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Entries in parker posey (2)

Thursday
Jan262012

In Which We Are The First To Leave The Party

Last Dance

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Party Girl
dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer
94 min.

The most iconic Party Girl moment for me is Mary's walk of pride post-jail. Things happen to her. Life is something that happens around her parties, outfits, and friendships. A night in jail is just another event in a long line of events, but it can't define her. She is too much her own girl for that.

I say girl instead of woman, as Party Girl is a film about an emotional late bloomer's transition into adulthood. Mary (Parker Posey) may scrape by on rent parties to keep her spacious Chinatown loft or parade around the East Village in Chanel, but she is no more grown in her actions and choices than any other member of the underground party scene that frames the narrative.

I first watched Party Girl in college during my film boom dedicated to post-collegiate happenings. Paranoid about a future that increasingly appeared bleak and rife with stress, I took to films featuring "hip, young things" or just "young things" as a way to seek solace and comfort before the party of sporadic classes and little responsibility ended.

With its charming outfits, spastic supporting characters, and rampant early-90s Manhattan romanticism, Party Girl was a personal favorite. In particular, Parker Posey's talents – the way she needs only a facial expression or two to dominate and escalate the comedy of any given scene, her voice that is simultaneously Valley Girl and know-it-all pretentious – created a lasting impression. Watching it again recently further cemented the film as a modern, independent classic for the girls and women who view "a good time" as a translatable goal from work to play.

For the casual viewer, Mary's transformation from Downtown It Girl to library student is a radical one. But director Daisy von Scherler Mayer subtly hints at the necessary skills of a librarian that Mary possesses throughout the film. She is able to get along – or at least communicate effectively – with different types of people. She has a general curiosity for the world around her and approaches each person she meets with an eagerness to help, or just bring them into her fold. And her closet – organized in a methodical system that only she truly understands – speaks to the Dewey Decimal System, a source of anxiety followed by pleasure for the heroine.

Mary ditches a date with young, dreamy falafel seller Mustafa to learn the Dewey Decimal System, all the while transforming the space into a party-like space of her own. She dances atop the table in her shorts and combat boots. She gets things done (“things” being a knowledge of a system she had been unfamiliar with upon taking the job at the library) while still maintaining a connection to her old self and her true self.

Later, Mary organizes temporary roommate Leo’s record collection based on this same system she spent a long evening trying to understand. Mary honestly described the evening as, “The wildest night of my life.” Understanding the system was further solidification of the connection between her burgeoning interests and her love for organizing the people, places, and things that are a part of her life.

Leo (Guillermo Díaz) is visibly upset by the order that disrupted his chaos of more than 1,000 singles and LP’s, but Mary remains unfazed by the potential problems in her unwarranted organizing project. For Leo, it is a challenge to his lack of a system and the potential catalyst for losing a paid gig as a DJ. For Mary, it is a way to more effectively provide the world to Leo. Like telling Leo earlier about Rene, the owner of the bar that Leo is auditioning at as a DJ, organizing his set of records is a means of helping a friend and bringing him more closely into her fold.

This method doesn’t always prove to be beneficial. A party thrown at the end of the second act turns disastrous for Mary who no longer has her library clerk job. Unlike her work in organizing Leo’s record collection, Mary’s party is another task to make rent. Inviting friends to DJ or Mustafa to sell his food is less a method of helping a friend succeed and more a means of making things better for herself. At 24, Mary’s growing sense of purpose feels familiar, but it is her quick emotional descent once that newly-found career path is taken from her that is disturbing in its truth.

Thus far in this decade of personal development, I have realized people are unhappy or dissatisfied, that it is not just an internal frustration, but also a universal, generational worry. I’ve also realized that people have many goals and aspirations, and the older they get, the more hesitant they are to admit them. Goals begin to feel like things that young people do and accomplish, and now one’s goals should be simpler: fall in love, get married, have children, live in comfort. I remember how my friends talked about what they wanted to do, but now they talk more about what things have been done to them. There is a loss of control. Career goals are still exciting, but the ability to hold on to them as reality loudly asserts the difficulties of The Way We Live Now, can crush even the most starry-eyed party girls.

Mary eventually triumphs as friends and coworkers believe in her and it is this moment that makes the film so memorable. As a viewer, I come back to Party Girl for the fashion, the dialogue, but also the "happy ending." There is a comfort in seeing one’s life not end in a similar way to how it began: confused, jumbled, and floundering.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here

"Peter Piper" - Run DMC (mp3)

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Tuesday
Aug032010

In Which The 90s Are Lost For Good

The Last Tantrum

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Kicking and Screaming

dir. Noah Baumbach

Life During Wartime

dir. Todd Solondz

The 1990s in America were among the least serious, most frivolous periods in the history of any country, and that includes France pretty much from beginning to end. Whenever we start getting too ahead of ourselves as members of the human race, it is time to view the Noah Baumbach film of the previous decade and wince.

Kicking and Screaming is Baumbach's ode to Whit Stillman and to a lesser extent, Woody Allen. It depicts a set of college graduates disembarking into the most ridiculous and transitory world that has ever existed. If you lived in the world in 1995, you had to actually obtain your knowledge from printed sources. This was the regular and accepted way of acquiring information. Can you even imagine? What could be more inefficient?

There's a finite limit to how many books a person can read, but there's no measured limitation on how much internet a person can absorb. I set a record, long ignored by mainstream sources, by going inside the internet and reading all of it. The whole internet. But this was back when Prodigy was the centerpiece of any existence, and Magic: The Gathering still more essential, especially if you had a white and black deck that was on the wow side of unbeatable.

Kicking and Screaming is mostly composed of memes explained as if they were conversational pitter-patter. I'm not really sure what they were called before they got on the internet, witty things men said in social settings to impress women? Viral content used to get people laid at parties, now it's ruining the lives of those still hopeful about working at Newsweek. Jeff Jarvis doesn't need a woman, he compensates with a lot of play dough and ideas generated in a dynamic classroom environment.

I'm having one of those times where my name sounds really weird to meIt is strange to watch Kicking and Screaming for all the places where our world is identical to the film's. Although I have been in a lot of writing workshops since I was 11, they never do seem anything but anachronous. It is hilarious to see a bunch of people discussing a short story. Was the telegraph not available? Yes, the times are always threatening to pass us by.

This is a universal feeling, deeply connected with our tendency to romanticize anything that has recently happened. In the case of 1990s, it is hard to mistake how different things were. If you wanted to know what Eric Stoltz looked like, you know, from the front, you had no way of finding out except by way of a costly cross country flight, the purchase of a firearm and the ginger's address. Parker Posey had never met Christopher Guest. Molly McAleer didn't know what a blog was. Anna Paquin had just made her stunning debut in Jane Campion's The Piano and wasn't topless at every opportunity. It was all ahead of us.

All the characters in Kicking and Screaming are writers recently graduated from institutions of higher learning (or as they're sometimes called, "interns"). Christmas vacation is a terror, a reminder of the impositions of the real world. Elliott Gould shows up and tells his son, "I bet if your math scores were higher you could have gotten into Brown." Other people's dreams are your tepid reality. Graduates stroll about their campuses, as if they didn't get the message evident from the diploma they were handed. They don't even know about the recession. They think it's going to be all right.

During this period of American life, there was also a palpable thrill in meeting people, seeing whether or not you were alike, without any of the prologue and epilogue that comes from constant communication. It was like a quieter alien planet where Parker Posey never became any older, she's still your sister and she's too goddamn young to drive.

It is precisely because nostalgia is our brain's first attempt at sense-making that it is so difficult to ignore. The world of Kicking and Screaming no longer exists. It was not very long ago, but it is gone forever. A boy in a dorm room telling some girl "I didn't want to have any attachments at school" could be taken seriously then, but not now. Under fifty percent of signs had signifiers. Whatever these people turned into, at least it wasn't us.

Kicking and Screaming is basically a Jewish Metropolitan, which let's be honest I'm not sure the world needed. Cannes asked Baumbach to cut fifteen minutes from Kicking and Screaming, he refused, and Abe Foxman rightly accused the festival of anti-Semitism. It was pretty big news, I think there was at least a sentence about it in Entertainment Weekly. You couldn't find out any solid information about it, no rumors, or gossip. Life without the internet was like doing wild improv all the time, and also people enjoyed watching others do improv, presumably because they had long hours to kill.

Is this a world we want our children growing up in? Go ahead, write a thank you note to Bill Gates or if you're feeling even more generous, rid the world of Steve Jobs.

It is not a contradiction to say that while the 1990s are basically the Stone Age to us now, they had their moments. Number one is that they were not the world that gave rise to Todd Solondz' long-delayed new film Life During Wartime. The sequel utilizes an entirely new cast reprising the characters from Solondz' best film, 1998's Happiness. Perhaps because of how difficult it was for Solondz to get the film made, Life During Wartime is about seventeen times as angry as the rest of his oeuvre.

Solondz was the Jonathan Swift of American cinema until satire became unequal to the task of describing his revulsion for the rest of humanity. Secretly Noah Baumbauch believes that the happy result of every writing workshop is a super cute love story with a girl who tells interesting pre-Internet anecdotes about her mother loving raisins. It was status quo and completely appropriate to meet someone this way and not end up filing a restraining order. In Solondz' movies, such a storyline inevitably concludes in a large red mark being inserted via computer over images of the writing workshop's professor violating his prized student. (This actually occurred in 2001's Storytelling.)

Life During Wartime doesn't present anyone broke or starving, or getting it in the rear. No, the film focuses on an abrasively disturbing look at the return of a sex offender to his upper class Floridian family and their subsequent efforts to move on with their lives. In Todd's mind, this is good for a laugh. It is our sworn duty to realize he is right. 

Life During Wartime is the rare sequel that makes more sense if you have never seen the original. Happiness' numerous plot threads weren't exactly the most essential parts of the overall mood, and replacing the actors with cost-effective replacements results in a series of inside jokes entertaining to those who have followed the director's career since his masterful Welcome to the Dollhouse in 1995.

Solondz' characters are only sieves through which various feelings of his sole protagonist — himself — are strained. Like Baumbach, his characters also talk in an identical, jaunty, inflected upper class non-accent, like they were pronouncing everything for the joy of their audience, hoping to sound as much like the author of their words as possible. As in Kicking and Screaming, the momentum of the film leans almost entirely on the dialogue; both films resemble mannered stage plays with little in the way of action.

All satire eventually becomes realism, but this process usually requires some duration of time. Unfortunately for Todd Solondz, there is no longer a craziness in his head that surpasses what exists in reality. A few years after The Onion made jokes of questionable humor about Gillette manufacturing a five-blade razor, the company did it. This is something like what was happened to our best satirists. Now that we no longer have to parse Entertainment Weekly for gossip, all the jokes have been made, and they require no exaggeration. Crystal Renn now regularly feasts upon living children, eat your heart out Jonathan Swift.

At least Todd Solondz's projections know that life is a low down dirty trick. The existential dread of Kicking and Screaming gives voice to a convincing complaint about the world that surrounds young men and women emerging from the darkness of higher education. Rendered null and void by technology, Kicking and Screaming has turned into a eulogy for a before-times America that is now nothing but a figment of our imagination.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He twitters here and tumbls here. He last wrote in these pages about the poet Anne Sexton.

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Always Be Watching You In Todd Solondz Movies Omar Little