Month: April 2015

Listen Up Philip: A Double Gaze

 jason_dree

Listen Up Philip is filmed like a home video—unsteady with quick movements that make you wonder who is in charge of the camera. Of course the film does this on purpose and allows this realistic feeling to form as we see Philip’s (Jason Schwartzman) and Ashley’s (Elisabeth Moss) relationship dwindle and how their life proceeds without the other.

Despite the serious tone the story has regarding success and relationships, the film’s subtle humor makes the comedic moments cherished. You’re watching along realizing how self-absorbed the main character Phillip is. So much that his quick insults can be humorous because he is so nonchalant about his feelings towards the other minor characters. There are even a few moments that are laugh out loud funny like when Philip escapes the city to stay in writer Ike Zimmerman’s summer home and he finds a bizarre joy is mowing the lawn and smelling the fresh cut grass during the early mornings. Or when Philip meets up with an ex-girlfriend and she runs away after he suggests they kiss. The camera cuts to his sullen face as he watches her sprint away from him. There’s nothing to do but laugh. Then the funny business is over and we are back to feeling the utter loneliness both Ashley and Philip hold as well as everyone else in the film.

Overall, the film gives us a close look at vulnerable people. Literally a close look. Most of the shots are close-up profiles of Ashley and Philip or their faces straight at the lens as they hold back tears. What I like most about the film, though, besides the close-up shots that I do appreciate, are both the female and male gaze I saw throughout. For example, in the beginning the camera seems to be from the perspective of the different women looking at Philip. We see Emily (Dree Hemingway) a young woman who helps during a photo shoot of Philip and her eyes follow him throughout. She’s meek and quiet, but we get the sense that we see someone she admires. We feel her lust. The same is said later, while soon to be girlfriend of Philip, Yvette (Joséphine de La Baume), scans the writer in a crowd of people. She seems sneaky, but interested in the new writer. We feel what she does through the lens. However, while the camera has a women’s view for some time, it flips eventually. Soon Philip and Zimmerman stroll through the college that Philip teaches at and the lens focuses on thin college students, all of which are women. The dialogue between the two references all the beautiful women in college and it becomes clear the gaze has changed to a male’s. This flip-flop allows us to see the difference in male and female perspective regarding the opposite sex. In a more specific way, these two sides allow us to see the different reactions of Ashley and Philip, post breakup.

Ashley is so clearly more affected after the relationship ends, but I loved the strength the film ended up giving her. There is something inspiring in Ashley’s character that I think the film tries to point out: just because you’re alone, doesn’t mean you have to be or are lonely. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Ashley becomes what all women urge others to be like: strong, resistant, and confident. The issues regarding male verse female success is extremely relevant too, and the film did an excellent job showing how self-conscious Phillip was when Ashley was climbing the ladder of success faster then he was.

Except Philip remains the same from beginning to end. If only he cared about his life as much as his fictional one. But this also points out the issue with creative occupations: it’s a fantasy world most of the time so how do you live two lives? Can there be a balance? Philip treats his life like a novel. He writes in a scene and plays out the part. He creates his own drama because he can’t ride along with life’s own twists and turns. He simply wakes up and decides which ex he would try to swoon again. He finds a way to make himself miserable. This all goes back to the title. You want to shake almost every character throughout the film and show them the truth they’re missing or give some sound advice, but Philip is the one who really needs to listen up.

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Homme Less: Follow his Bliss, Expect his Truths

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The documentary film Homme Less, to me, wasn’t about being homeless. I had this discussion on the way home after seeing the film with a friend. She expressed her frustration with main character Mark as he roams around New York City in 200 dollar shoes and eats at fancy restaurants, but sleeps on rooftop buildings because he doesn’t have a home. He looks pretty good compared to all the other homeless men in New York City that the film captures as well. Men who are skin and bones, without shoes and shirts. But I think the film urges us to be frustrated with Mark and his self deprecation and also frustrated with the city, with the systems and the situations that people often get themselves into.

Despite the film’s title hinting towards the homeless issue, the documentary is unlike one I’ve ever experienced. It takes us behind the scenes of a life that seems good, a man that seems to have it figured out. Except this man, like the rest of us is complicated and so is his life. It’s full of anxiety, fun, sadness, and a cold loneliness that’s captured within a few hours. The film opens with these beautiful NYC scenes and jazz music that reoccurs throughout and when we first meet protagonist Mark and get to know his situation: sleeping on the rooftop of his friend’s apartment, showering at the YMCA and ironing his clothes before acting or photographing gigs, he really does seem to have this strange city life figured out. No his systems are not normal or expected, but they work for Mark as he saves his money by not paying rent. One of my favorite parts of the film is during the early stages of following Mark when he tells the camera he’s happy most of the time. It’s quiet after as he walks down the street while we wonder if happiness can mean living so minimalistic and alone. And then Mark almost whispers and emphasizes his happiness most of the time.

Then come the heartbreaking truths as we follow Mark day after day. The human condition as I say often is the strangest, truest and most interesting aspect of life. Mark is a walking study. We judge him and analyze him and wonder why he does the things he does. I too like my friend was frustrated because I saw his raw talent and his vivacious personality. Why is he limiting himself? Why isn’t he finishing projects or following up with people who could connect him to a steady job? Because he does not want to, because that would bore him? I’m not sure what the answers are and maybe Mark doesn’t know either. This is his condition. His human, conflicted condition.

There is so much truth to this film and one of the reasons I think is because of the friendship between filmmaker Thomas and Mark. Mark has no problem facing the camera and telling him how it is. Like how he’s obsessed with sex because he’s been deprived for so long, how he’s so scared his friends and family will find out the truth about him. At one point he faces the camera—my favorite part in the documentary—and tells us to lock our doors because he’s going to try and sleep on our couch. He’s talking to us, making us laugh and including us in on his deepest secrets.

Even though we see the many ways Mark holds himself back and breaks himself down, the film also points to the unfairness and realities about high price city living and of course this reoccurring theme of the American Dream. Even if Mark chooses to get a job and a cheap apartment (if cheap exists in NYC) would he make ends meet? As director Thomas stated during a Q&A after the film, Mark has it all: he’s white, male, and good looking so why isn’t he making it in the big apple? Once again the answers will vary depending on who you are and what you think after seeing Mark’s story unfold. It’s a film that has you talking, has you thinking. I wanted to shake Mark and hug Mark and hang out with Mark. He’s a fascinating human and the beauty of this piece lies somewhere different; it’s in the importance of one man and what he offers to the universe and what it’s offered to him.

I hope everyone gets to see this film at a festival where Thomas can answer questions and talk about the film because even more is revealed and even more questions are answered. And despite the film focusing on success verse failure, Thomas pointed out this fear of failing that all creative people feel, but in the end we have to take the leap and follow our passions. This led me to wonder: could Mark have done better? Summoned more courage and leapt farther and more willingly? Or did he give up? Did life’s demands swallow his passion to succeed? Or maybe there’s still time, which I think there is. Mark has succeeded in a lot of ways, whether he thinks so or not, but there’s still a chance to face and deplete those nightmares the film recognizes that’s held Mark back and that tend to hold many of us back.