The Bling Ring

There is not any mistaking that this is a Sophia Coppola film. I have seen a couple of the pictures she has made in the past and this movie has several of those elements to it. There are long passages without anything other than the location audio track, there are incessant contemporary music cues to highlight anything dramatic and there are a couple of shots done from a detached distance that emphasis how much outside of the story we viewers are despite the close up and the intimate moments. I’m not saying it does not work but I am saying that she has developed a style and a set of habits that is noticeable.   If any of those things irritate you about her films, this will not be the movie to change that, if you like the hip outsider detachment thing, than this film will be all up in you.

The story is based on the real events that took place a few short years ago here in Lotus (LaLa) land. High school students with no sense of identity other than those achieved from a designer purse or jewelry, go a bit overboard with their celebrity style obsessions and begin stealing from the icons that they worship. These kids come from privileged but not wealthy backgrounds. Their families all appear to be absent or excessively obtuse as to their real persona.  It would seem that every trendy club in the city was willing to have them come in and to serve them whatever booze they requested, despite the fact that none of them look older than 15 or 16. The film ends up trying to be a criticism of the absent or negligent parenting they receive, the consumerist culture and the society that values such empty “things” such as designer shoes. Coppala wants to have it both ways, the kids are corrupt and soulless and that is largely because celebrities are the exact same way.

The audience is given a view into a lifestyle that is pretty much what the media spends time purporting to be important. The one guy in the group is as obsessed with style as are the girls. Later, another guy enters into the burglaries but we know so little about him and why he is there that he is almost invisible. These characters agonize over what clothes match and which club is the most socially hip. From the beginning, the guy is drawn in by their friendship based on his need to belong. One of the very first things that should have been a warning to him is that his new best friend is a soul sucking kleptomaniac, who takes him walking down the streets of their own neighborhood, looking for unlocked cars that they can steal from. It’s a short step from that to entering homes that are either unlocked or for which the keys are so badly hidden that there might as well be a sign that says, “Bored, Insolent Youth Enter Here.” They treat their escapades as if it were a shopping spree, but it is not just clothes they take and they don’t just take them for trophies. Valuables that can be sold and especially cash are the targets that get the most praise from each other. The idea that this was just hero worship gone awry can be quickly dismissed.

What should not be dismissed is the result that seems to condemn all of society to self inflicted oblivion. The punishments that are meted out for thefts in excess of 3 million dollars worth of goods is laughable. I took some satisfaction when the cops showed up and presented warrants and hauled the kids off, but that was stemmed substantially by the light handed treatment that follows.  The character played by Emma Watson is given such a light sentence and it results in the kind of admiration and attention that these characters would want that it makes me worry for our future. The fact that the story is then turned into a movie is also almost as disturbing. The film does not try to make heroes out of the kids, but idiots out there will do so because the over the top party lifestyle will seem appealing. Drinking, drugs, hot dance routines, media attention and then being the subject of a movie, it’s easily enough to make the dim bulbs that occupy much of the modern media world feel like they could be next. Take the plot from “Scream 4”, take out the murder and replace with theft and you have a real world nightmare of a story.

Look, the movie is very well made. The soundtrack is populated with music that worships impersonal sex and objectification and money. It is shot to make the kids lives look amazing as they spend the money, live the glamorous life and suffer minimal consequences as a result. It even has Emma Watson, “the” hot girl of the moment (she lampoons herself in last week’s “This is the End”), performing on Paris Hilton’s stripper pole in her homes club room. Maybe there were just too many sequences of beautiful people doing horrible things and enjoying it for my taste. It never seems to be the position of the film maker that this is OK. Just because Orlando Bloom has a half dozen Rolex’s does not mean he deserves to be stolen from. Yet the depiction makes it seem like the crimes are minor and the consequences even more so. The detachment of the observers extends to all parts of the story. If everyone is a victim and everyone is an idiot, why should we care? There are important themes in the story, but every time one of them  starts to rear it’s head, another conflicting view comes along to undermine the point. I hope the kids are all good actors because if they bear any resemblance to the fashion zombies in this movie, I have to pity us all.

Kubrick Day at KAMAD

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has had a featured exhibition of Stanley Kubrick material and unfortunately it ends this coming week. I’ve been meaning to get to it for several months and of course I waited until the last week of the exhibit, but I did manage to get over there and had an amazing time looking at artifacts from all of the Kubrick films and some other projects as well.

The entry had a series of film sections from his major motion pictures, with some words from artists, critics and Kubrick himself. We scrolled through the dozen or so bits in about twenty minutes and then made our way into the entry hall which features a number of cameras and movie posters. I of course would be happy to have this wall to display in my home.

There was a room dedicated to his work as a very young photographer, primarily for Look Magazine. Several shots were on display that featured Hollywood connections and there were scrap books of magazine articles featuring photos he had taken. The first photo that he received a professional credit and payment for was a shot of a sad faced news vendor, as he looks over the headlines on the papers announcing the death of FDR. There was also an elaborate set of materials that he had put together for an abandinde project on the Ghettos of Poland from the time of Nazi occupation. The amount of work he put in to simply move on was incredible.

The gallery did not seem to be organized in any chronological fashion, it did seem to flow very smoothy through all of the film projects although some clearly received more attention than others. The section on his last film, “Eyes Wide Shut” felt to be the slimmest, although reading his words and looking at the background material, I think i might appreciate the film more the next time I see it.

High on the wall was the helmet worn by Private Joker in “Full Metal Jacket”. There was also a model helicopter that had been used in the production. Each section had elaborate versions of the script with Kubrick’s very detailed notes on everything in the scene. His planning was clearly meticulous. The history of each production was described, especially interesting was the display of some of the original source material. In the case of this film, there was a paperback version of the novel that started Kubrick on the movie. 
The exhibit was not thin but it was less in the works from the 1950s. His two collaborations with Kirk Douglas had large photos and detailed shooting material. “Paths of Glory” is probably the first of his masterpieces and the themes were nicely described by the curators of the exhibit. “Spartacus” was not his project, in fact he came on after shooting had started and the first director had been dismissed. Kubrick added some much needed battle scenes and the sequence where the Romans watch Douglas and Woody Strode fight for their pleasure and they can hardly be bothered to pay attention, was clearly a Kubrick shot. We see the battle from over the shoulders of the viewers as they chat and gossip. It looks like a view from a window with people sitting on a couch in front of the frame. It was the only film he made where he did not have total control over the picture and he viewed it as something of a disappointment.
Lovers of Horror would have enjoyed the way the axes were displayed from “The Shining”. They were basically buried into the wall as if Jack Torrance had just tried to take us out. The dresses from the two little girls were hung up next to each other, just as if we were Danny and came up on them on our tricycle. There were some interesting letters from Saul Bass, who was pitching advertising ideas and poster artwork. While Bass was enthusiastic, we can see Kubrick’s notes on each sketch and he did not like any of them. There was also a model of the maze from the end of the film and a description of how it was shot. The highlight of that room however had to be the typewriter that was actually used in the film and contained the page with the script that clearly gives away the insanity that has taken over Jack Torrance.

There were two long rooms displaying material from Barry Lyndon, including costumes and the evolution of the script. The other element of the second room was the amazing collection of material that Kubrick had put together to create a film about Napoleon. It may well be the greatest movie never made. I know that the work was immense, he had his own card catalog drawers for the reference works he had accumulated.

There was a small alcove room that was playing a series of film clips and highlighting the music that was used in the films. It was a little claustrophobic, and while it was interesting, I did not stay through the whole loop . To gain entry to that room, one had to move through the section that featured material from “A Clockwork Orange”. There was a series of newspaper articles about a British man who had modeled his behavior on the droogs from this film. Kubrick had defended the movie vigorously from criticism over the violence, but after the events that occurred in the real world he held the movie out of circulation in Great Britain for many years after. In another display, one shelf over were all the mock up newspapers from the film, covering “Alex” and his trials and subsequent rehabilitation. It was an interesting contrast to see the two sets of news right next to each other.

The details of the shoot were highlighted by a series of pictures from the set from the attack on the couple by Ale and his gang. The music sequence from this film that I did watch in the side room featured the treatment which of course involved the score by Beethoven.

I can’t quite remember which section featured the discussion of “red” in Kubrick films. The color has a distinctive role to play in the films, and the significance was indicated by a series of shots from the various films that showed how the color was being used. The clothes that are cut off of the victim in Clockwork and the blood on the wall behind Private Pyle are two of the examples.

There was a passageway from the Clockwork Orange displays to the Barry Lyndon rooms that featured the film A.I., which Kubrick had long planned and then passed off to his friend Steven Spielberg. The drawings that went into the visualization of the movie clearly illustrate why he took so long to get the film started. He was waiting for technology to catch up with his vision. Most of the drawings were from the 1980s and the film did not get made until after Kubrick’s death in 1999. It was released in 2001.

To the right here is a close up of a miniature set reproduction of the War Room from Dr. Strangelove. It looks amazing and you should know that the chairs around the table are about the size of a paperclip. The screens in the display were actual scenes on display from the screens in the movie. The technical material here was the most involved in the exhibit. Cameras and lenses and small script elements made up most of the display. It was on one end of the entry gallery and right next to it was the material on Lolita. There were a number of photos frames of Sue Lyon in costume and on the set. They were all in color and a magnifying glass on a fixed rail allowed the viewer to scroll down the line examining them in much the way a director or photographer like Kubrick might have in making tiny decisions about costumes, make-up, props and lighting.

Friday night, I re-watched 2001:A Space Odyssey in anticipation of the trip to the LACMA. I was sure glad I did because the highlight of the exhibit for me was the material presented on what I think is his greatest film and certainly my favorite Kubrick film. There were two sections of space devoted to the 1968 epic, it included a replica model of Discovery hanging from the ceiling as well as costumes and masks worn by the performers in the “Dawn of Man” sequence. In the center of the first room were pieces of furniture found on the orbiting space station visited by Heywood Floyd on his way up to the Moon.

There was an interesting discussion of how futurists and designers from a number of big companies contributed suggestions to make the vision more real. I find it interesting that at least two of those companies, Bell Telephone and Pan Am, no longer exist and did not make it to 2001. Frank and Dave do seem to be absorbed in their i-pads while on Discovery, so it is not clear to me why IBM did not hit that technology before Apple did. There was a film clip that I saw on some other material explaining the process by which the circular section of Discovery was rotated to produce the effect of the astronauts walking in a vertical circle at times. The actual helmet used by Dave Bowman was on display and it had an interesting front projection display to put the actor in the helmet along with some of the visual effects from the film.

The most startlingly beautiful thing I saw in the whole exhibit was a miniature reproduction of “God’s” white room from the end of the film. This model was suspended above the crowds heads, thus requiring us to look up to see it and leaving many patrons in slack jawed awe as they stared into space.  The Monolith is clearly visible in the center of the room It was a very dramatic piece of design for the curators of this project, and I was lucky that it was among the final things I came across.

I don’t know if this exhibit is touring, if you see it in your local museum be4 sure to take the time to visit. Anyone who admires the work of one of the greatest film directors of all time will feel privileged to have spend even a small amount of time in the shadows of his genius. I know that is how I feel.