hey you guys!
it’s daylight savings time set your clocks ahead.
PSYCH! that wasn’t my public service announcement (although it is also true).
I went to a sweet film showing today that I thought like one or two of you would like to read about.
soo, one awesome thing about living in NYC is the sunshine theater. they have this cool thing where they show cult-classic movies at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, and ALSO they occasionally have filmmakers come in to speak about their work at showings. and tonight they had those two things combined! they showed the movie teeth, and writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein was there for a Q & A afterwards. it was great!
i should note that this post might possibly contain some SPOILERS, and also it assumes that you have a basic understanding of what’s going on in the film, so if you don’t and that might bother you i’d recommend checking it out or at least reading up before going on. hint: it’s on Netflix instant watch.
turns out Mitchell Lichtenstein is a fairly shy, soft-spoken dude, which was pretty endearing. it took a few audience questions to start drawing any real responses out of him, but he did seem to warm up as things went on. at these kind of events I usually just clam up and shrink into my seat so nobody confuses me scratching my ear for raising my hand to speak or something, but tonight I actually came up with two questions I’m not embarrassed for asking. I know, right!
the first thing I asked was about how he seemed to intentionally avoid dealing with the religious aspect of the teen abstinence movement the film takes place within. he acknowledged that this was true, that the abstinence thing is usually much more associated with evangelical Christianity than he portrayed in the film. he said his reason was that although the film is poking fun at things about that teen abstinence “true love waits” type movement, he wanted to make sure he didn’t also come off as bashing Christians/Christianity along with it. I gave him the THUMBS UP (both in my mind, and for real) to this answer. having grown up in that kind of environment myself I am 100% cool with laughing at that stuff, but when it starts getting mean-spirited toward the people involved I start feeling weird. this movie did not make me feel weird. it actually came off as pretty excellently unbiased either way on the religion issue-just largely leaves it out of things.
(Mitchell Lichtenstein at the premier with Jess Weixler, who plays Dawn)
he talked about the nuclear cooling towers, which were digitally added and are a hugely prominent image in the film. this was something I’d been wondering about since the first time I saw it last year, so I’m glad he cleared up the final word on his intentions: it was meant to plant the possibility (though not decisively confirm it) of some kind of nuclear radiation-induced mutation being the cause for what’s going on with Dawn’s lady parts. he said the comparisons and conclusions that have been drawn regarding them as phallic symbols were not his original intent, but especially considering the idea of their destructive power on Dawn, he wouldn’t argue with that interpretation.
I also asked how he would sum up the message he was trying to convey, in a sentence or two. his answer was short and sweet: “if you’re good to her, everything will be fine.” not bad dude. he also talked about how his motivation for making the film came from learning about the vagina dentata myth in college, and wanting to examine what kind of a culture would bring men to invent such a monstrous thing to explain or excuse their problems with women. he said he wanted to turn the myth on its head in that in most cultures where the story appears, a hero is required to ultimately conquer the teeth (as Dawn reads about online in the film), but in Lichtenstein’s reality, it doesn’t take a man at all but rather just her own coming-of-age and learning to deal with herself that overcomes her problem (or turns it into her strength). also he talked about how he purposefully preserved Dawn’s “purity” (ha ha) in the film by never actually showing the teeth in the yucky parts, or ever at all getting any blood on her (especially when she’s wearing that white dress!)…making her a clear-cut heroine (even an angelic figure) and ensuring that there is no confusing her with any of the horrific imagery that gets heaped on the males. on the train home turning this over in my head I thought I should have asked him if this means he considers himself a feminist filmmaker (either way i think this film is pretty clearly a feminist text), which is always a fairly interesting thing coming out of a guy, but alas I did not ask. plus I think such a strongly loaded question might have knocked the gentle dude over.
I tried looking into Lichtenstein’s biographical details a little bit just now, but they seem to be pretty scarce…aside from the feminist thing I kind of wondered if he was gay, but the internet proves inconclusive on that one. I did, however, discover that he is the only son of the pop artist, Andy Warhol’s friend Roy Lichtenstein. interesting!
teeth isn’t a movie I’d recommend to everyone, of course. if blood and gore bother you, this isn’t for you, although really the gory parts are quick, not dwelt upon gratuitously, and are important to the plot development. also I wouldn’t see it with anybody with whom you wouldn’t feel comfortable in a frank discussion about sexuality (like, your grandma?). and lastly if you’re the kind of person who gets hung up on weird premises and is unable to suspend disbelief to focus on what’s really important in a story, you’re gonna get stuck on this one. BUT it is a very well-made movie, and I believe it works both as a narrative and as a commentary. the acting is great, especially but not exclusively from jess weixler, and it was shot well. sure, the constant vag/teeth imagery gets a little repetitive (I couldn’t believe that audience laughed aloud EVERY time a cave or whatever showed up, but to each his own I guess), but I disagree with Stephen Holden (he’s no A.O. Scott or Manohla Dargis – take THAT, Stephen Holden!) when he said the film falls short because “the problem with shockers, comic or otherwise, is that once the coup de grâce is delivered, there are no big surprises left.” I think the strength of this film is that it doesn’t rely on simply being a shocker, but is much more into examining the human condition than providing entertainment, as all good movies should be.
Lichtenstein also talked for a minute about his new movie, happy tears, which recently showed at the berlin film festival. he seemed proud of it although reluctant to brag, and said it was another genre-bender, this one a comedy/family drama without the horror element to it. the audience seemed politely interested until he said “parker posey,” at which point several people flat-out cheered. ha. take it easy, NYC film geeks.
so anyway, the moral of the story (and the public service announcement) is: Mitchell Lichtenstein is a good filmmaker, and at least seems like he is a genuinely decent dude on top of it. let’s all support him so he can keep making movies!! yay!