With Priscilla now out in theatres, I felt the urge to revisit director Sofia Coppola’s work. Coppola has been criticized copiously throughout her 25-year career, first as a nepo baby descending from directorial royalty (her father is Francis Ford Coppola), and second as prioritizing style over substance. My take? Being a nepo baby is fine if you acknowledge your privilege and (crucially) you are talented, and sometimes style is the substance. Or, more accurately, style reflects the substance. It takes skill to have your own visual style, and Coppola, as head Sad Girl of the cinematic world, has that in spades. She is also always reliable for a killer soundtrack, the songs not only exhibiting enduring cool-girl taste but selected for their ability to enhance a specific mood or theme. Priscilla is a continuation of Coppola’s dependable style and music choices, only missing Lana Del Rey, who styles herself after Priscilla Presley (reportedly Del Rey was approached for the soundtrack but turned it down. Too busy working shifts at Waffle House, I guess). Below is a look back at Coppola’s most iconic work.
Coppola cemented her brand early with her 1999 directorial debut, an adaptation of the Jeffrey Eugenides novel The Virgin Suicides. It’s about as on-the-nose Sad Girl as Coppola gets, which makes sense owing to her youthful age at the time (28—which translates to about 12 in director years). The story follows a group of boys who reminisce about the enigmatic Lisbon sisters, who all die by suicide in the year 1975. The girls are young (teenagers), lithe, blonde, pretty, and incurably sad—Coppola trademarks. Her other trademarks are also fully-formed in this debut: a dreamy, hazy atmosphere combined with a controlled and even sparse sensibility, along with an impeccably curated soundtrack whose every song is deliberately used to evoke either Coppola’s dreamy style (such as the score by French dream pop/space pop band Air) or the film’s location in place and time (such as songs by Heart and Styx).
As has already been discussed on this blog here and here, P.D. James is the best. What has previously been commented upon succinctly by my colleagues, will now be expanded upon heartily.
In my house, we have fallen in love with the television adaptation of James’ excellent mystery novels. The show is simply titled Dalgliesh, after the central Detective Chief Inspector figure. Each novel is covered by two episodes; therefore, each mystery is given an hour and a half of introduction, development, and resolution. The stories have that shimmer of reality because of the complex detail James devotes to them. More than that, our detective Dalgliesh feels real as well. Slowly, the audience is told that he is a somewhat famous poet, a widower, and a fully-fledged person with emotions and friendships.
I suppose it’s somewhat backwards to have started with the TV show and now gone back to the novels it’s based on, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. There are 14 Adam Dalgliesh murder mysteries to gorge yourself on. Woefully, there are only four print books and two audiobooks in our collection. But if you are intrigued, fill out a Suggest a Title form, and we will try to borrow a copy for you from another library system!
Have you bought your tickets for the Barbie movie yet? Perhaps you’re planning on doing a Barbie-Oppenheimer (“Barbenheimer”) double feature, if you’ve got all the time in the world? I’m just as hyped as everyone else! And all this hoopla around Barbie got me thinking of The Power of the Doll in pop culture. Barbie herself has been kicking around since 1959, so she’s clearly got staying power. And over the decades there has been no shortage of thinkpieces on the iconic doll and her role in the lives of young girls.
Dolls, being tied to girls or to the experience of being raised female, have always had a place in media and art as a way to explore that experience under various degrees of sexism. Ibsen’s A Doll’s Housecritiques the suffocating nature of marriage roles in the 19th century. In Valley of the Dolls, “dolls” refers to sedative drugs but also to its main characters who, while not passing any sort of feminism test, understandably operate under patriarchy in the 1960s. Even Scandinavian pop sensation Aqua’s 1997 banger “Barbie Girl” is really about the perception of women as objects. Serious stuff!
But that all comes from adult artists who, divorced from the simple act of play, see dolls as ripe for metaphor. To kids, Barbie is simply a toy. I remember lots of handwringing about Barbie and her effect on girls’ self-esteem and body image. And recently there’s been some revival of that discourse online. But in practice, I don’t know a single person who had a bad experience with Barbie. The excitement for Barbie the movie just proves the enduring appeal of this particular doll, especially for those of us who grew up playing with her. As one of my favourite tweets on the subject goes, “I simply did not give Barbie this power over me, I controlled HER life.” I can’t speak for everyone’s experiences, but for me, Barbie and all her accoutrements were just toys. Ways to express our weird little imaginations. My Barbies were perpetually getting stuck on rollercoasters or reenacting the sinking of the Titanic. My one Ken doll was a flop whose head kept falling off, so he often had to sit these scenes out. If I coveted anything in real life, it was Barbie’s Dream House and her white Jeep Wrangler. It really was not serious.