Film

Part 2: The Virgin Suicides to The Blair Witch Project (May - August 1999)

In Part Two of our look at the most memorable films of 1999, we experience music, foul-mouthed mayhem, and a late, great auteur's final cinematic statement.

Director: Sofia Coppola Film: The Virgin Suicides Studio: Paramount Classics Cast: James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Scott Glenn, Hanna R. Hall MPAA rating: R First date: 1999 US Release Date: 1999-05-12 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/v/virgin_suicides_poster.jpg

Display as: List

The Virgin Suicides

Director: Sophia Coppola

To begin with, they weren't all virgins.

In a movie that struggles for an epiphany, a climax (if not an orgasm), it needs to be said that 14-year-old Lux goes to her grave as the only Lisbon sister to lose her virginity. Whether the title of Sofia Coppola's film includes her is debatable; whether Lux died before recklessly and, yes, finally colliding with another person for the first time is not.

Does it make a difference? Maybe. After all, everyone remembers their first time, don't they?

And The Virgin Suicides is rich with first times: The 1993 novel by the same name was the first by Jeffrey Eugenides; the film, released six years later, was the feature film debut of Sofia Coppola. For 16-year-old Kirsten Dunst, who played the carnally charged Lux, it was a first turn as an object of desire -- only five years removed from a part in Little Women and four years from Jumanji, the first film that suggested she might someday be capable of tongue-lassoing Spider-Man in a soaked-through blouse.

Like most first times, the film is a learning experience for everyone involved. Both Eugenides and Coppola received greater acclaim for their sophomore efforts -- a His 'n' Hers awards set, a Pulitzer Prize for Eugenides' Middlesex, a screenplay Oscar for Coppola's Lost in Translation. Dunst's performance earned her more high-profile, if not glamorous, gigs; the same could be said for Josh Hartnett, who was only a year removed from The Faculty's squinty, slouchy rebel, Zeke Tyler, yet seemed reborn in Coppola's film as the slithering temptation named Trip Fontaine.

The cast and crew can walk away from their first times, of course. What makes The Virgin Suicides such an incredible film is the simple fact that the Lisbon girls cannot.

Why not? The world of The Virgin Suicides is rich with meaning yet void of answers. Scenes are shot on a palette of rose water and honey, pierced by plumes of intoxicated blues and clouds of wrist-blood reds—Trip Fontaine's car, for instance, or the popsicle Lux nurses at the film's beginning. The ethereal music of the French duo Air is ever-present, punched up on occasion by the incomparable sex appeal of Heart.

In fact, from the death of Cecelia Lisbon through the next year in the lives of the remaining Lisbon girls—school uniforms, a meek father, a domineering mother, a prom that feels like liberation and a grounding the seems like a death sentence—the film aches, lusts and wants as hungrily as the girls at its center. Especially Lux Lisbon.

Of the five Lisbon girls, the camera sticks on Lux with the rapt attention of a gaggle of horny teenage boys. (The film and novel are famously narrated by 'we', a chorus of neighborhood boys, male hormones tracking their goddesses.) We see her soaked through with sunlight in a field, playing footsy with boys under the dinner table. We see her lunge through the window of Fontaine's sports car while Heart plays "Crazy On You" and Lux follows suit, licking Trip's mouth and throat. On prom night we see through her skirt to where the name 'Trip Fontaine' is written in Magic Marker on her panties. And the day after prom, we wake up beside her on the football field, abandoned.

Broken somehow by this experience, and on a new trajectory, Lux and her sisters begin their disappearing act. Coppola, meanwhile, continues to gingerly nod at warning signs for depression all around the sisters. And like the innocent boys that gather scraps and souvenirs left by the Lisbons, we try to figure out the clues. Yet we're never presented with anything more than the tokens the boys collect. When we try to piece the puzzle together, we construct a giant circle with a hole in the middle where the Lisbon sisters used to be, and fall straight through to the bottom.

In a capsule review for The Virgin Suicides, The New York Times notes that the film "includes sexual situations and a morbid fascination with premature death. " The first is certainly true. As for the second, well, the girls don't seem to have any fascination with death. In The Virgin Suicides, what's most shockingly memorable, or memorably shocking, is how quickly the Lisbon girls opt of life, their true fascination—how they race towards that final first time before experiencing any more. Brendan Fitzgerald

The Virgin Suicides

Director: Wim Wenders Film: Buena Vista Social Club Studio: Road Movies Filmproduktion Cast: Luis Barzaga, Joachim Cooder, Ry Cooder, Juan de Marcos González, Julio Alberto Fernández, Ibrahim Ferrer, Carlos González Website: http://www.pbs.org/buenavista/film/index.html MPAA rating: PG First date: 1999 US Release Date: 1999-06-04 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/b/buenavistaposter.jpg

Display as: List

Buena Vista Social Club

Director: Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders’ documentary on the music of the Buena Vista Social Club offers a real portrait of modern Cuba, juxtaposed with its ties to a more heady past. Ry Cooder’s collaboration with many of the prominent Cuban musicians of the '40s and '50s resulted in the hugely successful 1997 release Buena Vista Social Club. One year later, Wenders accompanied Cooder and his son, percussionist Joachim Cooder, back to Cuba. Having heard Cooder’s initial recordings of the ensemble and interested in learning more about these previously forgotten musicians, Wenders combined interviews, recording studio footage, and a live concert performance at Carnegie Hall to present a more complete picture of the making of the album and all the elements that went into its origin.

Much of the documentary’s success comes from its subjects (Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa, Barbarito Torres, and Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, among others), a compelling group filled with wonderful stories and boundless energy for their music. Immediately engaging and moving, the music goes beyond its initial buoyancy or sadness to create a poignancy that may not be as obvious to listeners of the CD, particularly those who do not speak Spanish. While music often transcends language, it is in understanding the stories told in song, as well as the stories of those performing the songs, that a real immediacy to the material is created.

Wenders spends a good portion of time with the musicians in the studio and there is an intimacy to the recording process that is paralleled in the footage of the Buena Vista Social Club’s performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. Though far from intimate, the Carnegie Hall show represents the culmination of their success. There is such obvious, pure joy in the performance – not to mention, a great deal of experience and skill (see Torres playing his laud behind his back on the blistering “El Cuarto de Tula”) – on display that as a viewer, one cannot help but be moved by such exuberance.

Highlights such as Omara Portuondo walking down a street in Cuba singing as a local woman spontaneously joins in, or Ruben Gonzalez surrounded by young ballerinas dancing along to his piano playing in an old dance studio, or Compay Segundo’s story of lighting his grandmother’s cigars as a boy: all of these moments offer a glimpse into the bold personalities that make up the Buena Vista Social Club, as well as present a look at Cuba rarely seen to American audiences. It seems almost impossible to capture the energy of the live performances seen in this film, yet Cooder’s production in the recording studio allows for these musicians to present their music as in-the-moment as possible. It is both Cooder’s and Wenders’ obvious enthusiasm for this ensemble that translates their story so well. Buena Vista Social Club gives the music a chance to shine while also placing it and those who make it in a context both unique and revealing – an essential film that seems even more important today, as many of these performers have passed on. J.M. Suarez

Buena Vista Social Club

Next Page
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.