Thoughts On: Spring Breakers
Here we are, this is a big one, I’ve looked at Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in preparation for this. If you’ve not read those posts I will be referencing them a lot, so you can check them all out here…
… if you’ve read those or just want to read a bit about Spring Breakers, then here we go. This film follows Candy, Faith, Cotty and Brit from their boring dorm life through a robbery into a spring break of escalating debauchery, crime and violence.
This is one of those films where there’s so much to say that you’re kind of left speechless. This is a cult classic which means quite a few people really love it and a few people absolutely hate it whilst most haven’t heard of it or just think, ‘meh’. I don’t love this film, I kind of want to hate it and I just want to say ‘meh’ and stop thinking about it. But, I can’t. In comparing this film to the behemoths at the top of the page, I’m not saying this is a modern classic or that it can brave the test of time. But, if I’m frank, it wouldn’t surprise me if it does gain some credibility over the years. This film was made with some interesting ideas that were executed quite well. The director, Harmony Korine, wanted to make a film about the phenomena of spring break in how young adults go off for a few weeks and devolve into… just… craziness, before getting into their cars and driving away as if nothing happened. The film is supposed to be psychedelic, transcendental, post-narrative and think-feeley (Lynchian). It’s also is supposed to cite gang culture, the culture of violence, gaming, teens, materialism, alcoholism, such and so on. The film tries to do all these things and in the end you can decide how well it manages to do so. I do have to say that it is captivating when Alien is introduced and that the Britney Spears bit–if you’ve seen it you know exactly what I’m going on about–really won me over. It’s because of the second half that I decided to take this film seriously. However, the first half is not so engaging. This is because the film is supposed to present a sense reality–but one I completely don’t relate to or have any experience with. This film’s inner conflicts are timeless, but the way in which they’re manifested makes them seem trivial. Spring Breakers works in the same territory as Rebel Without A Cause with the themes of wanting to escape adults and parents who don’t understand you. Whereas Rebel Without A Cause puts you in the home with Jim and his family, the girls in this just moan about the town being boring. The only link to a group to rebel against comes with religion – but this falls by the wayside when Faith (really subtle characternym) leaves. Having said all of that, the profound thing that hit me with this film is it’s relation to now. I see this film on T.V, on advertisements, online, in the facade of many strangers. This film is the uncensored stereotype of what some would call millennials, but what we can look at as the status quo of the culture of the late teen of today(ish).
As I said before, I do not relate to this film. I don’t consider this film to be representative of my mindset and the way I act. I can, however, see this film being a calling card for a dramatised and fantasised version of today in the same way that Ferris Bueller or The Breakfast Club is for the 80s, Taxi Driver is for the 70s, The Graduate the 60s, Rebel Without A Cause the 50s and so on. This is why I looked at the golden age of modern cinema that is the 70s. The 70s, cinematically, represent a time where rules were relinquished and art could be epic and huge – just look at Apocalypse Now. The 70s took the new found freedom and style of the 60s that developed throughout the world with the French New Wave and various other forms of foreign cinema that were pumped them into Hollywood. The blockbuster met the art film in the form of mid-budget, fearless and unflinching personal filmmaking. But, then Spielberg invented the true blockbuster and cinema decided its primary audience should be young adults and families – which it is to this day. But, I don’t want to teach a film history class here, I want to talk about this film in relation to past, present and future. The first thing we’ve already touched on is the idea of authority. What the three 70s classics up top have in common are there huge emphasis on questions of authority and control. Spring Breakers is about authority, but it doesn’t question the notion, merely free-associates the idea and then has its characters turn into anarchists. This film has binary antiheroes in the same way that One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest does. There’s Randle as chaos and Ratched as control. Spring Breakers just has chaotic teens and then Alien. The girls in the beginning of the film are pretty out of hand with the robbery and as implied with their dreams of spring break. I mean… the intro, come on. I don’t know who that appeals to. Everyone is faceless and purely stupid. There’s just a barrage of bikinis, trunks and sunglasses. If we juxtapose this with the noirs of 40s where everyone was suited, clad in shadow and a trusted fedora, we can see how cinema has always depersonalised. In fact, look at The Apartment and we can see a critique of the suited and uniformed crowd – this critique in film stretches from The Matrix to Metropolis. However, in these depersonalised situations what is being presented is both functional and constrictive. The crowd of ties and bowler hats are workmen, they represent how society has to work for the individual to live. Look at The Crowd or The Best Years Of Our Lives and we can see the people within the horde that the likes of The Matrix or Metropolis condemn.
In Spring Breakers the faceless crowd are not constricted, they are free. This is very telling of today. It’s not the legions of suits that need critique in my opinion, it’s the legions of swim suits. Why? Because of the massive contradiction they present. Metropolis critiques robotic crowds of workers, imploring we all need freedom, to be treated as individuals. The opening to Spring Breakers is what happens when you give people all the freedom they need. They don’t stop being robots, they just become stupid. Now, there’s always been stupid people, there always will be. But the crowd of free robots are very common modern cinema. From the trillion kids wanting to party in Weird Science to now, the crowd, as represented by cinema, has devolved. The crowd of suits is what has always been rebelled against in cinema. Now though, the crowd of swim suits is apparently rebelling. The transition’s not working me. This is because of the inherent contradiction that it presents in a wider context. But, staying with the crowd of swim suits, they of course end up disrobing. Tits are everywhere in this film and somehow that’s no fun. Yes, yes, breasts are just apart of a woman’s anatomy, they are not play things, I completely agree. But, the film doesn’t. The style of this film fetishistically lingers on women for the sake of sensationalism in the same way Tarantino has a The Bride slice up the Crazy 88. Tarantino isn’t saying violence is bad, but showing us it’s fun through the lens of cinema. Boobs in Spring Breakers are… ugh… because of their context and the faceless idiots they’re attached to. Korine’s sensationalism isn’t very sensational in short. This does however reprise an idea of a cinematic future posed in the 70s and P.T.A’s Boogie Nights. Hitchcock was a huge advocate of implementation, and in this sense the censorship in the 30s, 40s and 50s forced creativity and gave us Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, but more relevantly, the screwball comedy. An ankle or a bit of shoulder in the right context can be miles more satisfying than push-in on legs spread eagle. If that sounds ridiculous to you then you’re a lost cause – sorry. But, what this relates to is the famous joke at the end of North By Northwest…
…. if you don’t get it, I won’t help you. Hitchcock’s question concerning this was, how far can you go? Not very, he thought. Jump cut 50 odd years and, surprise, look what we’ve done. But, let’s not jump past the 70s. As seen in Taxi Driver porn theatres used to exist. From today’s perspective, that’s kind of absurd, you could look around and without trying quite hard you’d probably not find one. The closest thing we’ve got to porn theatres is the top shelf of the magazine section–and it’s not even that bad. In England there’s page 3, but there’s quite a bit of dispute on that. And of course we all have the internet, but I’ll come back to that. Pornography, in an alternate universe, became legitimised in the 70s with it becoming an art as shown in Boogie Nights. In this universe, it could have been, but no. I can’t delve too deep into why porn isn’t considered an art or legitimate, but it’s safe to say it has a lot to do with the rise in ticket prices, the loss of popularity of theatres as well as the discretion and ease given with the internet. Porn could have legitimised itself in the 70s because of its exposure, I mean, heck, there were porn theatres on Time Square – again, look at Taxi Driver. Whilst protests happened and they’re no longer there, what Spring Breakers implies is our desensitisation as a society despite this. Whilst there are large pockets of people against the raw nature of media and the growing relaxed nature in censorship, people are growing less conservative. I mean, 50 Shades Of Grey. Had that been a good film or as graphic as it promised–both it was far, far, from–then… I don’t know. I think we’re inevitably going to get follow ups to 50 Shades Of Grey, but will the genre flourish? This isn’t porn on the big screen, but we’re moving closer towards it and for young audiences, most aren’t likely to bat an eye at this movement. Some may disagree, but do you think there’s any child that grew up with a phone or internet connection that would have the same response to 50 Shades as a child that grew up without one? Porn becoming easier to access first allowed for a huge influx of discretion, but over time has desensitised us. Two Girls One Cup. How many people just had an awful flashback? How many of you shrugged and said, ‘I’ve seen worse’? And please, no, I don’t want to see the videos. Spring Breakers first and foremost poo-poos Hitchcock and his affirmation that we can only go so far with sex in cinema, but also represents the desensitisation of younger generations both portrayed in the movies and those watching them.
This is however is just scratching the surface, we’re just talking about the film’s intro. The narrative purpose of this film, as said, was to demonstrate how spring breakers are the Mr Jekyll to the everyday Dr Hyde. The spring breakers of today are tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers and unemployed (some rightly so). This speaks to the notion of pornography’s legitimisation. The sexual elements of Taxi Driver are representative of Travis making himself lonely–just like Kurtz relinquishes authority in the end and Randle traps himself. These three key films demonstrate vices as actions with real weight. This is not the case with the Spring Breakers. Before we go on, you may say to this whole essay, that Spring Breakers, doesn’t do what Taxi Driver or other classics do because it’s a bad film. I can agree with you to an extent, others wouldn’t, but, the poignancy of this film comes with the truth it seems to speak – how it is representative of many mentalities and paradigms present today. This doesn’t make it a great film, but, as said before, a marker point people may use to look back on our time from the future. With the internet, and as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you much about, there’s an abundance of anonymity. This is the trope of today – ineffectuality. Actions are not often met with consequences. We see this in the virtual world with gaming, social media, such and so on. I’m not going to hark on about all of that though. I don’t really have many thoughts surrounding that. This is all however significant in the regard to the film’s theme of game culture. This film’s climax is something right out of GTA – and it’s supposed to be. The mentality encompassed by the idea of inconsequence is nothing new however. Cinema has its basis here–it’s fantasy. I don’t criticise this aspect of art, but ask the question of what it has done to ‘today’? Gamers are cool, Comic Con is huge, everyone and their grandma has a Facebook, a phone and Candy Crush. The inconsequential has permeated incredibly deep into our society–rapidly. This is doing the opposite to what we think it would in respect to cinema. I talk about this with Batman V Superman and Human Cinema. Whilst people are bound to gaming and social media, cinema is losing fantasy and adopting realism in places it doesn’t need to. Spring Breakers is a representative of cinematic drama and fantasy exchanging places.
The playful nature of a Tarantino movie should destroy all sense of verisimilitude in a teen drama. It doesn’t in Spring Breakers. This is not a complement to the film. Whilst I don’t believe that the events that transpire are realistic, I believe that there are many people stupid enough to fall into this kind of cycle, that think the pink ski masks and AK-47s are cool. If we stop and take a look at Goodfellas here, we can see the material shift in the perspective of violent bad guys. Henry Hill is a gangster, what he has to boast for himself is a beautiful wife and kids, a car, a good suite and a lot of friends willing to wack him in a heart beat. Alien has the car, but is much more excited to flaunt the ridiculous amount of weaponry he has. Staying with Scorsese, Travis had a fascination with guns in Taxi Driver, but what made them cool was the fact that they were a symbol of utter violence. Look at the way Scorsese shoots them – with regiment and an almost awe inspired gaze. It’s their power that attracts Travis. Him practising in the mirror with the guns makes us very aware of his massive decline. The mirror scenes are where Travis truly breaks. But, go on YouTube and you find a myriad of supposed ‘gangsters’ with guns, real guns, that pose for the camera. Granted 90% of the idiots accidentally fire and then panic because ‘Oh, shit! My mom’s going to be soooo pissed!’. But, how can we laugh? Why are these not seen as troubled individuals like Travis is? In the same way we’ve been desensitised to sexual imagery, we have violent imagery. I’m not talking about cinema here. I’m talking about real life. Whilst porn on your phone is pretty harmless, real guns, real bullets and what could be real tragedies as a source of comedy is questionable. I think it’s good that we’re laughing at these idiots, but guns becoming banana peels can’t sound very good to anyone’s ear. Before moving on, I want to quickly jump to City Lights and Chaplin. In this film, a gun is a banana peel – in that it’s a comedic prop. But, I’m laughing and gasping and cringing at the same time with Chaplin. In Spring Breakers, the gun confrontation with the two girls and Alien is not ‘In what way am I funny?’ from Goodfellas, there is no danger, there is no comedic levity afterwards. There is that cringe though – James Franco, why!? I have no idea how they got through the part where he has to blow two guns, props to the guy though. But, whilst that’s a messed up image, we, with a gun as a symbol of violence, aren’t afraid to put our lips on that shaft. Like I said, messed up, right?
Staying with the gun/blow job scene, we can see how the two themes of sexuality and violence coalesce. Our day and age will forever be remember through images of twerking fat booties and the endless crass or violent comments under that video. Depressing, right? This is what the film, intentionally or not, presents. It’s Disney child actors, sexualised, masked and then given guns. Millions of children have grown up with the likes of these figures and, when looking back, this good girl turned bad idea is going to be our age’s personal growth or right of passage. Forget the likes of a teen getting a car and then chasing the women. Kids are meeting up online and sending each other nudes. This is not a universal truth, but neither is the getting a car and chasing the girls. You didn’t bat you eye at that one though, did you? Maybe future generations won’t with ours. My point is, dick pics are going to be looked back at as the first kiss. I’m laughing, and I’m not sure if that’s just funny, but, in 30 odd years would you like your kid to look at you and ask, ‘when did you and mum/dad meet?’ ‘When we were 16.’ The kid then asks, ‘how long until the first he sent the first dick pick?’ ‘NOOOO!!’. Mortifying, right? But chances are that that’s what they’ll think. I daren’t imagine what they’ll be up to though. Anyway, our growing tolerance toward sexuality and violence isn’t black and white. It’s not good or bad. In truth, we’ll have to wait and see what it is. But, in terms of cinema, morality is no longer an exciting theme or question. Some may see this is as a fault, I, somewhat unintentionally, don’t. Batman V Superman bored me because it was supposed to ask really serious questions of good and bad. When I see this I just groan. It belongs on the Disney channel. We all know what good and bad are, the film didn’t blur any lines. But, if the likes of Silent Running, Singin’ In The Rain or All Quiet On The Western Front, were made today I’d probably dismiss them (which I don’t). This is because they are simple moral stories. Their tone and context however makes them timeless classics. The tone given by modern cinema disallows the light and fluffy, but demands the tough and gritty. Again, I talk about this in Batman V Superman with Human Cinema, but I don’t think getting rid of the formulaic gritty fantasy is a solution or that our movement away from moral story telling is a problem. What the 70s gave us was existentialist and postmodern cinema giants. The postmodern elements of Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest are what make them great. It’s because they question and challenge morality beyond simply the good and the bad – no ugly. In fact, postmodern cinema gave us Star Wars. What? I hear you say. Yes! Postmodernity is as much about the neglect of basic narratives and messages as it is about reinvention. Star Wars is the prime of example of a film that redefined a genre.
Everything good about postmodern cinema has drained away. We’ve had the comic book revelation, but it’s not a big jump from the likes of Star Wars. We’ve also lost our interest in films that ask truly challenging questions. The best attempt toward a postmodern masterpiece like those in the 70s is with Nolan and the Dark Night trilogy. However, they say nothing new, merely package it with IMAX. More than that, what makes the Dark Night trilogy great comes from the spectacle films of the silent era. Nolan says this himself. It’s the likes of Metropolis and Intolerance that makes The Dark Night Rises work. But, this is a floppy attempt toward reinvention. Spectacle is spectacle though, nothing incredibly special, however, the moral themes of the trilogy give basis for the argument that it’s truly great. They cover chaos, authority, loneliness, balance and power. Ringing any bells? In terms of those themes, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest make the Dark Night trilogy look utterly pathetic. The Joker is no Randle McMurphy, Batman is no Travis Bickle and Bane is no Colonel Kurtz. Yes, they are all great characters, but any serious film fan, or filmmaker, can clearly see that the Randle, Travis and Kurtz are a step above any of the comic book characters. The postmodern elements of Spring Breakers (yeah, we’re still talking about that) are… meh. Like I said, the only scene that works on a level of atmosphere and pure cinema that Korine wanted is the Britney Spears part. I truly do tip my hat to that scene. For postmodern, pure, atmospheric, cinema I direct you toward Lynch with Eraserhead, Polanski with Repulsion and then ask you to please bow down with me at the feet of Tarkovsky. No one knows what cinematic atmosphere is better than Tarkovsky. I promise you that. Bergman comes close, but damn, Tarkovsky… just… wow. It may be unfair to ask of anything on a level of The Mirror, Nostalghia or Stalker from Korine, but are we just supposed to accept that the 70s and Tarkovsky are the best cinema can do? No. By ‘dehumanising’ in the respect of freeing it–I won’t link to Batman V Superman and Human Cinema again–we could open up a new brand of cinema, reinvent the reinventions instead of remaking. But, I’ve fell onto a tangent again.
Spring Breakers is representative of cinema now and the future in one more key way. This links to the portrayal of women and what I discussed in the preface to Taxi Driver. Spring Breakers is not a ‘woman with a problem’ story. The key reason for this links back to the crowd paradigm we discussed earlier. Women are intrinsically linked to this idea of a group mentality in the zeitgeist of today. When we think of feminism we don’t think of a woman and her rights, but women and their rights. This idea has conflict with the goals of modern feminism. We can see this with women wanting to close down the wage gap–I know there’s dispute over this and the numbers, but whatever–and wanting to get more girls into the hard sciences. Women are not treated as individuals capable of solving their own personal issues, of facing their boss, of signing up for the class they want. No, they have to be affirmed, they have to be led into the class room or be facilitated. I don’t want to criticise here too much, but the link to the paradoxical crowd mentality is that by unifying, you dehumanise – and feminism is all about creating an equal playing field. Contradiction. What has this got to do with cinema though? Well, women are either isolated to show they can stand up to a group of men, as in Alien or Avengers–which is criticised anyway because they don’t have other women around them–or women are shown to group tightly together. We see this in Bridesmaids, Mean Girls, Pitch Perfect and this–Spring Breakers. We get very few ‘woman with a problem’ films because women are either grouped together or only used as protagonists in romances. The strongest ‘woman with a problem’ films are The Hunger Games series. However, Katniss is a bit of a gimmick and her problems mainly revolve around love and boyfriends–the same happens in Brooklyn. Spring Breakers doesn’t actually feature much of the traditional quest for love. Instead, there’s a lot of licking cartoon penises and three, sometimes four-way, relations – which doesn’t do much for the girls in the way of power, so it loses out there. The only good true ‘woman with a problem’ films that come to my mind are Brave and Inside Out–thank you Disney – again. Spring Breakers reflects a move in modern cinema toward characters that we don’t get to hear much from (women), but not a great one. I don’t see the woman’s version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi Driver or Apocalypse Now happening any time quite so soon. This is because people are unable to shake of this desperate bid for change. We’ll get the female equivalent to Taxi Driver unintentionally, when we can watch the film and not say–oh, it’s trying to be the woman version of Taxi Driver. This of course links back to reinvention and leads on to the final notes…
Spring Breakers says a lot about society as is and how we will be looked back on. This has an awful lot to do with a lack of good management and no one having much to talk about. 20s, 40s and 70s. These are the cinematic golden ages and they are all anchored to contextual tragedy or turmoil. The golden age of silent cinema followed the first World War and the drastic growth in the modernisation of the western world. Hollywood’s golden age followed to the great depression and second World War. The second golden age of cinema has it’s basis in the cold war and social revolutions in the 60s. What problems have we as a society got? Uhh… yes, there’s poverty, some say social injustices in respect to minorities, there’s world hunger, war, North Korea. But you laughed at North Korea, didn’t you. Maybe it’ll take them flipping out and bombing us to give us our next golden age of cinema. But, how selfish did that sound? Jokes aside, the issues we fixate on are largely transitory. Things trend for a while and then fizzle out. We, as a society, can’t manage our issues too well. This is because with the information age comes too much stuff to juggle. I like to be reminded of this through those YouTube videos that reminisce about the year that has just passed. You start off by saying wow, that was only that long ago? And by the end of the video you’ve forgotten what you were so flabbergasted by. I’m trying to remember one of these videos and… nothing… how about you? And that’s the issue. Cinema has it’s basis in conflict, in thematic issues. The issues of today are self-contradicting as shown with the approach to the presentation of women in cinema and, of course, the group. What’s more pressing is the very first thing I said about this film. It leaves you speechless. It speaks volumes about our time, but it’s not a time I’m familiar with. I don’t understand these characters in the same way I would a Jim Stark, a Travis Bickle, A Randle McMurphy. The most popular characters to come out of modern cinema are probably The Joker, Batman ad Tyler Durden. Who have we got here? Randle McMurphy twice and Travis Bickle. You can find these characters as recurring figures further back in cinematic history, but what Randle and Travis do that Batman and The Joker don’t do so well is reinvent the archetype instead of redress them with cloaks and make-up. On the bright side, Tyler is quite unique and stands for quite a lot, but …1999 was quite a while ago, so I’m not sure if he counts. Either way, the point stands that without characters that resonate, or big issues that are tackled precisely, cinema can be little more entertainment.
In Spring Breakers I see a huge mirror, and our reflection doesn’t look good. I’m not going to pretend like there’s a solution to this problem. I mean, come one, the problem is literally all our problems. You can’t expect me to give you a quick fix. But, in seeing films like Spring Breakers we should be asking ourselves questions like, is this today? The answer is, again, we’ll have to wait and see. But, that’s scary, right? I hate to leave you on that note, but that’s the purpose of the film. It’s about not facing consequence. At best it asks us to look at what we do, with thought of how we will be seen. But, I and you aren’t in control of the big WE. That’s the futility. At least there are the Travis Bickles. That’s the only upside to the situation and way forward. If we want better cinema to represent us, that isn’t remakes and adaptations, then we need to truly reinvent instead of half-assing all attempts. In short, we should learn from history as much as we do from self-reflection. That is, of course, if you care for how you look. In short, could we, could cinema, be better? More importantly, how?
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Rolling Stones Don’t Wash Dirty Underwear In Public
The Kid – Chaplin’s Fourth Wall
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