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Daily Reads: 'Under the Skin' Subverts the Male Gaze, 'Boyhood's" Use of 35mm and More

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire July 23, 2014 at 9:23AM

Plus: Why Radiohead's music is used in movies so badly, and the trouble with film preservation and "Star Wars."
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Under the Skin

Criticwire's Daily Reads brings essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. The Male Gaze, Subverted. There's a lot to unpack in Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin," with questions about identity, humanity and body image among others. BuzzFeed's Alison Willmore talked about how "Under the Skin" uses Scarlett Johansson, an international sex symbol, and subverts her image.

But then, we also see the alien’s audience of one, poleaxed with desire, lumbering naked and aroused into certain death without even looking down. It’s the movie looking back at the viewer, and suggests only one party’s actually getting off on this. The alien’s never anything but calculating. She’s the one in charge of this scene, and while she’s offering herself up to be leered at, there’s nothing passive about it. "Under The Skin" takes a step back from the male gaze, and observes it in action with extraterrestrial dispassion. Read more.


2. Radiohead's Motion Picture Soundtracks. Radiohead is likely the most acclaimed and adored rock group of the past two decades, so it's only natural that filmmakers might want to use their haunting, gorgeous tunes to set the mood in their films. But not enough filmmakers are using them, according to The Dissolve's David Ehrlich, and the ones that do rarely do it well. Mike Cahill's new film "I Origins" is one of the happy exceptions, but here's how people can step wrong.

More often than not, movie music (particularly in middlebrow weepies) desperately clings to the literal. Its purpose is to isolate a single emotion and then amplify it until the scene achieves its desired emotion through sheer blunt force. The song certainly makes it clear what the film wants viewers to feel in that moment, but its emotional magnitude is such that it completely dwarfs that of the movie, humiliating the machinations of the drama. Therein lies the inherent danger of using a Radiohead song (or any great song, for that matter) to transparently augment a simple sentiment. When the music stops, you’re forced to confront what it was compensating for. Read more.


3. How Audiences and Critics Wrestle with TV Numbers. When it comes to television, audience measurement is key, but how the audience is measured doesn't stop with the numbers. NPR's Linda Holmes wrote about how tricky it is to put the numbers together and then decide where and when they actually mean anything.

The bottom line is this: it's not as simple as "measurement." It has to with the placing of data in context, which is a lot harder than figuring out how to count up video views. I spoke to a showrunner who talked about the frustration of having a show that's good, that everybody thinks is good, that is never mentioned without the parenthetical that it is ratings-challenged or little-watched. And very often, those perceptions come from initial overnight ratings. Read more.

4. Pitchfork Skewers Zach Braff. "Scrubs" star and sometimes writer-director Zach Braff is among the more polarizing figures in indie film today, and it looks like those annoyed by his musical choices in "Garden State" aren't going to like "Wish I Was Here" much better. Pitchfork isn't so hard on his debut's tunes, but their scathing review for the "Wish I Was Here" soundtrack is the closest thing to this that a lot of people are going to see outside of the movies.

Banjos, acoustic guitars, and unbearable expressions of earnestness abound; Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child” is included, because of course it is. Gary Jules, an also-ran singer/songwriter whose maudlin cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” went viral after being featured in the closing moments of the 2001 sci-fi-cum-coming of age film "Donnie Darko" and more or less hasn’t been heard from since, shows up with the muddy, unlistenable “Broke Window”, taken from that year’s "Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets;" elsewhere, alt-rock casualties Jump Little Children, who broke up nearly a decade ago, are featured with the impossibly plastic-sounding “Mexico”, a California-namechecking song that elevates Phantom Planet to Randy Newman status. Read more.


5. "Boyhood" and 35mm. There's been so much made about "Boyhood's" ambitious 12-year filming schedule and how it takes advantage of watching two kids grow up that its use of 35mm film hasn't been mentioned much. Richard Linklater said it was primarily for continuity reasons, but there are other gains to shooting on celluloid. Filmmaker Magazine's Vadim Rizov explains:

Rumors of the death of 35mm have been slightly exaggerated: see, for example, a Kodak round-up from earlier this year of Sundance titles shot on their stock. Beyond the easily identifiable presence of grain, what are 35mm die-hards talking about? "Boyhood" provides some practical answers to this question throughout: its glossiness and colors look sculpted and lit, with rich green grass in that poster-covering opening shot of young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) sprawled on the grass and some particularly heightened red curtains popping out in the final scenes of Mason and his father (Ethan Hawke) talking inside a club. The scenes taking place outside at night remind us how much light celluloid needs to capture detail in the dark: the first conversation we see between Mason and his first major girlfriend at a party are nearly haloed out, with strong lights glowing behind them. Read more.


6. Film Preservation and "Star Wars." There's a long-running narrative that George Lucas's control of "Star Wars" has destroyed the film for fans forever, but there's a much bigger issue at stake. Finding actual film copies of the original "Star Wars" trilogy has become increasingly difficult, and the National Film Registry, which inducted the first film into their ranks in 1989, doesn't have a copy. When they asked Lucas for one, they were offered the Special Edition.

The argument that the updated version of "Star Wars" constitutes Lucas’ original “artistic vision” is not entirely cohesive. Such an admission implies that, had computer generated graphics existed in the 1970s as they do today, Lucas’ original version of "Star Wars" would have more closely resembled the Special Edition. However, this argument is historically and technologically deterministic—that Lucas was somehow destined to make the Special Edition at any point in history. Films as artifacts are a product of their cultural, historical, and aesthetic limitations, and as such, the original "Star Wars" theatrical prints should be preserved as a representation of science fiction filmmaking in the late-70s and early-80s. Read more.

7. Dream of a Simpsons Clip Database, Realized. Last year, Myles McNutt wrote in Cultural Learnings about the need for a Simpsons Clip Database. He argued that "The Simpsons" had become a second language to a whole generation (two, says this millennial) and that clips from the show should be readily available for fans to use online. Well:

This article is related to: Star Wars, Boyhood, Wish I Was Here, I Origins, Under the Skin, Daily Reads


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