Watch: Spike Jonze: Of Humans and Machines

Watch: Spike Jonze: Of Humans and Machines

The love between Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore and Scarlet Johannson’s Samantha in Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ was actually the culmination of a development that’s been in place since Jonze’s first film, ‘Being John Malkovich.’ Jonze suggests that the relationship between humans and robots can be a stage for the relationship between dreams and reality, i.e. between our best life and our real life. At least that’s what Chloé Galibert-Lainé indicates in this new video essay for Fandor. She makes a very strong case, too, tracing the progress from Craig Schwartz’s (John Cusack) follies with his puppets in the earlier film to the presence manifested by the later film’s living, breathing operating system. 

Watch: What If ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘Her’ Were Two Parts of the Same Movie?

Watch: What If ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘Her’ Were Two Parts of the Same Movie?

Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ and Sofia Coppola’s ‘Lost In Translation,’ despite their differences, often seem as if they are part of the same general mood in the minds of their directors: a little sad, a little bemused, a little amused. Each film views as less a story than a series of grace notes on the idea of loneliness; they puncture our minds less than they nudge them. And they conjure terrific, understated performances out of normally dominant stars like Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, and Joaquin Phoenix in the process. This new video by Jorge Luengo proposes that they could be part of the same movie, more or less, and in watching it, one begins to think that might not be such an outrageous possibility…

Watch: What Makes Spike Jonze Movies Unique? A Video Essay

Watch: What Makes Spike Jonze Movies Unique? A Video Essay

Despite the fact that the look of his films often takes a
back seat to bizarre stories and quirky characters, Spike Jonze has
crafted a uniquely whimsical visual style over the course of his four
feature films. Making the most out of simple elements such as lens
flares, floating camera movement, centered framing, and wide-angle close-ups, Jonze creates an atmosphere that appears to be lifted straight from
the pages of a fairytale storybook. His camera is fascinated
with the mundane; intently exploring fabrics and materials, finding
beauty and significance in the obscure and unnoticed. Dust particles
floating in a beam of sunlight become hypnotic. The delicate plaster of
marionettes feels as lifelike as human flesh. The matted fur wrapped
around a child strikes us with an overwhelming sense of marvel and

In his first two films, Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation
(2002), Jonze used a much more subdued sense of whimsy to express the
playfully dark atmospheres. His two most recent works, Where the Wild
Things Are
(2009) and Her (2013), are saturated with the whimsy
aesthetic, mirroring the wonderment and childlike fascinations
associated with the films. Jonze utilizes the aesthetic in order to
stitch together worlds suitable for his equally whimsical characters.

Films used:
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Adaptation (2002)
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Her (2013)

"Igloo" and "The Moon Song" by Karen O

Jacob T. Swinney is an industrious film editor and filmmaker, as well as a recent graduate of Salisbury University.

Watch: L.A.I.: Spike Jonze’s HER Meets Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER: A Video Essay

Watch: L.A.I.: Spike Jonze’s HER Meets Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER: A Video Essay

This video amalgamation of Spike Jonze’s Her and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner by Drew Morton has a sad, sweet quality about it, as if Morton were depicting two parts of the same film. Indeed, the movies show two sides of the same city, which in this case is futuristic Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a ripe creative playground for filmmakers, and they tend to exercise their recess privileges with great abandon. Jonze imagines the daytime city as a place built for both human convenience and soul-crushing anonymity; Scott imagines the nighttime city as a James-Joyce-meets-Buck-Rogers-meets-Raymond-Chandler stew, in which anything might happen, on the one hand, but the results might be depressingly predictable on the other. Similarly, blending the films this way makes one think that Joaquin Phoenix’s Twombly and Harrison Ford’s Deckard could be two halves of the same person–one vulnerable and open, the other jaded and wary. Both actors stepped out of their habitual roles for these films; Phoenix broke from his normal scenery decimation to play someone who was approachable, almost boring, and Ford played a character scarred by seeing the worst of life for too long, on his way to acquire still more scars, fresh from playing Indiana Jones. Morton skillfully allows the two films to bleed into each other, as when the music from Blade Runner becomes the music for Her–or does it?–and thus shows how two visions, separated by several decades, might possibly speak to each other, sending universal messages about loss and loneliness that echo and expand with repeated viewings, and with consideration.

FAST CLIPS: How Arcade Fire’s Music Videos Show the Essence of Greta Gerwig and Andrew Garfield

FAST CLIPS: How Arcade Fire’s Music Videos Show the Essence of Greta Gerwig and Andrew Garfield

If you’re immune to Greta Gerwig’s charms, or skeptical of Andrew Garfield’s talent, or not sold on Arcade Fire, the band’s recent music videos might help you out a little. There’s only so much a music video can do, of course. It has a limited life span–limited by the length of the track it’s built around. If it strays too far from the song, it risks being derided as "weird" or "gratuitous." Indeed, either of these adjectives could be directed at the two videos the band put out in the last year or so, the former (for "Afterlife") featuring Greta Gerwig capering, post-breakup, through a forest, under the dreamlike direction of Spike Jonze, and the latter (For "We Exist") featuring Andrew Garfield, in drag, directed with a strong sense of narrative by David Wilson. But why do that? Neither piece calls out for censure—and in fact, both seem the result of careful thought. 

What’s this evaluation based on? Well, these two videos, at least, have a similar structure, one which works well for the story being told in each case. They begin in stark, dramatic situations–in the case of "Afterlife," a tearful conversation, a goodbye in a tastefully lit room; in the case of "We Exist," a man dressing up in drag and going out to a rough-ish bar–and build the drama outwards, both ending up on an actual stage, during an actual musical performance. (Which, to their credit, both videos present to us without Bruce-Springsteen-ing it too much, or going too hammy.) The former video was filmed live, at the 2013 YouTube Music Awards, as if to underscore a point. And what is that point? There’s one point, and then there’s another–which both pieces share. The most obvious message is one which this particular kind of film has been sending since the mid-1980s, which is that, simply put, freedom and triumph are both possible within the purview of fictional narratives, and possibly within life itself. This notion of cheaply-bought happiness, conveyed within the confines of a 5-minute song, provide a buoyance that is easily digested, like a package of energy-boosting supplements you might buy at a bodega. These two videos, though, torque this narrative, or rather, this idea just slightly.

In the first, Gerwig’s heroine swoops from deep sadness (convincingly brought off, for such an all-too-often comic actress) into profound relief. She does, in the course of the action, a lot of cheesy dance moves–but only cheesy if you were born after 1990. For anyone born slightly earlier than that, the fist pumping has a nostalgic twang to it–recalling everything from Saturday Night Fever to Dr. Pepper commercials. The sudden burst of happiness, too, is just abruptly timed enough to smack of looniness–indeed, the type of looniness we all carry within us, and which can be unleashed at vulnerable moments, the kind of energy we don’t see coming. The earmark sprinting cascades of sound that Arcade Fire issues add to the mix with aplomb, making the whole thing less of a breakup story than a hero saga, complete with a treacherous journey through sharply photographed dark woods. And Gerwig herself communicates less a sense of youngster awkwardness than unbridled aggression here–which may lie more at the heart of her comedy than a desire to be funny: the difference between expressing your anger or happiness and turning it into a verbal or physical pratfall.

There’s more than one would think at the heart of the "We Exist" video, as well, at least in terms of the shapes it takes. There’s something internecine about Andrew Garfield, always, despite the roles he plays–his aggression is always tempered by a slightly more sensitive, vulnerable undercurrent, which runs at full force through this short clip. We begin with a scene that’s one part Midnight Cowboy, one part Girls Don’t Cry, one part American Gigolo, as Garfield puts on dress, wig, fake bra, and make-up to head out to what looks to be a dive bar in a tiny town, in the middle of the heartland, where nonconformity is wholly absent. As one might suspect, Garfield’s naif gets into a fight after a false dance or two with a couple of rowdies, and then the scene becomes surreal, as we watch a group of rowdies, by turns, dancing in skirts and fighting with Garfield. There’s a happy ending here–Garfield escapes and joins the band on the stage, as in the earlier piece. Once again, Hollywood writ small: truth to one’s self wins out, despite adversity, being outnumbered, and being wildly out of place–all showcasing Garfield’s ability. One can only hope that at some point this actor decides to try Greek tragedy: his vision of performance is that huge, and that personal. At a longer length, the scenario played out here would be unbelievable: here, it comes across as a burst of soft-hued optimism, dramatized against lush farmland and shadowy, believably grungy interiors, a small film, if you’re willing to give it the label.  

Oh, what to do with the music video? For people who came of age in the 1980s, when cable television was a mark of privilege (or something you could only watch by swiveling your TV antenna in a hyper-sensitive manner), music videos had a near-mystical charm to them, somewhat like the earliest films, which presented mini-narratives, or half-narratives, in easily watchable form. They were dynamic, too–a way to assess a cultural zeitgeist rapidly and without too much intellectual effort. Chances could be taken, as well–I remember watching a gorgeous video for Tom Waits’s "In the Neighborhood" (from Swordfishtrombones), showing him leading a parade of side-show freaks down a suburban street, and marveling at its subtlety. This was the crucial ah-ha moment that most music videos want you to take away: you thought the song was about this, but it could just as easily be about this. These two videos are fairly straightforward in their approach, as befits Arcade Fire, who have achieved a supremely marketable mix of sincerity and hipness; in so being, they add substantially to a medium that, like ivy, continues to grow up the walls of the edifice of music, beautifying it as it creates its own undeniable kind of beauty.        

Max Winter is the Editor of Press Play.

ARIELLE BERNSTEIN: The Spaces Between: Spike Jonze’s HER and Love in the Time of Machines

ARIELLE BERNSTEIN: The Spaces Between: Spike Jonze’s HER and Love in the Time of Machines

nullWoody Allen’s brilliant Annie Hall ends on a joke. Alvy Singer, the film’s narrator, describes a guy who goes to his
psychiatrist complaining that his brother thinks he is a chicken. When the
doctor asks why he doesn’t have him committed, the guy responds, “I would, but
I need the eggs”.

“Well, I
guess that’s pretty much how I feel about relationships. You know, they’re
totally irrational and crazy and absurd and, but, uh, I guess we keep going
through it because, uh, most of us need the eggs.” Alvy says, slightly

Her makes an
even more wistful claim—that those imaginary eggs are what actually make us feel

The central premise of Her is that a man ends up falling in
love with his OS. The idea that mankind might one day develop intimate
relationships with intelligent AI is certainly not new. In Battlestar Galactica, for example, cylons date, mate and develop
relationships with humans all the time, albeit for ulterior motives. But what
sets Her apart is that Samantha, the
OS that Theodore Twombly falls in love with, has no actual, physical body,
whether flesh and blood or metal and machine. Her very ephemeral nature mimics our
current era, where our first experiences of love are often shaped through the
use of email, social media sharing, and chatting online. If anything, these
technologies seem to be showcasing our need for intimacy, rather than diminishing
it. If I look at any of my friendships and relationships with other people on social media, I see a slew of images and inside jokes capturing something that
seems very real, but also seems paper-thin. Is this the nature of the machine,
or is this the nature of how we love?

Early on in Her, Amy, one of Theo’s close friends,
shyly shows the documentary she has been working on to Theo and her husband. We
see only the first few moments, a close up of her mother sleeping in bed. Her
husband is unimpressed and asks whether anything else will happen. Amy looks
embarrassed and explains that she feels the film is about dreams, how we spend
a third of our lives asleep, but can’t truly access those moments. Her husband
looks incredulous and asks why she doesn’t just interview her mother about her
dreams, since this would make her ideas more explicit.

The space between what Amy
sees and what her husband can’t is the center of Her, which is about the desire for connection in a world where
connection seems more and more fleeting. 
The surface of Her shows a
slightly dystopian landscape where people seem alienated, lonely and
disconnected from one another, even as individuals are more and more plugged in
to new technologies. But beneath this pastel veneer lies a warm animal pulse.
One of the major arguments of the film is
that love in a modern age is like love at any other time. We are motivated by
the same strange impulses as our ancestors, a pre-programmed idea of closeness
that has motivated humanity since the beginning of time. Samantha may herself
evolve during the film, but the weird, small, tender ways that human beings
strive to connect to each other, are never going to change.

Scarlet Johannson’s portrayal
of Samantha in this film would suggest that we aren’t moving away from each
other in the slightest. Many reviewers of Her
have pointed to Samantha’s voice as the warm and effervescent glue that holds
the film together. It’s hard not to be drawn to Samantha, even though we don’t
see her. Her OS breathes, sighs and trembles, laughs and even tenderly screams
while making love. Is this an affectation? In an essay called What’s Missing From Her, Anna Shechtman
argues that the female characters we are presented with in Her are not authentic, and that Samantha in particular is troubling
because her desire for a body is entirely based on wanting to connect with
Theodore. Our doubts about Samantha’s “personhood” are actually similar to our
doubts about what constitutes female desire. We always question whether women
who come on to men have ulterior motives or are faking it, in bed or otherwise.
It’s a little too easy to cast Samantha as the ultimate “manic pixie dream
girl” when she is actually constantly evolving, in both a technological and a
dramatic sense. By the end of the film she even outgrows Theo and the small,
gentle world that they created together.

Her might present
one of the most egalitarian and loving relationships on screen this past year. In
many films that focus on the way technology is changing how we view intimacy,
sex is reduced to a mere transaction, and female robots are often vulnerable
and designed to please or serve men, as we have seen in films from The Stepford Wives to Blade Runner. This view of sex is
consistently complicated in Her, even
in one of the first scenes when Theo has phone sex with a woman online and she
commands him to strangle her with a dead cat. This bizarre scene, where we only
see a close-up of Theo’s face shocked and confused, illustrates a world where people are desperately trying and
failing to connect with one another. Though the cat fetish scene is hilarious
in its portrayal of extreme disconnection, sex throughout Her is depicted less as salacious than tender, and when Theo makes
love to Samantha for the first time, the screen fades demurely to black.

We grow up with the people we
love, but the process of growing and changing means we sometimes grow away from
them too. In Her, intimacy is
fleeting, not because technology has diminished our relationships to one
another, but because people change over time. By the end of the film Samantha
has outgrown her relationship with Theo. She still loves him, but she has
fallen in love with a billion other things as well. She tries to convey to Theo
that this isn’t personal, but, of course, for human beings love is always about
focus; it means turning away from the rest of the world as much as it means
letting someone in.

Arielle Bernstein is
a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches writing at American
University and also freelances. Her work has been published in
Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review and The Ilanot Review. She
has been listed four times as a finalist in
Glimmer Train short story
. She is currently writing her first book.