Film Features

Why Tom Hooper Is the Defining Director of the 2010s

Love him or hate him, he is THE director of our generation.

"Find you a man who can do both."

A bit of advice that began life as a meme, became general relationship advice, and finally settled in the culture as an identifier of any multi-talented individual. "A man who can do both" is what this generation demands of its lovers and heroes alike. It is the embodying cry of a generation that was forced via technology to adapt to multiple circumstances, to code-switch at will between professional and text speak, to lead a meaningful life in the midst of unavoidably-publicized global crises and catastrophe. We "do both" by necessity. We have built our culture around "doing both." This duality is what made Tom Hooper the perfect director for these times.

While Tom Hooper's name isn't exactly among household names like Steven Spielberg, Greta Gerwig, or Quentin Tarantino, he has been putting out critically and commercially acclaimed work for the last decade, enough to vault him into the same category as the aforementioned by any metric. His 2010 film, The King's Speech, cleaned up at the Oscars. Nominated for an astounding 12 awards, it won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Screenplay. He followed that up in 2012 with the best version of Les Miserables ever put to film, an enormously expensive production in which the actors sung live during each take, something that was previously unheard of for a movie musical. He finished his winning streak with The Danish Girl in 2015, a tragically under-seen powerhouse film that showcased two little-known actors who would go on to win Oscars: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, the latter of whom won for Danish Girl.

French poster for Tom Hooper's 2012 version of Les Miserables. Bruno Chatelin | Flickr live.staticflickr.com

Hooper became known in film circles for the performances he drew from his actors, his sweeping wide shots, his careful shot construction, and his intensely-purposeful plotting. He became quickly associated with other contemporary masters like Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher. After three consecutive films that garnered rave critical reviews and made their budgets back at the box office (Les Miserables made almost $500 million worldwide), the world waited with bated breath to see what Tom Hooper's next move would be. If you still hadn't heard of him after Danish Girl came out, you can be forgiven for your ignorance, because Hooper went into hibernation for the next four years. He emerged after all that time for one final masterwork, the film he is now most famous for, and the one he will undoubtedly be remembered for:

Cats!

In an unbelievable turn of events, Tom Hooper, who a decade earlier owned the Oscars, tried his hand again at making musicals, adapting Andrew Lloyd Webber's surrealist broadway smash-hit for the screen. It did not turn out well.

Cats!, released just last December, was an expensive disaster for a multitude of reasons. It was critically panned. It lost $25 million dollars on an estimated $100 million-dollar budget, much of which was invested in special-effects like "Digital Fur Technology" (i.e. digitally covering every actor in fur so they appeared more convincingly like anthropomorphic cats than if they were to wear costumes). Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian Mckellen, British thespians of the highest-degree, shared scenes with Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift. But weird sometimes works. It just didn't work here.

Two of the digitally-furred actors in Cats stare wistfully into the distance. Universal Pictures

At least during its wide release, it didn't. Although still under a year old, Cats is gaining new life in a cult-film scene that includes movies such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room. There is a growing contingent of the population interested in watching and re-watching the objectively awful CatsCats for the sake of its unintended hilarity and for how well it mixes with drugs or alcohol. This is the great coup of Tom Hooper. This is why he embodies this generation's defining decade better than any other director: he can do both.

Tom Hooper spent the better part of the 2010s proving he was a director of the highest caliber, who could create compelling films with varied budgets, varied casts, and in varied genres. Tom Hooper also spent the final month of the 2010s proving he could screw up almost every part of a film and still find success in it. There is an unprecedented and exciting element in his career. While it's not at all uncommon for acclaimed directors to make career missteps, none of his caliber has ever made such an appalling dud of a film after such a profound string of successes. Regardless of where his movies will eventually settle in cinematographic academia or how they will age, you can't look away from them. What does it say about his work that Cats is probably his best known film? But watch any of his three earlier hits, and one can see they're obvious masterpieces, smart and funny and often heartbreaking, well-acted and well-shot and well-written.

Defining this decade of film is a really heartening endeavor. Careers like Greta Gerwig's (Lady Bird, Little Women) and Ari Aster's (Hereditary, Midsommar) and Damian Chazelle's (Whiplash, La La Land) thundered to life. The masters like Tarantino (Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant) made some of their best work. Female directors were criminally under-utilized and under-recognized (only Gerwig was even nominated for Best Director this decade, joining only five women, ever), and perhaps that is the defining story of the decade.

But the defining director still must be decided, and Tom Hooper is the one with the most range, who created a classic Oscar darling, revolutionized movie-musicals, and crafted the next great midnight cult film. The defining director of the decade is the one who can and did do both. Tom Hooper may not be the best director, but his whiplashing career reflects the chaos of the 2010s, and the generation of millennials who claimed it as their own.

CULTURE

Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.

OF COURSE. i.imgur.com

That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.

Implications

So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.

FILM

Why “Cats” Is the Cult Movie Classic of the Future

Is "Cats" the next Rocky Horror Picture Show?


The year is 2049.

Though half the world has been decimated by the hurricanes and fires of the climate crisis, the Green New Deal we instituted was enough to keep us plugging along.

Elon Musk and Grimes' child, C93489#_, has invented the first four-dimensional holographic teleportation device, so you and our family are gathered together via simulation. Right now, you're being projected onto your kids' rooftop garden, and you're staring out over our flooded and steadfastly rebuilt city. Your grandkids cluster around you, dressed in cat ears and cat whiskers, wearing a variety of pearls and tuxedos, long shag coats, and high heels.

"I was there," you say, with a far-off look in your eyes. "I saw it."

"Grandparent," they say (the gender-neutral term, because gender is no longer considered real). "What was it like?"

"It was like nothing I'd ever seen before," you say, rocking back and forth.

As their parents look on anxiously, the kids leave for the midnight showing of the greatest cult classic film since The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Tom Hooper's visionary, warped, dreamlike rendition of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats.

cartoonbrew.com

The Past

Flashback to the year 2019. As we know, Cats flopped in theaters, sapping NBCUniversal of some $70 million and chilling audiences everywhere with its bizarre nonsensicality and mutated CGI fur technology.

Then the midnight showings started.

In January 2020, just as Bernie Sanders was beginning to sweep the Iowa polls, the Alamo Drafthouse Theatre in Brooklyn set up two "rowdy" midnight showings of Cats. They sold out. Audiences had a blast singing along. Two more events were set up; the same happened.

At the showings, "call-outs" and traditions were already emerging. Someone yelled "TISSUE" whenever Jennifer Hudson's snot trail emerged, which was every time she was onscreen (and soon enough, they'll start throwing them). Each time the camera lingered on Judi Dench's face, someone would shout, "BIG DEUT."

pinknews.co.uk

"I love the interactive experience," a Cats midnight showing attendee named Hailey told Spectrum News. "I love being able to really be part of this group together watching the film. Coming up with new ideas, you often improvise as well, so it's just a lot of fun being together in that experience."

All in all, Cats seems poised to become the next big midnight cinematic masterpiece. In many ways, it possesses all the necessary characteristics needed to make it one.

Cats As the Archetypal Midnight Movie

Cats has a lot in common with great cult films of the past, dating back to the origins of cult moviegoing. "Midnight Movies [by J. Hoberman] finds the origins of late-night moviegoing in different strains of obsessive cinephile fandom dating back to the early 20th century," writes Matt Singer for Screencrush. "They compare cultists to the surrealists of the 1920s who 'courted disorientation' and watched movies for their 'dreamlike latent content that could be precipitated by deranging or bypassing the manifest content of its storyline.' The surrealists would have loved Cats, which provides its own disorientation for the viewer. It basically has no story, so nothing needs to be deranged or bypassed. It's pure dreamlike insanity."

If a cult movie needs to appeal to a desire for drug-like disorientation by replacing any semblance of a storyline with scattered dreamlike images, then Cats fits the bill. There's something of a Dali-clock drippiness to Cats, something oozing behind its kitschy exterior.

Typical midnight cult classics are also generally rejected by mainstream audiences. Left in the dark, they often grow popular for celebrating some form of taboo, queer, or otherwise restricted identity or sexuality—which Rocky Horror exemplified. While Cats lacks Rocky's heart (and most of its quality), it occupies a different but necessary niche.

Cats As Posthuman Cinema for the TikTok Age

Though it aligns with traditions of the past, Cats is also uniquely suited to the future. In the coming decades, we'll be looking at ecological collapse combined with exponential developments in artificial intelligence. We're heading for a truly posthuman age, where the boundaries between the human and the digital wear thinner and thinner and where, if we wish to survive, we have to deconstruct our ideas of humanness and learn to work and live with the rhythms of the natural world.

Cats is the ultimate posthuman film. Its characters are cyborgs, digitally engineered to be neither human nor cat but something else entirely—and their glitchiness, their shifting sizes and changing, distorted bodies—might be read as representations of the scarier, less predictable aspects of this impending shift.

screenrant.com

The Cats cast inhabits an apocalyptic London, one that looks like it's been washed away by chemicals and nuclear warfare. Yet still, in the ashes of civilization, the cats find a peculiar form of community, embodying a futurity that is queer, sublime, and horrifying all at once. They use rituals (albeit deadly ones) to maintain hope for the future. And they dance—oh, how they dance.

As the world shifts and changes in these coming years, we will dance one way or another, because that's what humans do. These decades might see impossibly strange metamorphoses that change our world down to its very DNA, but Cats is the perfect midnight classic for our times because it mirrors the oddity of this world and celebrates it, in all its warped glory.

In its oddness, its fundamental wrongness—almost seemed to approximate the weirdness that many of us feel while reading the news, or even while simply being alive and in our bodies. Being alive has never not been strange, and since the dawn of cinema, we've never not had cult classics to shock and horrify our elders while giving a voice to weird, unruly youth subcultures.

Cats may already be doing this. It resembles the warped, distorted images that we see on apps like TikTok and Snapchat, where technology is capable of distorting facial features, turning humans into wide-nosed, shaky-voiced children, heart-eyed clones, or—of course—furry CGI cats. Yet the film also illuminates the horror, and the loss of humanness, that accompanies our increasingly digitized, pollution-choked world.

The Future

Back to the future. You're gazing at your grandkids as they skip down the road, singing Memory and taking the last hits from the tobacco industry's latest attempts at repackaging its product.

You're caught up in your own memories… of a time when you were all alone in the moonlight, not a sound from the pavement except your own horrified, quietly delighted reactions to seeing Cats in all its grotesqueness for the first time. You were beautiful then… You remember a time you knew what happiness was. Now the memory lives again.

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