Film

The Girl from Monday (2004)

Rob Horning

In the film's America, the government has been replaced by an advertising firm.


The Girl from Monday

Director: Hal Hartley
Cast: Bill Sage, Sabrina Lloyd, Tatiana Abracos, Leo Fitzpatrick, D.J. Mendel, James Urbaniak
MPAA rating: Not rated
Studio: Possible Films
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2005-05-04 (Limited release)

Hal Hartley makes no secret of his fondness for Godard. This makes his films interesting and out of step with virtually everything else going on in U.S. film. Eschewing mainstream story-arcing and conventional characters, Hartley translates Godard's work in the '60s into an American idiom.

The obvious formal debts -- the guerrilla location shooting, the choppy editing, and so on -- bleed into conceptual debts. These include voiceovers with overlapping voices, characters reading to each other from books or speaking in quotations. The imagery toys with what is and isn't diegetic, with genre expectations, and concerns with verisimilitude. The dialogue is typically stylized to a deadpan, haiku fineness, set against capricious structures, full of airy spontaneity. Hartley restores the shock and cruelty to violence, while mining pathos from otherwise ludicrous moments. He attempts socio-political critique that is both oblique and ham-fisted. And like his idol, he tends to fetishize beautiful, short-haired women.

Sabrina Lloyd plays the latest of these bobbed women in The Girl from Monday, a science-fiction dystopia shot in New York, which owes a lot not only to Godard's Alphaville, but also to Chris Marker's La Jetée, particularly in its use of evocative still frames and voiceover. Marker's film, the basis also for 12 Monkeys, uses fractured form (an entire film comprised entirely into still images held for a few moments) to amplify the themes of his time-travel narrative. It suggests how memory preserves a series of snapshot-like moments (as recent neurological research has suggested) and reveals how much more a still image can evoke than a moving one. Hartley's film plays similar games with form, his DV images stopping, slipping into slow motion or blurring at unexpected moments, refusing to let a viewer settle in and lose sense of the medium itself.

In Monday's America, the government has been replaced by an advertising firm. The perpetual stoking of desire, consumer or counterrevolutionary, is the primary order of business. Recalling Gary Becker's notion of the individual consumer as a kind of business firm "producing" satisfaction for himself, the film imagines a society where individuals self-consciously see themselves as firms, where their acquisitive individualism is pushed to its absurd endpoint. All behavior is as self-interested as neoclassical economists imagine it to be -- sexuality is directly linked to credit rating, an income-generating act.

One of Hartley's early films, Surviving Desire, considered this at the level of the personal relationship, with sexual desire exploited by women with short dark hair as opposed to advertisers. But the uneasy feeling the inaccessible short-haired woman in Surviving Desire evokes is extended in Monday to an entire society that revolves around desire elaborately instigated, then perpetually unfulfilled.

Another common Hartley trope concerns the idea of trust. It crops up in Simple Men, where brothers confront their fugitive father, and Amateur, where Isabelle Huppert's amnesiac nun turns out to be a brutal criminal. In the disquieting Monday, there is no "right" side or related question of trust, since all struggle, all yearning, ends in unmet desire, here given a literal value. In this society, desire tends to isolate people; when it brings them together, it is only so they may exploit each other.

Opposed to the society of ultraindividualists is an alien race of ultra-communitarians, who share one body and all feelings, none of which is desire. The film uses these impossible idealized creatures to work out the various trade-offs involved in obtaining a concept of self, even if this means submitting to market forces. The girl from Monday herself (played by newcomer Tatiana Abracos, charged with the unenviable task of having to act as though she's just discovering what it's like to have a body) is an alien overwhelmed with both the capitalist cornucopia of commodities and the inexhaustible pleasures that another person's attention can provide. Her experience hints at the ways the desire to have a self (and commodities) can become indistinguishable from the desire to merge, to move beyond one's own limits.

Humans are all trapped in this paradox, but corporations, made up of no particular humans, transcend this and can thereby perpetually profit from it. Institutions, immune to desire, can always position themselves to exploit it, and forever. In Monday, the ad boss realizes that both revolution and counterrevolution are good for the ad business. All desire, understood as discontent and instability, is good for business, even if desire's paradox and ambivalence are bad for the specific humans who make up the businesses. So in the film, Jack (Bill Sage) carries out the business of the corporation he works for even as it traps him in his quixotic desires. His role in the corporation, enforcing its individualist creed and extending its persuasive reach, works to exacerbate his own need while offering only the tentative and incoherent solutions of selfhood and selfishness. Unfortunately, the ending Hartley offers feels like an escapist cheat, a disappointing sidestep around the insoluble problems of identity he had so deftly raised.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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