Blue Valentine and Grizzly Bear

Last night we watched Blue Valentine, a miserable desolation of the human spirit film starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Emma loves both of those actors, and also miserable desolation of the human spirit films, and has been desperate to see Blue Valentine since it was at Cannes last year. We missed it in the cinema, probably largely to do with my lack of enthusiasm, and DVD release seemed to take forever. But yesterday it arrived courtesy of LoveFilm, and so Emma finally got to see it.

And actually, I quite enjoyed it; both Gosling and Williams are convincing actors, capable of moving from disarming charm to upsetting emotional incapacity, which is what the story required (the story being an intercut, non-linear narrative of them falling in love and, years later, falling apart). There had been much talk from some parts of the film’s sauciness, due mainly to a scene in which Gosling’s character performs oral sex on Williams’ character; it’s a sad state of affairs when the image of a man pleasuring a woman in this way is seen as outrageously raunchy and a little taboo, while the inverse is so commonplace as to be mundane.

But I did have a problem with Blue Valentine, to be honest. Not with the callousness that Williams and Gosling showed to each other come the end, brought about, no doubt, by Williams’ character’s view of her own parents’ loveless marriage, wherein men do not ever do nice things for women, and thus women do not ever deserve to have nice things done for them (the root of much cognitive dissonance for her when faced with Gosling’s character’s selfless/selfish lack of ambition to be anything other than a husband and a father, despite his capacity for other achievement), or even with the fact that Williams’ character thus supplicated herself at every turn, and thus denied herself identity and happiness (as well as giving up her ambition to be a doctor, admittedly due to harsh circumstances and a wish to do the right thing, she also, in love scenes with both Gosling’s character and a former boyfriend, only ever receives or offers to be receptive; she never gives, or asks, or wants for herself, either sexually or emotionally).

No, the problem I had with Blue Valentine was Grizzly Bear, who soundtracked the film. I like Grizzly Bear a lot, but hearing snatches of their music, re-arranged, shorn of vocals, etcetera, that were naggingly familiar and yet also strange and unfamiliar, left me thinking about the music rather than the film. Unlike a purpose-written score, or occasional usage of individual, recognizable songs (in either diegetic or non-diegetic form), this re-purposing and slight alteration of music to make it half familiar seemed to work against both music and story. I don’t think Grizzly Bear will suffer the same bleak “synching” fate as suggested
as in this Quietus article (which is a decent thinkpiece, but lacks the evidence to support its assertions), but it certainly detracted from my enjoyment of Blue Valentine’s miserable desolation of the human spirit.


4 responses to “Blue Valentine and Grizzly Bear

  1. Pingback: Blue Valentine – my blog « My Writing Diary

  2. Nick:

    I’ve been a big fan of your writing since the Stylus days. I was wondering if you’d care to flesh out your argument against Fleet Foxes. I could understand someone not appreciating their…erm…vibe (for want of a better word), but to me some of their songs are just undeniably gorgeous. And I guess I was just surprised.

    I suppose I’m baiting you to “go negative,” and if you’re not interested in doing that, I understand. Different strokes, etc.

    Either way, keep up the excellent work.

    Dan Zapruder Phillips

  3. Hi Dan.

    I’ve not really got anything against Fleet Foxes; they just don’t really do it for me. They seem like a simplified, even more boring version of Grizzly Bear, and GB’s complexity is one of the things I really like about them (along with the otherworldliness of Yellow House), so taking that away removes a big chunk of my enjoyment of them. (As a rule I really dislike ‘dull’ and ‘boring’ as pejorative descriptors of music, because they’re insanely lazy, but sometimes one just is bored by an artist and feels no need to investigate why any deeper.)

    I adore about four FF songs; Mykonos, and the opening three tracks on the debut album; after that they become really samey to me, and that’s where the boringness comes in; the’ve nailed their aesthetic so hard that I have no desire to hear all the minute variations on the theme (as it’s not a theme I’m that bothered about). Hence it’s never struck me to even consider buying their new album. (It’s worth noting that White Winter hymnal has a sense of otherworldliness about it, and I like it a lot.)

    Also, on a technical, sonic level, the first album struck me as being just a little too loud and too brash, especially when compared to GB’s output; given FF’s aesthetic that really put me off; it seemed unnecessary and a little crass.

  4. Thanks, Nick. I can see what you mean, esp. if Grizzly Bear is the comparison. Plus, I hadn’t thought of the production/loudness on the first FF record being in dis-harmony with the content…but you’re right on that point.


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