The Bling Ring Sofia Coppola (USA 2013) Katie Chang; Israel Broussard; Emma Watson,
Viewed Tyneside Cinema: 9 July 2013 Ticket: £8
The prefatory announcement at the start of a film that it is “based on a true story” or “inspired by actual events” engenders within me a certain sense of foreboding. It's true there have been some wonderful films so based, such as William Wyler's ' Ace in the Hole.' But often film makers, when trying to exploit a true story, are overburdened by too many facts, overwhelmed by a need for authenticity, and are often unable to take full possession of the narrative develop it as their own story.
So I wondered what Sofia Coppola would make of the 2009 LA celebrity burglaries, planned and carried out by teenage girls? What might she offer up to the Gods of film by way of a spin on what it means to be young female and American?
In 'Spring Breaks' Harmony Korine offered up a voluptuous transgressive take on the American female psyche, and with all guns blazing the girls came out on top. In Bling Ring likewise, it's girls on top; but whereas Korine understands the significance of his protagonists, Sofia Coppola's plot gets lost in translation, and is unable to come to terms with the forces at work in the situation.
As I watched Bling Ring I found myself starting to have 'Wizard of Oz' moments. Rebecca, the main character, started to insinuate herself as a sort of re-incarnate Dorothy. She is swept away not by a Kansas twister, but by the LA whirlwind of celebrity worship. Perhaps celebrity fetishism is more accurate descriptive label of her condition. All those teenage hormones, Rebeca's sexuality is displaced away from the insecurity of the adolescent body and transferred onto comparative safety of celebrity designer wear. Rebecca meets up with Marc, a sort of composite Tin Man/ Lion/Scarecrow but in fact an honorary girl, and she leads him and the other protagonists, the Munchkins, as they follow a make over Yellow Brick Road to the Wizard's castle, in this case the Los Angeles A list celebrity homes and a series of fetish driven burglaries.
The form of Bling Ring resembles a fairy tale. But not the darker sort of tale as told by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, but rather a redacted Disney Story. A sort amalgam of Oz and Ali Baba that takes place in LA, re-imagined as a Never Never land of palaces and princesses. The treasure troves that are buried deep in the heart of the fairy mountain are replicated in Bling Ring, as being buried within the inner crypts of the female celebrities. The houses of these female celebrities resemble biomorphic stand-ins for their own bodies, replicating in visual detail both the externalities of face and skin, and the carnality of the secret vaginal passages that lead to the womb. Within the inner womb sanctum's of the female celebrities the girls get the pay off – the stuff. Amidst rows of shoes dresses perfume jewellery bags the girls achieve a proxy orgasm, sexual energisation cathected onto the designed clothes and possessions of the objects of desire. The actual taking and possessing of the stuff is of secondary order to the primal connection with the Fetish in the form of the possessions of the celebrity goddesses.
If you visit the British Museum will find something similar but more dignified in the cargo cult fetishes of the tribes of New Guinea.
The problem with Bling Ring is that although all these powerful forces are set at work, Coppola seems barely able to cope with them. The fairy tale, the fetishism the biomorphic resonance of the architecture are all present, but under her direction remain possibilities rather than realisations. In relation to Bling Ring being a dystopian fairy tale, Coppola sketches the outlines, but then abandons the idea, retreating to the safety of a mechanical playing out of the facts.The music in Bling Ring is interesting and even suggestive. It is mostly rap and hip hop in style but without angst or anger. When you castrate this sort of music, it starts to sound like nursery rhythms which is what I heard. This made me feel that the Bling Ring would probably have worked better imitating the form of the Wizard of Oz and been devised as a musical. A dysfunctional musical driven by rap bursary rhythms might have provided Bling Ring with a rich suggestive architecture of illicit desire intention and motive.
The structure of the film further weakens the impact of its symbolic cues. Coppola's scenario employs the tired old formula of the flashback. It presents the various scenes as perspectives from police and psychiatric interviews with the protagonists after they have been caught. This device slows the film, destroys what little tension there is in Copolla's script and breaks up the psychic integrity of the action.
Sofia Coppola's film comes across more as more an endorsement of celebrity life style than any sort of attempt to probe the strangeness of its distorted realities. She prefers to gloss over the soft wiring of her material, treating it as a narrative rather than an opportunity to unwind the psychic disturbances at the core of the displaced energy of mainstream America.
Sofia Coppola had a strong subject with great potential but overloaded by a need to be authentic she falls victim to the curse of basing her movie on 'true events'.