No film watcher or critic can deny actress Scarlett Johansson’s talent and good looks. In fact, it was her sensitive portrayal of Charlotte in “Lost In Translation”, along with her curvaceous rear, in profile, at 22-feet tall and 52-feet wide on the big screen that started her first real seduction of a film audience. It’s the film’s opening image, memorable for its uniqueness, and was perfectly framed by director Sofia Coppola, her crop suggesting a Hellenistic museum statue on its side, a kind of flesh and blood Venus de Milo — alive and modern — a torso without all those messy appendages. Interestingly, it’s an image largely divorced from the message of the film itself, that the interior of a person, their individuality, and real human connection mattered more than anything else external.
I got to thinking about Johansson’s arrival into film because of a recent New Yorker piece, “Her Again: The Unstoppable Scarlett Johansson”, written by Anthony Lane, spring-boarded off all the positive talk of her role in director Jonathan Glazer’s new film, “Under the Skin” — a movie about an alien in a woman’s body who goes about on an undefinable mission, picking up men and observing life.
The piece led to a number of mocking comments on facebook from readers of the magazine, because of its extensive hyperbole. As for her celebrity status, Lane said Matthew McConaughey was one of her only rivals. He also suggested that she is as photogenic as Greta Garbo. But the whopper that launched a thousands fingers to typing was this line about her appearance in 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”: “There was one scene, at a champagne reception in a Spanish art gallery, where Johansson was, indeed, gilded to behold. She seemed to be made from champagne.” Yes, you read right, Lane compared her to a bit of bubbly. Pink, no doubt. (But I also know a dear friend, who found the images in that film a wonder to look at too, so maybe Lane’s not too far off.)
At first, I scoffed and laughed along with the other New Yorker readers, who felt they were reading a piece of embarrassing fandom. As a fellow writer, I can say it’s an urge that’s tough to rein in. Writers can get off the path if they write as if the subject may be reading the piece. It’s only natural to want to impress. But the other temptation is much simpler: If you truly like a subject, writing hyperbole can be so much damn fun. It’s like pushing the limits of what one can say, or just what kind of metaphoric conjuring we can shake out of our pens. So, I can’t blame Lane for it necessarily. Besides, one of the most interesting cinematic books I’ve read was a biography of Nicole Kidman, written by film critic David Thomson, where he unabashedly admits to his obsession with the subject. Read the piece for yourself and see what you think.
• Flashback Via YouTube: I’m not sure how I ever missed this the first time around. The music website Pitchfork produced a near-hour documentary in 2013 about the Glasgow band Belle and Sebastian called “If You’re Feeling Sinister”. I was never a huge fan of the band, but I was a fan — and had purchased both of the band’s first two records, “Tigermilk” and “If You’re Feeling Sinister”. But like all good documentaries, the film did a solid job in giving me a better understanding of the band and just what the music was about. A lot of the misinformed might give Belle and Sebastian as the name of a group that epitomizes what later became called hipsterism. That somehow Belle and Sebastian were pseudo intellectual, and their fans poseurs. But in truth, they’re quite the opposite, if you watch the documentary. What comes through is artistic integrity, honesty and dedication to the process of making good music that matters. I also heard more influences in their sophomore record than I did when I first listened to it. There’s a touch of the Velvet Underground, The Smiths, and Simon and Garfunkel. I always thought the record was gorgeous, but the film sets the tone for why it’s seminal. My favorite song was always, “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” (a song title that hearkened back to Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”. Not only did the band’s baroque and contemplative style appeal to me, but the lyrics could be pretty, humorous or even stunning, like these from the aforementioned song: “Falling against the lonely tenement / Has set my mind to wander / Into the windows of my lovers / They never know unless I write / This is no declaration, I just thought I’d let you know goodbye / Said the hero in the story / It is mightier than swords / I could kill you sure / But I could only make you cry with these words.”
• Releases: Criterion announced six releases: “All That Heaven Allows”, “L’eclisse”, “Hearts and Minds”, “Judex”, “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, and perhaps the most-talked about of them all, “The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night”. The latter’s cover led to this e-mail exchange between myself and one of my good friends, a Beatles obsessive who knows everything about the band: “Well, that looks like a perfect release. It includes a new 4K transfer, the original mono soundtrack (long unavailable), a new surround mix, the full-length documentary ‘You Can’t Do That’ (very well done but long out of print) and the one deleted scene that survives. But I have to say the cover art is beyond hideous. It doesn’t look retro, and it doesn’t look contemporary, either. It doesn’t include any of the iconic shots from the film or even the band logo or the film-title logo. It’s horrible. The old Criterion laserdiscs had much more tasteful cover art. Who the hell is this cover artist Rodrigo Corral and where does he live so I can burn down his house?” Ouch. Criterion’s blu-ray upgrades always get a shrug of indifference from me. I might venture into a copy of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” — but there is a better foreign release of the film. And as much as I love Douglas Sirk and “All That Heaven Allows” (even though it’s not as good as, say, “Written On the Wind”), I just can’t see myself double-dipping for it. Basically, these releases are a wash for me, as I wait for Harold Lloyd’s “The Freshman”.