Notes on “Get Out” (2017)

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

I finally caught up with GET OUT, writer-director Jordan Peele’s racial satire. A box-office smash beloved by critics (well, most of them), Peele takes Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “black bodies” rhetoric and recasts it into a horror-thriller. Chris Washington, a young black man played by Daniel Kaluuya, is going away for a weekend with his white girlfriend, played by Allison Williams, to meet her parents for the first time. While there, Chris discovers that he’s the target of an ongoing plot whereby a cadre of rich white people kidnap blacks to use their bodies as either neutered slaves or host vessels for their transplanted brains. It’s a juicy premise that may work as social commentary, but fails as a thriller.

By coincidence my co-blogger Enzo watched it the same night I did and we got to talking about the screenplay. As he pointed out, thrillers like this — from SHADOW OF A DOUBT to ROSEMARY’S BABY, to B-grade fare like UNLAWFUL ENTRY or even C-grade fare like THE FIRM — rely on exploiting the protagonist’s trust. The protagonist should want to be a part of the world that will double-cross him. This raises the emotional stakes and makes the betrayal greater.

But here, Chris is skeptical of the white world from the beginning. Instead of being reluctant to go on the trip, he should be the eager one. Instead of reluctantly submitting to the hypnosis that is ultimately used to control him, he should have volunteered. Even worse, the movie gives Chris every reason to be repulsed by the whites. All of them look, act, and talk like creeps, when they should be ingratiating and charming. Peele says in his commentary that the movie was written during the Obama era when people were celebrating a “post-racial America,” but Peele thought that was a lie, that racism was simmering right beneath the surface. He intended the movie to be a “gut punch” (his phrase) as to how things really are. But for a gut punch to be really effective, the protagonist should be caught off guard, yet Chris is on guard nearly the whole time. Although shot in Alabama, Peele is skewering the racism of middle-and-upper-class white liberals who oppress blacks not out of a sense of superiority, but because they feel inferior. The whites want what they perceive to be superior black strength, coolness, and sexual prowess. Given their perverse love, it would make more sense for them to approach Chris with seduction, instead of obviously alienating him and us.

Closely related to the first part, the movie should bring us into his head as he realizes that their seduction masks an ulterior motive. During the party scene, Enzo suggested a dialogue soundtrack with half-heard words, overlapping dialogue, and more ambiguity. Instead, none of the white people make any attempt to hide their true selves. They all say the exact wrong thing. “Peele should be turning the screw, but instead he keeps hammering the same nail,” Enzo said.

Another major mistake is the opening tag, a pre-title sequence where the movie announces its intention too baldly. In the scene, a black man played by LaKeith Stanfield finds himself lost in an upscale suburban neighborhood. (It’s funny how the streets are lined with the kind of old-fashioned lampposts that serve as romantic beacons in LA LA LAND. Here, they’re transformed into markers of white supremacy.) A car follows him and when Stanfield tries to flee, he’s abducted, and turns up later in the movie as the lobotomized stud for a white woman twice his age. Peele is attempting Hitchcock’s classic “show the bomb under the table” in an attempt to heighten the suspense. But because he fails to dramatize the story, because we’re kept at a distance from Chris the way he keeps the white world at a distance, the suspense is diminished, not heightened.

The suspense is also deflated when Peele cuts to Chris’s best friend, played by Lil Rey Howery, as he investigates Chris’s disappearance. What’s meant to be a bit of comic relief instead throws off the pacing of a crucial sequence. On the other hand, the fact that a competent, dedicated TSA agent turns out to the be Chris’s knight in shining armor is perhaps the movie’s most generous joke.

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Little Pieces of Blue Jelly

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

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Dickie stopped in the road, looking at him. They were arguing so loudly, a few people around them were looking, watching.

‘It could have been fun,’ Tom said, ‘but not the way you chose to take it. A month ago when we went to Rome, you’d have thought something like this was fun.’

‘Oh, no,’ Dickie said, shaking his head. ‘I doubt it.’

The sense of frustration and inarticulateness was agony to Tom. And the fact that they were being looked at. He forced himself to walk on, in tense little steps at first, until he was sure that Dickie was coming with him. The puzzlement, the suspicion, was still in Dickie’s face, and Tom knew Dickie was puzzled about his reaction. Tom wanted to explain it, wanted to break through to Dickie so he would understand and they would feel the same way. Dickie had felt the same way he had a month ago. ‘It’s the way you acted,’ Tom said. ‘You didn’t have to act that way. The fellow wasn’t doing you any harm.’

‘He looked like a dirty crook!’ Dickie retorted. ‘For Christ sake, go back if you like him so much. You’re under no obligation to do what I do!

‘Now Tom stopped. He had an impulse to go back, not necessarily to go back to the Italian, but to leave Dickie. Then his tension snapped suddenly. His shoulders relaxed, aching, and his breath began to come fast, through his mouth. He wanted to say at least, ‘All right Dickie,’ to make it up, to make Dickie forget it. He felt tongue-tied. He stared at Dickie’s blue eyes that were still frowning, the sun bleached eyebrows white and the eyes themselves shining and empty, nothing but little pieces of blue jelly with a black dot in them, meaningless, without relation to him. You were supposed to see the soul through the eyes, to see love through the eyes, the one place you could look at another human being and see what really went on inside, and in Dickie’s eyes Tom saw nothing more now than he would have seen if he had looked at the hard, bloodless surface of a mirror. Tom felt a painful wrench in his breast, and he covered his face with his hands. It was as if Dickie had been suddenly snatched away from him. They were not friends. They didn’t know each other. It struck Tom like a horrible truth, true for all time, true for the people he had known in the past and for those he would know in the future: each had stood and would stand before him, and he would know time and time again that he would never know them, and the worst was that there would always be the illusion, for a time, that he did know them, and that he and they were completely in harmony and alike. For an instant the wordless shock of his realisation seemed more than he could bear. He felt in the grip of a fit, as if he would fall to the ground. It was too much: the foreignness around him, the different language, his failure, and the fact that Dickie hated him. He felt surrounded by strangeness, by hostility. He felt Dickie yank his hands down from his eyes.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ Dickie asked. ‘Did that guy give you a shot of something?’

‘No.’

‘Are you sure? In your drink?’

‘No.’ The first drops of the evening rain fell on his head. There was a rumble of thunder. Hostility from above, too. ‘I want to die,’ Tom said in a small voice.

— Patricia Highsmith

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Architecture and Color

Paleo Retiree writes:

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“The Fits”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

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For much of its running time “The Fits,” the first feature film from writer-director Anna Rose Holmer, is a sensitive and nicely underplayed piece of naturalistic humanism. Holmer’s camera follows 11-year-old Toni (the bracingly earnest Royalty Hightower) around her urban environment, keenly observing her gradual transition from a tomboy into a young woman. Toni, who is black, is attached to her older brother. He teachers her boxing, and it’s clear that she loves its physicality; it allows her to externalize her inner self, to discover herself through movement in a way that’s natural and unmediated. But she’s on the cusp of puberty, and when she spies a group of girls practicing dance in her neighborhood rec center, she can’t help but be captivated. The girls don’t move as the boys do: they wag their bottoms and sass provocatively between routines; they’re knowingly sexual. Suddenly, her brother and his boxing friends seem a little loutish. Nevertheless, as Toni practices her dances, she inserts boxing moves when she’s not sure what comes next. You can see how one set of skills informs the other.

Holmer, who is white, pokes around urban black culture with the acuity of an ace documentarian, and she doesn’t try to mask her otherness (she also doesn’t make a big deal of it). You can feel her approaching the material from the outside, nudging it only sparingly, hoping to avoid spoiling its vitality and independence. The black kids move and speak and behave like black kids (to a white sensibility they’re a little exotic), and Holmer’s unwillingness to comment or impose on them frees her observations so that they occasionally exhibit that rare balance, evident in the better Neorealist pictures, of the poetic and the commonplace.

Holmer exerts a frightful degree of control. Visually, rhythmically, and tonally every element in the picture is arranged just so. At times this is a problem: there are moments where the movie feels nailed down and consciously tony in that deadly indie-drama way. But more often than not its stylistic flaws (I didn’t care for the eerie, discordant score) are redeemed by the content and by Holmer’s aesthetic instincts. The latter yields some amusing and unusual images: a girl’s rainbow-stockinged legs extended into the air as she spins on a chair in the lower right corner of the frame, out of which she occasionally drifts; an overhead shot of a pizza, hands darting in to dismantle it in the brusque and expert manner of boys. It also provides scenes that seem pulled from some repository of shared childhood experience: a fraught attempt at ear-piercing; a tentative excursion into a darkened gymnasium. It’s to Holmer’s credit that these moments neither announce themselves nor wallop you with meaning; by the time you become conscious of their artfulness they’ve passed.

“The Fits” equates dancing with the physical self-awareness that comes with awakened sexuality. As long as it plays on that theme it remains a canny evocation of the physical and emotional turmoil of puberty. But when Holmer attempts to tie this idea to an ideological premise she stumbles. The screenplay, by Holmer and two other writers, urges us to see sexuality as a subjugating force; that is, as a force that is better transcended than mastered. As the girls in Toni’s troupe discover boys, and take their first steps towards sex, they are afflicted with seizures — the fits of the title — that, like deaths, remove them from the flow of the story. These episodes of paralysis, involuntary and uncoordinated, are subversions of the dances the girls have been practicing. As such they come off as rebukes, as punishments for behaviors we’d initially taken as productive and healthy.

The fits don’t affect the movie’s boys; they’re a female-specific malady, a kind of symbolic rape. And because Holmer declines to deal with sex directly (the girls’ sex talk is weirdly suppressed; even the allusions are alluded to) a distinct whiff of puritanism becomes detectable about an hour into the picture. This same whiff — the scent of sexual dread — was sensible in the 2014 indie darling “It Follows,” in which teens who dared to fornicate were stalked and murdered by invisible bogey people. But “It Follows” was a horror movie; anxiety and cruelty are endemic to its genre. Cosmic vindictiveness of this sort is much harder to accept in a slice-of-life drama. I imagine some will praise as novel Holmer’s introduction of horror elements to the coming-of-age story, but I don’t think “The Fits” works as horror. It’s far too objective and externalized to generate existential dread, and the events in the movie that might be taken as horrific tend not to amplify the characters’ predicaments but rather to pull them down to the level of political commentary.

The movie’s low point is a scene in which Toni, after removing her earrings (relics of her conformance to traditional femininity), confronts her peers and levitates. The moment, which tilts the film in the direction of magical realism, undermines the earthiness and humanness of the surrounding material (it makes even dancing seem passé), and it states what I take to be Holmer’s thesis: that only by separating herself from society, from shared experience, from Earth itself, can Toni arrive at her full potential. Of course, in 21st-century America, “being yourself” is more than just a mantra, it’s something like a statement of principle. But I wonder: If being yourself entails a rejection of everything natural, up to and including gravity, what’s the point of being someone at all? The movie left me feeling depressed.

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Naked Lady of the Week: Samantha Fox

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

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Remember Samantha Fox? She rose to fame in England after her mother allowed racy photos of her to appear on page three of “The Sun.” She was only around five feet in height, but she had boobs that looked like zeppelins that had been cantilevered from her shoulders.

Being an American, I first became aware of her through music videos (she developed a recording career) and pin-up posters of the kind one tries to win at itinerant carnivals on humid summer nights.

When you’re 10 years old your aesthetic sense doesn’t appreciate moderation. You respond most strongly to things to which a more refined sensibility would object, saying “too much!” To 10-year-old me, Fox was too much in the way that heavy metal and professional wrestling were too much — she was too much in a way that seemed about perfect.

Revisiting her photos now, her immoderateness is almost upsetting. And is it me or are her proportions a little strange? She looks a bit like a muppet version of Heather Thomas.

Dem titties, though.

Nudity below. Enjoy the long weekend.

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Linkage

Paleo Retiree writes:

  • James Kunstler: “The Deep State is determined to drive Trump from office.”
  • Thomas E. Patterson, professor of government and media at Harvard: “Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days set a new standard for negativity. Of news reports with a clear tone, negative reports outpaced positive ones by 80 percent to 20 percent. Trump’s coverage was unsparing. In no week did the coverage drop below 70 percent negative and it reached 90 percent negative at its peak.”
  • Camille Paglia: “I am appalled at the behavior of the media. It’s the collapse of journalism.”
  • James Downton: “It’s nearly incontrovertible that a slow-motion coup d’état is now taking place.”
  • John Steele Gordon: We’re seeing a “deliberate attempt by the Washington establishment—journalists, Democrats, and some Republicans—to delegitimize the presidency of Donald Trump and to render him incapable of governing.”
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Radical Thought

Paleo Retiree writes:

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