Vox Lux, the latest film offering from writer/director Brady Corbet, is an impressive stack of movie making devices and giant societal questions.
In screenwriting 101 they tell you that the use of V.O. is a weakness, because well, “show” not “tell”…however, used correctly it can show the strokes of a film making auteur (please see Royal Tenenbaums).
There are many other choices to be chosen from in that grab bag marked “Film Making Devices”… shakey camera work, use of only natural lighting, extended takes, to name a few.
In Vox Lux Brady Corbet said “fuck it” took the entire bag and dumped it in a cooking pot to create a story about a Madonna/Gaga/Sia type music star and cooked it with a grainy filter over high heat.
The devices that show up in Brady Corbet’s latest offering, Vox Lux in no particular order are:
8mm flashbacks overdubbed with V.O.
Long monologues accompanied by even longer slow pushes into an actor’s close up with bokeh city lights in the background.
Recitations of ambiguously symbolic slightly meaningful dreams.
Title cards announcing chapters of the film.
Hyper violent acts in the forms of a school shooting and a terrorist attack on a beach….The list goes on.
I’m not a hater. So I will say if woven together correctly any amount of anything can show the strokes of a film making auteur…So, is Vox Lux the mark of an auteur existing on multiple levels with searing social commentary or is it just a bunch of devices stacked on top of killer performances?
I am still confused as shit.
That’s right. I am still confused as shit about Brady Corbet’s in your face musical story, Vox Lux. It is at once visually stunning yet rides a borderline of societal farce through the tropes of the music industry.
In short, the film tells the story of a teen becoming a terrible person of a pop star named Celeste through the lens of the music industry and our current times. It begins in 1999 when Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and Eleanor (Stacy Martin) survive a school shooting. After spending the first half of the film there it jumps to 2017 where the 31 year old Celeste (Natalie Portman) is a mother to a daughter of her own and is a full on monster created by the music industry machine.
The film is our star Celeste singing a sentimental anthem in her small Staten Island home town church and at the same time a balls to the wall pop music concert spectacle in which Natalie Portman holds her own in a performance in league with Bey and Gaga that dominates the last 20 minutes of the film.
Which is even furthermore where my confusion lies…are the closer smaller moments where the acting crosses over into farce meant to show the defining opposite of normal life to mega pop stardom or that both in their parts exist in equal plasticity?
Does Brady Corbet value these Staten Island folks as humans? Then why the over the top accents and synthetic hard hitting music to over accentuate everything? Is it to say that ANYONE can be made a Pop Star with the right machine behind them, even a Staten Island rube?
Repeat, I still can’t tell.
It is at times truly beautiful. Frames crafted and lit. Striking and overwhelming in crafted patience. While the use of the multiple devices over all feels shallow, their placement feels on purpose. The film feels very large, giving the piece crafted scope and charm. When emotions overflow, the camera work feels very third person, like you are in the lens as a voyuer shoved into the infantile outbursts of Natalie Portman.
The hyper violence is undeniably realistic and cringe worthy. But is it earned or needed? Couldn’t tell ya because the piece feel soo damn big.
It is a story about music and the Original Soundtrack by Sia is cat nip for any “Pop” Spotify Spring/Summer play list.
The entire cast serves up acting gold. Jude Law’s character, who is Natalie Portman’s manager in the movie, is wrapped soo tight you know exactly who is he from the first time we see him walking in slow motion down a New York City street. Shit, add that shot to the devices listed above please.
Making any movie is like pushing an 800 ton elephant up a greased slope. And by that merit, Vox Lux is a monumental piece.
Ultimately it leaves us asking ourselves: is all of the over the top bull shit posturing and child like antics of a small town girl thrust into super stardom before she was ready and groomed to be a pop star monster worth the feeling that big music gives us as a society?
The broken abusive relationships between managers and press and publicists and daughters and sisters, do these relationships all fall to the wayside for twenty thousand people in holy pop concert communion to sing the same song together with goosebumps while Celeste stands like a Goddess under the lights?
What matters? Pop music or “real” relationships? Do we project our own feelings of Love and yearning unto our Pop Star’s music while they themselves can not truly connect on any level that they sing so beautifully about? What is the price for our idols? And who ultimately pays?
Watch Vox Lux and pass your own judgements Darlings. I’m still searching for mine.