Film, Literature, Novel, philosophy

what’s in a title?–ARRIVAL (2016) and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)

since i have a phd in film and tv studies, i guess i’ll leave a couple drops of knowledge (they’re mostly just thoughts) on these two films–Arrival and Call Me By Your Name. my thoughts are unrelated but they could be related if one thinks on it long enough.

it’s really about the titles of these two films.

why is Arrival called “arrival”? the film was actually a short story entitled, “The Story of Your Life,” written by Asian American author named Ted Chiang who writes sci-fi. it was adapted into a screenplay by Eric Heisserer who wrote Birdbox.

Arrival is about a linguist named Louise Banks who gets hired by the US military to figure out what the aliens who arrived on earth want to communicate and for what purpose. the aliens tell Banks that she has the gift of being able to know the future. this is what made the movie so wonderful for me: time is utilized as language. i find this idea quite marvelous and beautiful.

ok–so the title then is not just about the arrival of aliens. it’s about Banks arriving to the future flashes she’s seen or “remembered.” “recall” and “memory” are no longer the past for Banks; they are also the future. thus, Banks is arriving. the film is about Banks’s arrival to her present/future self and her ideations, understandings, catharsis, realizations, etc.

the film Call Me By Your Name is also based on a work of fiction written by Italian fiction writer André Aciman. it was adapted for the screen by James Ivory who has experience adapting literary works; Ivory directed A Room with a View (1985).

well, why did, in fact, Oliver suggest to Elio that he call him by his name and vice versa? what is the point of calling one’s lover by one’s own name?

the ending of the film is a static long take of Elio sitting by the fire staring into it for an extended period of time right after getting off the phone with Oliver. Oliver and Elio both called each other by each other’s names over the phone, just as they had when they first became physically intimate as lovers. after Elio hangs up, he sits by the fire, gazing at it, appearing to be either deep in thought or no thought at all.

and nothing is happening. nothing is being said. we just see Elio gazing into the fire.

suddenly, his mother calls out to him: “Elio.”

then Elio looks up from the fire and breaks the fourth wall.

eureka!

the meaning of the film’s title comes to us full force: because Elio called Oliver by his own name, “Elio,” whenever Elio hears his own name, he will think of Oliver.

and the fourth wall breakage is Luca Guadagnino’s way of asking the audience: “get it?”

this was a brilliant directional choice by Guadagnino. it is subtle yet impactful, hidden yet obvious, and an easter egg only for the ones in the know.

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Book, korea, Korean-American, philosophy, translation

hippie thoughts on Peruvian migrants in South Korea, spirituality, capitalism, shamans and forgetting.

The pastors at Korean churches are the first-contacts with the globe, in a way.

It makes sense.

How did Korea become this bizarre portal country that mixes up and alters established or existing politico-economic expectations (and yet, the country is, ironically, extremely obsessed with conformity)?

I was at a UC Berkeley event where Professor Erica Vogel discussed her book Migrant Conversions: Transforming Connections between Peru and South Korea.

Dr. Vogel spent many years in South Korea documenting the migrant experiences of Peruvians who immigrated there in search of capital gain.

Quite a few of her subjects wound up in Korean protestant churches, found salvation, and spiritual freedom.

Right there. Can we stop for a second there?

Peru (formerly the Inca Empire) was first invaded by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Peru’s indigenous spirituality and religion was suppressed and Christian coloniality began to wipe out ancient modes of spirituality.

South Korea (formerly known as just Korea) first encountered Christianity in the late 19th century, then a little more impactfully during the Korean War in mid-20th century. Even prior to that, during Japanese colonization, there were short stories written about shamanism in Korea. Shamans were accused of greed from the community because they charge money for their services (which isn’t immoral but a basic necessity since that is their occupation) but this disdain for shamans did not emerge UNTIL the white Christians came to Korea. White Christian missionaries brought free food and medicine for free. On the Lord’s dime! And made shamans look completely absurd.

As Park Chung-hee’s military dictatorship brought on South Korea’s economic transformation, a part of him also waged a battle against Korean indigenous religion/spirituality for fear of it making Koreans appear wayward and uncivilized (again, compared to how WASPs would conduct themselves in a church). Literally, watch how a mudang conducts a ritual versus how a Catholic priest conducts a service…and THEN watch how a protestant Korean pastor conducts a sermon during a “revival” retreat).

Korean shamanism and indigenous spirituality isn’t gone. It’s just flocked over to other parts of the cultural realm.

South Korea now has Peruvian migrants who enter the country—this country that was once in the position of being a labor-export has now recently transformed into labor-import; “allelujah amen” cry the Korean church congregation.

As Christianity keeps gaining power and spreading (through its evangelical methods), South Korea keeps on dying; keeps on confusing; keeps on abusing; keeps on suffering.

Buddhism is still prominent but Christianity has successfully taken on its hegemonic position in the nation.

Indigenous spirituality is increasingly going forgotten, hidden, erased, lost, removed, smudged, mixed up, tossed into a pile somewhere then dragged out onto the street for the garbage truck to pick up (and where does that garbage then go?! Lord, help us. Buddha, guide us. to what “underdeveloped” country that suffers the consequences of the material greed and waste of a “developing/developed” nation completely obsessed with trends, e.g., fashion, cosmetics, media, etc.)

Korean pastors in South Korea are some of the first people who encounter migrants from other countries.

Pastors are spiritual leaders. They meet and convert the folks who come to them seeking monetary salvation.


Just as the white missionaries did for indigenous/pre-Christian Korea, present-day Koreans do onto the migrating Peruvians seeking greater financial gain/relief/stability in Korea the land of…rice? and red peppers? (placeholders until I can think of a more clever way to adapt “milk and honey”). 

Peruvian migrants find salvation in the Korean church. Some get community funding to help with their daughter’s heart surgery back in their motherland.

They attribute this to god’s work. But the fact is, wherever there is a community, there is god regardless of religious boundaries.  

Meanwhile, Koreans continue to die. They continue to suffer the plague of “first world” nations; the mental/emotional/spiritual barrenness that drive them to their own demise at their own hands. Drive them to drink. Drive them to abusing others and themselves.

Meanwhile, the country that is mostly responsible for South Korea’s Jesus-freaked state has some of its most wealthy members taking their own trips (micro-migrations/temporary retreats) to Peru in search of—get this—PERUVIAN INDIGENOUS SPIRITUALITY in the form of shamans and their psychedelic medicines.

Political scientists and economists point to the 1970s as South Korea’s economic “miracle.” I wonder what spiritual awakening was taking place during this time as well. Did any South Korean influencers/leaders take psychedelics during their travels around the world? I mean, they MUST have.

When a South Korean corporate friend of mine told me that she and her design company attended Burning Man one year for “research,” I asked if she or any of her colleagues took any psychedelics. She said, “No.” I said, “What was the point of your trip? You guys did zero research. What a waste of money.”

It’s so interesting how Peruvian migrants in South Korea look to South Korea for Christian salvation and associate it with goodness when Peruvians were already colonized by Spanish Christianity centuries before Korea was.  

South Koreans are down with trends and image (hence Park Chung-hee’s suppression of shamans in the country… and what a detriment that was…! think of the money you’re missing out on with spiritual tourism from WASPy nations, Chung-hee!).

The WASP nations and their people are now turning their gaze towards the East for its spirituality, and Latin America for its spiritual medicines. In the meantime, governments of the “global South” are always striving for its economic status to mirror that of the white countries.

Don’t you see the message? There is nothing there. Economic stability = spiritual barrenness and therefore greater chaos, disillusion, confusion, sadness, emotional and mental instability, and death. South Korea should already know this. (It already knows it—just forgot it); these bodies are temporary vessels that we shed; in the end, all we have is consciousness and a desire to connect and make something new that is good and fair.

Even SK’s hang up on Confucian hierarchies. Man! There is no hierarchy! There is no taller than or shorter than, bigger than or smaller than, greater than or lesser than! There is nothing. There is nothing.

But there is something in the colors that you see at your temples. There is something in the thousand year trees in your land. There is something in the records left behind at your temples by those deep meditators—your ancestors and teachers.

And there is something beautiful in the way that Korean spiritual leaders meet these Peruvian migrant workers. Both of them need something from each other and find it. And in that sense, the Christian dogma becomes, almost, irrelevant. They are just finding each other naturally like a mother would find its child or a child would find its father. They just find each other. Across the seas and lands. Past the gates and borders. The way they find each other and meld these histories or dissolve them like sugar in warm water. Like honey in jasmine tea. I find that righteous. That is something to witness (with gratitude).

But I now want for Peruvians to re-enter their own spiritual spheres of history and find that COSMOPOLITAN GLITZY STATUS that they really truly are seeking. Man. It’s right there! You didn’t need to go anywhere! It was right there! You’re the one with all the good shit! These white spiritually lost souls are paying GOOD MONEY to go to your land! Chasing money takes us nowhere! Chasing love, life and light take us everywhere.

I want for Koreans to re-enter their own spiritual hemispheres of ancient wonder, ritual and connecting. Man. It’s RIGHT fucking there. Whenever we chase money, we only always find death, chaos and confusion. Look at us now. After accepting the…I dunno, was it Tylenol? Was it a piece of bread?…look at us after accepting those substances. What is Tylenol and a free piece of bread compared to the prayer of a shaman mother for her shaman daughter and the dreams you have of your great grandmother? What is that compared to you as parents NOT condemning or demonizing your daughter when she gets marked with her spiritual calling to be a mudang?

Why does everything need to get reduced to Jesus or Satan? What good does that ridiculous binary do in our ability to understand the ancient spiritual teachings that were already given to us a millennia ago?

It just blinds us to those words. Just covers up our ears. Turns them into a loud rumbling noise like the sound of a plane engine going off right inside your ear drum—a sound I hear sometimes as I fall asleep at night sometimes, and a sensation that I do not fear, but a sensation that Western medicine pathologizes and reduces to a “seizure” and which Christianity reduces to Satan.

Hey man! We already know what these things are. We’re already connected to the eons that our flesh and blood relatives lived. They’re all in us. Their information and memories and joys and traumas are in us. Live in us. We live them out.  

We have the knowledge. It’s just about accessing them.

We do not need to cross land and sea to get to them. They are in our skin, hair, memory, dream, chair, window, across the street at your neighbor’s house, in the sunset you look at around 5:30PM in the mountains in the late winter/early spring in the hills of wherever you are.  

It’s all there, man. It’s just about accessing it with the right keys.

The right keys are in you. They are in the whispers down below where status/image obsessed dictators drove them to. They are in the Amazonian treasures that Peruvians have known for eons already. It’s there. Just seek them out. Just like those WASPy people are just starting to discover them now, even though we ourselves have forgotten our own indigeneity.

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aapi, Art, asian american, comedy, Essay, Gender Studies, ideology, korea, Korean-American, Literature, philosophy

the INTJ-female Korean American rationale

The first Google search engine result when I look up “INTJ woman” is an article written by a fucking MAN.

Can you believe that shit? The system is against us. This is why we’re always yelling at you or rolling our eyes and just not bothering. We just can’t be bothered. We must ignore you.

The rest of the search engine results for “INTJ woman” were articles all written by white women. I don’t have anything against white women other than I don’t (can’t) always relate.

This essay is about INTJ-womanhood as me—a Korean American woman with the INTJ personality type.

The thing about these Myers-Briggs personality categories is that they just offer a surface-description of personalities and don’t offer any explanation as to why it is (nothing ever just is [unless you’re on psychedelics or meditating very deeply or something]).

I am the INTJ personality type. INTJ stands for Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking and Judgment. It’s also referred to as the “architect” personality type.

I took this test about 10 years ago and had the same result whenever I took the test again since (2 more times).

I can relate to this personality type a lot. For one, being INTJ-female is the rarest. INTJ women make up less than 1% of all women. I’m bad at math but it’s like 4 out of every 500 women are INTJs (according to those other sources written by white people).

here’s a descriptive list of INTJ females:

independent

confident/assertive

eye-on-the-ball/focused

appreciates alone time (isolation)

not a good team player

doesn’t respect or trust most authorities

no-nonsense

type-A

creative thinkers

appreciates authenticity

are good leaders by design but does not want to lead most of the time

extremely private

hates incompetence

hates time-wasters

hates inefficiency

loves (good) art

loves newness/innovation

appreciates professionalism

appreciates good skill/talent

A weird Google search engine result for “INTJ female” is the question, “Are INTJ females attractive?”

What a stupid fucking question. Why don’t you cut to the heart of what you really want to ask which is, “Are INTJ females bitches?”

That really depends but if you ask me, I’ll say that if an INTJ woman is being a bitch, she’s being a bitch because the situation 100% calls for that reaction/response, and she is nothing but RIGHT.

INTJ women are efficient as fuck. We hate wasting time and energy on anything not worth our damn. So if we take the time to engage, we do it because we feel it is worthy of our engagement, even if it means giving someone a talking to, yelling, or expressing assertion and/or correction. But most of the time, we really don’t want to be bothered with anyone’s shit.

Why are we so bent on being corrective? Well, have you seen the world? It needs constant correcting and changing. We can see the mistakes, errors, injustice, etc. We see them very vividly and clearly. They torment us.

So when we speak up, trust that we know what we are saying/doing. Thank us for offering some guidance.

Even if you don’t think we are right, you will never ever change our minds. We will always wonder, “Why aren’t they just thanking us for telling them that they walked out of the bathroom with their skirt tucked into their underwear?”

You think that INTJ women are “insensitive.”

We are. We have no time for sensitivity. You know why? Because we see the bigger picture. We’re focused on getting the job done and not so much on anybody’s fucking feelings.

Does that mean INTJ women don’t feel? Absolutely not. I feel everything all the time. That’s why I have to ignore certain people when I enter the room or disengage a lot of the times. As an INTJ woman, I have a hard time not being a deep empath. I feel everything very intensely so I developed boundaries as a skill. This took many years to hone. I did it for my survival and my own sanity.

We’re intuitive and quick to judge not because there’s anything wrong with you but because we are highly sensitive. The irony is that we may appear insensitive. But whenever you see anyone being insensitive, you can bet your money that that person is acutely sensitive. That is, in fact, how the world is, and how most people are.

INTJs are not good team players.

Yeah, this is true. I don’t like being part of assigned teams that I had no part in creating. Even when I create my own team, I still find one or two players I regret adding (and they become reminders of my mistake/error, and I despise them for it even more).

I don’t like working as a group or in teams. Why? Because of the same problem mentioned earlier. I see how everybody is doing something wrong. I can see a faster path or direction but the rest don’t. And I have trouble communicating that politely—in a way that would not hurt anyone’s fucking feelings. I’m gritting my teeth trying not to say, “Are you stupid?” So I either shut down completely (disengage) or I speak up and watch people cry.

Noticing when something goes wrong and being attentive to it makes INTJ women great problem solvers but it doesn’t mean we can always solve the problem. The fact is, harmonium is required in a team mission. Feelings should not be injured. Ideas should not be shot down. But INTJ women are impatient and we have a hard time dealing with the “normal” slow-paced “warm-up” to reaching those goals. We’ll be rolling our eyes the whole way through. Even though a part of us knows that this is the right way, we still won’t agree with it or trust it. If an INTJ woman is particularly silent during group work, just know that she is doing everything she can to PRESERVE harmonium by not speaking up and damaging morale. Just thank her for that. She’ll contribute when she feels ready/wants to.

INTJs are not good with authority.

Yes. Of course we’re bad with authority. We don’t trust anyone but ourselves. How could we trust a fucking stranger who was randomly assigned to be the leader in our lives? Does it mean that we NEVER trust authority? Not true. We all need good mentors/leaders/examples/teachers. INTJ women have GREAT role models and teachers at all times. In fact, see who INTJ women look up to. You’ll learn a LOT.

INTJ women befriend many strong and successful women. We gravitate towards them naturally because they’ve already EARNED our respect as fellow successful women. They are living the life WE aspire to. So they are our respected leaders/examples, and when they say “go” or “sit” we will militantly oblige. However, if anyone who is an authority figure LOSES our respect, there’s a good chance that they will never regain it back fully in this lifetime. (Perhaps we can begin again in another lifetime. But as for this, it’s over.) There are jobs I had where I saw my performance dipping real fast in direct correlation to how much respect I had for my supervisor. No matter how much I tried or how much they tried, once the respect was gone, there was no bringing it back. Scary for some people but completely logical for fellow INTJ women like me.

Bosses have been baffled at my behavior and comments. If they tell me to do something that I don’t understand, I never do them. If I do, I’ll fuck it up. If they say something that offends me, I straight up tell them that what they said was rude (because it is rude to be sexist, racist, classist, stupid, etc.)

It’s not that we stubbornly wish to be this way. It’s that we have major trust issues. This difficulty with authority comes from experience. We’re not just anti-authority a priori. We have lived experience with untrustworthy authority figures be they parents, teachers, any adult, any older person, church leaders, politicians, bosses, etc. Call us jaded. Call us stubborn. Call us pitiful. Call us enlightened.

The fact is, all leaders have some dirt, and it’s a good thing INTJ women are here sitting with our legs crossed in the corner with a cigarette, side-eyeing some rich fuck who thinks they’re hot shit just because they think they have the right to be. We can’t even bother to laugh. It’ll exert energy onto an undeserved place.

For INTJ women, we don’t respect anything that insists on being a GIVEN. We need to see the goods, the work, the proof. We need to see it and feel it. And even then, as long as you have authority, there’s a good chance we still won’t trust you because the very notion of hierarchy is absurd to us anyway.

We’re just like, “Why aren’t you under a tree somewhere smoking a joint and coloring in a sketch book? Instead, you’re sitting here talking way too much about shit that nobody cares about and calling yourself a leader. Just buy some big shoes and call yourself a clown instead. That’s all you’ll ever be: A CLOWN. And a shitty one, too.”

INTJs make good/bad leaders.

INTJs have the make-up to become good leaders but we hate leading because it means we’ll have attention. The INTROVERTED part of our personality and our agitation with authority make us detest being leaders. We won’t lead unless it is absolutely called for. I noticed this about myself very viscerally when people asked me to co-produce live comedy shows with them. I would think about it and make a long as list as to WHY it would benefit me in the long run to do such a thing because producing shows is a huge fucking pain in the ass. I hate doing it. I hate my co-producer while doing it. I hate everybody while doing it. It’s a nightmare. Everybody sucks.

I did it twice, and I never want to do it again. Co-producing live comedy shows as an INTJ woman is a fucking nightmare. If you’re an INTJ woman, I think you can relate.

We don’t like it when a million parts are moving and people keep asking me STUPID fucking questions. Whenever anyone asks me a question, I almost always ask myself first if that question is stupid. 65% of the time, yes, it’s a stupid fucking question (why are they asking it?!).

It annoys me when people make me repeat myself (inefficient; shows that they lack listening skills). It annoys me when people don’t know how to help themselves (incompetent; shows that they lack problem-solving skills).

In this regard, we’d make terrible leaders, and we know it fully.

Good leaders are attentive and respectful of all questions and contributions. We fully know that we don’t have the emotional bandwidth to handle that, so we will naturally back out.

We’ll only step up as leaders IF AND WHEN a situation absolutely calls for it. And that’s not to say that we’re not bossy anyhow. We are hella bossy, and not fucking sorry.

INTJ women are not sorry.

This is true and not true. I am sorry all the time for the way that I am, and this is why all the blog posts you read on INTJ women say that “INTJ females are the most misunderstood.”

We can’t help but be who we are and how we are. Greater self-awareness and mindfulness help a lot but can only go so far when we start to feel like our own space is being taken up by others.

We are radically independent (like hamsters!!!). We are fastidious and quick (we love efficiency!!!). We like PARTICULAR people. We LOVE them. We dislike or are not interested in most people.

We are misunderstood because of this. And people think we are unapologetically bitchy or mean. Not true. The damage that our personality types cause do bring us grief but we’ll never show it or tell you to your face. We will tell our closest allies or our therapists or ourselves when we’re on mushrooms, and do what we can to adjust to your needs.

But we won’t guarantee it. Because we really fucking love ourselves for who we are and how we are.

I love myself so much and I am grateful to my personality type for protecting me at all times. This personality is an armor. That’s why INTJ women are so misunderstood. That’s why your stupid fucking question, “Are INTJ women attractive?” is the wrong question.

To assume that INTJ women are unfeeling, disassociating, insensitive, or lack insight is a grave mistake. We are hypersensitive, always feeling, fully in-the-know of how we impact people, and that is why we compartmentalize the way we do, and we do it by ignoring or not responding or withholding or whatever demeaning words you want to replace the aforementioned with.

We’re the rarest because we’re special, and we’re required in all societies. Having one of us in your corner is a blessing, so count us in your prayers every night, little babies.

But leave us alone to do our thing at our own pace. That’s the greatest gift you can give us. We’ll notice you doing this and grow lonely and come to you on our own. Respect the dance of push-and-pull (밀당). But don’t over-do it. There’s nothing we dislike more than affected anything (words, behaviors, art, conversation, etc.). If it’s not authentic and not called for, we’ll just be like, “Why the fuck is this in here?”

INTJ women are creative.

Yes, and we have to be. Creativity doesn’t just apply to the arts although I am an artist. Creativity applies to any kind of critical thinking. Whenever I work in groups and I see people thinking just one way, I lose my shit because I’m like, “Hello? Why are you not looking out the fucking window? There’s a bigger world out there.”

We manage our creativity by spending time alone to recharge, meditate, self-reflect, grow, heal, and listen to our “muse.” We need that alone time to hear our own independent/authentic voice so that we don’t repeat what others say (inefficient!!!) or offer a no-good idea (incompetent!!!). We’re the hardest on ourselves. If an INTJ woman hurt your feelings today, check in on her. She probably demolished her own feelings that same afternoon. You got off easy, kid.

“The INTJ Korean woman is a fucking weirdo and she scares me.

Yeah? So what. No one asked you. Sit down. Go read a book in the corner or something.

Being Asian American, I often encounter confusion, chaos, and offense as a reaction to who/how/what I am. I don’t believe in uncalled for politeness. I abhor despise small talk. I don’t understand hierarchy. Living this life in the female body as a Korean, Korean American and Asian American is tough.

The world expects me to be subservient, unopinionated, quiet, “respectful,” caregiving, emotionally available to others and not myself according to information they got from the dumbest places ever–wanna hear it? OTHER SCREENS. Projections imagined/constructed by filmmakers, TV writers, internet bloggers, etc–people who are not ME and have no business creating and projecting some hull of what I am supposed to be on massive mediated screens that you absorb and wind up believing (ugh–when the fuck will you learn?)

These non-Korean-American-female-INTJs with influence think they know something. Now is your cue to laugh: LOL. They don’t know jack shit.

I am the opposite (or completely off-the-wall something else) of all of that which was imagined FOR you by those who are NOT me. And I wasn’t always like this. When it came to those I really loved and admired, I poured all of these very limited affective labors (awareness, sensitivity, respect, dedication) onto them, and they all let me down. Sometimes the JUDGMENT side can be weak when it is tarnished by admiration or love (this is why we often times don’t adore or love or respect). ‘Tis a lonely life for the INTJ woman.

And our judgment protects us because of the pattern we noticed in our lifetimes which developed the mantra, “There’s nobody you can rely on but yourself.” And we firmly believe this despite its limitations which we know about already so don’t fucking come at me.

So say all you want about what your expectations of me was, and how I am blowing your mind right now. That just sounds like YOUR business.

I got my own to take care of. Any reaction you have in response to me is all about you, and it has nothing to do with who/what/how I am. I just am and I have my own reasons for it unrelated to you. So sit down. Go in the corner and read a book or something.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll re-post if I think of more INTJ-female related stuff.

If you’re an INTJ Asian diaspora woman, please share your experiences. Thank you.

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cinema and media studies, Film, Gender Studies, ideology, philosophy

re Lars von Trier’s NYMPHOMANIAC (2014)

I wrote a piece on Nymphomaniac (2014, Director’s Cut, Vol. I and II) and on what it means to be “A Radical, Vulnerable and Agentic Body.”

nymphomaniac

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Art, cinema and media studies, Film, ideology, philosophy

combining the ‘Enlightened’ Pilot Episode w/ Excerpt Chapter “Industrial Auteur Theory”: production sets & breakdowns

I wrote this back in late November for a classroom blog post. I am reposting it here now because some of the thoughts are relevant to my current situation. More on that later.

I was glad that we got to see Enlightened in class today. It’s one of my favorite shows, and I was bummed to learn that it wouldn’t get a third season, especially because season two ended on such a huge cliffhanger.

When I first watched the show, I’d already listened to interviews given by Laura Dern and Mike White—on separate occasions—on what the show is and how difficult it was to make it, and then watch it get canceled, so I’d already begun my viewing experience with some information (either at the forefront or lingering in the back) in my head. In any case, in my first viewing, I watched Amy with a lot of tension in my shoulders because she was such a train wreck with almost little to no self-awareness. It was stressful. I had to keep watching, though, because I dug the show (I’m also a fan of Mike White), and I genuinely wanted to believe in her optimism as much as she seemed to. But if you continue on with the season, and finish season two, you’ll see that she’s always the same in each episode—an idealist who is wired to be incapable of improvement—and she’s always going to make things worse for herself and those around her no matter how much she believes in her heart of hearts that there is hope for a better future and greater change.

In my second viewing of the pilot, I tried to see it differently. I tried to see it as if Amy is the normal one and everyone else is the crazy one. This made the show a lot easier to watch, and a lot more heartbreaking. She genuinely believes in a better future, change and improvement. Nobody else in her life does. Everybody thinks she’s crazy. But if I watch her as the normal one, everyone else seems completely out of line. Why doesn’t Diane Ladd’s character just let Amy read the letter? Why doesn’t Charles Esten’s character just meet with Amy in person to reconcile? Why doesn’t the company just give Amy her job back and take her up on her suggestions on fixing up the company’s reputation by making environmentally sound choices? All of these things have something to do with time and boundaries. Amy is someone who doesn’t believe in the restrictions of time and boundaries among individuals. She’s someone who wouldn’t function well in a society that holds those two things close to heart. This is what makes her the show’s heroine, and it’s what makes her constantly run into problems in her society. It’s also what causes her to be exploited later on in season 2 (no spoilers), which breaks my heart even more.

Amy is the protagonist of the show whether we like her or not. She is the one that’s given to us and we have to accept this, or we can continue to watch just hating her (lots of people have commented on how much they hate this character that Dern plays, which eventually led to the show’s demise, although Dern herself says she loves this character). I kind of love this character, too. I’m a big fan of this show because it’s a female antihero who is dressed not as a cynical, unfaithful, sex-addicted, alcoholic man (Sopranos, MadMen) but an idealist who had a lot of letdowns in her life (again, no spoilers, but she’s had it rough, hence her borderline personality) but continues to strive for optimism and hope in a world that continues to let her down and conflict with her.

With that said, reading Caldwell’s “Industrial Auteur Theory” bummed me out a lot. It’s heavy stuff. Especially the paragraph on the writer’s room culture that basically leads to symptoms of PTSD among employees, who later get told by the production company!—to go and get therapy. I can empathize to some mild degree. Working in production where pressure and stress run high (because there’s never enough time, and time so equals money here) does lead to a lot of scarring, emotional trauma, mental duress, conflicts, etc. Without therapy, there’s no way that people could survive. Makes sense why so many industry people are into Eastern religion, yoga, meditation and all that (basically all of the things Amy turned to after her breakdown). Every single actor/director friend of mine claims to be Buddhist, and they all read some new kind of self-help book, which they go around recommending me any chance that they get.

The idea of producers who take advantage of younger below-the-line crew members’ broken minds and bodies + eagerness to still make it in the industry and exploit that emotional vulnerability because they know that the young and eager will still be grateful for the opportunity to work alone is also a monstrous/ugly thing that is rampant in the industry. In a lot of ways it is rampant precisely because so many people are fighting their way to get in, and so many people are willing to make that kind of sacrifice as a form of “paying one’s dues.” Personally, I am very against this concept. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.

In the few indies I’ve produced, nearly all of the crew members did the work for no pay—just meals—because people enjoyed the filmmaking process. If it wasn’t for that then no one would’ve participated. It came from a place of passion and the desire to work with one another. We all genuinely liked being on set. After a production wraps, a lot of the times the cast and crew stay in touch for years—unless somebody really didn’t get along with another person, which also happens. These people will almost never speak to one another for years. After going through something as intense as shooting a film, it’s impossible to not become close. So there is some pay off to the agony, but making a film is an agonizing process. As it is with TV. I’m sure many people have seen that documentary 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park (2011) by Arthur Bradford. I think it’s a good film to complement what Caldwell discusses.

Speaking of desperation, I can see some parallels between the desperate, rock-bottom state that Amy is in which drives her full-force into the arms of the spiritual, incense waving, hippy-dippy world + random sea turtle spotting, which she applies epic meaning/significance to) and the desperate, zero experience unpaid interns/PAs who willingly—very passionately—run towards film/TV sets for little to nothing and get screamed at all day by the department heads and the above-the-line crew members simply because they believe in the magic of show biz. Yikes! This is super depressing to think about. Probably because it is too real, and very true of our industry.

Anyway, I still like to believe that there is light at the end of that tunnel.

 

 

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Art, cinema and media studies, Film, Painting, philosophy, Photography

quick thoughts: YOUTH (2015) by Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film Youth (2015) has at least one or two too many characters and scenes.

This may be my own personal bias because I don’t think I’ve ever liked Paul Dano as an actor, but his character and all of his scenes could have been omitted from this film. That would’ve actually made the film stronger.

I don’t think this vain/vapid/disgruntled actor played by a very actor-like actor is all that substantial. His presence adds nothing to the picture. His character’s thoughts and commentary do nothing for the movie. I was never once moved, amused or pleased by Dano’s character, Jimmy Tree. But this is almost always the case with Dano in movies for me.

When I first saw Dano in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), I was mostly confused; I didn’t know whether I liked him or was impressed by him, but turns out, it was neither; my initial instinct was correct: I was merely confused by him.

His acting is very confusing to me because he acts so hard; Dano works so hard in the pictures but it’s precisely that which displeases me; he tries too hard to act, and this effort is all too apparent to me as the viewer; his acting is the type that I see in plays. Perhaps Dano belongs to the live theater. For the screen, it is too exhausting to witness. In fact, it’s humiliating. Discomforting. The excess is discomforting. Like seeing a stranger cry in front of me, or witnessing an orgasm when I shouldn’t be. That kind of discomfort.

Aside from Dano, I don’t understand why there is a Tibetan monk there–a nameless monk (played by Dorji Wangchuk, who, according to IMDb, is also a documentary filmmaker) who doesn’t impress Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine). I don’t get his role or his presence in this movie. It seems completely unnecessary. Seeing yet again another dimensionless Asian in a movie is simply distracting.

Another problem is the character Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea); Sorrentino’s fetishization of a voluptuous woman’s body in this picture might simply be his way of stating what Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) the filmmaker claims: how he is a great “woman’s director.” The only women in this film who have interesting qualities that make them memorable are Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz) and the young masseuse (Luna Zimic Mijovic). They have a presence that do not submit to the male gaze or the male patronization, which is refreshing and comforting. Giving Miss Universe a minor moment of triumph to call Jimmy Tree out on his presumptuousness doesn’t justify having her parade around half naked in the opening act and completely naked in the later act. It’s just unappealing. This sort of female body exploitation is just hackneyed at this point, and distasteful.

youth-fetish

Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) is yet another stereotype of an aged actress playing an aged actress (rings a Sunset Boulevard (1950) bell). Fonda’s monologue feels awkward. I’m not sure if it’s the delivery or the writing. (I might have to go with delivery since Lena’s monologue in the mud pack scene with her father is spectacular. It is so long but Weisz is completely marvelous in her delivery and is utterly moving.) But Fonda makes up for it by bringing in a great sliver of a moment when she breaks down on the airplane which I can only wish to have seen more of.

There is a beautifully picturesque moment when Mick stands before a hill and sees all the actresses he’s ever worked with doing their scene and their lines–repeating the same lines over and over–all at once. The colors, the set and the view are very Kurosawan and reminiscent of the opening scene of Dreams (1990), which Kurosawa made late in his career. Mick’s surreal vision in this particular scene is a telling of his impending death but also of all the dreams he had as a filmmaker–the visions he had for each actor and character were in themselves little dreams. Witnessing this before him all at once is like having his life flash before his eyes. This, again, alludes to his oncoming death. I could hear people protest to this interpretation stating that a suicide doesn’t count but I say death is death. Suicide counts. Directors are control freaks; perhaps Mick knew that he had prostate cancer and decided to take his life with his own hands, much like the late Tony Scott.

There are three elements that make this film worth the 2 hours of sitting (it felt like 3 hours because there were so many scenes, and every scene ends on some note of massive profundity that makes it seem as if it’s the last scene of the movie, except that the movie keeps going!–this made the film feel infinitely longer for me):

First is Luca Bigazzi, who also lensed Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013) and This Must Be The Place (2011), as well as Abbas Kiarostami’s underwhelming Certified Copy (2010). He ensures that every frame of this film is a poetic jewel for the eye. The film is for the most part set in one resort which could’ve easily become a stale atmosphere but Bigazzi brings warmth, glitz and emotion to geometry like I’ve never seen before. The film is a delight to view from beginning to end because of his artful cinematography.

Second: The composition by David Lang whose music acts as the heart of the film fills the screen with nostalgia and elegance; “Simple Songs” sung by Korean soprano singer Sumi Jo, is cripplingly beautiful. Lang also composed for The Great Beauty and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000).

Finally, Michael Caine’s performance is flawless. With every other character and actor, I sensed at least one moment of disingenuousness, but not at all with Caine, which is a testament to his mastery. He plays maestro, father, friend, mentor, composer, and husband Ballinger with all the sensitivity one could bring to a screen.

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Art, cinema and media studies, Film, ideology, philosophy

feminist reading of Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Memories of Murder’

“Woman, in this sexual imaginary, is only a more or less obliging prop for the enactment of man’s fantasies.” –Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, 1977.

Upon rewatching Memories of Murder (2005) by Bong Joon-ho, I had the opportunity to reconsider the film entirely from a gender studies perspective.

The film opens on a bright yellow rice field where the grain dangles, ripe for harvest. (What is more fruitful to us humans than a woman’s womb?) On the day of the first murder case, October 23, 1986, Detective Park Doo-man goes to ditch and stares into the dark and narrow tunnel. Shoved deep inside, he finds the corpse of a dead woman whose arms and legs are expertly tied back.

The dark black tunnel that these male detectives stare into and continue to scrutinize for signs and answers is significant of male misconception, misrecognition, and lack of understanding of the female body.

As the deaths pile up, it becomes evident that the bodies are always found in a setting that likens a woman’s body. The trench tunnel is one, which obviously indicates a woman’s vaginal canal. Another is found among large stacks of hay that look like breasts. The field is a rice field—again, a fruitful place much like a woman’s sex organs. Two other bodies are found deep inside a forest thick with trees like a woman’s pubic hair.

As the search for the serial killer sharpens towards the midpoint of the film, the forensic team finds that the murderer has inserted foreign objects into the victim’s vagina. Inside one corpse, the forensics team finds pieces of a peach. Inside another corpse—a teenage girl’s—the team finds the items that were found inside the girl’s backpack such as a pen, razor and spork. The forensics team can’t find any semen inside the victims’ bodies but they do find items that were found on the woman shortly before she was killed.

At the very least, Bong has an awareness of Freudian concepts, and an interest in sexuality and psychoanalysis. I recall this from a Q&A he gave after a screening of Mother (2009) at the 12th International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul back in April 2010. Bong was the only male filmmaker whose film was shown at the festival solely because of the subject of his film—a mother.

When an audience member asked about the Oedipal tension between the widow (Kim Hye-ja) and her son Do-joon (Won Bin), Bong denied any actual physical sex between the parent and child, but did acknowledge that Western notions that linked female hysteria her deprivation of sex was in part an inspiration to his film. The film treats phallic symbols interestingly throughout. Do-joon–the son–is the prime phallic presence at home where he and his mother live together. Later, the mother takes on a kind of peeping-Tom position—a male position thereby becoming herself phallic–when she spies on Jin-tae (Jin Goo) having sex with his girlfriend. During the Q&A, Bong also recalled a story he’d read in the news regarding a case where a man who lived in a single room home with his mother was suspected of raping young girls he would adopt then send back to foster care, one by one. Aside from the monstrous actions of the man, Bong said he was more concerned with the mother who did not blow the whistle on her son’s molestations, which she could not have missed considering the size of their home being just a single room.

Bong claimed that his intent with the film was to challenge the audience with a question on how far a mother’s love for her child can reach, and if it goes beyond society’s moral bounds. A woman’s intense connection to her son coupled with a sex-deprived hysteria is a disastrous combination to Bong.

In Memories of Murder, Bong’s desire to understand the female body and its mysteriousness is ever present, and he utilizes various male figures to do the scrutinizing. In this sense, the film is very phallocentric. The male detectives who find and examine the bodies have a legitimized phallic presence in the film. They allow the viewer to access the female body with an OK’d sense of authority thus negating any possibilities of scopophilia; given their badged status, they are allowed to look into the woman’s vagina, and we as onlookers, are also cleared. Through these badged phallices, the audience traverses a number of deep, dark tunnels. We’ve already covered the tunnel inside the ditch. Then there’s the train tunnel—again a deep, dark presence in the film. Another dark hole is found in the film’s series of references to the toilet or outhouse.

The tunnel is a place where found objects always lead to a destruction of the person’s body and/or consciousness. In the case with the women’s bodies, there’s the obvious hint: death. With the detectives, there’s always fist-fighting that erupts near the train tunnel, typically over his male ego. As Irigaray puts it, the penis is only good for its “rivalry” capabilities: “…’strongest’ being the one who has the best ‘hard-on,’ the longest, the biggest, the stiffest penis, or even the one who ‘pees the farthest’…” These persistent male distractions keep the detectives from finding any answers to the town’s serial killings of women.

At the train tracks and tunnel, there’s always death and violence: on one occasion, a mentally disabled boy named Kwang-ho (Park No-sik) gets killed at the tracks after the police lose their patience with him and start to beat him for answers; on another occasion, the detectives beat up Hyeon-gyu (Park Hae-il), their prime suspect, without any amounting evidence to confirm whether or not he is in fact the murderer. The significance of these kinds of male-ego cockfights that occur near the dark black tunnel is, again, Bong’s illustration of man’s inability to make sense of a woman’s body.

The fact that the murderer puts foreign objects into the woman’s vagina is further indication of male ignorance with regards to the female body. Rather than placing his penis into it, he puts in objects. This, at the very least, indicates the murderer’s impotence, and impotence—interchangeably viewed as incompetence—is another major theme in the film. The police demonstrate their incompetence as effective case solvers, the government demonstrates its incompetence to its society by using up military resources to squash the people’s political demonstrations rather then sending help to the town which is in a state of emergency due to the serial killings. The town demonstrates its incompetence by spreading gossip around the murders which further muddles the investigation. The town’s journalists spread news of incompetence of the town’s police force and their government thus hurting overall morale. The nation displays its incompetence by not having the right technology and resources to get a proper DNA testing performed.

The film’s final shot when Doo-man breaks the fourth wall and stares straight into the deep, dark tunnel of the camera lens, the deep dark room of the theater, into the deep, dark eyes of the viewers, what is he seeing?

He sees the inexplicable, and Doo-man’s expression filled with fear, emotion and urgency is the filmmaker alerting us—the audience—to take on that responsibility. It is up to us to find the murderer by first coming to terms with the unknowable. This is a push for gender equality. By persistently mystifying the woman’s body, we’ve failed to protect it, and we’ve allowed it to go harmed. When we stare into the black screen awaiting answers, what are we seeing? What are we registering? These inexplicable images are what we need to intelligize. The onus is partially on us as viewers. Our language and discourse have a role in making gender equality a reality.

 

 

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Art, cinema and media studies, Essay, Film, ideology, philosophy

Ideology, FGM and Sembene’s MOOLAADE (2004)

I read about female genital mutilation (FGM) in an anthropology class as a freshman in college, and what I recollect the most is that one of the main purposes of FGM is to make sex unpleasant for girls in order to prevent infidelity—essentially, perform a painful circumcision on women for an ideology that suits the dominant group—the patriarch. But notice how in Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaade (2004), polygamy for men is the norm at the village in Burkina Faso; women must remain faithful to one man and not enjoy sex, but men can have more than one wife and enjoy sex.

moolaade

While reading Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus,” I thought a lot about what causes harmful/oppressive traditions and practices to continue in spite of being inhumane. Althusser notes ideology’s “reproduction of production” and the agencies that allow this production to perpetuate. While watching Moolaade, I kept wondering why the male elders in the film persistently remained ignorant to the problems that were arising from the practice of FGM as a ritual for young girls in the village. As Althusser might put it, the male elders’ ideology does not “correspond with reality,” and as agents of reproducing the product of their ideology, they must uphold tradition (protect their ideology) and all of its rituals including FGM. For instance, when news spreads that the girls have run away from the “purification” ceremony, the men simply say that the girls must return to the ritual and have the performance done. When news spreads that two of the girls committed suicide at the well to avoid the circumcision, the men simply move on from the topic and avoid discussing it (meanwhile, the women of the village all gather in the night by the well to stand vigil). When Binetou dies from the performance, the men remain firm in their stance and express no remorse for the death of yet another young girl. While doing so, they cite Allah, and say that a man’s word trumps that of a woman’s, and so Colle must undo the Moolaade. Althusser’s diagnosis of a hurtful practice continuing in spite of its harms would simply be that this village is performing what any other Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) would perform, and that is protecting the actions and agents that produce the State’s ideology by putting it to practice, thus allowing this ideology to regenerate, perpetuate and reproduce.

Jacqueline Bobo writes in “The Color Purple: Black Women as Cultural Readers” that “traditions are made, not born.” Similarly, Althusser argues that ideology is a concept that is universally present in the minds of individuals and as a collective: “Ideology has no history.” If this is true, then it introduces the possibility that a new idea that gets upheld as an ideology can also permeate through groups and enter the collective consciousness to become the new ideology; as Bobo puts it, “When an articulation arises, old ideologies are disrupted and a cultural transformation is accomplished.” In Moolaade, this articulation begins with Colle first claiming a Moolaade for the girls who ran away, and protecting them. Then Colle is beaten in public before everyone in the village including the male elders. The transformation happens in the form of encouragement from the women standing by for Colle, telling her not to give up or fall down; this begins to materialize a new ideology by disrupting the old ideology; the tears shed by Amasatou while watching her mother get beaten is another disruption of the old ideology, where she would have done anything (buy new clothes, get her genitals cut) so that she could marry Ibrahima—a wealthy man of a respected family. This breakdown of the old spirit leading to an awakening for all of the village women is finalized in the film through the death of Binetou, one of the youngest of the group of girls who fled the ceremony.

When the women arrive at the center of the village—at the site of the phallic-looking mosque—where the women’s confiscated radios burn, the women confiscate the Exciseuses’ knives and throw them into the same fire; the women no longer need the radio to inform them of what is right and wrong; they hold that information internally, they have a voice to express what they believe in, and the willingness to put those beliefs into action. Furthermore, when the Exciseuses give up the knives, they become allies with the mothers—even for a moment; the mothers who suffered pain and loss stand together with the women who performed FGM and killed their daughters while upholding an old ideology: “An articulation results from a coming together of separate discourses under certain specific conditions and at specific times” (Bobo, 105).

Althusser says that an ideology “recruits.” Ideology functions through “interpellation” or “hailing.” It catches the attention of the subject through a Subject (mirror effect). In Moolaade, the Exciseuses finally recognize themselves in the mothers who suffered child loss and pain, and most especially in Colle—a martyr figure (like Christ, as Althusser might put it). The women in the village who previously stood with the Exciseuses later come to tell Colle that they “felt the blows” when Colle was being beaten before them, thus hailing them towards a new ideology. This cross recognition leads to what Bobo calls a “cultural transformation.” Bobo is not naïve, though. She says, “[Cultural transformation] is always in the process of becoming.” Ideology—new or old—can only exist when there are agents who keep it in function, and allow it to materialize.

In the second to last scene, when Amasatou tells Ibrahima that she is and always will remain a “Bilakoro,” her stance is as important as Ibrahima’s decision to accept her for what she is without trying to fit her into the outdated ideology—one that silenced and ignored the women’s cries against FGM; the union of these two will put the new ideology into motion through practice. Sembene’s maleness as a filmmaker is important for this film. The two men who express their support of the women’s ideology—Ibrahim and Colle’s husband—do so by physically walking away from the shade where the male elders sit; they each come to terms with leaving behind what ideologically defined their masculinity in order to find union and happiness with the women in their new ideology. This recognition from agents of the patriarch is also noteworthy. This alliance is also part of the articulation that Bobo describes, and part of the unity that must be “strengthened.”

(Originally published on UCLA’s FTVDM Bulletin.)

*There is a new film out entitled Sembene! (2015) which recently played at the AFI Film Festival. Check your local theaters to find play dates.

 

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