Friday, February 27, 2009

Long Live Cool?

Before we started Jules and Jim, we were asked to focus on questions pertaining to the film; one was, “Even though the movie spans historical time, it is still about the moment. Is cool lasting of ephemeral?” This really got me thinking about the amount of time something is cool, and apparently it puzzled all of us because we had a big discussion about it.

If we go back to F John’s lecture on cool, it would seem that certain styles of cool become un-cool with time. Just think about your parents trying to be “hip and cool, yo”. What was the latest trend to them is so last century to us. We grow out of this trendy kind of cool. For example, how about the TLC show, “What Not to Wear”; it is strictly about those who try to “keep the old cool”. Moms wearing miniskirts, gogo boots, beads and jewels and sparkles galore, business women wearing cartoons to the office, young women wearing granny clothes, all of these atrocities and more can be found on this show. There was one mom on the show who had a 10-year-old comment that she had the same pair of jeans as the mom! These women show that one specific cool may be alright at one point, but not further down the road. We talked about holding on to a cool, and I think that we concluded it can’t be done. The cool moment will never be the same if we try to hold on and recreate that same cool.

We talked about this with movies. Take Jules and Jim, for instance. I first found Catherine very cool because of her spirit; however, as the movie progressed, I started to get tire of her intensity and lack of change. Her cool wore off as time progressed. I attribute this to the wearing down of the surprise. Catherine’s free, spontaneous spirit ironically became less of a surprise. Towards the end of the movie, her actions didn’t shock me as much as at the beginning. So, perhaps the answer to this question is simpler than I thought: Cool is ephemeral.

However, what about the classics? Are they cool? Is there a difference between cool and classic? I think that the classics hint that cool can live on. Think about

Star Wars,

or 007.

These characters are seen again and again and again without ever seeming to grow old. So now it seems that cool is lasting.

Well, as I stated before, there isn’t an easy answer. Some forms of cool are temporary while others are eternal.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How Cool is That?

Well, not very when I think about the movie, Double Indemnity. Now, I would say that it was an enjoyable movie, but I don’t think I’d call it great. It had action, suspense, flirting, wit, and a breaking of the rules. What it lacked, though, was cool main characters. I felt very disappointed as I watched Phyllis and Neff develop. Now, I know that I talked favorably of this movie in the last blog, but it was mainly filming techniques and ideas instead of how cool the movie is that I liked. So, Neff and Phyllis both end up very uncool, where Keyes is the coolest person in the movie to me. Neff and Phyllis both have the potential to be cool, but other characteristics of them cancels that potential out.

Neff. I will award him the title of “least cool”. Really, the only thing that I find cool in the guy is his intellect. I liked the back-and-forth between him and Phyllis; he showed wit and a quick mind. This scene is a very important one in that Neff quickly figures out Phyllis’s plan to kill her husband in order to collect his insurance. This is where Neff loses his cool, so to speak. At first, he showed promise in calling Phyllis out and rejecting her offer, but her murderous perfume slowly intoxicates his mind until he decides to do it. Neff seems unstable and too malleable by those who strongly influence him. In one minute, he is against murder because it is wrong; the next, he is following Phyllis’s idea and plotting the perfect murder. He’s not going to sell insurance to Mr. Dietrichson, and then, he does. He is extreme when he makes a decision, but there really doesn’t seem to be much of a fight of morals. Neff just seems empty like the stormtroopers in Star Wars.

Then there is Phyllis. She will get the “Thanks for Trying” award. She definitely had more cool qualities than Neff, but I think most of this comes from her being a powerful woman. Phyllis isn’t like those women who got hysterical, emotional, or shaky, like in Casablanca; basically, she didn’t act like a teacup poodle or some other small yappy dog. Phyllis doesn’t take orders well and is willing to do anything for her happiness, like killing all of the Dietrichsons. Her strength and frightening character makes her cool in a power type of way, but in the end, she just remains a murdering villain who doesn’t care about anyone but herself, save for a glimpse of care for Neff.

Now, our most prized award, the “Coolest Cat” award, goes to Keyes. This man is the coolest in the movie. He is smarter than both Neff and Phyllis, set in his ways and is independent, but he also has a line that he won’t cross. Even at the end, when he could help Neff escape, he doesn’t. No, Keyes turns his friend into the police. He can see, or feel, when something isn’t right. We discussed how he is in the “dirty” insurance business, so he really isn’t a “hero” type of person; however, I disagree. He set about trying to find people who were cheating the system, but he didn’t seem like he was going to cheat a person out of a real claim. Keyes is the light in this dark Noir film.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Noir These Movies to Me

When I was in high school, there was a rule in my house that we couldn’t watch TV Monday through Thursday during the school year. A lot of people gape at me when I tell this tidbit, but it really didn’t bother me; there was always something else to do. Well, this rule caused me to not get into TV series like everyone else since those shows usually aired during the week. There was one show I liked to catch on Sunday nights, though: “Whose Line Is It Anyway”. I couldn’t get enough of the humor, wit, and spontaneity of the show. The songs were good every once in a while, but I loved the skits like Props, Scenes from a Hat, News Report, and Green Screen. There was one game in particular that I suddenly thought about after watching Double Indemnity, and that was Narrate. Before this week, I had no idea of what film noir was, that it even existed. I guess I knew about the style; it is classic enough to be referenced or imitated, but I had no idea of how big this movie style was and still is.

As I read about film noir in “Notes on Film Noir” by Paul Schrader, I thought that I wouldn’t like this style of movie. I am one for happy endings and a strong, honest hero. I like the hero rising above his temptations and trials in the end. As I said, when I learned how dark film noir is, I was skeptical.

So, after that explanation, I enjoyed the movie more than I thought. Double Indemnity was suspenseful, intriguing, and spoke to the some-what darker side of me. I do like those movies where people try to beat the system. I would never think about doing it, but the idea is fun to watch as other people attempt it, like in the movies Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job, and Mission Impossible.

I also like the filming techniques of this movie. The distinct and well-known shadows used in this movie really add to its tale. Obviously, the dark tone was emphasized by the shadows, but they also added to the characters themselves. Neff and Phyllis are sneaking around, trying to get away with their murder, and the shadows help that air. There is also the absence of shadows with Keyes to represent his morale qualities. I would have to watch the movie one more time to completely back this up, but the filming perspective. I thought that, instead of being at eye-level, the camera seemed to be at a lower angle, making the characters and their problems seem giant. Double Indemnity was a dark movie without a happy ending, but I enjoyed it for the inquiries it inspired and the ground it dared tread upon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That's Just Not Like You

Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam is a funny film about the frustrations and failures of trying to be cool. Allen Felix, the socially awkward, main character of the film, idolizes Bogart and tries to imitate the actor’s cool style with no success. He tries to be rough and aggressive, suave and confident, in order to get a girl. However, he fails miserably and only wins stories of his embarrassment to tell to Linda Christie, the wife of Allen’s best friend who will become the object of his affection deep into the movie. As the cliché theme of this film, “just be yourself” is repeated over and over again and is the way Allen gets the girl. Instead of going into what was portrayed as cool in the film, why don’t we follow the theme and look at what wasn’t cool.

Allen kept trying to be someone he wasn’t; in fact, he was trying to be the complete opposite. Where he was clumsy, nerdy, awkward, and clueless, he wanted to be smooth, in the now, accepted, and savvy in the ways of courting. He saw those characteristics of Bogart as cool and the way to be. Just look at his friend, Dick Christie. The man was all business, confident in himself, disregarded the thoughts of others, and got the girls, a copy of Bogart; however, this perfect portrayal of what Allen views as cool is actually boring. All Dick does is work and tell people how to contact him so that he can do more work. Bogart, with his individualistic image, can be seen as incredibly uncaring and unattached; these negative qualities are really brought into the light through the extreme character of Dick.

Then, we get to Allen’s humorous imitation of Bogart. His example just shows how un-cool it is to imitate another. You can’t learn to be or adopt a specific type of cool; it’s not convincing. This reminds me of Vince Vaughn in the movie, Be Cool. Vaughn plays a White character who thinks he’s Black. He tries to talk Black, dress Black, and act Black, but that type of cool doesn’t fit him. He just can’t pull it off. This is the same way with Allen and anyone who tries to make himself fit a specific type of cool. So, imitation is definitely not cool and can bring all types of problems. Allen got the girl, if only for a moment, by just being himself. It’s extremely cliché, but the theme of this movie has some truth to it.

And now, for your entertainment (or help), here is how to be cool…click these words.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mi Cool es Tu Cool

Who do I view as cool? Who’s example do I follow to be accepted in society? This question flashes me back to eighth grade during the wonderful Benchmark essay section. Ah, didn’t you just love those standardized tests? I, for one, kind of did; I mean, you were out of class for about three days because of a few hours of testing a day. Another bonus, you didn’t have homework and no other tests. If you did go to class at the end of the day, the teachers wanted you to do your best on the Benchmark, so they usually let us watch a movie or just chill. Back to the question, though.

This question always seems to crop up in some form, like who do you admire or view as your hero. Isn’t that just a model of cool you wish to copy, like Allen does with Bogart? Basically, this is asking, “who do you wish to be?” Well, I could never answer this question. There isn’t just one person that I wish to copy, one type of cool that I follow. Sure, when I was younger, I would answer this question with the cliché answer, my parents or grandparents or friends, but I noticed that I changed my answer every time. No, as I grew and thought about this question, I realized that I don’t follow just one person’s cool, I have taken what I like in other people and constructed my own cool person. I guess I played a little Dr. Frankenstein.

So, what does my monster of cool look like? The legs, arms, and body are strength. I have always admired a strong person; some one who is physically strong, mentally strong, and spiritually strong. I like someone who can keep control of themselves and the situation. My creation can defend and take care of herself and face any obstacle placed in front of her. I also admire someone who is very smart and wise, who seems to know about everything and know what to do. She knows who she is. Strong faith is also part of my creation. I want to know what I believe and live it without wavering.

The head of my creation is out-going. I have always been on the introverted side of the out-going scale. I want to be like those who can hold a conversation, tell a joke or story, and be the life of the party. I want to have a good time and for others to have a good time with me.

Finally, the heart of my creation is passion and devotion. I greatly admire those who have a cause and risk everything for its success; I look up to those who stand up for what they believe in, who have passion for life and live for their purpose. They care about good and have faith in humanity, and nothing you could say would change their mind.

That is my monster of cool, my example to follow. People are all flawed; there isn’t one person that could be the one I go to for all of my problems. No, but as a people, all of our flaws can be destroyed by the combination of our strengths. I use those around me as inspiration.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cool on the Inside

You walk into the club to have a few drinks with friends and listen to the live music. The times are rough, what with the war and all, and this is the only place where you can escape from the day’s troubles for a while. The people in there seem really happy; their worries and burdens are replaced with hope and freedom. The service and entertainment are superb, and you can’t find one complaint about the place. You pull a server aside and ask if you can give compliments to the owner of this place. The server’s response is, “he doesn’t drink with customers.” Insulted, you think, “what a jerk!”

Thus is the first introduction we get of Rick in the movie, Casablanca. A man who “sticks his neck out for nobody” and “doesn’t drink with customers,” Rick doesn’t seem like a very cool guy, but as the audience gets to know him, he becomes so much more. One cool thing about Rick is his independence. The only rules he follows are the ones he has set up, and the only council he listens to is his own. Everyone goes to him for help like the Ilsa and Victor, the Bulgarian couple, Ugarte, and even the politicians and police. Rick is THE man of the town. He doesn’t take advantage of his status, though. This kind of guarded independence is similar to the independence exhibited by Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. While Rick’s help is oftentimes withheld unless there is a good reason verses Aragorn’s more active tendencies, both do what they see as the best solution to a problem despite what others may advise. They are willing to accept the difficult conclusions and do what must be done. This characteristic is very admirable because they stand firm when others cower or choose a more selfish path; Rick saves Ilsa and Victor at his own risk and sacrifice, and Aragorn constantly risks his own life for others.

This independence leads to another cool feature of Rick: his passion and call of duty for the “underdog”. Rick may put on the “tough guy” persona, but he is secretly a softy. All of the characters above save for the politicians and police are somehow helped by Rick. Ugarte had his request with the papers honored, the Bulgarian couple won enough money to leave to America, and Ilsa and Victor were able to safely leave Casablanca, all thanks to Rick. And what did he get out of all this? Snooping police, a deficit in money, and all sorts of legal consequences like having to sell his place, be arrested and killed, and go into exile. These characteristics remind me of the 3 Doors Down song, Citizen Soldiers. Rick is always in the background, sacrificing and protecting those he cares about. Under the stoic exterior is a passionate, self-sacrificing, cool interior.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Casablanca--"Here's looking at you, kid"

Well, I just saw Casablanca for the first time. I was first expecting the movie to be about a white mansion in Mexico or Spain because of the name; I didn’t even think of the country. I was obviously mistaken but very impressed with the movie. Before the movie started, a few of us talked about what it was about this movie that made it special. F John mentioned how this movie was a great one, but it seemed to hold something special for girls. I wanted to see if that was true, and if so, find what that something extra was.

Even as movie that was made in 1942, Casablanca was a superb movie. It had action, romance, comedy, and suspense; all qualities that I adore in a movie. Compared with The Public Enemy, which we watched last week, the advancements made in the film business within those eleven years is unbelievable. We went from scratchy sound and picture, still cameras, and the feeling of watching a play instead of a movie to advanced lighting, sound, and picture, moving cameras, and a movie-like atmosphere. The quality difference between these two movies is like the quality difference between the first three Star Wars movies and the three most recently made.

The movie quality isn’t what made Casablanca such a classic, though. It is the story and the characters. I never realized how many lines had been taken from this movie and into our culture; lines such as “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “I believe this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” I nearly laughed out loud when the scene where Ilsa is found in Rick’s room trying to get the papers because that is the very scene used in the anti DVD pirating ads. So, I’ve been introduced to some parts of Casablanca without even knowing it! Apparently, this movie is a big deal; it is cool.

So how about Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick; what makes him so cool? When we are first introduced to Rick, we are already drawn to him. Running his club with a suave aura, Rick seems mysterious, together, and independent. He seems to know everyone and everything that is happening, but he is also not very involved. He is the man behind the curtain watching things go and pulling the right strings. Through the movie, it seems that Rick grows in character, going from a man who “sticks his neck out for nobody” to someone who risks everything to see that Ilsa and Victor get to America. A drastic change! I don’t think he experiences this change during the movie, though. I believe he was always that character who would secretly help others. Even in the beginning, when he didn’t drink with customers or help anyone, he agrees to hold Ugarte’s high-clearance papers which he stole from two German officers after killing them. Rick may have let Ugarte get caught, but he also kept the papers and didn’t sell them immediately after for his own profit. If he was found in possession of those papers, Rick could get into serious trouble. As the movie continues, we see Rick help peole out, such as letting that family win in gambling so they could have enough money to get to America. So, I don’t think that Rick develops through the movie; I think that he just becomes more apparent as a “romantic and sympathizer,” something completely against how he tries to appear. This secret softness and heart for the underdog, along with his confidence and straightforwardness, is what makes Rick, and Bogard, so cool.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Good Bad Guys

So, what makes Tom so cool? Is he even cool? I mean, in the end, he dies, and it’s not cool to die. There are parts of Tom that are cool, though.

Following the dissident cool model, Tom has a criminal independence that would probably be appealing to a lot of people. He is able to do whatever he wants, no matter what the laws are. As a kid, Tom wants money; he takes items to sell to Putty Nose. He may have been disciplined by his father and harped on by his older brother for his actions, but he turns the situation around into something he controls through his submission. When his father is about to whip him, Tom asks, “You want ‘em up or down this time.” He doesn’t fight to get away or beg for his father’s forgiveness; he throws his father’s authority into his face by turning the situation into something TOM permits.

Tom doesn’t change as and adult. He is still into crime and getting what he wants. Although, as we watched the movie, I wondered what it is Tom really wants. He doesn’t want money; he doesn’t want girls (until he meets Gwen); he just seems to want the next job. This reminds me of the Joker from The Dark Knight. As you can see in the video, the Joker doesn’t want anything that normal criminals want; he just wants the thrill of the job. I believe that this is the same for Tom. Save for the fact that he is a bully, Tom’s disinterest in the usual motives for crime makes him different, puzzling, cool.

Another characteristic about Tom that I found cool was his loyalty to Matt. These two are always together. Every time someone makes a comment about Tom being alone, because he was the person who headed all of the jobs, he responds, “I’m always alone when I am with Matt” so as to include his friend. He takes revenge on Putty Nose years after the man abandoned them following a job gone wrong. The final show of loyalty to Matt was when Tom stormed the enemy’s headquarters towards the end of the movie to make them pay for Matt’s death. While this wasn’t a major theme of the movie, I found his loyalty to Matt helped me sympathize for Tom, an otherwise heartless man. Although it is an extreme example, Tom’s actions reflect those of Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. Just as Tom’s actions are invoked by the loss of Matt, Davy Jones wrecks havoc on the seas because he lost his love. This loyalty of the two men helps the audience sympathize with them a little, despite the terrible things they had done.