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Bates Motel: A Crazy Good Show

"Norman & Norma" Image from cinemablend.com

“Norman & Norma” Image from cinemablend.com

As an avid Dexter fan, my TV dreams died when Miami’s favorite blood spatter analyst traded in his slides for a lumberjack beard in the devastating series finale.   My Netflix nights were spent in mourning until finally I found a new fictional serial killer to gush over: Norman Bates.  But I’m not referring to Anthony Perkins’ adult  slasher from Hitchcock’s black and white masterpiece.   I’m talking about the boyishly adorable Bates in the form of doe-eyed Freddie Highmore (sweet as an Everlasting Gobstopper in Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) from the modern-day Psycho (1960) prequel Bates Motel.

from horrornews.net

“Anthony Perkins” Image from horrornews.net

from America's Most Haunted

Image from America’s Most Haunted

Before the shower-stabbing and mommy corpses, Norman was just a shy kid recovering from his father’s untimely death while dealing with his smothering mother Norma’s breakdowns.   In a new town, Norman attracts attention from the hottest girl in high school, Bradley, who is similarly reeling from her daddy’s death.   Not to mention Emma, the yet-to-bloom nerd with CF who becomes his BFF.

from fybatesmotel.tumblr.com

“Emma” Image from fybatesmotel.tumblr.com

from tvweb.com

“Bradley” Image from tvweb.com

Before transforming into the maniac motel manager, Norman helps Mamma Bates get away with murder literally after she offs the motel’s previous owner who assaulted her.   We see Norman first as an overwhelmed innocent before a schizophrenic slasher, allowing us to sympathize with him.   The recipient of frequent kisses and mind-blowing manipulation from Norma played by the insanely charismatic Vera Farmiga, is it any wonder Norman has mommy issues!?  In fact, Norman is surrounded by gorgeous women who often use him.  Even his English teacher seems to have the hots for him!  If it weren’t for the occasional sex-trafficker, drug-dealer, and police officer, you’d think Norman was the only man in a twenty-mile radius.

"Officer Shelby" Image from bloody-disgusting.com

“Officer Shelby” Image from bloody-disgusting.com

Without the guidance of a stable father, Norman is lost in a sea of estrogen.   Sensitive and sweet, he is effeminate—even cooking breakfast in his mother’s apron in a creepy harbinger of things to come.  Still, he is undeniably straight as he says to theater-tech Cody in season two.  Sexuality is a prevalent part of the series as seen first in Norma’s violent rape and then in Norman’s one-night-stand with the girl of his dreams who breaks his heart.  In the world of Bates Motel, sex is pain.  As the series progresses—sexual consummation is a predecessor to death. But how can Norman be held responsible when he himself is not cognizant of the atrocities he’s committed? Atrocities triggered by unbearable anxiety and sexual guilt?   Drowning under the weight of his mother’s crimes inside his labyrinth mind, Norman may be the biggest victim.

"Norman" Image from nerfherder.com

“Norman” Image from mynerfherder.com

After all, he’s an affectionate son who fights against trafficking and an unflinchingly loyal friend who always speaks from the heart.   It’s hard not to fall in love with Norman Bates.   And if that makes me psycho, so be it.

In preparation for season three which premieres on A & E, March 9th, here’s a video of the cast auditioning for their roles—enjoy!!!

 

The Feminist Message of Fifty Shades of Grey

 

fifty shades

(photo from moviepilot.com)

I, like so many other crazy cat ladies, rushed to the theater to see Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), the film adaptation of E. L. James’ erotic novel.   Large popcorn and diet coke in hand, I tiptoed into the dark room—ashamed to be seen. What would my social justice peeps think? But on a Wednesday afternoon, the only other attendees were an elderly couple snuggling a few rows from the front. Nobody I knew. Whew! *Wipes sweat from forehead.   I could indulge in this guilty pleasure without fear of ruining my feminist street cred.

playroom

(photo from eonline.com)

 

In a world where sexual violence and domestic abuse are rampant, widespread, and normalized—I can see why people might oppose a film that centers on BDSM—a largely marginalized sexual practice that ventures far beyond the vanilla foreplay to which your pastor or parents might give their blessing. Negotiating hard and soft limits, playrooms with—cough—no x-boxes, silver tie restraints…WTH? However, what I saw on screen was not torture-porn or a girl falling into mortal sin. What I witnessed was a woman asserting her sexuality, exploring her passion, and deciding for herself what she craves in the bedroom and in a relationship. All relations that took place were entirely consensual. Entirely sober.   And entirely pleasurable.  So I’m going to take a bold stance, one that many of my comrades are sure to disagree with. As a woman who graduated with a Women’s Studies Minor, I think Fifty Shades is feminist.

(photo from variety.com)

(photo from variety.com)

How many films feature a heroine who boldly pursues and negotiates pleasure to her liking? How many movies reward a woman who doesn’t hide from her desires while not painting her a harlot? Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele—our good girl protagonist—is an undiscovered gem. Without the cinematic baggage attached to famous actresses, she is un-encumbered by previous expectations.  Her subtle humor and unique brand of vulnerability endow the role with fresh-faced vitality. What could have been Lifetime cheese becomes a tale of exploration, growth, and heartbreak.   Ana does not blindly sign a contract, selling her soul to some hotshot billionaire who seduces with helicopters and melancholy piano soliloquies. She forces the emotionally-distant control freak out of his comfort zone and into her realm of courtship and commitment. Rejecting his fancy gifts and holding out on the signature, she is the real power-player. She drives Christian crazy with anticipation. Jamie Dornan as Mr. Grey, while attractive, comes across as cold and robotic. Fitting for a man who doesn’t do hearts and candy.

(photo from justjared.com)

(photo from justjared.com)

Most romantic films today are beyond formulaic.   Warm-hearted guy woos quirky girl. They almost kiss, but don’t. Somehow she has a plane to catch. He stops her by whipping out a ring. Tongue-kisses along with declarations of love ensue. And they live happily ever after!!! Christian Grey, although rich and handsome, is no Prince Charming.   He is not about romance and roses. As Mr. Grey honestly tells Anastasia, he’s fifty shades of f—ked up.   Finally, we are exposed to the scenario: What happens when you fall for someone who isn’t storybook perfect?

(photo from etonline.com)

(photo from etonline.com)

I’m not saying Fifty Shades is Oscar-worthy cinematic genius. Or that I think everyone should grab some handcuffs and rope and go to town. (But the Beyonce “Crazy in Love” remix, Danny Elfman score, and soundtrack are fabulous).  I’m not saying Christian is perfect. In fact, he is the antithesis of perfect.  And Anastasia despite her English nerd naiveté recognizes his flaws.  Ana decides to leave Christian NOT because of what her friends and family think or due to what evangelical and feminist bloggers post, but because SHE can’t deal with Christian’s instability. It is her choice. She does not let the man control her.  She walks away…and that is power.

“Balls & Synthetic Cheese” on Amazon Now!!!

b & c cover photo

My book of illustrated short stories, Balls & Synthetic Cheese, is now available in hardcopy and kindle formats on Amazon.com!   Please check it out!

“From a depressed cannibal’s search for love to a mocked midget’s journey to stardom, Balls & Synthetic Cheese follows the fringe and the fabulous.   Readers venture beyond the veil of conformity into a surreal realm that stuns and scintillates.  These fun-loving freaks escape black-and-white mentality—not by going over the rainbow, but by finding the rainbow within.”

Bad Grandpa: Badass Critique of Gender & Sexuality

irving

photo credit: The Aristocrat

          Bad Grandpa (2013), Jackass pranksters’ latest stunt-filled spinoff, follows Knoxville who channels all his bad-boy angst and disgusting gags into, indeed, the crudest, horniest, and baddest grandpa most of us are liable to come across. Aged expertly by makeup gurus, Knoxville as Irving takes grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), on a wild road trip soaked in strippers, stealing, granny corpses and good old-fashioned male bonding—all the while scaring the bejesus out of clueless spectators!   Dismissed by highbrow crowds as cheap entertainment for man-child fandom, the movie does not receive the recognition it deserves. Bad Grandpa sheds light on the fallible nature of gender while highlighting the disturbing correlation between male identity and female objectification.

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA

photo credit: thisisinfamous.com

          Many of the film’s laughs result from seeing Irving, an old man, hit on much younger women in front of his adorable grandson, presumably passing on his suave tactics to the new generation. Age disparity and audience awareness of gags endow explicit gestures with humor.   We don’t expect an old man to be so overtly sexual—especially in front of a child. But when we realize that young people are bombarded with erotic images by all forms of media, we should understand that it is the exception not the rule for kids to be naïve about sex. In pop culture, women are featured in degrading roles that grant men power. In fact, women come to expect unwanted sexual attention, as is the case in Bad Grandpa. Instead of being disturbed by Irving’s propositions and hounding, many found his ways funny and even played along. If younger men behaved like Irving, the audience would not laugh, because they would be witnessing the norm.

stripper

 

photo credit: http://www.thedailybeast.com

          The strip-club scene turns conventional sexuality on its head by showing male dancers ogled by women. Women become aggressors while men are transformed into pleasure devices. Through its unexpected expression, the swap in sexual hierarchy extracts giggles.  After all, who expects to see men in such a vulnerable position? Irving, a white man, flirts with black women who exploit black men. In so doing, he reveals class tension. Even though African American women are powerful in their racial community, they are still aggravated by white interest. For his patronage, Irving is welcome in the club until he questions a male dancer’s heterosexuality.   An inquiry about “size” spawns homosexual panic as the dancer threatens Irving. Even when gender sexuality is inverted, same-sex desire is still forbidden, pointing again to the flawed sexual structure perpetuated by a society stuck to tradition older than all of our grandpas.

billie at pageant

photo credit: somewhatnerdy.com

          The beauty pageant scene is most insightful. Taking a page from Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Billy enrolls as a girl and outshines his competition with coy glances and a superb strip routine to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.” Billy’s fantastic performance and Irving’s coaching show that men know how to be a woman better than women themselves since gender is a male-devised concept. The sexualized performance pokes fun at the creepiness synonymous with pageants. After all, little girls wear provocative dresses, too much make-up, and flirt with the audience enough to make even non-pedophilic males orgasm. While grandsons are taught to pickup women and granddaughters are taught to seduce men, sexuality and gender, like Knoxville’s entire ruse, are shown to be just an act.

billie and johnny

photo credit:  www.kmov.com

               Some might argue that laughter marks consent, but I say that it adds to a much-needed dialogue surrounding sexuality in this country. If we’re laughing about something, at least we are aware of its existence.

Final Project: Pop ‘Em Palooza!

Pop ‘Em Palooza!

Copyright 2014

 BY AMETHYST

 Brief Summary: In Pop ‘Em Palooza!, pandemonium erupts when a drug designed to turn queers straight has disastrous side effects.   When one sacrifices true sexuality, he/she sacrifices identity. One facet cannot be altered without triggering a toxic ripple.

College dropout and struggling lesbian Megan resumes her illegal hawking of straight pills when her best friend Samantha begs her to convince her gay boyfriend—Danny—to try the “miracle” drug. Initially reluctant, Megan agrees both to appease her crush and for some much-needed cash. Megan meets Danny at the gay club where he works. They strike up a friendly conversation after a creep attempts to hit on Megan. Much to Danny’s surprise, Megan reveals that she is Sam’s friend, urging him to stop cheating by taking the drug. He rejects the offer until a fed-up Sam leaves him later that night. The next morning he wakes up with a random chick in his bed. The rest of the day, he is disturbed by the lustful glances tossed his way by other men. He takes this repulsion as a sign of success.

Meanwhile, Megan is annoyed to find her one-night stand Eddy slumped on her apartment door, flowers in hand.   Out of pity, she takes a pill and they hook up once again.   After the consummation, Megan twitches as a snoring Eddy sleeps beside her. She takes the pillow from behind her head, hovering it over Eddy. Just as she is about to smother him, Sam knocks on the door. Awakened from her hypnotic daze, she stirs Eddy, telling him to leave and never return. A crying Sam enters with the promised cheesecake brownies. After a cuddling exchange, she reveals that she has left Danny, her cheating boyfriend.   Megan seizes the opportunity. The two hook up.

Back to Danny: He flirts with a girl who comes to the club with her gay best friend. He takes her back to his place. Confident in his new pill-induced heterosexuality, Danny calls Sam the next morning saying that he’s fixed himself. Sam reports back to Megan who feigns nonchalance. Sam leaves a broken Megan, returning once more to Danny. Megan calls Eddy. She takes a pill. As he takes off his shirt, she stabs him with the stiletto heel Sam left.

Sam and Danny seem happy as can be.  Danny even proposes to Sam who accepts.   While Sam is out with the girls, Danny is overcome by desire.  He brings another girl home.  To his disgust, he finds that sex can no longer satisfy his desire. While they’re hooking up in the kitchen, Danny takes a steak knife and stabs the girl. Horrified yet excited, he phones Megan.

Dressed as a maid, Megan arrives with a huge plastic bag.  The two bond over disposing of the body.  She reveals everything comes with a price; happiness isn’t free. Danny asks if the killing stops.  Megan shakes her head.  Sam arrives home to a clean house, thrilled that the two most important people in her life have finally become friends.

Screenplay:

INT. MEGAN’S ROOM — EARLY MORNING.

MEGAN (22), wild brunette hair, wakes up to Britney Spears’ WORK BITCH, playing from her phone. She screams into her pillow before answering.

 

Megan: Sam, this is getting ridiculous. I told you not to call.

 

Sam: A half-hearted warning is not going to faze me. I’m no quitter.

 

Megan: Still, I can’t help you. Sorry.

 

Sam: But you can! You’re better at this than any of them. Megan, you’re the best. You know that.

 

Megan: Yeah, but that’s not me anymore. No more black leather jackets, cheap smokes, and pocket knives—we’re not in high school anymore, Sam. So stop with the cheerleader pimping already.

 

Sam: Pretty please? I’ll throw in some cheesecake brownies.

 

Megan: Why don’t you just leave him?

 

EDDY, a mumbling man, is revealed beside Megan in bed. He scratches his head.

 

Eddy: Babe, make me an omelet or something, will you? My stomach’s growling like one of those pit-bulls rescued by the ASPCA.

 

Megan: Do I look like a bed and breakfast?

 

Eddy: Well, you sure let me eat a lot last night.

 

Eddy crosses his arms behind his head, a smug grin sweeping across his boyish face.

 

Megan: Get the hell out of my bed. You’ve served your purpose.

 

Megan rummages beneath the sheets and throws Eddy his boxers.

 

Eddy: Fine. You’ll be begging me back before night breaks.

 

Megan: Don’t hold your breath.

 

Eddy begins to put on a white wifebeater.

 

Megan: That’s mine.

 

Megan retrieves her wife beater, before tossing Eddy a light blue V-neck sweater.

 

Megan: This is yours.

 

The door to the apartment slams shut as Eddy makes his grand exit.

 

Sam: Who’s that?

 

Megan: My latest failed attempt at orgasm.

 

Sam: Told you not to cancel HBO.

 

Megan: I’m not made of money. Were you serious about the cheesecake brownies?

 

Sam: As a heart attack.

 

After rolling her eyes, Megan releases a tremendous sigh.

 

Megan: Okay, I’m in.

 

Sam: Yay! That’s my bitch!

 

Megan: But just for the brownies.   And don’t call me that ever again.

 

Hanging up, Megan slams the phone on her nightstand. She buries her red face in her hands.

 

Megan: Oh Megan, what the hell have you gotten yourself into this time.

 

Megan swallows a pill before downing a water bottle. She crumples the bottle before trying to throw it into the trashcan by the kitchen, but misses.

 

Megan: Epic fail. Just like me.

 

INT. GAY CLUB – EVENING.

 

Megan bursts through the doors like the goddess of lust with her form-fitting red dress and high heels. Men in tight leather pants make out wildly on the floor. Strobes flash while loud techno vibrates the entire space. Megan takes out her phone to look at the picture Sam sent.

 

CLOSE-UP ON PHONE SCREEN: A HANDSOME MAN (35) with chiseled features and red hair.

 

BACK TO SCENE: Sam spots the same red haired hunk tending to customers at the bar.

 

Megan: Damn it, Sam, you owe me big time.

 

Megan takes a seat at the bar. A MAN (45), balding and intoxicated, sits by her.

 

Man: May I buy you a drink, beautiful?

 

Megan: Not unless you have a vagina.

 

Man: Come on. It’s a gay bar. I’m not trying to hit on you.

 

Megan: And I don’t think you’re a creep who I intend to mace in 5, 4, 3, 2—

 

The man gets up and leaves.

 

Megan: That’s what I thought.

 

DANNY, the red-haired man, approaches Megan, setting a shot down in front of her.

 

Danny: Sorry about that. We get a lot of those around here. Don’t know where these guys get off thinking they can come in and pick up women.

 

Megan: Maybe that’s not why they come. Maybe their pitiful pick-ups are just half-assed attempts to validate the heterosexuality they know they’ll forfeit by the end of the night.

 

Danny: I think we’re going to get along great, you and I. I’m Danny, by the way.

 

Megan: Shirley Temple.

 

Danny: Excuse me?

 

Megan pushes the shot glass toward Danny.

 

Megan: Grenadine in Sprite. Shirley Temple—the drink.

 

Danny: You’re at a bar.

 

Megan: And you’re gay as a goose. Stop stating the obvious and fetch me my desired libation, peasant.

 

Megan snaps in a z formation, before turning her nose up in the air.

 

Danny: Naughty little thing. I’ll have you know, I have a girlfriend.

 

Megan: That doesn’t mean anything.

 

Danny: Maybe not to you. But I’ve been with her three years—the best of my life. And I’m the bartender here, aren’t I the one who’s supposed to interrogate you?

 

Megan: Go ahead. Ask away.

 

Danny: What are you doing here? You’re not here to drink and you don’t seem interested in dancing.

 

Megan: I’m here because I’m bored. I don’t drink because I loathe alcohol with a passion. I’m not dancing because this techno is the music Satan plays on the elevator down to hell’s 9th circle.

 

Danny: Who are you?

 

Megan: I’m Megan, a friend of Sam’s.

 

Danny’s eyes glaze over. He drinks Megan’s discarded shot.

 

Megan: Are you deaf? I ordered that Shirley Temple like five minutes ago. No tip for you, Mister.

 

Danny: What do you want?

 

Megan: For you to stop cheating on my friend.

 

Danny: My relationship issues are not your concern.

 

Megan: They are when I get blasted with them every night. Can’t even get any sleep. Got circles so dark under my eyes, you’d think I’m a vampire.

 

Danny: Look. I know I’ve got a problem, but I’m working on it.

 

Megan: Look around. You work at a gay bar. It’s like a recovering pot-head who works at a dispensary in Oregon.

 

Danny: So, what are you going to do about it, Dr. Drew?

 

Megan: Offer you a way out.

 

Megan withdraws from her purse a white pill.

 

Danny: A cyanide pill? No way in hell. I am not committing suicide.

 

Megan: Cyanide—no. Fidelity and happiness—yes. This pill provides you with what you desire.

 

Danny: And what is that?

 

Megan: Straightness.

 

Megan slides the pill toward Danny.

 

Danny: I’m not taking that for you.

 

Megan: Not for me. For Sam.

 

Danny picks up the pill, rotating it in his large hands.

 

Danny: How come I’ve never heard of this? If this was real, a lot of people would be taking it.

 

Megan: It’s experimental. In it’s beginning stages. I’m a test subject.

 

Danny: Oh yeah? And how are things going with that?

 

Megan: They’re going. I had sex last night.

 

Danny: How was she?

 

Megan: He was great.

 

Danny huffs and sets the pill inside the Shirley Temple he freshly prepares for Megan.

 

Danny: No thanks. But I’ll figure this out myself.

 

Megan drops an entire bottle of pills in his tip jar.

 

Megan: Just in case you change your mind.

 

Megan takes a sip of her Shirley Temple and slams down $20.

 

Megan: So you can buy yourself a clue.

 

INT. DANNY’S APARTMENT — NIGHT.

 

Danny unlocks the door and throws his jacket on the kitchen counter. He takes a vitamin water from the fridge, pressing the cold beverage against his hot forehead.

 

CLOSE-UP: DANNY’S FOREHEAD. Sweat is dripping. CUT TO CLOSE-UP: VITAMIN WATER, covered in condensed droplets.

MEDIUM SHOT of Danny who opens the drink, pouring its contents all over his drenched face. He closes his eyes in relief until someone clears their throat off-screen. Danny tenses, grabbing a steak knife from a drawer.

 

Danny: Who’s there? Come out!

 

Danny enters the family room where he finds SAM sitting on the couch. In underwear, she’s wearing a USC Jersey and a football helmet.

 

Sam: Come out? Wow. That’s rich coming from you.

 

Danny: Sam? What the hell are you wearing?

 

Sam: I thought you’d like it.

 

Sam pouts.

 

Sam: Since you obviously enjoy them wearing it.

 

Sam reaches under her jersey, removing a gay porn magazine with two butt-naked men in football helmets.

 

Danny: Stop going through my stuff!

 

Sam: Stop cheating on me!

 

Danny: That was so long ago it’s ridiculous.

 

Danny walks toward Sam, knife in hand.

 

Sam: Not so fast. Drop the kill-shaft, Michael.

 

Danny: Oh, sorry.

 

Danny sets the knife on the couch.

 

Sam: Don’t be sorry. Cock or knife, you have a natural desire to handle phallic things at all times. I get it.

 

Sam flips through the pages of the magazine.

 

Sam: You know, they really are hot. All these ripped guys with their hard abs and fat pork-swords. I can see why you want them.

 

Danny puts his arms around Sam, pulling her in close.

 

Danny: I don’t want them, I want you.

 

Sam pushes Danny back. She takes the knife and repeatedly stabs the magazine, puncturing the black leather of the couch.

 

EXTREME CLOSE-UP ON: KNIFE PUNCTURING COUCH

 

Sam: If only that were true. But you like men. You were born that way.

 

Danny doesn’t answer. Horrified, he looks at his ruined couch.

 

Sam: Oh, and Xavier called. He said the tests came back clean.

 

Sam leaves the room, returning with a small bag and some sweat pants. She takes off the helmet, revealing blonde hair which spills over the jersey. Sam pushes the helmet into Danny’s hands.

 

Sam: A farewell present.

 

Danny: Where are you going?

 

He runs his hand across his mutilated couch, avoiding Sam’s eyes.

 

Sam: To stay with a friend. You don’t know her.

 

CUT TO CLOSE-UP ON: PILL BOTTLE in the pocket of Danny’s Jeans.

 

BACK TO SCENE.

 

Sam smirks.

 

Sam: Or maybe you do.

 

A sharp thud is heard as Sam departs. Danny sinks into the couch, picking up the ruined magazine. He sticks his hand in his pants.

 

CUT TO: PORN MAGAZINE

CUT TO: DANNY’S JERKING HAND.

CUT TO: PORN MAGAZINE

CUT TO: DANNY’S JERKING HAND.

 

Time between each jump decreases, until Danny releases a tremendous cry. He rips the magazine to shreds before staring at Sam’s discarded football helmet.

 

Danny takes the pill bottle from his pocket and pops off the cap.

Danny hears Megan’s voice from earlier: “I can offer you a way out. Not for me, for Sam. Straightness. Get yourself a clue.”

 

Danny pours some pills into his palm.

 

Danny: What the hell?

 

He throws the pills into his mouth, before picking up a bottle of wine from the coffee table. Downing its contents, Danny throws the bottle over his shoulder and passes out on the couch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indirect Feminism in Slight Fever of a 20 Year Old

Image

Image from NYtimes.com

               I find “queer” cinema’s imbalanced presentation of gays over lesbians a disturbing case of the pot calling the kettle black.  As Pick notes, “While ‘queer’ ideally signals an emancipated (and potentially limitless) range of sexual and social relations, most of the products identified as ‘new’ and ‘queer’ were in contrast overwhelmingly male…does ‘queer’ stand for…the reintroduction of male hegemony, through the back door as it were?” (105).  A transgressive medium that is supposed to provide progressive alternatives to limited mainstream thinking continues to perpetuate patriarchy by silencing women. Lesbians are practically invisible in the genre. Upon first glance, this seems the case in Slight Fever of a 20 Year Old (1993), a film that appears to focus exclusively on budding homosexuality in young male prostitutes. However, the objectified role of prostitutes reflects the commodification of women typical in male dominated countries. By seeing men mistreated in roles commonly doled out to women, we begin to see the horror synonymous with selling oneself. In the film, the girlfriends are not to be diminished; the unfulfilled crushes they experience are staples of the young lesbian experience.

A telling scene transpires between Tatsuru and a john. The customer, an older gentleman, asks the boy to massage his shoulders, an act traditionally designated to women of service. The man tells Tatsuru how he wishes he had a boy like him for a son rather than his daughter. The statement implies that if he had a son he would molest him, but that his daughter, given his homosexual bent, is useless. Denial of sexual vitality to women is crippling when their sensual prowess comprises their worth. The incestuous image is particularly creepy when one considers that many young women quietly suffer molestation at the hands of male relatives—including fathers. The john’s heterosexual façade feeds prostitution: The only institution in which he can explore his true nature while maintaining his accepted cover as straight husband and father. The myth of the nuclear family and normalized heterosexuality are inextricably linked for each lie needs the other to survive. Traditional marriage stifles female advancement in addition to that of homosexuals; straying from the ritual of “man and wife” means instant marginalization. For many, seedy professions like prostitution are the only options available once family and friends close doors.

Both boys—Tatsuru and Shin—have very flirty female friends who are spirited, outspoken, and arguably, quite strong. The girls’ craving for male attention is apparent; they actively pursue the boys who couldn’t care less about their cute fashion and long legs. The rejection and unsatisfied desire experienced by females in the film is a strong theme in lesbian stories. In a world in which women are defined by their relationship to men, women are encouraged to separate from one another; same-sex desire conflicts with the need to survive. Pleasure is traded for property—house, security, and respect (which depend entirely on an opposite sex partner). As a result, some young lesbians repress their passions. Even when they do confess, they are often turned down by the object of forbidden affection who realizes the danger inherent in girl-on-girl desire. Female frustration shown in the film’s straight females is, therefore, reminiscent of lesbian abjection.

Lesbians and gays share the oppression inflicted by the heteronormative machine; it’s time queer cinema shows both of their struggles directly by representing men AND women explicitly. Otherwise, injustice is advanced disguised as progressivism.

 

Pick, Anat. “New Queer Cinema and Lesbian Films.” New Queer Cinema: A Critical      Reader. Ed. Michele Aaron. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2004. 103-18. Print.

Slight Fever of a 20 Year Old. Dir. Ryosuke Hashiguchi. Perf. Yoshihiko Hakamada    and Masashi Endo. Pia/Pony Canyon, 1993. DVD.

Blog Post #4: Fox & His Backstabbing Hoard of Elitist Frenemies

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Image from Rosenbaum, Jonathan. “Fox and His Friends (1976 Review).” Monthly Film Bulletin 43.504 (1976): n. pag. Web.

               The ironic title of Fassbinder’s rags-to-riches, New German Cinema masterpiece, Fox and His Friends (1975), forces viewers to question the very fabric of friendship; After all, Franz’s (aka Fox’s) so-called friends only feign affection in order to swindle from him the entirety of his lottery win which, in retrospect, seems the initiation of loss.  These frenemies bleed the carnie dry financially and emotionally with their incessant accusations of his inferiority and false promises.  Fox offers his trust, flesh, and money; all he desires in return is love. What he gets, however, is a steaming pile of betrayal seasoned with manipulation.  Finally, he pays the ultimate price:  his life. 

 

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Image from http://www.data.warped.com 

               The travel agency scene (an hour & eleven minutes into the film) illustrates the classism and condescension suffered by the film’s tragic hero at the hands of his greedy boyfriend. Noticing his lover’s increased distance, Fox offers to take Eugen on a dream vacation in an effort to revive their dying relationship.  At the agency, Eugen constantly belittles Fox, insulting his intelligence and even referring to him as a girl—an affront used throughout by gays to bash each other. Playing upon his perceived cultured status, Eugen decides that he would like to travel to Morocco. Of course, he makes sure to emphasize his superior skills since he alone can speak the French necessary for their voyage and desired ménage à trois.

 

               Never asking Fox for his opinion, Eugen—who gets high off of his own articulation—controls the scene with his egotistical speech.  But when it is Fox and not the cocky cultured gentleman who foots the bill, the secretary glares at Eugen in pure disgust.  The camera lingers on the woman’s face for a noticeable length of time, amplifying her shock. In so doing, the audience at once identifies with Olga, sharing her disapproval.  Cutting to Eugen then back to the travel secretary, the camera silently shows her reprimand him.  Eugen’s maintained eye contact seems to say, “Hold your tongue!  I’ll do as I please.”  Viewers grasp the immorality inherent in Eugen’s abuse of Fox shown in previous scenes depicting lavish purchases and extravagant requests. The camera zooms into Fox while he signs the check.  Highlighting the signature itself, the shot draws attention to the significance of his pricey declarations of love.  The enormity of his sacrifice is visually amplified.  While Fox is consistently treated like blue-collar scum, he—not Eugen or his stodgy family—is the one with money. 

 

ImageImage from http://www.allmovie.com 

               Money alone does not determine class or character; rather it is the viciousness embodied by the self-proclaimed “cultured” that places those who are kind beneath those cunning tricksters who resort to cruelty in their quest for cash.  Fox’s genuine character as well as his longing for true human connection mark him an outsider.  Riches or rags, Fox can never be accepted by the suit-and-tie club. Even in death, he cannot escape the ruthless nature of pickpockets.  In a haunting conclusion, children rob Fox’s corpse.  His “friends” walk past him, treating him like garbage, disposable and worthless. In a world of vice and vanity, sincere romantics are doomed to face a rude awakening.  Nothing is sacred.  Love is merely an exploitable commodity; a currency to be spent. And Fox spent it all.

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 Image from http://www.thepinksmoke.com

Fox and His Friends. Dir. Rainer W. Fassbinder. Perf. Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Peter Chatel. New   

         Yorker Films (USA), 1975. Hulu Plus.

Blog Post #3: The Celluloid Closet–Watch Between the Lines

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Image Credit:  Thirteen: Brandy Eve Allen

          I found The Celluloid Closet (1995) extremely enlightening.  Never before had I considered the complex history between homosexuality and film censorship.  I am aware of Catholicism’s sexual stringency.  After all, masturbation—sex with oneself—is deemed a mortal sin.  So religious opposition to homosexual passion, while disappointing, surprised me not.  I didn’t realize, however, the influence the Church held over cinema nor did I grasp the power of The Hays Code enforced in Hollywood following the pope’s threat of mass boycott.

I commend early filmmakers whose sharp wit and bravery worked around the stifling system.  The documentary reveals black-and-white pictures with subtle portrayals of queer craving.   To evade censors, homosexuality was indirectly explored through gender-bending wardrobes, characters who transgressed conventional treatment of masculinity/femininity, intimate friendships that hinted at more, as well as play with phallic objects such as guns.  I’m sad that the majority of explicitly queer characters in early films are murderers, monsters, or mad.  Such poor representations suggest an inherent link between homosexuality and mental illness.  Nor am I a fan of the sissy trope which likens gay men to impotent wannabe-women.   Constant death and punishment of gays in cinema while reflective of real world prejudice still disturbs me.  Persistent sad-endings suggest to gay viewers that their lives will ultimately end in misery.

Still, negative visibility is better than invisibility.  To acknowledge LGBT existence is in itself a feat given the puritanical constrictions of heteronormative society.   Hope is what I took away from the film.  Audiences have the power to inject their own persona into the projections shown on screen.  We have the responsibility and capacity to alter the future of film in the name of equality.  Shows like The Fosters, Glee, and American Horror Story depict LGBT members in a positive light, granting viewers characters for whom to root and with which to identify.

But despite progress, many films still rely on indirect condemnation.  Silence can be unsettling.  In Thirteen (2003), virginal Tracy is corrupted by seductive BFF Evie.  Tracy’s obsession with Evie is erotic.  While kissing a boy, Tracy watches her friend the entire time.  Her decline into drugs and delinquency is tied to the intimacy she shares with the beautiful femme fatale played by Nikki Reed.  Similarly, films like Hot Chick (2002) perpetuate negative stereotypes.  Popular teen Jessica wakes up in the body of a grungy man.  As a result of her girly mannerisms, everyone assumes she—now in male form—is gay.  In the film, being a woman and being gay become inseparable, denying gays their status as “real” men.  We still see same-sex kisses used as assaults.  In American Hustle (2013), Jennifer Lawrence aggressively plants a wet one on Amy Adams.  Change comes slowly.

Same-sex desire isn’t a product of the 21st century; it’s a force as primal and essential to the human species as hunger or thirst.  Originating with the dawn of man while preceding the flame and wheel, “queer” is everywhere.  Time to open our eyes and watch between the lines.

The Celluloid Closet. Dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Perf. Lily Tomlin. TriStar Pictures,

1995. Youtube. 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?

v=rhygdCjYrdk>.

Blog Post #2: Blades of Glory–Bro for the Gold!

 

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                                   Image Credit:  BLADES OF GLORY:  Suzanne Hanover

          Blades of Glory (2007) promotes intimate male friendship while parodying the politics and melodrama of figure skating.  The documentary style form that introduces Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy directly parallels the expository videos which highlight athletes in the Olympics.  If the athlete bios aren’t obvious enough, filmmakers include grand trumpet theme music, joined circle motifs, real champions such as Scott Hamilton and Sasha Cohen, and medal ranking familiar to audiences around the globe to make the comparison crystal clear.

With skintight sequenced suits and glitter galore, figure skating is the most theatrical sport of the winter games, a point made all too clear by a fictionalized interviewee who when asked his thoughts regarding the male-male pair responds, “As if figure skating wasn’t gay enough already.”  The two-man team is viewed with initial contempt by Bible-thumpers to hotdog sellers.  After all, pairs skating traditionally involves opposite sex partners whose performance relies on implied romance, the man assuming the dominant role.  Essentially dancing on ice, the male duo is bound to be interpreted in homoerotic terms.

The film does not dance around the homoeroticism of the sport.  On the contrary, the comedy milks each queer moment for maximum laughs.  During tryouts, Chazz and Jimmy execute a number of tricks that mimic sexual positions from sixty-nine to scissoring.  Embracing intimacy, however, is precisely the key to their success.  The duo casts aside their pseudo-machismo  in favor of honest, close companionship.  True friends finally, the men achieve victory, winning gold in addition to the hearts of viewers who are fed up with the phoniness of catty couples like Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg who lie and cheat their way to the top.  Viewers also find refreshing the unabashed display of male bonding.

Critics who deem Blades of Glory homophobic need to realize that the film both celebrates and encourages male intimacy in sport and real life.  In fact, heterosexuality is presented grotesquely in the figure of Chazz.  Chazz, a sex addict, buries his repressed insecurity in female flesh, sleeping with most anyone—even considering his friend’s love interest a viable option.  Stranz and Fairchild, brother and sister, French-kiss at the movie’s end, revealing disturbing and disgusting incestuous desire.  Jimmy and Katie’s straight passion meanwhile is shown as juvenile and unexplored.  While the only explicitly gay character, Hector, does possess stalker tendencies, he is also responsible for discovering the loophole allowing Jimmy and Chazz to compete together.  Spawning Jimmy and Chazz’s road to redemption, Hector is the film’s hero who saves them from a destructive path of dead-end jobs, depression, and addiction.

Outside of the screen, males are not permitted to ice dance or figure skate together as partners in the OlympicsSystematic homophobia in Russia, host of the most recent winter games, as well as worldwide prejudice proves that progress must still be pursued.  If we all shed homophobic ideology, embracing intimacy’s spectrum, we will be winners in the game of life; the prize more priceless than any medal—bronze, silver, or gold.

Blog Post #1: Male Fantasy, Female Nightmare

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*Picture from “ashleygriffinofficial.blogspot.com”

In her essay, ‘The Image of Women in Film,” Sharon Smith discusses the problematic portrayals of women in film.  According to Smith, women are most often presented as pretty playthings to satisfy the desires of the male hero.  The central mission of female characters is almost exclusively tied to finding a male love interest.  Written by males, women are either frigid shrews, frustrated by repression, or sexually savvy, bodacious babes.  The shrews, inevitably, are “saved” by the suave charm of the virile male lead.

Sexuality in men is applauded; their conquests seen as badges of erotic esteem, while pleasure in women is deemed unnatural.   Females who enjoy sex are commonly depicted as femme fatales—vixens whose beauty poses obstacles to the morals and mission of the protagonist who is, of course, male.  Think of films like Carrie.  After reaching puberty, the girl’s powers manifest in horrific ways, leading to the destruction of the student body.   Or Bedazzled, in which the devil is played by bombshell Elizabeth Hurley.  Sexual potency becomes a recipe for evil.  Then think of films like Wedding Crashers.  The protagonists are depicted as likable, fun-loving buddies, who are well-intentioned despite their promiscuous playboy ways.

With women on the screen, intellect and individuality are subservient to fulfilling fantasies of heterosexual men—an observation made more troubling when one recognizes real world parallels.  There are men who, indeed, grow to view women as sexual objects rather than flesh and blood beings who deserve equal representation in the political, business, and domestic sphere.

Smith believes:  “Films use all their powers of persuasion to reinforce—not the status quo, but some mythical Golden Age when men were men and women were girls” (17).  This is where we disagree.  She believes film representations are more grounded in fantasy than real world roles.  I, however, believe it is the norm—the “status quo”—for women to be expected to rely on appearance to advance in society.  I believe it is the “status quo” that fuels a culture in which rape is trivialized and glamorized; that women are deemed ditzy inferiors incapable of political prowess and business expertise.  Films are more than just fantasies; they are social scripts.  This provides a dangerous challenge.  For how are we to overcome this cycle?  Merely adding female filmmakers to the mix won’t suffice since women, too, are brainwashed by sexist ideology canonized in motion pictures.

The problem is not that women are presented sexually; it’s that they are ONLY presented sexually.  Men, contrastingly, are shown in a variety of lights, highlighting a diverse, more complete human experience.  Women in film are designed by male filmmakers to bring their fantasies to light.  Until we have women representing uniquely female fantasies, the same tired tropes are bound to appear again and again and again.  Like Smith, I believe studying females in the field is instrumental in providing models.  But effective change, I believe, is impossible without massive action on the part of female viewers and creators alike.

Source: Smith, Sharon. “The Image of Women in Film: Some Suggestions for Future  

          Research.” Ed. Sue Thornham. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. New York: New York

          UP, 1999. 14 – 19. Print.