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Virginia Woolf (#110 of 6)

Looking Recap Season 2, Episode 6, "Looking for Gordon Freeman"

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Looking Recap: Season 2, Episode 6, “Looking for Gordon Freeman”

HBO

Looking Recap: Season 2, Episode 6, “Looking for Gordon Freeman”

In honor of perhaps the most excruciating Halloween bash ever thrown, a drunken disaster of karaoke sign-up sheets, PrEP shaming, and sloppy sexual advances that culminates in a meltdown so embarrassing I watched it through my fingers, let’s pour one out for Patrick (Jonathan Groff), the victim of his own unreasonable expectations. “Looking for Gordon Freeman” finds him dressed as the titular video-game character, determined to become a “fun gay,” though in an episode chock-full of extratextual allusions, the one that lands hardest is the least current. “If it’s any consolation,” Agustín (Frankie J. Álvarez) says after Patrick’s flameout, “there was only one suicide during Clarissa Dalloway’s party.”

Film Comment Selects 2013: From the Life of the Marionettes

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Film Comment Selects 2013: <em>From the Life of the Marionettes</em>
Film Comment Selects 2013: <em>From the Life of the Marionettes</em>

If watching Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face left a sliver of doubt about the director’s scorn for modern psychiatry, From the Life of the Marionettes makes it amply clear. Only five years separate the two films. Face to Face, starring Liv Ullmann as Jenny, a young psychiatrist who tries, and ultimately fails, to reconcile her anxieties and sensitivity to her anesthetized work milieu, was made in 1975. What made watching the film viscerally agonizing was seeing Jenny’s slow descent into depression and phobia after a disintegrated marriage and being raped while trying to rescue a patient. Bergman constructed Jenny as a character of unfathomable complexity, harrowing to watch, at times incongruent.

From the Life of the Marionettes followed in 1980, yet in its stark black-and-white rendition of psychological anguish, and in its categorical refusal to grant any noble impulses to medical practitioners, it could be seen as a giant stylistic leap for Bergman: a savage yet coolly overplayed parody. Where Jenny from Face to Face left one feeling as if we were being asked to indulge in her unending pain, Bergman’s second glance at the psychiatric profession in Marionettes is more chilling, as if Bergman took a scalpel and surgically carved his narrative, always close to the nerve.

Firing Out Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then

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Firing Out: Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then
Firing Out: Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then

This is what Virginia Woolf says at the end of the third section of her essay “A Room of One’s Own”: “The reason perhaps why we know so little of Shakespeare—compared with Donne or Ben Jonson or Milton—is that his grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from us. We are not held up by some ’revelation’ which reminds us of the writer. All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed.”

In a lot of ways, Jamaica Kincaid’s See Now Then tries to be like a Woolf novel, particularly To the Lighthouse. It’s about the dissolution of a family, it jumps perspective sometimes from one character’s mind to another’s, and it zooms out of its narrative every now and then and waxes poetically about the age of the Earth and the transience and dust-like quality of all things under the sun.

But in many other and more pungently noticeable ways, See Now Then contains a lot of those fecal-smelling “grudges and spites and antipathies” mentioned above by Woolf that writers are supposed to wipe from the page and toss into the garbage if they want their book to be memorable and interesting and maybe even transcendental instead of just forgettable and tedious and vague.

New York Film Festival 2012: Ginger & Rosa

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New York Film Festival 2012: Ginger & Rosa
New York Film Festival 2012: Ginger & Rosa

Though Ginger & Rosa is arguably Sally Potter’s best work to date, it’s certainly the English filmmaker’s most accessible. But that’s not to diminish her past experimental, more iconoclastic movies. Her previous work has clearly enriched this finely observed and affecting tale about two teenage girls coming of age in early-1960s Britain. Like Orlando, her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s centuries-spanning novel which established her name internationally 20 years ago, there’s a strong female protagonist through whose POV the movie unfolds. We sense a deep personal involvement in the narrative, though not to the autobiographical extent of Potter’s The Tango Lesson, in which the director played herself. The formalist challenges she took on in the fashionista thriller Rage—comprised almost entirely of confessional close-ups—seem to have resulted in the huge emotional payoffs in the intimate scenes in the current film.

A Movie a Day, Day 58: Orlando

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A Movie a Day, Day 58: <em>Orlando</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 58: <em>Orlando</em>

Tilda Swinton’s lamb-to-lion transformation in I Am Love made me want to see (or re-see) more of her work, so yesterday’s movie was a press screening of Orlando.

I missed Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel when it came out in 1992 and haven’t seen it since, though I kept meaning to, so I can’t say whether the digital work recently done to the film changed it in any way or if it just restored it to its original state. I can attest, though, that Orlando is a beautifully shot, imaginatively constructed, occasionally absurd, but more often tartly funny reverie on the limits of human existence and the possibility of transcendence. In part by translating some of Woolf’s pointed commentary into asides that Orlando directs to the camera (not that he always gets the joke, since he’s often the butt of it), the movie preserves the book’s satiric stake on stupid human tricks like colonialism, classism, and the glorification of war. And, first, last, and always, it takes on gender stereotyping. That’s done in countless small but tasty ways, like when Queen Elizabeth is played by a wink-free, regal Quentin Crisp. It also accounts for Orlando’s second magical transformation, which is one of the story’s main hooks.