Ten Again

Women on the verge of something. That was the idea of picking these movies to watch. On the verge of what? A nervous breakdown? Possibly. Or just understanding.

I think Almodovar would have you think past the hysteria that a nervous breakdown would connote and think about just what verges women have been on for ages.

The verge I like to think about is the one where we’re at the brink of dismantling it all. I think these films represent that feeling. Let’s tear it all down and start again.

Feb 13 – Mar 4  2021 

Phantom Thread (2017) – Molding women is one of man’s favorite past times. And it’s one of Anderson’s favorite things to subvert. His movies have always been set in periods that are easier for this type of subversion. He’s made films about men, mostly. A certain type of man. Men that are demanding and rigid and not all together that human. They seemingly seek domination over women. Or sometimes, don’t seek them out at all. But when they do it’s always set in the ring of the wills. Always the boxing match of the soul with Anderson. And here it plays out over the plains of love. Day-Lewis is a dress-maker. A master of the art form. A bit of a puppet-master whose meticulousness seems rooted in an inflexible belief of self. Probably placed there by his mother’s love and Woodcock pays it forward in a secretive sower’s intent. But this waitress he picks up in some Ryan’s Daughter country retreat will not be hidden inside some piece of fabric. She will not be some hidden trinket sown into the lining of a coat. She’ll kick and punch and cook poisonous mushrooms to temper her own design on Woodcock. It’s a wonderful and heartbreaking game we play when we play with love. But we don’t always have to play the roles that are expected of us.  

Horse Girl (2020) – There’s some sub-culture I’m missing out on that has something to do with women who have unhealthy fascinations with horses. Not that they’re into bestiality, but a fixation is a fixation. And fixations tend to multiply into harrowing unifying theories. Like, how do you make it from sleepwalking to being abducted by aliens to you’re a clone, and connecting the dots as if one would naturally follow the other? Most of us have some experienced some trauma in our lives. Some of us more than others, and some of us more crippling than others. And sometimes that leads to fantasy. We’re made to think that maybe it isn’t a fantasy throughout. Baena goes back and forth on whether it is or not. At times I don’t think he really cares. Maybe he watched Repulsion one night, stoned, and thought, yeah, I’d like to make a Polanski movie. A Polanski movie by way of Greg Arakki. It almost works and then it doesn’t. It’s constantly oscillating in that nether region of a thought experiment.  

Possessor (2020) – This is some sort of video game, right. Some weird extension of eXistenZ. Some strange extension of fathers and sons. Fathers and sons that share the same occupations in life. Sharing not just choice of jobs they pursue but with what abandon they choose to pursue them with, and sharing the same obsessions over identity and the disconnection between mind and body. Sharing the same fascinations with the horror and ecstasy of violence and how it can be portrayed on screen. Just a general, dark playfulness with the idea that we’re just antic clay. And if flesh is just puddy to be played with, where does that leave the conscious and the sub-conscious? Is the body just a vessel? Just a bag of muscle and bones, and our minds seem to treat them as such. An occupational force that treats the other organs with extreme prejudice. I don’t know if the Cronenbergs really view the mind as some sort of mystical tyrant, but they do have some thoughts on it being a fluid creep. Something that has great potential but will always seek petty violence to prove its point. And what point is that?  

Barbara (2012) – If you think about Germany during the Cold War at all, as an American, you think of the Berlin Wall and communism versus capitalism. You think two sides separated by a massive brick wall and never the tween shall meet. But that’s not true of any border. Here a doctor is sent to a backwater town in East Germany for trying to emigrate to the West. Barbara’s punishment seems just a mere annoyance at first. She shuns everyone in this small town, turning her nose up, at any social interactions with the other staff members of this small hospital, especially a male doctor, who has the hots for her. Because Barbara’s got other plans. She’s still trying to escape to the West, with help from her lover, who she rendezvouses with in the forest for some romantic love play, and later in a hotel room, at which point the plan to get her out of the East is unfolded. But Barbara never stops being a doctor. She grows close to two of her patients and can’t cut the cords of her Hippocratic duties. Even going so far to send one of the patients, a young pregnant girl, off to the West in her place. Capitalist or Communist, whatever side you find yourself marooned; people need care.  

Forty-Year-Old Version (2020) – Is it your best version? The opinion more than likely oscillates from day to day. A seventy-year-old may tell you things are just getting started for you. A seventeen-year-old may tell you differently. And you know at this precise moment that you’re at a crossroads. Mid-life crises tend to happen that way. So, forty is an easy number to get caught up on. You spend the first half doing these things within the scaffolding of just living, and upon reflection, maybe they seem the wrong things, however your moods are swinging. The first half often seems like the side where you do the things you’re supposed to do, whatever the framework of your choices. Which leads you to wonder what exactly have your choices been. And what exactly has been standing in your way? Radha Black finds herself in this exact space and time. She finds herself at a wonderfully funny nexus of reinvention. At a place where poetry flows free. A place where no one can edit you. A place where maybe, just maybe, you can find and be the self you can live with.  

Blow the Man Down (2019) – The shaping of patriarchal pageantry is at play from the very beginning. Or rather, the manipulation of man’s violent power over the world. A little fishing village on the coast of Maine serves as a backdrop for prostitution and multiple murders covered-up. Fishermen are tough folk. Tough men doing a tough job. There’s something mythical about it all. Songs are sung about it. Men at sea are facing the unknown. An adventure into the unforeseen. Which tends to bring back lusty and voracious men. Not that we see much of that here. One incident of lechery and assault leads two young sisters into a secret world of their dead mother’s making. An agreement to provide an outlet for all these voracious fishermen in the form of a bed and breakfast come carnal house. And this is where the movie finds itself in this land of ambiguity. A place where survival and contradiction have a life of their own. The women in this town are wrestling with old ways of survival. Because the old way of men is still hanging around, unable to let go. It’s a complicated surgery, unloosening the ties that bind patriarchy together. But these women are game.  

Nomadland (2020) – The west was once a place of opportunity for white folk. Some of those white folks are still holding on to that dream. The west is still there. Physically. But the world has changed. Amazon is everywhere and they seem to have the only jobs. It’s hard to be prideful when you’re poor. But these people have made this choice to be nomads. To live in vans or RV’s and wander around the west like pioneers of old. But there’s nothing left to pioneer. It’s just beautiful places for sad white folks who’ve been marginalized. At least they have beautiful places to go to; lots of marginalized people don’t have vans or RV’s they can hit the road in. Again, these white people have chosen to be marginalized. Yet, they still seem to be able to get jobs. They still have families to go back to. The choice to live on the edges of things is some sort of heroic deed in these people’s minds. They’re resisting the corporate machine. But, what about Amazon? Is that the point? No matter how far out you get, you’ll still need the corporations. Keep piling on the sadness Chloe.  

I Care A Lot (2021) – Should we just eat the old? Devour them to make more room. Cause that’s what we need, right, more space. And the elderly take that up in spades. And some of them are ripe for the picking. So are irony and sarcasm. So is the viewpoint that if you’re consumed by greed, you’re not that far off from being a gangster? It’s just an attitude, right. Blakeson plays it that way. If you take care of the details and don’t show any fear, most men are just bluster. You can railroad right through with a bag and a bat. There’s two women at the core of this movie that are figuring that out as they go. The devil really is in the details. The movie takes real pleasure in showing us every trifle being taken care of with Hitchcockian aplomb. And Pike is a mutated mixture of Vivian Leigh, Hedren and Grace Kelly and every other blond Hitch used as a punching bag. But it’s fifty years later and she can kiss her girlfriend on screen and be an eater of the old all at the flick of a cell phone app.  

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) – There’s a girl at the core of this. Way down deep in the core. She’s a telepath. We think. Yes, definitely. But there’s a man keeping her captive. He’s a doctor, we think. He’s something and he’s working through something. It’s all very murky. It’s all very Lynchian. It’s all very boring. The man is working through some existential crisis. Some long-ago acid trip keeps fucking with him. It’s 1983 and Reagan is on the TV and the synth is in full of effect. There’s a girl as an experiment. There are pale little children trapped inside Technonauts? Whatever this is, it’s not feminist. Well, maybe at the end. She wins. But the journey to get there is steeped high in white-male-emo-bullshit. It’s 2010, not 1983, and someone doesn’t know how deal with a black president. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s all incomprehensible and if I’d paid for it, I think I would be a little bit more pissed at having lost the time. But instead, I looked at the time every ten minutes and lamented at how impatient I’ve grown over the years. Or, is it justified to feel this way when you see a truly awful movie? 

Underwater (2020) – A woman on the verge of discovering the Old Ones. Lovecraft reigns in modern cinema. The movie starts out with one of the worst teeth-brushing jobs ever seen on screen. So bad is it, that one starts to think the movie might be a metaphor for the mouth and what lies beyond, down the throat and into the stomach. But the ocean has always been a place for metaphor. The mysteries of time and space have always had a deep place to preside. The depths of the oceans hold all the conundrums of the soul. So, making a correlation between the bottom of the ocean to the pit of the stomach is apt. And the movie’s underwater rig set design feels a lot like taking a journey through the lower intestines of a human body. On its way to the black, maw of the stomach. Where the real horrors lie. Down deep where they grow into unfathomable monsters. Kristen Stewart plays the woman on the verge of something well. She’s just enough skittish and plucky to make it through this and then remind us why she didn’t need to brush her teeth all that thoroughly.  

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