I know I probably shouldn’t trouble my little head with this stuff, but a little thought has been bubbling away in my little brain and has reached boiling point. So I thought I’d lift the lid and share it with you all. Before I explode.
This thought I’d like to share has to do with films I’ve seen so far this year. Now, I’ve seen a lot, so I’m going to confine myself to those I’ve seen at the cinema, on the big screen, and paid good money for. And I’ll narrow the field further to talk only about mainstream, narrative, big new releases. Because, when I think about these films, I see a pattern emerging. Perhaps you’ll see it too?
First up was Life of Pi, all earnest and shiny and 3D and jumpy out of the screen. And I guess it was all right. If you like that sort of thing. I don’t much. And as it was adapted from a book there were externally imposed limitations, so there’s really no need to be irritated by the pretty, dancy girlfriend, or the mother/zebra whatever, or the wife whose role is to wander on set, once, weighed down by children, and do nothing. So I wasn’t.
But then I went to see Lincoln. Regular readers of this blog may already have formed a strong opinion of my strong opinion about this film. New readers, if you’re still with me by the end of this post, might want to check out Am I missing the point of facebook? or Why Lincoln is crap. Maybe Spielberg was able to resurrect Freud and get him to do a bit of moonlighting as the script advisor. Mrs Lincoln emerges as a textbook hysteric. Thank God Abe is around to help her steer an even course. And then there’s the stoic freed slave who pops up from time to time observing the men do their politics, or accompanying the mad Mrs Lincoln somewhere, or whispering with Mr Lincoln, a symbol of just how very wise and decent he is. And reminding us, through her remarkable absence of presence, just how non-threatening good ole black folk can be. Especially black women. And then, as if to drive the point home, there’s the housekeeper. The one who mops the furrowed brow of Tommy Lee Jones and so much else besides. Who doesn’t get to be at all angry about the state of her world.
And then, the following week, I found myself up close and personal with Django Unchained. Which I loved. Except, it’s a bit long and goes a bit off course in the final stretch. But still, I thought it was great. Except, well, there’s Broomhilda. Who’s lovely ‘n’ all, and it’s great that Django wants to rescue her. But the thing is, she’s a runaway slave. A repeat offender runaway slave. And the film makes the barbarous treatment a recaptured runaway slave is likely to receive explicitly and uncomfortably clear. So I think we have to assume that Broomhilda has balls, colloquially speaking. Which makes her quivering lipped, fainting behaviour a little out of character. But, perhaps, defensible. What is not defensible, no really, Quentin, it’s not, is her sitting astride a bloody great horse in the final moments of the film, holding a bloody great double barreled shotgun, which we can assume is bloody well loaded, whilst waiting helplessly for Django to do his thing.
Next was Arbitrage. I don’t know what to say really. Other than that I’m very glad my local cinema has a bar, so that I had alcohol to help me get through the tedium. And so we have the wife. Who doesn’t work, of course. But that’s ok because she does lots of charity stuff. And she gets to take a bit of control at the end of the film. And the mistress. Who’s a painter. But not very good. But that’s ok because he bankrolls her. Thankfully she gets killed off in a car crash fairly early on. She doesn’t actually get to drive the car, of course. And the daughter. Who works for him. And works out that he’s a fraudulent swindler. Because she’s got a brain. But she doesn’t get to do anything about it. And then there’s the dead driver’s son’s wife. Who gets to be supportive.
And so to Side Effects. Again, regular readers will be aware of my response to this film. A previous post, Side Effects? Of what? Lesbian sex? pretty much sums it up. But, to give the film its due, at least all the women in it actually do stuff. And at least they can actually claim to be principal characters. And its much more fun watching evil lesbians going about their evil business than virtuous non-entities, well non-entitying. If you know what I mean.
And finally there was Stoker. It’s not a great film, but if you like a bit of gothic (which I do), and you find watching Nicole Kidman’s face not move strangely fascinating (which I do), and you have have a thing for intense, odd-ball actresses (which I do) then it might be up your street. But really, I liked it for its blackly comic ending. It’s a strange old world, though, when you find yourself jumping for joy in a darkened cinema as the eighteen year old protagonist (and there’s the key word) offs a cop. Jumping for joy just because she actually GETS TO DO SOMETHING.
Ok, I can’t quite believe that I’m going to attempt this. Perhaps I should start with a disclaimer. I love Gothic fiction. I’m a big fan of the horror genre in film. I particularly love vampire flicks, and I like my vampires to have fangs. I’m interested in film. Interesting film. I’m interested in literature. Interesting literature. I consider myself a feminist. I say all this, and I could say so much more, as a kind of begging for forgiveness in advance. Because, what I’m about to do, and I can’t quite believe it myself, is offer a kind of apology for The Twilight Saga. No. More than that, offer a reason for its popularity. And more than that, suggest that, despite its deeply suspect ideology, it’s not so bad really. Bear with me, readers.
I ought to make it clear, I haven’t read a single word of a single one of the Twilight books. I don’t intend to. I probably wouldn’t like them. Which is fine. I’m fairly certain I’m not the target audience anyway. I have, however, over the past couple of weeks, watched all five of the films. I thought it was about time to have a look at just what it is, precisely, that has been preoccupying the kidz over the past few years. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself. My initial reaction was one of horror. The wrong kind of horror. I watched the films in the wrong order, starting with Breaking Dawn: part 1, which with its unflinching pro-life subtext (actually not so much of the ‘sub’) left me fearing for the ideological hearts, not to mention the psychological, and indeed physical, well-being of our teenagers. And then there’s the stalking, controlling, coercive boyfriend. And the mind games. And the ‘no sex before marriage’ clause. And the heroine seemingly free from any agency at all. And Wolfy (sorry, Jacob) imprinting on a new born babe – I’ve tried like mad to rationalise this one, but really, whichever way you look at it, it’s just creepy. And. And. And…
And what about adding to the body of Vampire mythology? Harmless ‘vegetarians’? Repeating high school ad infinitum? Driving around in Volvos and Mercedes? Living in (unaccountably affluent) peace in a Scandinavian style lodge? It’s not that this is all a bit off canon, so much as this is all a bit lame. And then there’s the sparkling. Sparkling, I tell you. Vampires don’t sparkle. They chow down on your neck with bloody great fangs. They exist as a metaphor for sex, repression, fear, desire. They offer a safe space for transgression. They explore the other. They explore the id. They DON’T BLOODY WELL SPARKLE.
But then maybe that’s the point. Maybe Edward, in all his toothless, sparkling glory is so non-threatening that the sinister undercurrents of his behaviour are rendered utterly meaningless. Maybe the adolescent and the pre-pubescent fans buy into the unreconstructed gender fantasy because it so clearly is fantasy, and requires so little exertion on their part. Maybe, surrounded as they are by a hyper-sexual, disposable culture, the innate conservatism of The Twilight Saga offers some breathing space. Maybe they just fancy Robert Pattinson. Or Kristen Stewart. Maybe they’re frightened of growing up, and they find something reassuring in Bella and Edward achieving a state of stasis while still teenagers. Or maybe they like waiting ’til the final film for Bella to actually get some muscles – a kind of delayed gratification.
Or maybe I should give up the ghost and direct you to this biting Buffy/Twilight mashup instead…
Thanks for the reminder that Real Slayers Stake Vampires. Especially if they sparkle.
Google ‘real vampires don’t sparkle’ and click on images. Go on, it’s fun.
Many thanks to Shannon for the lightbulb moment. Cheers.
Spolier alert. Evil lesbians’ evil plan foiled by super sleuth Law. Hetero-hegemony restored and all is well with the world. Phew!
Am I alone in being somewhat thrown by Soderberg’s latest? To be honest I thought I was about to see a pharma-thriller of some sort, perhaps an exploration of drug company corruption, or fraught examination of a descent into moral ambiguity, you know, that sort of thing. And to be honest, that’s kind of how the film started out. And then it seemed as if, at some point, someone did a nifty script exchange. And didn’t tell anyone. And no-one noticed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Soderberg fan. He knows how to entertain. And this schlocky thriller looks great, sounds great and is a tremendous amount of fun. A barrel of laughs you might say. So much so, that we were rolling round in the isles, pretty much paralytic with mirth, by the time the final credits rolled. Casting Channing Tatum was a master-stroke, although I have to confess I didn’t know who he was until this evening, and I’m not convinced I’ll be able to remember who he is tomorrow morning. And isn’t that a girl’s name anyway? Never before have I witnessed someone on screen so totally forgettable that Jude Law emerges from the void a charismatic scene-stealing dynamo. Catherine Zeta Jones and Rooney Mara are immensely watchable, and look great too, which evil lesbians really ought to if they possibly can. Amazingly though, given the fine acting capabilities of these two, as well as their unfair share of God-given good looks, their pseudo-sex scene that allows for the denouement of film is spectacularly unconvincing. What a shame.
I really can’t object to Catherine Zeta Jones being cast as a femme-fatale. She does the job admirably. And why not write her character as a lesbian? And why not have her character have a relationship with Rooney Mara’s character? And why not write these characters as cunning, amoral schemers who ultimately get their comeuppance? Except, well, wouldn’t it be nice if, you know, just occasionally, the hero happened to be a lesbian character. And could, just maybe, have sex with another lesbian character, not as part of an evil plan, but just coz they happen to, you know, feel like it. And maybe the sex could go unpunished. You know, just occasionally. Occasionally…
Come on Soderberg, don’t bow out of Hollywood just yet. Clearly you have more work to do.
I was having a drink with a couple of pals the other night. Our train of thought meandered from the policies of the Israeli state to the resignation of Pope Benedict to baptising babies to Methodism to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to, yelled out in unified bingo-style abandon, MARMALADE ATKINS! Talk about 6 degrees of separation. Now to those of you who aren’t from the UK, this last one might be a bit niche. In fact to those of you who are from the UK, but aren’t of an age to have been watching kids TV in the early 80s, or whose parents thought ITV was a bad influence – you know who you are – this will also seem a bit niche. Nonetheless, I was struck by the profoundly powerful memory we all shared of this anarchic character from the dark and distant days of three TV channels. (OK you purists, I know she started out in book form but for a whole generation Marmalade Atkins was that girl from TV). And she was our hero.
That got me thinking about other anarchic characters from my youth. Minnie the Minx. I loved her. She was my alter ego. What am I saying, there was no alter, she was my ego. She has a statue in Dundee, you know. I was an avid ‘70s Beano reader, a member of the Dennis the Menace and Gnasher fan club, had one of those badges with the wobbly eyes, but Minnie was where it was at.
In the late ’80’s Darlene, the younger daughter in Roseanne took up the banner for irreverent youth, saving those of us with no interest in Disney Princesses from a fate worse than death. And for those aspiring to more adult themes (alcoholism, sexual violence, bereavement, relationship trouble), hard-talking, gun-toting, gin-swilling Chris Cagney saw us right through the decade.
By the time I left home in the very last year of the 1980’s, TV as we had known it – a scheduled event, galvanising a family, a nation, a subculture – had only a few years left to live. There were now four channels, satellites were springing up like extra-terrestrial beings clinging to the sides of grey houses (everything was grey in the 80s). Video recorders were in vogue. Soon there would be a fifth channel. And then cable. And then internet TV.
So let’s raise a toast to simpler times and remember when a few tough talking female characters scattered first through our comics, and then across our cathode ray tube TVs, offered a bit of feisty escapism for those of us who’d never much wanted to be one of Charlie’s Angels.
Readers of this blog will know that I recently chalked up a sustained absence from facebook, for which I felt duly smug (and, incidentally, to which I may return as my reactivated facebook account is fed on a daily basis with such sheer banality that it is increasingly a relief rather than a struggle to limit my usage). What I didn’t ’fess up to was that during that 37 day abstinence, I discovered LOVEFILM Instant. Technology will pull you in one way or another.
Now I have, on occasion, used LOVEFILM Instant in a grown-up, and well-reasoned sort of way. I’ve caught up on some films that I’d never have bothered to see at the cinema: Source Code, despite its schmaltzy ending, was kind of fabulous. But I have to be honest here: LOVEFILM Instant, for me, is really all about Buffy.
Of course, I loved the show the first time round. Who didn’t adore Willow and by extension first Oz, and then Tara? And with looks so utterly preposterous yet inexplicably cool, when Spike rolls into town, mowing down the ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign on his way, who didn’t secretly want to be him? A heady mix of the ridiculous and touchingly human, amoral yet vulnerable, moronic but somehow insightful; this was a Vampire we could all fall for. And how we did.
10 years on from the emotional roller-coaster of that last ever episode, I have lost hours, no days, maybe even weeks, to the void, and LOVEFILM Instant is to blame. Every single episode, right there, ready at a tap of the touchpad. And when you build in all that extra buffering time to the Buffyverse, (my broadband, it would seem, ain’t all that broad) well, that’s a lot of time. I wonder how it stacks up against my last few years of facebook use? Whatever the maths though, I reckon weeks lost to the Buffyvoid are, when all is said and done, weeks worth losing. Because, this programme stands the test of time. In 2013, Buffy seems better than ever. Quirky. Straight. Tragic. Comic. Light. Dark. It’s all there in those 40+minute episodes, across the arcs of each season, all the way from ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’ to ‘Chosen’. But what really does it for me, is the sheer scale of well drawn, central female characters. How often do we get to see this on screen? Recent British TV pales by contrast: the current season of Being Human is sorely disappointing. Can that ghost actually be said to possess a character? That is not rhetorical – please, somebody, tell me. Nor metaphysical. And what about the last season of The Hour? Is it possible to believe that that ineffectual, quivering-lipped, poor excuse for a boss actually heads up a crack, cutting-edge, current affairs programme? And don’t get me started on the wan’n’wistful-pseudo-French-pseudo-marxist-wifey who rocked up out of nowhere – all Jean Seberg crop and no trousers. What the hell were the writers thinking? Were the writers thinking? Here’s to Detective Inspector Sarah Lund. And please, please, please can we have some more kick-ass women on screen? Oh, and bringing back Spike wouldn’t hurt either.
Update: series 5 of Being Human got better. Not quite series 4 better, but it was a hell of a shame to see it go. The ghost improved. A little. But female characters remain the weakest on the show. Still, bring back Tom and Hal. Please.