Guides | August 15, 2007 | Comments ()
When Dustin said I should really think about doing a Pajiba guide, I got all “Summers, you drive like a spazz!” and sent him a big, blabbity-blah e-mail about the authors I wanted to enthuse over, the topics I wanted to discuss and a series of pie charts I’d made entitled “How I Plan To Hog Pajiba With My Incredibly Overblown Ideas.” However, Chief Big Pajiba wisely smoke-signaled that I should probably scale it back a bit. His advice was sound, but scaling back is hard for me. I like so many things and want to talk about them all at once … to everyone I know … all of the time. Thankfully, in a moment heralded by angels and heavy thorazine, I realized how to sate my bottomless excitement and offer up a heaping helping of Pajiba goodness. While this guide can only gloss over the prolific glory that is Miranda July, I’m going to make with the kumbaya and share as much as possible. In fact, after reading this, I double-dog-dare you to investigate every link featured and not get fired from your job or have to set up serious camp in front of your computer. I knew that researching Ms. July would be a relatively in-depth venture, but I had no idea that just two hours into it I’d be reading Mike Mills’ Humans 01 Manifesto, desperately seeking Jesus’ Son clips on YouTube (unless you’re a Kid Rock fan I highly recommend turning the sound off), or wondering if my bulemic bank account could handle a completely necessary purchase. At this point, I am convinced that Six Degrees of Miranda July could very easily replace Kevin Bacon in the hipster lexicon of snotty things to know and tell.
Miranda July is a filmmaker, writer, performance artist, and quirky queen of multi-media musings. Mostly though, she’s the girl Jesus of modern creativity, a messiah of macramé, a dry-erase diviner, and a prophet of papier mache. Not satisfied with personally conquering every conceivable artistic medium, Miranda has succinctly shared her inspired success with everyone from Girl Scout troops to hard-core tech monkeys and politely encouraged each and every one of us to fly our freak flags high. On that note, let’s begin with movies: (Spoiler videos ahead)
Me and You and Everyone We Know is probably the most immediately well-known film in the bunch and winner of the Caméra d’Or award for best first feature at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. M&Y&EWK premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005 and chronicles the aching romantic interaction between a recently divorced shoe salesman, Richard, and an erratic performance-artist-cum-elder-care-worker, Christine. The movie features a brilliant collection of characters, whose most mundane moments carry so much emotional heft that every frame of film is gut-wrenching, embarrassing, hilarious and ultimately lovable. Miranda July wrote, directed and acted in the movie alongside John “hand-of-fire” Hawkes (known for his roles in “Deadwood,” “Slipping Down Life” and … my own personal fantasies).
I saw M&Y&EWK in the theater when it first came out. I remember feeling a little skeptical, deciding that I was bored with manufactured quirkiness and sensationalized, whine-happy Garden State pathos. As soon as Christine voices an imagined conversation between the two silhouetted figures on a pasted-up picture, If you really love me let’s make a vow, I was struck by the privacy of such an endeavor and felt as though I had been taken into an exclusive confidence, despite sitting in a theater with 50 or so other people. The somewhat uncomfortable wattage of Me and You and Everyone We Know’s weirdness is softened by the film’s visuals, choreographed by Chuy Chavez, and its rosy, plunking score, composed by Michael Andrews (Donnie Darko). This is one of my favorite clips from the movie. It says most everything there is to say about the relationship of two main characters:
The pink shoes Christine purchased from Richard’s store enact the push and pull of a not-quite-but-working-on-it relationship.
I’m not sure I’ve ever actually said Fuck peace! but I’ve certainly experienced irrational fits of jealousy. Watching this for the first time made me think of Annette Bening’s private moment of self-loathing in American Beauty.
Here’s some evidence of that brilliant collection of characters. A 6-year-old displays hazy, hilarious conclusions about sex via instant messaging. ))<>(( Forever.
Miranda also wrote the following short film, titled Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? It is directed by Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl), whom Miranda is rumored to have dated, and stars Miranda, indie poppet John C. Reilly, Mike White (Chip Kelly from “Freaks & Geeks”) and Chuy Chavez. You’ll note that Chavez is the director of photography from M&Y&EWK. Here’s what Arteta said when asked why he wanted to make the film:
I love Miranda’s writing. She told me that as a girl, when strangers passed her by in the street, she would picture herself as that person and then ask herself, in that stranger’s voice, “Am I someone’s favorite person?” This script is gorgeous because it makes you wonder, what is your story? What defines the quality of the relationships that define you? After years of having my head up my ass, due to living and working in L.A., these questions were a welcome gift.
I thought long and hard about this film because it verges very close to smarmy, but I think it’s a good, even perfect example of what makes Miranda July so self-aware. She blends saccharine, lovey-dovey emotion with the brutality of hard nostalgia and the certainty that … well, that things are never certain. Her work consistently begs the question: what happens when the secret truths of your heart become commonly apparent, and you realize that you aren’t alone?
I liked No One Belongs Here More Than You very much. Graced with good reviews by Dave Eggers and Amy Hempel (my notes actually say “Amy FREAKING Hempel!”), each story is a funny, humanizing look into our collective insecurities and sexual proclivities. One story is about a woman who conducts swimming lessons in her living room, while another dissects two siblings’ sexual rivalry. The website for the book is mildly time-consuming but ultimately worthwhile. My favorite part of the site is the color-coordinated clothes with covers of new, neat books like “Nice Big American Baby” by Judy Budnitz. NBAB is a book I lent to friends with the caveat: “This one has a story about an amputee doc and might make you clutch at your own limbs in both fear and gratitude. Be warned!”
Miranda has also published The Boy from Lam Kien and will be publishing a keepsake reference to the web-based Learning to Love You More project this fall. Learning to Love You More is the end all, be all of Post Secret-like confidences and what it means to ask life’s big questions by way of popsicle sticks and finger paint. The site lists a variety of “assignments” like: make an encouraging banner, recreate a poster you had as a teenager, record the sound that is keeping you awake, photograph a significant outfit, or write the phone call you wish you could have. The assignments are addressed to anyone inclined to do them, and the efforts of the participants are posted for all to view. It’s genius, piled on top of creative with a lip-smacking side of technogeek. In fact, one family has taken to fulfilling all the assignments so they can really “learn to love each other more.” Say it with me now, Awwwwwww!
Besides ruling the world and making short shrift of any creative roadblocks, did you know that Miranda July is also a musician? Yep. Her first big musical endeavor was called Margie Ruskie Stops Time with The Need. She’s got two full-length albums called The Binet-Simon Test and 10 Million Hours A Mile. July also directed this beaut of a video for the greatest rock band of all time, Sleater-Kinney:
Recently, the bombastic Blonde Redhead cast Miranda in their video for the song “Top Ranking” off the latest album, 23. It was directed by Mike Mills, Miranda’s current boyfriend.
There’s a lot more to tell. I completely ignored, for instance, July’s numerous performance pieces and her Joanie4Jackie film project, but I think we’ve gotten the basics down, and I’m certain everyone is savvy enough to go from there. If you haven’t experienced Miranda July mania firsthand or loathe her with the intensity of a thousand dancing dildos, it’s really A-OK. Miranda July may be a force of hip, kitschy, polyester-clad nature, but she doesn’t come off as a snob. And I think that’s what I like best about her.
Constance Howes is a book critic for Pajiba and a huge foam finger-waving fan of both Miranda July and Sleater-Kinney. She blogs over at I Love You in the Face.