INTERCUT | Issue Ten
INTERCUT FALL 2021
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Hannah Carroll
ART DIRECTOR: Megan Perkins
ASSIGNMENT EDITOR: Olivia Miller
FINANCIAL MANAGER: Anne Kiely
Sloane Dzhitenov Abby Glassman Anne Kiely Kiana Low Kate Sherman
Tenley Abbott Sophia Flynn Pamela Shattock
ANNA ISHII-PETERS Abby Glassman
A SECOND LOOK AT RORY GILMORE’S CHARACTER ARC IN GILMORE GIRLS Jake Gale
ON SEX EDUCATION AND WHAT MAKES US WHOLE Kate Sherman
WHAT TED LASSO TEACHES US Jacob Silberman-Baron
STRAIGHTENING THE QUEER AND QUEERING THE STRAIGHT: EXPLOITATION IN GIALLO AND THE LGBT COMMUNITY
NAVIGATING SELF IN FRANCES HA Olivia Miller
THE AUTHENTICITY OF DERRY GIRLS
HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO: MARVEL AND MUSIC Sophia Flynn
A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR DEAR READERS, Thank you for taking the time to read Issue Ten of Intercut. I have been a part of the magazine since my freshman fall, starting off first as an eager writer, determined to impart some wisdom about Judy Garland’s legacy, after seeing the at-best-confused biopic, Judy, at Metro Movies in Middletown. From there, I became an editor, then assignment editor, and finally, Editor-in-Chief, as of this semester. Intercut has seen me through every phase of my time at Wesleyan thus far, and it has been an absolute pleasure to oversee the process of forming Issue Ten these past few months. I’m going to keep this note short and sweet, but I want to thank everyone involved for their hard work and dedication over the semester. In addition to
those returning, this issue features the work of several first-time Intercut writers, as well as new editors. Their contributions to the magazine offer a fresh perspective on the entertainment industry at-large, as well as on the state of film and television as it is perceived by current Wesleyan students. I would also like to thank Olivia Miller for her contributions as assignment editor; her assistance has been invaluable to me. Now we come to the lookand-feel of the magazine you are holding. The layout of these many, many pages would not be possible without the talents of art director, Megan Perkins, who has worked tirelessly with me to revamp the magazine’s visuals and establish a cohesive look across this issue’s articles. Our wonderful artists also deserve recognition
for their inspired illustrations and collages. This brings me to the magazine itself–namely, the fact that you are very likely reading it in physical form. My main goal as Editor-in-Chief this semester was to find a way to bring Intercut back into print, as it once was, prior to the outbreak of the pandemic complicating the logistics of our printing process. The last time the magazine was in print was the Fall of 2019, and I can vividly remember the excitement of running around Exley, searching everywhere for a copy of the magazine, completely enthralled by the idea of seeing my words in print for the first time. I hope that this year’s writers enjoy that same experience–and that you readers get a kick out of the possibilities that reading a printed
magazine offers. Just think of all the places you can now bring Intercut– to Olin for a study break, on a power walk around campus, even to the Inn to help with quarantine boredom. The options are truly endless. Finally, I have to thank our financial manager, Anne Kiely, for going above and beyond in her efforts to secure funding and making a printed issue possible. Our unofficial theme for Issue Ten is “Back in Print,” commemorating the return of Intercut to physical form. So, whether you find yourself reading this issue pagefor-page before bed one night, or you find yourself skimming through a few articles before a class, on behalf of the entire staff, I sincerely hope you enjoy this semester’s issue of Intercut, wherever it may find you.
ALL MY BEST, HANNAH CARROLL
PEN15 IS A coming-ofage comedy that brings to life all the heartache, humor, and angst of middle school. The title perfectly captures the epitome of those awkward years—old enough to use words like “penis,” but young enough to still talk in code names. The show’s creators and real-life best friends, Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine, star in the Hulu series as 13-yearold versions of themselves, using their real names for the two protagonists, Anna Kone and Maya Ishii-Peters. “Besties-for-theresties,” the girls are tied at the hip and have been since they were young children. “You are my actual rainbow gel pen in a sea of blue and black writing utensils,” Anna tells Maya in an early scene. Despite their insecu-
rities, they are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. That is until episode nine, when Anna—whose parents are getting divorced— is spending a little too much time at the Ishii-Peter’s residence. Maya is distraught that her best friend is bonding with her mother in ways she never has. The Emmy-nominated episode veers away from the typical teenage drama, instead exploring the shedding of childhood innocence as the girls struggle with empathy and understanding relationships whether that be familial, personal, or between friends.
they discuss this decision by explaining how their “adult height and bodies become a physical amplification of their characters’ feelings of desperate awkwardness.” Part of what makes puberty so awkward and unbearable is the feeling of developing too quickly than those around you, and the visual of these fully grown women alongside children helps to exacerbate these emotions. “It also allows Konkle and Erskine to go to hard, even humiliating, places themselves instead of asking a real 13-year-old actor to do it for them,” says writer Libby Hill.
Despite being in their 30s, the co-creators chose to play the roles of characters less than half their age alongside real tweens. In an interview with Writers Guild of America West,
The award-winning episode “Anna Ishii-Peters” begins with Maya cleaning her room in preparation for a highly anticipated and very rare school night sleepover.
Anna’s parents are spending some time at “summer camp for grown-ups,” a facade for couple’s therapy. It may seem silly that the girls are this excited about the sleepover but that’s what makes this age so fascinating: one moment it’s all about being grown-up and the next it’s about the comfort of being a child. 13 is when you may have your first crush, make plans without your parents approval, think about kissing, hit puberty… The world is on hold when Anna and Maya are together, and early on in the episode, the girls are shot running through fields holding hands with The Cranberries’ song “Dreams” playing in the background. Erskine and Konkle recognize that everyone, no matter how old, remembers these awkward, in-between years (though many of us would love to forget them). In some ways, the show is more meaningful for
viewers beyond those years because they can reflect on the experience without all the emotion you have while living it. We can laugh about the moments years later; it’s less raw. Perhaps Erskine and Konkle are not playing their most authentic 13-year-old selves, but rather reenacting the versions of themselves they remember. In this way, the two are posing a commentary on memory and self: Is there any way to truly know who we once were? Is our memory a reliable source? Erskine and Konkle further explore their younger selves by placing them in a setting where they must interact with other family members. When dinner is ready, Anna is treated as a guest at the table despite her comfort level with the family. She is noticeably polite, complimenting the food and offering to help clean when everyone is finished. Cleaning, how-
ever, is not part of Maya’s sleepover agenda, and this suggestion bothers her. She would rather play a game of Sylvanian. Why would Anna do something to get in the way of their fun? Why is Anna being so respectful when she doesn’t have to be? Thirteen is an age when some begin to develop a sense of manners and politeness, while others are still lingering in their child-like minds. Maya’s mother thanks Anna for helping her, and Maya cannot help but think of Anna’s polite behavior as an act of cruelty. Maya feels like she’s been punched straight in the gut and turns the story to make herself the center: “Mom, you never thank me for doing the dishes,” Maya says. “Well, you never help me,” her mom replies. The camera cuts back and forth in this sequence between Mutsko and Anna cleaning together in the kitchen and Maya, who stands alone. And worse, the cleaning doesn’t even
seem terribly boring: they are laughing and smiling and chatting. The creators do a great job of placing the viewer directly in the center between Maya and Anna; there is no “good guy” or “bad guy.” Instead, there is sympathy for both parties: the viewer is sad for Maya that she feels excluded in her own home, but the viewer also assumes Anna’s discomfort as she attempts to navigate kindness without overstepping boundaries. When Maya invited Anna over, she didn’t intend for her to grow closer with her family. Despite the girls’
“sisterhood,” Anna’s presence begins to feel intrusive, strange. Has she begun to share too much of herself? At what point was the line crossed? How close is too close? The viewer is no longer watching a fantasy-like, pillow-fight sleepover party between two “teenage girls,” but instead a coming-of-age moment. Maya suddenly reverses her emotions, going from obnoxiously addressing her family to becoming overprotective and jealous. This complete change of heart is very telling of a 13-year-old whose form is malleable and ever-changing depending on her environment. Maya just wants to be her
mother’s “little girl” forever despite no longer being a little girl in real life. This concept would also be incomplete without explaining that Maya Erskine’s real mother plays her mother in this series. Erksine’s decision to include her mother in her show adds another dimension of truth to the plot. As Mutsko looks at the characterized version of Maya, she is really looking at her own child who she knew closely at the age of 13. By portraying this real life motherand-child relationship on screen, the writers are honing in on a layer of their emotionality for the actors that
would otherwise not be present. The viewer is then forced to ask themselves, how does the presence of Maya’s mother affect the way Maya acts on stage? To what extent does her mother’s presence guide her to acting like a younger version of herself, especially when the dialogue forces this type of exchange?
48-hour playdate for the whole family. “You wanna do Sylvanian or do you wanna do...Shuji?” says Maya. There is something incredibly pure, goofy, and unknowing about this comment. What Maya really means is “Do you want to play with Shuji?” but instead her comment provokes a sort of sexual connotation that only the viewer can understand.
Anna goes from being a respectful guest in Maya’s house to the main priority. She asks to check-in and call her mom at the dinner table, but Maya has never been allowed to: “Anna is a guest, so it’s okay.” A few hours pass and the tension subsides. Well, that is until Maya walks into her living room to find Maya’s mother combing Anna’s hair, a seem-
After dinner, Anna mentions wanting to annoy Shuji, Maya’s brother. Though this might be an act they often perform, it now fills Maya with anger. This is no longer a 48hour playdate between the two girls, but a
I can imagine that Erkskine and Konkle had fun writing this dialogue, crafting sentences that their older selves can understand and laugh at, but their younger selves would not quite understand.
ingly intimate moment between the two. Maya first resorts to anger, and asks if her invite got lost in the mail and a puddle of sadness soon comes over her. She is watching her own mother betray her, and although Erskine
is acting, she is living a scenario that may have actually unfolded when she was younger. This fuzziness between acting and reality leaves room for deeper, rawer emotions. Anna and Maya’s hostility develops through simple, everyday bickering like who gets the last Oreo, who can make a phone call at the dinner table or who wants to play a game of Sylvanian. Anna didn’t kiss Maya’s crush or call her a mean name or something along more unforgivable lines, yet for some reason, it all feels equally as heavy… if not heavier. Sure, Anna was invited to Maya’s house, but she wasn’t invited to be Maya. Standing beside the couch, Maya experiences an outof-body experience as
she watches Anna’s hair being brushed by her mother. She sees Anna in herself...literally. She hallucinates: Anna dresses like her, clothed from head-totoe in Maya’s pajamas. Anna’s hair is black, like Maya’s; but it is still long and luscious, not in the shape of Maya’s bowl cut. Maya’s hair is too short to be given the same luscious treatment as Anna. With Maya’s hallucinations and warped perspective, Anna appears more worthy of her mother’s affection—a girl who is supposed to be her best friend. “You’re not a little girl anymore,” says Mutsko. Maya’s mother asks her to grow up, to not take things so personally. These words sting. They stick. They spiral. There is no time
to process them as a honk echoes from the driveway. Anna’s parents have returned from their trip, and she leaves in an angry haste, but it doesn’t get any better when she arrives home: her parents are getting a divorce. While she might have found temporary comfort in the Ishii-Peters’ residence, she is now alone in her own home. The directors’ choices leave room for both Anna and Maya to find their own personal pain and struggle—something that only finds light when the two girls must occupy their independent spaces and function separately. They are just on the cusp of growing up, and somehow they’re also almost grown, and the writers capture the beauty in that.
A SECOND LOOK AT RORY GILMORE’S CHARACTER ARC IN GILMORE GIRLS JAKE GALE
IN SEASON SIX, Episode Eleven of Gilmore Girls, resident goody-twoshoes Rory Gilmore is in therapy mandated by a judge for stealing a yacht. The once picture-perfect student has this exchange with the therapist: Therapist: seem very
Rory: I’m not agitated. I...So, I spent a night in jail. Big deal. So did Martin Luther King. Therapist: Are you comparing yourself with Martin Luther King? Rory: No, I’m not. I just, I’m just saying that he spent a night in jail, too.
To both fans who watched it on The CW when it aired from 2000 to 2007 and more recent ones who watch it on Netflix, this was a
pretty big shock. Rory Gilmore had been the studious, hard-working counterpart to her more spontaneous single mom Lorelai for the bulk of the show, yet for the program’s latter half Rory seemed to be going down a regression arc. Recently, disappointment in this arc has become a wider cultural conversation. If you go on YouTube and search up “Rory Gilmore,” six of the twelve videos that show on the first page are about the character’s so-called “fall from grace.” The central disappointment of the show’s fans is that Rory started the show as a diligent, downto-earth student and ends the show with an entitled attitude that more so embraces the worldview of Rory’s wealthy and connected grandparents than her self-re-
liant and hard-working mother. However, when I re-watched the show more recently, I was entranced while watching Rory slowly part from the values she was raised with until eventually reaching moral bankruptcy. Rory’s regression arc serves as an example of an incredibly sophisticated, character-driven storytelling within the world of Gilmore Girls. I wonder why this arc is treated with such disappointment by the show’s fans, and why its sophistication is rarely recognized. YouTuber 2 cents describes the arc of the character in her video “The Downfall of Rory Gilmore” as a path where Rory “went from being driven to complacent, smart to very dumb, hard-working to entitled and lazy, relatable to just straight-
up annoying.” Rory begins the series as the hard-working daughter of her mom Lorelai, who ran away from her wealthy parents at age sixteen to raise Rory on her own. When Rory herself is sixteen she gets into a prestigious and expensive private high school, so Lorelai has to ask her parents for the money to pay the tuition. Lorelai’s parents agree on account that Rory and Lorelai become a more central part of their lives. The central conflicts of these earlier seasons revolve around Lorelai clashing with her mother Emily while Rory’s conflicts tended to be
separate and more related to typical high school problems such as bullies, boyfriends and applying to college. However, things start to change when Rory goes to college. She gets into Yale at least partially through her grandfather’s connections and has her grandparents pay the tuition, thus further entangling herself with her grandparents and their old-money world. Rory also dates the incredibly wealthy Logan Huntzberger, and things start to go downhill somewhere around there. She drops out of Yale after a boss says she doesn’t
have what it takes to excel as a journalist (her dream job) and stays at her grandparent’s pool house. She starts organizing her grandmother’s country club parties and spending time with Logan. Along the way, she consistently denounces her privilege despite the ways she’s increasingly benefitting from it. One commenter, Charles grover, put it succinctly when commenting, “A big fault I saw in Rory in her later years was she liked the aesthetic and title of being a self made woman like her mom, but the moment a single toil came her way she ran back to
the rich and cozy life of her wealthy grandparents while still failing to recognize that privilege.” This arc furthers in the 2017 revival of the show which finds Rory—a failing journalist—making rookie mistakes due to an enlarged ego at age thirty-two. While this arc makes Rory a little annoying and a lot less relatable, it fits into the show’s larger themes surrounding the cyclical nature of family dynamics. In order to understand Rory’s arc, you can’t just look at Rory’s life. You can’t even just look at her mom’s life. You have to go back to Rory’s grandmother:
Emily. Emily never really recovered from her daughter’s leaving, so when Rory ended up being born with a personality much more “fitting” for old money society than Lorelai’s, Emily tries to make Rory a substitute for her estranged daughter. She pushes her to be more involved in her prep school, come out at a debutante ball, and she even donates a building to Yale in Rory’s name. When Rory drops out of school, Emily and her husband Richard bypass their initial alarm and instead use their granddaughter’s setback as a way to get closer to her, allowing Rory to stay in their pool house and reap all the lavishes of the Gilmore lifestyle. Rory is thus never offered any opportunity to grow because her grandparents bail her out of all her problems due to the fact that they are terrified of losing another daughter. Lorelai’s history also informs Rory’s
arc. Lorelai never fully came to terms with her regret over the life she gave up in order to have Rory. Emily mentions in their many fights that Lorelai was at the top of her class when she got pregnant and that she was popular amongst her peers. Her daughter was on her way to a first-rate school and the kind of life that members of her social class con-
sider successful. When Rory was born, Lorelai didn’t just stop dreaming of this future— she transferred those dreams and that potential down to her daughter. This dynamic is discussed throughout the show, such as when Lorelai talks about how ever since Rory could crawl she dreamt of her going to Harvard. Or when, during a road trip to visit the Ivy,
Lorelai comes close to tears looking at a picture of the valedictorian for the class she would have graduated from had she gone to Harvard. Moments like these point to the pressure that was placed on Rory from a very young age, and also the immense faith that the whole Gilmore family had in Rory to correct what everybody saw as the family’s fatal mistake. Rory’s role from birth was to bring her lineage back to the privileged world her mother came from, so it comes to no surprise that Rory’s central arc revolves around her return to that world. One of my favorite parts of Rory’s arc is the way it exemplifies one of the show’s central themes—generational patterns. In a society that emphasizes the individual unit as opposed to the relational one, watching a show where the relationships between grandparents, children, and grandchil-
dren are analyzed and discussed for seven seasons is a refreshing and oftentimes enlightening experience. Watching Lorelai disavow her parent’s privilege only to see Rory jump back into its arms is a long cycle that requires a serious dissection of class and its discontents that Gilmore Girls expertly pulls off over the duration of seven years. The show’s treatment of class made me, in 2016, internalize the value of self-sufficiency, community solidarity, and hard work over the petty rules and connections of a ruling class.
of lessons of Gilmore Girls: the unprocessed trauma and complex worldviews that a person grows up around will undoubtedly shape their life’s path. However, the show ages with its viewers, and I think that anybody who missed the series’ more sophisticated themes when they were in middle or high school should consider a rewatch, as watching the Gilmores battle their inner demons might elicit a greater understanding of an older viewer’s own unsorted pasts.
Many of the YouTube videos I mentioned earlier (mostly those made by younger viewers who had just watched the show) place the blame of Rory’s downward arc on her mom and grandparents for placing her on a pedestal but miss the backstory of why her family treated her this way, and thus they miss one of the crucial
ON SEX EDUCATION AND WHAT MAKES US WHOLE KATE SHERMAN
ODDLY, I AM thinking of a quote from Slaughterhouse Five as I begin to write this. My high school English teacher would be proud. I barely remember anything of the book (it was weird, I know) but these lines have always stuck with me: “He had supposed for years that he had no secrets from himself. Here was proof that he had a great big secret somewhere inside, and he could not imagine what it was.” This could explain my first semester of college quite well, I think, though to cut it off that succinctly certainly ignores the chaos that followed those few months. For many, the onset of The Pandemic was where everything went off the rails; for me, it started earlier. I’m a junior now, and more whole than I used to be, but
there are still missing patches I haven’t yet grown over, memories of times past. I can trace most of them to August 2019, and the months (and now years) that came after. Not many people talk about transitioning to college, or at least not the ones I was listening to, so I was entirely unprepared for the turn my life was about to take as I left my home 900 miles away and packed up for this strange little place in Connecticut. A lot happened that made this more difficult than it already would have been: my roommate no-showed (I had an elusive dingle, for all of my time on campus that year), my parents were forced to leave before I was ready, and orientation was a week from hell. The anxiety and de-
pression that had been lingering all my life came to a sudden, unstoppable head, and I spent every day crying alone in my half-empty room. No one had told me it would be that hard, and that lonely, and that confusing, but there I was, living it. On top of it all, I had a secret, from myself and almost everyone I knew. I had spent years promising myself that if there was even a slight chance I might be anything but straight, I would ignore it forever and pretend it did not exist. As long as it was only in my head, no one else had to know, I thought. Easy. This struggle was compounded by another unspeakable secret, known to my closest friends alone: I had never been kissed. There I was, 18 and ashamed, as I watched every-
one around me making friends and making more than that, feeling sadder and more lost than ever. I thought it would last forever. Eventually I made a few friends, and I figured out how college worked enough to make it through the weeks. When winter
break rolled around, I was thrilled to finally go home and stay for more than three days. I spent time with family and friends, and spent downtime watching TV, as usual. I decided to watch Sex Education, a show I had heard of a couple times but didn’t really know much about. People
were talking about it again because the second season was about to come out, so I decided to give it a try. … What I found in Sex Ed is hard to put into words—but then again, I guess that’s why I wanted to try. There have been countless articles written about the originality of the show, often focused on its inclusivity and representation, and sometimes on its unique refusal to avoid discomfort. The show focuses on a group of British high schoolers and their struggles to understand themselves and each other emotionally and sexually. I watched the first season in two days, probably, though I don’t remember exactly. I know I was immediately immersed in the story and the characters, seeing some of myself in these young people trying to figure
out who they were. I wasn’t in high school anymore, but I felt less sure of myself than I ever had before, and this was something we had in common. But some parts of the show also made me deeply sad, in a way I couldn’t understand or admit to myself at the time. There I was, home from my first semester of college, alone in my childhood bedroom with my computer on my lap as I watched teenagers on television go about their various sexual rampages, wondering what was wrong with me that I had hardly ever had a crush. I watched through tears as Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) walked away from the camera midway through season one, realizing things about myself I had never allowed to see the light of day before. I recently went back to that scene, and the texts I sent my friend about
Maeve while rewatching the show with my family: how do i watch sex ed with my parents and not reveal that i am in love with maeve, the main female character and heterosexual love interest and her FUCKING SMILE FACE and i don’t know how to say to a person something
like that. “That” meaning hey, I think I might be in love with Maeve Wiley, meaning hey, I think I might be gay. And then, just like magic, Jean Milburn (played by the perfect Gillian Anderson) answered my prayers. By this point, I had made
it through season one easily, and had only a week until the second season came out. I waited incredibly impatiently for it to come, and when it did I tried (and failed) to make it last. There’s a moment in season two, episode four where Jean speaks with a student about her lack of interest in sex. The student admits that she’s always felt something was wrong with her, that she was abnormal for her disinterest. Jean replies simply: sex doesn’t make us whole, she says, so how could you ever be broken?
Again, I cried. She had put into words something I had always been afraid of, maybe for different reasons than the student in the show (whom Jean teaches about asexuality), but terrified nonetheless. It wasn’t that I was afraid of sex, or grossed out by it, like the student in the show—it was that I was afraid of never finding intimacy, afraid that I would feel alone forever. Most of all, I was afraid that something was wrong with me. But Sex Ed reminded me that it doesn’t really work like that, that sex and intimacy
aren’t critical parts of creating a whole person. Whatever parts of me I felt weren’t all the way there were just normal parts of growing up, a necessarily bumpy road. Sex Education constantly reminds viewers of this, making stories as awkward and uncomfortable as possible, because that’s what life is. It isn’t the Hollywood movie where the nerdy girl takes off her glasses and is suddenly super hot; it’s the weird, quiet kid getting their glasses knocked off while they have their underwhelming first kiss
(this didn’t really happen in the show, but it definitely could have). And yes, there are still exaggerated moments, cinematic kisses and dramatically lit fights. It is still television, after all. But Sex Ed cares less about how things look and more about how they really are, almost to a fault. … Near the end of season two, an episode about young women finding comfort in each other ends with a touching scene of solidarity, with Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” playing in the background. The song’s lyrics are poignant, as she sings about getting older and thinking you know more than you do, a relevant theme for a show about high school. The lyrics play in the background as these young women
come together, each dealing with their individual struggles as best they can: I see you so uncomfortably alone / I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown. And maybe this is where I land from Kurt Vonnegut; not alone, with a big, unknowable secret, but growing, leaving room for people and places to take up spaces I still have left to fill. I rewatched the first two seasons of the show last spring, with my girlfriend. This time, I didn’t cry when Maeve walked away in season one, nor when Jean reassured the student that she wasn’t broken. I know now that I’m not, not because I’ve found love and intimacy, but because that was never what it was about in the first place—I am growing into myself, becoming a per-
son I’ve never needed to be before. When season three came out a few weeks ago, I watched it with my roommate, one of my closest friends and my next door neighbor from that frightful freshman year. We stretched it out, wanting to make the episodes last, and finally finished a few days after I started this article. There’s a scene in the final episode (I won’t spoil anything) where a character admits that they can’t yet be in a relationship because they’re still “figuring shit out” about themselves. I wasn’t ready for someone else back when I wanted it so much, because I barely knew who I was, and I’m still working on it. But now I know that growing up doesn’t have to mean growing out, and to be content in myself is enough.
WHAT TED LASSO TEACHES US
TED LASSO STARTED OUT as a pun. To promote their coverage of Premier League English Football, NBC sports created a skit about an American football coach sent to England to coach their team. Fast forward to 2021, and Ted Lasso has run for two seasons and been nominated for twenty Emmys. Shot in mockumentary style with a meaner Ted, the skit is completely different from the show. But there’s a fun spirit about it that carries into the show. I doubt that many people were convinced to watch NBC’s coverage of the Premier League by a 5-minute short, but I can tell they had fun making it. That quality of having fun and playing is a centerpiece of the show’s approach. Ted himself is, of course,
silly—from musical references and bizarre analogies to occasionally incomprehensible ways of phrasing things. This extends to the rest of the show— sometimes this is minor bits of charm like the team’s elaborate haircutting ritual or running jokes like Higgins’s perpetually shifting offices. Or, it’s the few completely hilarious lines given to Coach Beard every episode. (My personal favorite is his confession of accidentally being high on mushrooms.) Sometimes it manifests itself as a sincere experiment, like the not entirely successful standalone Coach Beard episode, which confused parts of the audience and delighted others. That silliness is not only essential to keep Lasso funny, but it also
is a method that forces the show to dig deeper. In one scene, Rebecca, the club’s manager, has to give a eulogy for her father. Wrestling with her complicated relationship with him, she instead recites the lyrics to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The scene epitomizes how the show’s silly experimentation can lead to something deeper. Not only does it let an action speak louder than words, one lyric of the song gets to the core of what Lasso is about: “I just wanna tell you how I’m feeling.” What ties much of the second season together is the power of emotional honesty. Lasso is about masculinity, but instead of depicting its toxicity like so much of television, it shows male characters’ journeys and growth
into a more positive model of masculinity. Roy Kent is the model of stoic masculinity. He doesn’t talk much, but when he does, he’s generally growling or swearing. At the end of season one, he retired as a player, and the second season shows his transition into the role of coach. His real journey, however, is learning to be more emotionally honest and empathetic with his girlfriend, Keeley. Generally, Roy Kent is honest. As a pundit, he devolves into a hilarious tirade of swearing rather than falling into the herd mentality
of punditry. As a sortof-parent to his niece Phoebe, he doesn’t talk down or pander to her. When she asks if they can have ice cream for dinner, he responds with a simple, “No, that’s dumb.” This style of straightforward honesty works for Roy most of the time, but he also has trouble coming to grips with smaller and subtler emotions. In one earlier plotline, Keeley struggles with how to tell Roy that she needs space. Roy has trouble grasping this. His emotions range from contentedness to anger, and he doesn’t quite
know how to comprehend her simple discomfort. By the end of the episode, Roy learns not only to empathize with her, but that minor discomforts aren’t catastrophic. The penultimate episode continues to explore subtler emotions. Before they talk, Roy spends three hours flirting with a teacher, and Jamie and Nate both make moves on Keeley. These aren’t major events, and they’re nowhere near enough to break the relationship. Instead, they’re small bits of emotional discomfort, and emotional discom-
fort needs to be managed. They stare into each other’s eyes and tell each other, and that’s the minor act that needs to happen. A happy relationship isn’t one without conflict, but one where conflict is managed. The finale crystallizes Roy’s arc when he joins the “Diamond Dogs,” the show’s theatrical name for when the male characters talk about their emotions together. Describing his emotions about being left out of Keeley’s photoshoot, Roy says, “It hurt my feeling.” He’s still uncom-
fortable saying how he feels, but he’s learned to do it. At the end of the scene, he describes it as “chatting about shit and no one has to fucking solve anything and nothing changes.” That’s exactly what it is, but that openness is still important. While Roy grew slowly and assuredly, Nate’s mental state declined over the course of the season. He would lash out angrily. He frequently yelled at Will, who took his old job, even when Will arranged a nice gesture for him. He calmly
scolded Colin for just not being good enough at soccer. At times, his character development seemed like a broken record: checking social media for people complimenting him, doing something slightly rude to a teammate, and other characters not addressing it. Rewatching the season, subtle details pop out more. As early as the second episode, he comments that “we’ve been overrun by incompetent outsiders” because there was pineapple in the water. He’s insecure and taking it out on anyone he has power over. Actor Nick Mohammed pointed out on Twitter that Nate and Ted don’t have a one-onone conversation until the final episode of the season. In that scene, Nate accuses Ted of abandoning him. It doesn’t make sense from a logical standpoint, but that’s what happens to bottled up
emotions. They distort. Since Nate never shares what he’s feeling, nobody really corrects him on it. In the final shot of the show, Nate looks like a supervillain, with fully gray hair and wearing a black suit. He stews quietly and lets his insecurities take over. What Nate needed was a place to confront his insecurities. Season two also introduced a professional therapist into the mix and makes the case for the importance of therapy. In season one, Ted almost took on the role of therapist, but he’s skeptical of the actual practice of therapy. He loves helping people, but he doesn’t want to open up. In season two, Ted takes the small step of confronting his own bag-
gage. The first half of the season shows Ted’s intense reluctance to do therapy, but after a series of panic attacks, he finally opens up to Dr. Sharon. The setup is simple: he just tells his therapist about the day his father killed himself. Afterward, Ted doesn’t change drastically. Instead, he realizes that he needs to be more honest about his own mental health.
al platitudes and tangents. The message, though, is simple: he should have told them how he was feeling.
In the middle of the season, Ted has a panic attack, causing him to walk off the pitch in the middle of a match, telling almost no one. When it leaks to the press, his character growth shows. In therapy, he learned to tell people how he was feeling. So, he tells the team. Like any Ted Lasso speech, it contains confusing phrasing, motivation-
Lasso is an ultimately optimistic show— sometimes it’s even a little too sweet—but it’s a vindication of a more complex form of optimism. It recognizes all kinds of darkness, from the everyday stress of needing to be alone sometimes to the devastation of suicide. In the face of all the darkness, Lasso pushes forward.
When Ted gives a press conference about the treatment of mental illness in sports, the show cuts away because it’s not about mental illness in sports. The show was really about Ted’s choice to have that conversation.
STRAIGHTENING THE QUEER AND QUEERING THE STRAIGHT: EXPLOITATION IN GIALLO AND THE LGBT COMMUNITY SLOANE DZHITENOV
CW: Graphic descriptions of sex and violence “EXPLOITATION” IS A deceptively strange term: it carries a staggering amount of interpretations in our lexicon, all of them varying considerably in meaning and severity. None of us really notice this oddity, and yet the word can not only be an adjective or a noun, it can also refer to a variety of targets, whether they are physical - people and resources - or intangible - cultures and ideas. It covers so many possible uses, in fact, that in a meta way it is almost a demonstration of its own self, reduced to nothing but a catchy set of syllables with minimal, scattered meaning behind them. Even a concept that is so flexible in its use and adaptation, how-
ever, still contains some central, unifying factors. The cross-application of a more traditional exploitation, as in the political or economic process, to a term like ‘exploitation cinema’ is still meant to impart some meaning of the former onto the latter. At its core, there’s some sense of production or extraction occurring at a social margin, whether it be unlawful labor or drilling for oil in the Arctic. Speaking specifically about the possible unity between exploitation cinema and the exploitation of the queer community, things become even more strikingly synchronous: both of these phenomena find their identity in the act of transgression, building their identities from within their margins. In a work already filled
to the brim with striking camerawork and (often literally) gut-twisting action, perhaps the scene that remains the most vividly lodged in my memory from Gonzalez’s Knife+Heart (2018) is the strange performance witnessed by the film’s protagonist when she visits a lesbian bar (0:39:240:41:47). Depicting the, well, certainly very complicated love between an older, scantily-clad woman and an anthropomorphic, nearly equally scantily-clad bear in fishnet tights, the scene repulses and awes in equal measure. The two performers proclaim lewd phrases at each other, half-singing over a loose musical track, but hold back from each other at first as the bear warns that if “If you turn me on, you better watch out / My claws will slash
you without a doubt!” Relentless, the older woman continues her flirtation, her stage mimicry of seduction and, eventually, sex over-exaggerated and awkward, almost spasmodic in its jerky, rhythmless gyrations. As they both succumb to their desires, the scene does indeed end with an explosive union of death and orgasm, the final lines of the poem saying, “Yesterday we came / Tomorrow we die… The more I love you, the more I kill you / The more you kill me, the more I love you” as the bear claws the woman to death, head buried between her legs. Plenty of fake, vividly red blood abounds, and the curtain closes as the audience brazenly laughs and cheers. The scene’s function within the context of the queer community is nothing short of fascinating. Queerness, after all, has historically been marked by its status as a sexual ori-
entation above all else; as such, it was quickly coded as extreme fetish and/or morally condemnable deviance by Western culture, confining it to the margins of society. Mainstream queer expression could exist only within those limits, manifesting almost exclusively in freak shows and pornography (and, sometimes, both at once). The performance I described above certainly emulates such cultural expression, with the fishnet stockings, the garish green eye-
shadow on the older woman’s face, the age discrepancy between her and her scene partner, and the more-than-generous hint of bestiality serving as direct allusions to sexual fetish and sex work. The scene’s brash use of such sexuality, and even brasher union of that sexual quality with violence, would normally place it directly into the category of exploitation. After all, it is reducing the bodies onstage to mere bodies—objects of jointless mo-
tion and pleasure, further highlighted by the performers’ awkward movements and their revealing outfits. Yet the all-lesbian audience is in on the joke, made clear by their cacophonous laughter, as are, presumably, the performers. This self-possession alone already transforms the piece from exploitation to reclamation, making it a celebration of a certain queer resilience rather than a condemnation of it: pushed to the margins of human
sexuality by the rest of society, queer identity has had to find itself within its intrinsic transgression of social boundaries. The very word “queer,” and its varying uses throughout history, already demonstrates this dynamic, embodying both the forced “otherness” of a non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identity and the community’s ultimate reclamation of that status. To reclaim queerness in this way means both embracing the “otherness” and si-
multaneously rejecting the negative aspects of its segregation from society. This is no easy task, and yet this performance manages to do it perfectly. It is unafraid of the mess of shock and gross-out lewdness, bathing the bodies of its actors in red, but is also decidedly tongue-in-cheek in a way that ultimately does not denigrate, perhaps even elevates, the status of its performers. Their willing choice to let loose in this way is a rawer act than any romantic drama could be, communicating a stronger agency over their bodies and their identities than any other possible expression could. It is a full-on embrace of the strangeness of their reality, a straight approach to the fundamentally queer. The performance has a crucial role within the larger genre of the film as well. As a neo-giallo, Knife+Heart is a reimagining of an exploitative form
of cinema, with the original giallo genre sprouting directly from pulp novels and seedy triple-X moviemaking. Lurid color palettes, crazy camera angles, and flamboyant narrative quirks are utilized to sensationalize the genre’s suspenseful combination of sex and violence, which itself occurs within a cacophony of questionable gender politics. The usual narrative features an unhinged, young, female protagonist who witnesses and investigates multiple murders, each one characterized by a beautiful, female victim and a mysterious,
all-black-wearing male killer. In this way, the giallo easily earns its ‘exploitation’ label, the camera’s treatment of female bodies and psyches onscreen clearly crossing into the transgressive. Within this larger context of sexual exploitation, the interlude featuring the older woman and the bear gains a meta-analytical resonance. The parallels between the blood-soaked bodies presented within that scene and those regularly dotting the larger narrative of the film, which follows the giallo’s serial-murder
structure, are impossible to miss. The performance-within-a-performance becomes a microcosm of the film as a whole, and in doing so only heightens its own self-awareness, -reflexivity, and -possession. In a way, it is a ‘queering’ of the straight, a tongue-incheek twist upon the overtly and unironically exploitative giallo narratives that gave the initial inspiration for Knife+Heart. This entire film is an exercise in such camp reclamation, Gonzalez is telling us, and the audience should feel free to revel in it just as the crowd at the
bar howls in laughter at the sight of the older woman’s twitching, bloodied corpse. Gonzalez’s choice of the giallo specifically, rather than any other exploitative genre of film, is its own stroke of genius as well. He recasts an overtly heterosexual narrative into LGBTQ terms, setting the film in a 1970s gay porn studio that experiences a string of murders targeting young male actors. The masked killer, who wields a dildo-turned-switchblade (in true giallo fashion, Gonzalez holds little back in his lewd combination of sex and violence), is later revealed to be a gay man himself, fully immersing the genre’s relationships into a queer context. Though it may seem surface level, this recasting brilliantly reorients the original genre’s difficulties with gendering and sexualization, in a strange way incorporating LGBTQ expression into
a kind of heterosexual ‘mainstream.’ Furthermore, though it would be easy to fall into the pitfall of simply incorporating queer dynamics into an exploitative system, the self-possession and reclamation described above deftly save Gonzalez from the brunt of these accusations. The specific setting of an adult film studio lends a further level of acknowledgement and irony here, both bringing to mind historic queer exploitation and reclaiming it on new terms. The queer and the straight collide, legitimizing and updating each other through these undertones of self-posession and tongue-incheek irony. The result is a piece that ingeniously walks the line between exploitation and genuine emotion, camp in both its most surface-level and its most powerful forms. The final scene of Knife+Heart, which depicts the filming of an abstracted, sensual
orgy in the porn studio, is a testament to the very queer spirit that the film has set out to find in its exploration of the margin. In choosing to end on this act, Gonzalez both acknowledges the sexual nature of sexual orientation and transcends it through a weightless, beautiful touch: the lights go out, the actors grow still, and for several moments the camera simply meditates on their forms and faces. Set on a completely blank, white background, there is an evident lack to the scene, and those who were killed by the murderer are noticeably absent. Yet the remaining workers still live on, as does the work they produce, allowing both queer bodies and queer expression to ultimately prevail. It all still occurs within some realm of exploitation, and isn’t devoid of violent suffering, but there is a beauty and a face to it, now.
NAVIGATING SELF IN FRANCES HA
FRANCES HA (2012) captures the enchanting highs and lows of a young struggling artist in New York City—a classic trope, a desperate yet earnest character, one that easily captures the heart of the audience. Only Frances (Greta Gerwig) is on the brink of not being young, some friends comment: “you seem older, but like less grown up… you have an older face… but like you don’t have your shit together.” As a twenty-seven year old dancer with a fleeting sense of direction and stability, the demands of adulthood and limited finances burden Frances’ artistic spirit. She resists maturity and embraces whimsicality—her hair is always a little messy, poking out at the edges, she wears pants underneath her dresses, and would rather run,
prance and twirl on the street than walk. Her playful essence is often comically juxtaposed with the wry seriousness of those around her. But, the film suggests her creative, free energy exists within all humans, it just gets buried beneath the various expectations and formalities of adulthood. The cinematography is notably black and white—an ode to the French New Wave, which Noah Baumbach often emulates as a director. Shots of Frances exuberantly running across the streets of New York are reminiscent of Jeanne Moreau racing on the bridge in Truffaut’s Jules and Jim. The black and white is also nostalgic. It is as if the film is an archive preserving the memory of a past iteration of Frances-archetypes.
Gerwig, who both stars as Frances and cowrote the film with Baumbach, is effortlessly charismatic but also distinctly sad. She is relatable, her moments of loneliness and despair might resonate particularly with young viewers who are also in the process of deciphering their position in society—increasingly independent from parents and the structures of education, yet still nostalgic for certain comforts of the childhood home. The film is also tonally light, Frances’ problems are not deeply dense or irresolvable. She tells her roommate, Benji, who wants to hire a maid, “Do you know that I’m actually poor?” He responds sarcastically, “There are poor people, you aren’t one of them.” Although Frances struggles to afford
rent, there is a feeling that she will always find a way to keep pursuing her dream. She has friends that let her stay on their sofa if she is out of money, and she can always pick up random jobs, like catering or office work
at the dance studio. Rather than a struggle for survival, the film depicts a struggle, or perhaps adventure, toward self and autonomy. It is through this at-times arduous process of liberating the authentic self that Frances uncovers meaning and strengthens her artistic passion.
Frances is often portrayed as an outsider, awkwardly unaware of her social reception. As a guest at a dinner party with what appear to be sophisticated people—couples with apartments in Paris and degrees in
law—she rambles ineloquently, stuffs food in her mouth and is disinterested in their surface-level chit chat. Frances is navigating a period of life, her late twenties, where titles like married, pregnant, or employed carry social weight and life experience needs to be easily synthesized into good dinner party ma-
terial. Yet, Frances is clumsily discovering an alternative way of being and communicating. Perhaps she gravitates toward dance as an artistic medium because it offers intense expression without words; the body can articulate feeling, emotion, struggle and ideas without the constraints or predictability of language. On a very human level, Baumbach presents a portrait of an individual seeking connection—real, intimate, and honest connection. The opening of the film is a montage depicting the friendship between Frances and her roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner); it is a platonic love affair, a blissful image of companionship. Unfortunately, however, this bliss is transient; Sophie moves apartments and their relationship falters. The two move in divergent directions, but Frances remains dedicated to her friend, very attached to what was, which to her is never entirely gone.
In this way, the film draws attention to the vital force of friendship—romantic relationships can be complicated and temporary compared to the relative simplicity of the unwavering bond between two friends. Even when disconnected on a surface level, Frances and Sophie remain connected by a deeper, more instinctual love for one another. This is the pure form of connection that Frances references when she describes, “Other dimensions exist all around us but we don’t have the ability to perceive them.” This “dimension” is accessed when Sophie and Frances make eye contact across the room at a party toward the end of the film, an instance when a “secret world” of intimate understanding transcends time and space. At the dinner party, Frances had described her deep yearning to experience this moment with a romantic partner. However, the film shows how the
magic of romance is not limited to relationships, it also permeates art and connections to family and friends. Frances Ha ultimately traces the journey of self coming home to, and falling in love with self, and the dynamic, unpredictable, vulnerable process of self maturation. Growth is often marked by seemingly insignificant events, like Frances’ brief moment of eye contact with Sophie. These are the moments where ephemeral, spiritual dreams come to fruition in small but
spectacular ways. A more concrete symbol of Frances’ evolution is the dance performance she choreographs; her community of friends is there to witness this creative expression, this fulfillment of her unique artistic vision and integration of self through her work. At its core, Frances Ha is a gentle, uplifting reminder to audiences to embrace imperfection, laughter, and connection amid the weird and challenging cycles of youth and emergence into adulthood.
THE AUTHENTICITY OF DERRY GIRLS CYRUS BERGER
THE SECOND EPISODE of the Channel 4 sitcom Derry Girls shows the type of plotting that makes it so uniquely funny. The episode begins by establishing the goal of its five main characters: to get on their school’s trip to France. (The characters – Erin, Orla, Michelle, Clare, and James – are friends who attend an all-girls Catholic school in Northern Ireland in the 90s, with James attending due to fears that he will be beaten up at an all-boys school for being English.) By the end of the episode, the characters are scrambling to fake a terrorist robbery to avoid being blamed for damages to a fish and chips shop. The way this situation devolves, and the way the plotline incorporates the real situation of political violence in Northern Ireland with-
out breaking its tone, demonstrates Derry Girls’ clever humor and the way the show humanizes its characters. Derry Girls uses absurd comedy to capture the experience of growing up in an extreme environment. The show’s absurdity allows it to approach a violent period in Northern Ireland’s history with a unique and authentic perspective. One of the series’ biggest strengths is the way its clever writing subverts typical sitcom strategies, making the characters’ lives feel more human and real. In a typical sitcom, characters might set a goal, attempt to achieve it, overcome mounting obstacles in comic ways, and eventually either get what they want or learn a lesson. While the characters on Derry Girls do
have clear goals, the show often lets them forget these goals midway through an episode as the plots become more complicated, reflecting the way that real people shift their desires to fit their situation. Additionally, the show feels no need to have explicit lessons, comeuppances, or expected resolutions. For example, in the second episode, the group’s goal of going to France is forgotten halfway through when Michelle, having been drinking, is caught stealing a bulletin board from a fish and chips shop, forcing the group to work at the shop to avoid a ban. Even their inability to do this work properly is forgotten in the final minutes of the episode, when Michelle accidentally starts a fire in the shop while drinking and the
group decides to pretend they were robbed by terrorists. The episode’s ending is purposefully abrupt: the group is banned from the shop and Erin and Orla’s family is forced to have pizza instead. There are no clear lessons, and Michelle, who caused all of the group’s problems, never faces any repercussions from the group, nor does her behavior change as a result of the experience. By the start of the next episode, she’s drinking before an important test. The series allows its characters to face embarrassments and change their minds without serious impacts on their relationships, which helps it capture the experience of being young. Other episodes feature similar twists or abrupt endings: an episode where the girls fight to save their favorite teacher’s job before learning she resigned voluntarily, an episode
where they fake a religious miracle to get out of a test before Erin reveals the lie to a priest to get him to leave the priesthood for her, or even the series’ first episode, which ends with the girls accused of causing the sudden death of a 97-year-old nun, which is never followed up on. This plotting makes the series unpredictable and funny, but it also causes the characters to feel like real people with flaws and conflicting desires rather than a stock sitcom cast. The absurdity emphasizes the character’s youth and innocence. The series further subverts sitcom expectations in the development of character relationships. As mentioned previously, Michelle is frequently allowed to be the source of all the group’s problems — in the first two episodes she gets them sent to detention and then gets them stuck working at the fish and
chips shop, and she later sneaks pot scones into a funeral, all without jeopardizing her place in the group or being forced to learn or change. Similarly, Erin is allowed to be somewhat flaky and cocky. In the France episode, her explicit willingness to abandon the group for a more popular friend doesn’t lead to any serious conflict. Orla’s constant eccentric behavior and Clare’s self-righteousness are likewise accepted. These flaws are made fun of, but they generally don’t become serious issues for the characters even when they negatively impact the group. It’s not unique for a sitcom to have flawed or quirky characters, but Derry Girls is willing to show how the group can brush aside these flaws even when they lead to significant problems without having the characters reform or learn lessons. This mirrors the way real friendship can in-
volve accepting what most people would consider “problems.” Even James, who faces constant insults from the group, is generally accepted and is willing to take the mockery. Similarly, Erin’s father, Gerry, faces constant insults from his father-in-law, and Erin’s great-uncle Colm is frequently told, to his face, how boring he is. Counterintuitively, the absurdity of these relationships and the way characters accept each other’s flaws and insults makes the show feel more authentic. Relationships in the show aren’t based on strict logic but instead on familiar acceptance. The friendships feel particularly authentic because of this, emphasizing the innocence of its main characters as they accept each other’s mistakes and embarrassments. This also makes certain serious moments much more resonant, as when Clare comes
out as gay, when James saves Erin from being stood up by her prom date, or when James thinks about leaving Derry in the season two finale. These moments of genuine emotion are more moving given the treatement of conflicts that feel earned and relationships that feel real. This authenticity lines up with creator Lisa McGee’s comments that the show is autobiographical. McGee grew up Catholic in Derry during the 90s, with a similar work-
ing-class family background to Erin. McGee’s desire to make a show that reflects her real experience growing up is key to the show’s handling of its violent setting. Given its setting in Northern Ireland in the 90s, Derry Girls deals heavily with the Troubles, a period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland between the late 60s and late 90s. In an interview with the L.A. Times, McGee stated that pop culture depictions of the Troubles she had
seen “seemed so boring” and “so gray and masculine,” which initially made her want to avoid writing about the subject. However, the show finds a unique angle, focusing on the strangeness of being a teenager in that environment. It approaches the Troubles with the same mix of general absurdity and occasional seriousness that it uses in other areas. Derry Girls depicts how people simply adjust their daily life around the conflict and accept it as routine. In the first episode, a bomb
threat is mainly an issue because it might cause the kids to be late for school, while a later episode shows the group fleeing Derry during a protestant parade without really noting the intensity of the situation. When the show does choose to be serious about the conflict, it has a stronger emotional impact because it comes in the context of a realistic and funny depiction of how the Troubles impacts daily life. In the first season finale, a scene of the group supporting Orla in her step performance (a genuinely sweet and ca-
thartic scene after Erin has reacted poorly to Clare’s coming out) is contrasted with Erin’s family reacting to the news of a horrifying bombing, a scene where Gerry’s father-in-law finally comforts him. Moments like these work and feel authentic because of their contrast with the humor. The Troubles aren’t always contrasted with the kids’ innocence–sometimes their effects simply play into the group’s schemes. The show often references the background of the Troubles without breaking its absurd
tone, like when Colm is violently robbed by terrorists and characters continue to focus on his boring storytelling. Derry Girls acknowledges that people, especially young people, don’t always respond to serious situations in a serious way. Still, beneath the ridiculousness of the show’s relationships and plots, all the characters have a genuine connection and innocence that contrasts with their harsh surroundings. When Derry Girls does make the Troubles a dramatic contrast for the kids’ absurd lives, it feels earned and real.
HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO: MARVEL AND MUSIC SOPHIA FLYNN
IN MY LIFE, I have been subjected to many Marvel movies. I’ve watched some with friends who are big fans, and others because one always seems to be playing in theaters. It’s not that I universally dislike all of these movies, it’s that I frequently feel ambivalent about them – plots and characters are bound to get repetitive by the 20th movie. There is one element of Marvel movies, however, that heightens my emotional engagement: fight sequences set to pop music. I can always count on these moments to make me feel something – regardless of whether this feeling is good or bad, moments are done right or wrong, I always feel something. A good sequence has the power to electrify any room, and a bad one can be the root of the
movie’s downfall. I’ve set out here to figure out what makes these sequences effective or ineffective, and why they resonate so much with me either way. In my research, I’ve found that there are three factors that create the most effective happy-music-action-scenes. For starters, the music should be synced with the editing, or at least create some harmony of sound and visuals to add a degree of visual interest. Second, the music is especially impactful when expressing a character’s emotional state or if the sounds are purposely, and extremely, different. Finally, I think a “cool” factor is important. People, including me, are lazy! If the scene isn’t kind of awesome, we won’t want to watch.
The importance of these factors is obvious when analyzing super ineffective sequences. Take, for instance, the segment in Loki episode 2 set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For a Hero.” As the TVA agents enter a tent at a renaissance faire where an evil Loki variant is suspected to be, the speakers spark to life and play an announcement, and then the song follows. While watching, I remember getting overly excited for a dramatic and well-done fight sequence, but in retrospect, maybe I was just excited because I was reminded of Shrek 2. Though this sequence does have an initial cool factor (Renaissance faire, first time we see Sylvie, Bonnie Tyler – c’mon!), the ball is dropped almost immediately as the sequence progresses. I will admit
that the editing is decently synced – power shifts in the fight are accompanied by simultaneous changes in the music and camera positioning. The song itself is a riff on the content of the episode: the TVA agents are waiting for a savior, but nobody is coming to help them. Even with these attributes, something has never clicked for me about this scene. I believe that it’s just not exciting enough. The fight is set entirely in a dark tent, the stunts aren’t complicated or visually interesting, and the mystique of the song and the faceless villain wears off quickly – the director doesn’t seem to elevate the stakes at all. The fight stays on the same energy level the entire time, and the song just acts as an aural distraction. A song can’t carry an action scene – it needs to work in conjunction with other elements of the filmmaking in order to create an effec-
tive sequence. There is totally a universe in which a ren-faire/Sylvie/Bonnie Tyler scene could have absolutely knocked my socks off, but I think something went haywire on the production end here. If I could just step in and direct this scene myself, I might incorporate some more elements of the renaissance faire. The fight takes place in a tent ostensibly used for performances, but we barely see any of it – the whole scene swallowed by this murky darkness, with only the orange of the TVA agent’s weapons peeking out. While this is an intentional directorial choice, I think it would be more fun for the audience to lean into the silly 80s-ness of the faire and the song, and add some more visual drama. Sylvie is a Loki variant – she’s gotta have an inherent flair for the dramatic! Throw in some fun, colored stage lights to surprise the agents, or have them use some
silly medieval-looking props to fight. There is a sort of disconnect between the inherent goofiness of the song and the shadowy, murky look of the scene. While sometimes a juxtaposition like this can work well, I think in this case it’s working against the scene as a whole. The visuals just don’t match how exciting the song is. Another example I have severe issues with is a fight towards the end of Captain Marvel, where Carol finally faces off against her old teammates as they all struggle for the tesseract. They begin to fight in a room full of vintage pinball and arcade machines (I can’t even begin to understand), and No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” starts to play out of nowhere. As the scene continues, the song underscores everything, but there are no moments of musical and visual sync, and the action itself isn’t particular-
ly interesting either. To me, it seems like whoever produced this movie understood that people are moved by action sequences with pop music scores, but didn’t understand why. It’s not just because of the existence of a song we recognize, but the way that the song works with the film. In good musical/action sequences, the music makes the scene more exciting, comments on the character’s emotions, and gives an opportunity for visually interesting editing – this scene didn’t do any of that. It feels like the producers googled “feminist 90s music” and went with the first result. Not a single ounce of imagination was present in this en-
tire sequence. Instead of needing to rise to the emotional level of the song, like in Loki, I think this scene might have benefited from a different song altogether. “Just A Girl” feels lazy, and I don’t think any amount of editing would be able to change this scene from feeling like a shallow appeal to the audience’s nostalgia. I’d suggest perhaps a more niche 90s song with better synced action, or just keep the scene visually as is and add a simple instrumental score. There’s really no need to remind us that Carol is “just a girl” – we know! We can see! Not every example of pop music in Marvel
movies, however, is a disheartening corporate cash grab! I’m not as pessimistic as I seem. In fact, one of my personal favorite uses of this technique comes from Taika Waititi’s wonderful Thor: Ragnarok. In the climactic final battle sequence, Waititi uses Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to create an engaging, visually interesting fight sequence that also clearly and creatively articulates Thor’s emotions. The scene begins as Thor is being tortured by his sister, Hela, and the Asgardians seem to have no hope of escape from her. However, when Thor realizes his self-worth and inherent power, he’s able to summon
a burst of lightning, and the song kicks in. It represents Thor’s character arc – it’s a triumphant battle cry, showing his newfound self-respect and confidence. The music then carries through the ensuing fight scene, effectively carrying the excitement of Thor’s new confidence and the audience’s engagement. The music also syncs with the editing in a few subtle, yet satisfying ways – Thor starts moving towards the oncoming wave of enemies when the lyrics start, the camera shifts between characters at shifts in the tone of the song, bits of slow-motion are employed on breaks in the music. This sequence is especially effective because it’s tied to Thor’s emotion, and the editing is tactfully employed to emphasize the song’s meaning, creating an overall satisfying viewing experience. Also, it’s just fun to watch. In interviews, Watiti explained how he planned to use
“Immigrant Song” from the first pitch meeting, and it’s clear how much care was put into the song choice. Everything about the sequence is clearly intentional, and that’s obvious to the audience. Whether sequences are effective or not is sometimes distinct from technical film-
making. It may just depend on what a shallow, occasional movie-goer thinks. The most important thing is that, as a shallow audience member myself, I can tell when sequences like this have heart and intention behind them and when they don’t, even if I can’t always articulate why.
THANK YOU TO: CFILM, SBC, & QUALPRINT
THIS PUBLICATION WAS PRINTED SUSTAINABLY IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE WESLEYAN GREEN FUND