RoboCop | 1987 | dir. Paul Verhoeven
By Max Arambulo
Stories We Tell is a documentary made up of a multitude of interviews and, therefore, a multitude of voices and opinions and memories. We all contain multitudes, right? Sarah Polley directed and curated it all in an effort to create a portrait of her mother, Diane, who died of cancer when Sarah was just 11-years-old. The film, therefore, feels curious and precocious. “Can you tell me the whole story in your words?” Sarah, off-frame, asks each of her subjects, her older siblings and her mother’s old friends. She started this project when she was in her mid-twenties, an age, I think, where kids just begin asking about their parents and romantically adorn the answers they do get. Her brother Johnny, at one point while he’s being interviewed, does a 180 (he makes a joke about breaking the fourth wall) and asks Sarah what she’s trying to do with this movie. She answers something to the effect of: tackling the concept of memory and how it works and, through that, bringing her mother to life. Johnny’s too quick to just roll his eyes and call bullshit. Instead, he interrupts his sister’s dissertation, and touches his chin: “Is this a good angle for me?”
The most striking image we get of Diane is from some archival black and white footage. She’s seated and her posture is tall and she looks directly into the camera as she waits for her audition to begin. It’s in-studio but it’s not really acting. It’s the stuff that comes before acting, somewhere in-between acting a character and living a life. The footage echoes the opening of the film when Sarah seats her interviewees in their respective living rooms, under boom-mics and under the glare of industrial-strength movie lamps. After she gets her cue, Diane begins to sing: “Misbehaving to pay my tolls…” It’s one of the only times we get to hear her voice, in fact. The other times we see her, via old-looking home video, are silent. There’s a shot of her in the Annex in Toronto just outside the Western entrance of Spadina subway station, running in heels up a snowbank. There’s footage of her backstage at a theatre in Montreal where she’d acted in a play called Toronto. When one of her old friends describes Diane’s reaction to her cancer diagnosis, how she had put all her energy and focus into distracting herself from her fear, we watch footage of Diane cleaning out the garage. She picks up a hula hoop and works her hips to try and keep it aloft. One of the film’s big reveals is that, other than the audition, all of the archival footage, including all the above shots, is recreation and reconstruction, like how Errol Morris does. An hour and a half of believing that all the footage are real records. And after an hour and a half of believing, the camera pulls back and shows us the behind the scenes, more of the boom-mics and the lamps, Sarah crouched to give direction to the actress who plays her mom. Up until that point, I hadn’t questioned that there was any difference between the woman singing and the woman hula-hooping.
Thankfully, Sarah is so artful that the reveal doesn’t come off feeling like a cheat. Already established, for example, is the theme that both delusion and misremembering is built into memory. At one point, Harry Golkin, an old lover of Diane’s, describes attending her funeral. He talks about giving her husband condolences and embracing him and feeling how empty the man had felt in his arms. When Sarah tells her father, Michael, about this report, he says: “Was Harry there? No, he wasn’t.” There’s a cut to old footage at the church, Harry sitting in the back row. Of course, at first I thought this was evidence of the correctness of Harry’s memory, but eventually realize it’s not, just more of Polley’s filmic recreation. The film keeps emphasizing the variations between all the accounts of Diane. One friend, for example, describes Diane’s unequivocal joy at learning of her pregnancy with Sarah: “It was new. And Diane loved new.” Another friend remembers that Diane was mostly worried about being 42-years-old and pregnant and how a late pregnancy might mean the child would be born with Down syndrome.
One thing that struck me about the film was the regard with which Sarah’s family remembered Dianne. There was across-the-board sentiment about the things that Diane accomplished and the energy with which she worked. She was a casting director, an actress, a mother of a half-dozen children. “She was the most fun I could imagine,” one of Sarah’s sisters says. Even her marital unhappiness and her affairs are remembered rose-colored. Michael tells Sarah that Diane shouldn’t be blamed, that he’d even told his wife that she should take a lover if needed. Just as long as it doesn’t affect their children. Sarah’s sister explains the gratitude, with tears, she feels at the idea that her mom was able to give so much love and receive it, too. “What changed after?” Sarah asks, regarding the revelation of infidelity. Her sister replies: “Nothing. Well, unless you count that we all got divorced.” Truth begets truth, she continues, and when someone in their family broke taboos, it made the rest of them assess their own situations and happiness.
Ostensibly, this movie is about the small divergences in memory, but there’s a bit of a neatness to it all. A unanimity, to me, that sticks out more than any variation. No one denies Diane’s magnetism. There’s no harsh judgment about her choices. Everyone loves her. It’s feedback from all the love she doled out to her family and friends, particularly, to her children. She even seems to give an equal amount of it to her cold-ish, but providing and intelligent, husband and to her passionate loving lover. Except, maybe, that’s not actually true. One of my favorite things in the movie is when Diane’s lover Harry is asked about the structure of the documentary. He’s made his living as a movie producer so he is an artist and has opinions. Having numerous sources, he explains, having a breadth of information might imply a truer picture, but he says it’s the opposite. It’s less true that way. The recollections of the primary players are diminished by the testimony of the tangential characters who stand on the periphery. Of course, this implies that there is a main story: the story of Harry and Diane. “I had asked her to get the children and move to Montreal to live with me,” he says. “When you’re in love like that, you’re truly selfish.” He’s the only one, he explains, who knows the intensity of their thing. It’s not Sarah’s movie that’s the proper record. He wants to author a memoir, alone in his room, and have that published. “I regret to say, the story of Diane is only mine to tell.”
The sounds of Sarah’s voice we hear the least. We don’t hear her make statements about her mom or describe specific memories. She only asks questions. Superficially, it might be a function of Sarah’s limited years as she has the least to remember and say about Diane. But her dad, also an artist, points out that with all her footage and all her interviews, she’ll have hours and hours of stuff to whittle down. She’ll choose which 120 minutes to keep and how they’ll unfold to her audience. And unfold to herself. She’ll choose to have the meta-layers, to make the telling vaguer instead of clearer, to give weight to multiple voices instead of one. She’ll choose to trick. And another reason the trick doesn’t feel like a cheat is because it reflects something about Sarah, herself. I mentioned earlier that I think all the artifice is partly a function of Sarah’s age. I have this idea in my head that it’s only when we’re in our 30s when we actually start lowering our defenses and start seeing our parents as mortals. I can hear the relative honesty in her older-siblings’ (they’re way past their 20s) stories. Sarah’s filmmaking-layers reflect the young person’s adorned view of her parents. It’s a flowery thing and romantic and natural. “This is important for you,” her dad says, “but for me, it’s just one of the things that happened in my life.”
Just leaving the old Stewart Ave . #👑💩 #unfuckwittable
Secret from PostSecret.com
By Colin Ellis
Katy Perry’s “geisha-inspired” performance at the American Music Awards came under fire from critics as racist and a blatant example of cultural appropriation. Perry trotted out familiar tropes of Japanese culture – kimonos, cherry blossoms, and those cool-looking umbrellas among other symbols - to accompany her song “Unconditionally.” She even managed to throw in some parts of Chinese culture as well, because Asians all have the same culture of course.
Cultural appropriation in pop music is an old trend, but it’s become almost trendy this year, with artists ranging from Macklemore to Miley Cyrus being accused of taking part in it in some way or another. The level of offensiveness varies of course, as do the reactions. I’d say the reaction to Katy Perry’s performance was pretty mild compared to the controversy that Miley caused with her twerking at the VMA’s last summer. Perhaps people have grown so accustomed to seeing white artists pick and choose whatever they like from other cultures that it just isn’t cool to call them out on it anymore.
I’m sort of taken aback at the number of artists or celebrities that keep doing this. I thought we had reached a point collectively where we recognized that dressing up in another culture’s costumes and using their symbols was dumb and we shouldn’t do it. More importantly, I thought that when artists did do that, they’d get roasted hard and be forced into some sensitivity training camp (ok, not really, but you get the idea).
Turns out that was never the case. In fact, I find even artists I admire like David Bowie have been incorporating other cultures into their art for years. At the David Bowie Is… exhibition, I learned that Bowie liked kabuki so much that he hired a Japanese fashion designer to create his suits for his Aladdin Sane tour. The outfits were specifically for his Ziggy Stardust character, an extra-terrestrial being Bowie became synonymous with in the ’70s. He liked that the Japanese outfits made his character look more “alien.”
You could argue that taking specific aspects of another culture and using it to create a more “alien” look is the very definition of racism. Part of me, however, wants to defend Bowie’s choice here, mostly because I love the man’s music. When I saw Katy Perry’s performance at the AMA’s, however, I didn’t hesitate to call that shit racist. I’m not really a fan of her music, so I was less inclined to defend her. I’ll admit my bias for certain artists makes me want to give them a pass when they do things I know are wrong. The same could be said for rappers who write misogynistic lyrics, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog.
So yes, i’m a hypocrite. And to be honest, I can’t really tell if there’s a difference between Perry and Bowie’s use of Japanese culture. Both are self-described “Japanophiles” and probably don’t have any ill feelings towards Japanese people. But it’s beside the point. They take parts of a culture that they have a passing interest in, use whatever fashion, symbols, or rituals that appeals to them in their art, and then move on to the next thing. This is problematic because it treats that culture as just another phase in that artist’s “journey” instead of respecting it as its own unique entity.
Cultural appropriation might just be something all artists do to some extent, finding inspiration from all walks of life. But then why is it almost always white people that do it? (I can think of some, but not many, examples of non-white artists appropriating other cultures. Outkast used Native-American clothing for an award show almost a decade ago). The cultures being appropriated tend to be African-American, Aboriginal, and Asian (I realize these aren’t monolithic cultures, but they get cherry picked a lot). Why not Jewish, or Irish, or Scandinavian? Would Katy Perry have dared to dress up as a Hasidic Jew to sing that stupid song?
I sometimes wonder what would happen if a black rap group did just that – dress up in white face, throw on some religious or cultural garb from a white ethnicity, and parade around on-stage in it at the Grammy’s. Ah, but then that would be reverse-racism, wouldn’t it? Well, I’ll let Aamer Rahman explain why that’s bullshit:
None of what you hear
#TBT Baby Fat Saxxx and 3 Stacks The Mighty ” O ” #Cocksuckazg’zup #yeahHoe