A Subtle Punch to The Gut – “Belly” A Short Film By Julia Pott

My relationship with my emotions and cinema is complicated.  Most of my childhood traumas were the result of premature encounters with dystopian sci-fi and horror (CURSE YOU JAMES CAMERON!).  While extremely reticent to cry in front of family and friends, I openly relish a good sob in the theatre. I still, to this day, cannot watch the romantic scenes in movies – its too embarrassing.  I have strong reactions to moving images. I know this. That being said, I was still greatly surprised by the tumult of emotions elicited in me by the surreal animation of Julia Pott in her short film “Belly”.

Premiering at Sundance in 2012, Pott’s short is populated by boys with elephant and horse heads, a fantastical bisecting beast, and the ingurgitating stomach of a blasé whale. While chock-a-block with whimsy and weird visuals, the animation doesn’t detract from story, but rather effectively showcases a very poignant and universal tale about the moment when childhood is lost.

In an interview with the Motionographer, Pott attributes some of her inspiration for the short coming from her own childhood, much of which was spent tagging after her older sister. She describes her eagerness to achieve maturity and the mournful nostalgia that it’s loss produces this way, “Once [childhood has] been given up, it’s gone. You can remember the sensation, you can feel it in the pit of your stomach, but you cannot get back there – hence the title, ‘Belly.’”

Boy howdy, does she recreate that feeling in the most wonderful and terrible way, and all in under ten minutes!  The film makes me feel things that I am not entirely sure I want to feel. While I can’t recall the moment when childhood was over for me with any vivid detail and I can’t quite understand the strangely familiar feeling that grows in my stomach when watching this film,  that feeling is present throughout the duration of “Belly”.

I don’t cry when I watch the short – the film doesn’t invoke that kind of emotion (at least not in me). Instead, it goes deeper than that. It finds that soft part of my gut and hits it so subtly that I don’t even notice. However, I can assure you that when the film is over the ache lingers.

If that didn’t totally bum you out, you can watch Ms. Pott’s most recent short “The Event” along with other 2013 Sundance selections here: http://www.youtube.com/user/ytscreeningroom

All of the shorts are good, but I highly recommend “Marcel, King Tervuren.” Never did a tale of a Belgian Rooster so closely resemble the plot of a Shakespearean tragedy.

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There Is No Modern Romance

Now that Downton Abbey has fulfilled its second season run here in North America, I grieve its passing. Not a big TV watcher to begin with, I, like innumerable other women, am a sucker for a period drama laced with the promise of some suppressed sexual tension. None of the Dickensian woe and STDs, only happy endings delivered after a tolerable amount of angst for me, please. Surprisingly, every Sunday night I made time for this extremely well received show, with its ups and downs, and its ridiculous plot devices.

Sexual Tension - turn of the century style!

Now that it’s finished, I find myself feeling a little lost. Where will I get my fix of will they/won’t they now if not from Lady Mary and Cousin Matthew? Where will I watch as stalwart hearts such as Anna and Mr. Bates come together only to be torn apart again and again? Certainly I won’t get such needs met in shows like New Girl or films like The Vow.  I cringe at the saccharine (although sometimes hilarious) love pains of these characters. They just don’t do it for me like Downton or any Austen or Bronte can. This led me to ask myself, well, why? If love is a universal and timeless subject, shouldn’t I enjoy all these familiar stories of love, loss, and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks? Maybe it is because I don’t believe in modern romance. Or at least, I remain unconvinced that it exists.

I don’t consider myself a big romantic, as my cynicism and inherent pragmatism bludgeon any tender sympathies harbored towards star-crossed lovers to death. Even as a kid, I loved Disney cornerstones like Beauty and the Beast, Pocahantas, and especially, The Little Mermaid, but I would hide my eyes or leave the room during kissing scenes. I to this day still feel uncomfortable during the musical number “Kiss the Girl” in TLM.

Then, in my formative teen years, I discovered the unpretentious and subtle love of the Austen world and was hooked.  It is obvious that I wasn’t the only one taken in by the siren song of the period drama. I loved both Josh Hartnett and Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor (oh God, I was so naïve) and created impervious Mary Jane characters who bore a striking resemblance to me (only skinnier) to win the heart of fair Legolas. And yet, I can’t stand any of these actors as romantic leads in contemporary stories. 40 Days and 40 Nights? Give me a fucking break. I saw it when I was 15 and thought exactly that. So what gives? Why do I feel like the love between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett is more convincing than say the love of Rachel and Ross?

Ah, the follies of youth...

It comes down to conflict.

In modern romance there are no conflicts such as those found in period pieces. Mom thinks your girl is a gold digger? You get a prenup. Hubby is an alcoholic, an abusive dick? You divorce the shit out of him. Get caught in flagrante delicto with a married man? Sell the videotape and get your own reality TV show! The very stuff of ruin and damnation have pretty much been written out of contemporary life. Not so in 19th century England. When you married that abusive douchebag, it was until he hopefully got shot dead in a duel. That gold digger mom warned you about? She runs off with a Nabob to India and sends you to debtor’s prison.

The conflicts that threaten our romantic heroes and heroines in period dramas are very real and very believable, whether they are truly realistic or not. For example, *SPOILER ALERT* Lady Mary’s one time lover, diplomat Mr. Pamuk dying in her bed? Ridiculous (although, it’s based on a true event), but it had me on the edge of my seat. Rewrite this plot in a contemporary setting, and CSI will have figured out that he died of an aneurism and was moved back to his room, but was really in Lady Mary’s! This lack of true romantic roadblocks in contemporary society has forced writers to move from conflicts born of social restrictions to increasingly ridiculous situational hijinks. This explains the popularity of rom-coms. Just think of the bizarre plots and gimmicks of any chick flick that stars Matthew McConaughey. Or Sandra Bullock. Or Ryan Reynolds. This lack of conflict has also resulted in the popularization of paranormal romance. Things get real angsty when your sparkly boyfriend doesn’t know if he wants to fuck you or eat you.

Hijinks!

I find it ironic that magic and the absurd are the things that are bringing romance back to the modern world. This is the part where I talk about how the Internet is killing love. But, to be honest, the construct of romantic love is just that, a construct. And while at once story telling and Valentine’s Day and DeBeers are telling us it exists, a few clicks of a mouse is sort of ruining the illusion we’ve been taught to cherish. Finding the love of your life through a compatibility quiz is not as harrowing as having him save you from a mustachioed villain who tied you to the train tracks.

"You can't text message breakup!"

Conflicts make for good story-telling. It’s not as if soul-mates don’t exist, but meeting them online, dating for a few months, getting a mortgage, raising some well adjusted kids, and dying within two months of each other at the ripe old age of 91 and 92 doesn’t sound very riveting. It’s just not the stuff that a 21 year old sophomore in university wants to watch with her bff and a tub of ice cream after her boyfriend broke up with her.

LATE ARRIVALS: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”

Late Arrivals

This is a project that I’m going to loosely term a “section” in which I (and Nina, if she so pleases) can approach pop culture corner stones that’s that we haven’t gotten around to or just plum forgot. It is inspired by the AV Club’s “Better Late Than Never?” Section and really forces me to watch all the wonderful films that I’ve just been too lazy to watch.

The Birds

What Little I know about it: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Birds menace Melanie Griffith’s Mom.

A Truly terrified Tippie Hedren

After Hitchcock’s Psycho everyone talks about The Birds as being a masterpiece. Of course, I prefer Psycho with its chilling black and white ambiance, superb execution, and chilling portrayals (and its bird motif!) But I ultimately feel that The Birds embraces camp more and ultimately is Hitchcock’s answer to the trope of the monster movie (I’m sure somebody has written a thesis, or something profound about this, but I haven’t even bothered to wiki the film so I’m just giving you my impressions).

The only thing I like about birds is that they’re occasionally tasty, occasionally pretty and can be transformed into dinosaurs through the scientific whim of man! So the fact that they’re a menace doesn’t really surprised me. Oh, I was galled when the lady ornithologist was going on about how about the birds would never attack and they aren’t aggressive. Bull, I cried at my netflix! She’s obviously never dealt with pigeons or seagulls or those little cute sparrows at the UofT St. George Campus who act like beggar children when you’re eating your hotdog. But I digress. Lets examine the cast of characters. I thought it was interesting that Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) was a pathological liar – established by her poor attempt of bsing at the beginning of the film – and that Mitchell Brenner (Rod Taylor) was a criminal lawyer, which is usually depicted as a job for liars. I wondered to myself, like the hysterical mother from later on in the dinner, if Melanie was not to blame for the birds’ unholy wrath, because she was a liar, but that didn’t add up. The whole point of the story was that you didn’t know why, it’s the antithesis of the monster movie. In the monster we know how the monster was made (normally radiation is to blame) and the hero and his bedraggled, but lovely heroine, ultimately defeat the monster and peace is restored. Not so in the Birds! There’s no magic or gamma rays, there’s no electric lines to stop them, there’s no mad scientist to blame. It’s just a bunch of pissed of birds and everybody in the film is utterly useless.

This brings me back to the characters. Of course, the whole film is an outlet for Hitchcock to terrorize a pretty blonde woman and he does that in spades. Melanie Daniels, I feel is an interesting woman trying to break out of the sexist traps of early sixties characterizations. She’s a bit of a wild child, she is manipulative, a liar and she tries her best to get what she wants. But, she is also self-possessed enough to realize that she doesn’t know what she wants. Does she or doesn’t she want to be Mitch’s main squeeze? Does she or doesn’t she care if his mom likes him? Does she or doesn’t she want to go to Cathy’s party? She flitters about, she screams, she’s bad at saving herself. But, I feel that’s for more real than the “contemporized” heroines of films like the Mummy or King Arthur, where suddenly the Victorian Era is pumped full of GIRL POWER! Melanie grows as a character – and then becomes catatonic – and then grows some more. As she reveals her mommy issues, and bonds with Annie the no-nonsense school teacher and distantly polite Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy), I begin to hope that she’s not really in pursuit of Mitch Brenner, but of a guiding female figure. There’s a moment at the end of the movie when the Brenner clan plus catatonic Daniels head for the car, Lydia Brenner holds her and they look at each other as if they’ve found what they truly wanted. Lydia wants someone to talk to and give a shit about her, and Melanie realizes that she doesn’t want a lover, but rather a mother.

Douchebag pictured on the left...

Or at least this is my wishful thinking because I hated, HATED, Mitch. Considering he was the hero of this outfit, he was a smarmy jerk. I didn’t find him charming, I found him bossy and ultimately, unfeeling towards any of the women in his life, accept maybe Melanie (and that’s because she was putting out). He even reminded me of a less hairy, swarthier Robin Williams, which did not win him any brownie points in my book. While Mitch doesn’t reveal anything about himself as a character – it is the women in his life who do, Annie reveals him to be a player and an oblivious heartbreaker, and his own mother says to Melanie “Mitch has always done exactly as he pleases.” This is mom speak for “my son is a dick.” So, with my disdain toward Mitch, when Lydia and Melanie, both fragile and traumatize gaze at eachother, I will interpret that they have found something in each other  that they couldn’t get from the emotionally detached males in their life.

Menacing, very menacing.

For the most part I like The Birds, the execution of the effects appear somewhat campy through the rust of time, but I must say there is nothing like actually having a real murder of crows waiting behind you. The menace is real, and isn’t that the whole point?

“Suburgatory” and the Limbo of Contemporary Adulthood

I don’t watch a lot of TV. I hate the obligation of having to follow story lines or emotionally invest in character who will eventually disappoint me. With my eccentric viewing habits in mind, it is surprising to me that I’ve actually put some effort into watching the new show “Suburgatory.” I like much of its cast and find its over the top antics amusing. However, as much as I want this show to win my favour, I believe it falls short. I labour over the hows and whys – poor writing? Too exaggerated? Characters have no depth? Although, those are all problems for me, they don’t bother me too much. Ultimately, what bothers me is that the show is navigating the hilarious pitfalls of suburbia with the wrong demographic. Instead of wry urban teens, and their hunky overwhelmed city slicker dads, I think Surburgatory should be about twenty-somethings.

 

The premise of Surburgatory goes as follows: Tessa (Jane Levy), savy ingénue mahattanite, is relocated to the suburbs after her working-joe, single father, George (Jeremy Sisko) discover that she is in the possession of condoms (as if teenagers never have sex in the suburbs). Tessa and her father move from the wonderful city only to discover a shallow, pretentious, mean and absurd society in the suburbs (as if only nice, humble and down to earth people live in New York). The teenage and suburban fish-out-of-water stories are tried and true recipes for hilarity. Mean Girls, certainly comes to my mind, and Surburgatory shares some familiarities with the hit movie (both maintain narrative metaphor of suburbs as animal kingdom, and feature in a supporting role Ana Gasteyer). Even though I feel like I’ve been there and done that as Surburgatory throws television tropes at me, I still want it to like it. I find Tessa charming and amusing with her unpretentious narrations, and George’s gruff discomfort in the societal trappings of the suburbs in endearing. Yet as much as I try to like it, I still think it really should be about twenty-somethings.

 

This belief stems from the Tessa character who takes us with her on her strange journey is this foreign land. Depicted as mature beyond her years due to her upbringing, Tessa’s self-awareness and dry sarcasm read more as a recent college grad, than an educated young woman trying to survive highschool. She even dresses like she just got out of a Liberal arts college! Her relationship with George, who is supposed to be a young parent, feels more like that of a couple than a father/daughter duo. When they affectionately bicker about how to get out dinner with the neighbours it reads more like a pair newly-weds than parent and child. With all this in Tessa’s growing pains just aren’t all that convincing, and the pithy story-lines about the pitfalls of highschool seem old and tried.

 

Suburb as purgatory is how the show got its name, and we all know that purgatory is the timeless limbo between heaven and hell. Yet as a space where a sinner goes to expiate their sins before starting their afterlife, the shows premise reads more as the condition of a partied-out college grad who just can’t seem to jumpstart his or her adult life than the impatient highschool who knows they will be leaving eventually (hopefully).

 

20-somethings seem to be the in things these days with shows like “the New Girl,” “Two Broke Girls,” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Yet, as a member of this demographic myself, I know for a fact that not all twenty-somethings live in the city and scrape by at diners, hang out at coffee shops, and go to bars to observe the antics of their womanizing friends. Some of us have to move back home after university, some of us can’t get awesome, well paying jobs, especially in this climate. We’re taught about and lived in a bigger world only to return to where we began. Yet where are we in Suburgatory? Rather than always talked about teen, I would love Tessa to represent that feeling of limbo that so many us pseudo-adults are facing.

 

An Introduction of Sorts…

Man we wish our respective bedroom were this awesome (and tidy!)

Shell: So, first off, I want to welcome the poor souls who have either stumbled upon or have been shepherded to our fair blog. Welcome! I’m Shell and she’s Nina.

Nina: This blog. What is it you ask.

Shell: Weeellll “Mass Cultured” is my and Nina’s html love child – a bloggy smorgasbord of everything (and not everything) pop culture related

Nina: We decided to start this blog because being in your mid-20s isn’t fun. Assuming you’ve completed your university/college studies, you’ve racked up a crapton of debt, and are no less sure about What You Want To Do With Your Life than you were when you were sitting in the back of your grade 10 English class, burning yourself with your eraser.

Shell: I hate to interject, but how do you burn yourself with an eraser? I never did that in highschool.

Nina: I think you just rub it against your desk until it gets warm enough. I know that’s how you do it with pens.

Shell: Teenagers are weird. I don’t get them anymore (I don’t think I got them when I was one either) but carrying on, Nina –

Nina: Hence, this blog. Navigating the roads of post-graduate life and emerging adult ennui. It’s not like we have a big mission statement, we’re just doing this because we’re bored.

Shell: So what’s the point of all this? Why should people care that we’re bored?

Nina: hmmm…because we’re…nice?

Shell: Awesome?

I think more than anything to offer to people, in today’s society of sharing, piracy, and wayyyyyyy too much information – we want to offer our own perspective with others, because we feel what we have to say can resonate with the people we know and love, and the people we don’t know and therefore don’t love (but don’t hate either).

Nina: YAY!

So, to wrap it up before this becomes a “tldr “moment -We believe that even the most mundane things can be talked about with both intelligence and wit – whether it’s an old episode from a children’s TV show, or a new art film.

Shell: We hope you enjoy our endeavor.