So here’s something I’d like to do in 2014: write more about films. I’m currently in my third year of film classes at school– my teacher is quite literally a genius, and he singlehandedly instilled in me a love of film. I’d been making youtube videos for a couple years prior to my first film class, but I hadn’t connected it with, like, actual movies.
Half the course is in film production, and the other half is in film studies & analysis. I’ve gotten a decent amount of practice writing about films now to, I think, have something semi-worthwhile to say about them on this here blog. These posts will include a lot of stills, a bit of analysis, a bit of reviewing, and (for my favourites) a bit of how these films have affected me personally.
Also, in the breakdowns of my rating I’m only including things that are relevant to that specific movie. Perks of Being a Wallflower isn’t getting judged on its sound design, but Close Encounters of the Third Kind probably would be.
Anyway, now that me trying to convince you that I’m at least somewhat credible is over: let’s talk Perks of Being a Wallflower.
This adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 novel of the same name was written and directed by Chbosky himself, and he knew exactly what to cut from the book to make the plot as clear and focused as it is. Protagonist Charlie (Logan Lerman), who’s just starting to stabilize after being deeply depressed, starts high school, meets seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), and quickly gets wrapped up in their dramatic, beautiful world as he deals with his mental illness.
One of many reasons I love this film is because of its treatment of mental illness. Lerman’s impressive portrayal of depression humanizes people with an illness that makes them feel much less than human. Seeing a protagonist with a mental illness that isn’t seen as a joke in a mainstream, comercially successful movie, makes me really happy. The only other films I’ve seen that deal with depression so well are films about depression.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about so much more. It’s about growth and learning, it’s about first loves, it’s about leaving (and being left behind), it’s about drugs and sex and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And some really beautiful shots, damn.
The key to the movie’s relatability to, like, every teenager ever, is in the writing and the acting of the perfectly casted characters. As soon as Charlie meets Sam, the audience falls just as in love with her as he does. You get drawn to Patrick easily by his gallows humour and easygoing vibe. Your heart soars and breaks with these characters as their story unfolds. Chbosky captures the dullness of adolescence beautifully with lines that go from hilarious…
…to almost painfully honest.
Perks deals with typical teenage drama, and issues that teenagers shouldn’t even have to think about, brilliantly. And all without invalidating the feelings of their characters because of their young age– which, side note, is made clear by really clever costume designing. They don’t all dress like they have a stylist. The costumes capture some of the awkwardness of teenage forays into fashion super well. Though not necessarily a feel-good movie (watching Charlie’s friends go off to university kind of kills me– a lot of my friends are graduating at the end of this school year, it’s just #2real) it leaves you with a message of “hey. Hey you. Your feelings are ok. Have feelings. Okay good bye.”
Except maybe more eloquently than that. Probably way more eloquent than that.
I will never ever understand why people care about the dumb things I write about but I’m glad they do because it gives me an excuse to post essays I write in my spare time explaining the difference between modern art and abstraction and why abstract painting is important on the internet? Like I never talk about feminist issues anymore and this is about art history which is entirely different? I don’t even know why I write about this stuff? I just care about things? None of these sentences are actually questions, grammatically speaking, so I don’t know why I’m ending them with question marks?
This is probably why people think I’m weird.
BUT ANYWAY. LET ME BRIEFLY RANT ABOUT MODERN ART.
So either you have heard something like this, or you have said something like this:
People usually say that after seeing paintings by Jackson Pollock, or Mark Rothko, or something that was probably influenced by them. And the immediate problem isn’t how wrong they are about those paintings being “a bunch of blobs,” (even though they are so, so wrong) the immediate problem is that they think modern art is just abstraction. I have no idea how terminology amongst the public evolved so that we picture abstract art whenever someone says something about modern art, but it should stop. The art magazine curator in me is being killed very slowly because of it.
Here’s why people don’t “get” modern art: because the way we refer to it makes it seem like it’s just another art style, and not a whole period of art development that took place over almost an entire century that is filled with hundreds of movements—including abstract art (or abstract expressionism), which is all we picture when we hear the term.
Modern art encompasses the work of artists like Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, not just Pollock or Rothko. Modern art was simply about ignoring the standards of a time and experimenting, doing something different. There’s no way to really mark a clear start to this idea of “omg guys we can do things other than neoclassism,” but a lot of art critics & historians credit Edouard Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe as being one of the first paintings from this period, and it was first exhibited in eighteen freaking sixty-three.
In 1863, shockingly enough, depicting a nude woman chillin with two clothed dudes was not really a thing that was socially accepted. It created a lot of controversy by doing something unheard of. Something new. Something modern. And boom, art development period started.
Look, here’s a list of all the movements that took place within the modern art time period. There are… There are a lot. And all the art made during them count as modern art. Which is why it’s extremely confusing to me that people generally only recognize abstract expressionism as being Modern Art. And then they make fun of it. Despite it having an incredibly valuable role in art history. It was what solidified New York City as the center of the art world. Pre-World War II, Paris reigned supreme, and most people figured if you wanted to be A Real Artist, you ought to go to Europe. During World War II, more and more of Europe fell under Hitler’s rule, and “degenerate” artists were frighteningly intensely persecuted. Artists could either flee or change their styles to escape artistic tyranny—and many of them chose to go to New York, which had been the art capital of America for a long time. Abstract expressionism soon evolved (in the late 1940s) and it was what put American art on equal playing field as European art for the first time.
Personally, and this is just coming from some teenager who researches art history in her spare time because she’s wildly uncool, not an academically-trained historian, I just find it important because it’s art for art’s sake. The process of its creation is usually more important than its result. Every time I hear someone say “I could’ve done that,” I want to cry. Because like, yes, you could have done that, but you didn’t. Abstract expressionism seems like such a simple concept to us now, it seems so obvious, but before the 1940s, nobody had ever thought of anything like it. Nobody had ever splattered paint all over a canvas and called it art before. And that is why it’s important: because it was innovative.
And I mean, I guess I can see where people are coming from when they look at White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) and think, “I don’t get it,” but something that we all need to understand about art is that, well, art isn’t always about being understood.
ps: I’m not actually an elitist art snob this is just one of my pet peeves
pps: some of this might be historically inaccurate and if it is please tell me
Before really diving into talking about this, I’d like warn you that I am going to get angry. Also, huge trigger warning for depression, addiction, self harm, enablement and romanticization of mental illnesses– all that fun stuff.
Look, baby, I love you. You know that, seeing as I’ve wasted at least a little time on you nearly every day for the last three years. And this isn’t a break up letter, you’ve just kind of started scaring the shit out of me lately. There’s this part of you, this, dark, freaky part– that really loves to romanticize mental illnesses. It’s the Soft Grunge part of you. I don’t like it. It’s really dangerous behaviour. You’re worrying me.
Text me or something, alright?
If you’ve been following my internet adventures then you probably know that I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety a while ago. I’ve tried to be fairly forthright about it recently, because 1) it’s pretty obvious anyway, 2) the shame that so many people feel about their mental illnesses is really really awful, and I’d like to be part of the admittedly small portion of people trying to end that stigma, and finally, 3) I’m trying to do this thing called Get Better, which for me involves embracing it.
Also, I really love Tumblr. And teenage girls. Not in a Humbert Humbert kind of way, more in a, “we are young, smart, strong ladies, and we’re going to take over the whole damn world one day,” kind of way. Discovering feminism has made it pretty hard for me not to be bursting with girl love.
Which is probably part of why the soft grunge craze makes me so angry– this is my own kind, severely disappointing me.
“Soft Grunge” isn’t what happens when you put a Nirvana CD in a washing machine with some fabric softener. It’s a term that evolved to describe a specific type of aesthetic common among teenage girls on Tumblr in recent years. Lana del Rey is basically the human embodiment of this phenomenon. This Urban Dictionary definition is condescending, but also pretty accurate:
[They] create a “hardcore” persona on Tumblr by reblogging pictures of inverted crosses, dip-dyed hair, ying-yang symbols and toilets. They like to pretend that they listen to grunge music by wearing stylish Nirvana tees that match their $200 pair of Doc Martens. If you were ask them who the Misfits were, they’d probably say anyone who isn’t sporting spikes this season.
This breakdown, however, misses out on the really weird romanticization of mental illnesses, especially depression, that runs rampant in these blogs. I creeped a few Tumblrs (that I would normally link to, but I’d really rather not encourage more people to look at this stuff, but reverse image searching is a thing if you really care) and found a lot of seriously fucked up imagery– it’s wildly popular, too, judging by the notes these posts get.
You see this, right? You’re seeing these pictures?? They’re there in front of you and you can see them??? Or am I just losing my mind completely???? Do people not find this messed up????? I also found a lot of pictures of bruised knees and bleeding cuts in my travels to the terrifying side of Tumblr, but looking at them makes me want to vomit even more than the above images, so I’m not posting them here.
I’ve tried to describe what depression feels like a thousand times before, and I can never really get it right. Sometimes, depression feels like nothing. It’s the absence of feelings. Which is why to people who’ve never really learned about it, someone with a severe, life-threatening mental illness can just kinda look like some dude who sleeps too much and won’t do stuff.
Notice how the words “pretty,” “beautiful,” “romantic,” or “#pale” didn’t show up in that description. Because it’s none of those things. It just sucks. In one of my vlogs I described depression as “kind of like a 24/7 party inside your brain, where everybody that you invited is a sad drunk, so really you’re all just sitting on a couch together, like, sobbing over nothing, and it’s like, hey, brain, wanna… not? Maybe? That would be cool.” And I’d say that’s still right. Although the sobbing part isn’t always apparent in people– it’s indicative of a marginally less severe form of the illness than an apathetic kind of depression.
Basically, no matter how it manifests, depression doesn’t really tend to look like decorated cigarette boxes and artfully running mascara. And I’m willing to bet money that a huge chunk of these girls have no diagnosed illnesses.
Which isn’t to say that no girl with a soft grunge blog is actually diagnosed with depression (or any other mental illness), because I’m sure many are. And I think I can kind of understand the appeal. Feeling like you’re a part of something can be comforting, and so can seeing that other people feel the same way you do. When you’re in the healing stages of a mental illness, having support isn’t just important, it’s a necessity. But the soft grunge subculture doesn’t support the “Sad Girls” it idolizes, it enables them.
Every time you reblog pictures of a computer screen that says “stupid sad girl” or Marlboro cigarettes with sticky notes pasted on them saying “because you broke my heart,” every time you contribute to a culture that makes depression seem like a quirky thing to add to your “about” section instead of a serious disorder with one of the highest death rates of any illness, you are actively making it okay for people to ignore their health problems and just be sad. That’s enablement.
People need to stop posting pictures of pills and tagging them #death, #suicide, #self hate, #soft grunge, and #pale. Trust me on this one, overdosing on pills: not really a good time. It’s nothing like the pictures of parties that are scattered all over your dashboard. A pretty blue-eyed boy will not come up to you when you’ve been lying in an ER bed for four hours because you can’t walk and tell you how beautiful you and your sadness are. Maybe that’s because you won’t be wearing pants at the time (I wasn’t), or maybe that’s because you’ll barely be able to speak because your mind is so distorted by the drugs. He won’t kiss your fucking scars. In fact it’s likely that nobody ever will, because seeing the mutilated flesh of someone you love is terrifying.
I think that’s something that needs to make its way back into our perception of mental illnesses: terror. I don’t mean that we should regress to a state where as soon as someone tells you they’re depressed, you run and hide, but we can’t look at depression as something that’s beautiful in any way. I would never want anyone to be afraid of a loved one of theirs with depression, but they should probably be a little bitafraid of the depression itself. Because in my experience, the fear is really what winds up getting people to get help. The things that depression can drive people to are terrifying. The way your own thoughts turn against you is terrifying. The shitstorm that your life turns into is terrifying. I’m gonna go full white girl for a second and quote some really beautiful Kendrick Lamar lyrics from Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst—
In case I’m not here tomorrow, I’m hoping that I can borrow A peace of mind, I’m behind on what’s really important My mind is really distorted, I find nothing but trouble in my life
The song isn’t about depression, it’s about growing up in Compton, California, and trying to resist the magnetic pull of gang life and violence, but I remember the first time I heard those lines they hit me like a slap in the face because they were just so easy to identify with. “My mind is really distorted” basically sums up depression in half a sentence. And before this rant turns into a post about how much I love Kendrick Lamar, let me just say this: creating a space where depression is so accepted that it verges on being promoted is just as dangerous as creating a space where depression is unaccepted. Much like everything else in life, we need to find a balance.
And really, it’s not that fucking difficult to just stop reblogging shit that promotes unhealthy views of mental illness.
My youtube channel turned four today and I feel very, very strange about it.
By the time most humans are four they can talk and walk and go potty and do, y’know, people stuff, and they’re becoming people. But I still feel like I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what it is I’m doing. Yesterday I looked through my uploaded videos, and it sort of shocked me how little sense the journey I’ve come on has made.
1: August 27th 2009 – August 27th 2010
The first video I ever uploaded was a 2:07 clip shot on a webcam of my best friends in the whole world excitedly dancing around the playground of the apartment I lived in at the time. It was the summer before sixth grade and we were having a goodbye party for one of my friends who was moving away. At the time I’m sure I felt very grown up, but looking back at it made me feel like the video immoralized the last real grasp I had on childhood.
I spent that whole first year uploading little skit videos with my friends. They amused us at the time and are cringeworthy now. Gradually these videos became more complex, with, like, editing (wow) and the first video I’m willing to call a ‘short film’ was uploaded around this time. The shots were amateur and the acting was awful, and the whole “wow ok I want to make movies that is a thing I’d like to do with my life” thing didn’t really click until 8th grade, but it’s interesting to see how much being on YouTube while growing up nurtured my interest in film. …Even though it created more cringe material for future me than I’d really like to admit, but if you look back at your art and don’t cringe, I think you might be doing something wrong.
I think July 10th, 2010 was the day I uploaded the first video that I can look back on and firmly tell that I am a full blown ~~tween~~ in, and that was around the time I started to wean off my attempts at this “humour” thing and just vlog.
Also I’m pretty sure I started wearing a training bra at this point so my SPIRAL INTO WOMANHOOD is obvious.
2: August 27th 2010 – August 27th 2011
One year down. I had 26 subscribers. PURE UNADULTERATED SUCCESS.
I uploaded a video on 10/10/10 that kind of amazes me, because my demeanor is actually fairly similar to how I act now, I’m just so unbelievably awkward looking, and my editing is terrible. That year was the height of my awkward phase, so it’s really great that I uploaded the infamous Slut Shaming and Why it’s Wrong then…
I haven’t really talked about the impact of that video on, well, my whole life basically, and I won’t go too in-detail here, but it almost dumbfounds me how out of the blue its entire creation seems in retrospect. I’d never, never, never uploaded anything at all like that video before. There is nothing in my uploaded videos that could indicate that I’d ever do something like that. And then suddenly I just did. And I think there’s a kind of beauty in that, in just making a video about something you care about for no other reason than because you wanted to. I had 33 subscribers at the time, it’s not like I thought anyone would really see it. I wasn’t setting out to become a Big Bad Feminist Vlogger (watch out). I mean, the editing goes completely downhill halfway through it anyway, who would want to watch that? And yet it resonated with (at the time of this writing) 662,281 viewers. Which is insane for several reasons, the most prominent of which is that I don’t even think I fully understood what I was saying at the time. Part of why I wrote that script out was to help myself understand a concept that was so new to me, this form of opression I’d been socialized to not even notice. It was weird.
3: August 27th 2011 – August 27th 2012
The first video I uploaded in my third year involved me dancing around downtown with ketchup. Solid way to start, honestly. I also ranted about school, hit 100 subscribers, and uploaded A L T A I R, which is kind of a landmark video for me. As you can tell from the spaces between letters in the title, that was the first video I’d ever made with the intent of creating art. And I think it sort of worked out? That was when a lightbulb went off in my mind saying “yo. Dude. You could maybe do this legit film thing,” and that led to a lot of uploading of similar videos throughout the year. This was definitely the year I got serious about improving my filmmaking.
A Storm in New York and Always On were my way of remembering my whirlwind two day trip to Manhattan to be on Anderson in January when the slut shaming video was really picking up steam. I was still hella awkward looking at that point, which leaves me a little embarrassed, but it also makes me kind of happy to see how jarring it is to watch a dorky-looking kid smack down people with the unholy hands of feminism, you feel me? It’s hilarious.
This was also the year I decided starting Other Zine was a good idea (it turned out not to be, but you live and learn).
4: August 27th 2012 – Today
This is the year of “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing with this youtube channel and I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
Most of what I upload now are short and slightly uncomfortable vlogs, and film-y type things. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist vlogger at all, but that’s what most people think of me as. I have no clue what I’m doing. I’m not sure I ever did.
And, as is obvious, I decided to write this whole reflection out instead of make a vlog about it, which I think says a lot, but I’m not exactly sure what.
Here is a list of some of the things I did two days ago in no order:
I’ve been thinking a lot about What I’m Going to Do With My Life and What I’m Going to Be When I Grow Up and How the Actual Fuck Am I Going to Graduate and What On Earth Will I Study in College and How Will I Get a Job That Doesn’t Make Me Want to Die More Than I Already Do, but mostly The Future is Really Scary, and I keep wondering how all the weird shit I do with my time will translate into that. There are so many different things I want to do, and I want to do all of them at once, but I don’t know how I’d manage that without breaking. And is it even possible to be a musician/poet/art magazine editor/filmmaker/makeup artist/E.E. Cummings anyway? Can I do that? Is that a thing? How would I make money off it so I can pay for the Tiny House (or maybe just studio apartment, I haven’t decided yet, it just needs a hairless cat in it) I want to live in one day? Provided I can even stay alive long enough to get there with this fucking brain demon called depression and his pet dog, anxiety, living in the penthouse suite of my body and not paying rent. hOW Do U DO THE “”LiFE”” THING????????¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿?????
It seems like four years, once you’re older, doesn’t always mean too much. No matter what, any year will bring you countless things– not all of them good– but I feel like it makes more of an impact when you’re still young and figuring out what exactly it is you want to do in life, and who exactly you are. I’m fifteen. Four years is ~26% of my life. Did I spend that well? Do I like who I’ve become and who I am becoming? I don’t really know. And maybe that’s a depression thing, and I know I’m just having some slight teenage existentialist angst problems, but Sarah From Four Years Ago probably wondered about some of the same things. While I realize the immense pressure to specialize and worry about careers so early in life does more harm than good, I’m still affected by it, and it almost makes me a little sad that I’m still essentially lost in life.
Aaaaaaaaand now I sound like an 80 year old man who regrets his whole life. I’m not, I’m just confused about how I feel about the past and the future.
i know one day
life won’t be so
hard, but that
doesn’t really make it
any easier right
I’m sorry this got depressing– it was unintentional but happens a lot.
Thank you for reading this and caring about the things I say and do and generally making my life a little more interesting and a little less scary.