Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Self Portraiture and the Gift of a Face

my bedroom faces, college 1999

My mother, who doesn’t know what a selfie or Facebook is (she asked me if Facebook was really a book of faces, which it kind of is now) acts more like a troubled teenager than a grown woman.  Since I was a kid, I've seen the self-portraits she photographed whenever she was incredibly sad or smashed.  These were bummer pictures to see, of course, as her daughter, but I also admired how unabashed she was about them; they weren't hidden away in a box somewhere.  The one I remember most clearly, probably because I own it (she sent it to me when I was away at college) is a photo she took just after she'd cut off all her beautiful long hair. 

I also regularly took self-portraits when I was crying or really sad, when I was a teenager.  I liked how these photos looked and the idea that I'd created a work of art of sorts just by capturing myself in the act of crying; even as a young person, i was aware that the aesthetic rawness of art created by young people was of general interest, aesthetically, with the cool grownups I admired.  

I know that a lot of my friends also liked to take photos of themselves.  There was something so fascinating about a photo that is usually taken from an unflattering angle but still manages to show striking or unusually lovely facets of our faces.  

In college I got really into these self-portraits.  I moved to a new place every year, and whenever I decorated my new room, I always had a collection of photos of myself tacked to the wall near my pillow, with sad lyrics about loneliness written on them.

Some were photos taken of me by friends, and some were self-portraits.  It was comforting to have these self-pitying and poetic loneliness reminders to look at as I drifted off the sleep; when I was alone, it felt sort of cozy to wallow.  And on the nights I wasn't alone, it was nice to look at the photos and silently say to them "Not alone tonight, Robins."  

Eventually I discovered the devastatingly witty and sad prose of Dorothy Parker, and as an art project, I went through all my old photo albums and put together all the self-portraits I had of me, mom and my friends in a notebook with appropriate Dorothy Parker quotes as a narrative for each picture.  It is the kind of art project that's sort of like "meh" unless you're young enough to think everything you do is genius, but I still think it's a neat book to look through.

 As we all know, "selfies" are the trend du jour, and, especially lately, a daily journalistic topic.  There is a psychological study that's been reported on lately, about how selfies are bad for a woman's self-esteem, and also that they have led to a trend in younger and younger women getting plastic surgery.  

Even though if know that the act of holding a camera away from your face as far as your arms can stretch and taking a picture of yourself is not some revolutionary idea, it never ceases to disappoint me how popular the selfie is right now, and I hope the next big Facebook trend becomes something I feel no slight bit of ownership over, like dick pics or close-up photos of tire treads. 

4 of my lonely, lovely robins that kept me company at night

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Commute Curiousity

It used to drive me crazy that there was no way to live simultaneous experiences at once; this is what would give me a sense of longing when I used to be on buses or driving through neighborhoods in states I'd never been in before, and I would be lucky enough to look into someone's living room for a second if they had their curtains open, their lives on momentary display for me like the set of a play about the secret richness of the lives of common men.

I'm a boring old bag now so I don't have those thoughts as often, but yesterday when I was stuck on Santa Monica Boulevard forever, I did get to wondering again about what the interiors of some of these wrecked-looking buildings looked like.  Like, what is the story with some of these places that I love to look at but will never have first-hand experiences with.  It occurred to me that with careful research I could at least figure out a little bit about these ghost-frequented Los Angeles mysteries.

Gold Diggers

It's true that I've always been curious about what it's like inside Gold Diggers, but I didn't bother doing too much research on it, because, ironic as Angelenos like to consider themselves (I'd call it boredom), every place that was an authentic depressing hang out that resembled scenes from Barfly is now blithely called a "Dive Bar," and while it's true that old men who live within walking distance who "aren't in on the joke", as the saying goes, often frequent these bars, or strip clubs, in an authentic way, there comes some witching hour, like 10 pm or so, when these landmarks of a lonely alcoholics' safe place turns into a hipster place.  Nonetheless, when i'm stuck in Santa Monica Blvd traffic, i still do wonder what it's like inside.

The Old Sears Building
after and before

This Sears building has been closed since the Rodney King riots.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any photos of the interior, either in its heyday or in its ruin.  There has been a plan for some time to turn it into a mixed use building, the whole lofts on the upper floors/storefronts on the first floor thing.  I read the L.A. city Planning commission report on it, but surprisingly, it was a snoozefest.  I thought there aesthetic stipulations were interesting though, especially the amount of detail:

Environmental Impact Report Conditions (MM)
5. Aesthetics
a. All open areas not used for buildings, driveways, parking areas, recreational facilities or walks shall be attractively landscaped and maintained in accordance with a landscape plan, including an automatic irrigation plan, prepared by a licensed
landscape architect to the satisfaction of the decision maker.

b. Prior to the issuance of a grading permit or building permit, a plot plan prepared by a
reputable tree expert, indicating the location, size, type, and condition of all existing trees on the site shall be submitted to the City of Los Angeles Department of
Planning and the Street Tree Division of the Bureau of Street Services. The plan
shall contain measures recommended by the tree expert for the preservation of as
many trees as possible. (MM)
c. Any trees removed during project implementation shall be replaced by a minimum of 24-inch box trees in the parkway and on the site, on a 1: 1 basis, to the satisfaction of the Street Tree Division of the Bureau of Street Services and the decision maker.
d. Removal of trees in the public right-of-way shall first require approval from the Board of Public Works. All trees in the public right-of-way shall be provided per the current Street Tree Division standards. (MM)
e. The genus or genera of the tree(s) shall provide a minimum crown of 30 - 50 feet.

f. Every building, structure, or portion thereof, shall be maintained in a safe and
sanitary condition and good repair, and free from graffiti, debris, rubbish, garbage,
trash, overgrown vegetation or other similar material, pursuant to Municipal Code
Section 91.8104. (MM)
g. The exterior of all buildings and fences shall be free from graffiti when such graffiti is visible from a public street, public walk way or alley, pursuant to Municipal Code
Section 91.8104.15. (MM)

h. The subject property including associated parking facilities, sidewalks, and
landscaped planters adjacent to the exterior walls along the all property lines shall be
maintained in an attractive condition and shall be kept free of trash and debris.
Trash receptacles shall be located throughout the site.

i. Wall (Trash and Storage). Solid masonry block walls, a minimum of 6-feet in height,
shall enclose trash and other storage areas. There shall be no openings except for
gates. The areas shall be buffered so as not to result in noise, odor or debris
impacts on any adjacent uses. The area shall not be adjacent to any single-family
use. Recycling bins shall be provided at appropriate locations to promote recycling of
paper, metal, glass, and other recyclable materiaL. Trash pick up shall take place
only between 7:00 AM and 8:00 PM Monday through Friday, and 10:00 AM to 4:00
PM on Saturday. There shall be no pick up on Sunday or legal holidays.

They don't expect their mixed use building to be instantly covered in graffiti, apparently, and for the residents' trash bins to be odorless.  Shalimar-soaked masonry walls?

The Harvey Apartments

This building has particularly intrigued me for years.  it looks like such a flophouse a la Bukowski or Fante novel.  

none of these are my own photos, by the way.  They are from Google Street View, except for the one of the interior of Gold Diggers, which was from their Facebook page.

It's sort of funny that this is the building most mysterious to me, because there is actually a fair amount of demystifiying press on it.  

This story appeared on the CNN Justice site:


In brief, back in 2010, a popular celebrity publicist, Ronni Chasen, died in what was an apparent suicide, but the details surrounding the suicide were suspicious, and there was a person of interest involved in the death, who was holed up in the Harvey Apartments, where he ended up shooting himself dead in the lobby.  True to my Harvey Apartments fantasies, it's described in this article as  the type of place where "[t]here's a lot of screaming goes on and hollering and the kind of ruckus you wouldn't find in the traditional apartment complex."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Carrie remake: Film Review

In October, my month of allowing myself to watch as many horror movies as possible, when I usually keep them to a minimum since they sometimes contain panic attack triggers for me, I posted about the horror films that make me feel empowered as a women, because the female protagonists act in such an extremely unfeminine way, but how, since these films are written and directed by men, it’s hard not worrying that these films contain a tone parody towards these protagonists’ behavior, or else the urge to see women completely debased.  In a broader sense, with a good horror film that doesn’t feature a female protagonist, I’m always surprised when there’s a film in this genre that’s so compelling instead of just suspenseful and captivatingly gross.  For instance, the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and 28 Days Later (2002), are two excellent films that don’t solely focus on their female characters and that also transcend the sometimes artless goal of suspense that characterizes the horror genre; these two films, both with male protagonists, are both so well-directed and with such strong character development, when I watch them I’m like “Oh no!  Don’t die! You have such a sense of stoicism and dignity, the world needs you!” instead of like “Ew!  His head just got smooshed!”  Anyway, these are great movies, but give me Carrie, The little girl in the Exorcist, or the plagued, witchy sisters in the Paranormal Activity franchise, and I just want to run around like a crazy banshee scaring bullies and priests.  Especially Carrie (1976), about the sweet, bullied teenage girl with magic powers, raised by an abuse and fanatical mom, who flips her shit after being pushed around too much and kills a bunch of people.  This plot does so much to me; there is a scene of her being bullied in a locker room that so perfectly shows how daunting locker rooms can be – young women are mostly naked in one room, and there are no teachers around, and there are so many opportunities for the mob mentality to take over, with unsupervised popular girls who look good in their underwear feeling compelled to really extra pick on the unpopular girl wearing plain underwear or flat-chested or timid in the face of the intimacy of the locker room:  the worst bullying I took was always in the locker room. 

Also, the Elektra complex and the Oedipus complex are the well-known pop-psychology terms for a child’s heterosexual attraction to their parent of the opposite sex.  But what is the name for a daughter wanting to please her mom almost to the point of a crush?  I think this is more common than the world acknowledges, since incest is so gross and taboo and homosexuality is still taboo, but in Carrie, the protagonist loves her horrible mom so much, it’s so heartbreaking and angering, and it really pushes a button for me with how extreme and sometimes painful, and often disappointing, the bond with our parents is.  The last thing I’ll say in praise of this film (I could go on and on) is what a rush it is to see this sweet girl’s bullies get their come-uppance.  As far as revenge fantasies go, this film really takes the cake. 

But is Brian De Palma to be trusted as the director, the man charged with bringing Carrie to cinematic life?  I’m lazily quoting Wikipedia here instead of doing my research, BUT my laziness aside, it’s still interesting to know that:   

De Palma is frequently criticized for his filmmaking style. Julie Salmon has written that "many critics argued that De Palma dressed up his woman-hating wickedness so artfully that the intelligentsia didn't see him for what he was: a perverse misogynist."[12] Feminist writer Jane Caputi responded to De Palma's statement that "I'm always attacked for having an erotic, sexist approach-- chopping up women, putting women in peril. I'm making suspense movies! What else is going to happen to them?" by saying "Things can only 'happen to' women in the femicidal grammar. We also can note with great irony just whom De Palma claims is being attacked."[15]  David Thomson wrote in his entry for De Palma, "There is a self-conscious cunning in De Palma's work, ready to control everything except his own cruelty and indifference."[16]

So, I don’t know, maybe De Palma’s an alright guy with fine artistic intentions, but whose to know.  And I think it’s important to know a director’s intentions.

In walks the Carrie remake (2013), directed by Kimberly Pierce, who (sorry to sound superficial, but) one can tell is cool just by her personal style: 

Plus, she has the filmmaking chops of having directed an unwatchably (for me) sad and great drama about Trans boy Brandon Teena. 

To slip from my Master’s degree lingo into my speaking voice again, this movie kicks so much ass and is so exciting and cool and had me bouncing on the couch going “Get them, Carrie!  They can’t push you around!” over and over.  To see this fictional young woman empower herself by educating herself on what she can achieve with her telekinetic power and realizing that the shame her mom has taught her to have about her body is uncalled for, and to know that a strong woman has made this film … it was just such an unmitigated pleasure as a feminist and horror enthusiast (of GOOD horror movies). 

What’s most satisfying to me with this remake is the fact that it changed the outcomes of all the plot points I’d been disappointed with in the original.  Now the plot plays out exactly to my wishes:  this time Carrie only hurts, doesn’t kill, her well-meaning gym teacher; she isn’t responsible for killing the well-meaning popular boy, Tommy, because he’s already dead when she sets fire to the gym; and most importantly, she and the well-meaning popular girl, Sue, actually get to have a conversation in this version, in which Sue apologizes for her former bad behavior to Carrie, and Carrie gets the chance to lament having been pushed to the point of killing – she was a young woman who’d wanted to lead a compassionate and successful life.  I can’t recommend this movie enough.  I give it a thousand stars, and a face full of scars.