For years, I was a major Woody Allen fan, and to this day I adore many of his movies — Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Stardust Memories, to name but a few. But after his marriage to Mia Farrow blew up following the affair with Soon-Yi Previn, I stopped going to see his films, mostly due to a kind of moral loathing.
Long years have since passed, however, and I’d heard so many good things about Midnight in Paris that I decided to set my moral objections aside and take another look.
With an ensemble cast that includes Owen Wilson, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody and Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen at his best. The opening montage is a kind of homage to Paris, in the way that the first few minutes of Manhattan express Allen’s love for New York City.
Gil (Owen Wilson) is a successful screenwriter from Los Angeles who considers himself a hack; he wishes he’d been born earlier and had lived in Paris of the 1920s, among literary and artistic giants such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and Gertrude Stein. The longing is so powerful that he’s actually transported back in time to that era and meets with all of his heroes, coming to know them on a first-name basis.
For Gil, it’s a dream come true, the fulfillment of his deepest fantasy wishes.
In an earlier post about Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video, I discussed her particular way of overcoming shame. Based on Sigmund Freud’s idea of the artist as someone who retreats from hated reality but finds a way back through his or her artistic gifts, I suggested that Lady Gaga “has managed to take profound shame and make it into something aesthetic and compelling. By putting her shame on display — she’s not afraid to make herself look ugly, or to expose herself in ways that other people might find ‘shameless’ — she has in a sense triumphed over that shame.” In Lady Gaga’s ‘Marry the Night’ video, she returns to this theme and elaborates upon it. Although her latest effort ostensibly deals with the issue of trauma, dig a little deeper and you’ll see it’s really about shame.
Lady Gaga begins the video with an explanatory monolog:
“When I look back on my life, it’s not that I don’t want to see things exactly as they happened; it’s just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way. And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it. Clinical psychology tells us that trauma is arguably the ultimate killer. Memories are not recycled like atoms and particles in quantum physics. They can be lost forever. It’s sort of like my past is an unfinished painting, and as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. It’s not that I’ve been dishonest; it’s just that I loathe reality.”
A new 70th anniversary edition of Citizen Kane, first released in 1941, was recently issued. I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss why I think this film is great. When film historians and critics write about Citizen Kane, they mention its innovative camera angles — the way director Orson Welles plays with shadow and perspective — or its groundbreaking departure from chronological narrative.
While I admire these features, what I appreciate most about the film is its psychological portrait of Charles Foster Kane. Long before the label narcissistic personality disorder entered our lexicon and people routinely discussed the narcissistic behavior of their friends and family, Orson Welles gave us a character unable to feel empathy for other people; who craves, even demands attention from the entire world, and who becomes enraged when he can’t have what he wants. These are the features we have come to associate with the narcissist.
Charles Foster Kane — or Charlie, as he is known to his friends — was born to parents who operate a simple boarding house in Colorado. When mining stock given in lieu of payment by a boarder makes his mother (Agnes Moorehead) wealthy, she consigns Charlie to the care of a wealthy banker for his education.
In the scene when she signs the necessary papers, Mrs. Kane at first appears emotionally detached; but when her husband threatens to beat Charlie for pushing the banker into the snow, she says, “That’s why he’s going to be brought up where you can’t get at him.” This scene, with an emotionally remote mother and an abusive father, offer the only clues to the origins of Charlie’s personality and later difficulties.
In Rachel Getting Married (2008), Anne Hathaway plays Kym, who is released from rehab in order to go to her sister Rachel’s wedding, which takes place at the home of her father, Paul and step-mother, Carol. The particular scene I’ve chosen illustrates what happens when a parent doesn’t or won’t acknowledge his or her proper share of accountability and responsibility; the child is then left holding all of the guilt, until such point that as an adult, the child comes to her own inner understanding as to how things really were.
The main storyline in the film The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) has to do with the relationship between mother Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) and daughter Sidda (Sandra Bullock). I want to focus on one particular scene here which gives an insight into Vivi’s relationship with her own parents. This scene takes place at the birthday party of 18-year old Vivi (played by Ashley Judd). Her father, Taylor, gives her an extravagant diamond ring. The narrator says “Taylor Abbott treated his horses better than he treated his wife,” and that Vivi “got caught in the crossfire” between them. There are a number of aspects to analyze in this clip. One is the creation of a Daddy’s Little Girl. Not only does Taylor treat Vivi more like a beloved wife (vividly seen through the symbolism of the ring) than a daughter, he also devalues his real wife, Buggy. Winning the Oedipal conflict in this way usually creates much confusion for a young girl, as well as guilt and shame. As special as she may feeling because of her father’s inappropriate attention, she also feels guilt because it’s at her mother’s expense.
I find Lady Gaga such a fascinating figure, not because of her artistic talents as much as the paradoxical nature of her public self. On the one hand, she often comes across as naive or simplistic, with the “love yourself” message she constantly sends out to her adoring fans. As I’ve written before, you can’t achieve authentic self-esteem in that way, but she nonetheless seems genuinely to believe in that message. During the many talk show interviews she has given, whenever she speaks to fans in the audience, she comes across as sincere and caring.
On the other hand, here’s what she said to Anderson Cooper about “fame management” during their interview on 60 Minutes: “One of my greatest art works is the art of fame. I’m a master of the art of fame.” This makes her sound almost calculating, so entirely conscious of herself and the impression she makes at every moment of every day that you have to wonder whether her “love yourself” message is just another part of image management.
Further exploring various dynamics of the mother and daughter relationship, we’ll have a look at a scene from Postcards from the Edge (1990). This film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher (daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds). Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) plays the addiction-prone actress daughter of movie star Doris Mann (Shirley Maclaine). Doris is portrayed as overbearing, controlling, manipulative, competitive and self-absorbed; Suzanne is very much in her shadow.
In Part I, we saw big changes in Pleasantville, now: the Mayor tries to regain control of the situation by organizing a town hall meeting. He represents the fascistic part of our Super-Ego clinging on to old value systems for dear life by rallying defense mechanisms.
This part rejects, banishes, and excludes those aspects of ourselves that bring up unwanted painful and shameful emotions in order to keep things comfortable and “pleasant.”
In her “Born This Way” music video, Lady Gaga models a kind of refusal to let shame and self-doubt debilitate her, triumphing over those feelings through her enormous artistic gifts.
Though there are many themes presented in Pleasantville (1998), those that will be explored here are the shadow side of our emotions, the dangers of not dealing with them consciously and the rewards of living in connection with all parts of our ourselves. The film shows that the cost of living in “black and white” is a life that is flat, bland and two-dimensional. And, for all the mess that living with our full range of emotions can bring, doing so enables us to live a “colorful” life with all of its richness and depth.