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Depressive Girl’s Guide to the Movies: Two Hits

This week’s picks are horrifyingly sad movies that somehow didn’t make this depressive girl sad–whether it’s because her mood is improved or because the films are so subtle and complex that there’s more meat here to chew on than your typical depressing movie, I don’t know. But these films fall under a new category that I like to call The Aesthetic of Sadness.


I think I have found a kindred spirit in the filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, whose films all seem to concern neglected young children–an innocent wide-eyed take on hopelessness and misery, stringy-haired and dirty and lice-ridden, terribly sad but seen through the ever-innocent eyes of a child who loves the alcoholic dad because she knows nothing else, who makes play in piles of trash so rotten you can smell them through the screen. Ramsay gives you the complexity of growing up in such a state, the stark unrelenting ugliness of poverty and oppression and abuse and neglect streaked through with breaths of real life that keep the characters from becoming pitiful one-dimensional victims but also from being unrealistically noble savages. These people are in horrible situations, and they make the best of it, and sometimes make it worse, and sometimes limit themselves within their own limited existence, replicate their own exploitation. This, my friends, is the true aesthetic of neglect. As much as I loved Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, his characters are those that rise above their surroundings rather than replicate them–the dad does not hit the mom, they don’t drink or do drugs (they sip tea!) the kids play with refuse but not stinking rotting filth, and no one in the main family gets hurt or killed or abused (except the sheep). As neorealist as Killer of Sheep seems to be, its agenda is really to reveal/restore/affirm the dignity of the poor and oppressed, to place the blame for the family’s difficulties on society and on racism rather than on the family itself. There’s nothing wrong with that agenda, but it is a different agenda than Ratcatcher, which gets inside the idea that the poor internalize their environment of neglect and in some ways get in their own way, caught in a downward spiral. And this is personally what interests me more.

Hysterical Blindness

This film is gut-wrenching and I almost don’t know what to say about it other than “see it.” I saw it weeks ago and wrote here that it’s the kind of film you wince through and walk away feeling you’ve been kicked in in the stomach, but after that I just couldn’t find the words. Still can’t, really. But I do want to expand on my mention of it being the bravest film I’ve ever seen. The choice of setting it in the icky early 80s is at first amusing but once the film wears on it becomes clear that it’s actually a brilliant aesthetic choice–it replicates the film’s icky themes. These women are not attractive from any point of view, and their full-on 80s garb (not yet retro enough to be cool, despite current 80s nostalgia) accentuates that. If it had been set today, your opinion of them would perhaps be different, perhaps more sympathetic. But as is, everything about them is just…wrong. They look ridiculous from the first frame. It’s like a female version of Casino, or Goodfellas, where the slimy 70s garb and big honkin’ polyester pastel suits make the gangstas look completely sleazy and ridiculous–not romanticized. Likewise the female angst is here not romanticized. Their no-self-esteem stereotyping and self-defeating behavior is odious and appalling throughout, and make no mistake, this film offers no hope. It is unrelenting. But it’s the first film I’ve ever seen that has the bravery to do that. To go deep inside the ugliest behavior we women like to think we are above, or have left behind, or have been saved from. The stereotypical behavior we like to think we have exorcised, or the kind we think we are too feminist and liberated to possess. But in seeing Uma Thurman going there–going there full-on and not looking back–we see bits of ourselves and we are thankful to her for being so brave as to let it all hang out for us to see, because that’s the only way to defuse its power. Pretending that girl no longer exists only gives her power; seeing her in her horrific beauty helps us to mend her inside us.

Poem for J.K.

chelsea hotel dirge
after Leondard Cohen

I know I should write a poem about you.
a friend, a former lover, dead.
I should write things about how much

                                                                         I’ll remember you
                                                                         I’ll think of you
                                                                         I’ll miss you.

I should write things about

                                                                         The good times we had
                                                                         The laughs we shared
                                                                         The love we felt.

It doesn’t seem appropriate to say

     that it’s hard to remember your face
     that more than your touch I remember
          your withdrawal
     that others who have shared my unmade bed
          have crowded you out of my head
     that I can’t suggest I loved you the best
          or even that I think of you often.

It doesn’t seem appropriate to say

     that I don’t grieve your death
          but your life.

More Anti-Shrek

ok here ya go, anti-shrek, reprinted from my film blog from ages ago. I don’t know if the colloquium is going to venture into this area, but perhaps I’ll try to push it there…


I’m going to this MIT colloquium next week… I wrote an anti-Shrek post once, will find the link and bring it here soon:


A talk by Pawel Jedrzejko
Thursday, December 4, 5pm in Room 2-105

This talk offers a close reading of the movie SHREK as a short deconstructive history of otherness in America. Examines the international poupularity of the film in light of its cultural tranlatability; the genesis from William Steig’s book SHREK to the movie; Shrek as a fairy tale about Beauty and Order.

American Splendor essay

Here’s my American Splendor bit for Brattle Film Notes…

Treatment Done

I finished the treatment for my screenplay today. It had me bawling. I guess that means it hits the right notes. I can see every shot and don’t want to waste time on the words–also a good sign, I should say. I wonder if anyone has ever made a dialogue-free movie? Mine is nearly so.

The Matrix of Criticism

i am struggling greatly right now with the concept of film criticism…an internal battle over whether it is worthy, whether it is worthwhile, whether it is destructive…to critique, even in a positive way, is to tear apart, to unravel, to pick at, to destroy. and i’m referring to serious criticism here, not “this is a good movie”-style reviewing. i mean deep criticism, the academic kind, the intellectual kind, the kind that reveals all of the secrets in a work…the kind i have been rigorously trained to do…does this kind of criticism illuminate, or does it bleach raw? i don’t know. do artists need critics? i don’t know. should the secrets of a work stay secret? i don’t know. does it really take a poet to understand poetry? YES. but now that i have written a novel and am working on a screenplay, and have taken up drawing, the mode-switching is causing some existential trauma. to be a really good critic, to have true insight, is a powerful skill, and a dangerous one. used carelessly or inappropriately it can be enormously destructive. when you have been trained to quickly see beneath the surface of everything–films, books, people–you must also learn to tread lightly. critique with care. not only can you hurt feelings, you can also incite backlashes from those who don’t understand your powers of perception. people don’t want to know what they’re revealing about themselves. they don’t want to know that they can be read so easily. they like to think their secrets are safe, that they are the gatekeepers granting or denying access to their secrets. they don’t want to know that it’s all right there in their face, in their gesture, in their tone, in their choice of words. the well-trained critic can see it all instantly, in strangers and friends alike; the truly gifted critic is living in both the matrix and the real world at the same time, seeing lines of dripping numbers everywhere she looks. but people don’t want to know how little control they have over themselves, how much they reveal to the right reader, viewer, stranger, friend. so the critic, then, must learn to keep secrets as well.

Monday Move Review #2

Actually, there will be no Monday Movie Review this week. See, that’s how undisciplined I am, I couldn’t even keep it up for one week. The problem is that I didn’t see a movie this week. So I will instead write about why I skipped the theater. I’ve been doing it ever since I finished grad school–nothing like a Master’s Degree in film studies to burn you out on movie-watching. But it goes deeper than that; I suppose any intense study of a particular art form ultimately leads you to ponder the art form itself rather than the specific works of said art form…the whole meta concept…what I think of Bubba Ho-Tep is not as interesting to me, any more, as is the motivation to see the film in the first place.

Films are escape. This is why we see them. We escape into the world of other people, characters, and we relate or we don’t relate, we like or we don’t like, we are moved or are unmoved. But the fact that we desire to give up two hours of our own life in exchange for experiencing two hours of someone else’s means something. In my most depressed states, and I think many people feel the same, I see lots of movies. I want to get far away from my own world, my own head, so I go to the movies hoping to be swept away. I want to lose those two hours. I want to be implanted with someone else’s two hours.

But I don’t want that any more. I want those two hours for myself. I want my own story, my own life.  I can’t sit still in a theater any more. No matter how good the movie is, I find myself counting the minutes until it’s over. If a friend calls me and wants to hang out, I groan if they suggest a movie. That’s not hanging out. Two people sitting silently in the dark for two hours experiencing collectively the story of someone else’s life is not connecting. Not to each other, at least. I want to talk to my friends, laugh with them, touch them, connect to them. Not sit silently next to them in an out-of-body experience. Sure, there’s always the after-movie discussion but I’d rather skip the movie and have all the after-stuff. Talk to me about your life, not about some piece of celluloid.

And Mike Price if you’re reading this…damn that Grundmann for forcing the Peter Berger down our throats, and damn if it wasn’t all true. Say it with me: movie-watching is not sublated into the praxis of life.

American Splendor

Why is it so hard for me to write about a movie I like? I can slag a movie I hate with ease until fire is coming off the page (or screen), but to say something about a movie I love is tremendously difficult. I’m right now trying to write the Brattle FilmNotes for American Splendor, and it’s slow-going. I loved this movie, I loved everything about it, and that doesn’t make for good copy. Or if it does, I haven’t learned how to do it yet. I think a cartoon image of Pekar with his big glowing heart radiating off the page says it all. Images probably do better than words, here.


This is the shit. Especially the Brakhage essay, which captures exactly why I (and many women, and some men) both love and hate Stan Brakhage. And the Mark Rappaport piece is soooo Mark Rappaport…postcards, postcards, in every format. Rappaport essay = Rappaport film = Rappaport poem = Rappaport interview. My favorite line…well there are so many but my favorite is  For the moment, he was bored with their endless chatter and his own interest in it as well.”

It’s exciting to find something that excites me again about film.

Red Sox Movies at MIT

I had planned to go see the Red Sox movies at MIT tonight but I am sensing that it ain’t, it ain’t, it ain’t gonna happen…

Hysterical Blindness

HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS is one of those movies you wince through and walk away feeling the wind kicked out of you. It may be next on the DEPRESSIVE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE MOVIES, stay tuned…and thank you, thank you Mira Nair, for making this movie…

From the mouth of Coppola

I’m not at ALL a Coppola fan but I really like this quote, compliments of (and Zoetrope mag):

“Storytelling for film, or screenwriting, came to me not because I was a genius with magical narrative gifts, but because I was willing to try things out, rewrite continually, steal ideas, veer in strange directions, and make use of accidents and my own intuition…. “


I want Robin Wright Penn to star in my movie, but I don’t know if that’s appropriate, considering how desperately I want her husband.

Image for Monday Movie Review

This image goes with the Monday Movie Review. I couldn’t figure out how to do text-wrapping, though. Soon. The doctoring is mine.

Monday Movie Review #1–Mystic River

This review will first be a review of the unrelentingly brutal hotness of
Sean Penn. He is the prototype that plucks that primal nerve in me, the one I know is a baaaaad impulse to follow…and in fact he has always held a special allure due to his striking resemblance to my very first boyfriend in high school, a notorious juvenile delinquent known to all the police in the county, not excepting my father. And this film brought those old old old memories rushing back, the pinnacle being when Penn strolls into the bar with vigilante murder on his mind, wearing the shiny circa-1976 black leather trenchcoat and turtleneck. I kid you not, my high school delinquent boyfriend had that EXACT SAME trenchcoat, and I remember very clearly becasue I thought it was kinda  ridiculous-looking. This was the 80s, and a 70’s-style black leather trenchcoat was not yet retro enough to be cool–too freshly uncool to loop back to cool just yet. At any rate, the last time I saw him he was wearing a big honkin’ turtleneck too, to make matters even more perverse. His was white, though. So here’s Sean Penn, the hothothot spittin’ image of my first boyfriend, the one who ruined my tastes in men forever, and I had to stifle a giggle. He looked fucking ridiculous.

And this movie, in general, was fucking ridiculous too. I was kinda into the suspense for awhile, and managed to coast along waiting for the next shot of a shirtless Sean (or at least tight-shirted in short sleeves with tattooed biceps bulging) but then it all became a trainwreck at the end when Laura Linney gives her embarassingly horrifically stereotypically shit-for-brains stand-by-your-man speech about her husband being a “king” who “always knows what to do” and who “could own this town” and, the kicker, she disdains Dave’s wife for daring to doubt her husband. So you see, it’s really all her fault. BARF BARF BARF. Oh and RETCH. I wish Linney was the one sliced up and thrown into the Mystic and not poor Dave. Oh and then to top it off Dave’s distraught wife gets left out in the cold–the evil woman who didn’t blindly stand by her man, a man who came home covered in someone else’s blood–as the monster men smile knowingly across the street at each other and the truly evil Linney gives Dave’s wife a truly evil steely dismissive smile. Fuck them all. I will write the final chapter to this film, wherein Dave’s wife takes a flame-thrower to the whole neighborhood after turning Jimmy in for murder and then runs off to France with her kid and becomes a famous novelist whose bestseller becomes a hit movie that forever turns public tastes away from macho bullshit male writing. The end.

Depressive Girl’s Guide to the Movies


On those days when it feels like the world just can’t get any colder, when it feels like there are absolutely no human beings who care about anything but themselves…oh wait, that’s every day, isn’t it? Well on the days when you feel impelled to fling yourself into the Charles River and merge with the oneness of ice-cold stabbing water…ok that doesn’t work either. Well anyway when you find yourself in the grips of an uncontrollable crying fit, here we have THE DEPRESSIVE GIRL’S GUIDE TO THE MOVIES, a new recurring feature to help you pass the time here in the Waiting Room. I’d like to make DEPRESSIVE GIRL’S GUIDE a weekly feature, but I don’t think my heart could take it. So its erratic reappearance will depend on the whims of my depressive moods, and you won’t be able to predict if and when the dark cloud will bring it back. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go burrow under my covers in the fetal position.

This week’s movie: SILKWOOD. Yes, that’s right, the Meryl Streep movie about a bitchy narcissistic divorced white-trash nuclear-plant worker who watches all her friends become contaminated with plutonium from a careless corporate conglomerate’s indifference toward worker safety, gets a union organized, loses all her friends, loses her boyfriend, becomes contaminated herself, then is murdered before she rats out the Man. This film is perfect for those moments when you want to confirm that humanity is worthless and careless on both the micro AND macro levels and deserves to be annihilated. Giant flaming meteor, full-scale nuclear war, explosion of the sun, whatever. Bring it on.

Film Blogs

Why are there no good film blogs? If you know of any, send ’em along. In the meantime I will work on making this one of them. But to do that I really need to see more movies so that I can actually deserve the BostonFilmGirl title. Next week I’ll be starting a weekly review feature. I’d love to be more ambitious and do some sort of movie-a-day project, but all that would do is water down the reviews with too much content. Plus I’m lazy so I wouldn’t keep up with it. But once a week is doable. Monday Movie Review. In the meantime check out my film blog. Oh and the Boston Jewish Film Festival opens tonight, check out the schedule, see a film, read the gorgeous program book I edited.