music friday: 2004

Franz Ferdinand, "Take Me Out". Some of the comments on the video, which is of a live performance: "When the crowd sings the know you made it" ... "this crowd is so good It makes me want to cry" ... "The video does not do justice to how amazing this was live".

Kanye West, "Jesus Walks". Video, from Dave Chappelle's Block Party, one of the best movies of 2005. So good I'm willing to ignore the fact that the picture is reversed.

Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone". Clarkson won the very first American Idol.

Arcade Fire, "Rebellion (Lies)". For many years, I wondered if I loved Arcade Fire. Eventually, I realized I just loved this song.

Loretta Lynn, "Portland, Oregon". 72 years old in 2004. It's pretty impressive when you're the oldest artist on a list that includes Willie Nelson.

Usher, "Yeah!" I always forget that this isn't a Lil Jon song.

Willie Nelson, "Midnight Rider". Only 71 years old in 2004. We saw Willie in concert that year ... not sure, but he might be the oldest headliner I ever saw.

Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl". In an interview that year, Courtney Love said, "I'm not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani."

Prince, "Cinnamon Girl". The New York Post called the video the most tasteless ever.

Green Day, "American Idiot". Feels ten years past their prime, but that's just me.

Spotify playlist:

the spirit of the beehive (victor erice, 1973)

To discuss The Spirit of the Beehive, you must start with Ana Torrent. This was her first movie ... she was seven when it was released. In fairness, whenever you see a great performance by a child actor, you must tip your cap to the director, because getting a good performance out of a kid is a lot harder than it looks. So Victor Erice gets credit, too, especially since as far as I know, he is the one who cast Torrent to begin with. I'm of the school that thinks a low-key performance from a child actor is usually preferable to the kind of thing Shirley Temple used to do, and Torrent is most definitely low-key here. To focus this even further, it's Ana Torrent's eyes. They are bottomless ... they seem to see everything both on and beneath the surface, we can project just about anything into them, and just keeping Torrent from overacting during the times when we are looking into her eyes is brilliance.

The film is beautiful, both in the exteriors and the interiors, where the house in which the central family lives seems as endless as those in Sergio Leone Westerns. It's amazing to learn that the cinematographer, Luis Cuadrado, was going blind.

The emptiness of the family's house reflects the lack of interaction between the characters. The parents rarely speak to each other, and the two daughters are often left to their own devices, with only a housekeeper to offer an adult presence. Thus, the daughters, Ana and Isabel, have the only close relationship in the film. (And it's another sign of how young Torrent was, that the names of the family characters match their real-life names, because Torrent was confused by the difference between their names and their characters' names ... Erice just rewrote to match the names.)

The film takes place in 1940, just after Franco won the Civil War. The little town where the film takes place is full of buildings that seem to have gotten the short end of the stick during the war. One day, a traveling distributor comes to town to show the residents a movie: the 1931 James Whale version of Frankenstein. The excitement as the movies come to town is fascinating, reminding us that it wasn't always possible to call up any old movie on your phone. The film affects Ana quite deeply ... she isn't quite sure where reality ends and movie fantasy begins, and her older sister, in a combination of helping and teasing, only makes this worse. Somehow, when we look into Ana's eyes, we feel what she sees, and the world becomes more magical.

There is something to say about the influence of Franco on the film, and I confess I am not the one to talk about it. In the early 1970s, Spanish filmmakers still had to deal with state censorship, and they developed ways of making points about Francoism without being obvious. In this case, that method isn't clear to me, but that's on me, not on Erice. #111 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

personal shopper (olivier assayas, 2016)

I liked the pedigree for this movie. Kristen Stewart is a fine actor ... I thought she was the best thing in On the Road, and I've enjoyed all of her movies I've seen. Olivier Assayas impressed me greatly with Carlos, an epic movie/mini-series, and Summer Hours was also good. None of this really prepared me for Personal Shopper, a low-budget, low-key ghost story that downplays the ghost factor in favor of a study of grief.

Stewart plays an American in Paris whose twin brother has died. Both twins are mediums, and both have a genetic heart problem (which is why the brother died). Assayas offers only limited special effects ... he doesn't seem particularly interested in the supernatural angle. There is a death late in the film that may have supernatural elements, and the ending is less than concrete, so the movie does seem a bit otherworldly. But that feeling of otherness is there to serve to illuminate Stewart's character, and you could argue that pretty much the same movie could be made without any ghosts at all. Or rather, the ghosts are the kind we all have, where people from our past stay in our memories. We're not talking Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Stewart has to carry the film ... I'm hard pressed to remember more than a couple of minutes where she isn't on the screen. She has a way of underplaying that matches well with the movie, and if you aren't paying attention, you might think she's barely acting at all. But she holds our attention throughout, and draws us into her character, which means she's acting up a storm, only without actually acting up a storm. It's a very good performance.

Personal Shopper can be frustrating. Not a lot happens, and when it does, it's just this side of ludicrous. And, as noted, Stewart dominates the screen without doing a Nic Cage, which I suppose might not appeal to fans of excessive acting. The best anecdote that shows the varying ways the film works comes from Cannes. It was booed at its first screening, but after its official showing, it received a 4 1/2 minute standing ovation.

I don't think this is the best Stewart film I've seen ... that's probably Into the Wild. But it's the first film I've seen where she is the star (I've missed the Twilight movies), so it's the best thing I've seen for showcasing her talents. And I would recommend Carlos over Personal Shopper as the best Assayas I've seen. But this movie continues a streak: I've still never seen a movie with Kristen Stewart or a film directed by Olivier Assayas that wasn't at least worth watching. #483 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.