In the Mood for Love

As the previous post attests, I'm a firm believer in the importance of titles, and this one felt like a stinker while I was watching. Wong apparently arrived at it by chance after being dissuaded against Age of Bloom (a song in the film and of the period) and Secrets (which sums up the film's themes). Both are superior choices. A good title is like the cherry on top of the icing of the cake (to borrow a metaphor from conversations with Joel, keeper of the peace at the LGNN). It's a way into and a summation of what the film is all about.

The pop song's reference to blossoms is an evocation of spring, youth and the beautiful. Its deployment is partly ironic, as by the time we meet our central couple they are already trapped in loveless marriages which prevent them from being together. Nonetheless, like the pop music of youth, both look back to this time together as their true first young love.

Secrets is rather bluntly explained by Tony Leung in a bar to his wastrel friend, but that and the callback to it at the end is less interesting than the environment of secrecy that pervades the relationships in the film. Maggie Cheung has to field calls from her employer's wife and mistress. Her husband is having an affair with Leung's wife. Their fine eye for details (the same tie, the same handbag) uncovers the secret. They themselves have to be mindful in case the always present neighbours start asking questions. This is a time where you could still be told off by your landlady if she thinks you're spending too many evenings out when your husband is away.

In a society where infidelity is ever-present but rigorously policed, Leung and Cheung choose the moral high ground, even though they are falling in love. All of which made me want them to throw off the soiled principles they insist on clinging to. In fact, the film leaves that open – and I sometimes like to think that Leung is the father to Cheung's son who is revealed at the end, and that little secret was what ended her marriage. But then why would she want to raise the boy without Leung? I suspect Wong had other intentions – conspiring to separate the couple and end the film on a note of yearning for the love, and the specific time, that had passed.



For me, the most interesting thing about the film isn't the way it was made or the universal acclaim it has received. Rather, it's the way it navigates between documentary and drama. While Linklater's dialogue may feel extempore to some, for me there's no doubt that his scripts are quite tight. Even if Mason's character tracks the life of the actor playing him quite closely, the shorts filmed each year have a shape and purpose imposed by the filmmaker. The point is: although Boyhood sometimes suggests the looseness of documentary, actually this is deceptive. An authorial voice is present throughout.

So what is the film trying to say? While many reviewers have warmed to the universal bildungsroman scope of the film, what struck me was how particular Mason's story is. The protagonist is not an everyman. In fact, Linklater has him grow up to be a typical Linklaterian hero – almost an Ethan Hawke Mini-Me. And his development is presented with recourse to very American tropes and symbols (aspiration, independence, the possibility of the open road). My girlfriend is Japanese, and when discussing the film with her Japanese colleague, she told me that the scenarios portrayed felt foreign to her. This made it difficult to fully identify with the characters and the experiences they go through, and more broadly, to embrace the film in the way that it has been by Anglo-Saxon critics and audiences.

This chimes with my own reaction to the film. Mason isn't perfect, but he's intelligent, creative and has amazing hair. He grows up in a white, middle class family, has cute girlfriends, and goes to university. This is not an universal experience (trust me – I share more than a bit with Mason's character). Linklater makes some concessions on this by shoehorning a sub-plot about a Latino builder profiting from the American Dream, which I found very moving despite its clumsiness. That doesn't detract from the overwhelming feeling that Linklater is whispering consoling stories to an audience that looks very much like him.

The original title of the film was supposed to be 12 Years – it was changed last minute because the recently released 12 Years a Slave would have caused confusion (or a tougher job for the marketing department). But the working title at least emphasised that this was a particular story portrayed in a particular way – one kid from one place filmed once a year. Having Boyhood as the title suggests that the story somehow reaches beyond that. My ambivalence toward the film comes down to doubts about how much it really does so.


Dream Country

The latest edition of the London Graphic Novel Network's coverage of The Sandman is now up, and it may well be the best yet. Lots of people piling in on a range of questions, some of which are only tangentally related to Gaiman's work. As usual, I did my fair bit of arguing, a small bit of which is below. Worth reading through the whole thing though.


Tend to agree with the Shakespeare Shakespeare Shakespeare reservations, tho am disposed to be a bit kinder than Mazin on the question of whether Gaiman misses the point of Shakespeare. Seems to me Mazin is equating 'stories' with plots, when actually Gaiman may mean something a bit broader. The constituent parts of 'stories' could include plot, character, themes, language, and maybe other things as well. If anything, Gaiman's error is to ascribe a certain archetypal content and mythological force to the plays - which isn't what makes them distinctive in my view. Instead, I would flip Mazin's top two Shakespeare talents and suggest he is most innovative when it comes to character - particularly creating personalities that are open to an almost limitless variety of interpretation. His felicity w/ language is a key part of that, but I think there is a reason why he is remembered as a playwright, rather than a poet, first.

Shakespeare's competing loyalties to creativity and family strike me as less of an insight into the historical Shakespeare and more as an insight into Gaiman himself. My sense is that while Gaiman is a prodigious story-generating machine, there is always a kind of detachment to his writing - his characters are often quite flat, manipulated into the paths he sets out for them rather than having the vitality to knock the author off-track (e.g. as Falstaff did Shakespeare). I would go so far as to presume that Gaiman sometimes would find the ephemeral amalgamations of past stories he rattles off so easily ~more~ interesting (or maybe less threatening) than real people. That sounds mean, but actually I think it's a brave thing to admit, and is a tendency we're all capable of.

Dream sums up the point of the Shakespeare issue as follows: "things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot". This sound like bullshit, except the "dust and ashes" gloss on "facts" suggests he is talking about the way stories outlive people, rather than nature or the universe. Fair enough, but then we get to Facade: "mythologies take longer to die than people believe. They linger on in a kind of dream country that affects all of you". The sun turns out to be a mask hiding the stories which structure our sense of the world. The protagonist's apotheosis is triggered by the surfacing of those 'shadow-truths' behind the world of empirically-determined facts. Is Dream's country becoming Plato's realm of the forms - the hidden structure behind our changable world? Is Gaiman granting myths a kind of metaphysical power over our lives? Or is it just an internal, psychological switch in perspective that somehow physiologically unlocks the ability to commit suicide. I am more comfortable with the latter reading, tho neither is particularly satisfying. Gaiman is always more comfortable dwelling on the awesome power stories have over us, rather than why we tell them or what they might be for.