((((‘Spring Breakers’ Forever) Forever) Forever) Forever)

“…pretend like it’s a video game”

‘Spring Breakers’ is the latest endeavor from filmmaker Harmony Korine, and outwardly it is an examination of the American ‘spring break’ culture of the Floridian coast, however in a recent interview Korine spoke about the lack of an underground in the internet age, and after a viewing of the film it is the opinion of this author that there is much more going here than meets the eye.
The film follows four early-twenty-something girls (Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty) as they rob a diner for cash to road trip down to spring break on the Florida coast and after being bailed out of a holding cell the rapper/drug-dealer Alien (James Franco) slowly descend into a blitz of violence, pleasure and nihilistic decadence which threatens to consume them at their own invitation.
Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (with simultaneous echoes of our own post-9/11 culture) a maelstrom of violence transfers the protagonists of ‘Spring Breakers’ from the dull repetitive banality of their gray anonymous suburban tract town into the maximal neon hyper-reality of spring break in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The extremes of gray hopelessness and hyper-color indulgence are accurate reflections of the realities of contemporary American life in an age when the moderate balance of middle class existence has been gutted into a husk of its former self and the options available to a large swatch of the populace are either scraping by on the terms of those in power, or else a Bacchanalian rejection of the ethos that have resulted in the collapse of our lifestyle. In this film, it is the latter option that is investigated in this hypnotic visual poem.
The scene of transition in question, where the four female stars rob an all night diner in ski masks and bikinis and set the plot of the film in motion, is shot entirely from the point of view of the getaway car – the scene of chaos entirely mediated by multiple windows (or screens) from the viewer circling the carnage in a vehicle that is complicit in the act in what is perhaps an oblique metaphor to 9/11 or similar events which transpose meaning as catalysts for social change both positive and negative and are largely experienced through televisions, newspapers and video.
That the robbery is committed by use of realistic squirt guns that the girls use to continuously shoot liquor into their mouths (the simulacra and the pleasure principle) is one of the best metaphors for contemporary web technologies that I have seen in recent cinema.
Once the girls arrive in St. Petersburg we are confronted by a constant barrage of hyper-color, excess and artifice (numerous references are made of ‘going back to reality’ by the characters, who drop off at different points along the ride when it becomes too much in the way someone might drop off facebook) – indeed one character played by pop starlet Selena Gomez is shown as an evangelical Christian, often displayed against a primary colored stained glass window; trading one system of belief in a hyper-space of ‘other’ for another, and ultimately returning to the one where she is most comfortable.
Guns, drugs, booze and money are the symbols that are constantly utilized by the characters in various ways throughout the film; means for various ends of pleasure as McLuhan-esque extensions of the senses of man and therefore symbolic proxies of media. James Franco’s character Alien is often the source of these symbols and is shown cloaked in graphics, brands and logos living in a world of pure self-referential hedonistic fantasy.
He has a set of twins as his partners in crime and is often shown himself in reflection and mirror image, be it in the ubiquitous pool water or high gloss surfaces of the Floridian landscape. His character represents the values of this mirror-world that is an alternative to the reality Korine’s protagonists constantly seek to leave behind them.
The world of Spring Break is straight out of Society of the Spectacle and Franco’s character is its ringmaster. The Caucasian kingdom that he has created comes into conflict with an African American counterpart in the crime underbelly of St. Petersburg. The choice of the Floridian gangster lifestyle as the paradigm of investigation into the (literal) contemporary media landscape is entirely apropos on the part of Korine, as the hyperbolic symbol-management of hip hop aesthetics are the perfect metaphor for the performance-of-self pervasive in online personas and the selection of avatars on blogs and social media platforms.
This crisis of identity-conflict climaxes in a spree of violence that leaves a majority of both parties dead – an allusion to the increasing conflict with the ‘other’ that we face in an age when our lives become increasingly and inseparably interconnected. Be it Al Qaeda or the Arab Spring, the interests of once disparate groups now face increasing tension as the need for new methods of negotiation seek to catch up with our exponential inability to separate from one another, even as the unity of the internet simultaneously isolates us – indeed, the constant reiteration of ‘spring break forever’ mirrors the constant cycle without catharsis of the structure of internet-based media.
Cell phones and other media devices are rarely used or shown throughout the film (usually resigned to voice-over narrations to the characters mothers who seem to be reflections of their conscience) and I can’t recall a single iPhone, iPad or other high-end device that have come to define our epoch; if they are present in the film, they are unmemorable and might as well be absent. What literal media screens are shown are full of largely cartoon imagery and pop iconography, as symbolic metaphors of the psychosocial effects of these device extensions.
By showing us a maximal, neon, blinged-out world of artifice largely ensconced in self-referent pop iconography and repetitive cyclical imagery and reductionist mantras, removed from literal representations of contemporary technology, Harmony Korine is subtly hinting that there is no need for smart-phones or computers in Spring Breakers, because for all intents in purposes we are already inside of one.

Todd Solondz ‘Life During Wartime’ and How Trauma Transforms Us

this article originally appeared at www.thisisfyf.com

I am terribly, wonderfully excited about the new Todd Solondz film ‘Life During Wartime’ and its amazing cast which, can we talk about Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Ciaran Hinds, and Paul Reubens and Charlotte Rampling and Ally-fucking-Sheedy!?

Ciaran I have been watching closely since ‘Margot at the Wedding’ and I very much appreciate his low-key approach to acting; he can easily convey strength or a sinister cat-like presence (puma, not tabby) and turn from one to the other on a dime. Frankly, I am just glad to see Paul Reubens is getting his shit together, and I look forward to seeing him as Pee Wee on Broadway this fall.

And Allison Janney; well, yes. This is neither the time, nor the place. Just… yes.

In Jonah Weiner’s piece in the Times yesterday, it was interesting to hear Mr. Solondz discuss the differences between ‘Wartime’ and ‘Happiness,’ his 1998 film of which it is a sequel. There was the usual industry chitchat about ‘wider audiences’ and ‘accessibility’ and even Solondz himself expressed the view that this is probably a more mature film than he was capable of ten years ago.

But that is neither here nor there, and remains to be seen. What I found most interesting was his choice to replace the entirety of the cast of ‘Happiness’ and have the characters played, ten years later, by an entirely different troupe of actors. This was mentioned, in passing, in the Times article, but I find it to be perhaps the most telling and important aspect of the film.

In his last film ‘Storytelling’ he had one character played by multiple actresses, and a quick cynical glance might lead one to think this was just a gimmick or ploy to appeal to art-house audience, or that he wanted to use bigger names to increase his box office draw. I don’t believe this is the case.

In the article, Solondz states that one could see it as “a post-traumatic-stress-disorder movie.” Hence the titles, alluding to the symptoms of extreme mental strain and violence that many soldiers suffer upon return from war zones. Anyone who has seen a Todd Solondz film, and ‘Happiness’ in particular, knows his characters are not very kind to each other (this, being an understatement you see). Pedophilia, interracial rape, cerebral palsy, and New Jersey are the main subjects of his oeuvre; all things that can make even the hardest amongst us bat an eye.

The characters we meet in ‘Happiness’ and re-acquaint ourselves with in ‘Life During Wartime’ have been through a war, of sorts. A mental trial that broke many of them, and caused others to run for shelter and create new lives and identities for themselves far away from their troubled pasts.

It only makes sense that they would be played by different actors. Solondz is telling us that these are not the same people they were over ten years ago. They have been battered and broken and re-shaped both by their own will power and by unrelenting external cultural forces. They are radically changed both to us and themselves and to be honest to these characters and the damage and radical alteration that has been done to them, Solondz had to seek out actors who filled the traits and characteristics in the characters as he saw them ‘today,’ and not as they were ten years ago. If he had cast them using the same people, we would have probably seen a lot of the same character traits and inflections as we had prior, and the film and its characters would not have grown but rather grown stale.

Solondz has often been criticized as being cruel to his subjects, or looking at them with loathing and contempt. Watching his films I feel a certain amount of pity, and sometimes loathing – BUT HAVE YOU MET PEOPLE!? I also feel for them, they feel like real imperfect people who might (and do, I’m sure) actually exist in the real world – more real than the majority of stock characters who inhabit the multiplexes of the world. I think, by carefully selecting a new crop of actors to play characters who obviously mean something to him if he took the time to return to them, Todd Solondz is in his own way showing us that he does in fact care for his characters, and rather deeply.