Another Day of Sun: A Tribute to 2016

Well, that’s a wrap on a pretty insane year all told. I want to look back at 2016, warts and all, the good and the bad.

I’m gonna do so in the only way I know how: through a movie reference. My favorite film of 2016 was undoubtedly La La Land (Chazelle, 2016), and my favorite song from the film was the exuberant, remarkably choreographed song “Another Day of Sun,” which serves as the opening number that takes place in gridlocked traffic (an experience LA inhabitants know all too well).

The song is the main supporting element to the title, “La La Land.” It depicts the stories of thousands of people who still come to Los Angeles based on a dream that began with the advent of Hollywood; to chase their dreams of fame and fortune in the Mecca of the entertainment industry. I’m one of these dreamers living in “La La Land.” The dream persists, despite an excess of competition, uncertainty, and adversity. I feel like this translates to what we all just went through in 2016:


Behind these hills, I’m reaching for the heights…

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“2016 is going to be SO much better than 2015!” we all said. Ah, what a simpler time December 31st, 2015 was!

2016 began with its typical new year’s surge of confidence, hope, and resolutions. 2015 in my mind at the time,  was a horrible year. The latter half of it included the death of a grandparent, the death of the family dog, three consecutive illnesses, a sprained ankle, and a smashed pinkie finger JUST as the year wrapped up.

2015 could burn in hell for all I cared. I was ignoring the good things, however: I got to see my favorite actor in person twice. I worked at an amazing production company. I went to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon AND The Late Late Show with James Cordan. I survived 24 Hour Night at Disneyland and attended two red carpets. But it’s so easy to forget the good and focus on the bad, and that’s exactly what I did. 2015 was the worst, and 2016 would be full of new possibilities and new beginnings.

…And chasing all the lights that shine.

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This was the spring that I studied abroad for a semester in New Zealand. Things were going so incredibly well. I made a new group of international friends, learned my way around a new country and culture, and did things that, now looking back, I cannot believe I had the courage to do!

I went to Fiji and Australia entirely by myself! I completed the foremost item on my Bucket List; jumping off the Auckland Sky Tower-on LEAP DAY no less! I directed an original play in a theatre group I was entirely unfamiliar with. I learned the native Maori language. I threw all caution to the wind and chased experiences I never otherwise would have chased!

I even chased a deeply personal change. I told someone I had feelings for them that I had been repressing for years. Even though, unfortunately, nothing came of it or will ever come of it, for the first half of the year, this was just another bout of hope that was putting wind in my sails as I returned to back home and to Los Angeles to finish out the year.

When they let you down…

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Auckland Sky Tower illuminated in solidary with Belgium. Photo by author.

I’d like to say that upon returning, that’s when everything changed for the worse, but that would be a lie. Despite being surrounded by new and exciting experiences while abroad, the entire world was rattled by countless terrorist attacks. Throughout the year and especially within the past week, celebrity deaths seemed to follow one another endlessly.

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Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, and most recently Debbie Reynolds hit me particularly hard. There was a beautiful quote from Tiia Ohmen, one of the co-creators of the website Fangirl Quest, a photography and travel advise website that maps movie and television shooting locations. This quote offers a perspective about why celebrity deaths affect us so:

Could it be because they’ve given us something to laugh about? To cry about? Because they’ve inspired us to pursue some career ourselves, in acting or music or in whatever it is they did well? Or because they used their publicity to support those who are suffering, inspired us to do good, or told us fight for our rights? Or maybe because they just told us “it gets better”, or “always keep fighting”, and helped us through a rough patch in our lives?

Could it be that they made us feel, and by making us feel they actually made us feel more alive?

The mourning seemed without end: David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, George Michael, Carrie Fischer… And then I lost another grandparent in the blink of an eye.

Loss led into heartbreak, heartbreak led into frustration, frustration led into fear. This fear was also felt universally. I was in a country under the British crown when the United Kingdom left the EU, and I was in the U.S. when voting in my first election; the election that will forever be known as the most divisive since the days of the Civil War. Fear is rampant right now and will continue to be if we let it get to us. But the responses to the adversity that have emerged gives me so much hope.

Get up off the ground…

Kind actions followed every tragedy. Hopeful words lifted everyone’s spirits. Charitable deeds restored hope in humanity.

It is human nature to seek constant improvement and to have hope for the future. I too tried to improve bad situations. Unfortunately, good intentions did not go unpunished, for all attempts to better myself were thwarted by more nonsense: A repeated attempt to join an important group fell short. A career changing competition resulted in disqualification beyond my team’s control. Fitness progress was halted by a contagious disease and then a sprained knee. Before I knew it, 2015 seemed like a blessed memory compared to the things 2016 was dishing out.

Morning rolls around…

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But, once again, we are at the end of another year and the start of another, and already there is much buzz about how much better 2017 will be than 2016:

As I stated before, the need for self-improvement seems wired in humans. That’s the reason why New Years resolutions exist in the first place: It’s a chance to start again and use a finite amount of time to spark a better change for oneself and one’s community.

…And it’s another day of sun.

But the fear remains in my mind: What if 2017 doesn’t deliver upon the promises we wanted 2016 to deliver? What if it’s just as full of grief, disappointment, and uncertainty…or worse?

But a best friend put it well when I voiced these concerns:

I think all we can really do is stay positive and keep sending out good vibes into the universe, and hope that others are doing the same.

And so morning will roll around tomorrow, and it shall be another day of sun in a new year. At the end of the day, 2015 didn’t do anything to us. Neither did 2016. In order to make sense of our situation, we as a people have characterized these years as having their own identities and wills to make our lives better or worse. When it comes down to it, we are the ones who control our fates. Terrible things happen, but so do the good.

2016 was the year I actually committed to increasing the quality and number of posts featured in this blog, which has been in existence since 2013. This was the year I made friends who live in over a dozen countries around the world. 2016 was the year I was brave. 2016 was the year I was one step closer to figuring out who I am.

So here’s to a better 2017 for everyone. I hope that every resolution is met (c’mon, self. The gym is not a punishment) and that problems that arise can be met with level-headedness and an easy resolution.

It’s another day of sun. 

Header image from StockSnap. All photos by author. All gifs from giphy.
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Enter Die Antwoord; Exploring CHAPPiE’s Unique Soundtrack

Post written for University of Auckland course FTVMS 323: Popular Music on Screen

I don’t like Chappie (2015)- there, I said it. While I’m at it, I may as well get several more things out of the way: I don’t like most of Neill Blomkamp’s work. I walked out of District 9 when it was first released, a film which is widely considered his magnum opus (for the record, I later finished it and admit that I was wrong for giving up so soon).

As far as Chappie is concerned, I found the story bland and generally disturbing, was rather bored with the one-dimensional characters, and couldn’t help but giggle at Hugh Jackman’s ridiculous mullet. However, one element that stood out to me were the songs used in the film. They were unlike anything that I had ever heard before, yet somehow there was something about each song’s sound that seemed rather familiar…

It wasn’t until the credits began to roll (and I was able to finally breathe a sigh of relief that two full hours of disappointment had finally come to an end) that I realized that two of the lead characters in the film, Ninja and Yo-Landi, were played by Ninja and Yo-Landi of Die Antwoord, the South African rap-rave zef group who provided eight of their songs to the Chappie soundtrack.

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Ninja of Die Antwoord teaches Chappie (played by Sharlto Copley) how to be “gangster.”

It was Die Antwoord that quickly became the most memorable thing about the movie for me, and has stayed with me for over a year since the film’s release. Their unique sound and stylistic elements prompted me to do further research on the band, which therein led to me to discover the zef music genre. “Zef” is a counterculture movement that has increased in popularity since the 1990’s in South Africa, wherein Afrikaners (mostly white, lower-class South Africans) exaggerate traits of being cheap, ill-bred, and vulgar (Krueger, 400). In regards of Chappie, the use of the zef music genre reveals much about South African culture and works well with the styles and themes of the film, but the frequency of its use takes focus away from the film’s narraive and places it on the music.

Chappie centers around the world of Johannesburg, South Africa in the not-too-distant future, where artificial intelligence is prominent and crime is filtered by police officer robots. The scientist responsible for these robots makes another significant technological advancement when he manages to import artificial intelligence into the body of a discarded robot. This robot is captured by three gangsters, two of which are exaggerated versions of Ninja and Yo-Landi. They name the robot “Chappie,” and teach him what it is to be human, as well as use him for their own criminal activities.

Anton Krueger’s artcile in Safundi; The Journal of South African and American Studies, entitled, “Zef/Poor White Kitsch Chique: Die Antwoord’s Comedy of Degredation,” not only provides context into the historical connotation of zef culture in South Africa, but also specifically outlines how zef developed into a genre that was made popular by Die Antwoord. Krueger argues that whereas in the 1950’s and 60’s, the term, “zef” was used to describe what would be known today as “rednecks,” it has now become a word associated with an authentic lifestyle. Die Antwoord embodies this authenticity in their appearance, language, and music, says Krueger:

“The band members deliberately position themselves as a part of a poor white lineage. For example, in the YouTube clip, ‘Zef side,’ they talk about their supposed origins as poor and unsophisticated. […] The clip is shot in a poor suburb of Cape Town and in this way, the personas they have created align themselves with an underclass” (403).

Above is the video that Krueger describes in his journal. While the way that the band speaks, dresses, looks, and lives indicates the “zef” persona, this persona can also be seen in the characters that Yo-Landi and Ninja play in Chappie: They live in a graffiti-ridden junkyard in an abandoned part of Johannesburg, and generally look quite similar in the film to all of their other appearances in media. In this way, Die Antwoord’s outward aesthetic and their music seem to inform one another in terms of the zef genre they market.

As zef is an increasing part of South African culture, it is intrguing that Blomkamp chose to reflect it so prominently in Chappie in both character and soundtrack. In full, eight of Die Antwoord’s songs were featured on the soundtrack, all of which shared very similar stylistic traits. Hits like “Cookie Thumper!” and “Enter the Ninja,” feature heavy rhythmic, synthetic beats. This computer-generated sound therefore evokes a technology-dominated atmosphere that can easily be applied to the technology-dominated setting of Chappie.  Both Yo-Landi and Ninja’s raps feature very elaborate and changing rhythms, their voices remaining relatively montonous and synchronous; rather machine-like, if you will. Yo-Landi’s voice in particular is unique. The tones of her voice are soft and high-pitched already, but when combined with the resonant rave beats and the rap pacing, the overall effect is almost otherworldly: her sound becomes less of a voice and more of an instrument, giving further dimension to the already unusual sound of Die Antwoord. While they might be the most popular band of the zef music genre, Jack Parow and other South African hip hop artists share similar traits with Die Antwoord, specifically in their computer-generated beats and rhymic raps. All of these traits combined renders zef music very complementary to the tone and style of Chappie.

Whereas both the culture and style seem to fit in with the narrative of Chappie quite well, there were some rather confusing decisions that were made concerning how Die Antwoord was featured in the movie that seemed to contradict the overall effectiveness of the music choice. Although the film as a whole was widely criticized by film critics as being predictable, full of plot holes, and unappealing, the majority of critics  were confused by Blomkamp’s casting of Ninja and Yo-Landi. Particularly critics of Time, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Los Angeles Times questioned their casting, but perhaps Justin Chang of Variety said it best:

“By far the most curious casting choice is that of South African hip-hop artists Ninja and [Yo-Landi] Visser, who have always playfully blurred the line between their onstage and offstage personae. Here, projecting a (somewhat) exaggerated version of their already outlandish identities, they seem more or less of a piece with the scattershot proceedings, and their performances do improve after their shouty, gun-waving histrionics early on. Lending the picture an occasional burst of anarchic energy are Die Antwoord’s numerous contributions to the soundtrack, of which the infernally catchy ‘Enter the Ninja’ is merely the most recognizable.”

Others considered the use of eight Die Antwood songs to underscore key scenes in the film as merely a massive plug for the band, instead of a means by which song and story could be complementary and subtle. Said Andre-Pierre du Plessis of Memeburn, a website that focuses digital media, in his article, “Chappie is an Elaborate Feature-Length Music Video for Die Antwoord:”

“Clearly the movie was conceived at a time when Die Antwoord was at the height of its international acclaim. Some critics have asked whether this was done intentionally as a sort of South African inside joke, and after seeing the movie with a group of non-South Africans, it certainly feels that way.”

Sadly, du Plessis isn’t wrong in this assumption. Director Neill Blomkamp himself confirmed in an interview with Rolling Stone that his reasons for using Die Antwoord were more informed by commercial factors above any other:

“Years later, while I was writing Elysium, I was listening to Die Antwoord while I was writing very late at night — and suddenly this thought just came to me out of nowhere: What if this band were to raise one of Elysium‘s artificially intelligent robots, but with a clean slate? And they tried to make it do all the illicit sh*t they do? What kind of f*cked-up movie would that be?!? […] It was conceived with the idea that they’d not only be in it ,but play a version of themselves. The music thing didn’t work out, so now they’re running around South Africa and committing crimes…they seemed OK with that idea for some reason.” 

In the interview, Blomkamp goes on to say that Chappie originally took place in Los Angeles, and that he changed the setting to Johannesburg for the sole purposes of accomodating the casting of Ninja and Yo-Landi.

However, just because these intentions weren’t initially a part of the design of the film does not mean that the overall effect that the zef music genre had on the film as a whole wasn’t impactful to the style, tone, and narrative of Chappie. While the inclusion of this very particular genre itself is indicative of South African culture, the specifics surrounding Die Antwoord overall cheapens elements of the narrative and lessens the cultural impact. The impact could have been greater had Blomkamp taken the focus off of Die Antwoord and instead used a compilation score of other zef artists to elevate the genre, rather than merely just one particular music group. Despite this, however, the fact that a counterculture group received so much attention as to be featured as both actors and musicians in a film that was released in many international markets is indicative of just how impactful this rather niche genre truly is.

Academic Article Utilized:

Anton Krueger (2012) Part II: Zef/Poor White Kitsch Chique: Die Antwoord’s Comedy of Degradation, Safundi, 13:3-4, 399-408, DOI: 10.1080/17533171.2012.715484

 

References: 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1823672/

http://www.dieantwoord.com

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/features/neill-blomkamp-on-chappie-a-i-and-a-district-9-sequel-20150305?page=2

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-chappie-review-20150306-column.html

Neill Blomkamp’s ‘Chappie’ Is a Feature-Length Die Antwoord Music Video

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/chappie-film-review-779116

Film Review: ‘Chappie’

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/chappie-2015

http://www.jackparow.co.za/#hosh

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/sep/12/die-antwoord-music-feature

 

Header image from freeimages.com, Gif from giphy

 

Paris, tu es de ma famille.

It’s been a few days, and I know that everyone is aware of the situation that unfolded in Paris on Friday, November 13 in Paris. Not as widely publicized but equally as important are the tragedies that also befell Beirut, Baghdad, Japan, Mexico, and Kenya, overall resulting in a total of thousands of deaths around the world all around relatively the same time. I want to say straight away that my thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims and survivors in these areas. Unfortunately, of all of these amazingly beautiful and diverse nations, I have only been fortunate enough to have ever visited the city of Paris, and the time that I had there was limited but unforgettable. This is the reason why the subject of my blog today will revolve around Paris. I could talk about the details of the attacks. I could talk about the politics, my views on the mater, about ISIS, or gun control, or about what action should be taken next in retaliation. I could talk about any of these things, but I want to focus on what Paris means to me.

I’m a young, American girl, and as such, you can safely bet that I have a vast collection of stereotypically “girlie” items that have the Eiffel Tower plastered all over them, including necklaces, earrings, posters, and sweaters. I, like a good portion of Americans, studied the French language in high school and in college. Also, like a good portion of the American population, have been to Paris. So nothing about my connection to the French culture seems out of the ordinary up to this point, I’m certain.

But still, there exists a certain allure about Paris, even to me as a young girl growing up in a small city in the middle of Nevada (on the converse, I can’t imagine a young Parisian girl dreaming about living in Reno, Nevada…so it’s all relative, really!). Maybe it was growing up with French oriented films, like Beauty and the Beast, or Ratatouille, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I was dead set on learning French (much to my 12 year old dismay once I realized that my middle school mandated learning Spanish) and visiting France when I got older. Before I graduated high school, both of these dreams had come true.

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I spent a total of 36 hours in France, and the vast majority of it was spent in Paris. The summer of my senior year, my mother and I took the quick excursion before meeting up with the rest of our party, my high school drama department, in London for the intended portion of our trip. Paris was undoubtedly the top locale on my bucket list, and quite honestly, now that I’ve “been there, done that,” I feel a little lost as to which site is my next “must see!” In 36 hours (which I believe was only 3 hours of sleep and 33 hours of racing around like mad trying to see as much as we could), I got to climb the Notre Dame, see the outside of the L’oeuvre, walk through L’arc du triomphe, see Le Moulin Rouge, tour L’opera du Paris, watch the final minutes of the men’s championship finals of the French Open in Roland Garros, walk beneath the Eiffel Tower, take a dinner boat along the Seine in the rain, and, one of my fondest memories, reenact Midnight in Paris. 

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This brings me into the next level of why Paris is so important to me: it appears to be chance, but all of my favorite things revolve around Paris. The first movie that I ever went to the movies by myself to was Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris. This may seem like an unimportant detail to you readers, but for a cinephile, we remember such things, especially when the film is particularly fantastic. I knew nothing about the film going into it, and truly went to see it only because I was bored and I saw that it was getting good reviews. I was just about to begin attending high school and was gradually gaining more independence. This was a big move for me, and the movie certainly did not disappoint. In the film, written and directed by Woody Allen, the protagonist (which seems to be an autobiographical portrayal of Allen himself), played by Owen Wilson, on vacation with his shrew of a fiancee and her family in Paris, accidentally stumbles into Paris in the 1920’s when the clock strikes midnight and he is alone in a particular part of the city. Every night, he is able to visit with some of his literary and artistic heroes, like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and many more, all of which are played magnificently by actors like Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Corey Stoll, and Tom Hiddleston, in one of his first cinematic roles.

I related to Wilson’s character, Gil, on so many levels. He’s a screenwriter who has hit a rut in his life. While a 14 year old isn’t necessarily in a “rut” at that point in her life, there did exist a lot of uncertainty for me at the time. My preferred time period to live in would undoubtedly by the 1920’s, much like Gil. Also like Gil, a discovery I wouldn’t make until actually visiting Paris myself, I fell in love with the city. As Gil says in the film;

“You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.”

I took it upon myself to visit the same stairs that were used for filming whenever Gil would travel back in time. I was there right at midnight, and while no car came for me to take me back to the 1920’s, it was no less magical than the film. Additionally, the next morning I went to Shakespeare & Co., a famous bookshop on the Seine and I bought Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Moveable Feast, penned during Hemingway’s time in France and also referenced in Midnight in Paris. I have since read the book, and it is one of my all-time favorites.

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Since visiting Paris, I have played a French girl in the United States premiere of a British farce entitled Building on Sand. I’m still fairly certain that the only reason why I got the role is because  I was the only 17 year old in Reno who could speak French and was willing to get cozy with a man playing her boyfriend who was exactly twice her age (actors, am I right?). Still, it was my first production outside of my high school, I was the youngest member of our small cast of five by about seven years, and the experience gave me a theatre family. I loved learning to speak English with a French accent, was completely at home every night of the show, and was subsequently heartbroken when its run came to an end. Much like leaving Paris, the show had an expiration date, and life had to go on. But also, much like Paris, I have been chasing an experience like Building on Sand in my theatrical career ever since and still haven’t found it.

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So through visiting the city and falling in love with music, movies, plays, and books surrounding it, Paris became a surrogate home to me, despite my spending only a little over a day there. Perhaps that’s why hearing about the attack that has as of now resulted in 129 deaths and 352 injuries on Friday night affected me so deeply.

I was five when the attack on 9/11 happened. In my memory will forever be the image of the smoking towers on the television in my parents’ room, but beyond that, I can’t recall much. Additionally, there are things that a child that age just can’t process. I hope that I never have to live through a similar attack on my home country in my lifetime, but feeling the wounds open up in a place I hold so dear hurt in a very profound way. When I woke up in the morning, I found out about the tragedies in Lebanon, Japan, Baghdad, Mexico, and Kenya, and I do not wish for this post to minimize those horrors in any way. I pray for Paris, I pray for the world.

I think the worst feeling for me is the helplessness I feel on my end. A blue, white and red French flag filter on one’s Facebook profile picture can only do so much. I want to make a difference, I want to help. Not just for Paris, but for anyone whose lives were forever changed this weekend. And I’m in a spot where I truly don’t know what I can do with the resources I have. Maybe that’s why I am writing this post…maybe I’m trying to make a difference with words. I don’t know how, but I will devise a means by which I can help those in need, and I will not rest until I am certain that I have done my part.

Finally, I wish to send out one final thought to everyone hurting out there. One of my favorite songs is entitled, “Tu es de ma famille,” and it is sung by a variety of contemporary French pop singers as a part of a tribute album celebrating songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman. Much in the style of BandAid or “We Are The World,” all of the artists come together in the song, becoming a single unit. The lyrics of the refrain, translated into English, state a simple, yet powerful message:

“You’re from my family
From my order, from my rank
The one I’ve chosen
The one I feel
In this army of ordinary people”

So to everyone, “pauvre, riche ou batard, blanc, tout noir ou bizarre,” I hope that you hear these lyrics and find hope in knowing that you are not alone. Help is out there, help is coming, and look to the sky, for tomorrow will be brighter.

Harmony