Monday, March 13, 2017

Movie About Movies: Mulholland Drive

Movie About Movies: Mulholland Drive (2001)

Written and directed by David Lynch, “Mulholland Drive” is arguably the weirdest movie I have ever seen.

A torrid dreamscape, punctuated with lurid violence. The sexiest sex scenes since before modern pornography and a burgeoning modern fear of real sexuality ruined it. Stunning performances by leading actresses Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Entrancing plot lines that dribble away into thin air. A cascade of imagery and sound. It was fantastic.

Harring and Watts, left to right.

I’d heard tell of the movie before, like whispers of a strange, creepy legend no one really knows what to make of (everyone tells me to watch it but no one dares explain why); I’d noticed it on a few lists of “best movies ever,” and had attempted to watch it previous to this assignment only to be disappointed when just the first half of the download worked. When I realized it was on Netflix I quickly switched my ‘movie about movies’ pick from “Room 237” (sorry Stanley Kubrick, Lynch’s Twin Peaks is one of my top three favorite shows, but I love your movies too) to “Mulholland Drive.” I watched it at about midnight on my fairly large and new smart TV. As a Netflix addict, it is set up in my bedroom so I can drown myself in stories and media as I fall asleep every night. (Although this habit may be a contributing factor to a host of terrible nightmares that would become such twisted screenplays probably both Lynch and Kubrick would delight in directing them...)

Oddly enough, I didn’t have nightmares after watching this movie. It sucked the nightmare right out of my head and blew up my fears wide on the screen. After watching the insanity of “Mulholland Drive,” I have never felt my own mind to be so sane. I also felt a little sick, like the twisting storyline and cascade of images were empty of meaning; it was all just a play on individual perspective, and Lynch never really meant anything by it. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s sitting in a chair in an empty room full of red curtains somewhere, cackling like one of his demonic characters at the expense of all the fans and reviewers attempting to find meaning in something totally meaningless. There is no meaning; we make meaning of life’s random events where there is none, and it’s all just a beautiful nightmare. Of course, this movie was also an obvious commentary on some of the more nightmarish aspects of the Hollywood machine. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it at first, and needed a little help.

Movie reviewer and renowned Hollywood expert Roger Ebert gave the most accurate description of “Mulholland Drive” in a review on his website:

The movie is hypnotic; we're drawn along as if one thing leads to another--but nothing leads anywhere, and that's even before the characters start to fracture and recombine like flesh caught in a kaleidoscope. "Mulholland Drive" isn't like "Memento," where if you watch it closely enough, you can hope to explain the mystery. There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery.

There have been countless dream sequences in the movies, almost all of them conceived with Freudian literalism to show the characters having nightmares about the plot. "Mulholland Drive" is all dream. There is nothing that is intended to be a waking moment. Like real dreams, it does not explain, does not complete its sequences, lingers over what it finds fascinating, dismisses unpromising plotlines. If you want an explanation for the last half hour of the film, think of it as the dreamer rising slowly to consciousness, as threads from the dream fight for space with recent memories from real life, and with fragments of other dreams--old ones and those still in development.

Usually I am keen on dissecting a movie. This one, however, provides far too much rich and layered context and references to other media for me to begin scratching the surface. I needed to read about it as soon as the credits rolled; I’m not ashamed for needing help sorting this one out, and it seems others aren’t, either. There is a host of quick reviews and theories available in a sort of collated review on (This is also where I first noticed the apt description by Ebert and went in search of the full review.) There is an in-depth dissection by Bill Wyman, Max Garrone and Andy Klein on which Ebert cites as the best theory, a.k.a. the “dream theory.”

As soon as I read Ebert’s citation of the dream theory, it all clicked in my head. “This is what my nightmares are like,” I thought. Vivid, intense, and escaping. Dreams turn to horrors in scene changes that make no sense but feel completely right, pulling forward. Emotions are raw, exploding and slipping away as fast as burnt-out fireworks. One scene leads to the next, throwing so much imagery at you, pulling the past, present and future into one single moment, layering moments inside moments until you forget what came before. Scenes slip through your fingers like sand, escaping the confines of sense; you can’t remember how you got here or why any of it occurred, but you experienced it all and it was pure elation; beautiful, and then, suddenly carnal, sexual, and finally, horrific. Then you wake up. Credits roll.

"Mulholland Drive" may leave you feeling a little like this gif. 

My own theory builds on some of the well-researched experts who know more than me, but I get the sense that Mulholland Drive is only secondary a commentary on brutal Hollywood; Lynch is, after all, a successful director who has seen it all. In an interview with Mitch Horowitz, Lynch alludes to the fear-machine he thinks much of Hollywood is. It may be that his familiarity with the horrors of Hollywood influenced his choice of a Hollywood setting to explore themes of meaninglessness and fear in “Mulholland Drive.”

I once noticed an article about somebody here in Hollywood who ran his whole business on fear, like it was a macho, cool thing. Now to me, it’s like that person is an idiot. Not only that, but he’s probably riddled with fear himself, broadcasting it and needing to give more of it to others.  

This goes on day after day – but humanity was not made to suffer: Bliss is our nature – that and being naturally kind to others. We’re all in this thing together.

So, it’s common sense that if a guy goes to work and he’s always afraid of losing his position or his whole job, or being humiliated publicly, his fear will often turn to anger. And a person becomes ultimately angry at his work. And then he begins to hate.

And this is the kind of life that this person in Hollywood, and probably many, many others who run the show, give to their employees. And it’s real close to hell. And you don’t get people to go that extra mile for you. They can probably hardly wait to get away from you and away from their work. And the creativity is cramped – negativity cramps creativity,” said Lynch.

Lynch is a proponent of meditation, and the interview is largely about some of his spiritual views and the influence of Hollywood.

Although Lynch criticizes Hollywood in “Mulholland Drive,” using an ethereal big bad force in charge to threaten the character of director Adam (Justin Theroux), I think he intended to use the idea of Hollywood as a dark place that chews up young starlets and directors and spits them back out mostly as the perfect neo-noir setting to explore deeper, more existential themes.

I believe that the movie is a play of duality, building on Lynch’s movies that came before. Naomi Watt’s character, Betty/Diane, is two sides of the same coin, a fevered dream mish-mash of past and present, culminating in murder/suicide. She is the innocent, romanticized version of past self, versus the hard, ragged, jealous, murderous reality of present. The movie takes place inside Diane’s head, from her perspective, dreaming in the moments before she kills herself. It’s the flash of memory before the final scene of death; she remakes herself in fantasy but the demons of truth drive her to suicide, filtering into her dreamscape in seemingly inexplicable ways. In this way, nothing in the movie has to make sense or flow in a line of time. Reality is entirely subjective.

Mulholland Drive” is often hailed as Lynch’s best film. For such a deeply disturbing movie, it won a whopping total of 47 awards, and was nominated for 47 others. This included an Oscar nomination for best director and four Golden Globes nominations. It also put actress Naomi Watts squarely on the Hollywood map, as well as actress Laura Harring. Harring actually won an Alma Award for her role as best actress. This movie about struggling young starlets actually propelled two young starlet women deep into successful careers. Both were previously "almost making it" in Hollywood but not quite getting the right parts. (Naomi Watts was best friends with immediate star success Nicole Kidman, whose friendship has strange parallels to the struggles of starlets in the movie itself.  It’s no wonder Watts was fantastic in the part, she’s lived it… but with a happy ending.) Watts went on to star in “The Ring,” among several other prominent roles in box-office hits. For years I refused to watch “The Ring” because I thought it would terrify me too deeply- the trailer scared the bejeezus out of me and I thought it looked too much like my own nightmares- but when I finally did watch it, I found it to be a delightfully creepy ghost story that was actually done fairly well for an American remake. After witnessing her versatile performance in “Mulholland Drive,” I’d be hopeful of any moving starring Watts, even if I’m not a fan of blondes.

Watts (left) and Harring. In a drawn-out fantasy, a super-sensual sex scene between the leading actresses. 

Lynch has written and directed several other movies, garnering a cult following. These include 1977’s “Eraserhead,” sci-fi masterpiece “Dune,” and cult classic “Blue Velvet.” The hit show “Twin Peaks” of the 1990s is the first I’d seen of his work and I immediately binge watched it following my first surgery about five years ago when an ex brought over the DVDs. I loved the surreal, ethereal images, ideas and sounds in his directing, along with the noir-like character dialogue and twisting, mysterious plotline. Lynch uses similar images, sounds, casts and crew members throughout his works, connecting scenes between movies in a bizarre connect-the-dots game for the viewer. His use of red curtains and the same actor Michael J. Anderson to inhabit the curtained rooms is certainly unique; it also adds strange familiarity that builds on the creepiness-factor inherent in his films/shows.

Long red curtains are a common theme among Lynch's works.

Anderson as Mr. Roques, the mysterious man behind the glass, pulling all the strings. 

He frequently uses Johanna Ray as casting director in his films. Aside from Lynch films, she has cast a lengthy list and wide variety of movies including some of my favorites: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,”Kill Bill” Vol. 1 and 2, “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and “From Dusk Till Dawn.” Though none of her projects are similar, each of those has become a cult classic, and in a large part due to the stellar performances from the casts Ray chose.

Film editing of “Mulholland Drive” was performed by Mary Sweeney, Lynch’s ex-wife and mother of one of his children. She has worked with Lynch for years, and bore his child over ten years before they were ever married. (They were only married for less than a year.) On Lynch’s films her film editing touches are clear, helping create a continuity of style in his movies. These include “Blue Velvet,” “Lost Highway,” and “Twin Peaks.” She recently wrote and directed her own film, “Baraboo,” and though I have not seen it, I’d be interested to see what one of Lynch’s female counterparts has to express.

Peter Deming, the cinematographer Lynch chose for “Mulholland Drive” recently did the cinematography for “Oz the Great and Powerful” (2013). He’s also doing the cinematography for the “Twin Peaks” reboot, a long awaited 12-episode throwback to Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” show of the 90s. The show is scheduled to be released May 1, 2017, on Showtime. I can say with certainty that I will be viewing Deming’s work further, as both “Twin Peaks” and the original “Wizard of Oz” are favorites of mine. Plus, a Wizard of Oz spinoff with Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch has to be entertaining. I refuse to believe it is as awful as it probably is, and if it sucks, I’ll find out the hard way. At least I’ll know the cinematography will be good, judging from Deming’s work with Lynch.

“Mulholland Drive” casts Hollywood into the limelight as a starring force in the movie itself. Yet it doesn’t say anything concrete about Hollywood; the viewer cannot be sure what is real and what is fantasy. Is it really a terrible place filled with cruel people who destroy a young woman and her hopes? Or is Betty/Diane her own self-destructive force? One thing can surely be gleaned from the film however; Hollywood is a place that pits aspiring actresses against one another. It is a place where they go to dream or to die, or so the movie would have you believe.

One scene does show a picture-perfect view, straight out of Hollywood’s past, however:

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Camilla Rhodes, played by Melissa George, auditions for a part by singing the 60s hit "16 Reasons Why I Love You" originally recorded by Connie Stevens. 

In this scene, a full movie set is shown, including a picture-perfect recording room with glittering auditioning women. The Betty character stumbles onto the set in tow by two wise-talking Hollywood powers, both women. She watches director Adam audition women to star in what looks like a movie set in the 60s.

Just a scene earlier, we see Betty (Watts) audition for a part and blow away a room full of director/producer types in a sort of fantasy of how a perfect audition might go.

Lynch, through the eyes of the Betty/Diane character, seems to be romanticizing classic Hollywood, yet its true, dark-tendriled nature soon rips through the Betty fantasy and rips Diane back to a hellish consciousness.

Diane/Betty's experience of cruel, public embarrassment at director Adam's Hollywood dinner party and consequent hiring of a hit man to kill her previous lover, Harring's character, doesn't cross over as a particularly realistic representation of Hollywood society. Then again, nothing in the movie really does.

Though not many parallels exist between this movie and the 'movie about movies' we watched in class, "Hail, Caesar!" both act as critiques of classic Hollywood past. While the Coen brothers' critique looks back through a humorous lens, fond and irreverent, Lynch dives into the darkest possible depths of Hollywood's effects. Both films, however, send a similar message, questioning the meaning inherent in the movies themselves and the people making them, discovering them to be futile, meaningless dreams, a manufactured fantasy given truth only in the eye of the beholder. Hollywood is a turning, well-oiled machine filled with the good and the bad- the potential for it all. Lynch just happens to see more negative consequence, whereas "Hail, Caesar!" shows the existence of meaningless Hollywood crud to not really be so bad of a thing, after all.

End Note: I watched and wrote about this 'movie about movies' to replace my missing blog post from Week 6, "Newspapers and Modern Journalism and First Amendment."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Blog Forum Week 8

Topic 1: Books/Banned Books

It was 1998, and I was in the 7th grade. Or was it 1996, and I was in 5th grade? Either way, it doesn’t matter. In the middle of reading Gary Paulsen’s “Harris and Me” for our class, the book was banned. Somebody’s conservative Christian parent complained to the school principal that there were too many swear words and the use of “God damn.” They were really missing the entire point of the book. This city kid spends the summer at his aunt and uncle’s farm with his foul-mouthed mischievous cousin. It was funny and full of positive, serious themes about growing up and learning about different ways of living, getting outside of one’s comfort zone and learning. And that’s exactly what one kid’s parents disallowed our entire class to do. 

According to the American Library Association (ALA) website’s 2008 banned book list, this book remained banned under a “signed parental release only” for the following ten years in the Cascade School District of Leavenworth, Wash., and it’s likely still banned to this day. And let me tell you, boy was I crushed when that book was ripped from my class in the midst of reading it. We had to turn in our copies, and start reading something else far more boring. My teacher, whose name I cannot recall, seemed embarrassed, disheartened and rather frustrated. That kid who belonged to the complaining parents became a hated scapegoat of our class. It was fun for no one involved. I recall more liberal parents becoming fairly enraged that their children’s education was being encroached on by outside conservative values, especially my mother. She ordered me a copy of the book from the public library right away, just so I could finish it. Because of strong feelings on all sides of the parental spectrum, a compromise was reached by the school board, and the book was allowed to be taught only if the parents signed an agreement. 

I am 100 percent against banning books from public spaces, especially schools. It demeans learning and infringes on First Amendment rights of free speech. Books serve as windows into other worlds, cultures, and ideas-- and these things are vital to a growing child’s full and rounded education. Outright pornography of course should not be in libraries and schools, however, children should not be denied access to literature due to racy material or topics about sex education. 

On their website, the ALA has lists upon lists of frequently banned books and books banned by year and school district. Glancing through, I see about 20 titles that have been essential to my own literary education. Some of these books are favorites of mine, and at least 10 are sitting on my bookshelf right now or stored in one of my many boxes of books. For example, Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” is one of my top three favorite books, and it graces the most frequently banned books list.
 I remember reading this book when I was 14, and it certainly did not scar me or hurt my fragile teenage intellect; there are some uncomfortable scenes in the novel, but they are not gratuitous, they are powerful. 

Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” also graces both my bookshelf and the ALA’s list of most frequently banned books. 
This is a book that was slammed by critics in the 1930s yet became revered as a hallmark book in black women’s literature. It is also a book I love deeply, even more so for its controversy.

“Persepolis” is a graphic autobiography written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi. It documents her childhood and an inside view of Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. This book was given to all the students at the first college I attended, Western Washington University. Reading it, I entered into the world of the author. It taught me more about the effects of war the Islamic revolution than anything else I have read. It’s fantastic.
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A poster for the film adaptation of "Persepolis."

Aside from those three books, if you were to peruse my shelf at home, you’d find several books of poetry by Mary Oliver and Alan Ginsberg, novels by Toni Morrison, Zora Neal Hurston, Hunter S. Thompson, Hermann Hesse, William S. Burroughs and many others. “Jack of Kinrowan” by Charles de Lint exhibits my love of fantasy and druidic folklore-inspired tales. Tales of the fae are in my blood; they come with my heritage. I’ve many more fantasy and sci-fi novels tucked away in boxes, and a set Tolkien's sit next to De Lint’s novel. When I was a kid, nothing was more entertaining than a good read in an entirely fictional and fantasy realm. Nothing that took place on regular planet Earth truly interested me; if it did, it had better involve faeries or vampires or SOMETHING otherworldly. My bookshelf provides some insight into my younger years and my beatnik phase, when I voraciously read books by Burroughs and Jack Kerouac and poetry by Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. (Doesn’t every twenty-something literature-lover go through that phase?) I somehow have two copies of Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” although only one is as worn and torn as my brain was after reading that beast. 
Author of "Naked Lunch" and prominent beat writer William S. Burroughs. Photo courtesy of
Juanita and my very beat-up copy of "Naked Lunch." Its traveled far and wide with me.

 Another book that will always be among my favorites, “Wandering: Notes and Sketches” by Herman Hesse, is one of the famous author's lesser-known books. It reads like a series of essays about his travel, nature-inspired and transcendental. It speaks to me like poetry, and I love it. I have several other nature-inspired books, memoirs and novels on my shelf; it’s fairly obvious that I’m a woman who connects with natural world on a spiritual level.

Topic 2: Magazines

Science News, March 18, 2017 edition. The magazine focuses on developments in science and technology that have the potential to affect the world. On the cover, a woman wears a white device over her eyes. The cover story says “Game On: Virtual reality tries to overcome its motion sickness problem.” Just inside the cover is a full page ad for a Tai Chi and Qui Gong lecture course on DVD. The juxtaposition of ancient eastern medicine and spiritual practices within the modern science magazine is quite telling of how our modern American culture places value and capitalizes on the “exotic” eastern wisdom, touting its health benefits for a profit. It’s also a fairly amusing and unexpected juxtaposition to see right off the bat, in all of its full-page glory. All advertisements in the magazine are full-page, and they are sparse, only 5 total in the 34-page magazine. The other ads are for a special hearing aid, and a couple for STEM education-related activities. The back page advertises a special kind of outdoor knife. Most articles are large, a half page to up to three full pages, but there are a couple quick reads in the beginning, including an article about a newly discovered type of crab named after Harry Potter, “Crab gets Harry Potter honor.” Though there are a few large, anchoring photos throughout the pages, many pages lack strong graphics and instead are full pages of columns of black on white text. The most compelling images are with the cover story, including a photo of what looks like the inside of a virtual-reality viewing. 

Unlike Science News, the magazine Gluten-Free Living contains relies heavily on photographs and advertisements, containing 20 ads, most of which are full or half-page ads. Almost all of the ads are for gluten free food and beauty products. The magazine itself contains a variety of articles, all focused on people with gluten-free diets. There is a large, four-page article on the gut microbiomes, called “The Microbiome: Guardian of the Gut.” It also contains travel guides for places around the U.S. and Europe that have gluten-free restaurants, hotels, and cruises. There is a feature story about a young girl with Celiac’s disease, who won Food Network’s “Chopped Junior,” a competitive cooking show for kids. There is a full-page photo of the girl, grinning, pretty and blonde. There’s also over 20 recipes inside, with complementary food porn; enough to make you very hungry, even if it is gluten free. Since the topic of the magazine is about something very visual and visceral, food, it really uses photos to create a rainbow-palette of foods for the reader. The ads are all related to a gluten-free lifestyle, and nothing seems out of place.

Reading a magazine in a doctor's office is a very different experience than reading one online. First, there were fewer choices. I opted for this issue of Entertainment, with actresses Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange on the cover. The issue's main story is about a new T.V. show starring the two of them playing the famous feuding historical actresses, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. 

This magazine is all about media, especially television and movies. Advertisements range from full pages to whole center spreads, like this one for the hit T.V. series "The Walking Dead."

The entire magazine is virtually promotional stories about television shows, movies, or flat-out advertisements. 

Entertainment Weekly is actually owned by Time Inc., which was part of media conglomerate Time-Warner until 2014. This meant that it was promoting a lot of the movies and television shows that Time-Warner was producing. 

It's also advertising a wide range of other things people can buy. There is even a national public service campaign about debt sponsored by The Advertisement Council. 

Aside from different advertisements, there's something much better about flipping through the glossy pages of a magazine in real life. There is texture to the experience, smooth, slippery pages; and there is smell- the smell of the pages, faint hints of ink. You can scrutinize celebrities up-close in the glossy stills, frozen that way on the pages forever. You can draw on them and give them funny mustaches, cut out pieces and make collage art. Print magazines will never die. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Blog Forum Week 7

My Life in Movies:

The first movie I remember watching in the theater was Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

I think my brother and his friend Elizabeth took me to see it; I was 5 years old at the time. It was 1991 in Seattle, Wash. and grunge was blowing up. My older brother was soon to be obsessed with Alice in Chains and Nirvana, but for me and my 5-year-old mind, that first-remembered movie theater experience opened up a world of fantasy and terror that would consume my imagination for some time to come. Perhaps that first big screen movie influenced me in more ways than I thought; I became a bookworm, pouring over fantasy stories, much like the main character, Belle. Now that I am older I see dark undertones throughout this film. Themes of domestic abuse were implanted in my young mind that could perhaps later convince me that I just needed to “love the beast” out of my future domestic partners, that it was up to me to save them.

disney beauty and the beast disney kiss
That magical moment the spell is broken and Belle's love rids the beast from the man forever.

I must have been much younger seeing my first movie at home. My family didn’t have a television when I was a baby, but I remember the day my mother brought one home. It was just me and her then; my parents had divorced, father moved out, and my half-brother had gone to live with his father in Eastern Washington. We were the last two living in the townhouse my father and mother had built as part of a buy-in low-income housing project on First Hill. She brought that big, boxy television in the front door and I hopped into the bed, curled up like a burrito in a down comforter, and we watched “The Land Before Time.” I’ve loved dinosaurs and that film ever since. It was the first movie to make me cry; when Littlefoot’s mother died, I just could not begin to imagine the pain of losing a mother, curled up next to mine, safe and snuggly as I was. It was a horrific thought. A few more minutes into the movie and I lost one of my first teeth, and oh boy was I proud!

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Littlefoot and his momma, before she dies.

Since childhood I have loved storytelling in all its forms-- books, short stories, poems, films, plays, music, and art-- and I have pursued each of these forms in my own life through personal creativity. Aside from music, film has been the second-most influential of these storytelling forms on my life. Though I love books, both film and music penetrate deep in the mind; perhaps because of a combined use of visual images, sound and story. With purpose, I watched films and television shows from around the globe. Film provides a way to dive into another culture for a few hours without leaving your room; it also provides endless inspiration and entertainment, and is a conduit for communicating the pervasive themes and issues of societies everywhere.

As I grew up, Friday night movie and pizza nights with my mother quickly turned to nights at the drive-in with my friends, and later, after the inundation of Netflix, turned into pizza and movie nights with my partner, or just me and my dogs.

A few movies that have stuck in my head as favorites, or as particularly influential are:

“Monty Python and The Holy Grail,” directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, and written by/starring John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam.

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This scene was of a particular hilarity to my friends and I.

I saw this for the first time at about the age of 13 with my best friends. One of our fathers had introduced us to the Monty Python-- it very well could have been mine-- and we, of course, fell in love with the irreverent humor and clever, creative, improvisational style. Quite soon we’d voraciously consumed all Monty Python related media- as many episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” as we could watch, “Life of Brian,” and “The Meaning of Life.” We even downloaded all the musical tunes and burned each other CD copies, learning the words to “The Lumberjack Song” and “Every Sperm Is Sacred” by heart. I think finding an edge for this type of humour at such a young age helped hone my ability to laugh even in the most serious of situations. This humor reminds one that nothing is permanent, everyone is discontent, and nothing actually really matters, at all-- so have some fun with it!

“City of God” acted as an educational eye-opener for me at about the age of 17.

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A Brazilian film directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by K├ítia Lund, it explores a reality I barely knew existed as a small-town American teenager, a reality unfolding thousands of miles south in a suburb of Rio De Janeiro. I knew it was fictional, yet through fiction stories people expose truths and realities of life, and this story was very true for that place and time. I’d been to Brazil the previous year, visiting a former exchange student we hosted from Recife, in northern Brazil. Her life was vastly different than the characters in “City of God;” what I’d seen in Brazil had been the lifestyles of the upper class. “City of God” introduced me to the lives of citizens of the ghettos which we’d driven by, but never entered.

“Dead Man,” directed by Jim Jarmusch, was released in 1995. However, I didn’t actually watch it until I was about 20 or 21, and it became a favorite of mine.
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Johnny Depp's character William Blake is mistaken by Gary Farmer's character, Nobody, to be a reincarnation of English poet William Blake. 

It stars Johnny Depp and Gary Farmer in a movie that challenges the stereotypical view of “the wild west.” Filmed entirely in black and white, it features an improvisational soundtrack from Neil Young, who recorded much of the soundtrack as he watched the footage. This movie received mixed reviews, some very negative, some positive, but it resonated with me as the inevitable end of life; the riding of the avalanche of fate to one’s death.
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Johnny Depp's character, William Blake, floats out to sea on the voyage of his death.

It sounds morbid, but it’s actually presented as freeing, on some level. Giving into what the world has created for him and accepting the identity fate has thrust upon Depp’s character, William Blake, unwittingly a number-one wanted man, eventually takes the mantle as the “dead man” along with a newfound bravery in his condemned-ness. He rides his fame all the way to the pacific ocean with Gary Farmer’s character, Nobody, an American Indian stuck between two cultures, who is determined to set Blake’s doomed spirit on the right path out of the world.

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William Blake (Depp) and Nobody (Farmer) make their way to the west coast. 

Also, everyone dies in this film. It is a brilliant exploration of spiritual and existential themes while destroying cultural tropes of the "western film" and Native Americans stereotypes. Jarmusch uses untranslated Native languages and gives Nobody’s character full girth. The film may be a metaphor for the doomed, deceptive, and evil qualities of western civilization, the consequences of which are presented as a not so civilized, a cannibalistic culture of consummation and killing. Watching this as a twenty-something-year-old struggling with my own reality, mortality, and coming to terms with living in a consumerist, western culture, this film struck a chord that keeps on ringing.


Despite growing up with an education steeped in Eastern philosophy, Hinduism and Indian culture, I’d never taken the time to watch a Bollywood film. I’d had them described to me multiple times by my previous boss, who owned a traditional-fare vegetarian Indian restaurant in Seattle. It was very authentic; almost all of our customers were Indian, and thus, I learned quite a bit about the culture. In fact, it is the number-one place in the world I’d like to explore next.

Picking from Netflix’s Bollywood list, the movies were everything I’d hoped for and more. Rumors of intense, over-the-top song and dance numbers materialized before my eyes. However, I picked the movie “Airlift” to watch in full. This is one of India’s more serious recent cinematic pieces. Directed by Raja Menon and starring Akshay Kumar, the film is the story adaptation of true events following the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. It is Bollywood’s version of a serious, patriotic war movie, a depiction of what it describes as the largest evacuation in the history of the world.

Ritika Handoo of Indian media outlet Zee News wrote:

“The story of Indians struggling in the war zone, which by the way was their 'home away from home' is not just thrilling but heavily inspiring.

Akshay is the hero of this film, hands down but not because he falls into the categorical space of what is defined as a hero'. He is the hero because he played a man, who in real life, stretch his boundaries for saving humanity. Akshay's dedication and sincerity in portraying such roles with brilliance makes 'Airlift' have a safe landing even at the box office windows.

A must watch for every Indian. Remember this will make you believe in what Indians can do when 'united'.”

Akshay plays a fictional character, Ranjit Katyal, a conglomeration of several men in real life who worked to free 170,000 Indians from war-torn Kuwait. It characterizes the transformation of a harsh man into someone who acts selflessly for thousands of others, risking himself and his family for the benefit of the majority. In "Airlift," Iraqi soldiers are presented as cruel bullies, rapists and murderers, inherently corrupt. In the face of indifference, the Indians in the film instead unite, even saving a Kuwaiti woman and her child, despite her deception and nationality. Akshay’s character is a family man who doesn’t always agree with his wife, and in the film we see a depiction of marriage that is very Indian. Love is subtle and unspoken between characters, yet glorified onscreen in not-so-subtle scenes of “subtle” looks between characters. Romantic love is idolized in song and dance scenes, or drawn out montages of longing looks between characters as they embark on dangerous journeys. The woman is ever-loyal to her husband, though speaking her mind and keeping him in line, ultimately she supports him in his destiny to become a great leader and hero, his first defender and advisor.

From a western perspective, many parts of the film seem somewhat cheesy to me, or over-the-top. However, it shows important aspects of Indian values, and as an American who watched events in Kuwait unfold from thousands of miles away as a child, it depicts a historical narrative I was completely unaware of. As a consumer of American war films such as “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Patriot,” and the series “Band of Brothers,” I see many parallels between the Indian re-imagining of a historic war and the way Americans re-imagine, redistribute and sell these war stories for profit, propaganda, and inspiration of national patriotism. The Iraqi soldiers are shown in a role of stereotypical of evil that the opposing forces in American films are often thrust into; the struggle becomes a good vs. evil dynamic inside the main character and between the Indians and Iraqis they are trying to escape. 

I enjoyed watching a film from this culture, especially a film that is obviously taken seriously by its country and was received with high praise by many Indian reviewers. Although fight scenes, explosions and drama may seem Hollywood-esque, it remains intact as a fully-Indian film, even managing to incorporate song and dance into the scenes in a way that doesn't feel quite so extremely out of place as other Bollywood film song and dance numbers seem to American viewers. All in all, it was an excellent viewing experience, though I found myself giggling at the drama and over-the-top acting of the macho main character.