lördag 30 maj 2015

Modern Bluebeard

To be female in this world, is to suffer the threats of harassment, mutilation and violent death. As long as we are alive, a girl or a woman will have to live under the yoke of sexual oppression and that's just the way it is.

Many of you, and I myself, will feel the need to answer this statement right away with: But isn't that just what life is about for everyone? Men and all creatures alive are just as much victims of the threats mentioned above. The men go to war, for one thing, where they might escape harassment, but certainly will face both mutilation and violent death. Why put the word sexual in front of oppression that threatens us all? Shouldn't we try and find ways to escape together, men and women as well as all creatures alike?

OK, we can go down that road, but not this time. I am thinking of Alex Garland's Ex Machina.  It's a beautiful film. It's the kind of film that will stay with me for a long time, and rewind itself in my memory, reworking my thoughts on it and reshaping itself, as time goes by. I only wish I had seen it on the big screen - but for reasons unknown it never reached the cinemas in my country Sweden. 

It's a story of a modern Frankenstein - or a modern Bluebeard. Or both. 

So he builds women. And he keeps them in lonely house out in the wilderness. He has a Japanese sex toy slash house keeper - her name is Kyoko. And he has a guest - a man hand picked from civilization - who comes there thinking he won a competition. And the prize is to meet the most ultra modern thing: a robot shaped as a lovely young woman. Her name is Ava.

The test - the Turing test - is the films's MacGuffin.  The two men talk about it as a test of whether Ava is a conscious robot or not, whether she has feelings, wheteher she can manipulate men... But who cares what the out come of the test is? Of course she can do all those things. Of course she can feel, think and plan ahead. And of course she can fool both of them.

The charm of this film is how it builds on all the stories in Western culture about man and woman, man trying to play God and the creature running amok, man being punished for his vanity. The interesting thing here, is how Frankenstein meets Bluebeard - and how he, the master mind, the genius, the creator of AI, in the end looks like just another pervert, a man who hates women so much he has to keep them locked up.

There are a lot of doors and windows in this film. The first time we meet Ava, through the eyes of the male guest, is also through a window pane. She is locked up in a large glass cage, like an animal in a zoo. And the test that is to be performed will have to take place with a glass wall between them. It reminds me of the glass between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. There, in The Silence of the Lambs - the glass made sense, but here, why does Ava have to be locked up? 

Her name is Ava, and of course it is in honour of Ava Gardner, the beautiful movie star. In a way it's very clever. Ava was a movie star, but what was she really? In her films she always seemed unreal, an angel or a godess who just happened to get caught in front of a camera. Ava Gardner was also a public figure, someone who was made to sell magazines and cover stories. In those stories she was never the struggling artist, a rebel or a feminist. Not even when she told her own story, in her memoirs, did she let us know anything that we didn't already know:  that she was a Southern belle who got lucky and liked to party.  

In Ex Machina, Alex Garland and Alicia Vikander imagine another fate for Ava, the perfect unreal woman. In the end, when the guest opens all the hidden doors and discovers all the women before Ava, we get to understand why, in the beginning, there was a glass with a great crack in it. One of them tried to get away and failed. Ava will be the one who will succeed.

So how does Bluebeard's wife get out of the castle? How does the mad woman in the attic - or the bunker - get away? She uses her power over men: her beauty, her allure and mystical appearance - and her intelligence. And how does she do it? She talks to the man, the male guest, and she plants doubt in his mind. 

Doubt is something that both men can't handle: Bluebeard drinks himself into a constant stupor, and takes the knife in the back and heart as if he were expecting it. The guest transforms his doubt into the action that will liberate Ava. The beauty of the story is that the doubt will linger on after she is gone: Why didn't she save Kyoko or the guest? Did she really need the guest? Couldn't she have unlocked the doors of her prison by herself, considering that she orchestrated the power cuts in the bunker?

But those questions are not important. 

What is interesting is how Alicia Vikander changes in the film, from a prisoner in a half finished body in a place that looks like a space ship, to a woman in a white dress and long brown hair, very confident of herself, entering reality. In the beginning, she looks like a hesitant deer, stepping quietly into a clearing. Or she sits on the floor, very subordinate and obeying. In the end, after the story has followed its predictable, but none the less fascinating path, she enters the green wilderness like an actress on stage, determined and in awe of the magic she is capable of. Who is Ava? Does it matter? She is a force of her own, a force that will endure.

And that is important. That is what I believe make this film so alluring - and why women will continue to use their beauty and their sexual power in order to trick their prison guards and get away. And why they will continue to do so, in the name of all those who can't.

"All that being said, depending on the reading of this film, it may be one of the most feminist films I’ve seen in theaters in years. "


lördag 16 maj 2015

What a lovely day!

Charlize in Cannes with Sean.
It's hard not to fall in love with Charlize Theron. She really knows how to make an entrance, be it as hateful mankiller, evil queen, forsaken daughter or desperate driver in the post apocalyptic desert. I really thought I wouldn't go to see the new Mad Max movie, but I did, and I slowly realize that it's a knock out.

Or rather, she is a knock out. From her first moment on screen, with her anguished look, shaven head, forehead painted black, making the eyes glow like diamonds in a deep cave. 

And of course, she can't be bad. She can't be one of those ugly, vulgar, death wishing men painted in white and silver, posing in scary masks or strumming a crazy guitar strapped on to the grotesque vehicles thundering down the roads to nowhere, screaming silly things like "witness this" before they go.  

She, with the ridiculously stellar name of Imperator Furiosa, is a saviour, on the run from all those hellish men, with a cargo full of beautiful young women, all dressed in white like vestal virgins - although they are the wives of the crazy king in a citadel filled with ghostlike figures and slaves - all vaguely reminiscent of the monster city in Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis. 

She is their saviour, and of course, she reminds me of other great screen females on the run: Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise, Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. 

Dazed and confused after seeing the film last night in one of the oldest and most beautiful cinemas of Stockholm, I didn't really get it until I read a tweet by Swedish fantasy writer Sara B Elfgren: "Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most beautiful things I've seen."

The way she walks, with her left arm hanging with the lower part of her arm and hand missing. The way she talks, just like Humphrey Bogart, not a syllable goes to waste. The way she raises her good arm to shoot and then leaves the wheel, crawling under the big steel belly in motion, to fix something. The way her eyes silently give away the message that she will save not only the girls in the back, but all of us. She certainly will, that's what she promises Tom - or Max - in the end. 

All she needs to do is to nod.

söndag 3 maj 2015

"He was some kind of a man"

With Orson Welles birthday coming up - he would have been 100 years old had he lived to May 6th 2015 - it is tempting to try and sum up what the great man was - and why Citizen Kane still is considered one of the best films ever made.
I have spent a few evenings with his films, both the ones he loved and hated - and I've browsed through some of the books about him - there are so many!

Who was he? Was he a genius or just a spoiled kid with a gigantic ego? What are his real contributions to cinema, when it seems that he preferred the theatre and probably loved the magic show more than anything else? And can we trust anything he said, really? 

Among the texts, I particularly like the essay on Citizen Kane by Laura Mulvey in the BFI Film Classics. Mulvey is both a feminist and a Freudian and she provides clear cut readings on some of the things in the film that are not so obvious, such as the roles of women in Citizen Kane. 

The other text is the lovable and very readable My lunches with Orson - conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles edited by Peter Biskind. The stories he tells, and how he tells them, how Jaglom feeds him his cues and how his reactions are subtly recorded, is just plain beautiful writing. It reminded me of how filmmaking also is a team effort, even when the star steals the show. 

Of course, the interviews with Peter Bogdanovich are also great, but I almost prefer a clip from youtube, with Bogdanovich from a couple of years ago, now the older man, now the story teller, doing Orson impersonations during a presentation of Touch of evil at an American college. He is carrying Orson's torch now, and doing it with uncanny splendour.

And then there is a little movie called Orson and me. It was made in 2008 by Richard Linklater on the Isle of Man, maskerading for New York in 1937, when Orson Welles was staging Julius Ceasar with the Mercury Theatre - as a play about a fascist dictator. Christian McKay plays Orson Welles and he had previously played Orson in a one man show called Rosebud. His take on Orson is both fun and a little bit scary, at least for the stagestruck kid in the movie played by Zac Efron. It's great to see the big man alive again in a story that may very well have happened. 

In Tim Burton's Ed Wood, from 1994, there is also a scene where Orson Welles turns up in a bar, to comfort and inspire the ambitious but not so genius Ed Wood. Orson Welles is played by Vincent D'Onofrio who looks a lot like Welles, and sounds like him too.

A few years later, in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, Orson is the object of desire, together with Mario Lanza, that propels two school girls into a fantasy world that eventually leads them to murder. Here, the apppearance of Orson Welles is in the shape of actor Jean Guérin.  

He liked to talk, and to mesmerize people. He wasn't always truthful and he couldn't be trusted. He had a knack for abandoning his ideas, his projects, his beloved, and still he is famous for achieving some of the most memorable movies of the 20th century. It often seemed that he was the character he played, Kane, Mr Rochester, Harry Lime... Or that his appearances on the screen somehow gave us a new piece for the great big puzzle that was Orson Welles. He was fascinating, he was fun, he was charming and he had some things to contribute on the subject of personal integrity, power and corruption. 

I'll rememeber him fondly. But, as his old  friend Marlene Dietrich said in Touch of evil: 

"What does it matter what you say about people?"