“‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ was the most disappointing thing since my son.”
That’s the daffy opening line of filmmaker Mike Stoklasa’s “‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ Review,” an insightful, rudely funny takedown of George Lucas’ prequel. And it’s as good a place as any to start an appreciation of a hybrid of the video essay and the mash-up — an emerging format that’s often more entertaining than the work it cannibalizes.
Let’s start by distinguishing straightforward mash-ups and video essays from works created by Stoklasa and his siblings-in-spirit. The term “mash-up” was first applied to musical works that combined existing pieces of recording music in order to create something new. The YouTube equivalent is defined by Wikipedia as a work that “combines “multiple sources of video — which often have no relation to each other — into a derivative work, often lampooning its component sources or another text.” (Examples include those now-ubiquitous clips in which somebody puts, say, Joe Pesci’s “Funny how?” monologue from “Goodfellas” into the mouth of Elmo, or turns Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” into a heartwarming family comedy with music cues by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman.)
Video essays, on the other hand, tend to be more straightforwardly analytical: criticism in pictures. Their theatrical forerunner is the “essay film,” a ruminative, often first person nonfiction format practiced by Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Werner Herzog, Ross McElwee, Chantal Akerman and Agnès Varda, among other notable directors. Some of the more striking examples concentrate on film history and theory: Mark Rappaport’s documentary-drama hybrids, for instance, and Thom Andersen’s film and architecture meditation “Los Angeles Plays Itself.”
But while the terms “mash-up” and “video essay” cover a fair bit of ground, they don’t capture the peculiar intensity of the hybrid filmmakers I’m spotlighting here.
The best work by my colleague Steven Boone, for instance, evades such labels the way The Flash ducks bullets. His pieces always have a critical purpose, and sometimes Boone foregrounds it — as in the plainly titled “Low-Budget Eye Candy #1″, which annotates a chase scene from George Lucas’ 1971 debut “THX 1138″ to show how a clever director can make a cheap film look pricey.
But other Boone essays are more confounding and poetic. They combine movie scenes, news clips, pop music cues, on-screen text and voiceover narration to create stylish shorts that can be enjoyed as both digital-era criticism and freestanding art. Boone’s “Wolf City High and Low” for example, doesn’t just quote “Woodstock” director Michael Wadleigh’s 1981 horror flick “Wolfen,” about Native American werewolf spirits stalking 20th century New Yorkers; it stirs Ennio Morricone’s score for “Violent City” (1970) and audio from local TV news reports into the mix, sketching 21st century New York as a hellhole in which the rich treat the poor like animals.
Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.
Posted by Emmy Potter on 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.
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.
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.