I suppose this is a familiar problem with feminist art: do female characters really want the hyper-efficient, attachment-free anti-intimacy of their masculine counterparts? As Lena bemoaned in her Director’s Statement, women don’t get an Alfie — but do they want one? Even Carrie Bradshaw ended up with Mr. Big, and in Sally Rooney’s latest, a few hundred pages of light BDSM neatly tie up in two couples, plus a baby on the way. The marriage plot certainly originates in a world of primogeniture and patriarchy; but perhaps abandoning all sentiment and sensitivity is a patriarchal fantasy as well.
Tennessee Williams shared much with Truman Capote—they were both gay, Southern, alcoholic, and short (Capote was 5’3”, Tennessee 5’6”). They both had bulldogs. And most importantly, they both blended almost hysterical bon vivance with a sense of, as Dotson Rader put it about Tennessee, “unadmitting sadness, an arresting loneliness that [was] articulated only in [their] work.” But at their best, Tennessee and Capote alike combined joviality and abjection, mirth and bitterness, a socialite exterior with fathomless, pitch-black interiors. And they produced, for years, characters with similar contradictions, dancing and laughing and blabbing as their worlds fall apart.
There’s something fucked up about Kansas Bowling, the 25-year-old blonde premiering Cuddly Toys, a mondo throwback about fucked-up girls. She’s wide-cheeked and twiggy and has big blue eyes and something childlike and confused about her, like she’d be a good target for a cult. And indeed, her sister and she were Manson girls in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. She’d proposed to Tarantino when she was fourteen. When she was sixteen, she wrote B.C. Butcher, a B-movie about sexy cavewomen slaughtering each other. When she was seventeen, she filmed it in her dad’s backyard in Laurel Canyon. Troma Entertainment put it out, billing it “the first prehistoric slasher.” The girl gets killed for fucking Kato Kaelin. Rodney Bingenheimer has a role, too, the spikey-haired LA deejay who started spinning on KROQ in 1976. Kansas and he started dating when she was eighteen. He was seventy-four. He retired the next year.
L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961) is an adaptation that became a theft. It is plainly based on La Invención de Morel (1940), and this was immediately apparent to the critics who first viewed it....Marienbad has often been called glacial, overwrought, meaningless, or much ado about nothing, but it has always, always been respected as original. It was an object of bewilderment at its inception, and to this day remains one: impenetrable, willfully distant, and – deriders and boosters agree – one of a kind. It is an epochal film that created and defined a certain type of non-narrative, high-production-value avant-garde filmmaking. And to declare it immaterial that the film that every arts paper across the world hailed as the world’s most original film is in fact an adaptation, and a willfully disavowed one, to dismiss that fact as an old canard or as naïveté, is sophistry or symptom.
Is that really America? For people my age, whose reality principle was formed around 2008, sure. We’ve always known that banks trick grandmas into subprime mortgages and our government bombs Arabs for oil and we’re going to have shittier houses, crappier marriages, and sicker bodies than our parents.The future’s for assholes, and hope’s for stockbrokers.
Maybe turn-of-the-millenium films like this are kind of like those French theory-fictions from the eighties and nineties: Baudrillard on Vegas, Foucault on California, Virilio on New York. For all those French guys who faked citations, America was a land of projection, a land at the end of history, irradiated and throbbing with undirected energy, post-history, post-politics, post-protest. America wasn’t like that, not yet, not when they were writing. But it became it.
A director of any intelligence — and in this category, I include both Diwan and Eliza Hittman, whose Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) was something of a let-down after her earlier triumphs — is attuned to the reality of sex for the very young and not-rich woman, to the ways her desire to have sex is far from the entirely free, unbounded, pleasure-driven free-for-all conservatives often imagine and vilify. Rather, fornication is often a quietly humiliating and disappointing compromise, whose pay-off for girls is far from clear. But the young women of these films have almost nothing to celebrate. Agit-prop can be exuberant; one watching an East German film, for example, might sober up into clarity, but at the time feel completely transported by the dream of worker solidarity. But despite online calls to “shout your abortion”, obtaining an abortion isn’t actually a moment of joy (indeed, the idea it is plays into reactionary fantasies of gleeful abortion-on-demand). Nor, in these films, does fornication seem worth fighting for.