DID YOU READ

The Naughts: The Romantic Pair of the ’00s

The Naughts: The Romantic Pair of the ’00s (photo)

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    I knew what she looked like by heart this time.
    That scrap of newspaper she was on should
    have been worn ragged by now, the number of
    times I’d pulled it out and looked at it when I
    was alone in the place.

        — Cornell Woolrich, “The Black Angel”

It’s the fear as much as the tenderness. It’s the desperation in the way they clutch hands in a darkened theater, and the sensuousness in the way they caress each other in bed. It’s the contradiction of having found yourself by stepping into a mystery, and the cruelty of discovering that the heaven of love is a gossamer skein stretched over a black hole. “And the mysteries of love come clear,” is the way David Lynch put the paradox in the song he wrote for “Blue Velvet.” Those mysteries have never been as heartrending in Lynch’s work as they are in his 2002 dreamtime noir “Mulholland Dr.”

Love, for David Lynch, is convulsive or it’s nothing. Adolescents, and those capable of living with the adolescent’s self-dramatizing intensity, are the characters for whom he has the greatest affinity — think of Donna and James in “Twin Peaks”; Jeffrey and Sandy in “Blue Velvet.” If surrealism is the way Lynch naturally sees the world, then the kind of romance that makes you feel so alive you think your heart is going to stop, the kind lived out by Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in “Splendor in the Grass,” is the natural way Lynch thinks of love.

And because that kind of love doesn’t last, every pair of Lynch’s lovers is threatened. In their self-constructed world they’re like Moses’ burning bush, awash in flame and not consumed. They’re hunks-a, hunks-a burnin’ love, and yet it’s not Elvis’s voice we hear watching them, but a far quieter, more worried one, that of Gary Troxel, lead singer of the two-girls-and-a-boy trio The Fleetwoods. “Outside my window/You’re walkin’ by with someone new/Outside my window/The way I used to walk with you,” Troxel sang in 1960, a spectator doomed to seeing his perfect love unravel.

12092009_MulhollandDrive4.jpgThe heartbreak of “Mulholland Dr.”, the reason its romance is the decade’s most emblematic, is seeing a love that has already unraveled achieve the perfection of dreams. Naturalism and quirk seeped throughout indie film, studio love stories seemed to take place in an artificial alternate universe — but “Mulholland Dr.” spanned both while being neither.

Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring), Lynch’s most wounded, beautiful and endangered true hearts, are the transfigured phantoms of the romance turned deadly for Diane Selwyn (Watts), a failed actress who has had the added injury of seeing her lost love Camilla Rhodes (Harring) have all the success she hasn’t. Diane is hungry, and it’s Camilla’s world. Their interactions have the awful indignity of a dead love affair, desire being answered not by desire but by a feeling of responsibility.

And yet before we know any of that, we feel the stars have gone out of alignment for Betty and Rita. In most stories of doomed love, the young lovers face a world in which they, the eternal they of the outside world, don’t understand. Lynch’s lovers are against something cosmic and unidentifiable. In “Mulholland Dr.,” Betty and Rita are often framed against darkness so soft and velvety it’s like a hovering nimbus, ready to swallow them if they awake from the film’s dream. And when they are swallowed, when smoke fills the frame as if the sulfur of hell itself were obscuring our vision, we feel as if not just a romance has been broken, but the beauty of the world has been cursed.

“Have you ever done this before?” Diane asks Rita as, scarcely believing it, she finds herself in the arms of another woman. The insomniac Rita’s answer, “I don’t know,” is a sleek joke. But their sex doesn’t matter. Neither one of them has done this before, throwing themselves into the kind of love affair where every kiss feels as if the universe is opening before you. And yet the universe is closing down on them, too.

What’s beautiful and what’s threatening here is all of a piece. Noir is the most seductive of genres because the things we associate with it — darkness and shadow, rain-slicked streets, cigarette smoke, women at their most beautiful and desperate and treacherous — invite us to revel in the sensuousness of movies. You feel that here when Rita gazes on a poster of “Gilda”; when she and Betty sit in that rundown theater, the place seeming to emit the perfume of decay, listening to Rebekah Del Rio’s heart-stabbing version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying”; when a sleek limo glides along dark canyon roads against a mournful wash of strings; when, working like diligent detectives to uncover the mystery opening up before them, Betty and Rita are alive with the glamour that only danger can confer.

12092009_MulhollandDrive7.jpgAnd because the fatalism of noir promises the terror (the thrill?) of seeing it all dashed, eroticism and dread are fused.

Betty and Rita aren’t just figures in Diane Selwyn’s dream but in our dream as well, the collective dream the movies encourage us to lose ourselves in, the dream of peril and romance and sex and mystery. In “Mulholland Dr.,” the movies have become so much a part of the air that they are literally the stuff of dreams, the place we’d rather live.

When I first saw “Mulholland Dr.,” I emerged into Times Square at night and nothing looked right to me. Corners weren’t squared, the lights and neon and traffic and crowds wouldn’t cohere into a visual pattern that I could make sense of. The world I’d just left seemed more real. In that dream of love and danger, Betty and Rita, the light angel and the dark angel, are the presiding spirits, two Nancy Drews become love’s keepers of the flame.

This feature is part of the Naughts Project.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

The Naughts: The Song of ’00s

The Naughts: The Song of ’00s (photo)

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The film industry may be currently going through a crisis, but it’s got nothing on the music biz. Over the past decade, there was a paradigm shift in the industry and huge, fundamental changes in the way people discover, buy and listen to music. Ten years ago, the idea that everyone would cease going to record stores to flip through plastic discs and would instead buy music digitally, completely devoid of a physical medium, only existed in a fringe world called Napster.

Now record stores are all but gone, and the album as an art form exists only in the fringe world of purists. We’ve become slaves to the mp3 single and the little sweatshop-produced devices we rely on to listen to them. The new Luddite is just the poor iPhoneless wretch who manages to get by with only a BlackBerry.

The volume of music has changed too, in both decibels and quantity. Bad recording habits created a culture of one-upmanship and ever increasing levels of compression during mastering — that’s why CDs and mp3s sound like crap next to a good LP (on a record player with a decent needle). With the rise of digitized delivery, the way we hear music has become the auditory equivalent of a traffic jam, a deafening pile-up of Ford F-150s all adorned with a deafening pair of rubberized truck nuts, each louder than the next.

When Radiohead sang “Anyone can play guitar and they won’t be a nothing anymore” in the early ’90s, many of us took that to heart. Maybe too many — it sometimes seems like everyone under the age of 35 is either in a band, starting a band or quitting a band. What stands out above all the noise of the Naughts and captures its tone all at once? What tune, chosen to play on some future soundtrack, would sum up exactly what post-millennial era the movie we’re watching takes place in?

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The Naughts: The Documentary of the ’00s

The Naughts: The Documentary of the ’00s (photo)

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Sometimes superlatives need to be slung, such as when speaking of the richest, most ambitious and exciting decade yet for nonfiction film — and, really, what other variety could back up that boast? To nail down a single doc as the preeminent work that typifies these years is no easy task, especially since the best of the bunch attacked specific subjects with laser-like precision and idiosyncratic techniques. (Sit tight, the lede is about to be buried.)

The ’00s legitimized the allure of the “pop doc,” a trend that shoehorns potentially lackluster material into glossy narratives. Spelling bees were transformed into suspense thrillers (“Spellbound”), quadriplegic rugby players did their own stunts (“Murderball”), tangoing kids got their dance-off (“Mad Hot Ballroom”), a reckless but beautiful feat of derring-do was reenacted like a heist procedural (“Man on Wire”), and a PBS-style nature film became a blockbuster saga of familial survival (“March of the Penguins”). Who’d have thought, way back in the ’90s, that documentaries could one day hold their own at the multiplex?

In fact, one even surpassed the $100 million box office mark and became the first doc in a half-century to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes: Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” an unprecedented take-down of a U.S. presidency still in power. Being comfortably waist-deep in the Information Age, empowered activists, muckrakers and other truth hunters were let loose to meticulously research and address the quandaries of globalization (“The Corporation,” “Mondovino”), consumerism (“Super Size Me,” “Czech Dream”), environmental disaster (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “Darwin’s Nightmare”), the media (“Manufacturing Consent,” “Outfoxed”) and whatever else ails us. Sure, we now had Google, Wikipedia and other accessible means to quickly click and uncover how people were getting screwed, but through cinema — and often with that aforementioned pop-doc sheen — wider audiences were being reached.

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