Thursday, December 22, 2011

BANG BANG: Durga Chew-Bose

[BANG BANG is our week-long look back at 20!!, or "Twenty-bang-bang," or 2011, with contributions from all over aiming to cover all sorts of enthusiasms from film to music to words and beyond.]

by Durga Chew-Bose

I’ve been especially preoccupied with women this year. My desktop is a cluttered mess of young Michelle Pfeiffers and Diane Lanes, a spitfire-y Linda Manz, a pouty Tatum O’Neal, Elaine May, Gilda, Sissy and Shelley, Karen Black (multiple times), Cher with Winona, and screengrabs of Gena as Minnie. The young mother in Andrea Arnold’s short film, Wasp, is giving me the finger, Haydée Politoff, her back, Geraldine Chaplin and Monica Vitti seduce, smoke…seduce, and Bibi Andersson is beside herself. Marie-France Posier—who in an eerie way, congeals into "Laura Palmer"—is slouched in a bathtub, moon-eyed and fully-clothed, hair braided and boots dangling over the edge like a child who’s not quite sure how she got there or if she wants to get out.

I should probably organize all of these pictures. Or at least drag them into a folder. But what’s the fun in that? I enjoy the distraction; their perpetual orbit, the familiarity. The delight of seeing Chiara Mastroianni and remembering the way she says “Ann-Gé-lah Bah-ssette” when ribbing about Emmanuelle Devos’ butt in Desplechin’s Un conte de Noël. Or even now as I write, on the top right corner of my screen, Diane Keaton’s Kay Adams is smiling: red dress and sun hat, she’s listening as Michael tells her to eat her spaghetti while he spins a story about Luca Brasi.

Barbara Loden’s Wanda aired on TCM in the fall. I watched it twice in a row—the first time completely crushed but immediately devoted; the second time, with a pen and my notebook. I jotted down images and words that drew near in the way some movies—the most pressing ones—appear to come from somewhere itchy inside me. I also copied dialogue; harmless in print, vivid, near wicked on screen. Like how credulously Wanda asks at a dive bar if “[She] can borrow a comb,” or how promptly a patron spots her sitting alone with no money and says, “I’ll take care of this.” I scribbled stuff like “washed-up cheerleader ponytail,” “WOOLWORTH’S parking lot,” “Mabel Longhetti, Rayette Dipesto…” “pincushion top bun, hand resting on forehead as cigarette burns,” “sitting in back of empty bus,” “sits with knees up at movie theater,” “follows instructions!!!” Soon after, I wrote about the film and Loden, and her marriage to Elia Kazan for This Recording.

At least twice a month this year I watched the same YouTube clip: a 1974 episode of the Dick Cavett Show with guest Lucille Ball. Cavett’s hair looks two days short of a haircut and Lucille is wrapped in a brown Muppet-trimmed jacket. Her legs are crossed away from him, impassive as if sitting at a coffee shop one table over. She turns her torso only slightly to answer his questions, as if saying, “Why are you talking to me?” It’s incredible. But when Cavett recalls the time a Marx brother appeared on her show, Lucille melts. Her eyes roll back as she says his name—“Haaaaaarpo." Pure piety. As Dick sets up the clip, Lucille falls back into her sad clown state, burrowing in her feathers, only to jump at any chance to honor her friend; a "darling man." Mimicking the famous mirror scene in Duck Soup, Lucy, dressed as Harpo, surprises him and matches his every move. Two Harpos. Two distressed top-hats. Two bulb horns. Out-and-out laughs. My face gets mangled with cheer each time.

Mia Hansen-Løve makes moments on screen that I'd like to elope with. Her 2009 feature, Le père de mes enfants, plucks ornament from the everyday—the way three daughters occupy adult spaces, a father's unexpected helplessness, adolescent agonies, a parent's things—and her follow-up, Un amour de jeunesse, kindly plots the elaborate confusion and spectacle of first love and teenage heartbreak. It screened once at IFC and I made sure to see it.

Teenagers, especially French girls, are terrifically soulful characters. Like Sandrine Bonnaire's Suzanne or Virginie Ledoyen as Christine in L'eau Froide, they are rash, sneaky, jumpy, and dip into dark bouts of misery or big dopey loves. Hansen-Løve (who too, looks eternally adolescent and slightly anonymous like a face in a found passport photo) perfectly maneuvers teenage girl unrest. Tethered to a boy who leaves her, Camille (Lola Creton) undergoes grueling grief—inexplicably endless when we're young. But before that—and what Hansen-Løve does so well—Romance is breathless, braless, a series of grand gestures and promises that bank on time never ticking. In one scene, Camille and Sullivan are in the country experiencing an afternoon cold war; she upstairs in bed moping, he outside, somewhere. He returns with food and cooks dinner for the two of them. Later, Camille stumbles downstairs and slides into her chair. She has one bite before slowly crawling across the table's bench which separates them and nudges her head into his neck. All is forgotten, for now. The audience knows that this brief moment of peace is bittersweet and that we cannot will it to last longer.

And finally, here are bits from a November 1993 PREMIERE piece, She’s Done Everything (except direct) by Rachel Abramowitz, about Polly Platt, a woman I truly admire. When she died on July 27th, I read everything I could find on her life.

"Tonight she seems quite ebullient, charged up by her recent discovery of two young filmmakers from Texas… Bottle Rocket makes her giddy….'If I were young, I’d give up everything -boyfriend, home- and go to Texas and beg these guys to let me work on their movie.'

"Still, when her ex-husband picks up, all her expansiveness vanishes. She seems to contract into an almost fetal position. Her voice becomes tight, careful. The conversation has a ritualistic quality: all the habits of intimacy, but no longer the trust. She treats him as if he were fragile, thanking him for the flowers he sent her, babying him with the good buzz she’s heard about his latest venture. She tells him about Bottle Rocket. 'It’s in Texas and there’s no Larry McMurtry, but it has a bit of the feel of The Last Picture Show, she says. She asks him to talk to PREMIERE about her. He refuses. 'I’ve been talking all these fucking years about you!' she erupts."


"One year later, they packed their meager belongings into a car, along with Platt’s one-eyed dog, Puppy, and set out for L.A., where they soon befriended the auteurs they worshiped. One night, Howard Hawks took the pair out for dinner, along with a beautiful young starlet from Rio Lobo named Sherry Lansing. Toward the end of the meal, Lansing decided to visit the ladies’ room. 'She stood up, and she was gorgeous. And I was not,' says Platt. 'Peter and Howard watched her. She walked to the bathroom, and I remember having Howard on my right and Peter on my left, and their eyes were following her.' As Lansing disappeared from view, Platt recalls, Hawks leaned across her and said, ‘Peter, now that is the kind of girl that you should be with.’ I remember thinking, It’s like I don’t exist.'"

"One summer while the children were with Bogdanovich, Platt drank seventeen cases of beer and wrote Pretty Baby."

"After sending other emissaries, Brooks asked her personally to produce Broadcast News, which she did. Her all-around dedication to the project renewed her legend for telling detail. Brooks had wanted Broadcast News’ key color to be red; now he was shooting the schoolyard scene where the young Aaron is getting beaten up. He looked up and saw the woman who fifteen years ago had removed the E from a TEXACO sign; she was down on her knees, painting a red accent line on a staircase. 'If you were putting together a baseball team, this is the person you’d kill for,' says Albert Brooks, who played the adult Aaron. 'She can play any position. She can hit; she can pitch.'"

"'There are times when I hear Jim talk that I experience something that is so much worse than the jealousy that I felt toward Cybill. I am so envious of his ability to think and express himself that I think I’m going to die. I totally identify with Salieri [in Amadeus], because when he picks up Mozart’s music and starts talking about how brilliant it is, I feel like that’s me. But I don’t have any desire to destroy Jim or Peter or anybody.'"


Durga Chew-Bose is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here and tumbls here.