Saturday, April 3, 2010

What I Saw When I Saw Stay the Same Never Change

Robert Boyd

If you've ever seen Laurel Nakadate's photography or videos, you know a lot of it is about how men (particularly older men) relate to cute sexy younger women (particularly Laurel Nakadate). I think viewers are meant to be a little freaked out by it. Personally, I see a sexually desirable woman exploiting some lonely old pervs while occasionally showing her tits. One can see the same any night of the week over at Rick's, but few call it art.

So I was on the fence about seeing a feature film by Nakadate, but I decided to check it out. It's called Stay the Same Never Change. I assumed it would be boring, but that's ok--there is a kind of exquisite boredom in seeing beautiful things over time. It's what makes watching, say, a Michelangelo Antionioni film tolerable.

The audience were mostly people who were somehow officially involved in FotoFest. They came on a chartered bus, and they all had nametags. Nakadate was present. She was wearing a black teeshirt and tight black miniskirt (sorry fellas, I didn't take any full-length photos). I mention this because so much of her art hinges on the fact that she is pretty and has a scrumptious body. Would the old guys she meets through Craig's List (or however she meets them) be willing to go through with her scenarios otherwise?

She was introduced by curator Rachel Cook. She started off before the film by saying she "asks for a little patience." Good advice!

Laurel Nakadate at the Glassell

The movie doesn't have much in the way of plot--Nakadate said she originally planned it as a series of separate videos but then got money to make a feature, so she decided to intertwine them. Her usual themes are here. Unhappy cute girls, feeling depression or anomie, dressed in tight clothes, miniskirts and shorts but looking basically very fresh and young and pretty. Older guys who are attracted to them, some with seriously bad intent. Other characters--parents, therapists--who fail to connect with the girls at all.

This girl, earlier in the movie, talks about how she can understand why people go on shooting rampages in schools. Here, she is asking these two men to drown her. They just want to hang out, though. And they are freaked out when she tells them she is 17. They book, leaving her behind. Later she drowns her teddy bear.

One scene has Katy (I think that was her name in the movie) and her mom talking when two exterminators show up. They are there to set traps for mice, which Katy doesn't believe are there. She has an argument with her mom about it. But what's freaky are the exterminators in their overalls. They look exactly like the guys who show up in porn movies (delivering pizza, installing the phone, etc.--activities that in porn flicks always lead to sex). Their comically bad acting makes them seem like porn guys as well. This is one of several scenes where Nakadate leads you into thinking you are about to see something shocking--but pulls the football away at the last second. (She rarely pulls the football away in her videos.) One thing that made the exterminators seem especially naughty was that one of them had a black bar over his eyes! In fact, all through the movie there are men (and it seems like it is only men) with black bars over their eyes. It's a creepy effect that makes the movie seem all the more pervy and illicit. (Of course it takes away what little humanity these men have, but that doesn't seem like a big concern for Nakadate.)

Julie on the left and Katy (?) on the right

There is a lot of implied violence and sex, but the viewer is never given confirmation that any of the things that are implied to have happened actually happened. When a group of men surrounds a seemingly willing girl in the woods, you think a gang bang is about to happen. But later you see the girl and a guy (who in the credits is called "Kidnapper") stopping at a restaurant for some pie. Did anything actually happen?

After it was all over, Nakadate said, "Thanks for staying all the way through." It's almost like she knew it was boring. It was also really badly done. The sound was so bad I think I could understand maybe half of what was said. (The soundtrack music was good, though.) Of course the acting was terrible.

I asked about the black bars over the eyes--it turned out it was mostly because she didn't have releases from everyone who appeared in the film. She said this was partly because of the tiny crew she had and super low budget she worked with. What a disappointment. If it had been an aesthetic decision, I would have respected it more.

She also blamed her low budget for the crappy sound recording, but also said that wasn't important to her because she was a photographer. For her, it was all about the images. When she auditioned the girls, she wasn't looking for good actresses, just the right look. This is irritating. She was making a movie, not a photograph. Other ultra-low-budget filmmakers sweat out getting the recording right, getting good performances out of their amateur or semi-pro actors. Her casual dismissal of this seemed both lazy and showed a lack of respect for the medium and for her audience. That it's "art" strikes me as the weakest possible excuse for a lack of basic craftsmanship. (A much harsher review can be read here.)

Anyway, I want to leave you with a few Laurel Nakadate quotes:

"You can miss the first half an hour and you're ok."
"Voyeurism is an amazing, beautiful thing."
(Referring to the soundtrack) "I want it to feel like the saddest prom on earth in 1958."

OK, one last thing--a great tattoo that I photographed surreptitiously (voyeuristically?):

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