Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nostalgia: How not to Time Travel

"Nostalgia is denial - denial of the painful present... the name for this denial is golden age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one's living in - its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."

Surprisingly, perhaps, this is from Woody Allen's recent film Midnight in Paris (Gravier Productions, 2011). The movie itself is, well, a Woody Allen film- entertaining, introspective, rambling, and questionable at times. 

Why in the world did the poster designer pick van Gogh's Starry Night?????

We're not here to talk about Woody Allen though, but about Nostalgia. He defines it so well that I feel silly explaining the idea any further. I'm going to anyway. The fact that Allen made a film explicitly about Nostalgia shows that at least some people in Hollywood notice this trend in American Mythology. 

The hard part about Nostalgia is noticing it as an incarnation of The City. That "erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one's living in" is a loss of faith in humanity. So it's not just 'the past,' but using selective history to frame the present as not awesome. Nostalgia also isn't explicit exploitation of your heartstrings, although it can be. Sometimes it's something as simple as not coming up with a new idea, sometimes it's really explicit. Sometimes it's both. 

Quit being a Nostalgic hipster Ryan Gosling!
Oh wait...
Practically no genre of current American Mythology is free from Nostalgia, and it comes in various aesthetics. Although some Nostalgia 'look' old, others use old concepts or ideas. (But that does not necessarily mean all things drawn from the past are Nostalgic.) 

David Guetta's 'Titanium ft. Sia' is currently on VH1's Top 20 Music Videos. Kind of an odd story, but hey it's a music video. We've got this Astronaut-kid (isolated, has powers) with a sweet bike in 80's? suburbia made more old by the lens filters. Carly Rae Jepsen's somehow insanely popular "Call me Maybe" also utilizes the old lens as well as old cars and suburbia (but the guy wheres ipod headphones..?). Instead of being in suburbia, the suburban kids are at the beach in One Direction's "What Makes you Beautiful" music video, complete with 70's cars and more old filters. Justin Bieber rounds it all out in "Boyfriend" with filters again, old cars, Michael Jackson's dance moves, 80s clothes, and a hairstyle borrowed from New Kids on the Block. There's no plot or conceptual reason to have these vintaged music videos. You'll also note that these songs are (arguably) the worst of Pop music: repetitive and expected rehashings of the same angsty themes. Not fresh at all. 

The Help (Dreamworks SKG, 2011) particularly annoyed me for it exploitation of Nostalgia. The highly successful film had millions of white people nodding their heads saying, oh yes look how good we were, we freed the Mammies. Nevermind that the film misrepresents both southern black women and southern white women (I'm not saying people like that didn't exist, I'm saying that not all southern women, regardless of race, are dumb and demure), in this post I'm more concerned with the total disregard of the present situation. The book and movie could have spun the plot so that it made readers/viewers reflect on current racial tensions, namely the ones directed toward immigrants from Latin America, but this can also extend to 'The Help' who hail from Asia as well. Instead fans of "The Help" appluade at Emma Stone's performance and just blink accusations made at Sharon Stone.

It could have been so awesome...
Prometheus (Brandywine Productions, 2012)
At least The Help was an original idea. Ridley Scott's origin story/third(?) reboot of his Alien (1979) franchise Prometheus (2012) also could have been cool if he hadn't used themes from 20th Century Mythology. I really did want to like it, it just failed to remain/become relevant for today's audiences. Instead of capturing the wonder of space or search for god/knowledge and pitting it against greed and self preservation (which it easily could have), Ridley chose to play up the weakness of humanity against the force of god/nature/knowledge/people with money. That's not something the American people want to see. 

Other reboots and remakes include: The Expendables (for the actors), Dark Shadows (for the remake, actor(s), and director), The Bourne Legacy (plot), Total Recall (plot), Ice Age: Continental Drift (characters), and The Three Stooges (concept). In television: Charlies Angels (whole thing), Go On (actor), I Love the [Decade] on VH1 (whole thing). There's more too. Just wait til this fall, a whole wave of interdimensional feel good movies are coming. Maybe they'll be good...

Which brings up a bump in my dislike of Nostalgia. Sometimes the past aesthetic works. I don't quite know how to grapple with the fact that I really like Wes Anderson films which almost exclusively use Nostalgia (and quirky hipster-ness) to draw viewers, particularly his most recent movie Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Perhaps Anderson knows how to use Nostalgia in a way that conveys a deeper concept missing from most movies and makes it relevant. His movies, however, have to be watched multiple times, and Moonrise Kingdom hasn't come out on DVD just yet. When it does, it'll be on repeat as I mull it over. 

There's also The Artist which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, which was filmed as if it were of the time period. But then again it's a French film, so maybe we can dismiss it from American Mythology and avoid the problem altogether. 

Also, I suspect the Great Recession has something to do the recent rise of Nostalgia. Or we can blame the hipsters.

Ideas anyone? 

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