Away From Herself...
Martha has been gone for a very long time. The one who took her place was a much more gullible and subservient young woman named Marcy May. It cannot be denied that she was very happy in her dazed, obedient bliss. To obtain this, she had to stretch her mind wide open for Patrick – her teacher, leader, and lover. This fifty-year-old man renamed her. “Marcy May” sounds more rustic and appropriate for her to stay in the Catskill Mountains, an unspoiled plantation that Patrick rules. It is the promise of this open land that awed the first settlers of America. Martha seeks this promise, lives the dream, and eventually wakes up trapped inside of a nightmare.
The movie begins as Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes the cult one day. The fragments of her original identity are scattered and lost in the recesses of her molded mind. Upon further reflection of writer-director Sean Durkin’s insidious character study Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), it is a miracle that she even remembers the phone number that belongs to her older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson). Martha takes refuge in a small town that she could not place on a map. A visual tell that grounds us geographically is an American flag drooping in the cold, which is seen out of focus behind Martha as she makes that pay phone call.
After a three-hour drive, Martha settles in a large vacation home that belongs to Lucy and her well-to-do husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy). Instead of a member of the family, she feels like a visitor. Some families don’t know how to go beyond the polite obligation of having to take in one of their own. Martha suffers greatly from existential angst as well as guilt, depression, confusion, and bottles up a deep rage she cannot direct. Lucy is torn between concern and irritation. After all, Martha is so irresponsible to have gone off the map for two years without calling. Surely, she must have had a ball while shirking off college along with her future opportunities.
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Peter Greenaway’s sumptuously decadent film A Zed and Two Noughts (1986) is one that sates both the visceral and cerebral palettes. One of the main themes that Greenaway presents is his “…fascination of twinship… particularly conjoined Siamese twins.”¹ Not only do the twin brothers progressively shed their individualistic fashion traits to look more alike, but Greenaway also conspires to make the composition of select shots throughout the film look synchronized. In this particular image of a lavish, heaven-like hospital room, the left side of the frame is practically mirrored with the right side. Production designers Ben van Os and Jan Roelfs place the furnishings to reflect one another across each other with a mathematical exactness.
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Three Days and Three Nights in Marz
A proposition for a Queer Cinema elective for the MOPA program by Seanna McPherson and Ki Wight brings to mind one of the genre’s finest examples from last year called Weekend (2011). It is the sophomore feature by UK director Andrew Haigh who cut his teeth as an assistant editor on Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) and Black Hawk Down (2001) and then returned to his home base to capture this intimate Nottingham-set indie about two men who have a one-night stand and must decide how far they will allow their hearts to take them. It is in the same class of such smart, relatable and poignant modern-day romances like Medicine for Melancholy (2008) and The Myth of the American Sleepover (2011). To be more specific with the matter at hand, Weekend is as sweet as Stephen Frears’ Prick Up Your Ears (1987) is sour.
Russell (Tom Cullen), a reserved young municipal pool lifeguard, puts himself out one night at a club and runs off with Glen (Chris New), an extroverted artist who channels his personality to keep people from getting too close. He doesn’t do boyfriends or good-byes for that matter. After a night of sex, they keep finding more opportunities to hang out together. Their personalities are made to clash; yet they complement each other in ways that challenge their fears and ideals further. There is a refreshing frankness about their homosexuality that makes Russell and Glen into very specific and fully realized lovers.
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The Positively True Adventures of the Convicted Texas Widow-Murdering Mortician
Too often, people cannot believe that he – of all people! – could commit murder. They knew him! Laughed with him! Never saw it in him. That is the buzz coming from the good people of Carthage, Texas over their beloved Bernie Tiede – the real life subject of Richard Linklater’s bizarre crime story.
Teaming up again after their success in the tailor-made School of Rock (2003), Jack Black plays Bernie as though he was sprinkled in sugar. Bernie is a thoroughly spiffy and effeminate man. He is all roundness emanating a soft, optimistic voice. His mustache must tickle his lips to smile so sweetly. Working as a mortician, he tends to the deceased so they look their very best for the funeral.*
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Artwork by Akiko Stehrenberger from the Criterion booklet of Life During Wartime.
The cast of Life During Wartime (2010) from left to right:
Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens (Andy Kornbluth), Shirley Henderson (Joy Jordan), Michael Kenneth Williams (Allen), Ally Sheedy (Helen Jordan), Rich Pecci (Mark Wiener), Michael Lerner (Harvey Wiener), Allison Janney (Trish Jordan), Emma Hinz (Chloe Maplewood), Chris Marquette (Billy Maplewood), Ciarán Hinds (Bill Maplewood)
As I suspected about the new Criterion release of Life During Wartime (2011) back in May, Miss Stehrenberger has illustrated the whole gaggle of characters from the film.
The arrangement of the characters complements their relationships to each other so thoughtfully. All three of the Jordan sisters are separated from each other. Joy is torn between her husband and the ghost of her ex-boyfriend. Helen, the black sheep, who has abandoned her family, is ignored by everyone. Most dominant is Trish, positioned up front. With her steely gaze, she has a dynamic presence. Her vibrant, almost violently paint-slashed dress suggests that she has survived a battle.
Notice how both Joy and Trish’s daughter Chloe have their arms behind their backs. I find Chloe standing in front of her mother has the stance of a foot soldier. Joy and Chloe also share similar hairstyles, head shape and facial features. How ironic that Trish is on her way to raising little Joy all on her own. Remember when Chloe wondered if baby carrots feel pain? That’s the kind of thought “Sensitive Joy” might have had as a kid.
Fathers and sons are paired together on both Wiener and Maplewood fronts. The two Wieners assume the same pose. I’m going out on a limb, but I doubt Bill has his hands in his pockets like his son does. Of course, Bill is cast off to the far right. The only character in the group he talks to is his son. Andy is on the far left – he’s dead with only Joy as his last connection to the the world of the living… or is it just in her head?