Thursday, 12 March 2015

Throwback Thursday: Looking from the window above ...

Last week's episode of Looking ended with Patrick and Kevin tentatively exchanging I Love Yous with each other. The screen fades to black as the synthesizer sounds of Yazoo's Only You begins. It's the type of sweet 80s pop that usually resonates for me, hearkening back to my childhood. But for some reason, this song felt particularly special. What did this song remind me of? What memories did it trigger? It took a few days for me to work it out, but finally, it came back to me:


This was one of the most perfect moments I've ever witnessed on television. Sweet as the kiss is in isolation, the impact of the kiss increases because of the drawn out sexual tension of the previous two seasons, as well as because of the fact that it was the warmest moment of an otherwise (brilliantly) uncomfortable show. It just warms my heart.

I've been enjoying this season of Looking - it just gets better and better - but it's not there yet. Let's hope the final episodes bring everything to a climax.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Paris is Burning

If ever there was a perfect snapshot in time and place in the world, Paris is Burning was it. This amazing documentary captures a point in time in queer history, showing the world the exuberance, the passion, the struggles, and most affectingly, the vulnerability of the drag community of the late 80s New York. It taught, and continues to teach, the rest of us about balls, vogueing, shade, reading, Houses, and above all else, what the defiant sense of community looks like.

And like the period and characters it documents, Paris is Burning too feels short on time. Its brisk 71 minute length leaves you salivating for more of this world and its characters. The stars shine brightly and the flames burn intensely, but all too quickly and before their time. Nothing encapsulates that feeling more than this shot of Venus Xtravanganza.

By itself, it's a beautiful image, a wondrous snapshot of a person at a time and place. That defiant face and pose. The fashion. The graffiti. That boombox, which not only captures the time period but also symbolizes Venus's (and the other characters') voice that announces to the world that it must be heard.

Throughout the film, Venus, and many of the other characters, have been framed either intimately in private or as part of a group shot at the ball. The private shots expose their personal histories, fears and vulnerabilities. The group shots showcase the fabulous rambunctiousness of the balls and the solidarity and community of the Houses. So when scenes are later filmed in public, these characters, on the one hand, are reintegrated into the outside world, announcing that they too are citizens of this world. But on the other hand, these shots are also a graphic reminder that while they can build walls and Houses around themselves for protection, they too must brave the real world.

So here is Venus, outside in the real world. This twilight shot, by itself, may suggest that, between the harsh light of day and the foreboding shadows of night, there is some beauty in Venus' world. That beautiful pink sunset behind her captures the love, beauty, and perhaps the vulnerability, that she embodies, qualities that befit the goddess after which she has named herself.

But alas, upon the narration of Venus' death, it's not just a sunset that we see in this shot - we are witnessing the twilight of Venus's story. Like the tip of her cigarette, her life shines briefly before her fate draws near, her life shining briefly. In the foreground she defiantly draws her final breath, as in the background, her world is burning and scorching the sky.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Sound of Music

How do you solve a problem like choosing the best shot from a movie? How do you find one image that best represents a movie? In only the rarest of movies will one shot be designed to be, or over time grows into being, THE definitive image. Movies by their nature celebrate the beauty of multiple shots in successive motion. Sequences scroll by, images build upon images, dialogue layers over songs and music. The beauty and power of that one crescendo moment is really the cumulative result of numerous previous moments.

I find that there are always so many beautiful shots that define any movie, including The Sound of Music. So many shots and sequences have become iconic and ingrained into the collective consciousness. The amazing helicopter shot zooming in on Maria as she sings the opening lines of the movie. The children on Maria's bed during My Favourite Things. All of the images from Do Re Mi.

The beauty of this excellent HMWYBS series is that it allows us to revisit movies, to rediscover what drew us in in the first place and to allow us to find new hidden gems to be thankful for. What is the best shot may be the best shot always, or it may only be the best shot right now, changing in the future.

Growing up, I only watched this film on television. Punctuated by advertising, I could only stay up until around the wedding scenes. My memories are mostly of the joyful first half, full of song and dance. And while the more serious, Nazi filled second half gives the film a lot of weight, it will always be the infectious exuberance of the von Trapp family, led by Maria, that fills my heart.

So it was perfect that, upon this viewing, I discovered this glorious reaction shot:

Within the film, this shot captures Liesl's glee upon experiencing her first kiss with the seventeen-going-on-eighteen messenger boy. But that same unbridled glee could also belong to Maria in her celebration of life and music, or the children upon learning to sing and being able to play again, or the Captain upon watching his children during the Lonely Goatherd performance.

For many of us, it's also the same unbridled joy that we get from doing over favourite things, listening to our favourite songs and watching our favourite films. This shot may not be the most beautiful or well known from the movie, but it's the one that best encapsulates the run-into-the-rain-and-jump-for-joy-in-your-wet-clothes kind of glee that I feel when I watch it.