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Lindsay Lohan (#110 of 21)

Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

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Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion
Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

The image of women spontaneously combusting while doing housework was one of the most popular tropes of filmmaking more than a century ago. In a widely viewed early film from 1903, Mary Jane’s Mishap, a British housemaid accidentally immolates herself while attempting to light a hearth fire with paraffin and subsequently explodes out of the chimney. It was, of course, not uncommon for 19th-century women to catch fire in their own homes when their bulky hoop skirts would graze against an errant spark from the fireplace. Women spontaneously combusting in their own homes was a frequent hazard of the time that journalists then tastefully referred to as “crinoline conflagrations.”

Comical media images of women exploding provided outlets for spectators to laugh off the hazardous politics of everyday domesticity. While many aspects of the relationship between gender politics and media culture have changed since the early 1900s, we still harbor an unconscious tendency to laugh at otherwise horrific images of violence inflicted on women’s bodies. Fortunately, 21st-century domesticity isn’t quite so fraught with the perils of instantaneous conflagration. Yet, the image of women catching fire—quite simply as a metaphor for women’s ambitions to be visible at all—continues to spark our cultural imagination.

And perhaps no other movie star walks this fine line between media visibility and human calamity as deftly as Jennifer Lawrence. There’s something oddly literalistic about the actress’s star appeal. From her “electricity” with Bradley Cooper, to her near-fatal calamity with a 1970s microwave in American Hustle, to her iconic portrayal of “The Girl on Fire” in The Hunger Games trilogy, Lawrence draws on a long tradition of female combustion in cinema.

Understanding Screenwriting #113: The Bling Ring, The Heat, White House Down, Monsters University, & Unfaithfully Yours

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Understanding Screenwriting #113: <em>The Bling Ring</em>, <em>The Heat</em>, <em>White House Down</em>, <em>Monsters University</em>, & <em>Unfaithfully Yours</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #113: <em>The Bling Ring</em>, <em>The Heat</em>, <em>White House Down</em>, <em>Monsters University</em>, & <em>Unfaithfully Yours</em>

Coming Up In This Column: The Bling Ring, The Heat, White House Down, Monsters University, Unfaithfully Yours, but first…

Moving on: This is going to be my last Understanding Screenwriting column for The House Next Door. Don’t worry, it’s not going away for good, just moving to a new location. Earlier this year, I got an announcement from Erik Bauer, founder, publisher, and editor of Creative Screenwriting magazine. In addition to writing for the magazine, I was on the editorial board from 1994 to 2008, when the board was dissolved. Erik had sold the magazine and the Creative Screenwriting empire (website, screenwriting expo, etc.) to another man in 2007. Unfortunately, the recession came along the next year, and the magazine closed down in 2011. This spring Erik had what he called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to buy back the Creative Screenwriting empire, and his announcement said that he’s intending to revive the magazine, beginning in 2014. In the meantime, he’s reviving the Creative Screenwriting website in August, and my Understanding Screenwriting column will be moving to it then. The new address will be www.creativescreenwriting.com, and he hopes to have the new website up the first week in August. I trust you will all come and visit and leave the kind of intelligent comments you’ve spoiled me with for the last five years. And I must finish my work here at the House with a great big “thank you” to both Keith and Ed for their support over the years.

Fan Mail: “shazwagon” raised the question in regard to the close-up of Jesse at the end of the opening scene in Before Midnight: “How do you know that it was the writer’s decision to show the close-up later?” That’s an easy case; since both the actor involved and the director were also the writers, we can pretty much be sure it came from them. In other cases, it can be a tricky question. Generally writers will make an effort to write in reactions for the characters (but not camera directions, since directors pay no attention at all to writers’ suggestions in that area). If, as in the close-up in Before Midnight, the reaction is related to everything else going on in the scene (here the counterpoint to the dramatic action with Jesse and Henry), then it almost certainly comes from the writers. If actors and directors in general are at the top of their form, you feel that the moment is happening now right in front of your eyes. Look at Jeff’s (James Stewart) reaction to the itch in an early scene in Rear Window. It seems the camera just happened to catch him when the itch did. Not so; it’s all laid out in John Michael Hayes’s great script.

David Ehrenstein is back to disagreeing with me and all’s right with the world. He thought Behind the Candelabra was better than I did. He especially liked the performances by Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. I liked the performances, but felt the script didn’t give them as much to work with as it could have.

The Bling Ring (2013; written by Sofia Coppola; based on the Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales; 90 minutes.)

Sofia Coppola, meet W.E. Burnett and John Huston. You may remember that, in US#68, I found Coppola’s Somewhere very disappointing, but I also said we shouldn’t give up on Coppola. The Bling Ring shows why, and it’s one of her best films yet. Never give up on talent. Here Coppola’s minimalist style, which was a little too minimalist in Somewhere, is perfect for the subject.

New Trailer for Paul Schrader’s The Canyons

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New Trailer for Paul Schrader’s <em>The Canyons</em>
New Trailer for Paul Schrader’s <em>The Canyons</em>

1. “Each of us, within, was as if devoured by a conflagration, and our hearts were no more than a pinch of ashes. Our souls were laid waste. For a long time now we had believed in nothing, not even in nothingness. The nihilists of 1880 were a set of mystics, dreamers, the routineers of universal happiness. We, of course, were poles apart from these credulous fools and their vaporous theories. We were men of action, technicians, specialists, the pioneers of a modern generation dedicated to death, the preachers of world revolution, the precursors of universal destruction, realists, realists. And there is no reality.”

When Blaise Cendrars is going at full speed, his presentation of humanity as a terminal condition, a diseased state that tends naturally toward self-destruction, can be a singularly exhilarating experience. Refusing the consolations of science and a naïvely optimistic belief in progress, he envisions man as fundamentally and mortally sick, with increasingly destructive warfare the inevitable expression of this sickness. In his classic 1926 novel, Moravagine, Cendrars draws on the picaresque form to send his titular hero—a crippled brute given to raping and murdering women—and his psychiatrist, the ironically titled Raymond Science (the book’s narrator) on a world tour in the years leading up to the Great War, taking them from Europe to America and back in a darkly comedic odyssey of destruction and non-enlightenment. If the offhand brutality of Cendrars’ merciless vision can occasionally be off-putting, the novelist’s headlong prose (as translated into English by Alan Brown) tends to swallow up these instinctive objections in the totality of its death-seeking embrace.

Cannes Film Festival 2013: The Bling Ring Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>The Bling Ring</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>The Bling Ring</em> Review

Sofia Coppola’s fascination with the young and over-privileged reaches a logical plateau with The Bling Ring, a hyperaware consideration of celebrity intrigue and idolization. Based on the semi-recent wave of burglaries perpetrated by a group of high school kids on the unsuspecting gossip-rag regulars residing in the Hollywood Hills, the film depicts, with an alternately implicating and critical eye, the rise and fall of adolescent naïveté and entitlement. It’s a subject that Coppola has spent much of her career dramatizing across various milieus, from the suburban daydreams of The Virgin Suicides to the ornate, 18th-century re-imaginings of Marie Antoinette to the Los Angeles summertime sprawl of Somewhere. She’s remained in the City of Angels for her latest, but this is anything but a tale of wayward cherubs. Fueled by the very lifestyle they’re nonchalantly pillaging, this band of smalltime crooks have learned that actions rarely have consequences, and spend the entire film putting this theory, propagated and sustained by the media, to the fullest possible test.