In praise of Greta Gerwig

This post is mainly designed to draw together/point outwards to the various things I’ve written, on this blog and elsewhere, about Greta Gerwig.

When the Oscar nominations came out earlier this week, I was pretty annoyed that Gerwig didn’t receive a nomination in the ‘Direction’ category for Little Women, so I returned to the cinema for a second viewing of the film, then came home and wrote a piece about it. That piece ended up being published, after editing, on The Conversation.

The other three pieces collected below are all about Frances Ha, which Gerwig starred in and co-wrote with Noah Baumbach (who also directed). I’ve included both Frances Ha and Lady Bird on my modules in the past, and I hope to someday write about Lady Bird. (I’m also very fond of Maggie’s Plan.)

I love that moment at the end of Frances Ha (on this blog)

Big cities, early adulthood, friends, cinema, and Frances Ha (on this blog)

Passing Time in Frances Ha (in Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism)

Little Women: Greta Gerwig’s direction creates big emotions and deserved an Oscar (in The Conversation)

 

It’s been a long while since I listened to it, but I found Marc Maron’s ‘WTF’ interview with Gerwig really rewarding. It came back to me when I was watching Little Women at the moment where Amy hands Laurie two of her sketches of him. When he asks where one of them was done, and she replies ‘on the beach’, I’m almost certain that the sound of waves is brought in on the soundtrack, just for a moment, below the music. I think ‘oceanic’ is a good metaphor for how emotion functions in Gerwig’s work. Individual moments are enriched by their connection with other moments and memories. This is one of the main things I was going after in my piece in The Conversation, but what space didn’t allow me to articulate is the way that Little Women‘s structure approximates how emotion and memory work in our lives. One of my friends put this very eloquently, pointing out that we often don’t experience moments in isolation: they’re filtered through other moments where we were in the same place, or doing a similar thing or perhaps they even give us the feeling of embodying our parents when we were their age. These thoughts on film, time and experience me think that a Gerwig-Linklater collaboration would be a beautiful thing!

Is there such a thing as the ‘mass reception’ of an artwork?

I’ve just cut the first few pages out of a notebook, to re-purpose it. One of those pages is a couple of sentences of musings/the start of an argument about an issue I’ve often thought about. They start to explain why I always resist making an objective/subjective distinction in talking about art, and why engagement with art has to, I think, operate at the level/scale it does. Here is what I wrote (partly being transcribed here so I can throw the piece of paper away):

In order for its meaning to be released/realised, for it to become the kind of thing it is designed to be, an artwork has to react with a human brain. In a sense, then, there is no such thing as ‘mass reaction/reception’, only an agglomeration of individual responses. The individual experience is an ineliminable part of the way artworks come to have meaning.

Is it irrational to feel personally attached to the people who make the art one loves?

This post is a response to a blog post and a vlog post by my friend Matthew, over on his new blog, Pateman’s Ponderings. Those posts were prompted by the various reactions to Kai Cole’s publication of her account of her ex-husband Joss Whedon’s infidelity. I have no interest in contributing to that debate specifically, but as someone with Romantic and even auteurist leanings, I did want to respond briefly to some of the theoretical foundations upon which Matthew rests his response/metaresponse.

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Planning and what freedom feels like

It seems useful to temper what follows with an initial note of humility, irony, and defeat. I have a to-do list, and writing this blog post is the most overdue item on it (it was originally meant to be done by the 28th of January – of this year, at least!). Anyway…

It is difficult, as one moves deeper into the demands of work and parenthood, to avoid running together in one’s mind two things: i) a sense of freedom; ii) long stretches of unstructured time, free from the demands of others. ii) certainly creates i), but it is important to remember that it is not the only way of creating it. Failing to recognise this can lead to a bitter nostalgia trap: you look back longingly to a time of youthful freedom and spontaneity, never to be regained.

Planning is the opposite of spontaneity, but it is not the opposite of freedom. I keep trying to remind myself of this. Writing this blog post is a way of trying to articulate it. In the interests of brevity and vividness, I’ll just offer two examples, one home-related, one work-related.

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Up in the Air (Reitman, 2009)

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 22 January 2010 on betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk.

This blog contains spoilers.

Although the protagonist of Up in the Air is a man who flies across America firing people for a living, it is not a movie about losing your job or being unemployed. And although the plot is set in motion by his lifestyle (though probably not his livelihood) being threatened by a new, young recruit who puts forward a case for firing people by videophone, it is not really a movie about new technologies and their alienating effects either. One of the most fascinating things about Up in the Air, in fact, is all of the potential films one can see in it that it refuses to become.

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Small, striking moments: The Corner and The Wire

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 15 August 2010 on betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk.

The HBO ‘miniseries’ The Corner (2000) is now predominantly viewed and marketed as a warm-up or sketch for The Wire (HBO, 2002-8). When we enter for the first time the fictional world of the prior series (in its first episode, ‘Gary’s Blues’), the presentation of that world employs aspects of the rhetoric of a documentary. A handheld camera travels backwards to keep in frame its subject – a black man in early middle age (Gary, played by T K Carter) – as he hurries along an alleyway and then across a street. Offscreen, a voice asks him questions.

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Shrek Forever After (Mitchell, 2010)

I am periodically re-publishing the posts that I want to preserve from the previous incarnation of this blog, just in case I ever lose control of that site or it vanishes. What follows was originally published on 2 July 2010 on betweensympathyanddetachment.blogspot.co.uk.

This blog contains spoilers.

The Shrek franchise has always riffed on surrounding culture to humorous effect. And like most contemporary franchises, it surrounds itself with merchandise: action figures, duvet covers, video games, clothes. This sort of activity has been around for a long time. However, I discovered this evening another form of diffusion/repurposing that is at least a little newer. There is a particularly memorable ‘turn’ early in the movie, and at what turns out to be a crucial narrative juncture, which involves a young boy, reminiscent of Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, repeatedly demanding that Shrek ‘do the roar’. The repetition, editing pattern and timing of this in the movie make it very funny. And ‘do the roar’, a web search reveals, has, to use an ostensibly vague trio of words which in fact precisely captures the nature of the phenomenon we are faced with, ‘become a thing’. When I google ‘shrek do the roar’ this is what I get: http://tinyurl.com/shrdtr. There is a YouTube video that re-edits the movie to MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’, to great effect. There is a link to a Facebook group page which bears the following description: ‘Welcome to a Facebook Page about The kid from shrek who says “Do the Roar!” Join Facebook to start connecting with The kid from shrek who says Do the Roar!“‘. And, perhaps inevitably, there is an iTunes App: ‘Do The Roar, will allow anyone to annoy Shrek, and cause him to bellow out his enormous Ogre roar. Use Butterpants to help you annoy Shrek,‘ And those are just the first three hits!

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Some sort of promise

I originally posted this quotation, which I love, the day after my daughter was born. I am re-posting it on her 7th birthday.

Where you went out the back door of that house there was a stone water trough in the weeds by the side of the house. A galvanized pipe come off the roof and the trough stayed pretty much full and I remember stoppin there one time and squattin down and lookin at it and I got to thinkin about it. I dont know how long it had been there. A hundred years. Two hundred. You could see the chisel marks in the stone. It was hewed out of solid rock and it was about six foot long and maybe a foot and a half wide and about that deep. Just chiseled out of the rock. And I got to thinkin about the man that done that. That country had not had a time of peace much of any length at all that I knew of. I’ve read a little of the history of it since and I aint sure it ever had one. But this man had set down with a hammer and chisel and carved out a stone water trough to last ten thousand years. Why was that? What was it that he had faith in? It wasnt that nothin would change. Which is what you might think, I suppose. He had to know bettern that. I’ve thought about it a good deal. I thought about it after I left there with that house blown to pieces. I’m goin to say that water trough is there yet. It would of took somethin to move it, I can tell you that. So I think about him settin there with his hammer and his chisel, maybe just a hour or two after supper, I dont know. And I have to say that the only thing I can think is that there was some sort of promise in his heart. And I dont have no intentions of carvin a stone water trough. But I would like to be able to make that kind of promise. I think that’s what I would like most of all.

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men