Friday, November 18, 2011

I Watched Breaking Dawn Pt. 1. - Tell Everyone I Love Them And That I Regret Nothing

UPDATE: I also did a vlog on Breaking Dawn Pt. 2.

-“Why are you writing about it? Why can’t you just enjoy it?”
-“I won’t enjoy it unless I write about it.”

It’s obvious that making fun of Twilight is no longer cool. I’m obviously doing that also, but that’s not what this is doing. I only have a little interest in making fun of Twilight. Like most things I’ve been making lately, it’s up to you to figure out what it is I am doing.

Six or so years ago, I went to a lecture and book signing for Emerson Spartz, a lanky shit super nerd who founded, a fan website capitalizing on the success of the Harry Potter books and films. Also, he did this.

To Azkaban with you! 25 to yuck with no parole! Although I had read all of the Harry Potter books and quite enjoyed them, in all honesty I only went because I had a crush on this.

Despite her, that still didn’t mean that I didn’t have an opinion on how the Harry Potter saga should have ended, it was just that I didn’t really give a shit about what this squirrelly-faced kid speculated about a fictional teenage wizard. The setup for the final book couldn’t have been more perfect. They set the stage for the larger than life battle between good and evil. Lines drawn and stakes set. Let’s go. Who would later become my high school newspaper advisor speculated that Harry would destroy all magic, so that the possibility of evil through magic would cease to exist. The more I thought about it the more it made sense. There was nothing indicating that Voldemort was particularly special, or that someone else couldn’t repeat his legacy with the same social awkwardness, hunger for muggle blood and stack of Megadeath albums. I thought of stories like The Lord of The Rings, Narnia and Star Wars. The protagonist never just won. Something had to die in the hands of good in order to change everything forever. Harry couldn’t just kill Voldemort; he had to kill magic. He had to destroy what was most beautiful and precious given to him in order to end the darkness that overshadowed it. I approached Emerson Spartz with this theory. Little did I know he didn’t give a shit about what I thought. He basically called me an idiot because magic good, destroy magic would be bad. There used to be a video of this exchange online, but it has since been lost. What a tragedy that is.

While in the actual ending Harry did not destroy magic, it was by no means simple. Quite honestly, almost everything thematically happened that would have happened if Harry had destroyed magic, except that there was no physical collateral (save around 8-12 minor characters, that is). I feared a complete happy ending and felt that was what I got. Happy endings have the hardest time being great. Although I ended up liking the ending to Harry Potter, I have never escaped that feeling that Harry got off a little too easy. Perhaps later in life I will learn to love that ending more. Maybe someday happy will be ok.

(I just looked at the release date for Breaking Dawn and the fact just DAWNED on me that this movie won’t come out for over a year. I am going to shove this .docx in a dirty cabinet and revisit in in a year. We might not even be using .docxs anymore! As a reader, this jump won’t appear to be all that long. I would just like to say that I am very sad right now and hope I am happier when I revisit this.)

You guys have no idea how long I’ve been this Twihard. I am so much happier now, but sadly this does not change the fact that this movie is coming out tomorrow, and that I am going to watch it, while sad.

Three things in life confuse me more than anything else- adolescence, vampires, and Mormonism. Twilight has all three. It was for this reason that I chose to tackle the task of watching three movies in that "saga" in one horrible day, documenting my sorrows along the way in a desperate attempt for both enlightenment and attention, one of which I succeeded at attaining much more than the other.

To recap, because I know we all need a recap, because even the thought of not having a recap at this point in this essay would be insane, Twilight is a heartwarming story of an uninteresting, emotionally ambiguous girl enamored with the undying affection of an emotionally torn vampire and a beefcake werewolf (insert picture of beefcake werewolf). The story teaches pre-teenage girls that even in the event of what is most emotionally trying, jumping off a cliff is always an option. Never rule out jumping off a cliff, pre-teenage girls! At least, Bella didn’t. In fact, that was the first thing that came to her mind. "Now this'd be a beautiful death," said Bella as she jumped off a cliff. Let's just watch the movie.

Breaking Dawn – Pt. 1 (2011) – From the director of Dreamgirls

It should be said that it has been years since I have been exposed to Twilight. I had to prime myself with my own writing before watching the movie, which you’re free to also do right here.

The movie opens to a nice quote about leaving adolescence, which the rest of the movie will try to convince us that Bella is an 18-year old big girl now. Then the movie jumps into full-on wedding mode and all of us just start squealing like guinea pigs for the next 40 minutes or so. So Bellward are getting married and have just agreed on the invitations. Upon receiving the invitation, Jacob is furious that they ignored his suggestion and printed it on engraved cardstock, so he rips off his shirt and heads for the hills, assumedly the nearest Hallmark Store to DEMAND to speak to the manager. When we last left Jacob Black, a werewolf who is also an overt rapist and big time dickbag, he was hmph-ing around. He spends most of the movie doing pretty much that. Meanwhile, Edward checks on Bella to see if she has cold feet. “My feet are toasty warm,” says Bella. In classic Edward form, he begins to feel guilty for something that’s not that serious (he used to eat out murderers, don’t ask it doesn’t have anything to do with anything). Suddenly all the Vampire Boys show up to take Edward to his bachelor’s party, because after all, 10,000 year-old boys will be boys. Bella dreams of her wedding, the Volturi (who don’t show up in this entire movie and are in no way a part of the conflict but undoubtedly will be in the final part) are there, and suddenly Bedward are standing over everyone’s dead bodies, a shot almost entirely lifted from Maus. Not soon enough comes the wedding, which is a doozy. A cutesy Iron and Wine song plays over the wedding vows and the two kiss as if (literally) nobody’s there, which is very teen paranormal romance.

An aside about Edward – I think I wrote about my dissatisfaction with the movie’s unrealistic expectation of love before, but this movie certainly takes it to new heights. I mean, shit, Edward takes Bella to Rio de Janeiro so that he can take her somewhere that is even MORE ROMANTIC. John Cusack didn’t have Expedia, but for fuck’s sake. Even Coach Taylor miscommunicates with his wife. Edward Cullen is denied negative human attributes, and him simply being a vampire in love is no excuse for this.

There’s a montage of wedding toasts, which doesn’t serve any purpose, but is actually funny. Jacob shows up after pacing around in the woods for a bit and says to Bella, “kind is my middle name,” which is just a cool thing to say about yourself. Then they get to talking about vampire fucking, and Jacob Kind Black is suddenly christened Jacob I’m Super Shitty The Rest Of The Movie Black, who doesn’t leave the movie until he [spoiler alert] falls in love with a baby. Now, I’m not even going to pretend to know the rules of vampire fucking, but apparently everyone knows that it’s not a good idea if you’re a human. As with so much in these movies, I found myself just going along with it.

Bella is nervous about having sex, feverously brushing her teeth and shaving her legs, which was a genuine depiction of human timidity that made me care about Bella as a character more than anything else previously. AT THE SAME TIME, she was not concerned that having sex with a vampire might kill her, which seemed like a glaring omission. The movie undoubtedly holds some weird conservative views of abstinence and abortion. Take this quote- “Abstaining from human blood makes us more civilized— lets us form true bonds of love.” -A real quote from Breaking Dawn (the book) It made me remember my elementary school WRE (Jesus) class I would take in a trailer outside of school where that one homeless person would break into and sleep at night. (He had mason jars of his urine and rolls of toilet paper stashed on the dashboard of his pickup.) The teacher/pastor once spoke with vague, sappy language why abstinence was inherently special and acceptable in the eyes of God, in her eyes. I was a kid and didn’t know shit about sex or love, and certainly didn’t feel I knew any more after she told us that. Not that I’m saying the movie is doing this, necessarily, but I will say that I find neither incredibly instructive concerning sex nor love.

In a next couple of surprisingly sexy scenes, Edwardella end up sexing. Bella wakes up to a bruised body and ravaged room, because vampires will be vampires. Edward feels bad that he’s kinky and as a result puts Bella in the friend zone, and they do friend stuff. In the greatest stretch of belief required for the movie, we see Edella deep in thought over a chess match.

I almost fell asleep in every scene with Jacob talking to his family, because I somehow cared less about that storyline. But anyway, Shitty’s mom or aunt or maid says to Jacob, “Being any kind of happy is better than being miserable about something you can’t have,” which is a very bold statement that I’m not sure if I agree with. I’m always suspicious of anything that ignores the potential positive benefits of a healthy dose of sadness. I mean, if happy is happy is happy in Twilight, then everyone’s life sucks, and I don’t think life sucks as much as I don’t think happily ever after is something that actually happens.

But before we have enough time to think about it, Bella eats some chicken and throws up, thinking it’s the chicken and not the vampire baby growing inside of her. Then *ding* she realizes her period’s late and *dong* she’s 18 and vampire pregnant. A postulate in the vampire-fucking guidelines states that the baby will kill Bella. We are officially out of the friend zone frying pan and into the baby fire. It has taken well over an hour for us to get to this point, and still there is arguably no conflict in sight. Classic The Twilight Saga.

Everyone debates just what it is inside Bella’s uterus, and it seems like this is meant to be a stupid discussion about abortion that I realllllllly don’t care to read into at all. Jacob tries to convince Bella to have a vampire abortion, which they don’t underline the logistics of (for instance- where is the Planned Parenthood for vampires?)

Back in the Black reservation of Cougar Town, the werewolves all suddenly want to kill Bella, breaking the treaty between the two warring families. The werewolves hang out around the house, because they want to attack when they have the upper hand, or something stupid. The point is Bella has to stay put. Pretty much the last half of the movie is at the house. Edward Yahoo image searches “vampire baby” on his iMac and comes up with Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son,” and Edward is all, “My life is Twilight.” Alice Cullen, the hot manic pixie dream girl, tells Bella that “your fetus isn’t compatible with your body” like it’s a hard drive. Bella’s health worsens because the baby is thirty for blood, so Skeletella drinks blood. Edward even gets her a straw because he is so sweet. She likes the taste, which I found a little odd that the movie would hint that she SHOULD be a vampire.

Bella chooses a dumb baby name that Edward obviously thinks is great, because he’s the “perfect man.” Oh, and while we’re here… “I should be treated like a princess.” –Heidi Montag, The Hills

Bella enters vampire labor and Edward eats the baby out of her stomach, killing Bella. Jacob Shitty Black says to Edward literally seconds after she dies, “You deserve to live with this,” which I thought was cruel, even for Jacob. Upon everyone learning of her death, everyone gets really shitty with the baby. Jacob walks up to Renesmee, intending to kill her, and instead is hit with love at first sight, which is the greatest rebound of rebound king Jacob Black’s life.

5 Things Jacob Black Will Say to Renesmee Cullen-

1. “You kiss just like your mother when she was your age.”
2. “I fell in love with you when you were five minutes old. They don’t call me Jake the Snake for nothing.”
3. “I only date girls my age divided by two plus seven minus 20.”
4. “Your mother used to bite her lip just like that. All the time.”
5. “What do you mean you can’t make it to Tuesday’s NAMbLA meeting?”

Edward is trying to save Bella, injecting her with his venom in order to make her a vampire, but she’s already dead. He bites her all over her body, but with no luck. Jacob goes outside and reveals he fell in love with a baby. Edward says something to effect of, “It’s their most supreme law!” The werewolves leave. Bella wakes up a vampire.

Yes, the resolution of The Twilight Saga- Breaking Dawn: Part 1 is a Deus Ex NAMbLA.

Stray Observations -

• I forgot Anna Kendrick was in this. She’s the best actor in this movie and has the least screen time.
• This movie clocks in at around two hours! That’s pretty long for a movie where not much happens.
• There are a lot of rack focuses in this movie, more than there were in Dreamgirls.
• I was thinking this entire time, “Why doesn’t she have a vampire c-section?” I hope God will be ok with the whole non-vaginal vampire birth.
• Jacob – “Don’t do that.”
Bella – “What?”
• I do not have many stray observations about this movie.

I was trying to remember why I began writing this essay over a year ago with the story of how I spoke with Emerson Spartz at the now closed Borders, and I think I remember why. It wasn’t to compare the two series. Everyone always does that and it doesn’t make any sense. It was the setup of the end of Harry Potter that I found beautiful. "The Half Blood Prince" will always be my favorite book of the series because there was so much that book made me want to happen, so much that it overwhelmed me and made me believe that everything I wanted was impossible. That's a pretty amazing thing for any book to do, let alone a children’s book, and something that I obviously don't feel entering the last chapter of the Twilight Saga. I found it easily the worst movie in the saga as far as storytelling. I now realize why that doesn’t matter, why anything I write will not deter those who care about Twilight. It’s because they care about these non-characters. I used to regard those reasons for caring as stupid, but I’m beginning to think they’re far more intentional. Edward Cullen is hyper-specific because nobody can be Edward Cullen, just as nobody can be Howard Roark or a prince charming character. Bella Swan is vague because we can all be Bella Swan. Many of us have mothers and fathers who will have to “let us go” in the most cliché, Twilight way possible. In the wedding scene, no young woman watching is thinking about Bella Swan. I know I wasn’t. Those who care about Twilight care about themselves, and there is nothing wrong with that.

With that said, here's my video review of the movie.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Love You Thomas Imel

I wanted nothing more than to sleep tonight, for things to be as they were, but they’re not. I prayed to God that they would, that the insatiable feeling of a feeling kept in a hardened self would be loosed, but I’ve always had a hard time letting go. Here’s an attempt. I’m not sure what to do, but I’m trying so goddamn hard.

A couple days ago we were unpleasantly reminded of Thomas Imel’s birthday, a man who was at one point in an early part of my life my best friend. He’s dead now, and I have never come to terms with that, not when I stood by Jamie and learned the news of his coma, nor when I stood by Jessica and learned of the news of his death, nor when I stood over his open casket next to my father while the casket of my childhood was lowered, weeping like a baby while he held my shoulder.

At this moment I am faced with the difficulty of comparing the person I am with the person I used to be. I used to wake up in a room with NASCAR wallpaper, shelves filled with Hot Wheels cars and action figures of superheroes, Nintendo 64 connected to the TV with Mario Kart ready to be played again, and VHS tapes of movies like “The Phantom” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” laying about. My clothes were thrown next to my sleeping bag because it got hot at night in the summer. It was always Sunday, but I never was obligated to go to church if I didn’t want to. I would wake up and call my parents and they would drive me home from my best friend’s house. Accompanying the drive home were the questions, “So what did you do? Who else was there? Did you have any fun?” And while the answers to the first two questions changed, the response to the last always remained the same.

We used to have sleepovers. I remember when Michael Kohlmann locked me up in a dog crate, later feeding me Ritz crackers between the bars. We played stingpong, for whatever reason. We used to take off our shirts and fight one another without managing to hurt ourselves or deal any pain unto each other. We would play videogames until it was midnight, when we would start watching videos on tape and fall asleep in the middle of them. One time we stayed up all night and pretended to fart in Will’s face because he was first to bed. We’d trade Pokemon cards but never play the game that was designed for them. Basketball in driveways, street hockey in basements and soccer in backyards not only served as appropriate sports venues, but also the preferred ones. I would be lying if I claimed to not love every second we wasted.

Somewhere along the way we made mistakes. Things changed, and I pushed away some of my friends and who I used to be. Others chased others, a few picked up addictions and some just got some shitty new friends. Regardless of what we did and whose fault it was, we gave up something we previously loved and that changed who we were. We still look back and think fondly of those times, but still we let it die. We exercised our only viable option, and then we continued to grow up together, but separately.

Thomas Imel was different. What pains me the most is that I don’t know where he ended up after the drift. I can’t remember the last time I talked to him, nor the last MySpace photo comment or time I mentioned him with someone else before I heard that he died.

It was junior year and we were pretty deep into putting on the play when we learned he died a couple days following his accident. It seemed as though we were all pretty close to him in our own ways, or at least it upset us all.

I’m trying to remember what I was going through, and I’m not doing a very great job at that. We had been so close for a sizable portion of my life; my memory of him was frozen in time for so long. I can’t even properly finish the thought, and that’s how I felt. It was empty. For a long while my Mom would have Earla over (his mother) to console her and comfort her. She would ask me to tell Earla about stories I had of him. I contested, “But that was only who he was.” My Mom essentially told me that was all Earla could hold onto, now. My memory of him won’t ever change. It doesn’t even have the option to.

When our bodies go cold and our blood stops, that’s supposed to be it. I’m starting to think it’s only this way if we allow it to be. All we really have is the time we spend together, what we choose to do with that time, and the memories we decide to keep. That’s where life happens. So of the memories I hold of the people I love, thoughts that are in no way up to date or completely accurate or even sometimes realistic, I wonder what makes any of these memories wrong.

I’ve struggled to write about Thomas not only because of my own fear, but also of the fear of impeding on the memory others have of him. I can’t count how many times I have been asked to write about him, and it required a crisis to push me to share this with everyone. I do not wish to make it appear that I am the only person who cares about him (so many do), nor solicit pity merely because I am in grief, because we all grieve sometimes. I merely wanted to present my life with him and what he means to me. Life, because while the knowledge of what was in the face of what is may not yield the act of living any easier, or meaningful or beautiful, it is what we have. I don’t understand why I should feel alone when we have that. Thomas is still the curly-haired kid in his messy room because that’s all I know. And all I know—it’s enough.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

what it's like here

For a production class I'm in, I was assigned to make a city film in the style of some old filmmakers about Bloomington, where I live. Below is the film and a reflection I wrote about it. It'd be a better experience if you watched it in HD and with headphones, or something that's not those shitty laptop speakers they give us.

In communicating the perspective of Bloomington as a space of conflicting and overwhelming stimuli without the crutch of narrative, many stylistic choices of filming and editing were made in the style of Ruttman and Vertov, their thematic elements at time affirmed and others opposed, but recognized.

The three broad topics covered in our film “what it’s like here” are the nature, people, and city of Bloomington, how they interrelate, brush up against each other, and in the end, synthesize. The film is structured similarly to Ruttman’s “Berlin,” the shots of the character in front of the mirror (implying that the mirror is a window to the images) serving as breaks in acts and noting important moments. The man in front of the mirror is James Donald’s man of the crowd, a “kaleidoscope equipped with consciousness,” (Donald, Modern Spaces, p. 84). Assumedly, it is his psyche we are witnessing.

The opening minutes of the film are devoted to displaying these different facets, each wondrous and unconnected. It is only after the character brushes his teeth do these worlds begin to cross through match cuts (the bicyclists, the square door and the rails, et. al.). These interconnections hope to accomplish Vertov’s “progressive reality hidden below the surface details of experience,” that the abundance of these elements can overwhelm (Beattie, City Symphony, p. 11).

Every shot following the chaos displays life in the spaces, be it animals, people, or statues (life preserved through art). The synthesizing of the piece culminates in the last shot of the crows, where we hear diegetic sound that expresses all three facets of Bloomington in the same space. The audience hears the crows, followed by the ambulance, followed by the bell tower. Immediately following these sounds is a cut to a girl sleeping in a dark room, illuminated by what could easily be the previous shot. This shows that she exists in this environment peacefully, choosing to turn towards Bloomington rather than away. The film expresses the harmony of where we live present in chaos brought about by “not only the massive proliferation of buildings, but also by their simultaneity” (Donald, “Modern Spaces,” p. 85). Such a message opposes that of Vertov by expressing a harmonious connection of people with Bloomington. At the same time, the city is not merely held in a romantic regard, indicative of how Ruttman displays Berlin (although we used subtle, stoic stress over suicide to express this). There is mechanization, industry, personal strife, human interaction and isolation, unoccupied nature and occupied spaces (pun intended) all present in Bloomington. The film is an amalgamation of these stimuli, portraying how they psychologically affect people, which is arguably the purpose of every city film.

Considering the ambitious thematic elements of city films, I considered the project predominantly a practice in editing. Much emphasis is placed in the film to clever match cuts and juxtaposition, rapid jump cuts, and other stylistic devices indicative of the city films of the era. While laden with aesthetic devices, few to none of them are used for mere aesthetic value. Even some of the more peculiar elements can be explained- the character doesn’t use shaving cream so that he may be cut later in the film; the edit of the young man to the statue expresses the temporality of life; the slowing of cars as they cross each other denotes interaction; the crossing of lines on and off the bus show mechanization. There are more examples than there is space to mention.

The original sound composition perfectly fits the slow-morphing mood of the film, all-the-while staying relatively the same. There is no tempo or ham-fisted key changes, but the sound never-the-less progresses with the film from being marveling, to more involved, to complicated and droning, to loud, harsh and mechanized, to something serene and beautiful. The sound is unlike the music used in city films screened in class, but experimental and bold, which fits with the choices of films at the time. We agreed that what was bold then is now cliché, which we didn’t care to replicate in that regard.

Attempting to communicate these ideals within the context of a group project was met with great challenge and even opposition. I attempted to work as closely with the group as I could, spending a day shooting with one member on-campus (independent of my nature shots), hoping to see match cuts that could be made, as well as accepting much input with editing, which greatly improved the project. This collaboration appeared to be similar to Vertov and his brother wandering the city.

Especially with city films, editing is simply decision making. Due to the extra effort I spent in labs outside of class (particularly sound mixing), I feel a heightened responsibility for the film. However, I don’t think my leading this project resulted in failure, but an effective piece that I feel is creatively satisfying in its risks, representative of a popular psychological perspective of Bloomington, and most importantly, moving.