INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)

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Lynch’s masterpiece, and I won’t countenance any opposition, INLAND EMPIRE is a challenging development on the möbius strip structure of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive and into what appears to be a meditation on a murdered Polish sex worker, quite possibly from the 1930s, trapped simultaneously in a Sartrean (albeit this time seemingly purgatorial) hotel room and in a state of Deleuzian eternal recurrence, experienced both by her and we the spectators (she watches all the filmic events through a television screen, herself) as a rhizomatic system of assemblages that serve to investigate genealogies of gendered violence, ultimately in search of a line of flight.

Or, at least, that’s how best I make “sense” of INLAND EMPIRE. The keenest interpretation is one that doesn’t necessarily accept any (I say “any,” rather than “either”) of Laura Dern’s characters as the true protagonist. Characters merge, they fracture, they exchange roles, become each other’s mirrors, avatars, spiritual doppelgangers. In so doing, INLAND EMPIRE reflects on the ways in which we can become our own victims and perpetrators and, accordingly, how much self-liberation may feel like self-murder.

Constant motifs of holes speak to the permeable membranes of ontology and identity that come to define the constellation of bodies that make up the assemblage of characters and situations of INLAND EMPIRE, the folded silk reflecting the foldings at levels both spatial and temporal which Sue/Nikki/? as the Lost Girl’s avatar/s must strategically navigate to a point of self-realisation and radical self-realignment to achieve meaningful deterritorialisation and liberation. When that moment finally arrives, it is perhaps Lynch’s most sublime, moving and beautiful moment in his whole career. Indeed, it expresses a similar sense of pathos as the ending to The Tempest in which Prospero’s letting go is clearly Shakespeare’s as well. It comes as no surprise that INLAND EMPIRE was announced as Lynch’s final film for entirely the same reason: it’s a film, made of endings. It may not be an ending everyone likes, nor one everyone understands, but it is nonetheless perfect in its philosophy and its execution.

 

*****

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My 1st Draft to The Independent

So, I wrote an opinion piece for The Independent on the subject of Benedict Cumberbatch’s transphobic character seen in the trailer for Zoolander 2, and it was edited in such a way as to make me look considerably more liberal and much less decisively anti comparisons to “blackface” – I requested changes to these edits, and to the headline, but so far no joy. Here is my original piece.

 

Even as a transgender student of film, being asked to comment on ten seconds of a film trailer, no matter how offensive members of one’s community are finding it, is a bemusing task. As far as I can recall, the only reason I watched the stupid thing in the first place was on account of the complaints about Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, “All,” a transgender supermodel, who is asked, in particularly juvenile fashion, about the state of their genitalia.

Housekeeping: Cumberbatch’s performance is not the “modern equivalent of blackface.” To have a “modern equivalent” of anything requires the original comparative to be no longer extant and, aptly enough, the fashion industry bears witness on a regular basis to blackface being alive and well in the 21st century. A person of colour’s experience of racial oppression is not an academic reference point for white people’s experience of oppression. Last Friday, I read out the names of the 271 trans people reported to have been murdered in the past year, and the overwhelming majority were of colour. Experience of transphobia is often highly intersectional with experience of racism and I struggle to put my name to any campaign that conflates the two, as this boycott call has done. For want of a better term, the character All is “transface,” and that should be enough. I have no more disdain for what I’ve seen of Cumberbatch’s “transface” than I have for Leto’s or Redmayne’s. The latter performances were done to give cis actors Oscars, the former is done to give cis audiences yuks. I’m in favour of neither, and do bristle at any and all objectification of trans lives and bodies for cisgender purposes. It is undoubtedly an inherently transphobic tradition to render us solely figures of either comedy or tragedy for cisgender depiction and cisgender paycheques.

Honestly, from what little of All can be seen, as far as “comedy trannies” the depiction is an interesting one. There have been no apparent efforts to make All overtly masculine: no stubble, no bulges, no stumbling in heels. By making All seemingly non-binary (“All is all”), the filmmakers have given themselves, one might suggest, cynical wriggle-room to present a transgender character whose identity is simultaneously obscure and open to interpretation enough to be gendered or misgendered however the spectator sees fit. No doubt the response from those involved in Zoolander 2’s production will be that Stiller’s titular protagonist, and Wilson’s Hansel are renowned for their stupidity, thus their intrusive, crass line of questioning is indicative not of the team’s transphobia, but the opposite: they’re showing up Zoolander. I’m not unused to being treated like an idiot, so I can only be so offended by having that old chestnut thrown my way, once again. One cannot help but feel if the team were so invested in making any sort of point about transphobia (even one so banal as “don’t do it, kids”), they would have felt confident in hiring a transgender actor or model for the role – Andreja Pejić, perhaps– and writing Cumberbatch another part.
The biggest disappointment I felt was seeing Justin Theroux’s writer’s credit. It’s a shame to think that, whilst Louis was busy making a frankly pretty watchable documentary about transgender children, his cousin was busy writing outdated, unfunny “[insert trans character and reference their anatomy here]” jokes for cisgender posh boy actors to bore us playing in an unnecessary sequel for which few were clamouring. To be sure, the character of All is pretty grim but, more than anything else, it is a strong indicator of how the rest of the film is likely to go. I remember the Sin City sequel, nine long years after the distinctly okay original, and seeing it as a signifier of nothing other than the further deterioration of Frank Miller’s status as a writer and human being. Here comes Zoolander 2, a cool fourteen years after the first, trailer replete with Justin Bieber cameos, recycled transphobic material, and constant references to the jokes of the original (always a worrying indicator they have no confidence in the jokes of the sequel), my response to the call of a boycott is: wait, you were going to see it before?

Witchhammer (Otaka Vávra, 1970)

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A bloody and not un-provocative drama at the tail-end of the Czechosolvakian New Wave, acting clearly as a warning to other filmmakers of the movement about governments by no means above breaking butterflies on the wheel. Witchhammer – very much the Communist Crucible – is a strange combination of a very earnest political message and a very prevalent male gaze. I’m certain the relatively low rating (by Czechoslovak standards) I’ve given it will increase by at least half a star next watching and, at 103 minutes, I think it could make a very interesting B-feature to the superior epic Markéta Lazarova.