be worth your time and a good representation of yourself. If it’s shit, make the next one better; it’s only an ass-whooping if you didn’t learn anything. Have some goddamn pride about yourself and make something that you think is important. Make sure your friends are doing it too. The people around you are making things that are more interesting than the antiseptic slop Netflix is feeding you every week and you are morally obligated to support your local contrarians and quit deferring to the faceless corporate monoliths that don’t really give a shit about you anyway. Local, coordinated, communal filmmaking is our best shot at telling our own stories.

Runaway production is a big problem in Georgia, but these same problems aren’t just state-wide, they’re national, global even. I’m using Georgia as a case study because it’s my community and I care about it and if I don’t intervene, I don’t know who else will. You can make something special wherever you are. New York and L.A. weren’t picked for film production hubs because creative ley lines lead there; they were picked because of existing cultural production and close-knit communities in New York and predictable weather and atrocious labor laws in L.A. Georgia has one of L.A.’s qualities and the polar opposite of the other, so there’s that. Basically, if you’re a creative person, you can make things anywhere. Life doesn’t have to be one big crawl toward an urban center, one bum-rush to the top of the industry. You can be more fulfilled with the autonomy that small, amateurish, low-quality production provides. I can’t promise you that a local rhizome of little provincial indie scenes is a viable alternative to the arborescent production strategies that giants in Hollywood have very carefully refined over decades, but I can tell you it’s a lot more fun. Go make something you care about. Go on. This is me giving you permission.

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Minari: An Evaluation of Family and Self

The current state of popular cinema makes telling the stories of first-generation immigrants a bit of a tightrope walk. Just last year, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite won best picture at the Academy Awards in a historical win for Korean-Americans and more generally, Asian people (not that we should be considered singular by any means). This marked a shift, along with 2016’s Moonlight, towards the current identity politics mission statement and tokenization of ethnicity; the notoriously well-awarded Green Book ultimately was an exercise in white guilt, yet still won best picture. And only a year prior to this, John M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians marked the first Hollywood production in 25 years that could boast an all-Asian cast. With the startling statistic tied to this film it would be remiss of anyone to not see the unfortunate torch that this picture was forced to bear. The unfair positioning around the very specific Crazy Rich Asians being the model for “the” Asian-American immigrant story is braindead and only furthers the cycle of dehumanization that immigrants experience on an all-too-frequent basis. Asian-American representation in popular media has made little progress past the orientalist framework that white executives have propagated to tell us “this is where you stand”. Looking past identity politics, immigrant stories can be extremely hard to tell; often layered with struggles of insecurity in leaving what you’ve known your entire life, the suffocating isolation felt when there are no communities of people that look like you, and generational trauma placed on parents and children. How does one put these feelings into words and images? Yet despite the discourse that surrounds Asian-American immigrant stories every year, I still find myself excited at the prospect of seeing my family’s history told on screen, and with Michelle Zauner’s early stamp of approval (Michelle is a God in my eyes), Minari was no exception. Michelle was absolutely correct, Minari triumphs above any discourse centered around identity politics by not giving these discussions any wiggle room to focus on and rather centers itself around the intimacy of family and individual acceptance of self.

Minari is the story of Korean-American immigrants Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-ri) as they look to escape their Arkansas-based chicken sexing jobs, uprooting their life in California with their two children David (Alan Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho) so that they can make something of their own.  David has a heart condition that does not allow him to enjoy the wonderment of childhood that other children his age are able to.  With Jacob’s excitement to start this new life with a farm that will grow Korean crops, the audience (and Jacob) quickly grasp at the idea that this is what building a life for your family in America should look like. Monica, however, is not sold on this idea. She worries that Jacob’s agrarian ambitions will place more strain on the Yi family than is worth. Not to mention she is shown throughout Minari feeling isolated and in need of community (this issue absolutely exacerbated by their new rural home). Monica’s doubts are confirmed by seeing Jacob spiral as the family loses county water because of Jacob’s redirection of the water line to the farm and produce buyers constantly screwing him over. Monica also worries that Arkansas storms put their family at risk showcased in a yelling match early on in Minari. The decision is made that Monica’s mother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-Jung) will relocate from Korea to Arkansas and live with the Yi’s.

Soon-ja is the beating heart of Minari. Her crass behavior and constant fight to win David’s love and approval provide for some of the most tender moments of the film. David is apprehensive to accept Soon-ja because she doesn’t fit the American model of what grandmothers should be. According to David, Soon-ja “smells Korean” (Anne’s retort that David hasn’t even been to Korea is one of my favorite lines that will surely go overlooked), doesn’t bake cookies, curses, gambles, and sits on her butt drinking Mountain Dew watching wrestling all day. With David looking to grasp onto any sense of identity he can, it is obvious why he is apprehensive to accept Soon-ja (David reminds me a lot of my father and myself). Yet Soon-ja’s presence is invaluable; bringing familiarity to struggles with isolation, combating dour economic situations with levity, and maybe most importantly Soon-ja plants the film’s namesake crop just on the edge of the Yi property.  

The choice to make minari the savior of the narrative is obvious: minari is a swiss army knife crop that grows like wildfire and is used in a variety of ways across different Asian cultures. Minari can be used in salad, stew, pancakes, kimchi, and medicinally. The water dropwort’s obvious allegory for rooting life in foreign land is clear, yet I can’t help but read that minari also represents a reckoning with generational misunderstandings and the resiliency of family. Jacob and Soon-ja fundamentally approach agriculture in opposite ways. Jacob attempts to grow a variety of crops with the intention of the water coming to him. He rejects a well-finder at the beginning of the film, vaunting his Korean pride in regard to his ability to find a well himself. Soon-ja grows one crop and goes to the water herself, and ultimately Soon-ja’s approach bails the Yi’s out of a devastating crop fire and Jacob becomes a minari supplier. Jacob appears happier by the end of the film now that his marriage has been saved – in contrast to his initial hesitance to let Soon-ja live with his family. David also begins to ease up on Soon-ja as the two get closer during late-night shenanigans, and David’s ease turns to full blown love and appreciation for Soon-ja’s presence.

Minari finds success by telling a gentle immigrant story with visually warm and slightly overexposed imagery in moments of intense humanity, seen best when David serves Soon-ja urine instead of Mountain Dew, while allowing its characters to experience joy, forgiveness, and acceptance (which can be very rare in immigrant stories). Through all the terms and expectations that will be thrown at Minari, the story remains distinctly Korean-American. I see my grandfather in Jacob’s character. My grandfather was a similar age to Jacob when he moved to this country with my grandmother.  The couple and their son (my father) settled down in Washington, DC with no money, no car, a rudimentary knowledge of the English language, and no friends except for one man that served with my grandfather in Vietnam. And despite the lack of resources at my family’s disposal, 3 days after arriving in DC, Papa found a job as a cashier at a 7/11 for $2.10 an hour.  For two years, my grandparents worked 2-3 part-time jobs at a time to save money for their own business, and in 1975, rented out a vacant gas station in Northern Virginia. But the Northern Virginia winters are very cold, and the couple could only handle greasy, cracked, and bloodied hands for so long before lusting to work indoors. After a year of pumping gas, Papa purchased a grocery store from two holocaust survivors looking to retire, and knowingly or unknowingly, planted the seeds that would support his family for generations. From the moment Papa was hired as a 7/11 cashier, he has not stopped working full-time until now at the age of 80, where he is only working part-time. Talking with him the other day, we laughed as he told me he finally feels as if he’s allowed to have some down time and is pursuing a second master’s degree in theology this fall. Papa told me that living in a country that was constantly unable to support itself lit a fire in his heart to provide for his family every breathing moment of his life.

As mentioned earlier, I see my father and myself in David. The youthful impulse to blend into your surroundings, behave like kids that don’t look similar to you, rejecting older relatives’ gestures of love because you would rather have Coke over herbal tea. These were choices I unknowingly made that damaged my sense of self for an unseen time to come. Only recently have I come to love my Korean-American identity yet am still picking up the pieces. If it were not for these unbelievably strong individuals, like Lee Isaac Chung and Michelle Zauner, willing to tell parts of their stories, I would still harbor hate for this side of myself but because of them I do not have to. Healing is an ongoing process, though, and lots of work still needs to be done. However, stories like Minari help ease that process by providing me with strength through shared experience.

Minari is screening online or at a theater near you.


Parker’s Poem Corner – Lights

December is a confusing month. It never feels accurately represented anywhere in my opinion. Watching things about the holidays and seeing all the standard shit that pops up in this month always feels wrong. Advertisements don’t do it right and all the big Christmas movies don’t really ever do it right either. I think a substantial part of the problem is that Christmastime becomes very loud, raucous, and sterile against its own will. Yes, it is largely because the holiday has been steamrolled by consumerism, but that’s not really news. I think the volume of holiday comes from how habitual it is. Something consistent to look forward to, where people do the same things and wear the same stuff and drink the holiday drinks, et cetera. It’s a calendar routine that marks a completed year, and I think that spreads and oversaturates, casting an icky, clumped sludge of fabricated holiday spirit and corporate hullabaloo that is just as regular as a random Tuesday in April. Opening my piece this way definitely makes it seem like I don’t have any holiday spirit, which is entirely untrue. I just have a weird relationship with Christmastime. I love it dearly, but there’s a very particular strain of distanciation and vacancy that crops up in this month. Driving through my regular places, which sway somewhere in between suburban, rurality, and soft urbanism, there’s a new warmth that pops up during December that is matched with an equivalent loneliness. I find this word trite, but it really is melancholic, and it’s certainly bittersweet. Everyone moves in closer to each other to stay warm, and they move their activities inside. Quality time contains a nearness that isn’t present in the rest of the year. At the same time, it’s yet another December, where the cold eases in and settles down. It gets darker much earlier and the world feels much slower, lonelier, and dense. It is a strange and conflicting time. The holidays are about togetherness, evidently. I think about this while I drive around during December and I see all the Christmas lights dancing along balconies and up in trees. Who lit those lamps behind those curtains? Who strung those lights around their balcony railing? What company is within the confines of each of these rooms? What relationships are warming all of these walls?

It has been a very difficult year for all of us. Amidst the bleakness and isolation that this year has crammed down all of our throats, having to sit beneath all the “unprecedented, troubling times” bullshit is even more vacating and nauseating and makes the whole thing feel even more hollow and doomed. I’m a glass half full kind of person, and I am known to be that, so you may take my views of this film, the holidays as a whole, and honestly my life right now in general as true to form, coated in my standard happy-go-lucky optimism, which is entirely okay. This year has trampled me with some of the bests and worsts of my life so far. The future is oblique, prickly, and entirely abyssal and I’m certain that fear is not a trait that is unique to me. The walls of my tiny little room feel particularly narrower than they have before. However, at the same time, when I am driving back to my house, I can see my window from the street through the trees. I can see my lamp peeking out through the dark and lighting up my room. I can see the poster that I had framed and successfully hung up after 3 months of feeling so defeated and vacant that I couldn’t even manage to rig the screw into the drywall. I’m wearing all black but my socks are cozy. I can smell new carpeting, and pretzel M&Ms, and my dryer sheets on borrowed clothing. The string lights are working, even though I have to pull the couch forward to plug them in. The lamp works great, even though I bump my hand into it when I reach for my water bottle. I should get a straw for that.

A very wise person in my life once said to “always look for the contradictions, because that is where the truth reveals itself.” The cold closes in around us in December. The onset of winter is a very sad thing. Thus, we turn to each other to warm our souls back up. We turn to little decorations and twinkly sparkly somethings lined around our trees and our lampposts. When a person puts up their own lights, it warms their own space and offers a shred of that warmth to the world outside. Everyone in their own worlds does that together and it accumulates to quite the shimmering glow. That is all the holiday season needs to be, I think.

Anyway, all of this indulgent waxing to be said, Marie Menken’s Lights explores this with a very quiet, youthful gentleness. Menken slings her camera around with the fuzzy abandon that blankets the month of December for many of us. I recommend y’all watch it. It’s the only Christmas movie that accurately captures the warmth that slowly eases into our increasingly frigid winter lives. It is an entirely lonely and entirely comforting, snug piece of filmmaking. It’s my favorite one.

Whoever is reading this, in December of 2020 and beyond, hope you’re staying warm and lovely. Go buy a set of twinkle lights or set up a new lamp, or just reach toward any little slices of light that poke their heads into your universe. It does all of us good.



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. 


Naked Lunch: Adapting the Unadaptable

It had been nearly four years since I watched David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) for the first time. I remember, upon finishing watching this film, high school me had been so enamored with what I just experienced that the next day I tried to read William S. Burroughs’ novel. I gave dozens of pages a shot, but since this was my first foray into postmodern literature, I was just puzzled with the scattershot and free-form prose of Burroughs. My takeaway though, was that it was incredible that Cronenberg was able to adapt something so unadaptable to film and pull it off so well in the way he did. 

In what starts out as most films do, through the establishment of main characters and a free-form jazz score coupled with art-deco aesthetics; this then morphs into a film about a slew of autobiographical problems that Burroughs faced in real life, that are thrust upon the protagonist, Bill Lee (Peter Weller). Drug use, homosexuality, and the creative process as a writer are the main themes that the film eventually manages to hone in on. The strange, Cronenbergian staples start with the introduction of an insect that talks through the mouth of an anus telling Lee to kill his wife, Joan Lee (Judy Davis) because she is a “secret agent”. It becomes such a Kafka-esque work that Kafka is even mentioned by Joan Lee. Also through Cronenbergian fashion, these various bugs and creatures are given an oozing and hyper-sexualized style and voice to them. This collaboration between Burroughs and Cronenberg was a perfect creative pairing for that reason. Videodrome took the idea of James Woods having moments of intimacy with pulsating Betamax tapes and televisions with faces on them and with Shivers (1975) he had already used the template of tying bugs in with sexuality. 

However, Naked Lunch doesn’t just make the bugs out to be these strange creatures just looking at trying to burrow their way into the minds of as many humans as possible, but as a creative companion, a writer can discuss their work with. The bugs, later on in the film are portrayed as typewriters for that reason, a product of Lee’s hallucinations on his drug-infused fantasies at some points, dictating to Lee what to write. The personal connection to typewriters humanizes these inanimate objects through the names that they are referred to throughout Naked Lunch. Tom Frost (Ian Holm) talks about how much he loves his “mujahideen”, the name given to his favorite typewriter. Burroughs himself was a heroin user and it is quite obvious that the insecticide in the film is a reference to that. The way that the insecticide is shot up intravenously and as the film progresses characters move onto harder drugs. The hardest drug coming from the secretions of the fictional reptilian creatures, Mugwumps. Their scaly and bony mien being one of the more impactful things from the film.

The film also has one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve seen in cinema. It is challenging to decipher which pieces of the film are actually tied to reality and which are inside the head of a drug-addict suffering from writer’s block, needing a fix in order to continue to construct. The far off city of Interzone (Joy Division were a fan of Burroughs’ work) that Lee flees to is when it fully becomes an unhinged meditation in the surreal. What Lee believes are smashed-up typewriter parts in a bag are seen by other characters to be just a collage of various pill bottles. During a discussion with Tom Frost, the synchronized sound coming from his mouth is dubbed over by other dialogue also spoken by Frost where he proclaims: “If you look carefully at my lips, you’ll realize that I’m actually saying something else. I’m not actually telling you about the several ways I’m gradually murdering Joan [Lee]”. The openness of the interpretation between fiction and reality makes Naked Lunch all the better, constantly throwing curveballs and depicting addiction as a sad, puzzling dimension of the human psyche. 

Cronenberg’s adaptation of Burroughs’ work attempts to be a transgressive and provocative work the same way the 1959 novel was. Unfortunately, there was not nearly as much discussion about the film compared to the novel. But for people that enjoy postmodern narratives that deconstruct the creative process such as Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002), then this is an enjoyable, Kafkaesque meditation in that wheelhouse.               

Blog Filmic Fits Reclamations

The Lost Boys’ Found Fashion

Of all the iterations and reinventions of the classic vampire narrative, there’s only one near and dear to my heart—Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys. Far from the cliches of the traditional Dracula aesthetic, this film ushered in a new age of the undead, in a full embrace of culture clash that defined the 80s. From the punks, to goths, to yuppies, to the new romantics, and valley girls, the microcosm of California coast culture in the 1980s America was the ultimate crucible to set this hyper-styled warped Peter Pan. One of the elements I love most about this movie and the meticulous curated environment it’s surrounded by is the fashion that distinctly marked this movie away from the cloaks and cravats of the Transylvanian origin story to reframe the machismo bad boy. Just as the universe of Santa Monica was stratified among social groups, Schumacher’s and costume designer, Susan Becker’s, influence on the costuming mimes this reality among the film’s varying cliques in the most iconic display of 80s garb to make any other vampire eat their heart out.

Perhaps the most underappreciated group out of all of this are the Frog Brothers, played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander. They fully embody the 80s action antihero in full Sylvester Stalone Rambo iconography. From the muscle tees to the dogtags and red bandana adorning Feldman’s forehead, their hypermasculinized aesthetic reeks of toxic machismo and identity conflict. One of the best clothing bits we get from the brothers is a shirt with almost an Araki flair. It reads, “Why waltz when you can rock & roll” with a machine gun partly obscuring the text. Ignoring the rhetoric of a shirt like that, it’s easy just to see the counterculture rebel hero the boys try to emulate in their style. In the iconic fight scene, both brothers gear up in an almost comical revolutionist uniform of berets, airborne shirts, and ill-fitting ERDL camouflage as the true expression of the kind of man that takes no prisoners and kicks ass according to his own rules despite the boys being about 14 in the film. The obvious parallel to draw from their military depot couture is the vicarious reappraisal of Vietnam heroes as a reactionary measure against changing gender expressionality in the 80s. 

Their embrace of ruggedness in respect to the lone wolf protagonist from the comics they read fully sets them apart from everyone else in the film, and most distinctly from Sam who represents the antithesis of their fashion’s ideology. Sam looks like he just stepped off a WHAM music video set with his visually assaulting devotion to the ‘mall fashion victim’ aesthetic of incoherent patterns clashing on top of each other. He’s a fish out of water in this new environment and is recognized in his own way for standing out. There’s definitely a queer reading to Sam who literally had a ‘Born to Shop’ t-shirt and semi-nude photos of men adorning his room, but we’ll save that for another time. I’d also go into more detail about a particular iconic outfit he wears in the film, too, but honestly, everything he wears is just some variation of a primary color abstract pattern button down which you can pick up at your local thrift store. Sorry, Sam 🙁

And then there are the vampires–the men that shaped my taste in boys and incidentally have left me disappointed ever since. First things first: those mullets are luxurious and voluminous which is a must when you need your hair to flow through the wind on your motorbikes as you terror your community. Kiefer Sutherland’s in particular stands out because of its peroxide platinum blondness almost as a signifier of the artificiality of the western coast atmosphere. More than what Sutherland’s character wears, it’s how he wears it. His outfit specifically is rather understated, opting for the all black, but nevertheless he has a distinct coolness in his long leather overcoat, leather pants, leather boots, AND leather gloves…I’m sensing a pattern here and I’m loving it. The contrast between his ultra white hair and his all black attire is such a bold contrast, and he has a definitive English Travelever look about him that’s ultra slick with a layer of grime, making his trashiness ultimately sexy.

The other vampires opt-in for more distinctive looks that speak more than the characters actually do.  Paul, Dwayne, and Marko definitely fit more into the West Coast Sunset Strip delinquents vibe, opting for the fitted ripped jeans, big hair, and jackets adorned with patches, studs, and safety pins. The tops underneath are something to behold in their own way; mesh tanks and crop tops under leather (my heart just can’t take it!). Just like Nic Cage in Wild At Heart, their jackets are a symbol of their individuality, and their belief in personal freedom–possibly; we honestly don’t know anything about these guys other than they’re hot and mean. Marko’s jacket in particular is alluring just because he himself has a Baroque style angelic face, and his jacket uses so many rich warm tones with all the patches and tapestry squares that look almost like an Italian church mural. Perhaps the best element of the vampires and their 80s makeover is the detailing of their blood. The special effects makeup artist totally transformed not only their faces but he specifically added glitter to the fake blood, heightening the glam element of these vanity vamps. This evokes a very new generation of expectations for the undead as they adapt to the world around them more than being isolated from change.

The Lost Boys presents the sexiest iteration of vampires of all time. Before the Cullens, before Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, there was Kiefer Sutherland with a cigarette behind his ear and my heart in his hands.

Blog Director Guides

The Middlebrow Rebellion of Alex Ross Perry

Among his generation of late-millennial filmmakers, Alex Ross Perry is one of the hardest to get a read on. While his late-30s New York contemporaries often fall into neater categories, Perry is difficult to pin down because his influences are so broad, his style so unique, and his decisions so unpredictable that he resists easy labeling. Trying to follow the plot of his career is tricky- how exactly did the guy who made acidic no-budget comedies about nuclear war and [REDACTED]  write a movie about Winnie the Pooh? 

Perry is nothing if not an iconoclast, and his unashamed reference points are all over the map. The domestic dramas of Rohmer, Cassavetes, and Bergman, carry just as much weight as the literary worlds of Pynchon and Philip Roth; he’s spoken at great length of his love for both Nora Ephron and Paul Verhoven. Perry’s casts are eclectic- they include prestige TV stars, Wes Anderson favorites, Beastie Boys, and in one infamous example, himself. His dialogue is far from naturalistic, and the word salad he puts his actors through sits in opposition to the camerawork of Sean Price Williams, Perry’s DP on all of his films and a vital piece of his puzzle. Williams’ camera is usually hazy, soft, and close, keeping any of the heady verbal sparring from feeling too stately. 

Perry’s films often work in spite of themselves, both in the watching and in the making- Perry is notorious for touting his ability to work with small budgets, and even threatened to retire after the financial failure of his most recent film, 2018’s Her Smell. This dichotomy is the best summation of all that makes Perry fascinating- his rebellious streak is one that cries out for something traditional, lamenting the death of middlebrow mid-budget cinema and his place in it with the fervor of an arthouse zealot. It’s here that I find something exciting, and something to latch onto in his unique career- I can only hope that perhaps you’ll find that too. 

An Essential: Her Smell (2018)

All Parts: A Review of Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell | Newcity Film

Her Smell is the best Alex Ross Perry film by a good margin. This is not to knock any of his other films, but it would be silly to ignore this film’s power and its status as the culmination of Perry’s career so far. It’s a whirlwind story about a fictional grunge band helmed by Elisabeth Moss at her most unchecked, combining over the top scenarios with a neat five-act structure. The unraveling of an unwell woman becomes the undoing of a lifetime of pain and a career of success, as Moss’ Becky Something sucks everyone around her into a harrowing vortex. Perry’s best idea was to focus on a fictional band, eschewing the facts of any one person for the larger spiritual truth of a moment in time and the universal truths of damaged people with large stages. 

Moss gets to be both Courtney and Kurt, and she’s also tapped into a larger cinematic tradition as well, especially channeling Gena Rowlands in Cassavetes’ Opening Night. The film zooms in on individual moments, cutting away needless context or exposition in favor of letting us infer the painful events that occur between sections. The film bears a few similarities to Uncut Gems– both late-10s portraits of powerful and dangerous people, both intent on stressing you the hell out- but Perry diverts from the Safdie brothers by both redeeming the protagonist and setting it up so that you don’t want that to happen. Some critics asked what exactly was the purpose of the film, but if you’re intrigued by intimate character studies, bold acting, and backstage music drama, the overall experience of the film is nothing to question. 

Next Step: Listen Up Philip (2014)

Listen Up Philip review | Sight & Sound | BFI

Perry’s breakout starts out as a ridiculous farce at the expense of petulant intellectuals and New York City writer types before melting into a slow and somber look at emotional isolation and the danger of following your indulgences too far. The loaded cast (Jason Schwartzman, Jonathan Pryce, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter) and sepia-toned visuals set the stage for brittle comedy and intrigue, while the structure undercuts the expectations of festival-friendly indie films, a favorite trick of Perry’s (more on that later). Eric Bogosian’s narration sets up a charming and spry little black comedy, but when the perspective shifts from Schwartzman’s Philp to Moss’ Ashley, the film morphs into something more emotionally curious and sentimental. 

A Deep Cut: The Color Wheel (2011)

The Color Wheel,' Directed by Alex Ross Perry - The New York Times

Perry’s second film is the only one to star himself, and the darkness and unlikeability of both his character and the film itself brings to mind a legend about why Martin Scorsese cast himself as the horribly racist freak in Taxi Driver– the answer being that he didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone else to say those lines. Perry and Carlen Altman, the cowriter and costar of the film, play a brother-sister duo who are completely unlovable, both abounding in casual racism, cruelty, and open disregard for social niceties. Perry creates a brilliant and caustic portrait of family bonds and emotional sickness that knowingly inverts the types of road trip rom-coms that get eaten up at Sundance, creating a transgressive and upsetting experience by doing what he does best- stripping the core from a well-trod exterior and replacing it with something broken. 

Blog Retrospectives

Specula-tion: A Twin’s Take on Dead Ringers

I am an identical twin. I weighed about three pounds at birth, my brother weighing five. Together, we constituted the birth weight of an average child. I was sickly, hemorrhaging in the brain and suffering with a heart murmur, so despite coming first in the birth order, I would not be home for another two weeks. The doctors found that some of my complications in birth came from malnutrition as a result of twin-to-twin transfusion: my brother was draining me of my nutrients. From that moment on, I was always a bit stunted, always weight class below him when we wrestled, always a few inches shorter, always a bit more sickly. We had times of resonance, freakishly speaking at the same time saying the same thing in debate tournaments, where we were partners, or accidentally dressing the same without meaning to. Despite those brief moments of overlap, though, we were always just off, similar, but not congruent.

Dead Ringers hyperbolizes these moments of symmetry and difference. Beverly and Elliot (both played to perfection by the lovely Jeremy Irons) embody this leading and lagging fraternity in a perverse thriller that you have to see to believe. It has all of Cronenberg’s most notable traits: body horror, fetishism, and an unparalleled mise-en-scène that draws you into the mutant worlds and pathological minds of the characters in the film. A bit uneven at times, slogging in its back half, the film is somewhat lower on the totem pole of David Cronenberg’s work, but it’s an alluring and upsetting watch to add to your October horror rotation.

The film opens with one of the best expository scenes I’ve ever seen. Over black, we see the time and location of the twins as young children, opening with them very scientifically discussing sex. Fish have it differently because they live underwater, one explains to the other, the other preferring it that way as you don’t have to touch another person to do it. The conversation is quite clinical, unsettling out of the mouths of babes, but plainly a mark of their precocity more than anything else. Not a moment later do the twins collude: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” It’s something I’ve said to my own twin many times, our adolescence spent playing tricks on our teachers by pretending to be the other in class. Of course, what follows is decidedly less innocuous, the twins approaching a girl their age and asking her to have sex with them both in their bathtub as “an experiment.” She understandably responds in shock and threatens to tell her father, but not before responding with a street-smart that contrasts their veneer of scholarly interest: “Fuck off you freaks… Besides, I know for a fact you don’t even know what fuck is!” The whole sequence is less than three minutes but clearly establishes our characters’ relationship with each other, aptitude for all things biological, the perverse way in which they use it.

The film quickly hits its stride with the two precocious scientists subbing in for each other to maximize the use of their time, this questionable act becoming especially upsetting when used for its sexual component as Elliot passes women off to the meek Beverly. An archetypal virgin and Chad meme if there ever was one, the contours of their difference begin here, the film presenting Beverly in bookish glasses and non-threatening sweater/button-down combinations that starkly contrast Elliot’s proto-Patrick Bateman suits (Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter’s respective wardrobes in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal certainly find touchstones here). The film’s unsettling atmosphere continues pretty constantly for a while until Beverly’s depressive state sees him go the way of Sheriff Truman in season two of Twin Peaks, killing the film’s momentum for a few beats, but setting up the fascinating disequilibrium between the twins that ushers in the third act. Stay for Irons’ unsettling performance(s), some nightmarish surgical garb that resembles some kind of occult ritual more than actual medical procedures, and one of Cronenberg’s purest images of fetishism in the form of Beverly’s made-to-measure, unsettling gynecological tools, a simple use of a phallic image to respond in kind for Beverly’s sense of emasculation and castration fears.

The film’s minor pacing problems aside, it’s really a treat. It’s perversion manifested in a cinematic space, the grotesque unconscious made visible through a dream screen that uses the horror/thriller genre’s conventions to discuss taboo topics, from quasi-incestuous pairings to medical fetishism. Put simply, the vibes are off, and the film offers a hole in the wall that puts on display all kinds of nasty thoughts. The film is at once erotic and contemptible, using visual spectacle in the mise-en-scène and striking imagery to seduce while the narrative’s sexual neuroses and unhealthy twin dynamic repulse. Forget about The Shining or Sisters for your twinsploitation horror this October; Dead Ringers doubles down on the subject with a clarity of perspective that milks the image of identical twins for all its strangeness while still giving it the gravity it deserves.

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On Limitations and Lynch – Premonitions Following an Evil Deed

At this point, the insight that limitations are often the makings of great art has crossed the gap into becoming truism. Single locations, shoestring budgets, or amateur actors have yielded great results within the realm of filmmaking. But rarely do these restrictions ever materialize as mechanical. The Dogme 95 movement springs to mind, emphasizing handheld camerawork and natural light as requirements, but these prescriptions lessen the burden on the operator to encourage experimentation before mandating restraint. In terms of a perfect example of obstruction breathing life into film, one exhibit towers above all others — David Lynch’s Premonitions Following an Evil Deed. A 55 second short part of the Lumiere and Company anthology film, the film was shot on the anachronistic cinematograph camera, given three takes to get any given shot, using only natural light, barred from shooting synchronous sound, and an arbitrary mandate that once the camera starts, the take must be finished out. Through this chaste framework, Lynch was able to translate his ideological project into silent tableau vivants, creating a work both succinct and purposeful, an true outlier in the Lynchian corpus.

The assault of images within Premonition are so convoluted it almost evades explanation — police approach the body of a dead woman, a worried housewife in a kitchen, a woman distressed arising from a bed, men in a hellish factory setting engaging in steampunk sadomasochism, brought full circle by the police emerging into the kitchen of the worried housewife. Lynch distilled down to his most pure essence, this image assault can be unpacked with the director’s auteurist mission statement of “I love factories and nude women,” assembling a greatest hits of imagery throughout his career. The opening of police happening upon a brutalized body among bucolic window dressing, immediately reminiscent of Laura Palmer, found wrapped in plastic in the Twin Peaks pilot. The suburban interiors evoke the interstitial scenes of Lost Highway or Blue Velvet’s daytime sections, and its final horrors unmistakably Lynchian (it seems of no coincidence to me the tormentors in the short are in jumpsuits buttoned to the collarbone, their distended skulls resembling a wild pompadour, for once Lynch willing to indict himself rather than hind behind folksy aphorisms).

While almost incomprehensible in summary form, it coheres to form the same statement it took Twin Peaks 30 hours of network television, a feature film, and 18 hours of premium cable indulgence to form, and still not stick the landing. Much the same as the show, it eventually reveals that underneath suburban purity lies a powerful evil, that perversion exists in equal and opposite abundance in the sunniest of settings. Much like Fire Walk With Me, Premonitions presents a full sampling of the Lynch auteur fixations in a compacted form, a Tik-Tok length condemnation of Americana, and quite possibly his most fully realized work.