Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”


I finally saw The Fall, a 2009 indie movie by Tarsem Singh. Like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Pan’s Labyrinth, it uses the archetypes of fantastic, imaginative storytelling to mask a bleaker reality. In 1920s California, young immigrant orphan Alexandria is convalescing from an obliquely referenced illness. By chance, she runs into Roy, a stuntman who is convalescing from a suicide attempt. Roy spins fabulist yarns for the 5 year old child, full of whimsy and derring-do. In return, she unwittingly helps Roy with his morphine addiction. The real star is the gorgeous, surreal set pieces that reference paintings by Dali and De Chirico. An extra resonance to the viewing was that I was ill at the time, and needed some fantasy in my life.

My review of Von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA: depression is a glowing blue planet

{Below is the text of the spoken review}

I want to like the films of Lars Von Trier more than I do. I admire that he has a singular vision, and that he has the audacity to disturb his audience. His work is difficult and he explores the darkest reaches of the human experience. But there is always something about his work that irritates me, that stops me from fully embracing his work.

I saw MELANCHOLIA last night. It’s an intensely personal meditation on Depression and self destruction. Justine’s descent into a depression is beautifully realized, and I would tell anyone who doesn’t believe Depression is a genuine medical condition to look at the first part of the film. The actress Kirsten Dunst portrays Justine’s pain as physical (which Depression can be) as well as mental. Her face mimics joy, but she’s really a husk inside, a tangle of psychic scars. The second part of the movie, about the destruction of the earth, isn’t as strong. Firstly, because the narrative shifts its focus from Justine to her sister Claire. The scenes that show Justine’s reactions are more powerful. She seems to embrace the end of the world. There’s a scene where she bathes naked in the spectral blue glow of the planet Melancholia that is just gorgeous.

The second part of the movie also has all of the features that annoy me about Von Trier’s work. His characters act in ways that don’t make sense. When Kiefer Sutherland’s character kills himself, it comes out of left-field. This sudden out of character behavior is a hallmark of his films. In DANCER IN THE DARK, Selma murders a man—out of left field. In DOGVILLE, Nicole Kidman’s character goes from being unbelievably passive (getting raped by an entire village!!!!) to committing genocide. The writer in me sees that as lazy, if not bad writing. Mood whiplash is one thing. Character arc whiplash is another.

To me, MELANCHOLIA is half of a masterpiece. He should really hire a script doctor (me!) for his next outing.


The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan: the secret history of Chocolate City

DC in the 80s was a hellish place. It was a city plagued by poverty, murder and the scourge of the Crack Epidemic. I was shipped off to high school in nearby Maryland during that time, where my mostly white and affluent classmates would marvel that I lived in the sordid mess that was the District. I remember one of my classmates even told me, quite snottily, that in the suburbs, “At least we have trees!” (Please note that my house was directly across from Rock Creek Park, and we would get routine visits from deer, possum, and raccoons). My older brother was shot in the late 80s, after being carjacked.

During those turbulent times, if you rode the Metro, you saw the graffiti tag  Cool “Disco” Dan everywhere. On the buses, against the walls, on rooftops, under bridges. This mysterious artist’s (or vandal, depending on who you spoke to) signature  appeared everywhere in the Metro Area. Who was this person?

disco dan

The documentary The Legend of Cool “Disco” Dan examines the man behind the tag. Dan was a man who started tagging in his teen years, fueled both by his love of the indigenous  Go Go scene and his own mental anguish. The film contextualized his avocation against the larger zeitgeist of the Reagan 80s, the Crack Epidemic, Go Go music and the heyday of Chocolate City. While not exactly agitprop, the emblematic logo was and still is a sign of times and of the DC that exists in the shadows of the federal government. Dan became a kind of folk hero.

Other things learned: the “Disco” nomenclature came from an episode of the 70s sitcom What’s Happening!! where there was a character named “Disco Danny.” Before I saw the movie, Cool “Disco” Dan himself was in the lobby, signing posters.