Caveh Zahedi’s I Am A Sex Addict

Cuneyt Cakirlar’s essay “Queer art of the parallaxed document: the visual discourse of docudrag in Kutlug Ataman’s Never My Soul!” asserts that the Turkish filmmaker Kutlug Ataman uses a variety of techniques (or perhaps, subversions of classic Hollywood technique) in order to “queer” the genres and visual identification associated with confessional documentary, pornography, reenactment, auto-ethnography and melodrama. As Cakirlar says, “The artist attempts to confront the viewer with the machinery of truth-making and self-invention.”

The goal of this confrontation is of course to criticize the problems and methodologies of those genres in their tendencies to affirm existing-dominant positions (Western, male, heterosexual) and to critique marginalized positions (non-Western, female, homosexual). As Cakirlar writes, “Ataman’s artworks position the spectator within a problematic arena where documentary realism as genre and ethnography as method are being constantly queered via both subjects’ and artist’s performative manipulations.”

One of Cakirlar’s methods was to film his subject/actor (a transvestite called Ceyhan), transcribe her dialogue, have Ceyhan relearn this transcript as a monologue, and then re-perform it for the camera. Cakirlar calls this conflation of scripted and unscripted material, extemporaneous action and performance “a kind of parallax view” that would “create a formal expression of her parallel situation” (362). The “parallax view” can be seen as an attempt to undermine cinema’s ability to approximate and formulate truth. I believe it is also an attempt to criticize film’s ability to become a powerful tool for propaganda and to align its spectator with characters that are usually male, straight, white, conservative, capitalist and Christian. The “parallax view” is a mode that calls the audience’s attention to the film’s artifice and intention – thereby weakening its ability to persuade an audience that truth is being documented – rather than created. Ataman’s quote from Cakirlar’s piece reads:

“Subjects like Ceyhan and Semina aid in the process of creating those metapieces, because they are constantly referring back to their roles as actresses and therefore instigating the viewer’s investigation into the nature of these assumed and prescribed relationships. Ultimately this artifice makes you realize how reality is created and how lies can be no less true that what is understood as truth. Truths are also fabricated.”

Caveh Zahedi’s experimental, mash-up film I Am A Sex Addict is also trying to subvert those methods of meaning-making and visual identification through various strategies as well as content. I Am A Sex Addict took Zahedi fifteen years to complete and chronicles a decade of Zahedi’s confusions and tribulations from sex addiction. Love and relationships are kindled/rekindled only to be seen sabotaged later by Zahedi’s compulsion, psychosis, and hubris. It is a painful and sluggish road to Zahedi’s realization about his disease and the steps necessary to regain healthy connections with women. I call Zahedi’s film a mash-up because it is a collage of so many disparate mediums, modes and techniques – mockumentary, documentary, reenactment, still images, footage from pre-existing projects, animated sequences, 35mm footage, audio recording, direct address, voice-over narration, and so on. The employment of so much (excess) “artifice” recalls the quote above as it calls attention to the process of filmmaking and asks the audience to question the truth of what is being presented.

While Zahedi is attempting to capture a perspective similar to the “parallax view” his concerns are not necessarily the same as Ataman’s.  I Am A Sex Addict is deeply confessional (perhaps autobiographical) and preoccupied with sex but not with transvestite or queer culture. Zahedi’s film is focused primarily on debunking the cinematic mythologies around male sexuality. This includes Zahedi’s awareness that cinema comes out of a problematic history (and continued practice) of voyeurism. This voyeurism seeks to empower men by indulging their fantasy of seeing helpless or victimized women while never being seen or interrogated in return. This voyeurism is one that seeks to align its viewers with male protagonists. In her book Film Editing: The Art of the Expressive, Valerie Orpen discusses Laura Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and its assertion that “cinematic codes create a gaze, a world and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire.” The intent of this “gaze” is to give the illusion that a male protagonist assumes control over his (sexual) universe. It also encourages the viewer to identify with the male protagonist and his desires since his point-of-view is the window by which we encounter that particular universe.

Zahedi is critical of both the method and the power attributed to male sexuality. His film attempts to undermine the male “gaze” in its attempts to render women as subjugated sex objects. Zahedi does this by making the character he portrays (and his ego) that which is subjugated and held out for scrutiny and humiliation. While his male protagonist (if we want to take this project as documentary we would say this is Zahedi himself – this would be no stretch of imagination as his character is called “Caveh Zahedi”) is overwhelmed by perverse desires to dominate and objectify women – those attempts are generally thwarted by his awkwardness, anxieties and confusion. When I say thwarted I do not mean that Zahedi’s character does not succeed in objectifying women – he does. But he is incapable of deriving the sort of pleasure or sustained relief he seeks from those experiences. Those scenes tend to lead immediately to meditations on shame, disgust, regret, loneliness and hopelessness. Sex scenes are not geared at finding pleasure in the nude female body or engagement in an intimate/secretive act. They instead focus on Zahedi’s lack of sexual appeal, his isolation and his ridiculousness. Direct address and voice-over narrations during sex scenes further undermine them as moments of pleasure-seeking – and they become silly, surreal or absurd. Zahedi’s monotone, unemotional acting style employed during recreations seems to emphasize the male’s ineptitude in trying to gain mastery over his female counterparts or his sexuality. To compound those humiliations being expounded, Zahedi frequently interjects during the course of the film to admit he has lost actual control of his production and his female actors. Indeed the didactic of the film is – how not to be/why not to identify with – its main character . . . $11

If you heart I Am A Sex Addict:

Recommendations by Quispy
Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini’s American Splendor
James Marsh’s Man on Wire
Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop

Li’l Fatass’s Top 5 of 2011: Richard Ayoade’s Submarine

#5: You remember what it was to be young. To be cherishing your young blood like it was a temple. A tiny temple to the executor of your unrequited loves. To be young and to have only kissed one girl. And when that girl became floppy and terrifying. You remember pushing that girl into a pond. You remember how she shook that pond water off like a dog. You remember how that pond water stung upon your face, the scum getting in your hair. You remember the fat face of your first kisser.

You remember taking long walks on the beach by yourself. And narrating your life to yourself as though you were someone more important. But you were never important. Even to your mom you were just one character in the story about her life. And how she went from being an optimistic young woman into your mom and now no one watches the story of her life anymore.

Richard Ayoade remembers you. He was behind a rock, taking notes. He was stashing away notes to use for the movie about your life. Of course he had to change a few things. He made you Welsh, for one. He made your parents into Jews. He gave them the noses of Jews and also the hypochondrias. But so much of your life is there. Your attempted suicides. Your girlfriend’s mother’s brain tumors. The handjob your mother gave to that neighbor with all that leather and a ponytail.

Do you want to watch a movie about your own life? On one hand it recapitulates all the humiliations you endured during your adolescent (i.e. prime masturbatory) years. On the other hand it affirms the importance of those humiliations. Maybe they will help you to own those humiliations. You will own them and then they will empower you. Or maybe they will smash you into a jelly like a very pressurized atmosphere. Either way you are old now and not very important. Your life is not worth very much. Very much money or very much to the earth. If a coyote were to find your meat he would say it is not very much meat to write home about. Make your meat work for you. Make your meat take a few more risks in this life . . . $11

If you heart Submarine:

Recommendations by Li’l Fatass
Wes Anderson’s Rushmore
Nicholas Jasenovec’s Paper Heart
The Hess Family’s Napoleon Dynamite

Mary and Max

Currently streaming on Netflix.

I knew in the opening lines that this movie was for me: “Mary Dinkle’s eyes were the color of muddy puddles, her birthmark, the color of poo.”

How come I’ve never heard of this movie?  Mary and Max, written and directed by Adam Elliot (Harvey Krumpet), is a humorous, dark film about the friendship of a lonely Australian girl and a middle-aged New Yorker.  The voice cast includes Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana, and Barry Humphries.  Mary and Max forge a friendship despite the complete and thorough alienation that the world has forced upon them.  Don’t be fooled by the claymation, the story will take some bitter downturns.  It will go there.  But there is plenty of room for laughter.  And I did.  Outloud.  I also cried, at least once.  Maybe three times.

As I sat through, enraptured by the poignant story emerging, I thought – why the hell didn’t this movie get more attention?  Then I remembered that American hearts only have room for shit that smells like roses.  It’s got the quirky, oddball feel of Amelie combined with the cringe-filled pity of Muriel’s Wedding.  Mind you, this is all on top of wonderfully crafted claymation. Add a soundtrack full o’ heart, you got a stew goin’.

I would like for you to see this movie.  Here are three things that I hope will help you watch:

1) The trailer.
2) It is streaming on Netflix.
3) If you won’t take my word, check out Rotten Tomatoes – 94%.

I have to dedicate my last lines to Philip Seymour Hoffman.  What a voice you have… $11

Recommendations from Yolkie:
Triplets of Belleville

Amelie
Muriel’s Wedding

Other Reviews:
Life With Aspergers
Animation for Adults
More Than Expected

Valhalla Rising

Currently streaming on Netflix.

I’ve never seen a man so disfigured, give me the biggest chubby I’ve never known.  Nicolas Winding Refn doesn’t seem to know how to write women (Valhalla Rising would miserably fail the Bechdel Test); but, Refn knows how to write the most sexually electrifying  male leads to ever see the big screen.  See Drive.

To say Valhalla Rising is slow-paced, is a sure under-statement.  The first spoken words come as a surprise, because so much time has passed without language.  That is not to say it is silent.  Refn selects jarring, intense music that sets a perfect Purgatorial mood.  Normally, I give up easily on slow-paced movies.  I am often impatient and bored.  I was neither during this one.  The moments of stillness added to the suspense.  The gorgeous landscapes (filmed in Scotland) interspersed with shocking red clairvoyant impressions were enough to keep me at the edge of my seat.

The protagonist, a Norse warrior, begins as a slave with unrivaled fighting skills.  Refn’s movies are like the bashed-in heads he loves so much.  Rough, bloody, and raw, but soft on the inside.  The Norse warrior is 100% hero.  A noble savage that meets his match when he meets nobler savages, also known as Injuns.

Valhalla Rising did have a fatal flaw – a disappointing ending that I won’t spoil for you.  Even still, the movie is entirely worth watching.  I wholeheartedly recommend it… $11

As a side note, the picturesque landscapes of this movie reminded me of one my all-time favorite music videos.  Though entirely different in tone, it shares gray skies and rolling hills. See here.

Yolkie’s Recommendations:

Drive
The Hidden Blade
Let the Right One In

Other Reviews:
Vahalla Rising Review
The Speculative Scotsman
Between the Seats

Nicolas Winding Refn’s & Hossein Amini’s Drive

Drive is about perfection. Which is to say PERFECTION is what Drive IS DOING. Ryan Gosling for example has no pores. Pores for him would be a marker of defeat. There is no defeat in Ryan Gosling’s complexion. His complexion is a flawless ecosystem of radiance and coincidental lubrications. Ryan Gosling’s face is in fact an epiphyte. An epiphyte collecting its radiance from the moisture and nutrients in the air and rain and other coincidental detritus.

There is something perfect about watching a cat chase a mouse. Especially when the cat is deranged Albert Brooks armed with many shivs and abalone-encrusted razorblades.

People who saw Anton Corbijn’s The American know it was not perfect. The American did not contain Ryan Gosling for one thing. Well, Ryan Gosling could never be CONTAINED. But The American did not make an attempt to touch Ryan Gosling, did not attempt to CORRAL him, which was its primary mistake. In other ways The American was allowed to share some characteristics of Drive’s perfection. Its sparseness. Its assiduous attention to the movement and pacing of THE SCENE. Its desire to connect lonely souls for momentary alleviations of sufferings. Its desire to tear loved ones apart so as to intensify the sensation of longing. Its longing. Its willingness to produce longing. A longing to break from unsalvageable situations.

Sofia Coppola should sue Drive. For one thing Drive has stolen HER MOVIE from her. They have stolen HER MOVIE and made it better than she could have made it. That is the most painful form of stealing. As when a thief steals your lemons and makes his lemonade. As when a thief steals your girlfriend and puts her on a diet. Drive gives the illusion the narrative is meandering when the opposite is true. Each deviation adds up to the tightly-wound contraption of their narrative.

No Country for Old Men was perfect but not because of Javier Bardem’s haircut. Or was it? Maybe aesthetic perfection can be achieved by making a handsome man very, very ugly.

Oscar Isaac does something ingenious with his role. He saves his role from being easily forgettable. He is his own savior. That is sort of like being Jesus Christ if Jesus only saved one person. And that person was a role in a movie.

Violence – too much? A lot of spurting involved. A lot of spurting and Ryan Gosling stomping his boot through skulls. Skulls are like pumpkins to this guy.

Music. David Lynch thinks music should be very intrusive upon the spell the movie is making. David Lynch also thinks the Transcendental Meditation technique is going to help him levitate. The soundtrack of Drive does seem to levitate and speak above our conscious desires. When I put the Drive soundtrack in my own car I did think I was levitating for a moment, but it turned out I was only driving very slowly up a hill. Then I felt disappointed in the car I was driving. Conversely my car felt even more disappointed I was not Ryan Gosling.

Carey Mulligan is looking good as a blonde.

Slow motion. No one uses slow motion anymore. That is because nothing is perfect anymore except for brevity. But Drive is not afraid of slow motion. So as to prolong brevity. So as to prolong the only scrap of perfection that is offered to us.

Best movie out right now . . . $11

If you heart Drive:

Recommendations by Day Gun Sho
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Wild at Heart
Punch-Drunk Love

Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

I left this film in a state of nostalgia for “conscious” hip hop and speechless because I couldn’t remember the last time I saw such an emotionally moving documentary.  It’s definitely not the originality in the subject matter that drives the film.  I mean Tribe is undeniably pioneers of a new brand of hip hop.  We’ve all heard of the complaints. WTF happened to good hip hop?  We’ve all seen and heard about the break-ups of legendary squabbling bands.  But the true greatness that is Beats, Rhymes & Life is not these heartbreaks, it’s how Rapaport so intimately captures human emotions in each of its context.  Rapaport uses timeless archival concert footage and signature singles like Bonita Applebum, El Segundo, and Can We Kick It, which perhaps is my biggest “I wish” was that he should have included more. The snippets were such a tease, but I guess that just shows how great innovative and influential Tribe Called Quest was that even a little snippet is enough to make you want more, to put you in a state of nostalgia, to make you feel regret for the stunting of a band’s creativity and decline of entire genre.  Certainly, emotions were yanked.
But what about the celebration and tribute?  One of the things I loved most about this film.  It was clear that everyone in the film, including Rapaport, loved Tribe – that they were emblematic of hip hop, holding a special place in everyone’s heart. This was also true for the in-theatre audience.  And let’s not forget the orgasmic display of hip hop giants, representing by their mere presence or the declaration that “I am Hip Hop” or echoed in their sentiments towards Tribe and that period in time when good music was being made.  Hearing their commentary had the effect of shit, that was taken straight from the mouth of the dragon…or was it horse? Whatever, dragon sounds way cooler. Anyways, you just had to believe it if fire was spit from the mouth of the dragon. I particularly liked being reminded of Tribe’s contribution to hip hop and other influential djs, emcees, rappers, artists…They really brought together a community literally and figuratively.  They changed the tone of rap.  Can you say Native Tongues? Craziness.  But these artists’ recognition of those who came before and how Tribe paved the way for artists like Common, Ludacris, Pharell, who I think was the best at conveying the impact of Tribe on our generation.

So yes, you get a slice of what the culture of the time was, but then there is more – the drama, the tensions, and the hardships of keeping the band together when there’s so much raw talent.  For me, the latter half of the film is less awe-inspiring, but in no way less great.  It was human.  Rapaport effectively captures the vulnerabilities of the members of Tribe.  It’s brings down the immortal, halo-wearing status of A Tribe Called Quest to a human level that is accessible and touching to fans.  We get artistic integrity. We get sibling rivalry. We get brotherhood. We get love. Life. Family. We get life-threatening diabetes. And yet, we get comedy in light of the most serious situations.  We get honesty and rawness of emotions from Phife, the ranty one, Ali, who is practically just trying not to piss his pants as he watches and crying over why his parents just can’t keep it together, Q-Tip, the one who wears the pants, and who else? Oh, Jarobi, the sibling that left the nest, choosing not to be around for his dysfunctional family, but remains the heart and spirit according to the rest.  How can you not get emotional when you see a grown man cry over friendship and loss?  Finally, we get the no matter what, at the end of the day, a simple few words is enough to remind us we are family.  One word on the conflict/drama, which I have mixed feelings. Rapaport did a good job in highlighting the tension between Phife and Q-tip, without vilifying either individuals take on the conflict, that it was a matter of difference in their perceptions of the same events and lack of communication and understanding between the two. However, I can’t help but think that the film is slightly misleading in its story-telling of the rise, the fall, and the reconciliation of Tribe.  Also, I would much rather have seen more original concert footage and music, than the underwhelming reunion clips.  Anyhow, Michael Rapaport did a lot. Go be moved. Go listen to the Low End Theory… $11

If you heart Beats Rhymes & Life:

Recommendations from Lil D:
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Waiting for Superman
The Devil and Daniel Johnston

War Dance

War Dance is a heart-rending, yet uplifting documentary that follows the lives of three children of war in northern Uganda, subjected to the types of horrors most people only read about.  Caught between the Ugandan government and the rebel force, the Lord’s Resistance Army, this is a very human look into how they have tried to move on with the lives in the midst of a war zone.  The school they attend, Patonga, unexpectedly wins the regional music competition, allowing for the children to compete in Kampala at the nation-wide tournament.  It has all the ingredients of a great film; incredible adorable and lovable children who are so courageous and strong despite their terrible experiences, a passion for something that transcends all else, in this case dance, and a competition that will have the audience on anxiously hoping for a win; but in a real documentary, not a piece of made up fiction.

I don’t think anything in the story will surprise you, after all, we have heard of child warriors in other movies, heard generally about the civil wars and injustices in Africa, but this movie does a very good job at portraying specific children who you can already tell have certain special gifts or talents who will be leaders in their community, who spur you to want to do something about it but also leave you feeling hopeful for their future.  It will invigorate you, excite you, and ultimately inspire you.  I highly recommend this movie…$11

If you heart War Dance:

Recommendations from …:
Rize
Bring it On
Born into Brothels
Blood Diamond



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