Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Happy Birthday Man Ray!

So the fascinating avant garde photographer and artist Man Ray would have been 122 years old yesterday, but alas he's dead.  I've got to hand it to the Huffingtonpost, they are prolific with the puff pieces regarding long dead artists--mostly famous white guys (Gaudi, Buckminster Fuller, Hitchcock, Man Ray).  Still, these pieces do stimulate me to post on these icons long gone.

Emmanuel Radnitzky was born in Philadelphia and then, as an early hipster, lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with his family.  In the face of anti-Semitism, the family changed their surname to Ray, and Emmanuel shortened his nickname "Manny" to Man.  He moved to the city, befriended Marcel Duchamp, was inspired by the famous Armory Show of 1913, and then he and Duchamp became full-fledged Dada-ists, especially after moving to Paris in 1921.  Here are two of my favorite Man Ray "readymades:"

Cadeau 1921

Object Intended to be Destroyed 1923

As one can see, both of these manipulated objects strike a discordant note, as they veer sharply from their utility to become something strange and other.  These works certainly adhere to the famous Comte De Lautremont quote, "As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella."  The combination of the disparate elements Man Ray uses creates something new, an object both familiar and unexpected (the very definition of Ernst Jentsch's "Uncanny").

In a sense, Man Ray's pictograms, which he called "rayographs," stem from a similar notion of rendering the familiar strange.  He would place objects on photographic paper and then expose them to light.  Once the images are developed, objects maintain links to their referent, and are quite indexical, yet these objects are transformed rather than captured.  Many of these rayographs are pretty whimsical as well.

Rayograph 1922

Rayograph 1923

Rayograph 1926

Man Ray was also known for his re-discovery, and prolific use of the solarisation technique, where white light is flicked on during the development process and effectively burns/solarises the image, creating a very unique effect.  Rumor has it that his muse and lab assistant, Lee Miller, really re-discovered this process by accidently turning on the lights when processing the film.  Something had crawled over her foot in the darkroom.  Inspiration can come from mice in the dark!

Lee Miller 1930

Solarisation 1931
I became interested in Man Ray and his crew in the early 1990s, when I was getting my MA in Cinema Studies at NYU.  I was taking this class with Annette Michelson called "Dada/Pop/Surrealism;" me and about 60 other students.  NYU was a real degree mill for Masters students back then, so our graduate seminars were really huge.  Michelson didn't know I existed, but I was in awe of her.  Her lectures were mind-blowing, and she actually hung out with people like Man Ray and Duchamp.  In the notes on her lectures, I would always write things like "Wow," and "Amazing."  She was so incredibly inspiring and compelling.

In her class, I wrote a long paper about Man Ray's photography and films in relation to gender and representation.  I was fascinated by the way in which women and objects were both rendered uncanny and equivalent.  Unfortunately, Professor Michelson was not that impressed--"B+"  Here are some of the images that inspired those passions and questions:

Le Violon d'Ingres 1924

Noire et Blanche 1926
Woman with Long Hair 1929
Prayer 1930
Also, here is his most evocative film, L'Etoile de Mer (1928)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dear Kristen Stewart

Dear Kristen Stewart,

I'm sure you had an inkling about how much your life would change once you took on the role of Bella from those crappy Mormon vampire books that take all the sexiness out of the supernatural and all the power out of girl power.  Still, no matter how many times someone warns you, you probably think of yourself as a star with a small "s" and an actor with a big "A."  So the hate pouring down on you right now must seem like an avalanche of never-ending sh**.  Sure some people are not going to like you--your looks, your acting, your personal style--whatever.  You are in the spotlight, so that type of hating is going to happen.  I'm sure you are willing to roll with that as much as any actor is.  Yet the kind of venom thrown at you now is just CRAZY.

Michael Fassbender holding me and my bra
Some of us may harbor vivid fantasies about actors, where they take on characteristics of their roles, or they shower some of their charisma personally onto one of us.  So Michael Fassbender may bump into me wandering around some bookstore, and we end up talking about Milan Kundera, and then we have some passionate affair where I run around half-naked in a bowler hat, and he's still incredibly endowed and fascinated by me, an older woman.  Nice Fantasy.

Now as a public figure, one has a certain responsibility as an actor/star to uphold some values: clubbing baby seals and beating family and/or partners are all unacceptable.  You are also expected to shill for your latest film.  They are your employer and they are giving you money, so that kind of labor is required.  But who you f*** is none of anyone's business, even if it affects their little (or big) fantasies of you.  People make mistakes too, so if you regret the fling you had with that older director of your film, so be it.  Maybe things between you and Rob are not as clear-cut as they might appear.  I'm not sure who suggested that you publicly apologize (perhaps it was your idea), but it's out there.  Done.  Let's move on

What it's like to be Kristen Stewart these days
I'm sorry that the gender politics of Hollywood and the U.S. makes it impossible for you to do so.  Men cheat, women cheat--it happens.  Yet in the masculinized cheating scenario out there, men are free to be promiscuous, while women are obsessed with "putting a ring on it."  At least according to insidious gender stereotypes.  So if Rob cheats, he's just sowing his male movie star oats (or seeds, I don't know), while you are evil.  Women are to blame because they have scary ladyparts, and men are victims with no power in the world and cannot help themselves.  We've seen this scenario play out with the Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie triangle for years now.  Aniston is ostensibly the victim with a ring on it, but so is Pitt, who was held in rapt awe by Jolie's scary ladyparts.  Jolie is the evil one (and now she's playing sleeping beauty's Maleficent, which is, of course, a documentary).

People like Will Ferrell do not help matters.  Perhaps he was just making a joke when he called you a "trampire" on Conan's show earlier this month, but he might as well have been making "rape" jokes with the sh**storm he created.  Now there are websites selling t-shirts that say all manner of horrible things about you.  I hope he's feeling a bit ashamed.  Where's his public apology??

Now I'm not going to utter some useless aphorism that is not all that helpful right now (this too shall pass, some things are not meant to be).  This situation sucks and your suffering is unfair and I'm angry for you (not at you).  Instead, I'd like to thank you for some truly memorable performances that highlight your gifts as an actor, and shift the  focus away from your current role as a celebrity punching bag.  Thank you Ms. Stewart for the following work over the last 5 years:

THE MESSENGERS (The Pang Brothers, 2007).

Kristin Stewart as Jess makes a terrific final girl, and she doesn't have to fake being a teenager with angst here; she plays her age.  Of course, she's not too keen to be dumped in the middle of nowhere with her family in order for them to fulfill some lame "gentleman farmer" fantasy, and she's the first one to sense (as Final Girls do) that there's something hinky going on in this bucolic homestead.  Dylan McDermott plays her delusional Dad in a trial run for American Horror Story, but Stewart sets the bar for the troubled, misunderstood teen.  The film has some great haunted house scares that are deeply unsettling, and crows--scary crows.

INTO THE WILD (Sean Penn, 2007)

Kristen Stewart and Catherine Keener are the best things about this lame-ass story regarding spoiled rich kid Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who decides to live amongst nature, literally sets fire to money, refuses everyone's help, and dies in the middle of nowhere like a complete idiot.  At least Kracauer's book didn't make him into some kind of wounded hero.  In contrast, Penn seems to think that people will give a sh** that this guy's misguided walkabout is somewhat noble.  Stewart plays Tracy, a guitar strumming indie traveler girl who catches Chris's fancy.  She's way too interesting for him, and projects legitimate charisma on this lame fable.  Way to elevate a brief "girlfriend" role!!

Stewart pretending that Jesse Eisenberg is fascinating
ADVENTURELAND (Greg Mottola, 2009)

This lovely little indie film has its "issues," but Stewart as the witty, carny girl, Em, is a quiet, thoughtful revelation.  Again, she plays her age, she makes mistakes (sleeping with an older married man portrayed by Ryan Reynolds, hello!), but she makes the audience genuinely care for her plight.  The fact that Eisenberg's James hates on her once he finds out that she's doesn't live up to his fantasy ideal is just too damn prescient.  Still, he's the one that comes chasing after her in the pouring rain like some wet dog left at the door of the pound.  Implausible ending but smart and nuanced performance.  Oh, and I heart Bill Hader, always.

THE RUNAWAYS (Floris Sigismondi, 2010)

As a young, badass Joan Jett, Kristen Stewart really rocks.  She inhabits the edgy physicality that makes Jett, and the Runaways, rock icons.  She is utterly believable as a rock musician who loves to play guitar.  And she conveys the yearnings of same-sex desire toward blonde hottie Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) so palpably and viscerally, that you can feel her heart beating.  Sigismondi really captures those unrequited feelings in the quiet moments where her camera focuses on Joan, and how her surreptitious glances are loaded with unwieldy lust.  When one thinks of a Kristen Stewart performance, this role is the one I hold up as the gold standard.  Thanks Ms. Stewart for being a worthy role model here (rather than that milquetoast doormat Bella).

Oh, and this film makes 70's fashions fabulous again.

Ah, here's the trailer, to give you a taste:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brian Atwood's Pink Shoe Diaries

Well, at first glance this ad looks like your garden variety perfume/lingerie/shoe commercial--sexy half naked woman being caressed by naked guy (although he seems to be much more interested in her shoes above).  I guess Brian Atwood is a shoe designer.  My high end shoe fantasies are more along the lines of John Fleuvog, so I'd never heard of him before.  Well, he's got my attention now!!  As the Huffington post just reported, Mr. Atwood's new ad has been banned from his NYC Madison Avenue store and on Taxi cab TVs.  Shocking, just shocking.  We must think of the children.

I'm not going to rant right now about the problematic ratio of violence to sex in terms of representations and the banning of all sorts of stuff.  BUT once you watch the actual ad, I started thinking that the following things in it were really getting the powers that be in a froth:

--a woman is a voyeur
--she's being serviced by many men at one time
--this makes her feel hot, and she's fantasizing about it

A little different than your garden variety male hetero porn, even though we've still got the racial and body image beauty culture problems still hanging around.  Nevertheless, it reminded me of Zalman King's Red Shoe Diaries series, which has some similar tropes.  (If you're interested in a feminist take on softcore porn, check this out). 

I'm NOT saying that this ad is empowering, okay.  I'm just suggesting that for some folks, including me, what's going down here might be kind of hot.  This guy's selling women's shoes, and I think the interest of his target audience will be piqued.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Planet Bunheads

Yesterday I did one of my favorite things in the world.  I went to this giant outdoor used book store--seriously, it has a series of outbuildings--and I bought a ton of used books.  So happy!  As I stood at the checkout, I eavesdropped on a conversation between two young women working the "till."  They were discussing a certain series regarding Shades of Gray and how concerned they were by the message these books conveyed to young women (and heck, older ones too).  They couldn't wrap their brains around why these books were so popular, and how they even got published.  Used bookstore snobs.  Love 'em!

Anyway, in my infinite wisdom as a feminist academic I said, "I've just come to accept that these people (who like "X") are from, and on, another planet.  We are not on that planet."  Now this attitude is not apathy talking.  My mission in life is to bring people to my planet!  No, I'm really not a proponent of John Gray (or Christian Gray for that matter).  I just know that people who like Charlie Sheen, think that there's a difference between "rape" and "forcible rape," and care about the Kardashians are not on my planet.  Could they be someday?  Maybe.

I can pretty much guarantee that these people are not on Planet Bunheads.  At this point, very few people reside on Planet Bunheads--far too few, in fact.  Even my cool sister and feminist stepdaughter both responded with "You want me to watch that?" when I tried to convince them to give this truly awesome, witty and wonderful show a chance.  The show, written and created by the queen of witty pop culture banter, Amy Sherman-Palladino, just aired its summer finale on ABC Family last night and I cried a little.  Because I thought that it was canceled.  Because almost all the shows I love get canceled far too quickly.  (In fact, this line is my partner's mantra when we watch Bunheads.  A truly amazing scene unfolds, and his next breath is "they are going to cancel this show.  It's too good).  I found out that they're giving the show 8 more measly episodes to air in 2013 (whereas FX promised that a**hole over at Anger Management 90 episodes), but I think Bunheads deserves much, much more.  Here's why:

1. The Characters are Likeable and Full of Joy

Unlike a certain multiple Emmy-nominated series written and created by L. Dunham, the humiliations that these young (and older) women endure are always tempered by laughter, sensitivity, compassion and thoughtfulness.  These characters are flawed too.  Michelle Sims (played by Sutton Foster) is somewhat of a flibbertigibbet in the Lorelei Gilmore mode, and does dumb things sometimes, but laughs at herself, helps others, and actually cares and thinks about other people.  Her helpfulness is at times misguided, but she has really good friends and a really big heart.  That's why when Michelle accidentally maced all the bunheads performing the Nutcracker for their big summer recital you still love her.  Yes, you read that right; macing dancers and Nutcracker during summer are just a couple of reasons why the show is so great.

2.  The Show is about Friendships and Relationships between Women

Bunheads has guys in it, and they are often considered romantically.  Yet truly, this show is a woman's world and these guys just happen to live in it.  The show repeatedly passes the Bechdel test, even though it spends all of its time with hetero women (not as queer or racially diverse as I'd like, but I'll give it some time).  How many shows do you know that kill off the main love interest in the first episode to make way for the important relationship, the one between two women?  Yes, teenage girls do develop crushes and flirt with boys, but these are side plots to the more crucial pathways their close friendships take.  Really, boys feel like they are on the side.

3.  There's not that much Dancing

I suppose that ABC Family, with all those weirdly popular "other planet" dance shows on the air (and Glee), thought the best way to market their show--one that is 90% talking and 10% dancing (at best)--was to make people think it was like all that other stuff out there.  It's NOT.  The last time I watched Glee it was on an airplane, and I thought to myself, this show is nothing but a bunch of song-and-dance numbers with the occasional line of dialogue to keep it together.  Well, think of Bunheads as its other planet opposite.

For a television show that takes place in a quirky goofball California town that centers on a dinky dance school, you'd expect much more dancing.  Instead, when there's dancing, it's a "Paper" vs. "Plastic" ballet with an evil checkout clerk in the lead, or The Nutcracker with "rats" filling in for "mice" and represented as Wall Street guys in suits.  And one cannot forget the fore-mentioned macing of the dance students mid-Nutcracker.  When they return to the stage, they are literally crawling around on the floor, blinded.  What's not to love?

4.  The Dialogue is Sharp, Sassy, and full of Pop Culture Goodness

Everyone has a hey-day--you know, a very formative period in terms of pop culture.  Mine was in the 80s, and so was Amy Sherman-Palladino's (she's a year older), so I just get her references...Yet she also channels 30s screwball comedies, Fred and Ginger movies, and worries about Khaleesi's dragons (GOT), while still sticking in an homage to Footloose, Heathers, and all the other good stuff floating around in the ether.  You know, stuff from OUR PLANET.  She even has Fred and Ginger do a quickie dance to a cover of the Muppets' "Rainbow Connection" and it did not make me want to puke.  Really.  And I've got a pretty hair-trigger gag reflex on most things.

So you might be thinking, legitimately at this point, Dark Iris, what planet are you on??  And for that matter, where is the darkness?  Well, it's true that I sometimes surf cuteroulette.  I am a closet mush-head.  But don't forget about the MACING.

So here's some idea of what planet I am on. You too may be a resident here, or visit on occasion.  These are some of the beloved shows that were canceled on me (in no particular order).  I still mourn their loss.


Gina Torres as Zoe on Firefly
Yes, I'm a big Joss Whedon fan, and I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  He just changed the whole conversation when it came to women and horror.  I gave Angel a brief try, and struggled through all of Dollhouse, but nothing can touch Whedon's Sci-fi space western, with a cast of the strongest women action heroes ever to grace the television screen (and to graduate to the cinema with Serenity 2005), and a wicked combination of pathos and humor.  If you want to know how beloved this series is, their 10th year reunion at this year's Comic.con made its reunited cast, and all of its fans, cry buckets.  And the show didn't even last a season.


Speaking of game-changing television, David Lynch and Mark Frost's creepy dramedy about a nice little mill town in Washington State has no peer.  If you haven't seen this show, and you have a taste for the bizarre, then you have to visit with Agent Dale Cooper and try to uncover who killed Laura Palmer.  In the meantime, you'll encounter the log lady, the Black Lodge, The Red Room, Nadine's silent curtain runners, Waldo, Alfred, and the sick underbelly of small town life as only David Lynch can reveal it.  One of my absolute favorite moments, early on, occurs when Agent Cooper tweaks Sheriff Harry S. Truman's nose in the middle of their investigation.  Why?  Not sure, but it has endless rewatch potential.  Meep!


Sure, Portia de Rossi is amazing on Arrested Development, but she really and truly shines on Better Off Ted as Veronica, the executive in charge of the research & development (R & D) team at Veridian Dynamics.  Each episode always included a commercial or two for the giant conglomerate, emphasizing the company's soullessness in ever creative ways.  This show is even smarter than the British The Office, and that's saying something.  The show is named after Ted, and he contributes the voice-over or addresses the camera directly, but he has nothing on Phil and Lem, the brilliant creative team that grows fake food and creates a device that cryogenically preserves Phil, kind of.  As someone on IMDB succinctly asked, "Why the crap wasn't this show a massive hit??"  Why indeed.


Only Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me) could come up with a show where a young, handsome pie-maker can bring things back to life by touching them, but only for a minute, before someone or something drops dead in order to maintain balance.  Oh, and this handy skill allows Ned (Lee Pace) to not only bring back his murdered childhood neighbor, Anna Friel, but also allows him to solve crimes with the help of Chi McBride (who is awesome in everything).  The show also has Kristin Chenoweth and Swoosie Kurtz, and looks like one stepped into Wonderland or Oz, and then never saw a mirror or ruby slippers again.  And it's narrated by Jim Dale, who reads the audio versions of the Harry Potter books and contributes beautifully to this contemporary fairy tale. This show is the perfect mix of sweet on the outside, and dark on the inside.


Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales) is just an artist trying to pay the bills at an office temp job when she's attacked by a gigantic, slimy, multi-eyeballed creature.  She doesn't panic, and is then recruited by the titular Middleman (Matt Keeslar) to fight against all sorts of zany comic book evil.  This wonderful show full of pop culture references and deadpan humor debuted on ABC Family in 2008 and lasted a mere 12 episodes.  And really, this is the ultimate family show.  It's even anti-profanity!

Now do you see why I fear for Bunheads' health on the same network?  Welcome to my planet.