SOFIA COPPOLA, LIVE ?!*@ LIKE A SUICIDE by Noah Buschel
Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere trailer was one of the best trailers of the year. I thought the Blue Valentine trailer, even with all its hipster aura, was right up there too. And naturally, Malick’s The Tree Of Life is… Malick.
Marie Antoinette was one of the best trailers of its year too. I don’t know why I didn’t learn my lesson on that one. Sofia Coppola makes great trailers. She’ll find that song, those images, and she’ll give you a crush. Her movies, though, are another thing. They’re disturbing. And not in a wake one up kinda way. Not in a rock one’s foundation kinda way. They’re troubling in their kamikaze-like stubbornness to keep everything in a dream bubble. May no one willfully misunderstand me: Earth’s the right place for love, and I love dream movies. Movies of the mind. Movies of mood. But Sofia Coppola’s movies become more about what they’re blocking out than what the camera is trained on. It’s not like, say, Badlands, where the tone permeates all landscapes and encompasses the innocent, guilty, psychotic, and God-fearing. It’s a much more fragile fizz Coppola has going. It ends at castle gates and hotel doors and elevator numbers. Someone could say that’s the whole point—but in the end, Coppola’s delicateness doesn’t lead to an ethereal quality or an elegiac vibe so much as it leads to a feeling that the real movie is happening off screen, or under the screen, or in her very buried subconscious. She’s an unrealized artist harping away on one undemanding note. Her movies are movies of denial. What is being denied is the most interesting thing going on. But she doesn’t know what it is that’s being denied. So the movies end up being tributes to nothingness. Not transient ambiguity, but nothingness. And that’s what’s really eerie about them.
Coppola doesn’t really wanna get out of the Chateau Marmont. She doesn’t really wanna get out of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. She wants to hang with her Marc Jacobs luggage, damn it. Even with all the depression and Samsara of her characters, she ain’t giving up elegant magnificence for a damn instant. She acts like she is though. Like she’s starting to see through the gilded bars. With the pole girl twins and the Anna Faris idiot actress, and the bitchy Giovanni Ribisi director, etc, etc… Actually she just creates easy cartoon targets to surround her paper thin lead characters so as to make them feel deeper than they really are. That or she really sees everyone outside her inner circle as obtuse clowns.
But them hotel castles—no, she ain’t leaving. At the end of Somewhere, when Stephen Dorff gets out of his speed racer and starts walking into the desert with a smile on his face… it may have been the most fraudulent moment in any movie in the last decade. Come on, Sofia. Where’s he going anyway? To meet Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan? Or perhaps, more likely, Yohji Yamamoto? All I know is, if there’s a Sofia Coppola desert hermit sequel—it’s going to be the most decadent desert hermit film of all time. Long shots of long perfect beards in the wind. And oh the loneliness. And oh the ghostly nature of existence. And oh Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoko Ono and holy men in cashmere robes.
It’s not enough to haunt. Coppola’s fixation on phantoms and fleeting beauty lacks a very simple thing: Warmth. It’s funny ’cause I think of her father as one of the warmest filmmakers ever. But Sofia, even when she gets Bill Murray, can’t really convey anything other than a chilly charm in the air. And Elle Fanning, in Somewhere, is not a person. She’s a silent ice-skating banshee.
In Marie Antoinette we get a quick glimpse of the starving masses, and indeed the masses start knocking down the door. But Coppola always seems to keep the masses from becoming people. We can barely see a face in the crowd. And it was those scenes at the end of Marie Antoinette that made me think—oh, this filmmaker is truly suicidal. No apologetic notions, only pure pink party girl defiance. She (Coppola/Antoinette) is so hell-bent on protecting her select, dear fixations that she would actually rather die than let the ordinary world penetrate. Of course, it’s the lack of ordinary world that keeps Coppola’s movies from being full. Now, ordinary world doesn’t mean peasants anymore than it means a movie star depressed at The Chateau Marmont. Antonioni made plenty of profound stuff on pretty yachts. But Antonioni was a lot clearer. He had something to say. For Sofia, sad movie stars in bed are just more vaporous silk in the wind.
I have a friend from Poland who’s obsessed with Brando. And Marilyn Monroe. And Miles Davis. And Billie Holiday. And Juliette Greco. And Jeanne Moreau. And Chet Baker. And so on. And of course if you love film, you love Brando. And if you love music, you love Miles Davis and Billie Holiday. But I don’t think she loves Karl Malden. Ya know? Or Philly Joe Jones. And then one kinda misses it. Because without Malden, Brando ain’t Brando. It’s that narrow-sightedness that comes from vanity. And a helluva lot of filmmakers are guilty of it these days. At this point, Jim Jarmusch has become such an undeveloped Elvis man that his movies are just hollow mid-life crisis odes to style (did anyone else see Tilda Swinton in that white number?). Anyways, my friend from Poland reminds me a little bit of Sofia Coppola. She looks like her some, is quiet-spoken, intelligent. I love her a lot. But it’s hard to get her to just be ordinary. To come out of the clouds. We all sometimes tend to attach ourselves to something which is not real and forget all about what is real. Ordinary life is real. Like walking. Breathing. Farting. Making love. Eating. Working. Talking. Sleeping. Sitting. Shitting. Decaying. Reading. Just ordinary, everyday life. All you have to do is look at Billie, Brando, or Baker at the end of their lives. There’s no eternal magic or youth. There’s no everlasting hotel. And most of all, there’s no enigma that can sustain itself. Some can try. Bob Dylan is still on the run from Robert Zimmerman. And it’s hard not to get sucked into the alluring shadow of Dylan’s songs. It’s a beautiful shadow where no one has a fixed identity. But having no fixed identity, after a while, maybe that can just become another identity. Having no fixed self, if one emphasizes it too much, maybe it can just be another way to cling to the self.
Some people yearn for the days when mysteries were still mysteries. Like when we didn’t know who Rock Hudson was fucking or what Ava Gardner’s vagina looked like. But true mystery will always be with us. It’s not old-fashioned and needs no protection—no Jackie O. sunglasses. True mystery is all around us all the time. And one needn’t become a recluse to create mystery. And one needn’t commit suicide to create mystery. And one needn’t dip their art in vagueness and indistinctness to create mystery.
The coolest kid I knew when I was a teenager was Ben Bergen. He was one of the best point guards in the city, handsome, a heroin addict, a bisexual, could beat the shit out of anyone, was tender and loyal to his friends. He ran away to L.A. to be a John on Sunset Blvd, even though he was at one of the best prep schools in the country. We all wanted to be like him. He was the most dangerous, charismatic person I’d ever hung out with. Junior year he jumped off his terrace in New Jersey. His suicide raised him from legend to local God. Other suicides, or near suicides, followed.
I remember thinking about Ben Bergen when I walked out of Sofia Coppola’s first film, The Virgin Suicides. And as much as I appreciated S. Coppola’s ability, there was a bad taste in my mouth. It was a movie where all these fresh, blonde, teenage sisters kill themselves. And they’re all pale and stunning and will be frozen forever like that in the minds of those who witnessed them. It’s tragic, but in the hands of Coppola, it’s also like some kind of heightened fashion fever dream. I wanted so badly to shake those sisters. And to shake Sofia Coppola. And to sit them down on a sidewalk somewhere and drink beers and get our clothes dirty and watch mice run in and out of gutters—forget all about ourselves.
What is sex without love? Why is Mike Pitt always on the cover of Nylon Magazine chain-smoking? How come no one much talked about Santa Claus this year? When is Obama gonna bring all those kids home? That little boat has been drifting all night. Snow is falling far and wide. Is it okay that The Sleepy Time Tea Bear has replaced Daredevil for me? Is it okay that these days I don’t think of Ben Bergen as being all that hip, or romantic, or mystifying? I don’t even think about Bud Brando or Lady Day like that too much. The people that leave me most in awe, most in curiosity, are the ones who are just showing up everyday. The even-tempered ones. The ones, that if I’m not paying attention, I might not even notice.
— Noah Buschel