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Saturday, May 15, 2004

Filed my dissertation last Friday; the woman in the UCLA library's theses and dissertations office not nearly as Draconian as reputed. (Though I gather she has a superior I didn't deal with directly....) So, yeah, as of that day, I've been a Dr., and I would appreciate being addressed as such in the future. I've been a little funny about posting this here -- not that you don't deserve to know, and not that it's nothing, but there were some little oddities, not quite bureaucratic, last week that made me not feel that it was actually done-done. I won't detail, but Typical Me dept. again: I have a strong tendency to get X 97% into shape before X goes into the world, then spend a good deal of time regretting the other 3% after the fact. There's always a typo (see many entries below), or one title or year I didn't check, or one line of the guitar part (or, more often and worse, the vocals) I don't punch in. In the last case especially, this sometimes corrupts the whole thing -- sometimes that's interesting, more often not. Huge character flaw. In any case, the 3%, or at least 97% of it, was taken care of earlier this week, so yes, well, that happened. I'm told depression may ensue.

Film About A Woman Who... (Yvonne Ranier, shot between 1972-4). I don't think I'll have a grip on Ranier's project until I see the LACE show, but I gather this is the major early statement marking her move from dance to film. (Parts had been used in multimedia performances before the feature was completed.) Overarching sense of formal and representational struggle -- the film is sort of a compendium of techniques for trying to get 'behind,' psychologically and structurally, an outwardly simple narrative. It's as writerly as it cinematic, with an emphasis on combining image and text, culminating in a shot where the camera pans over Ranier's face, to which are pasted newsprint excerpts from Angela Davis' testimony at the trial of George Jackson.

In the Q&A afterward, Ranier immediately said that she hadn't seen this for 15 years -- when someone asked, "What did you think?" her first response was, "It's unbearable." She was mostly referring to the early-'70s sense of duration -- the film is either static or ruminative, depending on your expectations -- and I think it's true that it doesn't manage to use the slowness as a signifying element. (The contrast being, of course, with Jeanne Dielmans, which comes out of a similar millieu -- both were shot by Babette Mangold.) On a long scene in which the protagoness is stipped by her lover and another woman: "I thought I was parodying both pornography and Michael Snow." She also said she'd come in for criticism at the time for the film being 'pre-political' -- I don't think that's quite accurate, but it is pre-radical, and pre-coming-out (which may come to the same thing here). There's a hand-wringing quality -- "Why is the relationship with a huge jerk so difficult and unsatisfying?" It's sad that the approach seems dated; it's not as though the jerks have disappeared -- though most of them don't look so much like James Brolin.

A stretch of voice-over from the script (which I bought, thinking ahead, in Seattle):

"She catches herself snorting gleefully at the scene of the two women being totally bitchy to one another. She remembers a similar scene -- was it Dorothy, or Betty Grable? -- in a movie she saw when she was no more than 9 or 10. One woman had ripped another woman's dress off. She had stayed in the movie theater long after her friends had left until that scene came around again. She had laughed louder than anyone around. And she must have felt guilty about it, because she never told anybody, not her mother, not anybody."

This (and the sense that it's a writer's film) is what connects up with Mean Girls, which I managed to see last Wed. (Managed to get out of school early, lucked into non-metered parking w/in a block of Grauman's Chinese -- I think the last movie I saw there was 12 Monkeys.) I don't know whether to call this movie complicated or compromised. As everyone already knows, it's based on a non-fiction study of high-school cliqueishness, primarily among females, and much of it is intended to illustrate (what I assume to be) the source's observations and conclusions: Being perceived as part of the in crowd ends up seeming worth considerable humiliation from the one or two clique-leaders at the top of the pile. (I wonder if there's a new edition of Queen Bees and Wannabees -- "Now a Major Motion Picture.") There are several places where the satire is quite pointed, and an effective form is found. In a series of 'sociological interview' shots*, a plain girl talks breathlessly about the main Bee: "Regina George hit me in the face once -- it was amazing." It's there, but the film rarely hangs around these moments long enough to make anyone uncomfortable. (On the other hand, the impromptu consciousness-raising session near the end is as didactic as an anti-smoking PSA -- "You girls have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores, it just makes it ok for boys to call you sluts and whores." Is the target audience taking this to heart, I wonder?) Two other things I really did like: There's too much voiceover, overall, but the moments where Lindsay Lohan's head simply says "wrong" when the crush-boy is 'helping' her with calculus capture something; and there are exactly two shots of the Queen Bee's pageant-age sister learning how to be a woman in a darkened living room from the "Milkshake" video and a "Girls Gone Wild" add which are more effective for passing by quickly and without comment.

*Ala Masculin/Feminin, but I think there the answers come from offscreen while we watch the protagonist/interviewer -- here, the mode of address is unclear. Otherwise, the direction attempts transparency.

But, as it seemingly must, all this, good and bad, has to be packed into teen-movie form; Lohan's character not only 'solves' the problems of hierarchy at her school by snapping apart the plastic Spring Queen tiara and throwing out the pieces to the fags and freaks and crips (let them eat status), she wins the standard-issue hottie. Oh, and nails the tie-breaking question at the Mathletes championship, a calc question to which the answer is: "There is no limit!" Tina's clever, I'll give her that. (Actually, there's more to this scene than I'm indicating -- she figures out the problem by making the boyfriend's head disappear so she can 'see' what was on the board behind him on the appropriate day of class.) But: Thumbs down on the implicit notion that it's the prerogative of those who could dominate if they wished -- looking toothsome in a strapless helps -- to pass out the social goodies. (Cf. Yul Brenner's kid, set by education to be a slightly more enlightened leader at the end of The King and I.)

[Should note that there's entertaining stuff here that doesn't connect w/ the theme -- the kid whose 'business' card reads "Math Enthusaist/Bad Ass DJ," the scene where the math teacher (Tina Fey herself, a kind of Garafalo-lite) shows up at the mall in the embarassing vest she wears to bartend two nights a week, the entire performance of Tim Meadows as the principal -- something like Eugene Levy's ability to be funny just be being there, but appearing to do even less work for it.]

You know how Barrett Watten said, "A bus ride is better than most art"? A few minutes on Hollywood Boulevard is at least as good as Tjanting: On the way to the movie, in quick succession, I was invited into one of the Scientology buildings ("Have you seen the museum?" "I'm on my way somewhere."), noted banners for The Ten Commandments: The Musical at the Kodak Theater, and saw, among the 'characters' (Spiderman, Moses) that wander around in front of the Grauman's footprints, a new one: Jimi Hendrix, beaded and fringed, futzing around with an ampless Strat.

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