As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

My week in Pop Culture – Week 21

Posted by Hedwig on May 27, 2012

It was yet another week heavier on social activities than on pop culture. I did read quite a bit: Swamplandia!, reviewed here, some of the short stories that make up the back half of I Am Legend, the beginning of Burrough’s first Tarzan book, and I finally progressed further with Cosmopolis, because it turns out I’m going to the press screening on Wednesday.

The only movies I saw were re-watches: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, which was just as bubbly and fun as the first time around (with the exception of the segment with the earrings), and the second half of the director’s cut of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. We’d watched the first half several weeks ago, but while the director’s cut is better than the theatrical one, it is also really, really long.

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My Week in Pop Culture – Week 20

Posted by Hedwig on May 21, 2012

Last week was filled with social and other activities, and thus little time was left for Pop Culture. Most of the time I had was spent on twitter, following #Cannes tweets (so nice to have all those American bloggers in my time zone…), and as a result deciding to re-animate my old twitter account, changing the name to @HedInTheCloud. I’m also experimenting with #GetGlue as a way to tweet what I’m doing, though the sticker thing I can’t seem to disable is a bother, and it might be easier to just tweet directly, without a third party app. We’ll see.

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These posts will thus become more focused, talking about just one or two things I saw/read/consumer. This week: HEADHUNTERS, a Norwegian thriller about an art thief/headhunter who gets into trouble, which I went to see in the cinema by myself on Saturday night. I rather like going to the movies solo, but I was also happy that the screening room was rather full, since it’s a movie that profits from the laughs and “ewwww”‘s of an audience – could have done without the two middle aged ladies constantly asking each other what was happening, though. And it’s not like the movie is complex – it’s quite neatly constructed, as a matter of fact.

What I liked most about the movie is that the protagonist starts out so despicable (shallow, self-absorbed, manipulative, hypocritical, insecure – you name it) that you look forward to Nicolaj Coster-Waldau going all Jaime Lannister on his ass…. and then the man gets so systematically broken down from all directions in all different ways, stripped to the bone and covered in shit, that you kind of start feeling for him despite everything, maybe even rooting for him. The violence in this movie really hurts, which can’t be said for most  action movies, like for instance the other film I went to see in the cinema this weekend, SAFE. I’m not saying that’s inherently better – I rather enjoy mindless cartoon violence every once in a while – but it’s nice  that both exist. 

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For the love of film: perspective in VERTIGO

Posted by Hedwig on May 15, 2012

This post is for the FOR THE LOVE OF FILM blogathon, this time to benefit one of the first films Hitchcock worked on. Please donate by clicking the image below!

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Most suspenseful films depend, in some way or another, on an asymetry of information. Hitchcock himself illustrated it with the example of a bomb under the table: the situation is only suspenseful if the audience knows the bomb is there but the characters do not. The opposite can also work: if we know a main character knows something, but we do not know what, that creates narrative suspense. There are many ways to establish this unbalance of information, but one of the most reliable ones in both books and films is to play with perspective, deciding whether to use an omniscient point of view or to restrict yourself to one character in particular.

Hitchcock clearly enjoyed playing with point of views in that way. Often his protagonists were suspicious female innocents: Joan Fontaine in SUSPICION and REBECCA, for instance, or Teresa Wright as young Charlie in SHADOW OF A DOUBT. James Stewart’s limited perspective in REAR WINDOW could even be said to be the whole point of the movie.

More interesting to me is a case where Hitchcock radically changes the perspective halfway through the movie: VERTIGO. By the by: here is where you will want to stop reading if you haven’t seen the film yet, since I’ll clearly be going into details of the plot. I was, sort of, and it kind of ruined my first viewing of the film, so seriously: stop reading, and get thee to Netflix.

From the first scene of VERTIGO, there’s no ambiguity about whose perspective we’re getting: when James Stewart’s Scottie almost falls off the roof, we get a clearly subjective shot featuring what’s now called the “VERTIGO effect”. We see what Scottie sees, and for the rest of the first half, there are no scenes in which he is not featured: we’re with him as he follows Kim Novak’s Madeleine, we see what he sees, are mystified when he’s mystified by sudden disappearances, and we get fascinated by her together with him. There’s 100% identification with the protagonist here, to an extent you don’t often get, until the fatal drop from the tower. In the dream sequence that follows, we are invited to share Scottie’s nightmare.


In the next sequence, we’re slowly weaned, so to speak. We see Midge’s view of Scottie at the sanatorium, and when we see him on the streets of New York, we’re not quite with him as we were before: the episode of madness created a distance. When we “meet” Judy, we’re still seeing things more or less from Scottie’s perspective. But then everything suddenly changes: Judy tells us in voice-over what really happened, and all of a sudden, we’re in her shoes.

I was very surprised, recently, when I found out that Hitchcock had doubts about the reversal, fearing it gave away the twist too soon. For once, it’s a good thing studio bosses intervened, because the shift is incredibly powerful on a number of levels. Purely on a narrative level, having empathized with Scottie for so long means his transformation into a monster right in front of Judy’s eyes is all the more powerful. In the first half, we are Scottie, and imbue him with all our better characteristics, but in the second part we get the outside view, unadorned, and it’s not so pretty. It’s a neat inverse of the perspective shift we get in PSYCHO, where we start seeing things from Marion’s perspective only to go to Norman’s after she’s dead, from the victim to the murderer. We want her to make it out alive, but then we kind of wonder whether Norman will manage to cover it up.

The shift in VERTIGO is also notable because it’s a shift from the traditionally male gaze, used by Hitchcock in many other films to observe his trademark icy blondes, to a female perspective. I won’t go so far as to call it the female gaze – Judy still photographed more lovingly than Scottie, almost glowing in parts – but it’s significant nonetheless. In the first part, Scottie’s love for Madeleine is more important than her reciprocation; in the second, his love becomes grotesque, while hers gets noble qualities.

The shift of perspective in VERTIGO may have given us too much information, taking away a little of the suspense. But it’s worth it.

Almost forgot: for all the great posts, look to the blogs of the wonderful organizers, Marilyn, Farran and Rod.

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My Week in Pop Culture – week 19

Posted by Hedwig on May 13, 2012

A short one this week: we had a (lovely – she baked!) house guest from last sunday until friday, and that means looking for a common denominator in entertainment.The one we found: SUPERNATURAL. I’d given a try a while ago as an exercise show but wasn’t very happy with it, mostly because instead of a fight-or-flight reflex I have a deer-frozen-in-headlights reflex. I’m still not sure about the show, now 11 episodes into the first season. Aside from the two brothers, there’s not really any recurring cast (I am aware this changes later, and in fact a possibly recurring character is introduced in ep. 11), and the banter’s sort of bland, especially when compared to something like BUFFY. I think I’ll give it a season, and see if it manages to interest me on a more than moment-to-moment basis.

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More TV, a few movies, and a Stephen King book after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

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My week in Pop Culture – week 18

Posted by Hedwig on May 6, 2012

The boyfriend and I went on a trip this week, from sunday until thursday, to a place with a blessed lack of input: no news, no recent TV shows, not even internet. What was available? Lots of detective novels and detective shows on dvd – and peace and quiet, and nature to walk in.

As a result, this was mostly a week of reading: 4 books total. Read the rest of this entry »

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On Fantasy

Posted by Hedwig on May 6, 2012

Note: there’s quite a bit of nostalgic/biographical nonsense in the first three paragraphs, but after that I get to discussing China Miéville’s PERDIDO STREET STATION and Scott Lynch’s THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA – in case that might be something you’re into.

I read quite a bit of fantasy as a teenager. THE LORD OF THE RINGS, of course, twice: the Dutch translation when I must’ve been 11 or 12, the original a few years later. I also remember devouring David Eddings’ BELGARIAD cycle, probably even more (I remember reaching the double digits in how many books of his I read), and I would take the heavy tomes with me to school, reading in any spare moment, on the floor with my back against the wall, completely oblivious to my surroundings. Read the rest of this entry »

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My Week in Pop Culture – Week 17

Posted by Hedwig on April 28, 2012

I want to start with the end this time: I just finished a glorious one-two punch, the first season of Jane Espenson’s HUSBANDS (which sounds more impressive than it is, at only about 20 minutes) followed by THE CELLULOID CLOSET, the former suggested by a podcast interview with Espenson, the latter by a recent conversation with a (film magazine) colleague. They went together very well, with HUSBANDS illustrating both just how far we’ve come and that we still have a while to go in terms of gay rights. Not much in CLOSET was new to me, but it’s wonderful nonetheless, both funny (the BEN-HUR scene, for instance) and very very moving. The most surprising thing? I emerged with a newfound respect for Harry Hamlin. And Tony Curtis looks like he’d be (or, I guess, have been) a ton of fun.

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Speaking of a ton of fun: THE AVENGERS! I meant to do a separate post, but there’s really not that much to say. Is it good? Probably not.  Is it fun? Hell yes. It may not be much storywise, but the banter is top notch Read the rest of this entry »

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My Week in Pop Culture – week 16

Posted by Hedwig on April 22, 2012

In the context of writing more/more often/more regularly, a new feature! I’ll try to sit down every Sunday and write a little about what I watched/read/played/listened to etc. in the past week. It’s not meant to be exhaustive, but more an associative kind of diary, full of pieces that are a bit too slight to merit their own individual post. Under the fold: I am Legend, SOYLENT GREEN, MISS BALA, and assorted bits and pieces.

Just today, I finished reading A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. I should have loved it: I’m always a sucker (…sorry) for vampires, the book is basically a romance novel in fantasy guise, and there are lots of references to literature and history. Main character Diana is a stubborn witch with the requisite mysterious past, her lover Matthew is a 1500 year old vampire, and it’s altogether silly.

So why did it annoy me so, despite keeping me reading? Read the rest of this entry »

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On being a “girl”

Posted by Hedwig on April 18, 2012

“…or at least a voice of generation”

You can’t put a quote like that in the pilot of your show, and even assign it to the character you play yourself, without inviting a lot of comments, and Lena Dunham certainly got that in the past days/weeks. Specifically, since her character is 24, she’s 26, and I’m 27, and we furthermore share a gender, race, sexual orientation and approximate socio-economic background, the generation would be my generation, and it’s tempting to dive into a list of differences and similarities between her characters’ situations and, trying to rate just how “true” or “representative” or whatever the show is.

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The Hunger Games

Posted by Hedwig on March 24, 2012

(cross-posted to tumblr)

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 Maybe this is how you make a truly faithful adaptation: make sure the same criticisms and praise that apply to the book can be applied to your movie as well. In this case: clumsy style decisions are luckily overshadowed by the strength of the story, story-telling and characters.

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