Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Second Rule of Fight Club is, DO NOT Blog about Fight Club

In the previous blog, I discussed many of the various elements of cool that Fight Club encompasses. Although these individual elements can be found in other films, I can’t think of any movies that incorporate all or even most of them. Fight Club takes cool to another level. Everyone has their own opinions of what are the coolest movies of all time. Many people have even complied lists and post them on various sites for discussion. Some movies are debated, but I don’t think anyone can deny the cool of Fight Club.

It is extremely difficult to compare Fight Club to other films because it is a unique combination of so many different genres, as well as types of cool. Fight Club is much like Identity (2003) in the fact that the main character in both has some sort of personality disorder. The narrator becomes Tyler Durdan when he blacked out or thinks he’s asleep. In Identity, Malcolm Rivers is a psychotic killer that has multiple personalities that interact with each other in his mind. Whenever one of the murderous characters kills another in his head, he kills someone in real life. The use of personality disorders creates interesting films and makes for tremendous twist endings, like in both of these films. The twist ending is an extremely cool element, but Fight Club is a much cooler film than Identity.

Fight Club
obviously has many elements a fight movie. Fight movies are all about the action and the violence. A good example of a typical fight movie is the recently released Fighting. Not one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen, but some pretty impressive fight scenes. Fighting captures a similar style of bare-knuckle fight scenes that are in Fight Club. The characters in Fighting enter fights for the prize money and for pride, completely different from the men in Fight Club. The thrill and excitement of the fight scenes in both movies is the same even though the surrounding context is not. Pride and money are not noble motives and for that reason Fight Club wins again in the cool contest. David Fincher created a revolutionary film that combined a wide variety of genres and types of cool together with innovative cinematography. Fight Club is modern classic that should be on everyone’s top film list.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The First Rule is Do Not Blog about Fight Club

I have always heard people quote Fight Club, but I have never actually seen the film until this week. I was pleasantly surprised because I was honestly expecting a fight movie. As soon as realized the twist in the ending, I was kind of shocked and immediately thought I need to watch this again.

I believe that Fight Club was a great choice to end the semester because encompasses so many different aspects of cool that we discussed. One of the most prevalent elements of cool throughout the film is cool satire. The film satirizes capitalism and consumerism. The main example that the film uses to represent consumerism is Ikea furniture. In a similar fashion to Robocop, the satire in Fight Club provides lighthearted humor to an otherwise extremely intense movie. Towards the end the film also satirizes the subversion that is essentially the solution to the first problem. Project Mayhem becomes a cult and the film satirizes the members’ undying devotion to Tyler Durdan.

Another important element of cool in Fight club is cool escapism. The narrator escapes from his life by creating Tyler Durdan, a separate personality that comes out when the narrator blacks out and thinks that he is asleep. Tyler is the narrators escape from the life of a consumer, working a boring 9 to 5 job. The narrator’s escape through Tyler, can be compared to the escape that Tony Manero, from Saturday Night Fever, feels when he is on the dance floor.

Many of the elements of cool we have seen in film throughout the semester are also present, but in smaller amounts. There is cool love like in the film Jules et Jim. The narrator, Tyler and Marla have a pretty dysfunctional love triangle just like Jules, Jim, and Catherine. Cool imitation is also present. Allan looks up to Bogart in Play it Again, Sam and tries to imitate his cool. In Fight Club, all of the members idolize Tyler and try to be as cool as he is. Cool criminality is definitely a part of Project Mayhem. Like the gangsters in The Public Enemy, the members of Project Mayhem the city by committing a variety of crimes in the night. All of these elements of cool wrapped into a single films makes for one of the coolest movies I have ever seen in my entire life. I can’t believe I had not seen it prior to this week. Fight Club definitely made my favorites list.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tarantino is Cool

Quentin Tarantino was a high school dropout working at a movie rental store that became one of the most influential directors. Reservoir Dogs (1992) was Tarantino’s first film. His new take on the heist movie is totally cool. He was the first to use such an extreme amount of gore and obscene language that brought back the idea of an adult movie (R rated). This amount of gore paved the way for many horror films such as Hostel, the Saw series, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Tarantino also uses the non-linear fractured time line in Reservoir Dogs to add interest and mystery. The fractured time line is rare, but can now be seen in films like Seven Pounds and Following. Tarantino also focuses on long seemingly pointless conversations away from the action in order to further develop characters. All of these characteristics allowed Tarantino to successfully change the idea behind crime/action movies while creating an incredibly cool movie at the same time.

It’s hard to think of any directors that are a cool as Tarantino because no one has combined all of these elements to create such a revolutionary film. One film that was obviously influenced by this new idea of the crime/action movie is Burn After Reading (2008) written and directed by the Coen brothers. Although Burn After Reading focuses more blatantly on the comedic, it includes a lot of the pointless conversations that help to develop characters and almost every major character is dead by the end of the film. Many of the characters are killed as a result of misunderstanding and they do not know something that the audience does in the same way that Mr. White is killed because he doesn’t realize that Mr. Orange is the rat. It is also similar in the extreme amount of obscene language and includes a lot of lewd subject matter that is not necessarily related to the plot. Although Burn After Reading is pretty cool, the one element that this movie is lacking is the fractured plot line so it lacks some of the mystery.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"What's Hot" vs. "What's Not"

“Hot” / “Not”

Spirituality / Agnosticism
Facebook /My Space
Playing in a band / Playing in the band
Capitalism / Socialism
Target / Wal-Mart
Intelligence / Stupidity
Sex / Prostitution
Snowboarding / Snow skiing
High GPA / Studying
The Colbert Report / The Late Show
PC / Mac
Soldiers / War
Rock music / Rap
Nerds / Dorks
Drugs / Addiction
Nonchalance / Desperation
Trees / Tree huggers
Vintage clothes / Abercrombie and Fitch
Equality / Affirmative action
Being the best / Thinking you’re the best

This list is in no particular order and is only my opinion of what’s cool in today’s culture. I’m sure there are several items on the list that people are bound to disagree with me about, but I think it’s pretty accurate. The first item on the list happens to be one of the most controversial: Spirituality vs. agnosticism. Although it seems that agnosticism seems to be a growing trend in the United States, I would like to argue that it is not cool. Being an agnostic is basically refusing to take a stance one way or another. I’m not trying to argue that religion is cool, but that not standing up for your opinion or not using your brain for long enough to have your own opinion is not. To claim that agnosticism is cool would be the same as saying laziness or lack of original thought is cool. I believe that laziness and lack of original though would definitely make the “not” side, therefore agnosticism should do the same.

Some of the pop cultural items on the list such as rock music, nerds, snowboarding, and Facebook are temporary. They will change over the years and are more susceptible to personal opinion. I realize that some people think rap music is cool (even though they are wrong). If you had people from different areas and different generations compile a similar list, the pop culture items would vary quite a bit. On the other hand, I think there are certain things that will always be considered cool, such as equality, intelligence, and being the best. As well as things that will always be uncool, like war, desperation, and hopefully socialism.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning was filmed to introduce the transgender ball culture of the African American and Latino community. The film was released after homosexuality had become a popular subject in the news with the AIDS crisis and after Madonna had released a new song “Vogue” about the voguing dance movement. The notion of homosexuality was no longer unheard of, but it was widely rejected conservatives, religious groups, and others. AIDS was even used as an argument for God’s disfavor against homosexuality. Paris is Burning is one of the first films to portray members of the LGBTQ community in a role other than for comedic relief.

Since the release of Paris is Burning, there have been many films on that include homosexuality for purposes other than humor, and some films have a member of the LGBTQ community as the main protagonist. One such film is Philadelphia (1994), where a gay attorney, named Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), with AIDS is discriminated against and fired for his condition. Other lawyers will not represent him in a discrimination case because of their own homophobia, and he is forced to begin working on the case in which he will represent himself. Eventually Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) realizes that Beckett is being treated unjustly by society and decides to help in with the case. Philadelphia puts out a similar point to Paris is Burning. Both films show that transgenders or gays are real people, not so different than you and me, and should be treated better. However, they accomplish this in very different ways.

Paris is Burning
is different than other films on this subject because it is a documentary of the lives of drag queens in New York. It is important that it’s documentary because it gives an accurate depiction of what was going on and not some filmmaker’s interpretation of the actual events. Although there is not a well defined plot line that draws the viewers in to story, the fact that they are real people makes the documentary very impactful. The film simply presents the lives of its subjects and lets the audience make their own opinions. The documentary tends to be a fairly rare form of film, especially among films that are released theatrically. Recent documentaries that have gained great fame include Super Size Me (2004) and March of the Penguins (2005). Documentaries do not do so well in the box office because some people have preconceptions that they are boring, but these movies all have one thing in common. They present a certain point through actual footage of real events.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Got to Be Real

Paris is Burning (1990) is a documentary about the homosexuals, drag queens, and transgenders of New York City in the 1980s. The film is a wonderful peek into the brightly colored world of balls, vogueing, and life in the streets. The people that are shown in the film are living in the most poverty stricken neighborhoods of New York and most were abandoned in some way by their parents. The members of this community should be admired for facing adversity, finding a new family, and striving for a better life. Although this culture is intriguing at first glance, I am not sure that it can be considered cool.

The underground houses and balls formed their own culture and their own idea of what they found cool. The styles and fashions that this group found cool were on obvious display through the balls. The winners of the competition were those that looked the best and had the coolest outfit. The main criterion that was used in judging these competitions is “realness.” Realness was a term used by this community to grade how well you’re able to blend or well you’re able to portray a certain role. The competitions had a huge array of categories that range from masculine roles such as military or college student to extremely feminine ones like school girl or beauty. This concept of realness is ironic because what is actually judging is how good you are at being fake (or at least being something you’re not). The coolest drag queens were the legends and up and coming legends, who were the most convincing or real.

Coolness, however, is not only determined by your own group of friends, but cool is dependent on the opinion of the public community as a whole. From footage in the documentary, it is obvious that transvestites and homosexuals were not well received by others in New York City at the time it was shot. Often people or groups that become cool are at first rejected by society. Think of the grunge music that also started in the 80s. The first grunge bands were looked down upon by society, before the genre gained popularity. In reference to how cool was defined at the beginning of the semester, the drag community would fall into the category of dissident cool. The members of the houses ignored the negative comments and continued to live their lives in whatever fashion they felt like. Now many members of this culture have become extremely successful in the fashion industry, therefore I find that this cultural has followed a common pattern of cool.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cool Satire

Robocop is not your average eighties action flick. The satire about political practices works perfectly with the action genre. The main targets of the film are over privatization, and the deterioration of humanity. Satire and action work great together because action movies are already completely over the top with explosions, chase scenes, and of course some blood and gore. Since satire uses exaggeration to make a point, it fits hand and hand with the action genre.

Other genres can also work with satire, and one of the most common is comedy. Donna used the example of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Satire is easily incorporated into comedies because satire is comedic itself. Even though Robocop is an action movie the satire causes many comedic moments in which I laughed out loud. One of my favorite comedic satires is Airplane (1980). Airplane takes the disaster film genre, and through extreme hyperbole turns it into a genius comedy. The situation of an airplane crew getting food poisoning and not being able to the land the plane is totally ridiculous. The satire is not as profound as it is in Robocop because it is simply commenting on another genre. Although Airplane does not provide any great political or economic revelations, it is equally as entertaining.

My favorite satire film of all time would have to be O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). O Brother, Where Art Thou? is an adventure film that uses satire to show the public the evils of the South. The film parallels Homer’s The Odyssey, and makes references to the classic satire Sullivan’s Travels. The dangers of the South are revealed through Big Dan a con man who pretends to be a Bible salesman in order to rob people of their money. It is later revealed that Big Dan is a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The film also comments on less than noble politicians with Pappy, the Governor of Mississippi, whose true colors are shown when he’s not standing behind the microphone on the campaign trail. I think that O Brother, Where Art Thou? should be considered a classic because it combines the adventure genre with the comic elements of satire, and manages to comment on Southern society at the same time.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Robo Satire

At first glance, Robocop seems like just another cheesy 80s action movie. The quality of the movies lies in the satire. The movie uses comedy and exaggeration to warn on the public about the evils of corporations, over-privatization, and Reaganomics. Although privatization is known to increase efficiency, innovations and etc, Robocop is making the point that privatizing things like prisons, hospitals, the police force, or even the military can lead to disaster because of the lack of checks and balances. It is the social commentary that is wrapped up in the action and the comedy that makes this movies genius. I think that there were probably many people that have seen the movie as nothing more than explosions, blood, and gore with a touch of sci-fi. For the majority of the movie the satirical elements are quite obvious, but it would not surprise me if people with little knowledge of politics and economics made it through the whole movie completely oblivious to the satire.

The other element of the movie that I think went beyond the useless blood and gore is the explorations of humanity. Many movies have shown how machines can go bad and attack the people who created them. The ED 209 is the perfect example of this view of robots. However, there is something different about Robocop (Murphy). Robocop still has a human element which prevents him from firing on innocent bystanders, like the ED 209. Some people may think that Robocop’s trip to his house, the pictures of his family, and his friendship with Officer Lewis is sort of hokey, but I think it is an important part of the film. Other characters in the film such as Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker are so ruthless that they lack the ability to humane. It is ironic that in the end the Robocop is more human than his advisories. By having the robot as the humane character, Verhoeven is making a point about awful people have become.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Save the Last Disco

Saturday Night Fever (1977) is about young people in New York during the late 70s. They use sex, alcohol, and disco to keep their minds off of their less than promising futures. The main character Tony Manero (John Travolta) who works at a hardware store to make enough money to hang out with his friends at the local disco. Dance is the one bright spot in Tony’s life. When Tony is on the dance floor, he is dominates and is totally cool. Tony uses dance as a form of escapism, but escapism in itself is not cool. The rest of Tony’s life pretty much sucks (that’s why he feels the need to escape from it).

Save the Last Dance (2001) is a modern day Saturday Night Fever. Both films are set in poor neighborhoods in New York, where dance is the most important thing in the eyes of the youth. Save the Last Dance and Saturday Night Fever are not plot heavy, but they lead up to a dance finale like most dance films. The films focus on the everyday lives of their characters. Racism plays an important role in both films. It can be seen that in over twenty years the race situation has improved, but not dramatically. Save the Last Dance shows people overcoming racism through the relationship of Sara and Derek. Saturday Night Fever shows the same thing by Tony’s realization that the Puerto Rican couple deserved to win the dance contest. Although these films parallel in many ways they have vastly different endings. Sara finds success in the end when she gets accepted to Juilliard, and her future looks bright. Although Tony makes the decision to move to Manhattan with Stephanie, he has no education beyond high school and no skills that would be useful in finding a better job. His future is still questionable.

One of the most important aspects of a great dance movie is great music. The best dance movies use popular music from the current time period, and make these songs even more popular. I had never seen Saturday night Fever until last week, but I had heard most of the songs from the soundtrack hundreds of times. Who hasn’t heard “Disco Inferno, “Stayin’ Alive,” and “Boogie Shoes”? There is usually a dance movie every few years that gains great popularity because of the music. Some examples are Footloose, Dirty Dancing, and Step Up.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ohhhh, The Horror

One of the oldest genres of film has become one of the most hated by critics in recent years. Yes, I’m talking about horror movies. Georges Melies is credited by many with creating the first horror film in 1896, Le Manoir du diable, a silent two minute short. The genre has continued producing classics in every decade. Some of the most famous include Frankenstein (1931), Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1980), and Urban Legend (1998). Some horror films have been more respected than others, but in general they are considered to be low-quality and lacking substance, especially in recent years with films like Hostel and the Saw series. Some of these are a little too gory, but overall I find horror to be one of the most entertaining genres.

My personal favorite horror film is original 1980 version of The Shining, although the remake is not bad. It is the perfect combination of ghosts haunting a young boy (Danny) and an alcoholic father that has lost his mind (Jack Torrance). Like most horror films it starts out slow, and then slowly builds the tension, fear, and anxiety until a dramatic ending. The film is based on the novel by Stephen King, one of the best horror writers of all time. Although there are several differences between the book and the film, they are both extremely frightening. No matter how many times I watch it, I always end up scared.

I will admit that there is not much to take away from a horror film, except a good time. Horror films are not made to be enlightening, inspirational, or anything else that might be considered as an aspect of good filmmaking. Horror films have one purpose: to scare the crap out of the viewers. It’s fun to be scared without actually being in danger. It seems kind of odd to think of being scared as fun, but fear gets your heart beating and adrenaline pumping. It’s like anything else that produces an adrenaline rush (such as a roller coaster) exciting, entertaining, and fun. The horror genre is quite large and consists of many different types including slashers, ghosts, zombies, demons, killer animals, etc. Regardless of the subject matter all horror movies accomplish the same goal. When it comes to horror films, the only thing that is important is the reaction of the audience. How scared are you?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shaft: A Badass Minority

Shaft is cool because is a badass. I think that is Shaft was white he would still be cool. A good example of this type of cool is Bruce Willis as John McClane in the Die Hard series. McClane and Shaft are both typical tough guys from law enforcement. They also both bend the rules and break laws in order to take out the bad guys for the betterment of society. McClane also does everything to save his daughter, much like Shaft rescues Bumpy’s daughter. Both men are heroes because they take out the bad guys, but unlike Batman or other superheroes they are not displayed as having good morals.

Shaft is also cool because he is a minority being successful in a white man’s field (law enforcement). President Obama is cool because he is a minority that has found extreme success in politics, a white dominated world. President Obama will go down in history as the first African American president, he will always be looked up to and respected for this feat. It doesn’t matter if his presidency is extremely successful or not; he will still be cool because he was the first minority president.

Is Shaft cool because he’s black or because he’s a badass? The answer is both. Shaft is cooler than Obama and McClane because he embodies both types of cool in one man. Being a successful minority badass is twice as cool as just being a successful minority or just being a badass. People or characters that have both these types of cool are used in lots of films because their coolness is so attractive to moviegoers. A modern day Shaft is Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas in American Gangster(2007). Although Lucas is a gangster and definitely not a part of the law enforcement field like Shaft, he shares the same exact same cool as Shaft (minus the cheesy jive lingo).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can Ya Dig It?

Shaft(1971) was one of the first black films to do well in the box office. I think it is great that Parks was able to break down barriers in cinema that prevented prior black filmmakers from reaching success. I think the main reason why Shaft was so successful is that it appealed to the black audiences instead of trying to reach white audiences. Although Shaft was a huge success, I don’t necessarily think it was a great movie. It was just one more in a long line of exploitation films ridden with sex and crime, only the writers, directors, and actors happen to be black. Shaft remains an important film because it created a market for more black films to be produced, not because of its quality. The best part of the movie was the funk music by Isaac Hayes that won an Oscar for best music, original song.

So the question is why Shaft did so well in theaters. The simple answer would be because John Shaft is cool. He’s a private eye and a total badass. He’s a “sex machine” and a bit of a gangster. Shaft never loses his cool from beginning to end. He starts out walking down the street making traffic stop for him. The movie ends with him saving the day, and making Vic Androzzi clean up the rest. Not only can he beat up other gangsters and throw them out windows. He seems to have control over white men too, at least over Vic Androzzi. I think this idea that a black man could be himself, be gangster, and be successful in a white dominated law enforcement industry is why John Shaft has become such an icon.

John Shaft is definitely cool, but is he moral. As the theme song states, “he’s a complicated man.” I think the argument could go either way; there is plenty of evidence supporting both sides. Shaft did execute several mafia members and slept around with lots of prostitutes. His ventures in gangster life make us think that Shaft is an immoral man that’s motivated by money, sex, and his own ego. However, there are several small scenes throughout the movie where we see Shaft as a kind individual. He gives a young boy some money for food, and pays the woman whose door he breaks down. Most importantly, I believe that Shaft is willing to help Bumpy find his daughter because she is innocent. Bumpy is one of Shafts enemies and I don’t think Shaft would be willing to help him just for the money. Overall I think that Shaft is a moral person that is helpful to those who are innocent, but shows no mercy to the gangsters or mafia.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Drugs in Film

Easy Rider is an American classic about the 60s counterculture movement. The film has many memorable scenes about the use of the drugs. Drug use became prevalent in the 60s, and Easy Rider brought it to the big screen. It not the first film to show drug use, but it is certainly one of the most famous.

My favorite scene from the movie was the one where Billy, Wyatt, and George are sitting around the campfire smoking marijuana. They are obviously high because they can’t stop laughing, and enter a discussion about UFOs. There are tons of other movies and television shows with of people passing around marijuana and talking about random things that don’t make a whole lot of since. A good example of this is That 70s Show. In every episode there is a scene where the camera pans around the table to each person as they laugh and make random comments in a smoky room. Another classic film about marijuana use is Reefer Madness. It is an interesting film because it portrays marijuana use under the pretense stated in the forward that it is a menace to society.

My least favorite scene in the whole movie is the acid trip in the cemetery. Rick mentioned that no one is capable of capturing a good acid trip on film much like it is practically impossible to capture the perfect dream sequence on film. I think that dreams and acid trips should be left out of films because they can never relate to everyone. They deal with perceptions of the conscious and/or subconscious, and no two people are alike when it comes to things are perceived and processed. Many people have tried to capture an acid trip from the third person perspective, for example Syd Barrett’s documented acid trip. This documentary form is always boring because everything is occurring within the mind and not much can be seen from an external perspective. Another failure of a trip on film is animated hallucinations, the best example being Alice in Wonderland. The chesire cat, the Queen of Hearts, and army of cards are just a few examples of the ridiculous characters that show up in this fairy tale based off of hallucinations.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's cool about hippies?

Easy Rider (1969) is a movie about the counterculture movement of the 60s and the prejudice that still existed in the South. The road genre allows the film to depict the multitude of cultures that existed within the United States. The journey begins in California and ends in the Deep South. As Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) embark on their quest for freedom, they are first met with hospitality at the farm and the commune. The further south they venture, the more difficulties they find. Eventually they are eventually murdered by the rednecks in a truck. The South is portrayed as a place fearful of progress and the unknown.

The film presents the counterculture movement very accurately because it was filmed during the time period that this movement was taking place. The movie is also interesting because the two main characters Billy and Wyatt portray different aspects of the movement. Billy fills the role of the stereotypical hippie. He smokes marijuana constantly, and is interested only in sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Considering that sex, drugs, and rock and roll are known as the trifecta of cool, you would think that Billy would be the cool character in the movie, but he’s not. Billy is not cool because he is constantly anxious, and never shuts his mouth. Billy’s incessant rambling and his haste make him very obnoxious.

Wyatt, on the other hand, is quiet and removed. I believe that Wyatt represents what is truly cool about the counterculture movement of the 60s. He represents the quest for truth, peace, and freedom. Wyatt does participate in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but that is not his purpose and goal. He is tempted to stay at the hippie commune because they are attempting to create a free and peaceful utopia that he is looking for, but he decides to continue onward with Billy to explore America. One of Wyatt’s most famous quotes is “You know Billy, we blew it.” Wyatt realizes that they failed from the beginning because they set out on an adventure that focused on the glory of money and drugs instead of peace. I think that Wyatt embodies the cool that existed in the counterculture of the 60s with his reflective and loving attitude.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cool Culture of the 60s

Blow-up (1966) is an interesting film because it displays cool not through the main character, but the people that surround him. Thomas is a photographer that runs around all over London with out ever accomplishing much. The film allows us to see the changes occuring in culture at that time period that make the 60s so cool. For example, one evening while Thomas is wandering about he walks into a Yardbirds concert. There was a complete change in style of music during the 60s as well as fashion (also shown in the movie) and various other aspects of culture. Although the movie takes place in London, a very important city for the 60s, the same changes were occuring in many other places during this time period.

The changes that took place in the 60s covered all areas of art, especially music. The most notable and also British form of cool new music in the 60s has to be the Beatles. The Beatles were trendsetters throughout the sixties from their first album Please Please Me in 1963 until their last album Let It Be in 1970. The group started out with a rock and roll style, but experiemented with and mixed various genres together. As the Beatles career progressed, their style evolved. They continued to create new sounds and unconventional effects that would forever change the music industry. In Blow-up, the group of anarchist mimes represent the 60s sentiment that it was necessary to break outside the box to find beauty. Although the mimes were not trying to be cool, they were the coolest people in the movies because they were doing whatever they desired.

The 60s cultural changes first began in the arts such as fashion and music, but then developed into changes in thought and ideals. This movement can be summed up by one word: hippie. The hippies embraced the importance of peace and love. Peace and love are abstract concepts, but hippies still symbolize them. The number of movies and tv shows that reference the movements of the 60s in London and the United States are endless. Blow-up accurately shows that these cultural changes of the 60s were cool and that culture and cultural changes in general are cool.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cool Cities for this Generation

In modern times traveling is fast and easy. Epicenters of cool have sprung up all around the world even in some unlikely places. I think one of the coolest aspects that cities can have today is diversity. Here’s a list of what I consider to be some of the coolest cities currently.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Dubai has become one of the great centers of technological growth, attracting young entrepreneurs from across the globe. Dubai is a modern city full of skyscrapers and even a hotel that can change shapes with individually moving floors. Whether you’re relaxing on the luxurious man-made islands or attending board meeting at one thee five-star hotels, Dubai is definitely a cool place to be.

Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam is a city full of young people with a very liberal and carefree attitude. Many people choose to hang out in cafés to discuss the latest art show or newest philosophy. Others choose to spend their time in the red light district enjoying the legal prostitution and marijuana. Amsterdam is also famous for their festivals of which there are over a hundred with various ethnic backgrounds.

Seattle, Washington: Seattle is becoming one of the most popular places in the United States for young people to move. Seattle has the benefits of being a large city, but also has a wide variety of outdoor activities and great weather. Sailing, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding are just a few of the things that you can enjoy. Seattle is also a leader in the movement towards green technologies.

New Delhi, India: New Delhi is a huge city full of every culture imaginable. Different languages can be heard on every street corner. New Delhi is also the home of most Bollywood productions which are becoming more prevalent worldwide. In New Delhi you can enjoy both the rich history and modern cinema.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Can Women Be Cool?

The “manic pixie dream girl” role that originated with Catherine in Jules et Jim has since become a staple of American cinema. Not all manic pixie dream girls are as violent as Catherine, but they still possess the same qualities of spontaneity, freedom, and a bit of insanity. The term “manic pixie dream girl” was first coined by Nathan Rabin after Kirsten Dunst’s role in Elizabethtown (2005). My personal favorite is Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Another important aspect of the manic pixie dream girl is that they in some way change the male lead. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the role of Ana Pascal, a free-spirited baker that is in trouble with the IRS. She is able to transform the stuffy and slightly OCD IRS auditor, Harold Crick. Crick, played by Will Ferrell, turns down Ana’s cookies, but in the end he cannot resist the allure of the manic pixie dream girl.

Although the manic pixie dream girl is an interesting role, I wouldn’t say that it makes for a cool character. After seeing two popular, but very un-cool roles for women in a row (the manic pixie dream girl and the femme fatale), I began to wonder if it was possible for women to ever be cool. I can think of thousands of women characters that aren’t cool, but the best example is probably Meg Griffin from Family Guy. Meg is totally lacking in any form of cool. She fails at pretty much everything she attempts and is left to wallow in her own misery. It extremely pitiful, but it somehow provides entertainment to others.

I started to think that maybe cool was gender dependent and that is was impossible for women to be cool according to the characteristics that we have discussed. Then I thought about Keira Knightley’s role in the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy. Elizabeth Swann is the coolest female ever. She is competent, confident, and powerful. Elizabeth captures all of these classically cool characteristics without losing her femininity. She can be rescued and rescue someone else a few scenes later. She does not have to try to shatter gender preconceptions to be cool. Elizabeth Swann is the perfect definition of a cool female. So it is possible to be cool and feminine, but it seems to me that this type of role is quite rare. Many women that are portrayed as cool are forced to take on too many masculine characteristics, for example Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. Laura Croft is cool because she kicks ass, but she does not maintain femininity.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jules and Jim

I thought Jules and Jim (1962) was a very strange film, and I didn’t like it that much. However, it did manage to make me think quite a bit. The first thing that I found completely foreign was the style of the French New Wave. All of the jarring edits and freeze frames jerk you out of the film. Truffaut makes you realize that you are watching a movie, by not allowing you to become lost within the story. I had never seen a film put together like this before. I can appreciate all the techniques that were used, but I didn’t really like the style at all. I think part of the magic of movies is to be transported to a different time and place through the screen.

Catherine is the original “manic pixie dream girl.” She is the first cool female character that we have seen this semester. She’s not cool because she takes on typically male characteristics, such as dominance, but because she has complete freedom from gender stereotypes and pre-conceptions. Catherine’s coolest moment is when she races Jules and Jim across the bridge. In that perfect moment she is cool because she is free, spontaneous, and just living in the moment. I don’t think her cool in that moment has anything to do with the fact that she was dressed like a man. Later in the film when Catherine is shown knitting with her daughter, she loses her cool because she is fulfilling the traditional gender role of women. When she shows her dominance over Jules, by repeatedly cheating on him, she starts to fulfill a typically masculine role. I don’t find her cool in that sense either. She is only cool in the moments of complete spontaneity.

Since Catherine is only cool in brief moments, this film made me wonder if it is possible to make cool last. In nearly all of the movies we’ve watched, it seems that at least one character has lost cool by the end. Cool seems to happen in perfect ephemeral moments, for example when Rick says, “Here’s looking at you, kid” in Casablanca. In our first class, we discussed that dissident cool could never be lasting, but that transcendent cool could be. Noir, criminality, imitation, and even the cool that Catherine gains from breaking out of the constraints of gender roles are all forms of dissident cool. Rick’s cool sacrifice seems to be lasting because it’s an example of transcendent cool. Or could it be because it occurs at the end of the movie and that is the lasting impression that we have of him?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Noir: Before and After the 40s and 50s

The style of film noir focuses on darkness, subdued tones and a lack of morality. While watching Double Indemnity, I couldn’t help, but think of the disturbing crime drama Se7en (1995). Se7en does not have all the characteristics of classic noir, such as the femme fatale, but it is completely dark, and almost mocks morality. The serial killer, John Doe, devises an evil plan to kill seven people that are guilty of one of the seven deadly sins. John Doe, played by Kevin Spacey, is trying to make a statement about the poor morality of the urban area, but in doing so he causes seven murders. The film also displays the inherent evil inside of everyone because detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) use corrupt methods such as bribery to catch the killer. The end to the movie is extremely dark. Detective Mills becomes the final deadly sin, wrath, when he kills John Doe over the murder of his wife. This was the ultimate plan of John Doe to prove that everyone has evil within them, even those who are fighting for good.

Se7en also quotes Ernest Hemmingway, who wrote literature and a noir-like style. Most of Hemmingway’s writings are very dark and depressing. My favorite is The Sun Also Rises (1926). The novel describes the lives of ex-patriots living in France after World War I. Although it was published before the film noir movement in America, it has similar themes that resulted from the devastation of war. The book displays a total disregard for morality with constant alcohol abuse and sexual deviancy. Lady Ashley or Brett is the perfect femme fatale. She is completely selfish and repeatedly hurts the main character Jake Barnes, along with several other men. The book is a perfect example of how the lack of optimism that rises in the years after the war leads to the style of noir.

It is difficult to consider whether these characters are cool or not. In Se7en, Detective Mills starts out cool by fighting crime in the most desolate urban situation, but by the end of the movie he falls into the trap John Doe and loses his cool. This is very similar to how the characters of Double Indemnity lose their cool by the end of the film. In The Sun Also Rises the characters may appear cool on the surface, by drinking lots of alcohol and having an ambiguous morality. It seems that as the dark secrets and problems are revealed the less cool all the characters become. I think that film noir is great at revealing true, inner evil that is not apparent on the surface. It is this disclosure that causes the characters of noir to not be cool.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is Noir Cool?

Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff certainly look cool in the above picture, but in Double Indemnity(1944) they may not be as cool as they appear. At the beginning of the film, the dim lighting with lots of shadows is quite compelling. Even the plan to beat the establishment by committing murder and filing a fraudulent insurance claim is cool and appealing in the same fashion as heist movies. However, the purpose of film noir is not to be cool. Darkness, evil, and no happy endings are the main characteristics of film noir.

One aspect that almost all noir films contain is the femme fatale character. The femme fatale is a stronger woman that has the ability to pull the trigger, unlike Ilsa from Casablanca. Phyllis’ criminal side is first revealed when she suggests that she wants to kill her husband and cash in on an insurance claim. By the end of the movie, it is obvious that Phyllis is pure evil. She also killed the first Mrs. Dietrichson, and planned to kill Lola, Walter, and Nino. Phyllis’ only motivation is money and the joy that she finds in being evil. Such wickedness is not cool. The character of the femme fatale is quite different from the typical female role in earlier movies.

Walter Neff has his own inner evil that allows him to be convinced to murder Mr. Dietrichson. Walter has been an insurance salesman for several years and has seen how many people have failed in the attempt to file fraudulent claims. Walter thinks that he has a perfect plan to reach success with a false claim. Walter loses his cool in the end because his plan fails.

In the end, Phyllis and Walter have lost their cool, and the only remaining cool character is Mr. Keyes. Mr. Keyes plays the role of a detective in the form of the claims manager for the insurance company. Mr. Keyes is determined to solve the mystery of what really happened to Mr. Dietrichson, in order to keep up his reputation and to save the company money. Although Mr. Keyes is essentially the good guy in this film, he is not motivated by justice or morals, which adds to the hopelessness and lack of morality. The film noir style revolves around the darkness not only in lighting, but in theme. Mr. Keyes’ face is lit much brighter than the other characters, but if was a truly good and moral character, it would ruin the noir style.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Failure of Imitation

In the pursuit of coolness and women, Allan Felix is constantly trying to be someone his is not. Allan’s red hair and neurotic behavior limit him from becoming his idol, Humphrey Bogart. Although this is a rare movie because it relates so directly to Casablanca, I think that the imitation of cool is extremely common. People from every social classification try to imitate cool to a certain extent, but it is most dramatic in teenagers, especially teenage girls. There are many teenage girls that will do or wear just about anything to be seen as cool by her peers.

This phenomenon is portrayed perfectly in Mean Girls (2004), a movie I have seen at least 10 times. Near the beginning of the movie the cafeteria is outlined with every group of people having their own table. At the center, a group of girls sit that everyone else refers to as the Plastics because they are like Barbie. The majority of the rest of the girls in the school want to be a cool as the Plastics. They all attempt to dress and act like the Plastics, in a similar way to Allan trying to act and talk like Bogart. It seems like there is a theme to imitation; it always fails. Allan never got any women when trying to be Bogart, but when he was just being himself he got his best friends wife to have an affair with him. Cady Heron, played by Lindsay Lohan, succeeds at becoming cool, but fails to get the boy when she pretends that she is not good at math. In the end when she stops acting like a Plastic, she is still cool and she gets the boy. The lesson seems to be that cool cannot be successfully imitated. It seems that imitating cool is usually shown through comedies. I guess because it is funny to watch someone else try extremely hard to be cool, and yet fail miserably.

Another film showing the dangers of imitation is The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Tim Burton’s creativity shows that imitation fails without using humor. When Jack Skellington, bored of Halloween, ventures out of Halloween-town, he finds Christmas-town with Santa Claus. Santa is cool because everyone loves him. Jack decides to have Santa kidnapped in order to take his place as the coolest man in Christmas-town. Although Jack is trying to spread joy, he has no understanding of Christmas and ends up scaring the whole town. Similarly, Allan tries to impersonate Bogart, but isn’t able to and ends up worse off than if he would have just been himself.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Imitating Cool

Many young Christians used to wear their motto on their wrist with the somewhat cheesy W.W.J.D. bracelets. In Play it again, Sam (1972) Woody Allen’s character, Allan Felix, bases everything he does on one motto: What would Bogart do? In his never ending quest to be cool, Allan tries to imitate Bogart’s swagger in order to impress other women. It seems childish for Allan to have this obsession with Bogart, but I think that everyone tries to emulate someone or a group of people at some point in life. For most people, I would say that high school consists of trying to fit in with a certain group or multiple groups.

There are many people that I have looked to for advice on cool in my life. From as far back as I can remember until I was about 14, I wanted to be just like my older sister. In my eyes, she was super cool. I wanted to play all the same sports, wear the same clothes, and listen to the same music that she did. Eventually, I realized that I lack the coordination to be a good athlete, I don’t really care about fashion, and I definitely don’t like rap music. At this point, I gave up on being like my sister and started to follow other examples of cool.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), Hollywood today doesn’t allow for actors/actresses and the roles they play to be inseparable. For this reason, it is very difficult to pick any stars that are worth looking up to for cool advice. I can’t think of one person or character that I have ever thought man that is so cool that is what I want to be just like that person. For a while, I would just follow the latest trends. Wearing whatever clothes and saying whatever things were popular at the time.

More recently (probably within the last two years) I have come to realization that I honestly do not have a great desire to be “cool.” I still have people I look up to for advice, but not when it comes to being cool. Maybe it’s because I have been in a relationship for a long time and I’m no longer trying to impress anyone or maybe I have given up on the idea of ever reaching a cool status, but becoming cool is not something that is a concern for me anymore. I think that from the movie it is obvious that cool cannot be learned or imitated, so maybe we're better off just being ourselves.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is Sacrifice Cool?

Although the topic of this week is cool sacrifice, it is not the act of sacrifice that makes Rick Blaine cool, at first. Rick is cool from the moment his character enters the film. Humphrey Bogart perfectly plays the emotionless tough guy that has been recognized as classically cool. In the beginning of the film Rick is cool because he never “sticks his neck out for anyone” and is not impressed by the social status of others. As the plot progresses, Rick gradually loses these qualities and begins drinking with customers and lending a helping hand. In the final scene, Rick makes sacrifices his happiness, by making Ilsa go with Laszlo to continue the anti-German cause. At this point, it seems that Rick’s attitude is completely opposite from the beginning of the film. Did Rick lose his cool or does this sacrifice make him cool in a different way?

Self- sacrifice alone does not make a person cool. For example, in Titanic (1997), Jack Dawson sacrifices his life to save his true love, Rose. Although Titanic is the number one box office hit worldwide of all time, I don’t think there are many people that would argue that Titanic is a cool movie. Jack, played by the Leonardo DiCaprio, does have some attitude, but he is not a cool character. Jack was a lower class artist that fell hopelessly in love. The sacrifice he made was simply to save Rose’s life. Is sacrifice for the greater cause cooler than sacrifice for a single person? Sacrifice obviously adds intrigue to a film, but does it add coolness?

Tom Powers, played by James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931), has a similar cool to Rick’s at the beginning of Casablanca. They both fill the role of the selfish cool guy. Tom and Rick both take part in illegal activities and are unconcerned about the local authorities. Although Casablanca turns into a romance, Rick has that gangster cool attitude. You can see the pictures below Tom and Rick produce the same aura of cool. These two stories differ in the end. Rick goes soft, but fights for what he believes in, while Tom remains a hardened criminal until the abrupt end to his life. Which character is cooler in the end? Does cool criminality have limits because it is dissident in nature? Is self-sacrifice transcendent cool?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cool Sacrifice

Humphrey Bogart was the perfect actor for the role of Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942). He was able to represent American politics of early World War II through his isolationist personality. From the beginning of the movie, Rick does not seem to have emotional attachments to anyone. He sits back and watches the people that come to his café in Casablanca, Morocco. This portrayal of Humphrey Bogart matches the other tough guy roles that he had played. There is a certain mystery about Rick that plays into his coolness. It is mentioned that he was forced to leave America, but no one knows what happened in his past.

The introduction of Rick’s past with Ilsa Lund reveals his heartache, which is the reason for his current attitude. From the moment Ilsa arrives, it is obvious that there is something different about her. The lighting around her face makes her appear flawless and almost angelic. It is ironic that such a perfect character has caused Rick so much pain. It is this pain that triggered Rick put off the tough guy attitude that makes him so cool. Through his staff, especially Sam, it slowly becomes clear that he still cares about other people. Rick’s sentimental side becomes obvious to Captain Renault when he helps the young Bulgarian couple win enough money to purchase letters of transit to make it to America. Rick’s attitude changes rapidly, and he no longer represents isolationism, but the complete opposite.

I think that Rick decision in the end was one of self-sacrifice for the cause. In a few places it was mentioned that Rick had fought against the Fascists in France; he was supportive of the cause. Victor Laszlo dedicated his whole life to bringing down Germany, after he escaped from a concentration camp. Rick realized that Laszlo truly loved Ilsa, possibly as much as he did, and knew that in order for Laszlo to keep the fight alive he would need the support of his wife. Given this opportunity Rick’s idealistic side could not give up the chance to help bring Germany’s expansion to an end. Although he would be forced to let Ilsa go, he felt better now that he knew that she still loved him and always would. I believe that the choice Rick made was a selfless act for what he cared about most all along, not Ilsa, but the anti-fascist cause.