Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Critical mass

Leave it to Todd Haynes to get America to admit that drag is hot.

Cate Blanchett is Bob Dylan: Could there be a sexier above-the-title tagline?...Before, I thought of Cate Blanchett as a beautiful and gifted actress. After this crush-inducing performance, I'm seriously considering flying to Australia to stalk her.

And, mightiest of all, is Cate Blanchett's Jude Quinn, a quivering, neurotic, sexually alluring elfin presence, a changeling, a bundle of receptors half-open to the world and half-guarded from it...Her way of walking is a jittery amble; onstage, her movements have the precision, the meticulous grace, of a Balinese shadow puppet.

Rolling Stone
She burns through Haynes' head-trip odyssey like an illuminating torch. Blanchett's soon-to-be-legendary performance is not a stunt, it's some kind of miracle. Playing the skinny, androgynous Dylan in his electric years — when his hair stood on end to match his fried nerves — Blanchett extends the possibilities of acting. You won't see a better example of interpretive art this year by man or woman.


And then Cate Blanchett arrives. To call her work here magnificent is too undeserving an understatement. She is regal, almost unrecognizable...Blanchett is so callous and cool we can feel the vibe resonating off the screen.

And that's just a rivulet of the tidal wave of praise she's getting.

When was the last time America was this in love with an actress in drag? Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry does not count; that was a P.C. head-pat and a whispered, "How brave!" This is different. This is a sweaty, lustful, heart-doodling critical swoon. Jude Quinn has been declared hot. And that's remarkable, given both the seriousness of the gender bluff involved (Madonna in a vest he is not) and Jude's distance from conventional, pretty boy-girliness.

Women impersonating men on film are usually seen as more unsettling than crush-worthy because they point back to their real-life counterparts, who show us that male privilege isn't non-negotiable and that our gendered division of power is unstable. But Haynes has made his medicine so sweet and so tasty we never realize it's actually a big spoonful of queer theory. "I'm the only one with any balls," Jude says, and we never doubt him for a second, even with Haynes winking at us through the subtext. We just rush to join the fan club.

The Philly City Paper got it right when it said that "Jude's defense of the politics of personal transformation echoes Haynes' own journey from ACT UP activist to engaged auteur, one who realizes that queering the canon can be as powerful as shouting slogans." Haynes is queering the Dylan canon; he's just doing it with such a light touch that nobody else has said it in so many words yet. It seems to me he's also suggested what Jonathan Weinberg said about Duane Michals back in 1996:

Things are queer, not only because the world cannot be known, and all representations are fallible, but because of the transforming process of art itself. In Michals's beautiful photographs, queerness becomes an ideal; the circularity of the series suggests that the image is inexhaustible and unknowable. But in the end, art's pleasures, its humor and mystery, do help us know the world in all its queerness.

As in Michals's photo series, so in I'm Not There. All representations are fallible--so why not pile them on? Why not six Dylans instead of one? You can't exhaust or understand the man, so why not choose a film style (collage) that exaggerates his circularity, his multiplicity and his unknowability, rather than disguises them?

I was really more after the strangeness of what he had become as a man at that moment. How he was androgynous, but not in the way David Bowie would be androgynous a few years later, in the early '70s. It was almost more the way Patti Smith was androgynous. He was just this otherworldly creature. This otherness had crept into him completely by that point... On a purely superficial level, I just wanted a woman's body to occupy that place, so that this strangeness could come back.

-Haynes, Salon interview

Friday, November 23, 2007

Gobble gobble

Thanksgiving! A time of rest and reflection. Of rosemary trees and cinnamon brooms. Of being condescendingly quizzed by your relatives on sports current events they are well aware you have no interest in, or knowledge about. I have been trying to come up with the reverse equivalent of this, and I've decided it would be if I were to go around saying, "Wow, Uncle Budward, you sure must be excited about the My Bloody Valentine reunion! And how about that farewell ESG show?!" Or even better, "Gee whiz, Uncie Kegger, I'll bet you've been up all night contemplating Butler's notion of performativity as it applies to the problematics of third wave feminist individualism!" After being told my tofurkey looked like a giant burnt potato and ordered to explain what I plan to be doing with my life in ten years, I felt an urge to slip away and quietly reassert my identity, perhaps by bathing, Scrooge McDuck-style, in a swimming pool filled with gay porn and Au Pairs records.

In lieu of said pool, I recommend the following:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Side street walkers

So Dolly Mixture. Do you know them? Maybe they're your favorite band and you have the Fireside EP framed and hanging above your bed. Maybe you were there, James Murphy-style, at the Marquee in 1982, at the Clarendon Hammersmith in 1984. If you weren't, consider making some space in that file folder of your brain (the one with the Lisa Frank unicorn stickers on it) marked "Favorite Music." I have some live tracks and random rarities via one D. Wolk, but you can listen to many of them here. The live "Everything and More" isn't quite as sigh-into-yr-teacup perfect as the original, but until that magical day when you find The Demonstration Tapes glittering underneath a pile of mite-infested Foreigner eight tracks at the Salvation Army, it may have to do.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Photo by Kathryn Yu

Electrelane announced their break-up/indefinite breather today. It makes sense in a sad, unfortunate way. No Shouts, No Calls was their The Woods, and their Aeroplane Over the Sea and their Loveless: a giddy but taxing career high; creative breakthrough and subsequent exhaustion; a point of no return. Where do you go after "In Berlin"? "Between the Wolf and the Dog?" "Five?" By way of memorial, explore this trove of live tracks from 2004...their cover of "More Than This" is heart-stopping. Rippling piano scales, massive Mia Clarke guitar, hushed vocal breakdown--Roxy Music Electrelanized. Covers should all be so lucky. And so should we.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Siren Nation

Even with an 250 extra words, there were a few things I couldn't squeeze into my Siren Nation story. First: a disclaimer that it's unrelated to the Village Voice's Siren Music Festival. No weird cross-continental collabo happening there. Second: a ton of sadly unused quotes that I feel deserve some kind of visibility, especially since I had such rich conversations with the people involved. So here's a small sample. If you happen to be in PDX this weekend and can spare the money, consider getting a pass, it should be a rad event.

Natalia Kay:

"I remember seeing Bikini Kill and Team Dresch when I was in college. I had never, ever, ever been to a punk rock show that was an all-girl band. And I had never seen an audience that was 95% punk rock girls. That was totally inspiring and empowering to me, to feel like I owned the space. I think that the reason why women's music festivals do really well is because the art that women are putting out there really speaks to a lot of women, and some men, who don't see that perspective being reflected—their own experiences being reflected—on stage, and being sung about by somebody and in any other way expressed artistically."

December Carson:

"It allows us to give back to the people of Portland, and to offer an opportunity for people to have active participation in the festival. We want it to be more two-way, to have the community be gaining more than just entertainment. I want it to be more than an entertaining festival. I want people to feel how culturally rich Portland is, and to walk away with that sense of, wow, there are these women who can do unbelievable things, whether it's directing a film, or fronting a band, or being a visual artist. So this will always be a component for us: to showcase the multiple talents these women have."

"I am a woman working in the music business, and I know from personal experience that women are not treated the same. And you can tell me that this battle is unnecessary, but I know, personally, that this battle is necessary."