The Week in Consumption, 12/8

Looks like this is becoming a Tuesday thing.

Each week, Luke takes a look back at the items he’s seen, heard, and eaten. The Week in Consumption preserves his first impressions like the valuable fruits they are.

Jersey Shore (MTV, 10 pm) This show has been receiving a lot of hype as “The Real World, only more outrageous and even less self-aware.” That’s about half-true. MTV has found 8 guidos and guidettes to live together in a summer share at the Jersey Shore. Together, they’ll live, love, pump fists, and dance to oounce-oounce music. The two-hour premiere was a little too much filler, and the show is more liquid than its cousins. Besides the comedy, there’s two main draws. First is noodling out how this apparently self-contained subculture sustains itself and enforces its rules–it’s no Chronicle of a Summer, but there’s a serious anthropological vibe. The second, related point of interest is actually waiting for these characters to hook up. For all the talk of sex, all of them seem relatively chaste compared with their MTV brethren. You can usually expect at least two of the Real World housemates to get together on their first evening. On Jersey Shore, we’ve only seen dancing, hand-holding, and light kissing. Ok, there’s a pierced penis too, but it promptly returns to the guy’s pants.

Election No, not the one with Reese Witherspoon. I’m talking about the Johnnie To film. We follow a group of gangsters as they hold the biannual election for triad leadership. When one of the candidates contests the result, the winner is forced to turn to an older source of authority, the dragon head baton (I know, this sounds ridiculous). Will he get to it in time? While it plainly falls in the lineage of Hong Kong cinema, Election is also the best mimic of the Godfather films I’ve ever seen. Most American mobster movies try to capture the attitude of the Corleone family through dialogue, and ape the “American dream” theme. Johnnie To has pilfered a bunch of other terrific stuff from Coppola instead. The odor of unease wafts through almost every scene. There’s set pieces galore, but each section seems to slide suddenly into the next. And Lok, the election winner, is a Michael Corleone type not just because he’s smart, quiet, and ruthless, but also because he’s already a little world-weary and is prone to long, silent, contemplative moments.

Unfaithfully Yours This is another fine Preston Sturges comedy that’s as serious as cancer. And really, it’s the serious moments that you remember. Rex Harrison plays an orchestra conductor who begins to suspect his wife is having an affair with his secretary. That night, while conducting three melodramatic pieces, he entertains three fantasies about his future with his wife. Each fantasy begins with an extreme zoom to Harrison’s left eyeball, which makes his face seem like a foreign country. I’m really spoiling things for you if I reveal what those fantasies are, and what happens afterward. I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that there’s a happy ending, but what happens before then creates a significantly disturbing undertow.

Brief note: from everything I’ve read, Rex Harrison basically became the guy he plays in this movie.

Man is Not a Bird Dusan Makavejev’s first film, still produced under Soviet-era curbs on content. His film belies its content: while Man is Not a Bird uncovers ideological ruts, its filmmaking, full of weird juxtapositions and interestingly framed shots, makes you feel like anything is possible. Makavejev throws a bunch of possible connections against a wall and it’s up to us what sticks. The sounds of Beethoven commemorate both a sexual encounter and the opening of a new turbine engine. We follow a traveling engineer, who’s scheduled to complete a massive industrial project in a rural Czech town. While there, he begins an affair with a much younger hairdresser. Meanwhile, we also get a glimpse into the life of a two-timing miner. Makavejev would get more brazenly critical and weird in his later features, but Man is Not a Bird is still fresh.

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