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Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Blue Jasmine" Blues

It isn't uncommon to be sad at the end of a Woody Allen film. Not common, really, but certainly not unheard of, in that Purple Rose of Cairo has one of the most depressing endings in film, with Annie Hall and Manhattan coming up not far behind.

Blue Jasmine, though. Wow.

Maybe it's because of where we are right now, Greg and I. Admittedly, I've been a bit more raw, emotionally, these past few months than I have been at any time in the recent past, and for reasons that are both known and unknown to people we know. 2013 has been a hard year, and not just for G and me--everyone I know seems to be having a rough go of this year.

I assume that's to be expected in a year ending with the number 13. Not really into number superstition, but 2013 can, for most of my friends and relations both familial and casual, be described in one word: fraught.

Fraught. Just.... fraught. Not "fraught with....this" or anything. Just "fraught."

And that was the word I kept thinking about after leaving Lincoln Plaza Cinema, walking along Broadway, and descending down into the bowels of the NYC subway system. Fraught. I had earbuds in but didn't listen to anything. At one point near Fiorello's I started crying. By the time I reached the station at 59th St., I was contemplating skipping the train altogether and going for a long walk in the nighttime Central Park--talk about fraught! That would've been a fraught walk.

It isn't that Blue Jasmine is an especially good movie. It isn't. Woody Allen's great films are, I'm afraid, long behind him; the most we can hope from him now is to make a competent film. Which is precisely what Blue Jasmine is: competent. The script works as well as any other script; the design is exactly right for what it needs to accomplish. There are no stunning cinematographic moments, which is fine because it's a Woody Allen movie, and you don't really need a 10 minute tracking shot, or a pull-out to reveal a stunning sunset.

There's no real ambition behind Woody Allen movies anymore. Fine. He's an old man, and he's done plenty of stunning work, so he gets to coast into his grave without bringing us another Annie Hall or Love and Death.

Cate Blanchett, however, seems completely unaware of Woody's end-game malaise. Blanchett didn't just perform a role in a sub-par film; she devoured it. It is, probably, what made me so incredibly sad: she was performing Globe-caliber Hamlet in a community production of Kiss Me Kate. She was in an entirely different film from the rest of the cast, the script, or even the director.

Blanchett was phenomenal. And if she chewed some scenery, it was only because her character got a bit peckish.

Some generalities: G, as you know, has some mental issues. Most of the time he's fine, but when he's not fine it can be fairly... fraught. Frayed. Fraying. It is something both of us have to work on, not just him. It is a condition that requires the attention of both him and of me. Things have in the past month improved greatly. He's got regular medication, he's getting as much help as we can currently afford, and I'm now less dimwitted about his situation than I was. Meaning, when I think things are going okay, that's when I need to pay extra attention to him, rather than assuming things are, in fact, okay.


There. So. I went alone to see Blue Jasmine. It's something I really enjoy doing: going alone to movies. Some think it's rather pathetic or whatever, but I genuinely enjoy going alone to see movies from time to time because I can just go to the movie--I needn't whisper or be whispered to about the action, I needn't prep for dinner before or after, I needn't deal with any human being in any way. I can just go, and sit in the dark, and watch the film.

Lincoln Plaza is one of my favorite places to go solo for films. Originally Greg was planning on going with me, but circumstances prevented him from doing so. Boy, am I glad he didn't go.

So. Blue Jasmine is the story of what might've happened to Ruth Madoff, Bernie Madoff's wife, if she were genetically modified to be Blanche DuBois from Streetcar Named Desire. Jasmine is wholly unsympathetic, like Ruth, but unlike Ruth you--or I--feel kind of sorry for her anyway.

Ruth Madoff, sans limo
There was one line that Jasmine uttered that broke my heart and landed one of the best laughs: "I'm from New York," she says to a potential suitor. "Park Avenue."

She says this the way someone else would announce they were from Elmira, or Albany. The implication is that she's not just from New York--she's from money.

We are reminded continuously that her former husband (played by Alec Baldwin) bilked a lot of people out of a lot of money, and used that money to provide Jasmine with a lavish lifestyle--and in fact we're shown just how lavish a lifestyle it was: gifts of diamond bracelets while lounging in giant baths of bubbles, servants at her beck and call, trips to Europe, dinner parties on rooftops. By the time Jasmine loses everything and moves in with her poorer sister, it seems karma has paid a fair price to get Jasmine there.

Here's the thing: as with Blanche, we learn that Jasmine is mentally broken. She talks to herself. She drinks too much. She pops pills. Also like Blanche, she refuses to believe the circumstances of her life have permanently changed. "I am rich," she basically tells anyone who listens. "I am only here among you lowly poors for a short time."

Here's the other thing, and it's the thing that made me weepy while walking to the train: She doesn't have that moment at the end of Streetcar.

Unlike Blanche, Jasmine exits her sister's apartment, sits down on a bench, and begins talking to herself. She doesn't get to depend on the kindness of strangers because not even her family give two shits about her.

I'd never thought about it before, but while the ending of Streetcar is harrowing, at least Stella knows where Blanche ends up, and presumably will look after her. Who knows--maybe Blanche gets better. But Jasmine? Jasmine is left completely alone, with no options, and the film ends with her sitting alone on a bench, babbling to herself about the time she met her awful husband, telling the same story she's told many times.

It's just sad.

Mental illness is a tough thing to have, and a tough thing to watch someone else experience. So Woody Allen got me to feel that. Unfortunately, he didn't get me to feel much else.

First off, his idea of poor people.... it's as if he really, truly wants to express something with class, but he is so remote from the concept of poverty now that he only has a memory of what blue-collar workers should be. There is little difference between the blue-collars of Purple Rose--set in the Depression--and the blue collars of Blue Jasmine.

Secondly, fine, okay, Woody Allen made me feel awful for Ruth Madoff. His inability to really identify with the poor--even though I'm pretty sure he wants to believe he does--is getting worse and worse as his film career wears on. I hate to be that person, but I really do wish he'd make another Love and Death, and admit he said everything he needed to say in Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Finally: Greg. And Cate. Watching Cate Blanchett really, truly was a pleasure in the most depressing way possible. Having seen breakdowns firsthand--and perhaps teeing myself up for one quite soon--I can say she did it quite well. Again, she was in a different film from every other actor--they were in a light comedy, but she was in a balls-out Shakespearean production.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Colors and 'Breaking Bad,' Part II: Yellow is Opposite Purple

Because I've nothing better to do, I'm continuing to obsess over the colors on 'Breaking Bad'.

The show mostly takes place over a single year, so from episode to episode the choice each character makes in wardrobe is like mixing colors on a palette. Each episode is a series of paintings, and sometimes you throw in a lot of white, and sometimes you throw in a lot of red.

Walt, for instance, is wearing purple when he finally convinces Gus Fring to take his blue meth, in season two, and almost simultaneously finds out his wife has gone into labor with their second child. He is also, a day later as the episodes fly, wearing purple as he watches Jesse's girlfriend die.

Jesse and his girlfriend, by the way, are in yellow bed sheets.

Color, like chemistry, mixes into new things. Yellow and blue make green; yellow is the color of contamination and disease while blue is the color of clarity and precision. Red and blue make purple; red is the color of violence and power while blue (as I said) is clarity and precision.

As I said before, blue comes out in both Walt's wife, Sky, and in the meth he makes. Both are clarity to Walt, in that his original motives are clarified by Sky's future--he wants to make sure she has one; but later, his motives are to preserve the clarity of the meth--Blue Sky, as Walt's brand of meth is called.

Since it is driven home, time and again, how important it is to mix chemicals correctly to preserve clarity of vision, it is also important to understand how the colors of the show mix together, right? I mean, Vince Gilligan, the creator of the show, has said--as have the actors and staff, again and again--how important colors are to the overall product. And they, like Walt, use the word 'product' repeatedly.

Just as Walt chides Jesse for overusing or underusing the correct combinations of chemicals to produce a superior product, I imagine Gilligan complaining that this or that fabric isn't the right shade of blue, or this or that vinyl isn't the correct shade of orange.

There's a scene in season two where Walt rescues Jesse from a shooting den (or whatever--not up on my lingo--he goes to rescue Jesse from an abandoned house where depressing people go to shoot heroin). Most all the graffiti in the shell of a house is in the palatte of the show: green, red, blue. There are some purple tags, and some black, but most everything is red, green, or blue, spraypainted onto white walls. Jesse is discovered on a purple blanket, and the woman beside him could be his dead girlfriend, which he last saw in yellow sheets. She's not his girlfriend, who is decidedly dead, but she's got the same body type, and we never see her face. We just see Jesse beside her, curled up, and recognize that he's beside her specifically because she reminded him of Jane.

It reminds me of the middle-class Great Gatsby. In Gatsby, colors had significance. Rich people decayed and declined, and around them colors told their fate: yellow for corruption, white for purity, green for future, etc. If Gatsby is truly about a man who reinvented his life (Gatsby is not Gatsby's real name, after all) but instead about a man who was able to leave his past and become something else, then it makes sense that 'Breaking Bad' would use color symbolism to tell the same bleak story.

And then add a spin on it by making chemical reaction symbolize those colors.

Walt's old partner Elliot Schwartz--his last name is phonetically similar for 'schwarz,' which means 'black' in German--now heads Gray Matter. Gray, of course, is a blending of white and black. As we know from the first season, Walt left Gray Matter (which is another term for 'brains,'). Walt left Gray Matter a bitter Nobel Laureate, convinced that the love of his life had been stolen from him.

More color-mixing.

There's a scene early in the second season where Hank--Walt's brother-in-law working with the DEA--makes a joke. After demanding to know why everyone is convinced Heisenberg has been caught, he derisively says that "we aren't looking for a Nobel prize winner." Which of course they are. Walt, who is Heisenberg, won the Nobel.

Walt also, like Gatsby, pines after a woman long lost to him.

Yellow and blue make green. Just like Gatsby on the dock, Walt is reaching for the green in hopes that he'll get Gretchen back. Meanwhile he's got blue: Sky and meth. And the yellow.

to be continued...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Colors and 'Breaking Bad' Part I


Colors. Colors all the way down.

If you haven't seen Breaking Bad, this will make little sense. If you haven't read The Great Gatsby, this will make even less sense. But colors in both works are very important.

If you know the primary color wheel, you may manage to get through this post, though.

Here, for illustrative purposes, is the primary color wheel:

I'm sure you remember this from either elementary school or GladLock commercials. Yellow and blue make green, amiright? Red and blue make (class? class?) purple. Yellow and red make (anyone?) orange.

Here's a link to how important color is to Breaking Bad. And it's true that I spend too much time thinking about this show, but life's short, and attention must be paid. (I also think 'Death of a Salesman' is important to this show.)

Here's the thing (and it's a nice thing, I promise): the characters on the show are rather primary, but occasionally mix into secondary colors. They're flat. As are we all--we're all rather dull and flat and one-dimensional. But the characters mix together, and get more complex, as do all of us. The main character is named 'White.'

White is not an absence of color, btw. White is a combination of all colors. When we see 'white,' we see blankness.

Here, by the way, is what the secondary color looks like:

See that secondary primary wheel? That's the main colors of the show.

Walt is green. Hank is orange. Marie is purple.

It's interesting. Sky(blue!)ler wears mostly blue. She's primary, after all. The most important thing in Walt's life is Skyler (and his blue meth). Gus is yellow. The meth lab is red.

Too long version: Red is the wild card, and the color is most closely associated with Jesse. Yellow is Gus Fring, who was pure intelligence. Blue is aspiration, because Sky is who Walt believes he is trying to help. But once you start mixing all the primary colors together, you get secondary issues: Walt becomes green because he's Gus and Sky; Hank is orange because he's Fring and Jesse; and Marie is purple because she's Jesse and Sky.

To be continued...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

'Sex and the City' and the Married Boy

Recently, standing in my tasteful uptown Manhattan apartment--for which I pay two digits too much--I was scrubbing dishes and realizing my hatred of Sex and the City. The apartment agreed with me, and dropped a piece of the ceiling upon my head. It was then I began my rhetorical questions, as I stood with my Gap shorts clinging to my body with an expectancy not even the Virgin Mary anticipated.

How do you know if your apartment agrees with your distaste for a television show?

SATC is a fine show, I suppose, but I've seen too many young women standing on street corners in tutus and Jimmy Choos, staring at water puddles and hoping a city bus comes by. The city bus always comes by, and it always hits the puddle. Chill, girls. It'll happen.

What do you do when you're splashed by gutter-water?

Silkwood Shower. Immediately.

Why do young women continue to think they can be Carrie Bradshaw?

So, as I stood in my kitchen washing dishes and watching disc two of season two of Sex and the City, I couldn't help but wonder: Do single women in the city still identify with this show? Do gay men, who were also way into SATC back in the day, still think Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha are life-models? Do people still type rhetorical questions on their MacBooks, then answer those questions through a series of very tightly-scripted scenes involving photogenic extras?

Can there be a camera closing in on this sentence as I type it, in hopes that this sentence comes off as a profound question in need of answering?

No. Probably not. Also: don't stand on a street corner, in a tutu, next to a puddle, waiting for a city bus to pass and splash you with water. Again: you won't look adorable. You'll just look as if you got sprayed down with a salmonella bath.

No one wants to date you because you are tainted.


Rewatching Sex and the City is infuriating. And honestly, I didn't start rewatching it so I could be infuriated. I mean, there are some things I watch just to get angry about--Who Killed the Electric Car, for instance, or random Frontline pieces, or season 9 of X-Files. But  SATC? Meh. It wasn't a hate-watch choice. It's been years since I saw the show, and I thought it might be a nice distraction as I scrubbed dishes.

Three rants later, Greg begged me to turn it off. But there were dishes to go before I slept, and dishes to go before I slept.

As a gay male, perhaps Sex and the City is something I shouldn't judge. You know, I mean, perhaps Candace Bushnell is the Helen Gurley Brown of our era, which means me--a man who likes dick--shouldn't criticize a fictional character hailed as a feminist icon. Hell, half the time there's a feminist hero, gay males appropriate her as quickly as white musicians appropriate black music. Madonna: feminist hero, gay icon. Elvis: appropriator of Black music, white icon.

The thing about Sex and the City is that it is not presented as iconography. We're not, as an audience, supposed to see the four main characters as anything other than realistic presentations of sexual beings in the city. They fight with cable companies. They go to ball games. They get robbed. But!


They fail the Bechdel Test each episode. For a long-running series about four women--stretching six seasons and two films--there is barely a moment when the four leads fail to mention a man. And one of the actresses--Cynthia Nixon--is gay. Miranda also has one of the most real moments on the show when she stops being a terrible person and starts taking care of her husband's mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's.

Wake up, bitch
When the show first aired, it was about women being honest in sex and in life. Now, ten years on and several visits to The Pleasure Chest, I hope everyone has matured. Just as Seinfeld made straight man-boys popular, I think SATC made young women feel perpetual youth is a 'thing' rather than a condition.

Gay men, of course, will be waiting for the next thing to appropriate, because we've gone mainstream, and have a difficult time creating things straight America want to steal.

RuPaul, prove me wrong. You too, Lisa. Tappa tappa tappa.

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