TV

'Girls' Returns in Self-Absorbed, Self-Aware Fashion

J.C. Macek III

While the dialogue still pops, it often serves to cover over plot holes and character inconsistencies.


Girls

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm ET
Cast: Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky
Subtitle: Season Two Premiere
Network: HBO
Creator: Lena Dunham
Air date: 2013-01-13
Website
Trailer
Amazon

There is something oddly compelling, even addictive, about HBO's Girls. I was sure I would have no interest in the show but I tried the first episode, then stopped there, having no need nor interest to see the next episode. This same feeling repeated with each episode until I had blitzed through the entire season on HBOgo.com in one week. Just one more episode. Just one more.

The second season of Girls, beginning 13 January, brings much of the same complex appeal that last season held. In short, the story and the characters are not very interesting on their own... but I can't stop watching.

The show's appeal has been attributed to its being a more down-to-earth version of Sex and the City, with the fashionistas replaced by the less glitzy friend circle of our frumpy, slightly overweight lead character of Hannah (played by series creator, producer, writer and often director Lena Dunham). The show has also been criticized for its all-white main cast in a New York City that is definitely more diverse. Dunham's response to this criticism was “these issues will be addressed.”

To be fair, Hannah does address this in her own (rather obvious) way in the first two and one half minutes of the first episode of Season Two (entitled “It's About Time”) as she has great sex with her new African American love interest named Sandy (Donald Glover), who is a Republican. Is this an organic evolution of the storyline, or is this a pandering attempt by Dunham and her producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner to say, “Yes, we are diverse, too. Look, Hannah's in an interracial relationship!”?

The answer is not immediately clear. What is clear is that while Hannah and Sandy are sharing intimate moments, Adam (Adam Driver), the object of her affections and pursuits throughout the entirety of Season One, is still bedridden with a badly broken leg. This injury is due to Adam's loss of a disagreement with the business end of an oncoming truck in last season's finale. Hannah feels responsible and plays caretaker to Adam while her patient remains blissfully ignorant to the existence of Sandy and convinced for all he is worth that he's still in a relationship with Hannah. In Adam's own quirky, aloof style, he explains his continued coldness to Hannah with the words “When you love someone you don't have to be nice all the time.”

Lest we forget that Girls is an ensemble show (or else it would be called “Girl”), Hannah is also sleep-snuggling with her new roommate and old boyfriend Elijah (Andrew Rannells), who is now openly gay and proud. Hannah's old roommate Marnie (Allison Williams) is fired (or “downsized”) and takes dubious comfort in the advice of her mother (Rita Wilson). Free-spirited Jessa (Jemima Kirke) returns from her surprise-honeymoon with her surprise husband (who is incredibly rich) Thomas-John (Chris O'Dowd). Jessa's over-verbal cousin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is dealing with the ups and downs of having recently lost her virginity to Hannah's (most recent) boss Ray (Alex Karpovsky). Incidentally, most of this ensemble is introduced at Elijah and Hannah's housewarming party, which Elijah's boyfriend George (Billy Morrissette) is invited to, but to which Hannah is “really glad Sandy is not coming.”

Curious. Dunham claims to have taken the continuing diversity questions seriously, but the moment Hannah has a big party with everybody invited, her African American boyfriend Sandy is not only left at home, but she's “glad" he won't be coming along.

The remainder of the episode reveals flips in relationships that raise questions about loyalty and identity, as the girls debate who gets the right to call whom a “Bad Friend.” While the dialogue still pops, it often serves to cover over plot holes and character inconsistencies. In each story, people make the most selfish possible choices and show themselves to be just as spoiled and selfish as those other, more fashionable people, to whom they are so frequently compared.

Just as Hannah spends part of her time working to make her mundane “personal essays” interesting, so does Lena Dunham seem to be pushing to make her personalized, lifelike dramedy as compelling as she can. And she does. Unfortunately, “compelling” isn’t always the same thing as “great.” What Girls does right is remain convincing even in its unrealistic moments. After all, good television, even nitpickable good television, doesn't have to be realistic. It's enough to tell stories well, Girls may be telling the stories of a bunch of pampered, elitist, self-absorbed individuals, but it does tell these stories very well.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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9

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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