Song for Friday Afternoon

8 September 2013 in Film, Music

Earlier this summer I saw The Bling Ring, and here it is September and I still can’t shake Sophia Coppola’s film from my mind. I spent much of the summer immersed in Benjamin Britten’s world, from his songs and operettas for children to professional works for the operatic stage (notably, The Turn of the Screw and Gloriana). Much of Britten’s work comments on youth and childhood, innocence and the loss of it. Britten tends to gaze on youth (childhood) with a honeyed, late-19th century eye; this yearning for childhood is free from cynicism and anxiety. In fact, his nostalgia often feels like an attempt to free himself from the political and social conflicts of the mid-20th century. In Songs for Friday Afternoons, The Golden Vanity, The Little Sweep, and Noye’s Fludde, the music is simple, playful, and endearing, but Britten’s backwards glance—so idealistic—is also unsettling. It can seem, sometimes, that he skirts the issue.

Sophia Coppola is more honest about traversing the break between childhood and adulthood. In The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, and this summer’s The Bling Ring, Coppola portrays the voyage from innocence to experience as something of a shipwreck. Her films gaze back on the wreck, the wreckage, and its survivors. In The Bling Ring, for example, she follows a group of teenagers who willfully trade the innocence of childhood (or, what’s left of it) for the pursuit of Los Angeles celebrity culture. Through her camerawork and visual framing, Coppola’s look at youth is tender and, well, picturesque, but the summary of the film pushes at a sharper edge. Coppola’s observations are marked by a 21st-century asceticism.

Britten seems to bask in the idealistic glow of the past. Coppola flirts with nostalgia—she even seems to express sympathy—but in the end, she positions herself as a realist. She herself does not want to go live (or hide out) in the worlds on which she turns her camera.

What really struck me, however, amidst the various themes of innocence wrestling against the bid for worldliness, was the emergence of a new idea, of kids wanting, simply, to mythologize themselves. Treble voices sing in canon; adolescents play a series of sophisticated, glimmer-and-sparkle dress-up games (and get caught). These actions are ways of “making a story” and achieving immortality. The boy sailors in The Golden Vanity sing with heroic charm; they preside with pride and independence over their ships, free from the watch of adults. Coppola’s teenagers sing abrasively to hip hop as they joyride around Los Angeles on their way to a new heist. Perhaps what I found most beguiling was how, between Britten and Coppola, the mythologizing begins: in song.