Monday, November 29, 2010

I Am a Sucker For the Pop Star Bildungsroman

This is how I spent my afternoon. It was dark when I came out of the theater. Winter sucks.

It's opening week for Burlesque, the Christina Aguilera/Cher vehicle. I saw it today with my movie club, a group of friends that get together to watch movies that pop stars make (which got started with watching Cool As Ice, the Vanilla Ice movie). The trick is that the movie only qualifies if it was made after the pop star got famous. I was interested to see how Burlesque fit into the recent model of the genre, if you want to call it a genre.

It seems to me that it used to be that pop star movies were all about the protagonist already being famous but having to deal with that fame, such as Rick Springfield's 1984 movie Hard to Hold, the madcap musical adventures of the Spice Girls in Spice World (which was pretty much the Spice Girls in A Hard Day's Night), or maybe you might make a case for Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Or sometimes pop stars were in biopics of someone else (Madonna in Evita or maybe you might make a case for J-Lo in Selena -- although that was more of a breakout role for her, so I don't know if that movie qualifies). Sometimes pop stars make a ridiculous movie of the genre I enjoy with my friends like Mariah Carey in Glitter but then almost disappointingly they go on to make a film where they actually are pretty good, like Mariah Carey was in Precious (or so I am told; I haven't actually seen Precious).

Most of the above mentioned movies with pop stars are not quite the same as the movies with pop stars with the Hollywood bildungsroman story arc, which are the ones I like the best. They usually document a naive yet spunky and talented youth, who ends up leaving the small town to "make it" in the big city. We watch them clumb up from rags to riches on a journey into success and fame, sometimes paying some sort of price for their sacrifices. The specific ways in which these plot developments unfold may differ, but those certain conventions are usually present. Usually the protagonist has had a sad upbringing, and is usually impoverished and troubled (Glitter or Burlesque). You usually see early on that they have some kind of raw and untrained talent: Britney Spears sang to Madonna albums in her bedroom in Crossroads so that viewers understand she knows how to sing, Christina Aguilera sang along with some sassy tune cleaning up after hours at work so the audience understands that she has higher aspirations than waiting on tables, and so on. There's always some defining moment where the protagonist uses their pluckiness to show their talent to the right person who makes the big decisions, proving they've "got what it takes," and they're given a chance to prove themselves; maybe the usual performer at the bar is sick and the protagonist jumps at the chance to strut their stuff (Burlesque).

The end of the movie will have some payoff, whether it's reconciling with foes (Purple Rain), saving-the-bar against uncertain demolition (Burlesque), bravely standing up to one's elders (Crossroads), etc. Although I have never actually seen Eminem's 8 Mile, there is no doubt in my mind that there's some you've-got-one-chance to-prove-yourself-by-rapping-in-front-of-a-massive-audience finale scene.

Also, I am always interested in seeing how the careers of Britney and Xtina parallel, since they are pretty much each other's peers going back to MMC. (And then also with Justin Timberlake -- does Britney ever feel he's the one that got away?) Anyway, I could't help when I saw this picture of Xtina in Burlesque, think of Britney in the video for "Circus." If you look at the pictures, I think you'll see what I mean.

Christina in Burlesque.
Britney in Circus.

So people are all into the old-timey stuff these days, which I quite like. I heard that Xtina's most recent album Bionic didn't do so well (they tried to Lady Gaga her up with being kind of like a crazy fashionista weirdo thing which is not her style, and then they also tried to do all that mechanical steampunky android science-fiction stuff with her, and of course that didn't work either because that's also not her style too) -- and I'm told that it was all kind of disasterous for her. Or at least that's what I inferred from the the way they talked about it on Sound Opinions. The truth is that I haven't even heard anything on the Bionic album, at least not knowingly. Maybe I'll go scope it out just out of curiosity.

I did hear someone speculate that Burlesque was supposed to be an attempt to revive Xtina's career, which is interesting, because it actually seems a bit late for a pop star like her to making this type of movie in her career, it being such that when pop stars make those movies with the rags to riches get famous movies, it's usually after just a couple albums. Or maybe I'm only thinking of the fact that Britney Spears made her version of the pop-star-story movie Crossroads eight years ago, and both Xtina and Brit are pretty much peers. On the other hand, Crossroads was hardly a movie with the same type of dancing and singing that was featured so heartily in Burlesque.

All this is to say that I was almost disappointed that I kind of liked the movie even though it was strangely saccharine for a movie that was so sexy. Also, there was of course some cringeworthy stuff as you would expect -- one scene I am thinking of specifically is one in which Cher performs a ballad lamenting the potential loss of her dear burlesque club, that was pretty er, well let's just say it was The Greatest Love of All fed through a St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion) processor. And the scene was almost gratuitously emotional the way the camera falls on the DJ's resigned sigh as he turns off the stereo at the end of the song with a pensive nod of sympathy. I did actually burst out laughing. So there was that. But the singing and dancing scenes were actually pretty amazing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Boy Am I Glad I Wasn't Raised In An Orphanage Training Me For A Life In the Chinese Opera

...Unlike Jackie Chan, whose autobiography I read, which is I Am Jackie Chan: My Life In Action by Jackie Chan with Jeff Yang (Ballentine Books), 1998.
Action hero Jackie Chan is known for being a guy who does his own stunts in his movies. I like that he has a hilarious kinesthetic sense of humor, and I can see how he claims that he was influenced by Buster Keaton, who also did a lot of his own stunts. (Full disclosure: I have only seen a few snippets of Buster Keaton, so it's not like I can make some sort of cultured observation. But -- from the very little that I know of Buster Keaton I would venture to say that Jackie Chan has been influenced by him.)
Jackie Chan had it hard growing up. His parents were so poor that they basically sold him into indentured servitude to this school that taught students how to perform in the Chinese opera. That’s a type of traditional theater that incorporates among other things, acrobatics and martial arts. At this school he was tortured with corporeal punishment, starvation and various other unbelievable things, all this the whole time he was growing up. It was hard to read because it was an abusive orphanage. I should have read this when I was growing up and I would have been at least happier knowing that no matter how long I was grounded for, at least I wasn't undergoing what Jackie Chan went through. 
This book is more heartbreaking than egotistical but I would have liked it much more if he was preposterous. I find that MORE compelling. Maybe the fact that I tend to enjoy salaciously egotistic celebrity autobiographies the most is that I am a disgraceful person.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Because If It's Not In an Outline Format I Can't Understand It

If making plans are intricate for something than I need to have it laid out in a preposterous outline format, or I just know I'll leave out the details. Lately I have come to hear myself frequently say, "I can't talk about this without my notes," or "I am useless without my calendar." I swear to you, this is an e-mail I actually sent to family members (with names changed, like anybody cares really, but I feel like I should change them, which is silly, but you know, whatever), with the subject heading "Holiday Plans Ridiculously Outlined In an Almost MLA-like Format."

Holiday Plans
I. Nov 27th: We are all getting together on Sat, Nov 27th. Is that when we're celebrating Hanukah (since Hanukah starts Dec 2nd) or my dad's b-day? In my planner I wrote "Hanukah." But then my dad's b-day being the 29th, my brother speculated that perhaps Nov 27th might be when we're celebrating my dad's b-day? So now I need some clarification because I am easily confused. It's amazing I get anything done really.
II. Dec 5th: We are all getting together Sunday, Dec 5th. Is that for Hanukah or my dad's b-day?
III. Meal Clarification: Which meals are both of these events for? I asked to work the early shift on Sat, Nov 27th so I could leave early and meet up for dinner. Sunday Dec 5th is more flexible for me.
  A. Reservations: Have any reservations already been made at any restaurants? If not, my brother volunteered to make them.
     1. If they have been made, where should we meet and when?
  B. Reservation-related details: If they have not been made, here are questions my brother requested to have answered to make said reservations:
      1. Does dad have a prefereance where he wants to go?
      2. How many people should he make the reservation for?
If you need me I'll be in the office supply section of Office Depot.

I feel like maybe I should expand this into some ridiculous flash fiction thing. Using gimmicky devices for short fiction pieces seems like it's all the rage right now. Book blurbs that tell a story! Stereo instructions that tell a story! FAQ's that tell a story! My butt! It tells a story!

Oh! Someone better go tell McSweeney's!

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Will Celebrate By Accepting Your Sacrifice of Small Gifts and Candy

I have a meting tomorrow for this alternative comics fest here in Chicago that I'm helping plan because we meet on Tuesday nights and tomorrow we're settling on the place we're going to have the tabling at. One of my cohorts circulated a reminder e-mail to remind everybody about the importance of tomorrow's meeting. When I confirmed it was in my datebook, I couldn't help noticing in my datebook that tomorrow is also the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Adha that commemorates the willingness of Abraham sacrificing his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God before God provided a ram to sacrifice instead. I recognized this story, because that's the story I read out of the Torah at my bat mitzvah as a Jewish pre-teen. And I got to thinking about the insanity of that story. What kind of story is that to read at a coming of age ceremony?! How is that helpful?! That if you lay down your life for God he'll give you a ram and then ask you to kill it? WTF, God?

What I would really like is if at someone's bar or bat mitzvah they were all, "You know what? Now that I'm considered an adult I would just ike to say, I think Judiasm is bullshit. But I will take any gifts or money that you can give me for turning 13. Also, please sign the enlarged picture of me in my soccer uniform. Diyanu!"

However, in honor of the holiday, I said that I would only come to the meeting if someone sacrificed something to me. I sent around an e-mail to the Google Group for the committee reminding everybody that I would accept candy, dollar bills, and other small gifts. I also said that people could come clean my house, which is also perfectly acceptable.

Mazol tov to me I am now a woman. Checks can be made out to "Liz Mason."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Poor Baby Playlist

Songs about being a celebrity are hilarious to me. In case you want a playlist, I have included a screenshot of one I compiled in my I-Tunes called “Poor Baby: The Trials of Being a Celebrity.” The tracks include pop songs that vary in degrees and opinions about being famous. A number of them pretty much say “poor me, the life of being a celebrity is so hard” and then other songs communicate the braggadocio of rap artists: “Announcement of my arrival! Make way for me!” This is by no means a comprehensive list. What else should I add? Why am I so interested in this?

Monday, November 8, 2010

OK GO Clean It Up and Avril Lavigne's Clothes

So after last night's post about the mash-up potential of Willow Smith's video for "Whip My Hair" vs J. Geils Band's "Freeze Frame" video, someone told me about the OK Go video for "This Too Shall Pass" and I watched it in it's Rube Goldberg-ian glory, and it is pretty awesome. And as usual, the comments for it from viewers are AWESOME. So it's the whole video of contraptions knocking things over etc., which I'm sure made a huge glorious mess. And then here's the best comment:

OK Go clean it up

Anyway, I was amused by both video and the comments as usual. I did take a picture of the paint-related part too, since I'm beginning to see a "paint-splattervision" theme in music videos. Interesting.

Also! I noticed at the end of the video it said Brought to you by (or was it "sponsored by" or maybe just "State Farm Insurance" with a logo?). Poetic/humerous/ironic but probably on purpose in some clever marketing angel kind of a way. But! I don't care, it's an awesome video.

I'm almost done with my next issue of my zine Caboose, and I am proud to leak some of the few rejected images I'm not using in this next issue. And it will give a good overview of some of the things in this issue.

Why are they tags from Avril Lavigne's Abbey Dawn clothing line at Kohl's, you ask? Because I did a clothing product line review/creative non-fiction piece about the Candie's Britney Spears clothing line at Kohl's. Avril Lavigne's clothes at Kohl's are 13 racks down. And because I am pretty much maxed out at the maturity of a teenager in terms of my clothing tastes, I am interested in both lines. How arty of me to scan in these tags in black and white. And why did I spend $40 on this skirt? And then there's a ridiculous shirt to go with it. I know, I know, I can barely pay my bills. Hey, it's for the sake of art. I was writing about it! I couldn't just NOT buy them. Um yeah. I'll just keep telling myself that.

So here's me dressed up in Avril Lavigne clothes. But first a picture of her so you have an appropriate reference photo. I think I tried more to communicate essence more than actual pose. Enjoy! You're welcome! Sleep tight! Zzzzz...Are you sleeping? Wake up! Wake up! Look at me in Avril LAvigne clothes! Really! Really! Look at me! I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you, la la la la!

Go back to bed now!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Willow Smith Is Pretty Much the J. Geils Band

So after I saw that Britney Spears had tweeted how she thought that Willow Smith was so cute, I -- oh wait a minute, back up. OK, so Willow Smith is the daughter of Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith (who is spelling what right here? I don't know. Or care.) Right OK, so Willow has that song "Whip My Hair." In case you're wondering what the lyrics are, I took a picture of the lyrics of a random spot in the song, you know, just to fill you in. You know, to get you up to speed.

You get the idea.

So OK,  Britney Spears had tweeted:

OK, so I went and watched the video, because I was interested because of Britney, but then also I had read some kind of other headline somewhere that was all like, "Britney Whips Her Hair" which is weird, I was like "Are they trying to say Britney Spears made an exasperated gesture?"...So that explained her Tweet. OK, so anyway, I'm watching the video and is this girl singing about whipping her hair and being pretty much just, bein' sassy, and I think I might even have heard her say "swagger" in it somewhere. Does she have a swagger coach? I need a swagger coach. I think Justin Bieber has a swagger coach. Or how about a swagger couch? I can sit on this couch and just sort of swagger while I sit... OK! But! So! Anyway!

The first thing I thought about was that the video for "Whip My Hair" was interesting because it had this classical dystopian feel of there being no color used, just black and white clothing and furniture, etc. Here's a picture of part of it:

You know, like all like Brave New Classroom or something. But then the minute the singing starts, there's rebellious dancing and singing with kids' hair splaying paint around and like, you know, the singer of this song is our savior etc. etc. etc. And then it's like how in Pleasantville there was the whole thing about a society/world all black and white, and then color starts to creep in, and that affects the world, symbolism symbolism and so on. And that feels weird to me too because of how loaded the word "color" or "colored" is in terms of skin tone, race, etc. ANYWAY, so the real point I'm getting to here is a point that is unrelated to any of this discussion about any of these bigger issues. My point is that the video for "Whip My Hair" is pretty much the  same as the video for "Freeze Frame" by J. Geils Band.

OK, so here's "Whip My Hair" by Willow Smith:

"Freeze Frame" by J. Geils Band

A regular Jackson Pollack fest around these parts.

Might I also add that the comments people put after things on You Tube are hilarious, sometimes better than the videos themselves? When is someone going to do a book of just those? In two minutes, and it will be me. My favorite quote for the "Freeze Frame" video someone left was this:

I remember,back in 1993 I used to work in Fitchburg,Ma pumping gas after school. The bass player would come by all the time.I used to get all funny feeling, I asked him "you played bass for the J Geils band huh?" He said yeah. I don't think he knew how much I thought of him and the band.


Friday, November 5, 2010


Oooo! I can't wait! They're enhancing the store part of the Britney Spears website. Does that mean they're putting up new things? Did I lose my chance to buy this?:

Noooooooooooooooooo! Oh wait, I've posted that dog before. OK, well maybe I should get this then:

Do you know what that is? It's a reference to Britney's Womanizer video. There's the part where she's supposed to have a bunch of tattoos. So I guess this is kind of like you know, to make it look like you have tattoos I guess. I have some tights that are kind of like that but they don't stay up. Not like specifically Britney Spears ones, they're like you know, flash tattoo style. And then I found a shirt with the fake tattoo thing on the sleeves but it's cheesy tattoo stuff. Why am I bothering? I already have a big  tattoo on my arm. But does it say Womanizer on it? No? Well, then I better get this one.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When Is It Done?

Tonight at Quimby's we had an event with Charles Burns, talking about his new book Xe'd Out. When the Q and A was ending I wanted to ask, "How do you tell it's done?" in regards to books/comics but I was afraid that it would have come off that I was being passive aggressive about wanting to end the event, since we close at 9pm. It's just that I think a lot about how in the process of working on creative things, like my own writing or my own zines, or even just stuff in general (or at least on lots of things anyway) that it's hard for me to designate "OK I'm done with this." I feel like the only thing that makes me "finish" something is a deadline. And it's not because I'm lazy. It's because it's hard for me to get to a point that I'm happy with whatever I'm working on. Every time I look at something I'm working on I always find stuff I need to fix/correct/change. And then I also feel like the moment I press "Send" or "Publish" leads to the very next moment of me noticing the huge glaring typo. Do other people have this problem too? I heard some interview with Chuck Klosterman somewhere where he said that once a piece of his is printed that's when he hates it -- I don't remember how he phrased it exactly. I'm assuming he meant like if he goes back and looks at something he wrote that was printed he finds problems with it, especially if some time has passed. I feel like the more time that passes after I write something the more problems I find with it, not just typos but ideas. Or phrasing. Or any number of things. One of my friends said that she looks back at old stuff she wrote and she thinks, "Wow! That's pretty good, I don't remember writing that!" which is more of a Flowers For Algernon thing. I remember hearing an interview with Tina Fey, and she said that she worked really hard to learn the Sarah Palin voice but when she looks back at it now she can't really remember what she did exactly (while she was actually acting it), and she also used the Flowers For Algernon comparison in regards to that as well.

Anyway, my point is that I never feel 100% happy with any thing I do. And I wonder if some artists or writers also have problems with being happy with their final product? Is the work "finished" because their editor says so and/or because there's the due date? Is there such a thing as too much tinkering? And I wonder what millions of errors I will find immediately the moment I press send on this?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010