Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Sixteen years never felt so short, but it’s with a heavy heart that we say so long and farewell to Jon Stewart as he sits behind the desk as The Daily Show‘s host one last time on Thursday August 6th, 2015. It’s bittersweet, for many reasons, chief among them the notion that though Stewart will no doubt go forth and create something of substance we’ll flock back to, but the familiarity and seeming ubiquitousness of The Daily Show with Jon at the helm will be sorely missed. Even when Jon took personal time jon stewartaway from the program, whether it was vacation or to direct a film (go see Rosewater!), and one of the correspondents took over hosting duties there was still this “gentleman’s agreement” between the audience and the show that Jon was coming back. We got to see the proto-hosting abilities of Stephen Colbert and John Oliver emerge but there was always this sense that The Daily Show wasn’t really The Daily Show until Jon returned.

Of course that wasn’t always the case.

While we see The Daily Show as a satirical powerhouse, the original concept of the show was much more in line with Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update – news with punchlines – combined with a Tonight Show celebrity interview segment. Even when Jon took over hosting duties from Craig Kilborn in 1999, The Daily Show didn’t carve out its place as cable’s most trusted news show until the clusterfuck that was the 2000 Presidential Election. The insane yet hilarious coverage and commentary provided by Jon and his team of correspondents featuring Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Vance DeGeneres, Nancy Walls, and Mo Rocca set the new tone for the show and propelled it into the politically-apathetic hearts and mind of a new generation of high school and college students in need of their own Walter Cronkite.

jon stephen star warsThat’s not me being hyperbolic, by the way. Jon Stewart is to my generation what Walter Cronkite was to my parents’ generation. It would have been so easy for Jon to treat the hosting gig as just that and keep it in line with most comedy shows, but whether through his own desires or the demands of an audience in need of an iota of honesty, he and the show’s writers and producers turned it into something more. As the political and media landscape turned dark and ugly, Jon was there to offer a comedic palate cleanser that didn’t resort to condescension or fear-mongering to manipulate the audience. Jon did something news channels like CNN, FOX, and MSNBC didn’t – he treated us like we were intelligent, he respected the viewers as people and respected his position as the jester poking fun at royalty.

I was in high school when Jon started hosting The Daily Show and I can say without any hesitation that, to this day, he’s still my most trusted source for objective discussion of the news and media. Yes, he has his own agenda and his own biases but what I’ve always respected about Jon is his desire for discourse. Some news outlets bring people on their shows to yell at them and attempt to dominate the conversation; Jon Stewart brought people on to talk to them. For him it was about looking at both sides and finding common ground or, at the very least, understand where the other side was coming from. His friendly olive branch, dailyshow_middlehowever, didn’t stop him from turning it into a sharpened spear when certain guests underestimated his intellect and his ability to work the room in his favor.

The three most notorious cases were his appearance on the how defunct Crossfire and guests of The Daily Show Jim Cramer, host of the also defunct Mad Money, and Betsy “Death Panels” McCaughey. In the case of Crossfire and Mad Money, both shows took huge dives in ratings after Jon conversed with their respective hosts. And by “converse” I mean “ran circles around them intellectually”, though it became very obvious by the end of his “discussion” with Cramer that Jon was taking very little joy in using clips from the man’s show against him to make his point. Towards the end, Cramer physically sighs after yet another order from Jon to show footage. Betsy McCaughey’s appearance was one of those rare moments in television, other than watching audition tapes for American Idol, where I started to feel sorry for the guest. Brought on the show to talk about the language in the early draft of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act that supposedly mentioned “death panels”, McCaughey brought a large binder containing the bill, but neglected to mark where the language could be found. As she attempted to find it, Jon talked with her but McCaughey tried to ham it up for the audience by diminishing the importance of appearing on a comedy show to talk about an issue concerning the federal government. The audience wasn’t buying it, but Jon showed patience as she continued to thumb through the bill. Eventually, he had to go to commercial and when they returned, McCaughey still hadn’t found the statement that justified her coining the term. Instead, the two talked around the bill as if she’d come on the show prepared for a real discussion.

jon wavingIn all three example, Jon Stewart was underestimated by the “other side” and in all three examples he showed just how much he shouldn’t be underestimated. Yes, he still maintains that his job is about putting comedy first, and there are certainly plenty of moments that prove him right, but the audience is in on the joke. We know where his passion is because he’s not particularly good at hiding his emotions when it comes to certain topics and people. It’s because of Jon Stewart that we’ve been introduced to so many amazing comedic voices. It’s because of Jon Stewart that more veterans have access to medical care. It’s because of Jon Stewart that Jason Jones went to Tehran to talk to the real people of Iran, not just the religious fundamentalists most news outlets were showing as the only representation of the country. It’s because of Jon Stewart that we had at least one place to go where we trusted someone not to lie and manipulate us for the sake of ratings.

When Jon Stewart steps down on Thursday, there’s no telling what the future of The Daily Show will be. We’ve been asked to give incoming host Trevor Noah a fair shot and I’m sure many of us will continue to tune in if only to see how well he fares. That doesn’t mean Jon’s shadow won’t linger. For nearly twenty years he was ours, so getting over his absence might take a while.

But here’s to you, Jon! Looking forward to the next adventure!

And now, your moment of Zen.

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The vampire as metaphor has had a fascinating staying power since Bram Stoker’s Dracula turned Eastern European folklore into a gothic tale of sexual repression and liberation. At times they’re feral beasts of horror or sexy, brooding heroes tortured by169c6f081c49a875dcbff5246a7ab4e7 their own immortality. Or…Twilight. The point is vampires, while we may associate them with certain traits, can be as powerful, vulnerable, and insightful as the narrative allows. Their monstrosity is subjective, giving storytellers ample room to explore the nature of vampires and the world around them. In A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour crafts a vampire that is neither virtuous nor villain, but somewhere in between. Though she is what we’d typically classify as a “monster” it becomes clear that Bad City has more than its fair share of demons.

In the Iranian town of Bad City, The Girl (Sheila Vand) stalks the streets at night, preying upon the worst of the worst in a city where death and loneliness thrive. Her curiosity, however, leads her to an unlikely romance with Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man struggling to do what’s “right” when nothing is as clear-cut as it seems. As their lives become more intertwined the truth becomes harder to hide.

Billed as the first Iranian vampire Western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night exists in a deliberately nebulous space that keeps it open to interpretation. One can view it through a feminist lens as The Girl primarily attacks men who bully and exert their own power on others, mainly coming to the defense of a prostitute, Atti (Mozhan Marnò), who’s connected to both Saeed (Dominic Rains) the local drug dealer and Arash’s addict father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh). There’s also commentary to be gleaned from the frequent shots of oil rigs, the open, almost casual display of dead bodies in a ditch, and the stagnant feel of Bad girl3_3City that appears to be stuck in several time periods as the director’s feelings on Iran and the country’s culture. Amirpour, however, finds the interpretation to be more reflective of the interpreter. As for her own view on the themes in her film, she said:

In this case, it’s really about loneliness. A vampire is the loneliest, most isolated cut-off type of creature. She also has something very bad to hide about who she is and it’s a brilliant disguise. It becomes a way to stay under the radar and underestimated. There are a million ways to read it. It will tell you more about you than it does about me. [Source: LA Times]

In regards to the disguise element, Amirpour is referring to the chador that The Girl wears in the film. A symbol of systemic oppression towards women in the Middle East, the chador and The Girl’s use of it as a means of making herself an unassuming presence have been the focus of many reviews; proof positive that The Girl is subverting the nature of the garment and using it as a tool of empowerment. The chador was apparently what inspired Amirpour to make a movie about a vampire, saying:

In Iran, I have had to wear a hijab [headscarf], and personally I find it completely suffocating. I don’t want to be covered up in all that cloth. But there was something about the chador though. It’s made of a different fabric. It’s soft and silky and it catches the air. When I put it on, I felt supernatural. But I also get to take it off. [Source: LA Times]

There are several scenes in the movie where Amirpour shows the ethereal and supernatural quality of the chador when The Girl is out on the town. One particular moment that comes to mind is The Girl riding a skateboard down an empty street, letting the wind catch the fabric. It’s one of the rare moments where she naturally smiles, experiencing a strange sense of freedom. Framed within the shot, the chador simultaneously resembles bat-like qualities associated with vampires and the silhouette of a superhero’s cape. It’s a beautiful display of the film’s cinematography that also highlights the prevailing theme of concealment. Interestingly enough, when The Girl and Arash meet and speak to each other for the first time, Arash – high as a kite – is wearing a Dracula costume. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition that the two begin to form their romance when both are essentially in disga_girl_photo3uise.

Where A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night really shines is in its style and mood. Filmed in black and white, Amirpour imbues Bad City and the people living there with a sense of style that maintains an air of retro coolness but is also indicative of a culture mired in crime and death. Bad City is stuck somewhere between the old and the modern as are most of its denizens. The opening shot of Arash establishes his greaser/James Dean aesthetic right down to the vintage car he drives. The Girl dances to 80s synth-pop but her short hair, striped shirt, and black leggings give off a mod Audrey Hepburn meets Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction vibe. The influence of Quentin Tarantino is hard to miss, so the look of The Girl was probably intended. Saeed has a very 80s look about him as well, sporting a track suit, gold chains, and living in an apartment that even the Land of Oz would say needs to be toned down. The stylistic choices are another way of commenting on the disparity of wealth in a place like Bad City where there’s a clear contrast between the rich and the poor but even the lower classes prey upon each other. Filmed in Bakersfield and Taft, California as stand-ins for Iran, Amirpour shows the industrial, ruined state of Bad City, telling us with only an establishing shot of the distant oil rigs exactly why everything has gone to shit.

Burrrt it wouldn’t be a vampire movie without an element of horror to it, right? Oh, yeah…Twilight. Anyway, Amirpour keeps the horror to a minimum. Yes, The Girl feeds, but the strength of film lies in the suspense. We don’t meet The Girl until about fifteen minutes into the film. In that time, we’ve met the rest of the cast and we see just how destitute Arash and his father are and how Saeed uses drugs and intimidation to get what he wants. When The Girl finally shows up, she’s at a distance, watching Saeed geting a blowjob from Atti after verbally and physically abusing her. From there on, Amirpour establishes a pattern. The Girl shows up and begins to stalk her prey. She’s unassuming and yet unnerving, constantly staring with wide eyes that are simultaneously curious and cold. Vand plays the part expertly. The Girl is a mostly silent character, which means all of the performance is in Vand’s eyes and movement. As the tension builds in the excruciatingly long shots and pauses between The Girl and her next meal – heightened by the sound of footsteps amped up to keep the audience as nervous as possible – Vand makes us feel and understand what The Girl is going through. The same is true of her scenes with Marandi. Though Arash is the more talkative of the two, there are several long pauses where the two are merely staring at each other, conveying everything with their eyes and making us believe that the two have made a connection. It’s the final ten minutes, however, where the two give us the most nerve-wracking moments of intensified suspense, all without saying a word. All because of a cat.

Currently in limited release, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, is well worth your time if you have any interest in the work of upcoming directors like Amirpour or desire something more substantial from your vampire-themed entertainment. If you can’t find a showing nearby, there are two issues of a comic book written by Amirpour available for purchase that give you some background on The Girl. Hopefully that will tide you over until the film comes out on VOD and DVD/Blu-ray.