Recommended Reading: ‘A Star is Born,’ ‘Nanette,’ and Fantastic Fest


Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, two smart looks at the peripherals of the new ‘A Star is Born,’ a check-in with the women with films at a festival in flux, and some pushback to the year’s most praised comedy special.

Kristy Puchko on the female filmmakers of Fantastic Fest.

One of filmdom’s most beloved brands has been in recovery mode for over a year now, following the discovery that Alamo Drafthouse had quietly rehired Devin Faraci, who had resigned from the company’s Birth.Movies.Death. blog the previous year following accusations of sexual misconduct. That scandal broke just before the 2017 edition of Fantastic Fest, the company’s annual genre film festival, which became a focal point for the questions, concerns, and (understandable) anger of its female attendees and filmmakers. Syfy’s Puchko sought out several of the women directors on the slate, and talked to them about the decision to attend this year’s festivities.

Karyn Kusama, director of Destroyer “(Fantastic Fest is) a great example to me of a body of decision-makers trying to address a problem and make some valuable changes. And so for me, the thing that I love about Fantastic Fest is that while genre often kind of gets a bad rap in terms of its audience, the fact is these are genre audiences that are really smart and really sensitive to where we are culturally in the world. And the fact that this festival attempted to address what had come out last year with more female voices, more female leadership that to me felt like a positive change. So, I really want to be able to keep supporting organizations that are dynamic and willing to look at themselves, willing to ask the hard questions of themselves and willing to make actionable changes to how they’re run as an organization. So that we might feel like we improved upon the conversation by having it, as opposed to just buried it and living in denial and kind of ‘moved on.’ You know what I mean? I feel happy to be coming.”

Alyssa Bereznak on the meme-ification of A Star is Born.

Though Venom was the record-breaker at the box office last weekend, Bradley Cooper’s excellent remake of A Star Is Born put up very respectable numbers as well, and Bereznak has some theories as to why. At The Ringer, she explains how the film’s memorable (and inescapable) trailer was ingeniously meme-d, creating an entire mini-culture around a movie that no one had even seen.

Movies and television shows have always been a rich source of meme material. It is, after all, an actor’s job to portray relatable emotion on screen, and a modern digital media company’s duty to package and distribute that expression for the public’s delight. But in the past few years, the nature of digital marketing and the ubiquity of social media have made content mined from new releases even harder to miss. The internet’s thirst for newness has ensured that even if you have no interest in these things—whether they come in the form of a meme, a GIFable scene, or a beloved character—you will inadvertently encounter them while browsing the internet. That’s why shirtless GIFs of Chris Hemsworth as a hippie in Bad Times at the El Royale resurface in some people’s feeds for no apparent reason other than to inspire feelings of lust or anger. It’s why I can tell you—thanks to a catchy viral song—that Zendaya is voicing an animated character named Meechee for an upcoming feature. (I do not know the movie’s title or plot, but am nonetheless positive her performance is award-worthy.) And it is why, when Gallagher—who has overseen between 13 and 15 spoofs of the ASIB trailer, not including personal projects —finally saw the actual, full-length A Star Is Born film, he felt nostalgic. “It was almost set up so that the first hour of the film was all meme content, and then after that there was a full movie that was actually really good,” he told me. “So it was a cumulative experience.”

Carl Wilson on the Star is Born soundtrack.

And as long as we’re talking bout ASIB, Carl Wilson took a pass at the movie’s soundtrack, and the fascinating ways in which it subverts the movie’s “pop vs. authenticity” themes by rendering Lady Gaga’s contributions so much more vital than Bradley Cooper’s.

All these factors help balance out the conceptual flaw that several observers have noted in the movie, which is that it tends to subscribe to an outdated and always misbegotten idea of musical authenticity that treats songwriting as superior to performance, pleasure as less worthy than misery, and implicitly, femininity as more artificial than masculinity. On the soundtrack, most of Cooper’s meant-to-be-good country rock is actually duller and dumber than Gaga’s most exaggerated, meant-to-be-bad pop “sellout” tracks, like “Why Did You Do That?” and “Hair Body Face” (both credited partly to one of Gaga’s primary partners in her own poppiest phase, DJ White Shadow). This gives the lie to the endless bad dialogue in the movie where Cooper insists that writing her own songs, what Ally “has to say,” is the only value that counts. What’s more, Sam Elliott as Cooper’s older brother, in a later scene, counters with an idea about music and interpretation that feels deeper than any of that folderol. What emerges in the best musical moments of the movie and the soundtrack is actually a synthesis, where every part of the person, including pretenses and sincerity, stagecraft and self-revelation, is mobilized to unleash every possible register of emotion.

Soraya Roberts on Nanette, comedy, and “cultural tokenism.”

Last week, we spotlighted Wesley Morris’ much-discussed essay on the dangers of over-valuing messages and representation in art, and similar ideas pop up in Roberts’ excellent Baffler piece, which properly situates Hannah Gadsby’s much-lauded Nanette into the larger history of stand-up comedy, the form Gadsby ultimately rejects.

In truth, [Hannah] Gadsby is guilty of the same sleight of hand she indicts comedy for. “Laughter is not our medicine,” she says. “Stories hold our cure.” It is the sort of statement that has earned her a huge following and near-unanimous critical praise, not to mention a book deal and reverential awe at this year’s Emmys. But it is, again, a half-truth. Positioning herself as a post-comedy revolutionary crashing a male-dominated industry, Gadsby elides the long, complicated history of standup comedy. Many women before her—from pioneering black lesbian Moms Mabley in the twenties to self-skewering housewife Phyllis Diller in the fifties to Elayne Boosler’s revolutionary raunch in the eighties—marginalized by men, defied them, swapping jokes for a new kind of honest storytelling. Gadsby, like so many contemporary comics—see Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari, Marc Maron—whittles this storytelling technique to the point of dogmatism. Nanette does not defy, it inherits. It is a Trojan horse, a gesture towards challenge, which never actually delivers. The truth is that the response to Gadsby’s comedy is just the latest example of a newly ascendant brand of cultural tokenism—one in which art is valued merely as an act of political representation.