Archive | Essays

The ‘Kids’ Were Alright

It begins with a pair of half-clad teenagers making out, which is a conventional enough opening for a coming-of-age film. But these two look awkward rather than polished – the girl is barely pubescent, the guy is drowning in his big-boy boxers – and they’re going at it like guppies swallowing each other or cannibals mawing their last meal. The shot is not Hollywood sexy; it’s nasty, nothing you’d see in the too-cool-for-school movies about adolescents today. Welcome to “Kids,” the landmark film about New York City teenagers, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this spring. (Yes, we’re that old.)

Sprawling and unrepentant, “Kids” isn’t so much a study; it’s more a ninety-minute panoramic photograph, which is appropriate since it’s the first (and best) film by photographer Larry Clark. It also boasts the first screenplay by Harmony Korine, who went on to direct such jaw-slackers as “Gummo” (1997) and the neon-reactionary, pseudo-feminist “Spring Breakers” (2012). Between Korine and Clark, who has cited lower Manhattan’s male skateboarders as his chief inspiration, this is hardly an anthem of female liberation, though it adjacently highlights the need for young women’s rights, and debuts Rosario Dawson and Chloë Sevigny, both of whom then prevailed as It Girls of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. (The latter girl was still technically a “Metro North queen” who lived in her parents’ tony Connecticut home). Continue Reading →

‘While We’re Young’ and Other Adventures in Noah Baumbach’s Narcissism

Noah Baumbach is often likened to a Generation X Woody Allen, and the comparison is apt. It’s not just that both men are Brooklyn-bred Jewish writer-directors who wryly address failure, love, art, and New York life. It’s that their films, though heralded as paragons of originality and depth, are highly derivative – and most of us love them anyway. Like Allen, Baumbach may suffer from what Yale scholar Harold Bloom refers to as “the anxiety of influence” but he also benefits from an ecstasy of influence – an advanced, amber-hued nostalgia for the past and present that is always slipping through our fingers.

Never has this penchant for nostalgia been more baldly addressed than in Baumbach’s latest, “While We’re Young.” It is about the friendship between a forty-something married couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who have sort of become what they wanted to be when they grew up (he’s a flailing documentarian and she’s the producer for her mega-successful documentarian father) and a twenty-something couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who disguise their enormous ambitions in a kaleidoscope of lo-fi hobbies, flea-market finds, New Age neologisms, and cultural appropriations that border on kleptomania. (She’s an almond-milk ice cream maker; he’s an aspiring documentarian who doesn’t distinguish between fact and fiction.) The film is saddled with an atonal third act that betrays the old-soul, new-millennium truths about disappointment and intimacy it seems intent on delivering. Before then, it is wonderful: loose-limbed, liquid, and glittering with the falsehood of eternal youth. Most tellingly, it’s aglow with references to other directors – micro-indie king Joe Swanberg, Paul Mazursky’s mid-century mise-en-scènes, Jonathan Demme’s gleefully teeming urban tableaus, and, of course, the glib-versus-glum morality play of Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” itself partly about New York documentarians. Continue Reading →

A Cleaning Woman of One’s Own

I came home today so cross, so “bullshit,” as my mother used to say. Lately my tolerance for mansplaining and manspreading and general man-boorishness is at an all-time low. Yet many (mostly white, mostly straight) men around me carry on as they always have, willfully practicing the obliviousness that is yet another privilege of the culturally dominant. Which is to say: assume they are authorities to whom the rest of us will defer. Now that I am a grown woman who’s been on her own for more than two decades, and now that we are 15 years into a new millennium that is so post-industrial that physical might should be entirely besides the point, there’s no legitimate reason for any sane male to behave this way with me and yet… well, you know. So many guys (even trans guys, even guys I like) still assume deference is part of the package when you walk this world as a woman. I don’t care why they make this assumption; I’m just over it. We female persons can practice as much magic, read as many self-help books, attend as many therapy sessions as we like. But male entitlement will not go away so long as we accept it as our problem to solve. We must trample over such inequities, and back up other women who do the same.  Make it the problem of the perpetrators, and it will finally fade away. This is the only way true social change has ever been effected.

Anyway, without getting into the specific origin of my pique, I’ll just say that, by the time I returned to my stoop, I wanted to punch somebody, holler at the heavens, break vases and glasses and hearts. Do something really, really ill-advised. So I cleaned my house. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy