Me and Ms. Stone.FOLLOWING IN THE WAKE of the commercial and artistic failure of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Gus Van Sant's new movie, To Die For, is perhaps his most conventional film, in spite of its fractured diegesis Di`e`ge´sis
n. 1. A narrative or history; a recital or relation. and multiple points of view; conventional, certainly, in its ostensible Apparent; visible; exhibited.
Ostensible authority is power that a principal, either by design or through the absence of ordinary care, permits others to believe his or her agent possesses. subject, a satire of the mass media, particularly the allure of television. This rather disingenuous theme, through which one arm of the media "critiques" an obstreperous ob·strep·er·ous
1. Noisily and stubbornly defiant.
2. Aggressively boisterous.
[From Latin obstreperus, noisy, from obstrepere, rival, has been traversed in many movies: Network, The King of Comedy, Being There, and more recently, Serial Mom and Natural Born Killers. The trend reminds me of the title of one of Richard Foreman's plays, Film is Evil, Radio is Good - you make the necessary substitution. The plot of To Die For, loosely based on an actual crime involving a Maine schoolteacher who enticed her teenage lover to murder her husband, has already served as the subject of a TV movie. In fact, as I was watching certain scenes in Van Sant's consistently arty film, I could not help but vaguely recall their prosaic, docudrama counterparts.
Despite its banal precursor, To Die For is a fun movie. The hitherto drab Nicole Kidman, once a vaporous nonstar star better known as Mrs. Tom Cruise, has undergone a remarkable transformation. Henceforth, call him Mr. Kidman. As Suzanne Stone, a New Hampshire New Hampshire, one of the New England states of the NE United States. It is bordered by Massachusetts (S), Vermont, with the Connecticut R. forming the boundary (W), the Canadian province of Quebec (NW), and Maine and a short strip of the Atlantic Ocean (E). weather girl driven by an insatiable lust for TV fame, Kidman achieves the pitch of methodical craziness that mostly eluded Kathleen Turner as the homicidal hom·i·cid·al
1. Of or relating to homicide.
2. Capable of or conducive to homicide: a homicidal rage. clean freak in Serial Mom, earning for herself the hackneyed epithet ep·i·thet
a. A term used to characterize a person or thing, such as rosy-fingered in rosy-fingered dawn or the Great in Catherine the Great.
b. , "over the top." At the same time, the very extremity of Kidman,s character obliquely calls attention to fissures in Van Sant's conception. Suzanne has no psychology in the ordinary sense of the word. She's pure drive, blind ambition incarnate. (Enthusiastically praising To Die For to a friend, I kept mistakenly referring to it as I'll Do Anything, the title, I believe, of an inglorious in·glo·ri·ous
1. Ignominious; disgraceful: Napoleon's inglorious end.
2. Not famous; obscure: an inglorious young writer. Julia Roberts vehicle.) By contrast, all of the other characters belong to the conceptual/esthetic order of realism (pace Barthes, etc.). Indeed, it is as much the astonishing a·ston·ish
tr.v. as·ton·ished, as·ton·ish·ing, as·ton·ish·es
To fill with sudden wonder or amazement. See Synonyms at surprise. realism of the three cretinous cretinous
affected with cretinism. high-school students Suzanne enlists for her documentary Teens Speak Out (and subsequently lures into a plot to kill her inconvenient schlub schlub also shlub
A person regarded as clumsy, stupid, or unattractive.
[Yiddish, from Polish husband, played by the still nibbly Matt Dillon) as it is Suzanne's high-octane craziness that makes the movie. The scenes with her proteges, Jimmy. Russell, and Lydia make To Die For into funny (read: better) version of Kids. There seem to be two, maybe two-and-a-half movies at work here: the ubermovie that proffers a satire of television and lust for fame - the dullest aspect of the film - and the interstitial, "under" movie(s) that give it the savor of real art.
Received wisdom has it that great works of art. are supposed to reward us by their very complexity: we're meant to enjoy Ulysses in part because it is hard to read. Irony and ambiguity should heighten esthetic es·thet·ic
Variant of aesthetic. pleasure. The Turn of the Screw is good because reading it is so frustratingly like having an argument with an articulate crazy person. Even less classically/New Critically "resolved" texts are cherished precisely for their aporias and ellipses Ellipses is the plural form of either of two words in the English language:
To Die For, ostensibly a crisp Hollywood product glazed with an indie/art patina, ends up, inadvertantly or not, offering some of the "difficult" pleasures of the literary movie; it starts to seem really good precisely for its relative "failures" - thematic glitches, uncertainties of tone, abrupt shifts in emotional register, overall lack of cohesion. The conventional storytelling-cum-moralizing that drives the movie - is Suzanne Stone a bad woman, the ubermovie asks rhetorically - is periodically but decisively undermined by the more perverse, socially unredeemable pleasures Van Sant SANT South African Native Trust actually depicts on screen. "I never gave a rat's ass about the weather," jailbird James says early in the film. "That all changed after I met Mrs. Maretto [Ms. Stone]. Now I take it very seriously. Now, whenever it rains, or there's thunder and lightning, or it snows, I have to jack off." This is very funny - satire, the ubermovie whines - but the really funny thing is, the sex scenes are, mirabile dictu, actually sexy. "It was like living in a really great movie," Lydia explains, "except it was kind of X-rated because of all the sex stuff."
My favorite scene, set in a car, is the one in which Suzanne first plants the notion in Jimmy's head that he should murder her husband. She weeps, she complains of spousal abuse, she threatens to go into hiding in an out-of-state woman's shelter. A guy who would do that stuff to a woman like you doesn't deserve to live," Jimmy sputters. A mood of calm suddenly overtaking her, Suzanne looks up at her humpy hump·y
adj. hump·i·er, hump·i·est
1. Covered with or containing humps.
2. Resembling a hump. juvenile-delinquent lover and intones, "No, I suppose he doesn't." At exactly this moment. Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama Sweet Home Alabama (song) " comes on the radio. "Oh, I love this song," Suzanne shrieks, and the weather girl jumps out of the car for an impromptu dance in the pouring rain. Watching Suzanne dance, radiantly happy, her short blue-and-white skirt flying up to reveal her edible thighs, we see her as Jimmy does - a goddess, but like the deities of antiquity, a capricious, even dangerous being. The dance seems to move in slow motion, and gradually the ubermovie's soundtrack - sustained, gloomy, fatal chords - drowns out Lynyrd Skynyrd. It,s the most beautiful moment in the movie. Obviously Van Sant felt that way, too, because he replays it toward the end, as Jimmy finally confesses to the cops. "No, it wasn't like that," he sobs. "We were in love."