Thirteen (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

As the girls have picked up from every cultural sign around them, sex is a route to adulthood, but it's also an ordeal.


Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Sisto, Deborah Kara Unger, Kip Pardue, Brady Corbet
Distributor: Fox Home Video
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Fox Searchlight
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-08-20 (Limited release)

Thirteen begins in mid-crisis. Two girls sit on a bed and suck up a can of Dust-Off. Shot in a series of close-ups, they lapse into a sort of delirium. "I can't feel anything," giggles the blond one, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood). The dark one, temptress Evie (Nikki Reed), claims to hear a sound in her head: "That's your brain cells popping!" squeals Tracy, just before they start hitting each other, just to feel something. They're both surprised when they knock each other off the bed, raising welts and drawing blood. They laugh again.

Cutting back from this girl-bonding commotion to four months earlier, Thirteen traces how Tracy and Evie came to this unpretty place. While the course is simplified for popular consumption, the story is compelling, even urgent, particularly if you know any 13-year-olds who are feeling alienated, angry, or self-destructive. Pale and willowy, Tracy starts out as an apparent "good girl." Living with her single mom Melanie (Holly Hunter) and slightly older brother Mason (Brady Corbet) in a low-rent section of Los Angeles, she does her homework, doesn't make waves, and looks after her mom, a recovering addict and at-home hairdresser who tends to lose track of her hair gel during appointments.

Beneath her seeming self-possession, however, Tracy's in trouble. She resents dad's absence and mom's chaos, not to mention Mel's on-again-off-again boyfriend, Brady (Jeremy Sisto), also a recovering addict; their relationship is plainly compassionate and even fun, but they just as plainly have a history they're trying not to revisit. Tracy's angry at both -- her mother for seeming weak and Brady for giving her scary memories (him doing drugs in the kitchen), to which she flashes back on cue. In search of some sense of order, Tracy has been cutting herself, keeping a scissors and a bloody rag hidden in the bathroom for late-night self-damage sessions. Heading back to school, new to seventh grade, Tracy's hardly noticed. But, like everyone else, she takes definite notice of classmate Evie -- in perfect makeup, tight tops, lowcut jeans, and bellybutton ring -- and resolves that day to get with the cool girls.

Initially scornful of this corny girl in cutesy blue socks ("Who let her out of the cabbage patch?"), Evie relents when Tracy steals a wallet full of cash and offers it up as a kind of dowry. From here, Tracy reels into a torrent of first times -- getting her tongue and navel pierced, shoplifting on Melrose, drinking, tripping on acid. And, of course, experimenting with sex -- with boys and with each other, high and straight. As they've picked up from every cultural sign around them, sex is a route to adulthood, but it's also an ordeal, a test of their very young mettle.

The girls' almost instantly codependent friendship leads to inevitable tension and competition between them, especially when Evie seeks Mel's attention, telling stories about abuses at home -- these shift, depending on what Evie thinks to say each time: her aunt's boyfriend hit her, her father bruised her. While it's never quite clear how Evie has been abused or by whom, her situation is plainly raucous; she lives with Brooke (Deborah Kara Unger), who, much like the girls, pursues mass-marketed happiness, imagining that wearing girly outfits, sleeping with younger men, or getting plastic surgery will make her happy. The film suggests that she's not, but only from a distance, as the girls perceive her, running down the hallway on the way to work, or through a window as she huddles on her couch, stitched and black-and-blue from her ear job.

Co-written by Reed and director Catherine Hardwicke, and inspired by Reed's experiences (as she's been telling the many interviewers who regularly look pleased to see that she's not only survived, but also graduated to a poised movie stardom at age 15), Thirteen is both harrowing and moralistic. In this doubled effect, it recalls Larry Clark's Kids (1995), exposing bad behavior in handheld Super 16 imagery (here the camera is by the endlessly resourceful Elliot Davis [Get on the Bus, 1996]), that hovers between reportage and sensationalism. Unlike Kids -- and this is a crucial difference -- Thirteen offers more than glimpses of adults. Though Mel tends to appear from the girls' point of view, framed by windows and doorways, not quite understanding what they're going through, she manifestly cares about them, means to do well, and won't give up on them ("Baby," she pleads, "We have to have a real talk"). Even Brady is a warm, generous guy, only walking off ("This place is fucking with my head") when Tracy knows -- as she does with everyone -- just what buttons to push.

Still, Thirteen comes with a Kids-like rating, that doesn't allow 13-year-olds to see it; Hardwicke advocates that kids see it with adults with whom they can discuss it together. Such discussion might be especially helpful when it comes to the movie's presentation of Tracy and Evie's sexual experimentations, which raise the specter of race-mixing anxieties, as they pursue black and Hispanic boys, who impress girls by rapping and beatboxing. Evie slips out the window to "party" with some kid in the park, leaving Tracy to wonder what she's missing. When Tracy does attract the attention of the beautiful and much desired Javi (Charles Duckworth), the girls work their simultaneous makeout and blowjob sessions in mirror fashion, Tracy copying Evie's actions, step by step, from tongue-kissing and straddling to stripping off her top and unzipping Javi's jeans.

That Evie later pursues Javi herself, for an evening's distraction, only underlines her own insecurity that looks like malice to Tracy. That the girls specifically and aggressively seek out sex and drug activities with young black men and Latinos speaks to the boys' emblematic coolness, but their desire comes with baggage -- cultural, historical, political -- that Tracy and Evie can't begin to fathom. The movie might be clearer about how this works, or provide a broader context that doesn't depend on Evie serving as a plot device and emblem of dire descent, instigation and model for Tracy's bad behaviors.

While Thirteen shifts awkwardly from overstatement to ambiguity with regard to Evie and Tracy, it renders Tracy and Mel's relationship with affecting detail. In part, this has to do with Wood and Hunter, who are frequently stunning (Mel's assault on her own kitchen floor tiles is one remarkable moment), but it's also a function of the attention paid to both characters' ongoing efforts to deal with more or less familiar traumas. So daily are these struggles that even the house illustrates their simultaneous lack of boundaries and inability to communicate: Tracy's room has windows looking out on the living room, where she watches Mel make out with Brady. Tracy's discomfort is also visible, and she has no recourse. It's as if Mel is doing this to her, on purpose. When you're 13, increased depth of vision means more layers of you.

Confused, loving, and mutually frustrating, mother and daughter lurch from moment to moment, desperate to connect even when full-on confrontation seems the only route. It's the sort of crisis that can't be resolved or even fully rendered in one movie, but Thirteen does well to dig into its nuances.

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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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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