Posted by: zhiv | October 6, 2009

Two Movies for Bloggers: Julie/Julia and We Live in Public

Still so sporadic with the blogging! And as always with me, there’s getting around to writing, and then getting around to typing. Lame. So this is from weekend before last. Whatever. It’s something at least.

I’ve made a fairly concentrated effort, especially for me, to stay away from movie reviews on this blog, for all sorts of different reasons. But I saw a fascinating, somewhat obscure new documentary that I thought I might mention, and it occurred to me that I can set another recent film alongside it to cobble together a set of reflections. I moseyed about without getting any traction during blogger appreciation week, and this might be a late note to add to some of those discussions.

Let’s start with breezy, fun, and food. Julie/Julia is a hit movie, and it’s worth stating the obvious: amongst so many other things, it’s a film about blogging. It has yet another ridiculously amazing performance by Meryl Streep, who is defying the Hollywood gravity of age in ways that Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson must admire, and the fact that a woman is doing it is revolutionary. In this movie her first move is to get taller, and she evidently told her director, Nora Ephron, who was lucky here to get knocked on the head by the Meryl magic wand, forget about the voice and becoming a real, highly recognizable person, that’s easy (easy for her that is), but to do this role I’m going to become taller. And indeed, Meryl Streep is a robust 6 footer throughout the film, and it’s a key ingredient of the recipe. Genius is fun to watch. I saw the film with the family and we went out for French food the next night. And then I took my mother, who was a big Julia fan and Francophile back in the day, and very much a servantless cook. It was a classic outing with ma mere, but I’ll leave that aside. In the second viewing I was keeping an eye on the height thing, and it was an interesting pursuit. Of course we all know that a whole bunch of famous actors have below average stature and they play 6-footers all the time, so it’s pretty basic old school Hollywood technology. But it’s worth noting and adding to the mountainous pile of Meryl Streep accomplishments, many of them feminist and revolutionary in their own way.

The film is about female empowerment and the power of writing and food as art and as a vehicle for personal redemption and fulfillment. My mother couldn’t be Julia Child and she made her share of Boeuf Bourgonon, but she was more like April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road or Betty Draper in Mad Men, donig an occasional recipe for a dinner party while steadily sliding down the rabbit hole of TV dinners and smoking and drinking and depression. The film does a great job of bringing the dilemma of the time up to date and showing that the path of art and food and writing is more available than ever, and you don’t have to be an amazon and revolutionary feminist like Julia Child or Meryl Streep to put it to work. You can be an average neurotic New Yorker like Julie Powell, who is just a… blogger. I’ve heard a fair amount of disappointment about Amy Adams and that part of the film, but she’s making the shrewd, no-brainer move of being in as many Meryl Streep movies as possible, and she takes the hit (in this case a body blow, as there’s almost an audible sigh from the audience when Streep leaves and Adams enters) and is still standing.

Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, an update of Lubitsch’s Shop Around the Corner, introduced internet technology to the romantic comedy. It was set against the rise and fall of chain and independent bookstores, with a peaking pair of movie stars in Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. In a few decades this new film should serve as an interesting companion to that previous hit, showing the speedy advance of technology over a short period of time. Throw in the strange way that technology and communication worked as a basis for romantic comedy in Sleepless in Seattle, and add the spectacular failure of the virtually unwatchable meta-remake of Bewitched, and you realize that this Ephron chick, daughter of screenwriters and aiming to be the Elizabeth Bennett in a trio of sisters, might not be the most likeable and generous filmmaker and media persona, but she’s finding some extraordinary artistic satisfactions out of scratching the same itch.

These are just asides for the purposes of this blog, and I don’t want to lose the thread about the fact that Julie/Julia is a movie about blogging. I don’t know if this has happened to any other bloggers out there, and it may just be my own mix of book blogging and working in the film business, but I’ve met a couple of people who recently found out about my blog who interpreted it, without seeing or reading anything, through the version of Julie Powell’s blog in the movie. This is facinating, since Julie Powell’s blog is so project-oriented, and the movie is a fantasy of blogging wish-fulfillment. She’s a failed writer unable to publish her novel, left behind by her ambitious and mainstream business friends (including one “bad blogger,” a craven journalist), who reaches writer nirvana after the appearance of a NY Times article (charming, antiquated technology saves the day, Cinderella taken away in the horse-drawn coach), as her phone machine (more communications technology) fills up with agents and publishers begging to meet her, and the film ends with an arch crawl about how a movie has been made about her.

With respect to blogging, and in writing about it now, the film makes me think about the infinite different ways in which blogging can be done and how it works. My shrink once said that blogging is a dream come true for writers, and I certainly can’t argue with that. In my own case it has unlocked a certain type of writing and reflection and has been an extraordinary gift. It has also given me all sorts of confidence about other types of writing, things that don’t appear on this blog, that take a lot of time and focus away from it in fact. And my own approach to blogging has its own project aspects, as I feel like I used it to write a short book (of sorts) on Richard Yates last year, one that I can go back to and keep working on, or I can get organized and keep going with Chekhov or who knows what, none of it purely intentional, with a type of organic intellectual growth that comes from blogging. I happen to like to write little essays on this blog, and for some of them to be connected to one another, but everybody does it their own way.

I’ve been thinking about blogging and writing and Julie/Julia but probably never would have mentioned any of this if I hadn’t seen Ondi Timoner’s amazing documentary about Josh Harris, We Live In Public. I don’t know if there’s any buzz about this film, which is getting a modest art house release, but I heard about it by listening to an interview with the filmmaker on NPR, on the “On the Media” show.

The film tells a truly amazing story and it’s quite disturbing. Josh Harris is a high-tech and internet pioneer, a staggeringly insightful genius, who got into the internet at the earliest possible moment, and saw not only how it would work but also had an understanding of its profound impact on our lives years and even decades before it happened. He very much received the inheritance of Any Warhol, multiplied exponentially through technology. The film is just awesome, unbelievable, a stunning record of watching our lives and the future unfold over the last 20 years. I’ll relate it to the concerns and proccupations of my own and this particular blog because Josh Harris is a product of my own generation and a similar upbringing, a child of April Wheeler or Betty Draper. We see on Mad Men every week how a depressed, aimless, narcissistic mother is detached from her children and is using television, an intensely powerful new technology, to raise her children. Josh Harris’ personality and profound, Warhol-like detachment was spawned watching hour after hour of television, with Gilligan’s Island playing a particularly strong role in his development. I’ll just say that I can relate. I’m sure he would be able to add the Jetsons and the Flintstones and The Beverly Hillbillies and countless other shows to the mix (in the new Coen Brothers’ movie, A Serious Man, it’s F Troop). As kids, television made us think about the future and stone age technology and unexpected wealth, leaving us to create our own powerful mythology. I remember being a kid and somehow knowing that there would be personal computers, a machine that would be a transparent vehicle for gathering information, following interests, and expressing my thoughts. It was just obvious, although it was impossible for me to see the details of how we would get there. This old hazy memory is perhaps one of the reasons why Revolutionary Road was so striking and shattering in its way, as its prescience about computers crystallizes certain ideas about the coming onslaught of technology. We all knew it somehow. It was a product of the war. And as a product of war and fascism there is a very dark side to it, one that preoccupies Josh Harris, that is explored in the film. The detachment of Josh Harris is deep and dark and desperate at times. I had my own fleeting insights and experiences, but I’m not that bright, and I’m an anti-techie in a lot of ways. Everything was clear to Josh Harris, just as it was to Yates and Warhol, and the evolution and impact of technology wasn’t an occasional glimpse to him; he lived it, and it’s all on film. He lived it in public.

And it’s just so striking to see this documentary and have a certain interest and investment in the internet and in blogging, writing about and participating in discussions about the NBA’s LA Clippers, for instance (as I do), or blogging about Yates and Chekhov and Hawthorne and counting the number of views on this site. Julie/Julia gives us a gauzy, classic Hollywood view of blogging making love and dreams come true. But go see We Live In Public if you want a better idea of what’s really going on and where this whole thing might be headed. We need to be very careful and thoughtful about how we use this powerful tool (and how it uses us), we need to raise our children well, and we must work hard every day to own our lives somehow, outside of our interaction with machines. I guess I’ll start with eating more French food.

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Responses

  1. [...] ZHIV – a blog about nothing Two Movies for Bloggers: Julie/Julia and We Live in Public “The film tells a truly amazing story and it’s quite disturbing…  Go see We Live In Public if you want a better idea of what’s really going on and where this whole thing might be headed.” [...]

  2. Don’t forget: Motherhood, (2009). It also features an avid blogger! :)


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