Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany
Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Home for the Holidays: Katy Perry Edition

As school vacation days roll into weeks, you’re probably looking for novel ways to keep yourself and the children entertained. Like watching Katy Perry: Part of Me on Netflix Instant. So I checked it out to see what parts she’s talking about exactly. Are they rated PG? The answer is a resounding Disney YES.
Instead of shooting whipped cream from her bra, for the purposes of The California Dreams Tour she goes with the more traditional candy cane uzi. Her dresses are pretty skimpy, sure,  but they take the form of lollipops and mermaids. If your children have been cleared for Barbie, and let’s face it, they have, they can proceed safely with Katy Perry: A Part of Me.
But what about me, the purported adult, you ask.  Will I be bored out of my mind? That all depends, surprisingly, on your position regarding French semiotics, particularly the concept of the simulacrum. Jean Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum can best be understood in terms of the main street of Disneyland. What era or geography are these buildings meant to represent? Some sort of idealized mishmash; it doesn’t really matter. Disneyland has its own reality, which may in fact be preferable, or at least more hygienic than the real thing. You can visit the past; go to space, travel to New Orleans and visit the sacred cinematic space that is the Pirates of the Caribbean all on the family-oriented day. Are you seeing how this applies to Katy Perry’s songwriting? Please, try to keep up with your tour guide.
This is no mere concert film, this is a journey, produced by Academy Award ® winning producer Brian Grazer.  Like it or not,  as in The Pirates of the Caribbean films, there’s going to have to be a plot. Or the quest for a plot, punctuated by songs instead of swordfights. Let me walk you through some of the bright colored narrative ideas that float by in this giddy 93 minutes.
First story balloon: Katy Perry’s career represents a major break from her extremely religious, even puritanical family, who have disowned her for singing about kissing a girl. This narrative is the clear front-runner, since it’s been well-covered by the media. She was in fact from a family of traveling evangelical show people. Even fairy tales and Alice in Wonderland were considered too Satanic for the childrens’ consumption. Unfortunately, this fantastic storyline is blown to bits when we catch up with her mother and father chatting in Las Vegas. He has dyed brown hair and very dark sunglasses (indoors); he looks like a creep(ier?) Roy Orbison.  As traveling evangelicals they are fanatical, sure, but as show-biz insiders they can’t argue with success. We see them basking backstage at the show, in spite of the subversive mermaid action. (This in pointed contrast to Madonna’s dad in Madonna: Truth or Dare,  who seems to have had an entirely more virginal Madonna in mind.)
Second at bat storyline: Russell Brand and Katy Perry as true and potentially star-crossed lovers. This seemed like a very real possibility, based on what I’d read about the rockumentary when it came out. All that is tossed to the wind, however, once we spot the actual Brand backstage, and it becomes clear these “married” people are barely acquainted. But though they really don’t give us much to work with in the flesh, as the long-distance relationship starts to crumble and Brand files for divorce, this narrative arc starts to show potential. The perky Perry gets, like, exhausted and sad for a few nights and has to be coaxed onstage. There’s some crying. Given Brand’s subsequent interest in reforming politics and income inequality, it seems likely this was an early effort to undermine the evil plutocracy from within, one pop star at a time. Valiant, but abortive, as it turns out. Perry overcomes her malaise and returns in full Roar.
If you are going to get technical, that recent hit is not included in this 2012 show. Nor is it written or even "co-written" by Katy Perry. Nonetheless, its weird Toto/Muhammad Ali hybrid gets at something quintessentially KP, and gets us to our final storyline: Katy Perry’s artistic journey. We hear how the lonely young Perry, given a blue guitar (shades of Picasso?), worked at it tirelessly, rockin’ paens to Christ, mainly, to start with. Although her first single “Ur So Gay,” quickly sank, she did manage to hook up with master pop producers The Matrix (Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears) and Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette) early on. This is where this particular narrative gets confusing. We hear about Perry rebelling against efforts to make her into another Lavigne or Morissette and to find her own voice. But the songs themselves are very much a presence in the film, and they tell another story. They kept seeming extremely familiar, partly they were big hits (she holds the record for the most hits off one album with Michael Jackson), partly because all her songs sound alike, and partly because they are also wildly reminiscent of all the other pop divas currently on the scene. I kept having the thought, “Oh, I thought that was Kelly Clarkson, or Pink, or Britney Spears.”
There’s a reason for that, as it turns out. Her story is not so much finding her own voice, as finally hooking up with the right songwriting producer,  
Max Martin, who also turns out to produce every other female pop star of the moment. Our voyage of discovery turned out  not to be one of French semioticians but of Swedish pop producers! This is the troubling Nordic landscape in which we find ourselves. Truly, must everything become ABBA?

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