Kourtney and Macy chew the fat (Jonah Hill) and dish out this years underwhelming Oscar contender list.
CuteMeat missed you so! But they’re back with an all new Movie Update Podcast!
Horror movies should make you feel like you won’t survive their run-time; and if you do they’ll come back through your mail-slot, out of their Netflix casing and kill you in your sleep. Here are 10 of my favorites I’ve watched lately (classics like The Shining are omitted).
- Don’t Look Now (Roeg, 1973)
- Eyes Without a Face (Franju, 1960)
- The Vanishing (Sluizer, 1988)
- The Innocents (Clayton, 1961)
- Black Christmas (Clark, 1974)
- House of the Devil (West, 2009)
- The Haunting (Wise, 1963)
- Opera (Argento, 1987)
- The Bad Seed (LeRoy, 1956)
- The Brood (Cronenberg, 1979)
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You now number 4000! Thank you so much for following and keeping the dream of a quasi-academic weekly diachronic film criticism podcast/blog alive!
How What’s Your Number? Reveals the Horrible Undead Fundament of the Romantic Comedy Genre.
In his Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Alexandre Kojeve provides the groundwork by which Lacan will later determine lack to be the foundational character of the subject. Kojeve writes: “To desire Being is to fill oneself with this given Being, to enslave oneself to it. To desire non-Being is to liberate oneself from Being, to realize one’s autonomy, one’s Freedom. To be anthropogenetic, then, Desire must be directed toward a nonbeing—that is, toward another Desire, another greedy emptiness, another I.” Desire, therefore, never attaches itself to being, except fictionally through the mediation of another subject—another lack. This means that the subject can never truly make-whole its desire, can never totally circumspect the object desire takes because this desired object can never be such. Instead, desire do-si-dos another desire, circling back to back and blind to the lack that motivates its movements.
No film I’ve seen in the past year has understood this relationship better than Mark Mylod’s What’s Your Number?* which poses the question of the centrality of lack in the production of desire—as well as the desire to turn that lack into Being. By reducing the accidental content of the Romantic Comedy to rubble, Mylod tears the genre down to the bone—revealing the terror at its foundational level. Counterintuitively, by reducing the material of the genre to pure objective presence, the lack at the heart of the subject becomes all-consuming, tries even more desperately to attach itself to Being, and resolves itself ultimately in the acknowledgement of its own vacuous momentum.
The film opens with Anna Ferris** asking, “how many relationships do I have to have before I meet the right guy?” As my partner noted after watching the trailer, this question is at the heart of every rom-com produced today, it’s just that most films have the good manners not to come out and state the stakes so blatantly. This is the (accidental?) genius of WYN? that the accidents that make up the content of most rom-coms are swept away to reveal the horror of the fundamental premises of the genre. It’s not surprising, then, that Ferris’ question is given a quantitative answer: 20. As in, you can have 20 relationships before you’ll be precluded from ever finding the right guy. This is the desire of the subject in relation to his own desire, that is, to produce it at the level of the matheme. This trope is sprinkled throughout the fraught history of the rom-com, as in 27 Dresses (2008), titled for the count of Katherine Heigl’s bridesmaid dresses—an eschatological sign of the limited opportunity for her to find a husband of her own. Or My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), where juvenile Julia Roberts sets the age of 28 as the outer limit of her willingness to look for a partner. Or The Proposal (2009), where Sandra Bullock’s character must wed Ryan Reynolds by the end of the year to avoid deportation and, by extension, a lifetime of misery. This pattern is nothing more than the means of signifying that material about which desire circles: the death drive. However, WYN? is exceptional in that it treats this representation as objective truth. All other films maintain a sense of play, of accident about the conditions under which limits are placed on the potential of desire. Anna Ferris is not offered this flexibility—her fate is written in the liberation/sheer terror of the object as such.
The expression of the death drive as the romantic limit is not the only feature of the rom-com genre that receives this treatment from Mylod’s film. The number 20 as the fixed maximum of lifelong sex partners is received from a Marie Claire article—an article that the female characters of the film are eager to validate as scientifically supported (“A researcher from Harvard” is invoked to end all speculation over the veracity of the figure). The presence of woman’s-magazine-as-legitimating-trope used so sincerely and without question can’t help but draw attention to the dozens of films where female protagonists’ emptiness and lack of interest in anything other than men is hidden behind the veil of a profession writing for women’s magazines and other such media. Examples include Never Been Kissed (1999), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), Knocked Up (2007), The Ugly Truth (2009), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), The Holiday (2006), and on and on and on. The pretense of career interest dissembles the fact that what is at the heart of these characters is lack, a lack that attaches itself to the lack of desire in the men that these women ultimately pursue through the accidental presence of “article ideas.”
The film concludes when a wealthy businessman proposes a European vacation to the unemployed Ferris, who quickly turns him down. “I wouldn’t be myself,” she explains, which is to say, she would have to cover up her lack in order to take on the role of his girlfriend/wife. The audience pauses, because WYN?—unlike other films of the genre—hasn’t done the necessary work to demonstrate that the handsome rich man is evil. In fact, if anything, he seems less reprehensible in his treatment of others (and especially women) than Chris Evans. But as the presentation of genre qua object, the film simply relies on the expectation that the rich man will be proven irredeemable and be fairly rebuked. Not so here. It is rather because he has interests, has identifications to distract from his central longing, that Anna Ferris realizes she would have to take on some of the same in order to exist with him. So she explains that she has a better offer: the offer of the nothing waiting at her apartment, where she doesn’t have to leave the bed, doesn’t have to be interested in anything other than the ceiling-fan-like monotony of her desire circling another’s.
This is the terror waiting at the end of the film: the lumbering, groping gait of an empty vessel slouching towards eternity. If my description of the love relationship is zombie-like, it’s no accident. What’s Your Number? makes clear where the true heart of the Romantic Comedy genre rests: in the space Lacan called “between two deaths.” With the momentum of the drive, but none of its attendant satisfaction, the two run mindlessly again and again into their inability to become one. Mylod has created a monster, to be sure, but a monster that can’t help but make us acutely aware of the distance we’ve gone awry from the promise of the Screwball Comedy. No longer passionate, no longer motivated, no longer imaginative. Just a number and its hunger.
*With the obvious exception of Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, but let’s not split hairs.
**In order to draw attention to the vacuity of the concept of “character” left to the Romantic Comedy genre, I will not be using character names.
†One result of this mise-en-abyme is the amount that the characters consume. As Zizek has said, taste in its sensual material has become abstracted from the nourishment of food, has become a “nothing” that forms the basis of the desire to eat. It makes perfect sense, then, that when Ferris asks the foundational question “how many relationships do I have to have before I meet the right guy?” her mouth is full.
Ah! It’s been a cruel, cruel end of summer, as Macy had to return home to Buffalo, NY and leave Kourtney in friendless Portland, OR. Right before Macy’s venture home, our heroes sat down to discuss their favorite films of the year, up to now, as well as place bets on which upcoming movies would rock their worlds.
Enjoy the last podcast your CuteMeat hosts will record in the same room until Christmas, and look out for next week’s Drive/Criss Cross podcast (recorded via Skype).
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CuteMeat delves into the world of Sci-fi and review Another Earth and Stalker!
Your CuteMeat co-hosts happily take a walk on the wild side this week and review James Marsh’ Project Nim alongside the 1995 train-wreck classic, Congo.
Your CuteMeat co-hosts take a walk on the surprisingly mundane side and review Will Gluck’s follow-up to a 2010 CuteMeat favorite (Easy A), Friends With Benefits. Then to alleviate the frustration, Macy and Kourtney discuss Preston Sturges’ marriage-screwball, The Palm Beach Story. As Always Macy reads a David Lynch Tweet, Kourtney Recites a GOOP entry, and both hosts throw on their boxing gloves and compete to find The Worst Trailer of the Week. Click here to listen on iTunes.
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Kourtney & Macy