Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Flicked Off, with Dan Kois: Tom Ford's 'A Single Man'

JUST LOOK AT THAT SWEATERYou should know that this exchange on the topic of 'A Single Man' contains vague but vigorous discussions of the endings of both the film and the book on which it is based. This semi-spoilery stuff, if it can be called that, is noted below in bold, before it occurs. There are also vague discussions of some plot points. (If they can be called that.)

Choire: Dear Dan, I have asked you here to discuss with me the issue of the new Tom Ford movie, "A Single Man." Actually, I'm lying! You totally asked me here!

Dan: Nay, I DEMANDED it! This movie made me so angry that I needed to shout at someone! Now it is a week later, and I have calmed down a little.

Choire: That's a very strong reaction from a heterosexual man. Wherever do we begin to deal with your outrage?

Dan: Maybe we can start with my response to the innumerable scenes in which Colin Firth, as the bereaved professor, is about to kill himself but stops short with the gun in his mouth.

Dan: Stopped by, at various turns:
1. His concern that he might mess up his sheets.
2. His concern that his shower will get all dirty.
3. The phone ringing.
4. Desire for some scotch.

Choire: Oh, so you also object to the weird, broad comedy elements randomly introduced? Such as the slapstick "struggle in the sleeping bag with the gun" scene, that was like something out of Laurel and Hardy but BAD?

Dan: Haha, no, I was deeply grateful for that. But I think it does not speak well of 'A Single Man' that on each of those occasions, as he pulled the gun from his mouth, I felt disappointed.

Dan: "Just shoot yourself!" I kept thinking.

Dan: "At least then something will happen!"

Dan: "If you are not going to fuck any of those hot guys, then let's get on with it!"

Dan: I think that maybe I did not feel any great deal of sympathy for Colin Firth's character, despite his obviously sad circumstances.

Dan: Perhaps because he and his circumstances and the whole movie were SO COMPLETELY AESTHETICIZED as to completely, you know, anesthetize me.

Choire: I don't think he's particularly sympathetic, not that I care about that. I like that he's just a cold fish we don't care about. It's not like "Milk" up in here with the hero worship.

Dan: But I think that Tom Ford really does care about him! I think Tom Ford thinks he's a deeply sympathetic character, because of the way he wants his corpse to wear his tie in a Windsor knot.

Choire: You know, after I first saw "Ran," in the 80s, when it was new, because I am very old, on the way out, the person I was with reviewed the movie by saying, "Well, great textiles." And that is what I said after I left this film. FABULOUS textiles! Such great clothing! The architecture isn't so shabby either. But there's not much of anybody in those clothes or buildings, particularly as you point out here, they are obsessed with their clothes and their buildings and their appearances.

Dan: Also the furniture is fantastic. Julianne Moore's hi-fi? AMAZING.

Choire: Well, can we have the mandatory Julianne sidebar now?

Dan: Yes!

Choire: I really do think she was terrific. I mean, DUH. That's like saying "fresh-baked bread smells great!"

Dan: She was great, agreed.

Choire: Okay, phew.

Dan: But has Indiewood really sunk so low that Julianne Moore is ALREADY being cast as a past-her-prime fag hag? Surely the movies have more to offer one of the three best living actresses than that.

Choire: Well, do they? Did you SEE movies this year? Anyway. Back to Tom Ford. One thing that surprises people about Tom Ford is his abhorrence of sex. As you have obviously noted, that is SO CLEAR in this film. This is a shame, because Tom Ford is really hot. (Although, it is necessary to note that I have something much hotter at home, else I am in trouble after work.)

Dan: Super hot! Even Botoxed up. ESPECIALLY Botoxed up. And wow, can he cast hot dudes in his movies.

Choire: Oh sure!

Dan: The movie's IMDB page is hilarious because even minor, non-speaking roles — "Homophobic Next-Door Neighbor" — are played by model-quality hotties.

Choire: Oh, Teddy Sears. My word! Kicks Matherton of 'Mad Men'!

Dan: And Nicholas Hoult! He looks like young Tom Cruise if young Tom Cruise thought about sex instead of only about his future success.

Choire: I'm sorry, I'm busy looking at pictures now. GOOD GRAVY. THERE'S ONE OF TEDDY SEARS IN A FIREMAN OUTFIT.

Dan: Even I would like to see that.


Choire: It'll turn you. I'm sorry, I'm back now. And I have something to say about the young men also?

Dan: Please do.

Choire: Here is who plays tennis shirtless on a college campus in 1962: NO ONE. You would have been ESCORTED FROM THE CAMPUS.

Dan: NOT TWO GUYS, that is for sure. This was a bizarre miscue in a movie that got almost every other aesthetic detail not just right but beyond right. Teddy's sweater? It's this lovely white — I don't even know what? Angora? The freshly-shorn down of a white peach?

Choire: Oh it certainly was. I wanted to bury my face in it and cry. But we haven't gotten to the heart of the matter yet. All of these issues are the heart of the heartlessness? But there's something MORE to it, isn't there?

Dan: Well I am interested in Tom Ford and his abhorrence of sex. Is this a true thing about him, like that people know? I only really know him from that NYT piece about how all his friends hate him, and then from the Advocate piece where he reveals his first blowjob, to Ian Falconer, author of Olivia, whose last name shows up on-surprise! George Falconer's nameplate. (Another suggestion that Tom Ford actually thinks George is about the most sympathetic guy imaginable — he named him after his first boyfriend!)

Choire: That sort of makes me sad. Actually Tom Ford makes me sad overall, and I mean with the emotion, because the clothes are so drenched in nostalgia. It's the huge, uncle-molester-weight ties; the twenty-pound sweaters; the absurd smoking jackets; the horrifically-expensive and actually queerly sentimental jeans. I mean that I like many of these things? But I recognize them as things of sadness. So it's perfect that he made a period movie? It's just that he was already making the period movie. And you can star in it, any time you want to go to Madison Avenue. Where he makes the maid wear a maid's outfit. Because that's what they did in the 60s.

Dan: Right. Is there a 'A Single Man' spinoff line in the works?

Choire: I would wear the shit out of that.

Dan: I guess the heartlessness of it comes, to me, from the total lack of concern Tom Ford actually has for his characters. At every possible moment, an aesthetic flourish takes the place of a moment of real emotion. The best example I can think of is that already-celebrated scene where Colin Firth gets the news that his lover of 16 years has died.

Choire: Ah yes. That was…. not upsetting.

Dan: He gets a phone call, and it's an uninterrupted shot, and we should be concentrating on Firth's powerful reaction, but instead we are distracted because it is DON DRAPER ON THE PHONE.

Choire: AND HOW.

Dan: "Hey buddy! It's me, Don Draper! Jim died! So says me, Don Draper!"

Choire: Well he DOES have a perfect voice! Except it's Don Draper's voice, yes.

Dan: The movie fetishizes grief instead of exploring it.

Choire: And yes, and also… then doesn't he play with his cigarette lighter or something?

Dan: I assume so. And in the same way, it fetishizes 1960s gay life rather than caring about it.

Choire: I would like to submit the caveat that SOME of us do live like that (by which I mean, both Mary Choi and myself). That we tend to react to moments of extreme tension or drama or crisis with moments of aesthetics.

Dan: So, when the drab everyday of your life gives way to a moment of passion, everything suddenly becomes color-saturated?

Choire: Kind of, yes! This actually is the joy of being a faggot.*

Choire: *And Mary Choi.

Choire: However! I wouldn't make a movie where that happened.

Dan: I certainly wouldn't position it as a masterpiece of craft, when instead it plays like a PARODY of what I think a fashion designer's movie would look like. But so do you think this movie will become beloved by gay audiences? And if so, will it be loved for real, or as camp? Because that ending read to me as the direst camp. (I guess we shouldn't spoil the ending.)

Choire: I am not going to take us down this road but… I do wonder how much the movie has to do with the aesthetics and the distancing in the likes of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (important N.B.: Marc Jacobs' favorite movie), and a movie beloved for its sentimental anti-sentimentality (oh, Mark Greif!), as well as its camp value, and in answer to your question, 1. NO, and 2. NOT REALLY. The ending was awful. I mean, REALLY.

Dan: I said to my date, "We sat through three hours for THAT?" Then I looked at my watch.

Choire: Yes! The longest short movie ever! I do want to say that I admire this movie in some ways.

Dan: Tell me.

Choire: I like that he made it. And I like that it's complicated. And I like that it is not possible that it will ever make much more than a dime, though it'll pay for itself, because it was cheap. AND I like that he cast Colin Firth. And I like his location scout! I mean, I admire his moxie!

Dan: One man's "moxie" is another man's "blowing a couple mil of someone else's money."

Choire: Oh but that's the genius: it was his money!

Dan: He paid for it himself? The whole thing? Impressive!

Choire: Well, it was all of $7 million. Which is like, two peacoats and a couple of leather bags up at Ye Olde Tom Ford Shoppe.

Dan: So, that makes me slightly less offended by the whole thing. If you view the movie as an objet d'art rather than as art, it makes a lot more sense.

Choire: Really, if there's anything I'd like people to understand about this movie is just how unbelievably expensive Tom Ford products are.

Dan: "I had originally read the book in my 20s when you and Ian [Falconer] and I were visiting David Hockney and he introduced us to Christopher Isherwood." It would be my favorite book too is that is how I first became acquainted with it!

Choire: But you know, that's just how the gays live. However. If I were making a movie of my favorite book, I think I should trod more carefully upon the ending. Shall we return to the source text?


Choire: "And if some part of the nonentity we called George has indeed been absent at this moment of terminal shock, away out there on the deep waters, then it will return to find itself homeless. For it can associate no longer with what lies here, unsnoring, on the bed. This is now cousin to the garbage in the container on the back porch. Both will have to be carried away and disposed of, before too long."

Choire: That is preceded by "LET US SUPPOSE."

Dan: Wow, that's some unsentimental prose right there. I'll defend Ford in this sense: It is pretty fucking hard to employ the conditional tense in filmed images.

Dan: Also, let it be said that Tom Ford would never, ever, employ a garbage metaphor. Colin Firth looks dashing reading on the john!

Choire: Would you like to read, compare and contrast some of the ending from the script, since we've gone there?

We settle, in an intimate way, close to Georgeʼs face. We quite literally feel him slip away from us.

The sounds of life grow increasingly faint. George lets out a deep but relaxed sigh as his jaw slackens and his eyes begin to glaze and lose focus. George is completely motionless but he now has the faintest smile on his face.
The room is warm and dark and pleasant.

Shot from above, Georgeʼs face fills our screen as we slowly pull back.

Dan: "We quite literally feel him slip away from us." That's my favorite part!

Choire: That's not good writing.

Dan: I did quite literally feel that, thanks to the 4-D Feel-O-Vision recently installed in my local movie theater. Now I am just being a jerk.


Choire: Welcome! Hmm. CLOSING STATEMENTS? In conclusion? I would like to say that I'm glad I saw this movie but I will never watch it again.

Dan: In closing, I would like to quote the movie again – this time, handsome Spaniard Carlos, who fails to make time with George in a liquor-store parking lot.

Choire: Oh, goodness, what a face on him.

Dan: He's talking about the lurid purple sunset, and how it's caused by California smog. "Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty," he says. And sometimes awful movies have their own critiques embedded right in their dialogue.

Choire: From the script again:

CARLOS (in Spanish)
Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty.

George looks at Carlos, struck by his comment.

GEORGE Could I have another cigarette?

Dan: He was literally struck by his comment!

Choire: Well and his cheekbones.


Dan Kois writes about movies and plays and non-comic books, too. Also, he has a book coming out, about that Hawaiian guy with the ukulele. For the love of God, please consider buying it.

74 Comments / Post A Comment

mathnet (#27)

"Choire: Really, if there's anything I'd like people to understand about this movie is just how unbelievably expensive Tom Ford products are."

brad (#1,678)

"I would like to say that I'm glad I saw this movie but I will never watch it again."

this is a topic i would like to expand on, probably by myself.

my choices for this category, you aren't wondering?

2. Magnolia.
1. Requiem for a Dream

OH both of those, YES. Oh wow, what else? Heh: SIESTA.

mathnet (#27)


brad (#1,678)

you're glad you saw titanic?

mathnet (#27)

(I was curious. Ancestors who were on the ship.)

brad (#1,678)

ahh. i am a descendant of jefferson davis, yet have no desire to go to the south and have never seen Gone with the Wind. i think this makes you a more well-rounded person than i.

it may also mean that i shouldn't have port for breakfast. i have been a little too sharey on the awl this morn.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Bittersweet (#765)

Not even glad I saw it once. The ridiculous plot and Lemon McSquinty canceled out the Firth/Grant super value combo.

hockeymom (#143)

1. Room With a View
2. In the Comfort of Strangers
3. The English Patient

I felt this way about "Bride Wars" a little! I AM glad I saw it? In a weird way?

Maevemealone (#968)

Oh I watched A Room with a View about a million times when I was 15. Julian Sands nekkid and all. I still think about the soundtrack often.

slinkimalinki (#182)

it had a soundtrack? i was focussed on the nekkid part.

Dan Kois (#646)

"A Simple Plan"

joeclark (#651)

This is one of the movie titles that linguistically competes with the title of the movie under discussion in this post. A Single Plan? Also, is not a Simple Plan a band?

garge (#736)

Every Lifetime Original Movie I have seen in my lifetime?

NicFit (#616)

Come on, you wouldn't watch "Video Voyuer: The Susan Smith Story" again? It's on every couple of days.

hazmathilda (#839)

3. Colossal Youth
2. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
1. 13 Lakes

amuselouche (#448)

8 out of every 10 Sandra Bullock movies. Yes, I am ashamed.

hockeymom (#143)

I feel dirty about liking The Proposal so much.
(though Mr. Ford would probably approve, based on her wardrobe. and shoes. which I covet).

I somewhat recently deigned to rewatch Requiem for a Dream for the first time. (I own the DVD!)
It was… still painful.

brad (#1,678)

well. aren't you emotionally strong.

for a not-quite-exact comparison, i recently cleaned out a desk drawer at work and found my copy of cormac mccarthy's The Road.

there is a book i will never read again. ever. despite its amazingness. i just don't think my girls want to see daddy get all weird and incapable of letting them out his sight again.

iwantyrskull (#1,706)

Dancer in the Dark

HiredGoons (#603)

Damn it.

agreed. that movie made me ACHE. there is no way I will ever put myself through that emotional hell again.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

I totally puked during Dancer in the Dark. Left the theater and literally vomited. Not enough textiles to focus on.

iwantyrskull (#1,706)

no joke (to all of the above).

Artificial Intelligence

HiredGoons (#603)

- Dancer in the Dark.

Neopythia (#353)

Boys Don't Cry
The Fountain

I TRIED to watch The Fountain twice. HUGE MISTAKE.

MollyBloomberg (#1,169)

The Tree of Life cum-shot was the giggle scene for me. Had me 'til that precious moment.

joeclark (#651)

Oh no no no. No. I must and shall defend The Fountain. It direly needs a director’s cut to fix the few rough edges that will reveal the whole shebang to have been a diamond all along.

This does not explain why I had the graphic-novel treatment from the library for nine weeks but never cracked it open.

mathnet (#27)

Monster's Ball

"Grave of the Fireflies".
A New Yorker article about Studio Ghibli refers to it as "almost unbearably sad", and that's no exaggeration.

brad (#1,678)

i've never heard of it, but the title makes me sad enough.

MollyBloomberg (#1,169)

I have a signed "Magnolia" poster from Aimee and I won't/can't watch it again.

And the "Requiem for a Dream?" Ex-junkies don't likey. Makes us want that "crazy-eye/pushzoom/sound/crazy-sex thing again.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I played tennis shirtless on a college campus in 1962. But I was four, and I was playing with myself.

I doubt if there's going to be a movie made about it.

iplaudius (#1,066)

So basically I should probably watch this movie high with someone's hand down my pants.

iplaudius (#1,066)

*fancypants, that is

joeclark (#651)

What â€" like Crash?

barnhouse (#1,326)

As a past-her-prime fag hag, I say bah. Tom Ford has no sense of humor so he's got nothing to offer me. What are textiles without humor? NOTHING, that's what. Just dead fibers.

David (#192)

Tom Ford, Vogue interview, June 2009:

"If you’re a romantic person, you’ll cry all the way through â€" it’s the most truthful to my character that I have ever been, working on this film.

"It’s amazing to be in a room full of actors and they move and dress and change according to what I have written for them to do that morning, sitting in my underwear in bed. It puts you in an incredible position of control to be directing the life, death, even the clothing of all these people. And it will last forever. I have a few more ideas in the pipeline but I’ve only just finished this one so I need to get
some distance on it and decide what to do next."

brad (#1,678)

was your intention to disturb me with that quote? if it was, i would like to congratulate you.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I now feel like seeing this movie with a box of Tide.

hockeymom (#143)

I think Mr. Ford believe character IS clothing.

gregorg (#30)

"directing the life, death, even the clothing"

and there you have it.

Maybe Tom could follow this up with "A Single Man II: Carlos's Story." I would definitely pay money to see that.

Dan Kois (#646)

I would smoke with him any day. And we could go for long drives up and down the coast while he tells me stories about his life in Spain…

hockeymom (#143)

He's approaching New Jersey levels of gel in that photo.

brad (#1,678)

heretofore known as TNJL- the new jersey level is much like a singularity in space-time. only douchier.

missdelite (#625)

Ah yes, Jon Kortajarena – Tom's #1 bitch.

Rod T (#33)

Neither of you would understand what it's like, being so pretty.

gregorg (#30)

Death in Penis

Elisabeth (#2,540)

Keane, or any other Lodge Kerrigan film, because they make you feel like you're crazy. Brilliant and not re-watchable, but, thankfully, unforgettable!

I liked A Single Man but I thought the aesthetics were choking it a bit. If you go – bring alcohol and drink every time male beauty's objectified! You will have a fun time and it's the most pretty dude film since New Moon. FACT.

Kakapo (#2,312)

Ooh! When I saw "Claire Dolan" (which I recommend, but only once), I immediately had to find another movie to watch to wipe the crazy away. The fastest option was "Antz". Made for a fascinating double-bill.

Also, RIP Katrin Cartledge.

Dan Kois (#646)

Fuck, I forgot she died.

Maevemealone (#968)

I was demanding the main characters death about 1 1/2 hrs into Bad Lieutenant Port of Call NO. "Why can't his heart just explode already!! I'm so stressed out!" It's never what you want for your audience to wish for.

Also, the trailer alone for A Single Man had me thinking it was the most beautiful perfume commercial I'd ever seen. Even when I saw the title work I was still thinking Oh that Tom Ford, always with his extra style…

brad (#1,678)

the original uncut bad lieutenant was pretty tough to watch as well.

now that i re-read my sentence i am surprised at my inability to recall whether or not harvey keitel is circumcised. and the thought of that thought may be the horrifying of all.

iwantyrskull (#1,706)

Choire: Well, it was all of $7 million. Which is like, two peacoats and a couple of leather bags up at Ye Olde Tom Ford Shoppe.


sigerson (#179)

Knowing Tom ever so slightly, and knowing some who deal with him on the regular, the inside dope is that he is a very shallow person. He has no interior life, no running dialogue, no doubt in himself and no ability to conceive that anyone else is any different. In his mind, everyone is looking at him at all times and this is how he thinks everyone else must think at all times.

I'd like to see this film to see if there is actually something inside him.


Bittersweet (#765)

Seconded. Holy crap.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

"That sort of makes me sad. Actually Tom Ford makes me sad overall, and I mean with the emotion, because the clothes are so drenched in nostalgia. It's the huge, uncle-molester-weight ties; the twenty-pound sweaters; the absurd smoking jackets; the horrifically-expensive and actually queerly sentimental jeans. I mean that I like many of these things? But I recognize them as things of sadness." STRONGLY AGREE.

Why do I miss Tom Ford? Why is it that we can no longer pretend that he has real thoughts and a personality? Why could I imagine what he'd smell like before (def hints of balsa) and now NOTHING? Why isn't it interesting anymore that he's from Texas? I MISS HIM. I am going to watch the shit outta this movie. Maybe just to miss him harder? Can't tell. Numb. DUPIONI. GABARDINE. SHANTUNG. FOUR-IN-HAND.

KarenUhOh (#19)

"But enough about me. How do YOU look in my underwear?"


im wondering why no one's compared this to tom kalin's movies? are they not alike? b/c just from the commercials, a single man looks like swoon 2: the return of savage grace + colin firth. and the thing is i feel about those movies how it sounds like you guys feel about this: pretty, sexy even, but ill never watch them again, except maybe as background. film as screensaver! is that like awful to say? bc people really love tom kalin's movies, whereas i just kind of get off on them. which actually, as far as what movies can do, it's not such a terrible accomplishment. "have you *seen* movies this year?" yea! wtf! it says something that the most enjoyable movie of the year, the one that kind of reveled in its movieness was inglorious basterds. on a sidenote: i was also fascinated by the profile in the advocate. who talks like that? 'i was just sipping cocktails with david hockney and charles isherwood, oh and kevin sessums was also there.'thats why maybe the shirtless tennis scene didn't strike him as false? there probably were shirtless teenagers playing tennis and swimming nekkid in david hockney's backyard in 1962.

If this were… a different site, I'd be hearting you right now for "swoon 2: the return of savage grace + colin firth".

joeclark (#651)

Has anyone been watching the New Queer Cinema films again? Other than me? If you can find a really well-encoded version, Swoon holds up surprisingly strongly, what with the answering machines and infrared remote controls. Safe I don’t want to see again, having seen it the first time at some hole in the Village (yes, à New York). I never could be bothered with the dyke films and still can’t.

Parting Glances is still the alpha and omega of gay films for any and all generations currently living, which Bill Sherwood isn’t. Billy’s is so intertextual with Parting Glances it borrows one of the latter’s actors, sort of how Pulp Fiction called over to another movie to get the grey matter cleaned out of the car.

Anyway, not to “derail,” as they say, but are we talking about the gay cinema? Because the gay cinema seems to be coming to an end. Certainly if T. Ford’s interviews are any indication. (Hint: Your gay movie is doomed to bomb if you tell even one person on the planet it’s “a universal story.” Straight guys don’t pay money to watch universal stories about fags.)

missdelite (#625)

Tom Ford excels at making Tom Ford commercials. He's a marketing genius obsessed with perfection, which is why he fails as an artist.

brad (#1,678)

by the way, who is tom ford?

joeclark (#651)

I need to know why nobody has availed themselves of the flagrantly evident opportunity to use the term “piss-elegant.”

Didn’t the Pet Shop Boys also put out a vanity picture? (It Couldn’t Happen Here?)

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