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Eighteenth-century teen queen Marie Antoinette has gone down in history for a shallow saying that will be forever linked to her. Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s biopic of the French royal may come to be remembered most prominently by a superficial declaration itself: It was pretty enough to eat.
Coppola spins modern into Marie Antoinette, attempting to infuse the period piece with the giddy and rebellious spirit of a kid who wants nothing but to quell her inevitable boredom. Kirsten Dunst plays Antoinette, an Austrian (though American-accented) archduchess who, at 14, was married to the unattractive dauphin of France (Jason Schwartzman) to cement a new alliance between the countries. Stripped of everything associated with home—including her beloved pug, Mops—the girl is thrust into the hushed world of Versailles. Antoinette is a bit freaked by the crowds anxious to both greet and judge her; more so when she discovers, for instance, that a circle of subordinates will go so far as attend to her when she gets ready for bed and awakes. A close eye is also kept for any proof of marital relations, ideally a pregnancy that would result in a male heir, especially after the king (Rip Torn) dies and Antoinette becomes queen at 19.
The palace would wait a long time: Because of the dauphin’s impotence, the couple didn’t consummate their relationship for seven years—and Antoinette was blamed. The staid prince all but ignored his wife; she was chastised whenever she slipped from the formal behavior expected of her. Living the life of an 80-year-old (or, in that time, a 30-year-old) both inside and outside the bedroom, Antoinette soon alleviated her personal hell by effectively saying a big screw-you to the fam and taking comfort in dancing, desserts, and shopping sprees. An affair with the Swedish Count Fersen (Jamie Dornan) helped, too.
Coppola laces her vision, which was allegedly booed at Cannes, with anachronistic touches that include Chuck Taylors underneath Antoinette’s gown as well as an attitudinal soundtrack including Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not In It” (“This heaven gives me migraine/The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure”) and Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy” (er, “I want Candy”). And Coppola pairs these tunes with flavorful details: The lavish Victorian dresses pop with colors such as violet and brick red, with similarly striking palettes accented with gold on carriages and palace décor. (The director was allowed to shoot in the actual Chateau de Versailles.) The sumptuous cakes and chocolates favored by the queen are, somewhat more bizarrely, highlighted in montages as well.
It all should add up to a tone that’s energetic and fun, yet the two-plus-hours Marie Antoinette is as empty as the calories the character consumes. Time sprints forward with little indication, and Antoinette’s demeanor seems to transition from sad, sad, sad to carefree in a hairpin moment we never witness. Coppola also attempts to portray the sense of loneliness that she so elegantly captured in Lost in Translation. One shot comes close: As Antoinette stands by herself on a large balcony, the camera pulls away as one of her mother’s awaited letters is delivered in voice-over (mum being Marianne Faithfull). But with no Bill Murray to express her thoughts to, we’re forced to read Antoinette’s mind—and though Dunst wears mournful expressions and does her best to break down in tearless sobs, her queen’s solitary moments simply fall flat. By the time Antoinette bankrupts the palace and must face rioters who have been going hungry because of her indulgences—resulting, though erroneously, in her “Let them eat cake” dismissal—you don’t feel for her collapse, because you never really enjoyed her highs. Antoinette does, however, look awfully pretty on the way to her beheading.
The boys in American Hardcore emote a bit differently—and had a grubbiness made for radio even if their songs weren’t. Paul Rachman’s documentary chronicles the evolution and demise of hardcore punk in the early ’80s, a movement that was fueled by the British and homegrown scenes, the election of Ronald Reagan, and the need of an outlet for kids who “were pissed off but didn’t know why.”
Hardcore was always a response to the snooze of mainstream rock. “Journey, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac they were all great bands for what they do,” says Keith Morris, formerly of Circle Jerks and Black Flag. “But when you hear it over and over—and over again, you’re going to just want to…vomit. Or jump off the nearest cliff.” Not that vomiting, most likely, wasn’t a factor in hardcore. Rachman, long a filmmaker of the underground scene and video director for bands such as Gang Green and erstwhile Washingtonians Bad Brains, captures the fast-as-Flash pace of the genre, opening with the Brains’ “Pay to Cum” while a mostly black-and-white montage shows split-second glimpses of chaotic-show stills and crudely decorated band posters and logos. The birth of hardcore took the ’70s punk of such bands as the Ramones and the Avengers and put it on crack: Songs were short, loud, and usually indecipherable, with an emphasis instead on pushed-to-the-limit speed. As Impact Unit’s Dicky Barrett says, “The less it was a song, the more we loved it.” Solos were forbidden, being associated with the pop rock they were rebelling against.
Rachman was inspired to make this movie by credited writer Steven Blush’s book, American Hardcore: A Tribal History. It covers, albeit a bit disjointedly, the timeline of how the scene spread across the country: first appearing in Southern California and later catching on in cities like D.C., Chicago, Boston, and, naturally, New York. In between grainy, 20-plus-year-old footage of shows performed in church basements and friends’ homes, there’s a who’s-who parade of commentators including locals Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, and Bad Brains’ Paul “H.R.” Hudson as well as Gwar’s Dave Brockie and Moby (yes, that Moby). Each recalls the craziness of the shows, heavy on moshing and general violence. The first time Brockie experienced hardcore live, he says, his panicked impression was, “Oh my God! People are killing each other!” Because the performers contributing here made it out alive, their stories and glimpses of the chaotic shows are pretty entertaining—as are the shots of the parallel ’80s universe, all Members Only jackets and feathered hair.
Hardcore was also rather self-inclusive, and the film emphasizes its DIY approach. The bands put out their own records—MacKaye talks of reproducing album covers by hand—and booked their own shows, often squatting in abandoned buildings for out-of-town gigs. There were no illusions about getting on the radio (“That’s like a black guy saying, ‘I’m going to be president of the Ku Klux Klan.’ No, you’re not!”). It was a male-dominated world, but a few girls were part of the scene, too, though mostly as fans or handling bookkeeping and such.
Most everyone here agrees that hardcore punk died in the mid-’80s. MacKaye, for one, felt that the violence associated with it had become unacceptable. Hair metal was moving in, and audiences were losing interest. Perhaps what’s most amusing about Rachman’s doc is the kids-these-days! attitude of now-adult, former rebels, ranting against unnamed artists implied to be, say, Good Charlotte or blink-182: “None of this shit, none of these little fucking spoiled little fucking brats on MTV now with their buses and all that bullshit, and they’re calling that shit punk,” rails the Cro-Mags’ John Joseph. “That ain’t fucking punk.”CP