How I Survived 2018: Films I Became Obsessed With

I don’t generally make lists (I don’t believe in them) but I’m going to half blame Daniel Waters & his excellent cinema-personship for my desire to list the things I saw this year (I read his list today & was like….yeah, there’s some shit I want people to know about) and the fact that I’m getting old & I forget titles of things & such.

Warning: you will definitely see a pattern to much of the content here. I like Korean film and TV. A LOT. Like, not just as a hobby, but like…9/10 things I watch on a daily/weekly/monthly basis are Korean. There’s many many many reasons for this: I love the actors, the political intrigue plots, the corruption angles, the action sequences and the absurd number of serial killers or extremely violent murderous villains with amazing hair and immaculate taste in clothing that are existing in Seoul at any given point in the Korean movie environment.

That said, these are the films I watched this year that blew my mind or just made me super happy to be sitting in a darkened theater with other folks. Or, in some cases, home with my cats.

Please note that this is a mix of new and older films. But all were new-to-me.

 

성난황소 Unstoppable (English title) / Angry Bull (literal title) – dir. Kim Min-Ho, 2018

Ma Dong-seok is one of my favorite actors ever & the villain in this- Kim Sung-oh is mindblowing. That burgundy suit he wears is 80,000 shades of YESSSSSSS. Also the action in this one was just superb. Flimsy narrative but if you just go: “Cool. Revenge story. Lots of action & badassery” this is great!

 

꼬방동네 사람들 People in the Slum / People of Kkobang Neighborhood– dir. Bae Chang-ho, 1982

The Korean Film Archive did a hellova job restoring this classic working class drama and it’s worth watching just to see that gorgeous work alone. But the film itself is also great. Mind you, it definitely gets dramatic– like OH GURL THAT MUSIC SWELL dramatic- but I loved this film. And the lead actress Kim Bo-yeon 김보연 is excellent. It’s available to watch here on YouTube for free. thanks to the Korean Film Archive. Also, this article is really great & talks a bit about Bae Chang-ho who was nicknamed the “Steven Spielberg of Korea.”

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Amateurs (Amatörer) – dir. Gabriela Pichler, 2018

This very queer, very funny, very touching comedy made my AFIFest sooooo great this year. I’m a huge fan of movies about adolescent girls saying “fuck you, I’m going DIY you stupid adults” and this is that movie. I died of laughter, I cried a looot and I would see it many more times. There are at least 5 languages spoken in this film- Swedish, Tamil, Arabic, German and English. It is about filmmaking, classism, capitalism and tiny backwater towns with a lotta bureaucratic outdated ways. It is loving and punk as fuck.

AMATEURS-by-Gabriela-Pichler

Pig (Khook) – dir. Mani Haghighi, 2018

This movie is so funny my sides hurt from laughing. A serial killer is on the loose picking off film directors in the local Tehrani film scene one by one. It’s all at once a satire, a parody of filmmaking as an industry and creative pursuit and ridiculously self-aware. The main character has some amazing rock t-shirts that he wears throughout and the film is just a blast. Want to rewatch many times.

 

마의 계단 The Devil’s Staircase – dir. Lee Man-hee, 1964

It’s safe to say that this is one of my new favorite film noir/thrillers that has ever been made. If you know me, that’s saying a GREAT DEAL. I will now profess my new addiction to Lee Man-hee and his work, completely setting the groundwork in Korean cinema for the thrillers and horror work that everyone loves today. This film actually scared me at one point! Goddamn Exorcist does nothing to my fear tendrils. If you love Diabolique by Clouzot (1955), this film is just as terrifying in its paranoia and intensity. Again, for those interested, it is available to watch here for free thanks to the marvelous Korean Film Archive.

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Cam – dir. Daniel Goldhaber, writer Isa Mazzei, 2018

This film is tits-out incredible. Having been connected with the sex worker world for most of my teen and adult life, I have watched it change drastically based on technology. While those things evolved, the misogyny and judgey-ness stayed exactly the fucking same. For Goldhaber & Mazzei to make this brutally brilliant and powerful film that stands alone as a great thriller/horror film but also functions as critical analysis of agency and identity in an online sexual universe. HFS. I’m alllllllllllllll in. This was my kind of movie. I cannot wait to see what they do next. Tickets already bought & paid for.

화녀 Woman of Fire- dir. Kim Ki-young, 1971

I worship at the film cans of Kim Ki-young. That’s why 2 of his films are on this list. For reference, popular modern Korean directors Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook both call this legendary director a huge influence on their work.

화녀 is a seriously dark and disturbing work. It’s erotic and powerful and troubling and visually fucking stunning. This film’s objective is to make you feel unsafe. Domestic bliss, familial calm, any home/hearth bullshit is tossed out the window to make room for psychosexual violence, lust and manipulation. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Oh- and it’s also available for free here thanks to the Korean Film Archive! Have a stiff drink or some ice cream on hand. You might need it.

1971 - Woman of Fire (screenshot 3)

Akasha – dir. Hajooj Kuka, 2018

It may sound odd, but this is an incredible feminist rom-com about a small community set in the Sudan, against the backdrop of the Sudanese Civil War (which is a huge part of the narrative). If that sounds weird and crazy, it is. It has been so long since I’ve seen a film with the humor, feel and joy of 1930s screwball comedy (sans the overwhelming whiteness) that this almost put me into cardiac arrest at how divine it was. Find it. See it. Everything about this film is just amazing.

저는 영화를보고 있어요 Default / National Bankruptcy Day dir. Choi Kook-hee, 2018

Full transparency, I’m a nut for Kim Hye-soo. She’s a hellova actress. And Yoo Ah-in has been one of my main dudes since I watched him in Sungkyunkwan Scandal. Y’all loved in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning this year. You know you did (I did too, FTR). This is a pretty amazing film especially if you are not entirely well-acquainted with the HFS RAGING disaster that was the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Kim Hye-soo plays a financial analyst at the Bank of Korea who is beyond aware of the damages that the IMF will do and has to combat the Very Male industry that she’s in. The film doesn’t shy away from the overt sexism that businesswomen have to face in powerful positions. It’s infuriating and depressing but she is brilliant in this role.

The Night Comes for Us – dir. Timo Tjahjanto, 2018

This Indonesian blood ballet is so exceptionally choreographed and violently HELL YES that I can’t even think about how much I loved it without grinning and wanting to watch it again with other people.

Hold The Dark – dir. Jeremy Saulnier, 2018

It is extremely rare that the litany of horrors that indigenous communities have to handle on a day to day basis make appearances in what we might consider mainstream-esque (or at least a Netflix-sponsored) thriller. Hold the Dark is a difficult film to completely parse. I need to watch it again, for sure. But the fact that I can’t stop thinking about it certainly made me think: yeah, this is something I valued highly. The darknesses that this film explores are various: dying children, the inability of white folx to respect indigenous cultures and their rights, animal behavior, and more. Jeffrey Wright is incredible. And I stand by the statement I tweeted after I watched this: HTD is a Christmas movie.

어도 Iodo – dir. Kim Ki-Young, 1977

Out of all the films I watched this year (Mandy included) this is the one that really blew my fucking mind. For all intents and purposes, it is a murder mystery and a genre film done by Kim Ki-young. The extremely pithy Wikipedia synopsis reads: “When a man from an island ruled by women disappears, the man suspected of killing him investigates his past.” But that’s like saying “yeah, people die during wars” or “Having the flu makes you feel crappy.”  어도 is like if Ken Russell and Alejandro Jodorowsky were Korean, got REALLY HIGH and REALLY FEMINIST and were like: “Let’s make our version of The Wickerman, include prerequisite themes of sex, power, gender and erotics, and make a commentary on the erasure of shamanic culture in Korea.” Sound good? HAHHHHHHAHAHAHAH. It’s fucking mindbending and hot.

I love it when US films go strange places but honestly? We just don’t have the history to do it this well. Our history is racism, colonialism and fucked up power structures. Kim Ki-Young is the  goddamn master of mindfuckery in cinema and I love it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Watch it here, thanks to the amazing Korean Film Archive!

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There were plenty of other films-

도둑들 The Thieves – dir. Choi Dong-hoon, 2012  

Wild Search – dir. Ringo Lam, 1989

Destroyer – dir. Karyn Kusama, 2018

Shoplifters – dir. Kore-Eda Hirokazu, 2018

버닝 Burning – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2018

아시스 Oasis – dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2002 (Yes, I like this film. No it doesn’t make me a monster. In fact, this is probably one of the most powerful and beautiful films I watched this year).

Sorry to Bother You – dir. Boots Riley, 2018

Skyscraper – dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2018

The Ranger – dir. Jenn Wexler, 2018

And so many more.

These are the movies I can’t get out of my head and make me glad that I do what I do (watch & appreciate cinema & its interaction with human life and politics and whatnot).

I hope that maybe you’ll check out one or more of these. If you do, let me know what you think!

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Once In A Lifetime: Spike Lee & Do The Right Thing

I saw a 35mm print of Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) at the Egyptian Theater tonight with Spike Lee in attendance and it was probably one of the best film experiences I have ever had in my film life.

He is, hands-down, one of the greatest film makers that has ever existed. While I am prone to hyperbole in general, this statement is not one of my “OMG ARIEL DRAMA statements.”

The first time I saw this movie I was so embarrassed because there was nudity in it and I was watching it with my parents. On the other hand, that scene? It was one of the first times I felt any kind of erotic feelings in my body. I was also 11 years old. It is the scene where Spike Lee worships Rosie Perez’ naked body with ice. It is scorched into my brain forever and I am forever grateful to Ernest Dickerson & Lee for providing me with images of a man blessing a woman’s body, a mother’s body, for existing.

The film is loud, in charge. It’s punk fucking rock. I cried throughout the entire film.

It’s 2018 and we have seen the deaths of so many young black men and NO ONE HAS LEARNED ANYFUCKINGTHING. Did no one see this film?

What is it that allowed Sal to sit there, in silence, while his goddamn son Pino chased Smiley off right after they had a very explicit conversation about why Sal wanted the restaurant to stay in the neighborhood? Racism. By saying or doing nothing, you say and do EVERYTHING. That one scene is the key for me.

This film is more emotionally viable to me that Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1940), as much as I have a Welles-obsession and have since I was a baby film girl. I rocked myself back and forth in my chair and memories of the LA Riots came rushing back to me like a broken faucet as I saw this film again on a big screen as a 40-year-old woman.

Spike’s Q&A was incredible. Short answers when needed, lengthy ones when necessary. A very potent look when the subject of goddamn Driving Miss Daisy came up (and rightfully so). His exposition on the power of cinema to drive real fucking change hit me HARD, especially as a moving image archivist. He spoke of his documentary Four Little Girls (Spike Lee, 1997), its place in the National Film Registry and how it had actually  catalyzed the reopening of that court case, allowing the investigation into what happened. This is what we strive for as archivists and preservationists: ACTION. CHANGE. MOTHERFUCKING JUSTICE.

I saw things in this film I had never seen before- when I was a young girl, I thought the firemen were trying to put out the fire at Sal’s Pizzeria. Now? I saw these same images as those I recognize from Civil Rights footage/stills of firehoses being used against POC. This is a painful film, painfully powerful, painfully important.

I cannot possibly do justice to everything I am thinking tonight about my experience or everything I heard, from Spike, from the film, from my own heart.

I am also incredibly grateful to have stayed for the 35mm of Crooklyn (Spike Lee, 1994) because WOW.
Anyways, I am detailing this at 5am because I have nowhere to write this but here. I am not getting paid to write anywhere or anything like that but I really needed to document this experience. I wish you all could’ve been there with me. I wanted to hold your hand.

 

FilmStruck Down: Corporate Greed, “Niche” Viewership & Building A Bigger Boat

On October 18th, I wrote a piece about the Asian streaming site DramaFever and how it had announced, very suddenly, that it would be shutting down.  In the week since then, the Kdrama and Asian television online community (centered within Facebook groups, Twitter and Reddit comments) have been wildly searching for other ways to access television content legally.

It looks like a site that previously only provided TV shows in Korean (OnDemandKorea) is stepping up to the plate, advertising one of the more popular shows in recent years, Strong Woman Do Bong-soon 힘쎈여자 도봉순 as “coming soon with English subtitles” along with other programs. So it’s clear that other streaming sites know that what AT&T called a “niche audience” and cast off like yesterday’s trash is worthy of attention. Which brings me to today’s topic: the devastating news of the loss of yet another streaming site owned by WarnerMedia and their corporate parent, AT&T- FilmStruck.

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If you think that this page looks similar to the one DramaFever had, you’re right. The biggest difference is that FilmStruck is giving their members a good month’s notice instead of, oh, like 24 hoursSo if you’re a FilmStruck-er, go and watch a shitload of movies RIGHT NOW. Or at least catalog your watch list and take advantage of the amazing ORIGINAL content that they created.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that you never had FilmStruck. Or that it didn’t work for you on your platform of choice. Or you didn’t don’t care for classic/arthouse cinema. And the same with DramaFever and its offerings of Asian cinema and television. OK, totally your choice. That saidthe way these channels were removed and why they were removed and the carelessness and thoughtlessness behind the process is unforgivable. We need to start examining the way these larger corporations are eating up smaller media-providing organizations because, in my mind, destroying them is just a “quick fix” so they don’t get accused of becoming a monopoly. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe the destruction of channels like DramaFever and FilmStruck solidifies their monopolistic practices.

paramount 1948

I just keep thinking about the Paramount Decree of 1948 and how that stopped the Hollywood Studio System from having total control over the films that were being shown and (equally as important, especially to the topic at hand) HOW THEY WERE BEING SHOWN. Block booking became illegal and many of the exhibition practices that the major Hollywood Studios were forcing on theaters all over the country were shown to be discriminatory towards independent theaters and were, essentially, bullying tactics.  This case…it’s still important. I feel like it’s useful here because I think AT&T is not-so-subtly removing independent media from viewer accessibility and establishing a dangerous monopolistic precedent only to jockey for first place with another corporate entity.

As I documented in my previous article, AT&T is looking to compete with Netflix. They are the parent company of WarnerMedia who, in turn, owns the streaming sites that have been dropped: Boomerang (a cartoon network) [EDIT: I read that Boomerang was going to be one of the losses in at *least* two different publications when DramaFever was axed- as of today, 10/26/2018, I could no longer find confirmation of that channel’s removal so this is an inaccuracy on my part- apologies!-AS], DramaFever (Asian television), and now FilmStruck (Classic/Arthouse Film). AT&T is chomping at the bit for what I see as “a bigger boat.” They want to create a Mega-Monster Streaming Channel with HBO at the helm (sorta as the selling point), and within the Monster Belly it will contain all the bobs and bits that have been swallowed up from the sites that they have killed in the building process.

As a media archivist I know that one of the trickiest things in our business is licensing.  Full transparency, these are only my thoughts and my musings so I haven’t done deep research on who has the streaming licenses for the films on FilmStruck but I know that there may be multiple bodies since the film content came from Warner Archive, Criterion and TCM. That said, I also know that Criterion still has content available to stream on Kanopy (a library-based media streaming site) so they may have multiple streaming licenses going (or they may have an educational license for that one?). My point with the licensing? Who has the contracts and for how long? Does AT&T own the streaming rights? Are they going to sit on those materials until they create their Monster Channel and then have a Special Classics/Arthouse section? That’s what they promised the DramaFever community.

The people in the DramaFever community have already moved on. We don’t wait for some über channel. We will find our TV shows and our community where ever and however we can. More importantly, we don’t like being treated like second-class citizens. We watch media that is high in emotion and it’s traditionally considered “trash media” since Western society is uncomfortable with the raw display of emotion. So…we’re a “niche” market.

niche meme

With FilmStruck, I hope that there can be an equal bounce back. What I would like to see happen is for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu to jump in. They could easily do it. Classic films, arthouse cinema, this community is analogous to the one I align myself with in the Korean Drama world. There are films that are high in emotion or extreme in some way- costume, language, make-up. Geez- no one talks like Katherine Hepburn anymore, amirite? And musicals? But FilmStruck has a MUCH higher draw than the dramas that I watch, and I will readily admit that.

The interesting thing about FilmStruck is that, unlike DramaFever, many (certainly not all) of the materials that are being streamed are available on DVD or Blu-ray which (of course) then begins the conversation (as usual) about viewers being “so glad” that they kept their physical media. I’ve seen the word “hoarding” being used a decent amount which…always makes me a little queasy but if that is how you want to refer to your media library, hey- who am I to stop you?
Obviously, this whole situation brings up ideas of access and economics and such. Streaming is far more economical (and thus accessible) for people who are on a lower budget which is more common in this not-so-awesome landscape right now. So it is something to keep in mind.

As an archivist, I will certainly advocate physical media 100%. But we need to look at all sides of streaming and accessibility and what digital might provide and who/what audiences it might welcome. Additionally, if AT&T is going to put all of this content behind an expensive cable paywall…that certainly doesn’t allow for the kind of openness that FilmStruck was known for.

FilmStruck-themes-500-copy

There is a great danger in not speaking up when these corporations swallow us whole. We simply don’t know what parts will be left. If they are holding the licenses to these films and we have to wait…which ones will they come back with? How long will we have to wait? Can we access only part of the package? I HAVE QUESTIONS.

To all of my wonderful friends and colleagues who have put so much work and love and goodness into FilmStruck: you are why we watch. You are why we will always watch.
I love you from the bottom of my sprocketed reel heart.

DramaFever-less: The Drama of K-Drama

So here’s a thing. I know most of you are not interested in my interest in Korean Drama (Kdrama) but some of you ARE interested in rights/licensing, media technology, labor & economics. This may be a little long but it’s INTERESTING!
 
So DramaFever, the Netflix of Kdrama (owned by Warner Bros), shut down yesterday with **ZERO** warning. No disclosure to the large fan communities that consist of mostly women viewers. Long story short, it’s a corporate decision. All DramaFever (referred to hereon as DF) materials & their licenses are to be subsumed into a larger channel that AT&T is creating with WB content so they can compete with Netflix. This monster channel is planned to launch sometime in 2019.
 
Some women were quite LITERALLY in the middle of watching an episode of a beloved show. Imagine being in the middle of watching an ep of Game of Thrones and it just STOPS. A black screen appears with a message that says: Thank you for your loyalty to HBO but like…Sorry. We decided to shut down the company. We’ll be back in a new form sometime next year. OKTHXBYE.
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As you can imagine There’s a LOT OF UPSET FANS RIGHT NOW. And I have been chatting with them A BUNCH on the (mostly FB) forums that I am on. Many of them are trying to find other ways to watch particular shows that they were in the middle of watching (Terius is the primary one, at the moment & I’m kinda glad I didn’t start watching that myself). Lots of folx are going the torrent route which I actually am not against in this situation at all. DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES, Y’ALL. GOTTA HAVE YOUR DRAMA. I AM TOTALLY HERE FOR THIS. So lots of ladies sharing info with the community on how to survive but also acknowledging the shitty subbing (subtitling) on occasion, possible viruses, & non-reliability of sourcing the materials this way. 
 
Enter Viki & KOCOWA. They are like the Amazon Prime & Hulu of Kdrama. You can get two different plans on Viki: standard and plus. Standard is a basic Kdrama, no-frills package & some of the content is limited. Plus is no-holds-barred, ALL KDRAMA ALL THE TIME, LET’S DO THIS. Now, Viki & KOCOWA share content but KOCOWA *also* has its own streaming channel but it’s only available on certain platforms (like not on AppleTV or Roku). So some shows are *only* on KOCOWA and some shows are shared and on Viki *and* KOCOWA.
 
Got that? Good.
So DF destructs yesterday and we are left reeling. A good chunk of the community is just like OMGWTFBBQ. Many are really kinda like: What about GOBLIN?

Goblin aka Guardian: the Great and Lonely God aka 쓸쓸하고 찬란하신 – 도깨비 is a TvN drama starring Gong Yoo, Lee Dong-wook and Kim Go-eun that rocked people on a level that is comparable to, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Game of Thrones in how intensely its audience feels about it. Admittedly, I am one of those people. I actually could not tell you precisely why…yet. But goddamn. That show. To this day I cannot hear the song from it without crying.  I’m including it here & it has bits from the show but like…no joke. I’ve never been so internally in pain from a show in my life. I can’t even describe it to you. I think there’s subliminal shit in there somewhere. 20 years of watching things & this show turns me into a complete. and. total. hot. mess.

SO GOBLIN IS A PROBLEM. Because guess who holds the license? DF has it. DF has a lot of shows that it advertised as “DF exclusives” and those were programs that they held exclusive US licenses for and you can BET YOUR ASS that they are not going to give those up to anyone else.
 
So we, the fans, lose. Meanwhile, it’s sure as shit that the hard-copy purchases and torrents of some of those “DF exclusives” have gone WAY up in the last 24-36 hours. I have no doubt that many fans now have actual physical discs of certain dramas heading to their homes because they were like: fuck this. DF is ready to betray me like that? OH HELL NO. I rewatch this show anytime I’m having a shitty day. I can’t have y’all do that. I’m taking charge here and making sure I can have my dramas when I want them and where I want them TYVM. DF? Suck it.
 
With DF out of the game, the community is relying on each other and we are kinda going: so…do we upgrade? Do we find other legal streaming sites? Are there other legal streaming sites? (the answer to this is a resounding not so much).
 

Which brings us back to Viki. Full transparency, I totally upgraded to the Viki/KOCOWA Plus package. I don’t gamble with my Kdrama.

As someone who has been studying media and tech issues for as long as I have, I feel like maybe this is a huge thing that is happening right now whether you care about Korean/Asian television programming or not.
So DF has all these licenses. The channel itself is no more but the licenses are still being held by WB/AT&T and are essentially dead/hibernating for the time being and the content will go live again when the new channel is “resurrected” in 2019. But by then all of their fans will have moved on to new shows and more content. Because that is what we do. We keep watching. We are active and interactive viewers. The Kdrama fandom is not a passive group. It is a collection of (mostly) women who take a lot of pleasure from the programs they watch and we watch them in large quantities. By taking themselves out of the equation, DF has erased themselves from the market itself even though they feel that they will be bringing this content to new audiences.
 

SO. DF is out of the picture. Whether or not they had the good manners to let Viki & KOCOWA know is still up in the air. If not, Viki has really jumped into the game quickly: they started a 30% off sale on their standard pass yesterday, the same day that DF went down. While no one mentioned it on any of the forums yesterday and I didn’t notice it when I was on their site last night, it is entirely possible the sale banner may have gone up late. Even so…their business instinct is quite sharp. They’re clearly going to benefit from the loss of DF.

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There have been comments about Viki/Kocowa’s subbing taking a little longer. But here’s the thing: they use volunteers for subbing. Before anyone decries the labor policies, people volunteer to do the subbing and the work on these shows because of the fan dedication. It is part of an very special and incredible international community that really wants to provide access to everyone who wants to watch these shows. It’s really remarkable being part of these communities and being able to watch the subbing on shows (especially on Viki) because you can tell that the teams really go that extra mile. That said, with this influx of memberships rising from the death of DF, will Viki be able to keep up?
 

Some thoughts:

1) Is Viki ready for the kind of online traffic they are about to receive? Do they have enough servers? Are they prepared? I already read one comment from someone who was unable to complete her Kocowa subscription because their servers were overloaded.
2) Will Viki/Kocowa be able to increase the speed in their subbing so that new members are satisfied? Will they be able to negotiate better and more interesting content licenses now that DF is out of the picture? 
3) Will another legal streaming site spring up to try to compete with Viki/Kocowa?
4) Will Viki and Kocowa divide licenses and content so that they actually do become more disparate channels, thus making it “worth it” to have both channels for more than just one or two shows?
 

There is a lot to unpack here. While large communities of viewers have been left in the lurch without any warning, it is equally important to recognize that the US corporate television culture clearly views Asian materials as not valuable or worthwhile. Whether these dramas on Viki, Kocowa or DF are Thai, Chinese or Korean, the primary viewing audience is women and that makes a difference as well. Much like soap operas or melodramas, these works fall into a television genre that has a long history of being relegated to the “trash culture” section or simply being viewed by critics as “low culture” and easily dismissible.

 

We are going to have to wait and see what happens with Viki and the economics and labor issues. We will have to see whether they hire more staff, whether the subbing system changes at all, whether their servers go down in the next few weeks or whether they totally rock it (I’m crossing my fingers, I wanna continue watching my shows).

 

But all of the women, including myself, are having some pretty large feelings about Corporate America making decisions about what we should or should not have access to and why. These works are important to us. The women I have spoken to on these forums are not just from the US. They are from all over the world and somehow they find connections to these shows and feel very strongly that having someone else pull the plug was not just rude but removed their agency to explore whatever it is that they love about these shows- fantasy, strength, humor, escape, history or just a good story.

Anyways, the future remains to be seen.
 

 

They Only Play Asian Stuff: Centering Korean Culture in LA & Regional Ignorance

Los Angeles is a funny place.
After my amazing ramen/movie night at CGV Cinemas, I went to read my Santa Cruz Noir book (OMGZ Susie, it’s SO GOOD! I’M DYING) & have a cocktail at Frank & Hank’s (thought of you, my beautiful love Michelle).

Some girl at the bar next to me asked about the book since I was having such visceral reactions to it, so I read her a passage over the pounding gangsta rap.
Girl: WOAH. THAT’S SOME BRUTAL SHIT GURL. And you’re laughing?
Me: Well, yeah. I recognize all the locations in the story and…it’s gory dark murdery stuff but…very brilliant!
*She took a picture of the book*
Girl: Imna have to get that.
Me: Oh you need to, 100%.
Girl: So what were you up to tonight?
Me: I was over at CGV down the street, watching a great movie.
Girl: The movie theater over there?!?!? *points towards the door* WHY??? THEY ONLY PLAY ASIAN STUFF. OH BUT LIKE HAVE YOU WATCHED ANY ASIAN HORROR.
Me: *having great difficulty not making life imitate art & make like one of the killers from Santa Cruz Noir*
Yeah. It was weird. And racist. And frustrating. CGV is a great theater. My favorite next to the New Beverly, actually.
I love K-town so very much. I am usually the only white person at the movies I go see and until a while back when I cut my hair into my current “punk rawk” look, I was given a lot of “What are you doing here?” expressions. I find it endlessly fascinating that my hairstyle has changed how I am treated but that’s a whole other conversation.
Back to CGV. I didn’t mind anyone looking at me with the “you don’t belong” expression. I knew that I was entering a non-white space. I belong from the perspective of being from LA and having grown up a few blocks away but…it is not my space. It is, however, the only location in LA that I can see these films and I desperately enjoy Korean cinema, from the soap operas to the gritty procedurals to the gruesome horror. I think the only genre I’m not into is the bubble-gum rom-com and even some of those I like!!! But when I go to CGV Cinemas in K-town I am very aware, as an Angeleno, that this may be my city but this is not my space.
The older Korean couples on date nights love me though. Maybe they think I’m a weirdo sitting alone with my concessions sighing and crying at that historical romcom with them. But I also think they appreciate having younger people in those movies (sometimes those films have a bit of an older draw). Maybe they just think I’m confused and I ended up in the wrong theater? I love seeing how many older couples do go to the movies together and enjoy the experience just like it was “the old days.” I feel like when I go to CGV, people there are really there for the experience and my heart soars.
I always feel really good in those theaters. Everyone there is going to the movies intentionally.
There’s a difference between going to the movies as something to do and going to the movies intentionally. You can do both (many do) but the people I see going in and out of CGV are people I want to go to the movies with. The audience for Believer last night was great. Maybe not super rambunctious like an average US action-movie audience, but they laughed loudly at funny lines and it certainly felt like a community. Which is what I need in a movie going experience and a movie theater.
CGV is really special because like many movie theaters that used to exist in Los Angeles, it offers culturally specific materials that cannot be accessed anywhere else. Korean films on the big screen. And not just on the big screen, but a REALLY DAMN BIG SCREEN. The seats are nice, the sound is great, they have 4 hours of free parking.
And, as I schooled Bar Girl, CGV doesn’t “just play Asian stuff.” More specifically, their focus is on the Asian community (the Korean community to be exact). White folks, or English-speaking anyones, are 100% secondary. But that doesn’t mean that they are not welcome or cannot attend. It just means that they are not the central audience for CGV and that is a breath of fresh air in this world. Yes, I am aware that CGV is a Korean company so obviously that is their focus but still. It’s really great to have this theater HERE IN LOS ANGELES.
Bar Girl was shocked when I told her that they are currently showing Deadpool 2 and I saw a trailer for the next Incredibles movie as well as the new Jurassic Park. She had completely tossed the theater to the side. Hi ignorance and total unwillingness to explore your own neighborhood (she said she lived in the area). Sure, these films have Korean subtitles, but that’s fucking great! This is something called ACCESS. Why shouldn’t everyone be able to see movies? And why shouldn’t we all be able to see as many amazing movies as we can? The fact that I was able to go and see Believer (Lee Hae-young, 2018), the remake of Johnnie To’s masterful Drug War from 2012 is so exciting to me! And by the way?
                      BOTH VERSIONS OF THIS MOVIE ARE AMAZING!!

They’re playing a comedy at CGV starting on June 22nd. The trailer looked INSANE. I cannot wait. So glad that they take MoviePass. I know that I sound like an ad for CGV (I don’t mind) but I’ve always said that it’s like the Korean Arclight but cheaper. And take a chance if you live in LA, come see a Korean movie with me. They are really great.

See how your calendar is looking for this beauty…. I’m excited AF.

Teachable Moments: Alamo Drafthouse, Cinefamily & the Future of Repertory Cinema

So I think its time to have a little conversation about value, worth and intersectionality.

Things are pretty weird right now. I was talking with a girlfriend the other day and both of us have been in the film community for a really long time. Long enough to remember when internet-based film writing/promotion and communities didn’t rule the scene. Imagine that! But internet/no Internet, there has always been misogyny. Always been racism. The homophobia has been lesser to an extent, but…that’s entertainment. It’s still there. We all know that transphobia is awful no matter where you go so…end scene.

gender neutral robot

 

Let’s set the stage. Current events: if you’re a straight white male celebrity who sexually assaults women, you might want to start getting scared. James Woods found this out the hard way when Amber Tamblyn called him out on Twitter last week. She wrote two brilliant pieces on Teen Vogue and the NYT, in response to him calling her a liar after she recounted his ill-fated pick-up attempt when she was just 16. Tig Notaro’s recent season of One Mississippi dedicates 2 episodes to addressing sexual assault, which is a direct shout out to Louis CK. Tig has spoken widely about CK’s refusal to address his problem, as have other female comedians.

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Real talk: this shit has been shoved under the rug in the entertainment world since the casting couch was invented and studio heads invited women in for “lunchtime interviews,” promising them the “role of a lifetime.” But women are finally breaking their silence. Which is great. This should be supported and encouraged, especially by powerful men in the media world. But there’s a big chance it won’t be. Why not? Because making a “bold move” such as that might mean outing their friends or losing their buddies. And that’s scary and uncomfortable.

Dudes, I’m calling you out. It’s time. It’s not brave for you to step forward and join us in talking about what’s actually going on. If anyone tells you you’re “brave” or thanks you, tells you how “amazing” you are for standing up, that’s straight up bullshit. You should have always been doing this. You just finally smelled what The Rock was cooking, ok? No back pats, no OMG YOU’RE SO AWESOME!

Make a decision. Look at what’s going on and be on the right side of history. Because history does not wait and it certainly has no sympathy.

Over the last week, some straight white men in the film community have had a few real HOLY FUCKING SHIT moments. These were all heavily tied into the fact that they have absolutely zero comprehension of what VALUE means or what or who might, in fact, be VALUABLE.

It is important to note that most of the recent conversations being had in the film world have been incredibly white and privileged conversations. We have not stopped for one second to address women/people of color, trans bodies, or any communities that might have felt equally bludgeoned by what has been happening in the repertory theater scene. And by that I mean the recent scandals at the Alamo Drafthouse and the Cinefamily.

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LA Weekly, September 13, 2017

I want to approach this discussion of VALUE on an intersectional level and include every body that has ever felt assaulted by today’s straight white male dominated film culture. It is a structure designed specifically to celebrate all that is white, male, moneyed and heterosexual and oppress all that are not. All marginalized groups-defined as women (women of color especially), people of color, queer folx; trans and non-binary identifying individuals- are considered outsiders from this Primary Group and ostracized. We may try to affiliate ourselves with those in this Clique, but the very nature of its construction denies us entry. We haven’t gotten good seats in the movie theater for quite some time.

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I have been in the world of cinema and media studies for most of my adult life. The world has changed a lot in the last twenty years, and I’ve changed with it. The one thing that has not changed is the way that marginalized groups have been treated. This is absolutely a question of VALUE. We are simply not considered to have worth.

Structures of value and worth are why women are spoken over on newscasts and televised political arenas. It’s the reason so few brown faces are protagonists in feature films, there are currently no Asian superhero movies and why black bodies have rarely been lit correctly on film and television until work like Insecure (creators: Issa Rae & Larry Wilmore, 2016) or Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014).

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Issa and Molly, Insecure, Photo: HBO

The incidents I will be discussing- the sexual assault troubles at LA repertory movie theater Cinefamily and the sexual assault/employment cover-up/what-have-you at the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse- are not ones that I plan to give space to here. Please feel free to Google them at your leisure; there are tons of articles available on both subjects. I will be using them and specific details/ experiences in context that I believe to be important to this piece but I don’t believe that I need to link any articles.

Moving forward then- value has been an issue for hundreds of years in marginalized communities. Consider the following: a body’s worth measured in economics (slavery) or a body’s worth measured in marriage and reproduction (a son is good, the family name/legacy continues, a daughter is bad except for marrying off/childbearing). What about a slave body that can reproduce another slave body (a woman of color)? Think on these things. These evaluations are not done by the bodies themselves but by an outside force; an oppressor. Whether it is White Supremacy or Patriarchal Heteronormativity, dominating another body because of your self-created value structures is just fucked up.

One of the primary topics of this article is sexual assault, an act that involves our physical selves. Our bodies. Our bodies are a big part of our worth. Our bodies are physical containers but they are also reflections of our PERSONAL worth. We value ourselves and we value our bodies. So what do we do when our bodies are violated? Worse than that, what do we do when those whom we value enact violence upon our valuable, worthwhile bodies? Who do we turn to when we are viewed as so invaluable that we cannot even be consulted about intimacy? That’s a fucked up feeling.

This was something many women faced at Cinefamily and have faced for years in the film community. Who would believe that so-and-so did THAT? “He’s so coooool Are you sure you remember right? You weren’t just a little drunk?” Because then he’s off the hook. If you’re drunk, the incident didn’t happen. And if he’s got some kind of high-level rep or if he’s famous then it definitely didn’t happen.

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IndieWire Headline, Aug 22, 2017 11:21 pm

Intimate violence is visited upon our bodies and we can do nothing about it. We are not believed because we have women’s voices. Or queer voices. Or black voices. Or trans voices. While white women like Amber Tamblyn can reveal their stories and talk back to James Woods, do you think anyone would’ve believed a black trans woman who wasn’t famous?

Let’s look at social structures of VALUE. White people don’t value POC. If we did, black bodies wouldn’t be strewn lifeless throughout American streets, while the white bodies that violated them are legally allowed to move on without repercussions. Women/women-identifying folx are not valued. If we were, there would be no such term as “mansplaining.” White women are valued more than Women of Color but that in and of itself makes me cringe. And let’s be honest: trans and non-binary identifying individuals get the worst of it. It’s not just that people don’t value them. People pretend they don’t exist. Value and worth. If society, structured exclusively by White Rich Straight Older Men sees no value in you, you play no part and you are worthless.

Having attended the Cinefamily for a long time, I always noticed that there were many female employees and volunteers. Like an overt amount. I knew a few of them. I also saw a huge turnover rate. I stopped going a few years ago except to certain screenings. I saw brilliant and painfully talented people get treated poorly and that left a bad taste in my mouth.

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Film School Rejects, AUGUST 25, 2017

There were a few men employed there, but for the most part, it was women and not in an “empowering women” way. Looking back, the presence of so many women employees had a display case feel. Which I thought was strange. I chalked it up to Cinefamily being an “extreme hipster” theater but that was definitely not it. Sometimes we tend to compartmentalize when we don’t want to see things that are staring us right in the face. This was one of those things.

To Hadrian (Cinefamily founder), cultivating the look and molding the culture around that theater was part of its cachet. He did a masterful job in many ways. On the other hand, other people who never received the credit did much of the work attributed to him. What is critical here is that he created an environment where the only value system at play was his own. In any other work setting, this would have been seen as abusive. In any other work setting there would’ve been a HR person to assist his employees. But his male-dominated upper management structure (which includes the board) was in charge of the entire feel and social landscape of Cinefamily, from screen to popcorn maker.

So the regular floor employees were intimidated as fuck. The value of the women had been as objects, the men as continuing the promoting of the world/culture that had been created. Sounds a little bit culty. Which has been mentioned before. But I really read this as a lot of fear and sadness and a deterioration of personal worth as you continue to be abused by a workplace situation that you used to adore.

Here’s the even shittier part: this is what the world of repertory theaters and film festivals has been like forever. So the fact that Cinefamily exploded when it did made me roll my eyes a little. I couldn’t help but think: OH FUCK. Here we go. So who’s next? And let me stress right now that I have a lot of love for a lot of people working in the film festival and repertory worlds. My archivist/preservationist world is 100% not without its horror stories. In fact, we are probably due for some explosions too. But we’ll deal with those when they happen.

 

Guerrilla Girls' Pop Quiz 1990 by Guerrilla Girls

 

As for theaters and festivals and their dreadfully loosey goosey culture…These white, straight and male-dominated events and networks have always had Questionable Incidents. In the past, they were sighed at, and “Oh, that’s just so-and-so”-ed at. It really was like Mad Men. Whispers and secret confrontations swept under the rug. It was expected and built in. But when the ladies talk behind closed doors, we’re not fucking happy about it. And we haven’t been happy about it for years.

Did you know that, guys? Or did you think things were ok? Because a lot of you had to know about a lot of the heinous shit that has happened over the last 20 years. Whether I am in academia, the film festival world, entertainment journalism or my current archiving/preservation community, I want some answers. If my girlfriends and I know, if we’ve been frustrated and angry because we couldn’t call someone out because they were Too Big Time, then you guys must know the stories too. You probably know worse stories and have laughed or just rolled your eyes about it. Every time you didn’t warn us or stop those guys or call them out or do something, you let the women in your life and in the film community know that they were not valued.

Friends. WE JUST HAD TWO NUCLEAR MOVIE HOUSE EXPLOSIONS IN LESS THAN TWO MONTHS. Think there’s something rotten in the state of theatrical? Cuz I fuckin’ do.

So let’s update. It’s 2017. Less rep houses, mostly due to the analog/digital changeover. So we’re down a lotta movie houses and up a hellovalot more film festivals. What did that do? Well, it gave us the white, straight male-dominated film culture that focuses on the White Male Film Geek as Lord King God. It is literally White Geek-Bro Supremacy. This is something that has been planted, cultivated and grown over the years, carefully and intentionally. Fed with social media and entertainment journalism, it is so large that it IS VALUE and considered something OF WORTH. Basically, these geeks bring in the bucks. But at what cost?

I’m here to tell you fuck White Geek-Bro Supremacy. There is nothing valuable that can be created by this system. It does not create communities of worth. It gives NOTHING back.  The Cinefamily, Alamo Drafthouse, Fantastic Fest are examples of this dynamic in action and each one of these has either imploded completely or fractured under the weight of its toxic masculinity.

Communities established under this structure do not value women of color who love to read comic books or cosplay because it is joyful. In fact, the communities developed by White Geek-Bro Supremacy do not center joy at all. White Geek-Bro Supremacy centers competition, bullying, and one-upsmanship instead of goodwill, respect and an infectious love for cinema. The cradle of this system is binary viewpoints (best/worst) and list-dependency (top ten most ___). It was heavily nurtured with the idea that some media was indubitably to be valued and some not to be valued, based upon a knowledgeable hierarchy that rose to the top of the message board/chat group communities and eventually published blogs and articles. Incidentally, this is how men ended up dominating authorship of Internet movie sites.

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from Katie Kilkenny’s article, “Why Are So Few Film Critics Female?” in The Atlantic, Dec 27, 2015

White Geek-Bro Supremacy is what was working overtime during the Alamo Drafthouse turmoil this week.

Many thought the mess was about a sexual assault(s) committed by a former writer for an Alamo Drafthouse publication. It was about more than that. It was about a severe lack of transparency, the preferential treatment for a pal and the willingness to risk an entire company’s reputation and national operations on an individual relationship. This speaks of a special kind of blindness: Privilege Blindness. As my friend John Wildman eloquently wrote, a large problem in the Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League’s “crisis management” was that he never stopped to listen to those who should have been listened to.

This is a recurring theme with privilege. Those with White Privilege, Male Privilege, and Heterosexual Privilege have the idea that their privilege affords them earplugs & blinders. The definition of Privilege Blindness is “I will not make the space to listen to you because of xxxx reasons.” Guess what, honey? Not one of those xxxx reasons is valid. Grab a beer. Pop the top. Just get uncomfortable with this.

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When you do not take the time to listen to another person, you are telling them, “You are not valuable. You are not worth anything. You have nothing to tell me of any value. I do not see you as someone who could add value to my life. Your experiences/thoughts/feelings mean nothing to me.” When you do that to someone in a marginalized group, it can be both achingly familiar (we’ve lived our whole lives not being listened to) and possibly life threatening. While the aforementioned former writer for Drafthouse certainly did lousy things, he wrote one good thing on his now-deleted Medium post: “Believe women. Especially when they are talking about you.”

What is it going to take to destroy these systems of oppression? What is it going to take to break down years of abuse? The men and women who have spoken out against the ongoing practices at the Drafthouse are mirror images of those at Cinefamily. They feel ignored, stepped on, devalued and left in the cold. They were not hip enough. Not in the cool kids club. Stories of floor staff at the Drafthouse being treated as “lesser than” because they were not within the upper echelon of the Who’s Who. And I get it: it’s largely impossible in a company that size to have some utopian vision where people are all partying together. But it is possible to have people feel appreciated and like they are part of an institution that is doing something amazing for the cinema community, which is the image that the Drafthouse outwardly projects. Bottom line: the party should never end up being more important than the people who decorated the room for the celebration.

As for Fantastic Fest… Tim League’s gotta be a little sad about that right now. His actions have put him in that funky little zone where moral values have impacted his Financial Value. Fox Searchlight pulled their film from Fantastic Fest. That’s kind of a big deal. While FF usually goes for more unusual fare, it could always use a big studio film for a bump, especially after recently launching new distribution shingle, Neon. Get rid of the testosterone-fueled boxing-matches, limit the VIP-only bashes that create such clear hierarchies and go back to what made the festival unique- its content.

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Boxing match from Fantastic Fest 2014, Photo: Alamo Drafthouse, September 21, 2014

 

So this may have been a lot to get through for many of you. And it may not have made sense or connected to the Cinefamily and Drafthouse situations for some. But please trust me- it all does. Obviously right now I don’t give a shit about TL;DR. Some will read this, others won’t. I’m really pissed off. I hate that it’s taken the devastation of two cinematic institutions and one film festival in order to knock some sense into dudes’ heads and make them remember that women are people too, with feelings and needs and all kinds of INSANE THINGS.

And please know- I never wanted Cinefamily to die. However, in the form that it was in, with that board of directors (some of whom are still very active in the LA rep theater scene), it was impossible. There were amazing people at Cinefamily and amazing people are suffering unemployment now due to its closure. I also do not advocate skipping Fantastic Fest (unless you feel you need to). I think that taking the discussion to the source and holding people accountable is key. But don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.

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An interesting ad from an anti-rape campaign in Missoula, MT.

I don’t want to see Drafthouse go down in flames but I would like to see its encouragement of White Geek Bro Supremacy stop. This will take more than a few professional sessions with a “crisis management” team. This will mean letting real people – women, POC, queer folx, trans/non-binary film lovers- talk to you, Tim League. And you need to shut up and listen.

Turn a new page. It’s possible, but it’s going to take work. It’s going to take a lot of listening and a lot of people are going to have to get really uncomfortable. A lot of people are going to have to do some major self-reflection. But as Amber Tamblyn wrote to James Woods, “What you are experiencing is called a teachable moment. It is called a gift.”

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Women and other marginalized groups are done being quiet. We know our value and our worth, even if rich straight white dudes don’t. For many of us, discovering intersectionalism has helped. Working together we can be more powerful than by focusing on just our own separate issues. Many of us have discovered new definitions of value and worth in community organizing. But that also means that structures of white supremacy and patriarchy are in serious danger. We’re only going to get louder and more powerful.

So White Male Geek Squad? Y’all should get your shit together and clean up your act. We’re coming for you. And that’s a promise.

Giant – Playing at New Beverly!

My new piece on the continued relevance of George Stevens’ GIANT, its fortuitous casting & adaptation. Only on the New Beverly Blog. Check it out!