Saturday, December 6, 2014

Holiday Movies: Rokhl Approved

I have a somewhat atypical relationship to holiday movies. Well, we say 'holiday', but in America, 'holiday' means Christmas with some vague penumbra of collateral jollity (Thanksgiving, Khanike, Kwanzaa) to be read in.

Anyway, though I grew up within pretty mainstream American culture, I generally avoided watching 'Holiday' movies. I hated the Charlie Brown holiday special. Never saw It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story. Not because my parents forbade it or frowned particularly on non-Jewish content.... I just wasn't that interested in Christmas. One thing I knew for sure, it didn't include me.

Last year I decided to see a couple Holiday movies. For example, I watched Scrooged based on many recommendations. I re-watched The Nightmare Before Christmas which was just as disappointing as I remembered it. I watched the Mr. Magoo Christmas movie which just, no.

Anyway, I have a list of three 'Holiday' movies I approve of, for 100% idiosyncratic reasons.

1. Scrooged. It's the perfect piece of '80s nostalgia and a just right satire on the entertainment industry. Bill Murray, David Johansen, Carol Kane, the whole cast is perfect. A great compromise movie to put on when the whole family is awkwardly sitting around and can't think of anything else to talk about.

2. Sint. If you catch this Dutch movie on Netflix you'll find that it's been dubbed into English. That may be a plus or a minus in your book, but it didn't bother me too much. Sint (Saint) is probably the most timely of these movies, as St. Nicolas day is December 5. The night before, Dutch kids traditionally leave out a boot to be filled with toys by Sinterklaas and his not at all racist helper, Black Pete. Black Pete may or may not be based on Spanish Moors and/or may or may not be based on chimney sweeps with blackened faces.

You may have seen pictures of contemporary Dutch Black Petes here or there in recent discussions about cultural appropriation and racist costumes. It was worth it to watch the movie just to understand the context for Black Pete. Doesn't make it ok, but it's good to understand what's actually being discussed.

Anyway, the premise for the movie (which by the way, is quite gory) is that Sinterklaas is a murderer who visits mayhem every time St. Nicolas day eve falls on a full moon. Since I can't say when the last time was I watched a Dutch movie, I thought that alone was worth the price of admission. (Which, to be honest, was $0. Available for streaming on Netflix)

3. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. io9 calls Rare Exports "the most disturbingly awesome Christmas movie ever." And even though (or maybe because) I haven't seen that many Christmas movies, I have to agree. I watched this with my family without knowing anything about it, which made the experience much more enjoyable. It's also Finnish, which obviously makes it even better. Don't read too much about it, just watch.

Those are my picks, what are yours?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

They Were Robbed

Did you hear about the kerfuffle around Macklemore's win at the Grammys? Lots of folks, including, apparently, Macklemore himself, felt that one of the other nominees, Kendrick Lamar, deserved the awards (especially in the Rap category) and that the awards were more about race and white privilege than merit.

I'm a little hesitant to opine here, because 1. I'm not familiar with Kendrick Lamar* so I can't say if he was more deserving or not and 2. I loathe the Grammys. The year the Academy awarded Best New Artist to Milli Vanilli was the year I realized there was no Grammy Santa Claus. Whatever a Grammy recognizes, I think it has more to do with the inscrutable quirks of Grammy voters than some measurement of artistic genius.

That said, I'm interested in this particular dynamic, what happens when a talented white person comes face to face with his own privilege while competing against people of color. That recognition of privilege is at the dramatic heart of Saturday Night Fever, one of my favorite movies. The movie is about a lot of things- class mobility, masculinity, race- and you should go and watch it tonight if you've never seen it. John Travolta and his white suit have become a clownish cliche by now, but if you actually want to understand why a performance becomes iconic, you have to watch Travolta as the ambitious Tony Manero.

Tony and his dance partner Stephanie have been practicing for the big dance competition. Here, Tony and Stephanie perform their routine to the BeeGees 'More Than a Woman'. The dance is a little corny and a little stiff- it lacks the electricity of some of the other dancing in the movie. It also reflects the dynamic of Tony and Stephanie, which is also kind of awkward and stiff.

Now, here's the routines of the two other couples, one black and one Puerto Rican. Unfortunately, the only clip I could find of this scene is from a version of the movie dubbed into Spanish. What's important is that Tony is watching them and recognizes that they're better than he is. He knows that he should not win.

But of course he and Stephanie DO win. Tony realizes that the whole thing is rigged to favor people like him. He tries to give the award to the Puerto Rican couple. But that's not how things work in his world. You can't just give back privilege.

It's the beginning of his journey away from Brooklyn, away from that racial economy, and toward a new understanding of life.

Anyway, seriously, see it. And then watch it again. (It takes at least two viewings to understand everything that happens.) You'll thank me.

*Truth is, I actually love Macklemore and have notoriously bad taste in hip-hop. I mean, I love Mickey Avalon. So, you know...