Tag Archives: Sofia Coppola

Tea With Chris: Sofia Cosplay

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: Psychoanalyst-essayist Adam Phillips, one of my favourite writers, talks to human-rights activist Sameer Padania: “This is where an information culture counts against us. People need to be educated into believing that evocation is more important than information. If we could bear listening to people, without trying to understand what they’re saying, we would get more from them. Effectively, psychoanalysis listens for the incoherencies that are saying more, or something other, than the coherences. It’s got something to do with the musicality of people’s voices and intonations; it’s a form of listening that’s less hypnotized and distracted by their coherences.”

Your call: Is Kate Bush’s new album, as my friend Ann argues here, “just what the best of Bush’s work has done since she burst on the scene, Spandex bat wings flapping, at the dawn of the New Wave era. It melds extravagant tales to unconventional song structures, and spirits the listener away into Bush’s distinctive hyperreality”? Or is it, as my friend Patrick has found, “feeble, empty, mindlessly repetitive, adolescently self-indulgent and, more than anything else, boring. … How does a great chef come to offer the world cold hot dogs in his own restaurant with a straight face?”

Tom McCarthy, author of The Remainder and C, eulogizes the communications theorist Friedrich Kittler, author of Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, while lovingly lampooning his acolytes, actually known as the Kittlerjugend. Tribute and travesty at once, it’s a ticklish balancing act, but McCarthy finesses it.

What would Kittler have to say about this? Christianity, remixed as crypto-postmodernist poetry. (Thanks to Sasha Chapin for the diversion.)

Chris: Rich Juzwiak judged a child beauty pageant and the resulting essay is amazing, venturing into this demimonde of flattery, rhinestones and outlandish performance with the perspective of a temporary insider. He ends up demystifying the pageant circuit’s notoriously strange image somewhat, but one can only do so much: “The weirdest celebrity emulation was Sofia Coppola, as brought to us by a child in the 11-13 group named Courtney. Her dress looked like an old-time director’s slate, bordered in thick, diagonal black and white stripes and featuring a blank template on the chest (‘Movie: ________’). Clearly, someone had found this and thought, ‘Who’s a reasonably young, attractive, brunette, gawky director? Oh right. You’re Sofia Coppola.’ She danced around with an actual slate to a disco version of ‘Hooray for Hollywood,’ much as I presume Sofia Coppola does on her days off.”

Five facetious future literary movements, from noird to salvagepunk.

Jessica of the K-pop group SNSD does not fuck with cucumbers.

Oh, Frank O’Hara.


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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Somewhere (2010) – written and directed by Sofia Coppola

Intro by Margaux Williamson, text that follows by Sheila Heti

(I went to see this in a theatre in Los Angeles. I sat next to my friend Sheila Heti. Sheila and I can as easily agree as disagree about a movie we watch together, but in this case, when the credits started to roll and we looked at each other, it was clear it hadn’t worked its magic on either of us – even though it was interesting to watch a movie about driving around in Los Angeles since that’s what we had been doing all day.

I think the elements that were supposed to resonate with me didn’t. I couldn’t see the poetry or the power of the movie, and I had been holding out hope for these things till the end. When, before going into the bathroom, Sheila critiqued the movie, she talked about the main character in a way that I never think about, and I really wanted to hear more. The only thought I’d had about the main character was that it was it too bad they hadn’t cast Bruce Willis.

But when she came out of the bathroom, we couldn’t discuss it because we were late meeting someone for a drink – strangely, at the nearby Chateau Marmont. The Chateau Marmont was the setting of the movie we had just seen, a place I had been unfamiliar with before we stepped into the cinema. Our friend must have picked the hotel after we told him which movie we were seeing.

I asked Sheila if she could write about the film and character here so that I wouldn’t miss out. )

Somewhere covers a few weeks in the life of a 30-ish movie star named Johnny. Instead of acting, he goes to press junkets. He is offered sex at every turn. He drinks and smokes in his un-fabulous apartment at the Chateau Marmont. He feels and thinks nothing.

At one point, he is asked to look after his 11-year-old daughter, Chloe. Chloe’s mother can’t take care of him because she has to do something (we never find out what, or find out whether the mother is Johnny’s ex-wife or his ex-girlfriend or his ex-lay). So Johnny and Chloe hang around. Her beautiful, innocent pubescence returns him to feeling, somewhat. After depositing her at camp, he sees that he is empty. He sits on the floor beside his bed and calls a woman (we don’t know who) and asks her to come over. “I am not even a human,” he says. “Why don’t you volunteer?” the female voice asks. She doesn’t come over. A few scenes later, Johnny calls room service, asks for his apartment to be packed up, drives to the desert, gets out of his car, and walks off screen.

We have no indication of what he means to do off-screen (kill himself? take a piss? return to his daughter?) just as we don’t know why the mother left, or who Johnny called. But I didn’t struggle to find answers to these questions, I think because one senses that there are no answers – that even Sofia Coppola doesn’t know.

For most of us, the details in life matter, because it is the details we have to contend with; the details are the stuff on which our choices turn. In Sofia Coppola’s world, there are no choices, and nothing is difficult to contend with.

In her films, people aren’t deciding-beings or responsible-beings; they are, simply, their context — which they didn’t even get themselves into, but simply where they find themselves placed. Johnny finds himself in the realm of celebrity, so he’s a celebrity. When he’s around his daughter, he has a little more feeling in him, because being around daughters gives one a little feeling. In Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson looks about weirdly because Tokyo makes foreigners look about weirdly. Sofia Coppola is a filmmaker because she was born Sofia Coppola.

What separates a human from a light bulb is that a human creates her life. A light bulb is screwed in. If a human is not shown to make her life, but rather, is just this thing that has been screwed into place, there’s nothing to say about that human.

Sofia Coppola’s protagonists are light bulbs.

Charitably, one might consider that Coppola’s simply representing what it looks like when people have no experience of their own agency. But I actually don’t think the question of agency ever comes to her mind. In one scene I can’t forget, Chloe sits listening to her father play the piano, her arm draped unnaturally over the back of the chair. No little girl would sit that way, but it certainly looks good to place a girl that way. Sofia Coppola’s world is purely a visual one. She reproduces what she sees around her (in this case, one supposes, her friends) and human motivation and choice aren’t things one sees when one looks at people – these things have to be thought about.

What does Coppola think about Johnny? Simply that Johnny is Johnny because that’s how Johnnys are. She doesn’t ask why Johnnys are this way. I’m not sure why she doesn’t ask this. It’s probably because no Johnnys have asked her.

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The Company (2003) – directed by Robert Altman, written by Robert Altman and Neve Campbell

By Margaux Williamson

(I watched this with my friend Sheila Heti late at night in a cabin in the woods. We projected it onto a wall with our make-shift entertainment system. We were under the shared assumption that it was possibly the most entertaining movie that we brought with us. Every 25 minutes or so Sheila would say, “I think maybe I’ve seen this before.”)

There is a ballet company. The Company is in Chicago. The director wears a yellow scarf. He calls people “baby” or sometimes “genius.” A “genius” comes from Canada to choreograph a new ballet, “The Blue Snake.” There is not enough money to make “The Blue Snake,” but the director (easy and charming) says he will find it. The dancers continue to practice and perform, sometimes in a mirrored studio and sometimes to an audience in the rain. Sometimes new dancers arrive, sometimes dancers quit. Some of the dancers live together in a crowded apartment because maybe they don’t get paid a lot. Ryan is one of the dancers. Ryan lives in a big apartment all alone, maybe because she works a night job as a waitress. One night after her nightshift, she plays pool by herself in a bar. James Franco watches her. He has come to the bar after his nightshift as a chef. He goes back to her apartment with her and makes her an omelet in the morning. Ryan’s family comes out to a lot of her performances. They are clearly supportive if not greatly responsible for her career as a dancer. No one talks much. Sometimes the dancers get injured. When one is injured, another ballet dancer takes his or her place. Ryan is in the spotlight after a few others have suffered injuries. Her spotlight is brief, injuring herself while dancing “The Blue Snake.” She’s okay about it, even smiling, and James Franco crosses the stage awkwardly to give her flowers, while the dancers bow after the performance is done. In the last scene, the dancers come out of the mouth of a giant head and dance around. The head looks wrathful and also a little bit like the company’s director.

The best part of the movie was during The Company’s “Christmas Roast” when the dancers, on a make-shift stage, dress as different members of The Company and act out skits representing scenarios that we have already seen. Although the skits were literal representations, they were loose and playful. It was kind of nice to remember that the dancers, like us, have witnessed the scenarios they were part of. Now they are making fun of one of the romantic dances that happened in a thunderstorm. Now they are making fun of the “genius from Canadia.” It made the rest of the movie seem even more starkly like real life – lacking in poetry and even in .. “representation.”

It’s pretty interesting when a movie doesn’t work – when the poetry seems absent, the metaphors don’t resonate, when the art seems missing. It makes the movies that work seem like miracles. It’s especially interesting when a movie like this doesn’t work – a movie where the skill and craft and the director’s experience are all clearly on display.

Failure always seems to be an interesting part of good art. I guess it is easier to fall on your face if you happen to be reaching out far. Some failures are super interesting or easier to forgive than others, like: the bountiful missteps of Marlon Brando; the masterpieces of David Cronenberg that are aiming for the multiplex but end up at the cineforum; the David Lynch-like silence that sometimes follows David Lynch movies; the ambition in Sofia Coppola’s awkwardly revealing “Marie Antoinette” (though to be fair, I didn’t see the end because in the cinema in which I was watching it, the film caught on fire);the incaution in Woody Allen’s one-movie-a-year output (also often awkwardly revealing). Groping and searching and hubris always seem more generous than an immaculate career – more like contributions.

Nothing horrible is revealed in “The Company” other than the fact that it didn’t really work. I am guessing that a movie about an art system is a bigger challenge than a movie about a love affair. I guess at the end of “The Company” we are meant to see the giant head on stage as perhaps the art itself – spitting out dancers with broken bodies or failed or briefly glorious careers. It didn’t really resonate as it was supposed to, but I could see what the movie was maybe going for: art is as a merciless god, barely paying attention to the participants who offer their lives to it — some failing, some falling, some shining.

It’s okay, I think, as I gaze at the hand-painted ballet set, at the wrathful god’s wide-open mouth, projected onto the cottage wall (my friend half asleep beside me): It is only a god of the humans’ creation.

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