Friday, September 28, 2007

Growing Up Postmodern

Carina Chocano reviews in today's paper a film I will never see, "Hannah Takes the Stairs." As an amateur critic in the true sense of the word and as a college instructor pursuing what my performance review yearly classifies as "professional development," I scan such detritus to keep up at least in passing with what the media keep churning out. Perhaps perusing the wares more slowly than before as my immersion in the latest music, the newest L.A. Weekly's touts, or what passes for pop culture fades into my cultivated leanings towards Irish lore and medieval ideas, thoughtful literature, and music that reminds me more of past innovators than present imitators. But I do wallow in Tinseltown's trash like the rest of you hoi polloi. My "working class" roots belittled by my spouse or my sub-doctoral slumming? I find that the alma mater for what my current employer designates my "terminal degree," UCLA, has been classified as a "Public Ivy." So, I guess I never have to feel inferior to certain Harvard grads (and they but A.B.'s) I know. Blame my Angeleno upbringing for such a clash of high-minded manifest destinies and low-life First-meets-Third World reality. Chocano helpfully articulates what if I have to explain to anyone what "postmodern" means, which is doubtful given my current teaching gig, I can cite.

Chocano opens:

The characters in Joe Swanberg's "Hannah Takes the Stairs" aren't inarticulate, exactly, although they rarely manage to express an emotion, formulate a thought or even complete a sentence. They are self-conscious in a way that only a generation obsessed with its own representation can be, saddled as they are with an anxiety of influence that seems to compound by the second.

Shot on digital video and group-improvised from a loose outline by Swanberg, "Hannah Takes the Stairs" is the latest addition to the growing canon of DIY, twentysomething angst indies grouped under the category of mumblecore.[. . .]

The gang's all here, as are their usual concerns, explored with all the self-conscious, self-censoring agony of youth in the post-slacker age.{Details follow of the plot, such as it is, but I found none of this worth preserving. Offices, musician who does not play music, media types, jobs requiring no real work-- where can I find one of those?}

It's probably safe to say that very few people born in the last four or five decades haven't, at 25, felt like his or her life should be made into a movie, or is just like a movie, even (or maybe especially) at its most aimless and uneventful. If the impulse has been around for a while, the means to actualize it have never been greater. This is partly because technology has made the means of production so readily available to so many, just as distribution channels have expanded and the range and speed of word-of-mouth promotion exponentially increased. But it's also because growing up postmodern[my emphasis] means that even the most personal, intimate moments seem to hover at a safe remove, having been filtered through thousands of representations of similar moments before they are even experienced. It's hard enough to figure out who you are, but harder still under these hothouse conditions.

"Hannah," which was shot over a summer in Chicago with all the participants living together in an apartment, perfectly encapsulates the slow-motion, frustrated feeling of early adulthood, when longing and inchoate desire easily outnumber actual transformative events and achievements. After watching "Hannah," it feels inaccurate to describe what passes between the characters as love, or even like. And the work environment is so detached, laid-back and unproductive that it feels more like baby hipster wish-fulfillment than an accurate portrayal of reality. And yet there's something about the heat, the boredom and the uncertainty that feels deadly familiar. In capturing it, Swanberg has also managed to convey the feeling more, perhaps, than is enjoyable.[. . .]

For a movie so vested in youthful verisimilitude, it's conspicuously lacking in misery.

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