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February 20, 2004

Turbokitty on "The Dreamers"

Dear Friedrich --

I was thinking the other day of blogging about Bernardo Bertolucci's new movie The Dreamers. Problem was, I didn't feel strongly about the film one way or the other. Then I bumped into Turbokitty, who told me she enjoyed the film a lot, and, Shazam.

I don't know about you, but these slowed-down middle-aged days, I often find it more interesting to find out what someone who loves something has to say about it than I do to opinionize myself. So I roped Turbokitty, a wonderfully zesty conversationalist, into doing a back-and-forth with me about the movie.


Turbokitty will forgive me if I take advantage of the occasion to make a Blowhardish point, namely:

  • One reason that art doesn't have to be great is because it's always part of something we might think of as "the art experience," and the art experience includes much in addition to the specific work of art. You can have a fabulous art experience even when the art itself isn't great. Such an experience might, for instance, include anticipation, study, fantasy, the out-in-public thing, the apres-discussions, the moods you're thrown into, the reflections it prompts, the place it takes in your life ... (Hey, reading a review, or writing one -- or even co-blogging with a friend -- can be part of the art experience too.)

    In any case, the art experience doesn't begin only when the artwork begins, and it seldom ends the moment the artwork itself does. And a given art experience can be a great one -- or a very rewarding one -- even when the work itself isn't great. It can also be flat and unsatisfying even when the work itself is great. I don't think either Turbokitty or I thought "The Dreamers" was great, but we certainly had a fun time rapping about it. It was the trigger for a terrific Art Experience. And art experiences are as much to be savored and treasured as works of art are. IMHO, as ever.

But enough with the point-making and on with the show.

A little info about "The Dreamers" to set things up. It's based on a Gilbert Adair novel I haven't read. Adair's a gay English novelist and film critic; I loved his idiosyncratic movie-history book Flickers (which is buyable here). Bertolucci is an Italian filmmmaker who made his name in the '60s and '70s with sexy political films like "Before the Revolution," "The Conformist," and "Last Tango in Paris." Since then, he's mostly moved back and forth between epics like "The Last Emperor" and erotic chamber dramas like "Stealing Beauty" and "Besieged."

The film's action is set in '68 in Paris, and its tone might be described as hotsy-totsy rueful nostalgia. It concerns three teens, a French brother-and sister-twin team whose relationship may be a little too close, and an earnest but eager-for-experience American boy. The twins are arch and perverse in ways meant to evoke Cocteau's "Les Enfants Terribles," which Jean-Pierre Melville made into a film that was an inspiration to the New Wave.

These references are integral to the film because the kids are as caught up in movies and in protesting what was happening at the Paris Cinematheque as they are in the fiery politics of the day. Storywise: when their parents go out of town for a few weeks, the twins invite the naive, square, luscious American boy to stay with them. Time for sex, playfulness and psychodrama, all of it wrapped up in the spirit of the '60s.

The film is a Valentine to a time when (in Bertolucci's view) experimentation was rife, movies meant something, and life seemed charged with a sense of purpose. Bertolucci uses a charming tone that's unusual for him; with it, he seems to be saying something like, "Wow, youth! Sexy, fun ... Yet, lordy, a lot of what we did was just so much narcissistic carrying-on, wasn't it? Still ..."

Oh, BTW, the film has so much nudity and sex it's been rated NC-17.

Fair warning: tons of spoilers ahead. But it's not as if the movie is a plot-heavy one.

Michael Blowhard: What's your basic take on the movie? Love it?

TurboKitty: Yeah!

MBlowhard: Make you wish you'd lived through it?

TKitty: Yeah!

MBlowhard: Visually gorgeous?

TKitty: Damn straight!

MBlowhard: My basic reaction was 1) pretty silly and trivial, 2) still a good date movie. The Wife and I had a nice time talking it over.

TKitty: Not when you're with your boyfriend and another male friend. I was bright red! However, I have to be honest -- I did go to see it for the sex.

MBlowhard: There was some very cute sex in the movie.

TKitty: Someone give me a fan! There I was sitting between the two of them in the movie theater watching the film, and trying really hard not to explode. Bertolucci was rocking my socks! From the moment the titles hit the screen, I was pulled in.

MBlowhard: I'm generally a fan of threesome movies, and of sex-in-an-apartment existential/poetic movies too. But this one wasn't happenin' much for me. Though, like I say, I was surprised by how much of a glow The Wife and I had for an hour or two after.

TKitty: My boyfriend wasn't turned on by it at all. He was into "Swimming Pool" more -- I think he likes blondes, actually. Like I said before, I let the silliness and the stereotypes fall to the side if I'm making a choice to get into the film. I choose to ignore some stuff.

MBlowhard: Did the film make you feel nostalgic? Not that you're anywhere near old enough to have known the period.

TKitty: Made me gaga. My Francophilia tendencies went to eleven! I know Bertolucci did it on purpose too -- that apartment was so cliche!

MBlowhard: It also reminded me of how awful that era could be.

TKitty: I hate hippies and I hate classic rock ... But I couldn't resist the soundtrack. I also thought it was cute when Matthew the American gave Theo the French boy grief for being a fake protester.

MBlowhard: How'd the American actor work for you? I liked that he did the film, I liked his spoiled baby-Brando, slightly cringe-making look. But I also found him limited and monotonous. Did he work for you?

TKitty: Apparently he's really dumb! I think all of those guys look insanely stupid. He looks like a Bruce Weber-Calvin Klein model. His lips are red and his face, young and na´ve. He's like a sex toy ... No, he didn't really work for me either.


MBlowhard: What was your favorite scene in "The Dreamers" and why?

TKitty: Favorite scene: when the parents come home to find their children in a tent in the middle of their house asleep and naked with another boy and they write a check and sneak out of the house and jump in the car -- never to return! I was dying laughing.

MBlowhard: I found it fun to watch smelly, greasy, embarassing, arty sex onscreen again.

TKitty: Me too! I get super-tired of Hollywood babes: fake, tan and blonde. Give me Sophia Loren any day, or Brigitte or Jean or Anna. I think my preference is clearly Italian or French. One of my big fantasies, never lived, was to have an affair with a French girl, but alas, I had one-night stands with Italian men instead. Dammit! I think my chances now are too slim, so I watch Bertolucci or Ozon instead. They're better than a lot of porn out there and they're cheaper than strip clubs.

MBlowhard: What makes Bertolucci a sexy director?

TKitty: He pushes all kinds of boundaries. He is sometimes sexually graphic, but with style and taste. He teases, and he builds up this fantasy slow... my legs were so tightly crossed the entire movie I think I pulled a muscle. I tried to stop looking over at my boyfriend to see if there was drool down the side of his mouth. Yowza.

Although there was sterotypes abundant and romanticism up the ass, I certainly didn't care. For me, it was a sweet film made by a good old director who can shoot beautifully, tell a story and make me beg for more. I can't say I much cared about the overdone nostalgia. I was just hip to let go and watch naked people with fantastic bodies have sex in a nicely lit -- although my friend Geoff said he hated the lighting -- bohemian apartment in Paris. If I don't think about it too much, Bertolucci works for me everytime.

MBlowhard: What makes one Bertolucci film good and another bad for you? I liked "Besieged" better than "The Dreamers," for instance, but find it hard to explain why.

TKitty: I think he gets really stuck in stereotypes. It becomes annoying. Sometimes when you watch his movies, you already know where it's going to go. "Besieged" was more psychological and frustrating, which made it a better film.

MBlowhard: The film's kinda absurd, but it's kinda classy and arty too. And it ain't soft-core porn, it's something else ... Is it the Paris setting? The way everything looks decadent yet a little glossy too? What's your hunch?

TKitty: He's a brilliant master at composition. Anyone who enjoys Renaissance paintings and understands filmmaking to a degree should be going nuts over the gorgeous look of his films. The lighting is either rich gold or pale blue... The colors of his films are well thought-out, the clothing is worn, the paint in the rooms and houses is wondeful ... His locations are decadent. He opens the door to a visually rich world many romantics, aestheticians, scholars and artists should be drawn to. Scorsese could not even come close to this, and Kubrick was slightly hyper real. Bertolucci is much more seductive and subtle. I think that's European, frankly. I also love the way Louis Malle frames a shot.

MBlowhard: What do you think of Bertolucci's camera? His early movies were pretty dazzling, the way he moved in and out of people's heads and perceptions. The whole thing about prowling the corridors, then being surprised by the person you encounter and the state she's in ... There was this mysterious, charged and archetypal, dreamy-spooky feeling ...

TKitty: I dig his shots. The only older film I've seen of his was "Last Tango." The rest I have seen in the eighties and nineties. I enjoyed the way he made me feel in the apartment ... I started to become accustomed to it. I knew if you made a left through the door in the entrance way, you'd hit the kitchen. I knew where bedrooms were ... That's pretty cool. Same with "Besieged," same with "Stealing Beauty" and same with "Last Tango." He lets the viewer live in the space. He takes his time to let you get acquainted with the surroundings. It makes the shocking bits even more so because you're relaxed in his space ... Then he's like, "Surprise!"

MBlowhard: I enjoy things in films like this that I imagine you must find baffling -- all the neurotic acting-out, the mysterious bouts of hard-to-explain emotionality, the arch playacting followed by the tragic collapses, etc etc. I know what it's all about, and did a certain amount of that myself 'way back when. But I wonder what these torments and rhapsodies look like to someone who didn't live through the '60s and '70s.

For instance, did you ever see "Romance"? The actress who went through all those agonies was interviewed after making the film. And I remember her saying something like, "You gotta understand, those are the director's feelings that I was acting out. Me, I'm pretty cool about all this sex stuff." So what do all the onscreen torments look like to you?

TKitty: Seems to be lots of fun if you're the actor. And of course they are just folks telling the writer's story -- or the director's story. I'm sure there were some insane moments of making the film, but they made the choice to be in it and get naked and to be put in compromising positions. I think it looked like fun, but I could never do it. My job is to watch this stuff and go, "Right on!" -- and be happy someone produced a saucy fantasy film. I'm the entertainee.

MBlowhard: The "Romance" actress's point was really that there was a big generational difference between her and her Boomer director. The actress was saying, I don't really know what the hell that was all about really, because me and my friends, we don't experience any of that stuff.

So what I wanted to ask you was something along the lines of: there's a lot of hard-to-interpret and neurotic acting-out going on in "The Dreamers." I get it, most of the time, but I think that's largely because I'm more or less from that era. And I wonder what it looks like to a youngster like you. Bizarre? Fascinating? Tiresome? Or maybe neat, because after all sex seemed to have an arty/political/psychological kick back then, versus today when it's everywhere 24/7 and what's the big deal?

TKitty: It's a really hard question for me to answer -- but I'll do my best.

I don't get tired of watching characters go through a sexual awakening during time periods which made doing that radical. I'm not bored from it, it's nice to see. But I sort of click off the fast-porn stuff which is spoon-fed to kids in their teens and twenties these days. It has become fairly meaningless to me now. In fact, it makes me wonder, What's next?

Everything is so in your face these days ... It makes experimenting boring before you even get around to doing it. Make sense to you? I have purposely not done a bunch of experimenting I could have done in my twenties to keep an active, healthy fantasy life. I don't need to live out all my fantasies, it's cool to visit them in my head. This has actually turned out to be a very good thing -- and has helped me have a fun balance. It keeps sex interesting and hot for many years to come, instead of "been there, done that, sigh." It was a very conscious choice.

MBlowhard: What does watching Bertolucci's films make you feel like doing when you go back to your own art?

TKitty: Oh, I draw bugs regardless. My art has nothing to do with this kind of sexual content. But what I continue to file away in my head is ways of telling stories, ways of shooting, color schemes, compositions, collages -- I really care about all that stuff. My new little bug just got hit with polka dots, and that came from watching old film titles and thinking about animation from the sixties and fifties. I love Hitchcock titles, nothing is better. And I love jazz.

MBlowhard: As an artist, do you ever look at something like "The Dreamers" and envy it, and think, Wow, if only I could bring myself to talk about such intimate, straight-faced, dreamy things? If you were to do something in that spirit or mood, what would you want to do?

TKitty: Part of it is simply the writing. It's a way for the writer to speak out but in a different context. It's exaggerated but still believable in the cinema. And no, I wouldn't say the things they did because I'm too shy. Isabelle the French girl is outspoken in the way people fantasize about being outspoken. One of my favorite lines was when Michael was surprised she was still a virgin and how it didn't seem possible after seeing her chained to the gate and she laughed, "I was acting, Michael." Acting like a whore? Funny!

MBlowhard: The French girl's character goes through a lot. She's bold and hard and confident, then you learn that she's been a virgin. She's campy and perverse, but then seems to get something out of being taken on that squaresville date by the American kid. Do you identify? Do you know what she's on about?

TKitty: I don't really know what she's about except to repeat what I said above about her "acting" -- which is the funny part. She wants to be more grownup than she is, which is often the case with teenage girls. But her psyche is limited because she's incesting with her brother the whole time -- and the line in the film is true (coming from Michael) about how they will never grow because really, they are sick.

MBlowhard: I lived through the '60s, but it's interesting to me to learn what they mean to you, you youngster. Do they seem fun? Sexy? Better than today?A time when things seemed to "matter"? Including sex and movies?

Tkitty: Yes yes yes. And yes. It's a time of high drama. Artists are busting out of confines. Modernism is done, finished. Fluxus is the new cool (my favorite cool). Yoko Ono. Nam June Paik. Joseph Bueys. Experimenting with art, cinema, drugs, anarchy, politics, freedom, etc.

I am just someone who is drawn to all that energy. Western contemporary culture was turned upside down. How can I not romanticize about these pioneers who paved the way for me? I mean jesus, I can sit here and say flatly that my art is art because I call it art and screw anyone who says otherwise. I scribble some ink on paper and have the confidence to stand behind my work and call it fine art. I do and always will. But there was a day when that was all very debatable. And people like Yoko Ono changed that. I adore her.

MBlowhard: How about '60s movies?

TKitty: When I moved to New York from California, I went through a lot of changes. I was 24. I didn't know what the hell was up or down. After about two years in the city, leaving my then-boyfriend and abandoning some weird friends I had picked up, I started spending some really fun time alone. Monday-Friday, from 9-6, I was the working-day girl. Any other time was for exploring. When it was winter (and the cold used to be uncomfortable for me), I had movie days. I'd wake up, decide which actress I was that day, dress accordingly (down to the makeup on my face) and walk the streets of New York in my own personal fantasy. Some days I was Brigitte, others I was Sophia or Jean or Audrey or Catherine. I'd head down to the Film Forum and catch an afternoon flick and then take myself out on a date.

Now that's goofy. But quite frankly, I was happy. And I was fantasizing about the swinging sixties (not to be confused by the hippie sixties. Once Vietnam happened, my fantasies alter -- suddenly everything becomes more real).

MBlowhard: What does the New Wave mean to you? Similar to the '60s generally? Exciting time of experimentation? Did you ever have a New Wave period in college, for instance, caught up in Godard and Truffaut and learning how to conduct an affair, anything like that?

TKitty: Yes, the New Wave is essentially the sixties to me. Also, the hip and happening world of New York seemed like the very best time to live here. I've read some Cahiers Du Cinema and I enjoyed reading the authors slam Hollywood, although there are so many films out of Hollywood in the early sixties that are fantastic. And England, let's not even talk about David Lean, waaaaaay! Was he more roped into the Hollywood machine than the English production companies?

Dunno, but can I just say two words? Julie. Christie. (LOVED "Darling," just saw it for the first time recently.) Her character in that movie captures my fantasies of the sixties pretty well ... She's independent, looking for success and ready for experience of all kinds. She falls into a kind of "factory" and just liberates herself.

Interesting how her relationship crumbles, though, even though she loves her leading man. I think Jean-Luc Godard was saying something similar in "Contempt." Women were becoming more independent and more restless perhaps. And men more and more confused. Rightly so.

On a side note, I do actually take these scenes to heart. If a man disappoints a woman in love to the point where she looks at him in disgust, it becomes tricky. She will give him another chance or two. But if his pride gets in the way -- and this is illustrated often in the contemporary sixties man -- she will abandon him. Young women know there is always another contender around the corner, and are not afraid to take a chance with someone else. Even if they are truly in love.

But I never experimented with sex through film from the sixties. I think we were more into "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

MBlowhard: I was in France in '71-'72, when things weren't all that different than they're shown in "The Dreamers," so my memories of the time are half-nostalgic. But the other half the time I roll my eyes and think, god, we really were ludicrous, weren't we?

TKitty: Sounds romantic to me! I think you might be having a reaction to the hardcore idealism of that time period. Young people who are activists can be seriously over the top when it comes to ideas and convictions. But that's exciting, no? I love that the French have that fabulous streak of "Let's take to the streets!" -- I mean, they've been doing it since the French Revolution. It's liberating. Yet, it's not for me. I love the fantasy of film, the imagination and romanticism. I love French cinema in the sixties because it was breaking boundaries and experimenting with new ways to tell stories. They were also trend-setters.

MBlowhard: How about the politics? Do you feel any envy of people who at least think they have a cause? It mostly seemed tedious to me as a kid. Self-righteous, angry teens -- as though they aren't self-righteous and angry enough without the politics.

TKitty: It's a way to purge all the other issues teenagers are confused about. Now they just pick up guns and start shooting. Sigh. And no, I'm not into activism. The only way I'm an activist is to better my surrounding community and be a good neighbor and friend. I'm more like Mr. Rogers, but kinkier.

MBlowhard: Do you dig the styles in the film?

TKitty: I liked the styles a lot. I'm more into early/mid sixties fashion though. And I always want to know more about the era. As usual, the artists and film makers are taking drugs, hanging out with fast chicks (like maybe in Montmartre or something) and living on the cheap. Some have apartments, others might sleep around merely to have a place to sleep. And there's a surge of energy. There's action on the street (much in the same way St Marks & Ave A use to have energy when I moved to NYC).

It never looked to me as if any of the leading ladies in these French movies were wearing Dior anything. It was all dime store clothing. Tight black sweaters, wool skirts, colorful tights and comma heel pumps. Some hoop earrings and a scarf for dressing up. And for an extra POW on screen, a tight, well-cut wool coat. Really simple clothing that transcended on film. It made a statement but still seemed ordinary.

Do you think this was the filmmaker's doing, or the actresses who showed up on set?

MBlowhard: I'd guess it was heavily art-directed.

Tkitty: It's really brilliant because as we are focusing on the actors, we are also getting accustomed to their style, as simple as it is. Then to dramatically change a scene, the film maker can add one simple prop (like a hat or a pair of sunglasses) -- and it says everything. It stands out and speaks waves about the mood shift in the film.

My closet is stuffed with all these clothes. I know the style down to the last detail. I dress just like my grandmother (a very stylish woman), and I have a lot of her scarves and coats. It was funny talking about stripes with Your Wife a while back -- she said she hated stripes because it reminded her of the sixties (or maybe the early eighties, I'm not sure). But I am over the top addicted to stripes because of all those old movies. Half of my shirts have stripes. And friends say I dress preppy, which I find really funny -- as I never think of it as preppy. A Pucci scarf is not preppy.

I just thought, damn! I'm giving away the farm here! Now everyone will know my clothing secrets (which I don't normally discuss), because I'd like to imagine that I'm not ripping off an era.

However, it's always funny to me to see Prada go through periods of ripping off this look, because their clothes are $400 and up! And soooo easy to duplicate if you're simply going for a look (not easy to duplicate when you check out the hem lines, the cut and the fabrics ... they are very well made). But maybe that's not the point with sixties Parisian street fashion ... It was meant to be disposable and cheap. It says something about the culture at that time.

I don't know if I'll ever get bored of it either. I've been wearing it for over 10 years now and I'm still not yet. It will probably be my trade mark look, just like my grand mother (who wore a boat neck navy blue striped shirt and a white skirt up until she died).

MBlowhard: I like the way you talk about the movie as a fantasy. It never struck me that way. Not that I ever had the luck to fall in with a gorgeous, incestuous French brother-sister team. Even so, the sex-in-apartment political thing was pretty commonplace in those days. So I'd never call the film a fantasy in the same way that I'd call "Sex and Lucia" a fantasy, for instance. But I like that you do call it a fantasy. Still: why?

TKitty: Because as I know it, the "let's get together for a threesome with my sister" is not real. And even if it was, it would never be that fun. It might be for a short time, then it would be totally destructive and miserable. Bertolucci allows this to go on and the viewer not feel like they've just had a "bad touch". I never felt sick about it. He had a way of letting the viewer create slight distance so we could get off instead of feeli disgusted. That's a fantasy. Make sense?


MBlowhard: How do you find Bertolucci's films compare to what's generally out there these days? I find that they have real sex -- neurotic, rhapsodic, poetic, disgusting, hot -- on their minds, instead of the versions we're usually fed these days, which are either candied-up and Photoshopped, or frat-boy gross-out. Bertolucci likes the naughty, arty stuff -- sex not just as a matter of getting worked up over a hot bod, but as using your soul to explore another person's soul.

TKitty: Yeah -- he's nasty and I like it that way, in this film especially. Plus I was quite pleased with many of the naked-guy shots. He gets points for that. The whole incest thing was totally taboo and what made this film have an edge.

MBlowhard: I remember you once told me you watched a lot of porn as a kid. What was it like? How'd it effect you? When did you turn to arty stuff instead? Does it affect you differently?

TKitty: It was weird. And maybe because I had an active imagination as a kid, I was more curious than some. Hot, steamy sex between two girls while some vulgar fat hairy man watched totally blew my head off. I was seven or eight! It was the same time I saw "Jaws." Everything I watched was freaking me out. If I turned left, "Friday The 13th" was on, if I turned right, two chicks were doing it, and then if I really fell down the rabbit hole, I'd catch "Deliverance" on tv. I guess as a kid there was a lot of freaky images filling my head. Maybe that's why I love the beauty of earlier films more ... and I probably started getting into much older movies by the time I was 13. I decided to separate myself from some of my friends by getting into something different, old movies. Then that sparked my interest in arty films eventually.

MBlowhard: Do you enjoy flat-out porn these days?

TKkitty: Regular hardcore/softcore porn doesn't do a whole lot for me anymore. It's fine, I'll watch it -- but it doesn't really interest me. I like porn from the sixties and seventies when the industry itself was breaking boundaries and the film stock was grainy and grimy. I just figured out why a couple weeks ago -- it's because lights are more expensive than high speed film, correct? So to keep costs down film makers just bought high speed film and went with natural light or existing light -- am I right? Awfully slow, me.

Anyway, I like that. Today it's hideous lighting, and hideous-looking people -- where in "Deep Throat," Linda Loveless is no honey, but she reminds me of some of the freaks in Andy Warhol's factory which make her interesting to me. That whole scene -- the Factory, the drugs, the people -- was very seductive to me for a long time. It's 10 times more of a turn on to me than the Jenna Jamesons. I also hate fake tans and fake tits. I can't understand why people are into that.

MBlowhard: What do art movies tend to mean to you? How about European movies? What's your history going to sexy examples of them? How's "The Dreamers" rate compared to other recent sexy-arty movies?

TKitty: Well, I loved "Sex and Lucia." I loved "Y Tu Mama Tambien." Spanish and Mexican film makers seem to be mixing it up a bit. I do like the idea of a woman as the lead character walking through some kind of sexual awakening. "The Dreamers" held my attention, stirred me and then ended at an appropriate moment. I was not bored in any of these films, and don't think one is better than the other, really. If I'd have to choose though, I'd pick "Sex and Lucia." She had to go through major emotional changes and the viewer was pulled just a little closer. We knew her a little better (in a good way). "Sex and Lucia" created this dance between the viewer and lead character -- we're close and hot, we're pulled back, we're close again ... We care about her but are ready for anything. I like that. And it's not easy. In "The Dreamers" I never felt that, I didn't care about any of them, they were sex objects to me, fantasies.

MBlowhard: Time to be bold and blunt, girl! Name three things from the movie that gave your insides a thrill, and tell why. No fair not being specific! But me first.

I enjoyed the scene when the brother is masturbating in front of the other two kids, looking at the Marlene Dietrich photo, and he seemed to be having a hard time of it. He's really flailing away. And his sister is sitting there watching, all composed and sweetly ironic-seeming, and to help him along she gives him a little tickle with the feather duster she's carrying. Whee! I liked it when the American kid's on top of her on the kitchen floor and asks her for help getting inside her, and you can see her hand going down between their legs to guide his beastie home. (It wasn't a bad moment either when she gasps as he pops inside her.) Her appearance as the Venus de Milo sure was cute. And the first time she strips and dances, I thought her clingy little hipster cotton panties were adorable. But that's already 'way more than three from me. Your turn.

TKitty: I liked how Theo the French boy wore his jeans without underwear and kept putting them on and taking them off on film. I also liked it when Matthew the American peeked into Theo's room to see Theo and his sister sleeping together naked in the beginning of the movie. I thought it the bath scene was fun with Theo and Matthew -- then Isabelle. I was attracted to the taboo details of the film. Apparently in the book Theo and Matthew really get it on. But I think Bertolucci basically says that is happening with out having them make out ... Although he might as well have. It was NC-17 and boys kiss in R-rated movies. Why do you think he chose not to show us more action between them, and instead alluded to it? Do you think two boys doesn't turn Bertolucci on so he left it out? Or maybe those scenes got cut?

MBlowhard: I read somewhere that Bertolucci just thought it wasn't him, and he told Gilbert Adair, the writer whose novel the film takes off from, that he was going to avoid the directly gay stuff. And Adair said, "Great, go for it!" Which, as far as I'm concerned, is the smart way for a writer to react when a filmmaker's using his material.

TKitty: What I enjoyed about this movie is the way Bertolucci made incest sexy instead of creepy ... now that's a fantasy because incest IS wrong. The last couple of foreign films I've seen with an incest story line portray it as dark as possible. It depends on what the filmmaker is trying to get out of the viewer really -- but I enjoyed him making fun of it and not having it be soooooo bad. Isn't there some incest story line in "Flowers in the Attic"?

MBlowhard: I loved the novel "Flowers in the Attic." And it did get incest-y, didn't it? Not that I can remember plots these days.

TKitty: My friend read that to me when I was about 10 years old, and talk about taboo and freaky! But something perverted in me wanted to hear more. I read and watch this stuff the way certain people read and watch horror -- because it makes them squirm. Sex stories totally messed me up because I didn't know WHAT was going on or what was supposed to happen in real life, but I never stopped watching. Perhaps because it was so far removed from my "normal suburb" lifestyle that I couldn't believe that stuff existed.

MBlowhard: Do you dig male nudity as much as men dig female nudity? Or is it more a matter of fair's fair? And you find that the fairness helps with the atmosphere, so we aren't feeling like the women are being exploited? Or are bare-naked boys genuinely hot for you to watch?

TKitty: I hate seeing women constantly exploited and, yeah, I like seeing some guy action in there. When a director goes totally over the top for the lead female actress and gets obvious, I get annoyed. It's sooooo old school. I think directors should be pretty careful of how they portray their leading gal and give other actors some equal flesh shots (depending on the story, of course). I think what's sexy to me is pulling the camera away somewhat. I want a little distance. I don't want to be forced into thinking so-and-so is beautiful because, you Bertolucci, says she's beautiful. Don't screw her with the camera. Let the viewer have sex with her. I think that takes some intelligence and hands off from the director. Women know this, I don't know how, but we do.

Many thanks to Turbokitty, whose previous Guest Posting can be read here.

You can read more about "The Dreamers," as well as about its director and actors, here, here, here, and here. Here's a long BFI interview with Bertolucci and Adair, conducted by David Thompson. You can watch the movie's trailer here.



posted by Michael at February 20, 2004


I've seen Michael Pitt in a few other films, and from what I can tell, The Dreamers is the first film to show him off as a "pretty boy." He's a wallflower in Murder by Numbers, and in Hedwig and the Angry Inch he's a pimple-faced kid. All the same, even when the film wasn't especially good, I've never seen Pitt give anything less than an absolutely fearless performance. The kid's willing to take some major risks; to my mind, he's worth following.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on February 21, 2004 5:56 AM


I don't really know your position on the Dreamers except as you've put forth some mild criticism, especially in relation to the pretentious idealism of the protagonists (which seems to me bound up with your anti-left standpoint). A.O. Scott, my favorite contemp. film critic, because he does more than just review films, has a really good article weighing in on this exact issue.

Posted by: nick kallen on February 21, 2004 3:39 PM

Tim -- Oh, right, I do remember him in the other movies. Tons of courage (or foolhardiness) ... I wish there were a few more things about him that I liked, though.

Nick -- I'm being pretty straightforward about how I reacted to the film: thought it was pretty silly, still was surprised that it left me and The Wife with a glow, and enjoyed talking it over. I could do some fancy filmcrit with it, but my filmcrit motor doesn't get going these days unless I feel fairly strongly about something. My wishy-washiness on the film, though, doesn't come from any resentment of the kids and their idealism -- that's what a lot of kids were like those days. (Hey, I was one, almost.) Just didn't find the movie had a lot of bite, or intensity, or incisiveness, or something. Have you caught "Besieged"? For a recent Bertolucci, I liked it better. Still I didn't have a bad time at "Dreamers," though unlike Turbokitty I wouldn't put it in a class with "Sex and Lucia" or "Swimming Pool." Eager to hear how you reacted.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 22, 2004 2:17 AM

I don't think "The Dreamers" is a great film, I think it's a fun sexual fantasy film which entertained me on that level. When I stop to think about whether or not "Swimming Pool" or "Sex and Lucia" are better films, I'd agree with you Michael and say - yes, they are probably not in the same category. But if we're talking "turn on radar", then all 3 films were doing it for me. I'm sure if I went back to watch "The Dreamers" again and focused on the deeper elements of the film, I'd be laughing at it's obsurdity. But I switched that section of brain off, because as I said - I went to see it for the sex. In that respect, I got my money's worth.

Posted by: TurboKitty on February 22, 2004 9:45 AM

I must say that I didn't like Sex and Lucia. I used to notice on Friendster that quite a lot of people (mostly girls) list it as a favorite movie. I've only seen it once. This makes me question my primary negative judgement, although not so much to make me go rent the movie and watch it again--at least not yet. I will go see Medem's new documentary if it ever comes out stateside. I recall that Sex bored me and I found the meta-narrative/fantasy device to be artless (if not a bit hackneyed for a Spanish narrative, in light of Don Quijote), and also I found the melodrama cloying. But like I said I don't have too much confidence in my judgement on this one.

One scene (or shot) I recall liking is when the porn-star was mud bathing on the island and we see him get an erection. Great, memorable shot. I would say (generally) that I think the Spanish understanding of sex is fascinating to me, and it shines through in Sex and in the films of a personal favorite, Pedro Almodovar. (Talk to Her is worth considering as counterpoint in light of my criticism of Sex and Lucia as it features a kind of allegorical meta-narrative (the silent film where the shrinking man enters his lover's vagina), and is also a melodrama. If Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) is the American sex sensibility then I'll take anything Spanish any day.

If I can agree with you all, it's that The Dreamers is not on the level of Talk to Her or a lot of other European skin-flicks. It can probably hold its own against the Baise-Moi and Gasper Noe's of the world, but it's not a masterpiece or a classic of sex cinema by any means. But I thought it was a fun film--not silly--with a nice presentation of sex.

I think my favorite aspect of the film was the first act: the youthful idealistic cinephilia is something I can identify with. There's something charming about these three, you can overlook their pretentiousness. That's not easy to do today, in our anti-intellectual climate. There isn't so much youthful energy directed at film these days, I think. When I volunteer for local film-fests I'm almost always by far the youngest person. In the bay area, the equivalent of the Cinematheque Francaise would be the PFA, but it has no real community like the film. I doubt many people could name the program directors, for instance.

I also liked seeing Matt spit in his hand to masturbate while writing a letter to his mother.

Posted by: nick kallen on February 22, 2004 4:39 PM

I like the Bertolucci movies 1900 and the Last Emperor, and when I heard he had a movie coming out about Paris in May 1968, I knew I had to go.

I'm guessing I probably know more about Paris in May 1968 than most people here. By that I mean what happened historically and politically in France in May of 1968. What happened in the movie actually happened, a movement which came to some extent out of the universities, and to some extent out of the art world took hold in France, and led to a general strike by workers that threatened to topple the French government. If the PCF (French communist party) had gotten behind this spontaneous and widespread revolt instead of doing everything it could to suppress it, there might just have been a revolution in France. It's probably hard for an American nowadays to wrap their head around - PCF was the largest political party in France until 1956 (after which the French left began splitting into parties other than socialist and communist), it was nothing like the American Communist Party, which elicited widespread fear in the 1950's despite it's relatively small size. OK, enough of a history lesson.

Bertolucci sometimes goes for very in-your-face metaphors, I don't know what to make of it. In the Conformist he has a scene in shadows where someone is talking about Plato's cave when suddenly someone opens the windows and lets light stream in. Such an in-your-face metaphor is at work in this window - the incestuous, suicidal, passive, homebound dreamers are saved by a rock thrown by a rioter in the street. The revolution literally breaks into their home and rescues them from their slow death trip. It just occurred to me that the opening of a window is the over-the-top metaphor in both of these movies, although the method had become more forceful in the passing years.

I was a little put off by the incest suggestions and him reaching down to touch her period and that sort of thing. Especially her period thing, the way that vignette went there was no subtlety, it was like Howard Stern had taken over directing for a few minutes.

What else do I remember? The brother quoting Mao and talking about being a revolutionary - yet when the revolt comes and it is running around on the streets, he stays at home.

I appreciate what Bertolucci was doing - he showed us glimpses of what was going on outside (although you'd really have to know the history to know what the hell was going on) and the dreamers were a metaphor of sorts for what was going on outside. I think I understand what some of the metaphors are (including the father, who is even more inactive than the dreamers), but I'm sure some elude me.

Posted by: Lance Murdoch on May 14, 2004 4:59 AM

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