Ghost World

| August 15, 2001

A girl walks into an art class. Inside the classroom, large, amateurish drawings depicting trees, fruit, chairs, vaguely humanoid figures and skyscrapers are displayed, the students’ responses to that week’s assignment. The girl has brought with her some finely detailed drawing which resembles illustrations to some unwritten story. The teacher looks over the class’s work, and says to the girl, “This is nice, but it’s more like what a draftsman would do, not really like what an artist would do. You don’t want to be a draftsman, do you?” “I don’t know,” says the girl. “What does it pay?”
That was not a scene from Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World. It’s a scene from my own college career, and I got a C in that class, based largely, I suspect, on that one comment. But there is a scene so eerily like it in this movie that I wondered who was spying on me…
This is a brilliant movie. Mostly, it’s brilliant because it’s so…real. Enid (Thora Birch, American Beauty) is one of those misfits, overly clever and underly motivated, with unique senses of dress and style. Enid has no clue what she’s doing, but she’s doing it head-first and full speed ahead. Her best friend since forever, Rebecca, wants to have her own apartment and a normal life, but Enid wants an interesting one instead. She notices pants, follows satanists from the Quality Diner, talks to men waiting for buses on discontinued routes, dies her hair green for an afternoon, and calls up “Missed Connections” ads in the personals to see who places them. When Enid hears a song for the first time that speaks to her, she plays it again the instant it’s finished. Over and over again. That’s the kind of thing I think most of us can identify with.
Enid’s world is filled with random oddities, and interesting people, none of whom are not worth a conversation…kind of like the real world. She ends up befriending the placer of the personal ad, Seymour (Steve Buscemi, of course; Fargo), a middle-aged, geeky collector of rare 78’s. That’s what really struck me about this movie…I could see stuff like this happening to someone. And it isn’t always perfect–but it’s just life. The people in this movie feel like real people, who walk the same way every day to go to the same places, and wear the same outfits more than once. Ghost World also has a lovely time-and-placelessness. Yes, we know it’s contemporary, but it could be just about any time, post-late-’70s punk era. And yes, we know it’s L.A., but it could be any near-urban suburb anywhere in the country.
There are some ingenious visual jokes, too. At a garage sale, Enid picks out a record with a colourful cover drawn by R. Crumb–the subject of Zwigoff’s last movie. Enid has on the wall of her bedroom a poster from the 1964 Peter Sellers film The World of Henry Orient–which is very appropriate. (Didn’t notice it? Maybe this will remind you.) And, hilariously, Enid loves ’60s Indian pop music and movies. In fact, Ghost World opens with a dance scene from a 1965 Bollywood classic. The song is catchy and… a really interesting blend of go-go and Hindi folk singing. I was entranced, and had to investigate this phenomenon further. The whole Bollywood thing is really fascinating…for example, see
But it’s not just the movie. Check out Daniel Clowes’ original version of Ghost World here
And that art class? Annoyed by all the urging to do something abstract, I poured ink and soy sauce on a piece of paper and then walked all over it, spending maybe 15 minutes on the project. I was told it was the best thing I’d done all year. Is it any wonder, then, that I so identified with the people Enid faces in Ghost World?

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