Monday, November 29, 2010

Things I Am More Frightened of Than Being Killed By Terrorists While Flying in An Airplane

1. Any sort of professional, public humiliation.

2. Spiders

3. Being trapped on an airplane with spiders

4. Being buried alive with spiders (Yes. I was permanently traumatized by The Serpent and the Rainbow).

5. Dying alone in my apartment and having nobody notice until I'm an awful story in the Post on a slow news day, and Josh Tanzer is making up a funny, funny headline about my rotting corpse

6. Falling through a subway grate in the sidewalk.

7. Being molested or raped by a TSA employee

8. Being stabbed to death in my apartment by an escapee from the hospital for the criminally insane

9. Being run over by a car

10. Being pushed onto the subway tracks and being run over by a train

11. Homelessness

12. Disfiguring injuries

13. Being blinded

14. After becoming blind, being trapped with spiders and not realizing it until they crawl all over me (spiders are stealthy)

15. Being killed by inclement weather or a member of the avian community while on an airplane

16. Did I mention spiders?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Scobee Diner: A Lament

Maybe I am a sentamentalist at heart, all previous denials to the contrary. Maybe I do look askance at what is mistakenly called progress.

Today is the final day of Scobee's existence. If you, like me, grew up on the peninsula of West Egg, you too would have spent long hours sitting in the vinyl covered booths of my increasingly distant adolescence. I should have known things would never be the same the moment they removed the jukeboxes.

Diners seem to be disappearing from the landscape all over the five boroughs. Where else can one go at three in the morning and sit with a plate of french fries for two hours? The last diner closing that made me sad was the long lost Astor Riviera. It used to be where that giant Starbucks on Astor Place now sits. I guess that's the thing that has changed the face of this country and now finally the city more than anything: the loss of privately owned businesses. But that's a rant for another day.

So let's all lift a gravy covered french fry and salute the New York City diners of our youth! Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan and The Bronx! Alas! Alas!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Mary Sue With the Dragon Tattoo

Okay, kiddies. I am clearly the last person on earth to read Mystery/Crime Novel of the Decade (!), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and after dragging myself through the final, inexplicable 100 pages, my reaction can be best summarized by the phrase: "Are you fucking kidding me?".

Let me digress for a moment. Those of you not as hideously geeky as I am may be wondering what a Mary Sue is. It began back in the dark days before the internet as a fan fiction trope, but the definition has since expanded, making the phrase a useful shorthand in most genre book criticism. One can find an excellent definition here:
MARY SUE (n.): 1. A variety of story, first identified in the fan fiction community, but quickly recognized as occurring elsewhere, in which normal story values are grossly subordinated to inadequately transformed personal wish-fulfillment fantasies, often involving heroic or romantic interactions with the cast of characters of some popular entertainment. 2. A distinctive type of character appearing in these stories who represents an idealized version of the author. 3. A cluster of tendencies and characteristics commonly found in Mary Sue-type stories. 4. A body of literary theory, originally generated by the fanfic community, which has since spread to other fields (f.i., professional SF publishing) because it’s so darn useful. The act of committing Mary Sue-ism is sometimes referred to as “self-insertion.”
What's so interesting about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is that both of the lead characters are flaming, card carrying Mary Sues, albeit of different varieties who in conjunction with each other, ratchet up the Mary Sue quotient even further. This is just unforgivable, really. Let's start with Mary Sue, #1, middle-aged Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist. I feel the need to point out the fact that the book's author, Stieg Larsson, is (or, was - he died in 2004) a middle-aged Swedish journalist. However, I have no idea if Larsson, like his creation, was as devastatingly attractive to every woman he encountered, as full of fierce journalistic integrity even in the face of a prison sentence, was the lucky owner of two pieces of glamorous real estate, or single handedly rescued the Swedish (and possibly the world) economy through his brilliant investigative journalism. Larsson apparently spent a great deal of his career investigating extremist right-wing groups, which, great. But there seems to be an awful lot of wish fulfillment on exhibit in the story of his (clear) literary counterpart.

Unfortunately, I wasn't really able to subject Blomkvist to the nearly legendary Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test as the questions are so heavily geared toward fantasy and science fiction, most didn't apply. As we shall see, Mary Sue #2 doesn't have this problem. Her Mary Sue-itude is so extreme, it is a thing of wonder.

The second protagonist is 24 year old hacker, Lisbeth Salander. I fed all her attributes into the litmus test and, honestly, I tried to be as fair and conservative as possible. Truly. Even so, her score came back as 101. This is an insanely high score. If one invents a character that ranks 50 or above, the suggestion is a terse "kill it dead". Okay, here's the list of some of her most Sue-rific attributes:

  1. Character is also known by a cool nickname ("Wasp")
  2. Is described as looking anorexic (multiple times) but eats like a horse
  3. Even though she is described in the above manner, every man in the book is attracted to her. She is also described as looking like a 15 year old, which just makes it creepy
  4. Character's clothing is chosen because it makes her appear badass
  5. Clothing that is realistically impractical or improper for the character's situation, but looks cool
  6. Character is viewed as suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder as an excuse for character's Jerkass Loner personality
  7. Has distinctive tattoos.
  8. Raised in an orphanage
  9. Was raped
  10. Has nearly supernatural photographic memory
  11. Has insane hacker skills though she was raised in a series of institutions where her time working on a computer would be, no doubt, limited.
  12. Character was far too badass to attend school, but through some unknown means has learned multiple languages well enough to be mistaken for a native speaker.
  13. Exhibits some really ugly violent tendencies, but since she is the heroine, this is viewed as (again) badass and okay, though when characters the author doesn't like exhibit similar tendencies, this is then bad and wrong
  14. Character never makes mistakes - effortlessly accomplishes all tasks with her amazing skilz

Need I tell you that the two above characters fall in love? That Lisbeth, who is presented as nearly sociopathic and incapable of feeling any sort of closeness to anybody, pretty much immediately falls for the character clearly modeled on the author? Because, as we all know, cool motorcycle (did I mention the motorcycle?) riding 24 year old hackers are always attracted to financial reporters in their mid-forties. Also, did you know that anorexic (looking) 4'11" women can beat an (armed) serial killer nearly to death with a golf club, providing said serial killer, who has remained undetected for 35 years, just this one time, forgot to lock the door to his underground torture dungeon?

Deep breath. Okay. Anyone who knows anything about me and what I read knows that I love genre fiction. I defend it all the time. I think this particular book has me all fired up simply because I find its lunatic, runaway, world wide success completely and unutterably inexplicable. Why this book rather than the many other, far more competently written mysteries and thrillers that are released every year? Admittedly, I'm more of a mystery fan than a thriller one. But if something s making a lot of noise, I often make a point of reading it. But, here's the thing: books like Silence of the Lambs, Eye of the Needle, all of John Le Carré (who I adore), The Bourne Identity, Child 44, all of these books are justly popular entertainments. They possess all of genre fiction's strengths in that they are solidly and intricately plotted, well written, and absolutely unputdownable.

Dragon Tattoo is a mess. It takes forever to get cooking. The characters are wafer thin. The book is reasonably entertaining once we get to the central mystery, but the plot construction felt a little amateurish. It moves in a little too much of a straight line, it all seems a little too easy and simple. There are also contradictions in the the modus operandus of the killer that I found maddening (was he driven by ritual or not? He sometimes was, sometimes wasn't, depending on the convenience of the plot). I would be perfectly willing to cut him some slack on his mystery plotting, as this was his first effort if it wasn't for the other problems. After the central mystery is satisfactorily resolved, we still have about 100 pages to go. My heart sank. What followed was the take down of an evil billionaire which seemingly goes on forever. I kept turning to my inamorato, asking, "Why am I still reading this?".

I seem to be on a roll, here, but really, I'm just completely confused. I had read the book described as being "feminist", and its original Swedish title was (the cringe-making) "Men Who Hate Women". I don't have any particular problem with how women are portrayed in the book, as the characters of both genders seem equally implausible. I will say, that the male characters in the book seem to range from creepy to insanely evil. But painting men as violent assholes (except for, of course, Our Hero), and letting us all know that rape is bad, does not a feminist work make. He does bring up some potentially interesting points, such as correlating fascism with sexual violence and misogyny, but none of that ever really went anywhere and he's not a good enough writer to handle anything morally ambiguous.

I actually have the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, sitting, glaring at me from the shelf. But - I just can't.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for lots of things, some important (my health, my inamorato, my brain) some less consequential (my apartment, the internet, the existence of all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD). Good things all.

Which brings me to the news that hit the geekier realms of the interwebs this week. Warner Brothers distributed a press release that announced that a "rebooted" (how I hate that stupid word - unless you're turning your computer on and off it makes no sense) movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer would be released in 2012. Hm. With no input or involvement from Joss Whedon. Sigh. With a screenwriter named Whit Anderson who has fewer writing credits on iMDB than I do (i.e. none).

Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. It's about food, gathering with loved ones and possesses disturbing overtones of cultural imperialism. The Jane Espenson penned, Season 4 episode Pangs embraces all three of these key Thanksgiving points.

Later today, I will be heading to Chez Piper McKenzie accompanied by various Stewarts. I love food, and I like cooking, but tend to spiral into a panic when faced with anything domestic. But I'll try to leave the atrocities at home. In an interview with Ms. Anderson, the woman about to be the most viciously attacked rookie screenwriter ever, she referenced Christopher Nolan's Batman as a good path to take in superhero reimagining. Sigh. I know. Everyone loves those movies. Except me. They're painfully humorless, and among other things, Buffy was always a comedy.

Joss Whedon has been through a lot with Buffy. It's always been his dream project, and the 1992 movie version was abysmal. Needless to say, he had no control over it. In a nearly unprecedented turn, he had the opportunity, five years later, to do it right. The show lasted seven seasons, and although it wasn't perfect, it was wonderful. And only ended seven years ago. Joss Whedon is still a young(ish) man. To "reboot" his creation (one of the uglier points of the Warners' press release is that they refer to the owners of the property, as the "creators")this soon, seems like a terrible idea, and a project that absolutely nobody wants.

But Joss Whedon is a class act. He responded in kind, and here is what he had to say in its entirety:
Kristin, I'm glad you asked for my thoughts on the announcement of Buffy the cinema film. This is a sad, sad reflection on our times, when people must feed off the carcasses of beloved stories from their youths—just because they can't think of an original idea of their own, like I did with my Avengers idea that I made up myself.

Obviously I have strong, mixed emotions about something like this. My first reaction upon hearing who was writing it was, "Whit Stillman AND Wes Anderson? This is gonna be the most sardonically adorable movie EVER." Apparently I was misinformed. Then I thought, "I'll make a mint! This is worth more than all my Toy Story residuals combined!" Apparently I am seldom informed of anything. And possibly a little slow. But seriously, are vampires even popular any more?

I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER. I don't love the idea of my creation in other hands, but I'm also well aware that many more hands than mine went into making that show what it was. And there is no legal grounds for doing anything other than sighing audibly. I can't wish people who are passionate about my little myth ill. I can, however, take this time to announce that I'm making a Batman movie. Because there's a franchise that truly needs updating. So look for The Dark Knight Rises Way Earlier Than That Other One And Also More Cheaply And In Toronto, rebooting into a theater near you.

Leave me to my pain! Sincerely, Joss Whedon.
I'm making butternut squash ravioli with mushrooms and leeks in a white wine sauce. Hopefully we'll leave out the traditional fighting and also leave the less traditional syphilis at home, too.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Passion Play: Fevvers and Mickey Rourke

While conducting my (ridiculously extensive) Megan Fox research for my Jennifer's Body post last week, I was intrigued - to say the least - to discover the nature of Ms. Fox's next project. It's an indie called Passion Play, directed and written by Brian Glazer and co-starring Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Rhys Ifans. A fine cast indeed, but that's not what grabbed my interest.

The movie is about a horn player (Rourke) in trouble with a gangster (Murray) who happens upon a sort of traveling freak show/carnival in which customers pay to look at the beauteous Ms. Fox, who has a pair of wings growing out of her back. Hm. So. Regular readers of this blog will no doubt know of what this made me think. A few months ago, I published a post in which I waxed rhapsodic about Angela Carter's novel Nights At the Circus. To recap: It's about a beautiful young woman (dubbed "The Cockney Venus"), who at one point in this picaresque telling of her life, winds up in a sort of Freak Show brothel where men pay to look at her. Oh, and she has a pair of wings sticking out of her back. I'm not saying there's any sort of plagiarism afoot, as the stories sound otherwise completely different, but it is curious.

The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to not terribly enthusiastic reviews. I looked at the few clips that are available, and for me the biggest problem was with Roarke. Between his boxing injuries and his perplexing plastic surgery, he almost looks as if he's wearing a poorly rendered Mickey Roarke Halloween mask. The reviews all read as if the writers really, really wanted to like it. It's an intriguing premise, but the execution leaves much to be desired, apparently. It's a sweet fable, they all say, but it has some issues with tone and garnered some bad laughs. People like Ms. Fox in the role of the winged girl, Lily, though paradoxily one or two wished the story was more about her character, rather than her just being an object of desire, or obsession for the men in the film.

Thus far, there is no set release date, which doesn't bode well. Still, I'm very curious. If it does make it to DVD, to the top of my Netflix queue it will go. Below is a clip:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Apocalypse Girls: Mockingjay

Recently, a friend's 8th grade daughter levied her criticism on the first Hunger Games book thusly (to paraphrase): "If it's going to be sci-fi, it should be good sci-fi." , and then went and buried her head back in Crime and Punishment.

Clearly, my taste is far less discerning as I liked both the first and second installments in the series (for some background, take a look at my previous posts). I thought the second book was particularly wonderful, with its intelligent and heartbreaking depiction of how the powerless and disgruntled fare in a totalitarian regime (hint: not well). I was also taken with the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and the way in which Collins has her functioning in her increasingly complicated and distressing circumstances in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem (obviously the remains of the United States). She's someone who has never had the opportunity to be a child: she's been looking after her family since she was little, and has all the attendant anxiety and guilt that level of early responsibility brings. She's not a hero because she's decreed as special by some outside agency (see: Harry Potter, the abysmal Alchemyst books, Star Wars, even my beloved Buffy), she's not "The One". She's thrown into the voracious media spotlight of her society through lottery, and becomes a media darling because of her own tenacity to survive and through exhibiting an unusual integrity during the Hunger Games in book one. She becomes in the second book, Catching Fire, the symbol of dissent, something she never asked for and finds dangerous as it places her family and district in jeopardy as the iron fist of the state comes crashing down on them. This is wonderful, potent stuff.

As the third book, Mockingjay, opens, the poor districts of Panem are in open rebellion against the wealthy Capital. Katness is in hiding with the leaders of the rebellion in the previously thought destroyed and empty 13th District. In actuality, the rebels of the 13th are allowed to survive because they are locked in a nuclear detente with the Capital. The leaders of the rebel forces know Katniss is a potent symbol and use her celebrity to propagandize their cause. One thing that I absolutely adore about these books is the moral complexity in terms of the politics. The rebel forces are terrifying, in their own way, as much as the decadent, slave based government in the capital. The rebellion has been fomenting for years, they know they have right on their side, they are puritanical and martial, and they don't brook much in the way of dissent. In other words, the Czar is awful, and the Bolsheviks aren't necessarily better. Which is interesting, but makes for an increasingly unpleasant read.

Most distressing to me, is the change in Katniss's status. Now Katniss had become "The One". In some ways this feels like an artificial structure built to insure that Collins's heroine remains front and center. A slightly ridiculous amount of the rebel's strategy seems built around the existence of Katniss Everdeen in a way that felt slightly contrived. The best use of Katniss's new status was the creation of a pirate television series featuring Katniss amongst the rebel forces. It's pure propaganda, of course, Katniss is too valuable to the cause to put in real danger. She is quickly airlifted in and out of hot spots accompanied by a full camera crew. But later in the book the Katniss focus felt as corrupt as the Capitol itself. One of the terms of Katniss's cooperation with the rebellion was that she got to kill President Snow herself. In order to assure this, many, many other people die.

The carnage by the end of the series is fairly epic. I know I'm a total wimp, but by the end I began to feel just bludgeoned and manipulated, which, to be fair, might have been the point. I finished the book a while ago, but I've been sitting on this review as I honestly wasn't sure of what I thought. As with the first two books, I read Mockingjay in one sitting - Collins, if nothing else certainly knows how to tell a story, and putting aside what I said in my review of the first book, she pulls very few punches. The society she's invented is terrifying. It's a combination of the worst aspects of Russia under the Czar, with the rich living lives of unbelievable decadence with the majority in the districts living lives of absolute brutal poverty. Combine that with our current age of reality television and media spin, and you have a really ugly brew of an imagined but seemingly possible future.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kings Point: A Documentary

As I touched upon briefly in Thursday's post, American's really hate the idea of getting old and dying. Not that most other nations are precisely jumping up and down about it, but there's a little more integration of their older citizens into daily life. I've been job hunting for a while, and I know my age is an issue. And I'm not even old. Logan's Run, here we come.

Which brings me to a feature documentary currently in the completion and fund raising stages called Kings Point, directed by Sari Gilman. I've seen the five minute preview (and so can you! Embedded below), and it's lovely. The film profiles several residents of a large retirement community in Del Ray, Florida. The brief exerpt I saw was fairly riviting. One woman speaking about it still being a world of couples, although she's essentially living in a city of women. We also hear a little snippet from an elderly commitment-phobe ("Bea's on top of me all the time!"). Like most things that try to get at the root of some aspect of humanity, it's both funny and sad.

Much of the time the great joy of documentaries is listening to people talk. And the people Ms. Gilman has chosen to focus on are very good talkers. It looks lovely, too, with well composed shots and a palette of greens and peaches (not, I beg to clarify, the dreaded orange and teal) that evoke Florida beautifully. I'd like to see more. Which brings me to the fund raising portion of this post. The filmmakers have set up a kickstarter page. Please click here to help them with their completion funds.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must mention that I grew up with Sari in West Egg. Upon hearing the name of the film I initially assumed that West Egg was the subject matter, as the village in our home town where all the fabulously wealthy people (including Gatsby) live, shares its name with the title of this film. But it's just a coincidence. Sari has had a long career as a feature documentary editor, working on such projects as Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas At the White House among others. This is her first outing as director and I'm looking forward to seeing the completed film.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Jennifer's (and Megan's) Body

I was really prepared to like Jennifer's Body for a multitude of reasons, mixed reviews or not (and that's mixed, meaning mixed, not bad). It's a teen girl horror flick penned by Diablo Cody straight off her Oscar win for Juno, and directed by Karyn Kusama who helmed Girlfight (which I haven't seen, but about which I've heard good things) and Aeon Flux (which was awful). It stars Amanda Seyfried, who I've always liked and Megan Fox, who I thought I'd never seen in anything, but I was wrong, as she had a small part in the Lindsey Lohan vehicle Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Which I've seen. Don't judge.

That said, all I know about Ms. Fox is what I've gleaned from the internets over the past few years. Most of this can be summed up thusly:
  1. She's great looking.
  2. She says lots of boneheaded things to reporters and on talk shows.
  3. She's in a long term relationship with (now married to) Brian Austin Green who played David Silver on 90210.
  4. My friend's teenage daughter and her friends adore her (she's soooo fuckin hottttt).
  5. People on the internets seem pretty contemptuous and hateful towards her, and I can't quite seem to figure out why.
Back to the film. Ms. Cody's script has a lot going for it, but it feels a little half baked. The beginning is terrific: the film is book-ended with scenes of Amanda Seyfried in a maximum security women's prison. It's shot beautifully (if with a few too many teal/orange clichés for my taste) and starts off creepily enough and has us wondering what could have turned sweet-faced Seyfried into a killer. We then flashback to Devil's Kettle High School, where pretty cheerleader Megan Fox (Jennfier) is BFF with dorky Amanda Seyfried (Needy. No, really. That's the character's name). Even before any of the violent supernatural goings on that we see later in the film, Jennifer and Needy seem somehow psychically linked, almost too close. Needy's sweet boyfriend thinks (rightly) that Jennifer is using and manipulating Needy. Jennifer is a classic mean girl who seems to require Needy to follow in her wake like some sort of wide eyed terrier. What both the movie and Fox do pretty well is show that Jennifer seems to need Needy as much as Needy needs Jennifer. It's an unhealthy, nearly parasitic, uneven, symbiotic friendship.

Megan Fox is a beautiful girl and is talked about in the gutter press as if she was a major movie star. But she's only appeared in six films so far (with a couple more in the can waiting for release). Six. She shot to fame after appearing in the first Transformers movie and after appearing in various states of sexiness in every men's magazine the world over. She also has an extremely well documented case of verbal diarrhea which makes her a completely entertaining interview. After reading a slew of Megan Fox articles over the past couple of days and taking a look at her TMZ coverage from the past couple of years, a couple of things became immediately apparent. Unlike many young starlets, she seems to have a really good bead on both the nature of her job (being a sexy young starlet) and the pluses and minuses of this particular line of employment. The other is that she has the most shockingly boring private life of any sexy young starlet since the job was invented.

Jennifer and Needy wind up in the local shit kicker bar to see a band, Low Shoulder, that Jennifer heard about on YouTube. Before talking to the cute lead singer (Adam Brody from The OC) Jennifer is all trash talking teen girl expounding to Needy that they have boobs, hence all the power. And then after confidently striding up to Brody she... melts. She's a little nervous and stammery the way girls are when they talk to Older Boys. Needy thinks they're bad news, but Jennifer is smitten. Cute! In a band! From the city! Needy is very, very protective of Jennifer, correctly thinking that her heedlessness could lead her into real trouble. While watching the band, the bar explodes into flames. It is hinted at, but never confirmed, that something telekinetic may be at play. The girls escape through the bathroom window, and run into the lead singer in the parking lot, while surrounded by burn victims and screams. He convinces Jennifer to come with him in the band's van. Needy knows this is a terrible idea and tries to talk Jennifer out of it, but she goes. Now, I have to say I really liked how this was handled even if they took a play straight out of the Buffy handbook. What I mean is, we as audience members are truly frightened for Jennifer. The ways in which this could go badly for her are manifold. When we next see Jennifer, she's a monster. Or so Needy thinks. We don't know what's happened to her, or what she is, but she's covered in blood and she's just... wrong. Up til now the movie has been pretty terrific. This, though, is where things start to fall apart.

Oh, Megan Fox. If there's any young starlet in need of a good gender studies class, it's her. I'm just worried everyone from the professor to the other students would be mean to her, as in some ways she's a perfect object lesson in four inch heels. And when I say she's in need of a good gender studies class, I do so because she is clearly fascinated with the ramifications of gender and sexuality as they pertain to both her working life and the world at large. She talks about it all the time in her interviews in a way I've almost never heard before from someone who is in her particular position. Megan Fox is equal parts intelligent and inarticulate, which causes some problems. The following are some quotes:

It's a double standard. To be outspoken, or different at all, is a problem for women. As soon as you curse or, God forbid, make some sort of sexual reference that's a joke, you're labeled a party girl. They don't do that with men, so I feel it would be a lot easier.

When I go to a party, I always feel like I'm chum.
Like my agent is just chumming the waters until I'm circled by all these dudes.

I don't trust male intentions, usually, because they don't approach me for intellectual conversation.

If you know how to take control of being a sex symbol, then it can be powerful. But I have no idea how to handle it yet, how to deal with it.

Hollywood is the most superficial thing you could possibly be a part of and if I weren't attractive I wouldn't be working at all.

I personally always find something really scary about watching little girls learning to manipulate their dads by baby talking. Then they grow up and use the same technique on their boyfriends or husbands. That scares me because it's just so sick on so many levels.

Little girls are very much exposed to sexuality through the media and the entertainment industry and advertisements. So when you realize that you have the same power that you've watched women who've come before you have, it is frightening and you don't know what to do with it. I don't think you ever get comfortable with it.

And there's pages more. She's clearly given this stuff a lot of thought, but doesn't quite know what to do with it. In interviews, she actually most often sounds like a regular person, which I didn't realize was so unusual until I realized that the current crop of actors and actresses sound like crazy people. She talks about being lonely. She talks about smoking weed and watching movies. She makes dumb jokes. Sometime she's annoying. Sometimes she sounds bored. Sometimes she's engaging. There's also, by many, or most of the journalists who interview her a "Look! It talks! Just like an actual person!" attitude that must be maddening (although Fox claims she doesn't read her own press, as it would make her crazy). She also complains about her job the way normal people do. Unfortunately (for her), she tells these things to the press, rather than her friends (of which, she claims, she has none), so she gets into all kinds of trouble.

The second act of Jennifer's Body is a mess. We see too much of what Jennifer has become too quickly, sort of destroying suspense. The idea of this pretty cheerleader being a monster and literally devouring boys is very potent and full of potential. But the thematic, horror and plot elements never really come together. The boys Jennifer kills seem arbitrary. The direction seems a little lazy during some of it - oh, and can we please retire the sexy slo-mo babe walk down the hallway at school? It's the biggest cliché ever at this point. We get it. She's hot. That's why you hired the actress you did. Duh. So I feel like I did a lot of waiting around for the climax. Also, there seemed to be something a little off about the tone of the film and the performances. Pitch black horror comedies are really, really difficult to make. Diablo Cody's dialogue is fairly mannered. This wasn't a problem in Juno as director Ivan Reitman had such strong control of the material. He had everyone play it pretty straight with as much emotional truth as possible. Any sort of wackiness or artificiality in the performances would just push it over the edge. I think that's a bit of what happens here. Fox isn't great, but it looks to me as if she's been poorly directed. Pros like J.K. Simmons and Amy Sedaris aren't terrific either. I thought the best performance in the film was from the kid who played Needy's boyfriend. I have a feeling Kusama wasn't paying enough attention to her actors.

I guess what I find so interesting is the extraordinary amount of animosity felt towards this young woman. She was recently fired from the Transformers franchise for mouthing off in the press. In an interview, she compared her director, Michael Bay to both Napoleon and Hitler. This was, to say the least, unwise. She had also been quoted saying some things that might be construed as unflattering to the Transformers franchise (they also might be construed as true) such as finding the plot of the second film to be garbled and confusing, that the stunt work was unsafe, that her own performance wasn't very good, that she doesn't understand how anyone could watch the IMAX version without having an aneurysm. So her option was not renewed. She's clearly a little enchanted with her own outspokenness, but I found (something she also seems aware of) that when watching her in televised interviews it's pretty clear that most of what she's saying is meant to be self-deprecating and are said with far more good humor than is perceived when read. But the most risible thing that I saw being brought up again and again vis a vis Fox, was the question of whether she was promiscuous, or a slut. From what I can gather, this is constantly brought up because of Fox's appearance and because she often appears in mens magazines in her underwear (Fox doesn't do nudity). There is literally zero scandal attached to her personal life. I couldn't find a single photograph of her out in a nightclub or a party, barring things that are clearly work related events. Interestingly, people like Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank have much more active dating lives than Fox, but the perception of them as "good girls" somewhat protects them from the truly ugly smears Fox has been subject to. Really, Perez Hilton needs to go away forever.

In the last act, Jennifer's Body picks up again. The climax is satisfying and the coda ties it together nicely. And the end credit sequence is kind of brilliant. But, over all, the film didn't work for me. I don't quite get what I'm supposed to take away from the film. Instead of being gang raped, as we feared, the indie rock band sacrifice Jennifer in exchange for fame and fortune. The catch is that they are supposed to sacrifice a virgin, and small town bombshell Jennifer is anything but, so instead of remaining dead, she becomes a demon. She's portrayed as a mass of foul mouthed insecurities that has a hard time saying no to boys. Her becoming a ravenous demon is so potentially interesting. As I wrote in my Ginger Snaps post, our culture is deeply uncomfortable with sexually aggressive woman (to quote Ms. Fox: "men are scared of a strong, confident vagina"), and if Jennifer's hunger sprung out of need, rather than a vague free floating animosity, it could have been really great.

Here's what I want for Megan Fox: I think she should take a few acting classes and find somebody she can learn from that she can trust. She needs some chops. She said in one of the interviews I read, that people's expectations of her are so low, she's bound to impress. She has also disparaged her own ability again and again, saying that she hasn't done anything, how could she be any good yet? I don't know that I find the woman herself all that terribly fascinating, but seeing how the world reacts to her is. And I like the fact that she cheerfully reports the stupidities that are heaped upon her in Hollywood to all and sundry. I also like that she seems in no danger of meeting any kind of Marilyn Monroe/Lindsey Lohan/Brittney Murphy like fate. Her personal life seems almost comically boring. I think she's a big enough deal that TMZ and the other stalkers feel the need to keep watch, but they are pretty much reduced to reports like "Megan Fox Has Weird Thumbs" (I'm not making this up, there's pages of it). "Megan Fox going the the dentist." "Megan Fox takes her dog to vet! Pictures inside!" "Megan Fox Grocery Shops!" Then, of course, was the excitement of her honeymoon. She went to the beach. She looked happy. Hollywood is a weird, weird place and being a starlet is a weird job. Fox seems to take all of it with pretty good humor. She's been somewhat painted as a baby-Angelina, and there are worse things for her to be, certainly.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

José Guadalupe Posada: Día de los Muertos

American's aren't terribly comfortable with the concept of aging or death. Wealthy women pump chemicals into their faces in attempts to preserve the dewy skin of youth, but the practice backfires more often than not, lending these unhappy, deluded souls the look of well preserved corpses laid out for burial. Old people are encouraged to live in ghettos called "retirement communities", where the only people required to deal with them are paid care givers, and each other.

Americans do, however, enjoy the pageantry of death. We celebrate Halloween, that ancient rite of death and rebirth and harvest. We love horror movies full of bloody corpses and basic cable is full of shows that consist mainly of men with recording devices shouting "Are you there?" and freaking themselves out, hoping and fearing that an actual ghost will appear. We're pretty good at talking about tragedy. But dealing with death as a part of life and the idea that all of us are one day going to shake off this mortal coil, well, that's pretty much unAmerican. We like optimism.

Our neighbors to the south celebrate death with great and storied pageantry. Día de los Muertos celebrates those one has loved and lost to the aether, one prays and eats and celebrates. It is a fitting holiday for the world's most popular death cult, Catholicism. It is this holiday that Mexican illustrator and artist, José Guadalupe Posada, is most deeply associated. His images of skeletons are justly iconic, but they really were a tiny fragment of his work. Born in 1852, he spent the bulk of his working life in Mexico City, drawing political broadsides and illustrating an amazing array of chapbooks. Interestingly, his drawings of skeletons weren't really intended to celebrate Día de los Muertos at all. The iconic La Calavera Catrina (the skinny lady in the hat pictured above) was drawn to mock the rich, saying that no matter how lovely and expensive your clothes, you too, will one day be dust and ashes like the rest of us.

A few years ago, I was smart enough to pick up a copy of Posada: Illustrator of Chapbooks. In it, are dozens of his penny chapbook illustrations. It's remarkable that so many have survived as they were considered to be pretty much disposable at the time of their publication, and the quality of the paper is terrible. Luckily, the company that produced them kept excellent archives which were lovingly cared for by the owner's descendants. Also, Posada was a wonderful artist and people aren't completely stupid. Many people held on to them. Like any jobbing illustrator, he drew many, many subjects, but they are all identifiable as his work.

I love fine art, but in some ways the applied arts: illustration, cartooning, graphic design, fashion tell us more about the texture of times past then anything else. This was the stuff that people looked at every day, what they had in their homes, and what they saw on the streets on their way to work. These were the images that lived in people's heads.

Posada died, like many illustrators of the past century, penniless and nearly forgotten. Unsurprisingly, Diego Rivera was one of the people who called attention his work long after Posada's death. His satirical edge, which is palpable in all his work, even in his illustrations for children's stories, fits in so well with the modern sensibility. Unlike with many contemporaries in England and America whose work seems cloying or dated, his does not. Posada is more akin to near contemporary, Thomas Nast, whose work was even more overtly political, but was protected by the First Amendment, a luxury Posada did not possess.

It was Mondo and his final runway collection wearing its Day of the Dead and Mexican folk art influences on its sleeve that made me want to revisit Posada. Art talks to each other, and it talks to us. Give Posada a look.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Still Dream of Uncle Tim...

Now that I've broken up with my television love, what do I do now?

Well, last year, when Bravo finally lost the acrimonious court case that ensured that Project Runway (I type those words with deep bitterness) would move to Lifetime, they developed a new competition reality show for emerging designers creatively titled, The Fashion Show. Isaac Mizrahi starred as kind of a Tim Gunn/Tom Coliccio hybrid, playing both mentor and judge. Mizrahi is a wonderful designer and has been an entertaining media presence for nearly two decades. So much, so good. But for some reason, his charm didn't translate very well to this forum. He seemed uncomfortable and affected.

I think pretty much everyone knows that the smartest thing the Magical Elves ever did was hiring Tim Gunn to act as mentor on Project Runway (sigh). The fact that they found someone as all around wonderful as he is, is of course, a miracle. But they should be lauded to the skies for interviewing him to begin with, as he was in no way an obvious choice for this sort of television show. He went to school for sculpture, then taught at Parsons School of Design for 25 years, the last seven of which he spent as chairman of their prestigious Fashion Design program. In other words, they had the foresight to think that maybe someone who has spent the bulk of their career in education might be a wise choice for mentor. Rather than, say, a pop star whose career was rapidly fading.

Which brings us to The Fashion Show v.1's most egregious error: the Kelly Rowland debacle. Now, Kelly Rowland has a nice singing voice as she proved when she was one of the members of Destiny's Child who happened not to be Beyoncé. If she had been pegged to be a judge or the host or whatnot on a singing competition show, it would make sense. As that is what Ms. Rowland does for a living. She is not a fashion designer, a fashion magazine editor, or a fashion model. She does, however, like the rest of us, wear clothing. This seemed to be her only qualification, unfortunately. She used to trail around after Mizrahi and give advice to the designers. This is pretty much equivalent to me walking around the Top Chef kitchen giving advice to the cheftestants because I have a lifetime of experience eating. It was patently ridiculous and the show suffered.

I tried watching it and kind of vaguely meant to stick with it and then I suddenly realized the whole thing was over and I had completely stopped bothering to watch. And I feel the need to add that this was when I was in the midst of a major depression and basically spent most of my time on the couch weeping, eating nachos and watching reality television. I mean, I watched that horrible Matchmaker show, but I couldn't be bothered to stick with The Fashion Show, which could be best described as: Just like Project Runway (sigh), but terrible. And I've always been fond of Isaac Mizrahi and was willing to cut him some slack, but no.

No one seemed to like it, the reviews were pretty uniformly bad, so I was surprised to see it coming back for a second season. But! They have majorly retooled the show so that it seems less like a sad imitation of (sob!) Project Runway. Kelly Rowland has been jettisoned, and she's been replaced by Iman. They really couldn't have come up with a better choice. She's a legendary fashion professional. She's intelligent, articulate and strongly opined. Mizrahi also seems more relaxed now that he doesn't have Rowland trailing along after him. The show is still far from perfect, though the emphasis on team work is interesting. There is still too much emphasis placed on "personalities" rather than the work. It's nice to see the judges (which include a Harper's Bazaar editor in addition to Mizrahi and Iman) calling out insufferable behavior, but it's frustrating to see it rewarded with airtime. Uncle Tim and Klum would never put up with this level of nonsense. But, the bulk of the designers seem nice enough and a few have created some lovely pieces.

When one's heart has been broken, after the inevitable moping around has become tiresome, I believe one should move on. I've seen two episodes of The Fashion Show (oh my God do I hate that title), but I'm not in love. They still feel as if they're trying a little too hard. But the producers seemed to have understood what the problems were in the first season, and have done a pretty good job at remedying them. The lovely presence of Mrs. Bowie is what is keeping me around for now. But the challenges and the judges decisions need to be interesting and accurate, or I'm gone. I'm still fragile.

Below, the runway show from 1995 documentary, Unzipped, incidentally proving that grownup women with personalities make much more entertaining models than armies of interchangeable fifteen year olds.

Monday, November 15, 2010

TCM: Moguls & Movie Stars

We seem to be in the midst of something like an old timey movie golden age here at the beginning of the teens in the 21st century. Silent movie festivals are happening all over the place, and seemingly every movie ever filmed (that hasn't been lost or incinerated) is on DVD or on the internet. It never stops being thrilling to me.

That said, if you aren't watching Turner Classic Movies's new documentary series, Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, you are truly missing out. It's thrilling history, and the rarities being shown after the airing of each episode are added fabulousness. They do a terrific job of putting what was happening in a particular time in film history into a more general historical context.

Exciting to the author of this blog, is a look at the careers of two women I profiled a while back, Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blaché. Below is Danse Gitane, a 1905 film by Guy-Blaché.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

To The Wasserstein Prize Committee, addenda: Learn from Your Betters, Listen To Artists

Just one more thing. As I've stated many times, I've spent countless hours over the past decade or so reading and evaluating the work of many young, unsung playwrights, both for my own (now defunct) theatre company and for other organizations. Quite a few years ago I read Nancy Milford's remarkable biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay. In it, I found the following passage, an excerpt from a letter Millay wrote whilst judging poets for the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. It's as good advice as any for anyone seeking to promote the work of young artists of any discipline.

"Of the six writers I am recommending this year, three are
definitely revolutionists, one is definitely a classicist, one is
probably mad and the other is doubtless trying to recover from shell-shock. What
are you going to do about them?...I have come loudly out into the open, and
am running the risk of making an utter fool of myself. I think the
Guggenheim Foundation cannot properly be administered on any other terms; we may
not foster the conservative at the expense of the experimental; the solid
at the expense of the slippery; we must take chances; we must incur danger.
Otherwise we shall eventually become an organization that gives prizes for
acclaimed accomplishment, not fellowships for obscure talent, tangible
promise, probable development and possible achievement."
ESVM, 1938

If you believe art matters, it matters what you do about it. Don't be afraid of making fools of yourselves. Take risks. Otherwise, why do we bother?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

TDF and the Wendy Wasserstein Prize Administrators Are A Bunch of Lazy Asshats Who Need a Scolding and To See Some Freaking Theater

I'll be returning to my usual coverage of intense frivolity shortly, but some disturbing news on the theater front crossed the Cabinet's inbox yesterday, and I really need to expound. I mean more than I already have in the subject line of this posting.

Some background: A prize (25K) for emerging female playwrights under the age of 32 was set up in the name of the late Wendy Wasserstein to be awarded annually and to be administrated by TDF. This year, as reported on the Youngblog, there will be no prize awarded. Below I have excerpted the first paragraph (read the whole thing here) of Michael Lew's clear, sane and articulate note to Victoria Bailey, Executive director of TDF:
Dear Ms. Bailey,

I recently had the chance to review one of the rejection letters for the Wasserstein Prize. As stated in the letter, "We regret to inform you that of the 19 nominated plays, none was deemed sufficiently realized by the selection panel to receive the Prize. As a result, the Wasserstein Prize will not be presented in 2010. While the panel thought that many of the scripts showed promise, they felt that none of the plays were truly outstanding in their current incarnation." This decision can only be interpreted as a blanket indictment on the quality of female emerging writers and their work, and is insulting not only to the finalists but also to the many theatre professionals who nominated these writers and deemed their plays prize worthy. This decision perpetuates the pattern of gender bias outlined in Julia Jordan and Emily Glassberg Sands' study on women in theatre, and the message it sends to the theatre community generally is that there aren't any young female playwrights worth investigating.

That's it in a nutshell. They looked at 19 plays and have decided to withhold the prize. What the fucking fuck. As I've mentioned here before (and many of you know), for seven years I was on the adjudication panel for The New York International Fringe Festival. Each year I would look at something like 200 proposals. During the year I see countless more shows. There are armies of talented young female writers out there, I mean you can't swing a fucking cat without getting at least ten of them really fucking angry because there are so many of them that many will inevitably see you doing it. To say there are no playwrights of merit worthy of receiving the prize points more, in my opinion, to administrative malfeasance than to the lack of talent in every female playwright in the whole fucking United States of America. They looked at 19 plays. That number alone is laughable. From what I understand, plays must be nominated. By whom, I have no fucking clue, as the prize doesn't have a webpage. In fact, there is not one mention of the prize on the entire TDF site.

The best way to find worthy recipients is to, like, look for them. Give it a whirl you fucking assholes. Women artists of all stripes are treated shitty enough without a prize that was set up to promote their work insulting freaking everyone through their laziness and negligence. So woman up, bitches, and get it together.

And, everyone: Sign this petition.

Friday, November 12, 2010

BREAKING: Heidi Klum is Suddenly Awesome

As I reported at great length, Heidi Klum went to the mat supporting ever so wronged Project Runway runner up, Mondo. Part of the endless, unpleasant judges deliberation revolved around Mondo's final look: Heidi and JSimp both said they'd love to wear it, Nina hated it, and Michael sneered to Heidi [paraphrasing], "Yeah, right. I'd like to see you actually wear that dress."

Well, she did. At the premier of Darren Aronofsky's ballet/girl/horror movie The Black Swan (which I'm really excited to see). I have some very mixed feelings, though, as the contentious sleeves were removed, somewhat lessening the impact. But still. I'm really adoring Ms. Klum these days, and it's gratifying that the woman who is no doubt on the correct side of history, is keeping her word.

CORRECTION: It was actually Nina who said, "I'd like to see you wear that dress, Klum."

Here's the trailer for The Black Swan. I may even see this one in the theater.

(Photo via

Octodad? Octolove!

Okay. I don't play video games. Really. Aside from like a hidden object game in a spooky castle when I have the flu or something, it's just not something I do. Anything that happens in real time makes me super stressed out and unhappy. I'm a born planner. I loathe surprises. Please note: I am working on this.

So, we've established that video games are emphatically not on our beat here at the Cabinet.


Octopuses are part of what this blog is all about. Here's a trailer from a video game (I am so video game illiterate that I wasn't aware that video games had trailers until this appeared on my facebook wall this morning). It's called Octodad, about a father who is also secretly an octopus, and it's just the most charming thing I've seen in a long time. It's indie. It's free. And (fie!) PC only. The tag line is: Loving father. Caring husband. Secret octopus. Download it here.

Fuzzy Bastard
said it best: PC only, but still it's good to see someone drawing attention to this important issue.

Oh, just watch.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

RIP, Mr. De Laurentiis

Oh, how I love an impresario, as they seem to be a dying breed in this era of bean counters and pencil pushers.

Then suddenly (well, he was 91 and had cancer, so the "suddenly" is hyperbole. Something with which Mr. De Laurentiis was familiar), with his passing, came the end of an era. His IMDB page lists 166 producer credits covering a span of a mind-boggling 70 years. I'm pretty sure that sort of career is simply not possible in these days of bloat and turnaround. Not that Mr. De Laurentiis wasn't one of the inventors of what we now know, loathe and line for each summer as the producer of Flash Gordon, Conan: The Barbarian (starring the current Governor of California), King Kong (the one from the 70s), and Dune. So some of the responsibility for that bloat lies at his Gucci loafers.

He produced nearly every kind of movie imaginable. From one of my all time favorites, Fellini's Nights of Cabiria starring the brilliant, brilliant Giulietta Masina, Italian neo-realist classic Bitter Rice, cheapie schlock like Goliath and the Vampires (as always, I use the phrase "cheapie schlock" with love), and Barbarella. And then, in America, he continued to produce all kinds of different films, from arty prestige pictures like Blue Velvet and Ragtime to Charles Bronson fare like Death Wish to Hanibal Lecter's first outing in Manhunter. Subtlety really, really wasn't his bag. I hope his funeral will be operatic in scope. May there be vampires and gangsters and space invaders and explosions! And maybe the ghost of Ms. Masina doing a sad little dance as she smiles slightly with her wonderful clown face, as she leads the great impresario off the the movie studio in the great beyond.

P.S. In researching this I just discovered that Giada De Laurentiis of Food Network fame is his grand-daughter! Who knew?

Michael Kors Is Fucking Dead To Me and I'm Breaking Up With Project Runway: An Email in Six Fits

Dear Project Runway,

I've had a solid two weeks (Yikes!) to think about it, sufficient cooling down time to be certain that this relationship is over. Done. You have broken my heart for the last time. And most heinously, you have once again reduced this blogger to the indignity of the listicle. Below are my reasons for severing all ties.

1. I bemoaned the loss of the Magical Elves as producers when PR made the jump from Bravo to Lifetime. I suffered through the disaster that was the Los Angeles season and the boredom and pointlessness that ensued. I perked up slightly (but only slightly) when PR moved back to NYC, and Seth Aaron won. I have written before about how I don't really believe in Shark Jumping, but when the Season 8 winner was announced last week, and after listening to the judges' deliberation, I completely lost patience and interest in anything the current producers of the show are foisting on us: Tim or no Tim, Heidi or no Heidi.

2. I found Gretchen, the personality, kind of fascinating [a], albeit not in a good way. However, I found Gretchen, the designer, dull beyond imagining [b].

a. Gretchen stands as the single most unlikable reality show contestant I have ever seen. Obviously, this is an utterly subjective statement. Most unpleasant, mean or not-nice reality characters from Jeffrey Sebelia to those tramps that shriek at each other on Rock of Love to those mean and over-competitive douches on The Amazing Race, all seem like they are in some way tailoring what they say and do for the cameras. Some (like Jeffrey) have admitted that they knew this perception of themselves would make good television, so they played it up. Some of these people are just unbelievably stupid and/or very, very drunk (see Rock of Love). I've seen some express remorse after seeing themselves on TV, and realizing how awful they look. Gretchen is nothing like any of these people. She's truly awful in the way that people in actual real life are awful. The cameras, the competition, the structure of the show: none of these things seemingly have any bearing or effect on the wretchedness of the horrible Gretchen. She's narcissistic to a mind-boggling degree. When Mondo very movingly revealed his HIV positive status, her reaction was all about how great it was that she was there for it. She's the sort of blank faced, undermining bully who shrouds her cruelty in offers to "help". She has no compunction when she doesn't do well, to blame others, cry, and distance herself from the disaster, even if the disaster was entirely of her making (see: Team Luxe and the shameful behavior towards Michael C.). She's the sort of bully that is clever enough to get minions to do her dirty work (see: Ivy). She's an awful person and I almost vomited during the reunion when she cried about how America thought she was a bitch because she's a strong woman. I'm sorry Gretchen: America thinks you're a bitch because you are a terrible human being. Then there was her seeming view that showing up for the challenges (i.e. the whole point of the show) was somehow beneath her, and that this season was some sort of victory lap in which she really didn't have to try. When she said to Heidi, "I'm tired of the challenges. I just want to make my clothes.", during the judging of a challenge in which the parameters were so wide she could do just that (i.e. find inspiration anywhere in NYC. Make an outfit. This was too limiting for Gretchen, I suppose, who turned out something hideous.). By the end, Heidi clearly couldn't stand her, calling her arrogant. And then, bafflingly, she took the whole thing. See the pathetic, embarrassing damage control video Marie Clare has foisted on the word (and if there's one thing we've learned in the past week or so, it's that Marie Clare sucks at damage control). I warn you, the video is heinous and really hard to watch.

b. But, you say, this is a design competition, not a personality contest! What about the clothes? Sigh. I can say, with great confidence, that absolutely no one has been waiting for the day when earth-toned knit hot pants become available. And, in her final runway presentation, there wasn't just one pair of earth-toned knit hot pants, there were three. Before presenting their final collection each of the finalists is required to introduce themselves and their work, briefly saying something about what they have chosen to present. Both Mondo and Andy (the other two finalists) spoke briefly about their influences: their ethnic heritage, where they grew up, and very nicely thanked their parents, grandparents, etc. Gretchen simply told us she named her collection "Running Through Thunder" and was happy her Mom was there, but the clothes looked like Rolling in Baby Poop:

3. So, what about the competition? Who came in second? In a stroke of Reality TV brilliance, Horrible Gretchen was pitted against Mondo, one of the most delightful personalities in the history of reality competition shows [a], and his creativity and designs were consistently thrilling [b].

a. Mondo may be the anti-Gretchen. He seems so lovely and interesting in precisely not the way people on reality television are supposed to be. He's a tiny, shy, intense, deeply strange, Mexican American designer from Denver. Early in the season, he struggled a bit and wound up on the bottom a few times. The turning point of the season was Episode 5, where all the underdogs (including Mondo) wound up on one team, and trounced the team of previous winners led by Gretchen (the previously alluded to Team Luxe disaster). In the subsequent episode, the designers were placed in teams of two, Mondo was teamed with the cruelly bullied Michael C. In the beginning of the episode, Mondo was not pleased. He had heard from Michael C's awful teammates that he couldn't sew and was completely hopeless in every way. So, Mondo was worried about working with him, and was maybe not as nice as he could have been. But Mondo quickly realized that there was nothing wrong with Michael C., that he was hard working and nice, so Mondo apologized for his behavior (which really wasn't that awful). His apology impressed me because it seemed genuine and he didn't make a big fuss or congratulate himself or weep. He just told Michael, "I was being a jerk. I'm sorry. I was wrong." Mondo is such an odd little duck. He dresses flamboyantly (clearly basing many of his fashion choices on the Donmar Warehouse version of the Emcee in Cabaret), but his personality is not. He's quiet, intense, and a very skilled and smart perfectionist. I also love that in a flamboyant industry, working in a room filled with gay artistic types, Mondo is still a total fucking weirdo, and I say that with nothing but love and adoration.

b.This is where things start getting really freaking obvious to me. Mondo is a real find. His talent truly became apparent in the Jackie Kennedy challenge. He managed to hit that difficult to find Project Runway sweet spot: i.e. embracing the challenge fully, while not losing one’s own vision and aesthetic. This is incredibly difficult to do, and cannot be done consistently unless one both has confidence in one’s own voice, and the technical chops to realize it. His interpretation of the challenge was thoughtful and whimsical.

From that point on, Mondo started winning challenge after challenge. His clothes are beautifully constructed and tailored, combining colors and prints in riotous and exciting combinations that work and don’t look much like anyone else’s. I loved Mondo’s runway show. He utilized a Dia de los Muertos theme to great effect and I would possibly commit crimes to acquire some of his pieces (the leggings! I could die!).

4. Out of the eight seasons of Runway, there have been two winners and maybe one or two finalists whose work is truly special. Season 1 winner, Jay McCarroll, who may be the only winner in the history of reality television that after making lots of noise about wanting to work outside of corporate America, actually turned down the money rather than compromise his ideals and accept the strings that came with the 100k. It's nice to see that he's finally getting his act together and is showing, because he is very gifted. And Christian Siriano, who I found to be a little personally insufferable with his exaggerated bitchy manner and catch phrases, is really, really talented. He continuously demonstrated, that in this forum, technique counts. He was the first to admit that he had a huge leg up on the competition because he was able to sew very, very quickly. He was able to construct lovely, imaginative and complicated clothing in the time allowed for challenges, thus enabling him to make some extraordinary pieces. I really believe in technique in all art forms, it frees you up to do whatever you want to do, and Siriano was a great example of that. And then there were the winners that are, you know, fine, but not so super thrilling. Chloe Dao, Leanne and Seth Aaron seem to fall into that category. The previously mentioned Jeffrey had that one dress in his final collection that everyone remembers and was madly in love with. In other words, the judges over all did an okay job. I didn't always 100% agree, but their decisions were understandable. For example, the year Chloe won, I didn't think she was the most talented, but Santino and Daniel Vosovic both kind of choked. Which brings us back to this year's judging.

5. This is where they completely alienated me (and every other fucking person in the world seemingly). The three regular judges (Heidi Klum, Michael Kors and Nina Garcia) were joined by guest judge Jessica Simpson (who was far more articulate than expected). The four were divided evenly down the middle. Heidi and JSimp were in the pro-Mondo camp while Kors and Garcia (inexplicably) voted for Gretchen. What we saw of the deliberation was appalling. Michael Kors has lost every shred of credibility. He kept insisting the Gretchen was very "now" because hers were the sorts of clothing one is seeing in department stores. I mean, what the fucking fuck? Doesn't that mean, her stuff is, like, behind the curve? Also pointed out by JSimp and Heidi: if you're not 5'10" and dead skinny, Gretchen's clothes are unwearable. And am I wrong in thinking that when JSimp pointed out how all all of Gretchen's clothes are all so loose and baggy, the subtext was, "Um, I have boobs. Me and every other woman with boobs will look ludicrous and very, very pregnant in these hideous schmattas." And then they (Kors and Garcia) shut JSimp up by saying "read a magazine". Heidi at this point was basically raving, saying (I'm paraphrasing), "What is the point of this competition? Shouldn't we be rewarding creativity and innovation? Mondo's work is different and unique. What are you thinking? Gretchen's clothes need models and aggressive styling to look half way decent." For which I will love her forever. For going to bat for creativity and innovation in the face of Kors and Garcia literally sneering at her. And then Michael Kors intimated something that is truly outrageous. He said in response to Heidi's very valid points about rewarding talent, that there are designers in the world like John Galliano and there are designers in the world like, him, Michael Kors. He then intimated that the designers like Michael Kors are the ones to back, because more women wear their clothes. At which point my jaw simply dropped. If any of my non-fashion literate readers have made it this far, let me explain. Michael Kors is very talented. He makes nice, wearable, American sportswear. If you need a dress for your office party or some nice vacation wear, he's your man.

Which is fine, and yes, some version of what Michael Kors does is how most women dress day to day. John Galliano's spring men's collection was completely inspired by Charlie Chaplin. Below, is a lovely 40s inspired day dress (the model is styled to look exactly like Vivian Leigh). I decided to compare day dress to day dress, because if we were to get into evening wear, it would just be, um, unkind to Mr. Kors.

Michael Kors is talented. But, John Galliano is a stone cold genius, the likes of which come around at the rate of, say one or two every twenty five years. If we're lucky. It's kind of like if Dick Wolf said his work was more worthy of praise than Martin Scorcese's because more people watch Law & Order every day. This argument went on and on back and forth, with no one budging. One of the most contentious pieces was Mondo's polka dot dress. Neither Michael or Nina liked it when they saw it in the semi-finals, but he put it in his collection anyway (Heidi loved it). I sort of think they were just pissed off that he ignored them. I also think it's interesting that two weeks down the road, I can remember nearly all of Mondo's collection and all I can remember about Gretchen's is a sea of droopy brown.

And, what, you ask does Uncle Tim have to say about all this? Here is his bitchy take:

6. So what's my takeaway from all this? Why have I spent nearly two freaking weeks thinking about this? Here's why. I think the issues at play here go much deeper than an unfortunate decision on a reality television show, and as unlikable as she may be, none of it is really Gretchen's fault. When we sweep aside personalities and producers and hurt feelings, what we are looking at is a major divide in the issue of aesthetics, and more specifically, American aesthetics, and on an even deeper level, what it means to be American. Since the end of the Great War, the invention of what we call sportswear revolutionized the way people dress. There is much confusion about the name, but it refers to being a spectator, rather than one of the athletes, i.e. what you would wear to watch the Yale-Harvard game, rather than what is worn on the field. Coco Chanel famously invented the modern idea of casual fashion, but it was a group of Americans who truly ran with it. In the 30s, Claire McCardell essentially invented the American sportswear industry, making her the most important designer no one has ever heard of. Katherine Hepburn elegantly lounging around (heterosexually) in trousers, didn't hurt the cause either. After WWII, simple WASPy elegance was what classy women were meant to aspire to. The two women who most famously embody casual American elegance were Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy. Interestingly, neither were WASPs. After the tumultuous 60s ended, there was a reversion to this WASP ideal, as evinced most famously in the sportswear of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, both Jews from the Bronx. Throughout much of the past 35 years or so, this was what was usually meant in America when one referred to "good taste". Simple, chic, small breasted, white. Let me get back to Mondo. When discussing his collection both Nina and Michael touched on the question of "taste". Gretchen has such good taste. Mondo is over the top and loud and costume-y. Heidi thank fucking god disagreed and pointed out (as some length) the different ways one could wear and style many of the pieces Mondo showed. Are his clothes "good taste" in the sense that Michael Kors's clothes are tasteful (see: beige dress above)? No. He is very clear about that fact that he is inspired by many influences, including Mexican folk culture. I mean, are we really having this argument in 2010? What is good taste? For some reason this phrase is starting to sound somewhat assaultive to me. Point of fact: look at fucking Gretchen's collection. Anyone not tall, anyone not flat-chested would find all of it unwearable. Not so with Mondo's collection. If there are two words that should be banished from American fashion they are "ethnic" and "exotic", because what is usually meant by both is "not Anglo". It's just so tiresome and insulting at this point. Chanel Iman isn't "exotic", she's a teenager from California fer chrissakes. And what was so appalling about hearing this nonsense spouting out of the mouths of Michael Kors and Nina Garcia is that they should know better, they're hardcore fashion pros. European designers have been foisting their whimsical, colorful and creative garments on the world (for good and ill) for decades, if not centuries. Americans have traditionally been so much more tentative, focusing on sportswear and averages and good taste. We need an American Vivienne Westwood or Alexander McQueen or (lord help us) Karl Lagerfeld. The road to this kind of aesthetic freedom is not via the likes of Gretchen. Choosing her over Mondo was indefensible and cowardly and conservative in a way any creative industry should be ashamed of.

Your former avid viewer,


P.S. Viva Mondo!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halloween (the movie. the book. the weekend. the horror. )

This post is officially completely tardy.

Back in 6th grade, my somewhat extraordinary teacher Mr. Harrison took our whole class to see a double feature of horror movies one Saturday in October, 1980. The first feature was The Legacy (I think), as all I remember was a big fancy house, and the scene where someone got trapped and killed in an indoor swimming pool, as I found that really chilling. The second film was John Carpenter's Halloween. Let's leave aside discussion of the appropriateness of taking a bunch of little kids to a slasher movie with added bonus toplessness. What matters is the movie terrified me. After seeing it, I would lay awake in bed, thinking if I made the slightest move, something would see, and then kill me.

I've always been a big fan of exposition spewing Brits in Horror movies, from Lionel Atwill in Doctor X to Rupert Giles in Buffy, they never fail to delight me, and I think Donald Pleasance does a bang up job as the expositing shrink who runs around trying to lock up blank faced, scary, unstoppable Michael Myers. But he's not the point, the scary killer is. And there's something about the real world setting and the seeming plausibility of it (not to mention the proximity to where I grew up of the wonderfully named Creedmore Hospital - home to the local criminally insane), made this film particularly horrifying. But, I loved it.

I've already blogged about the excellent spook walk in Sleepy Hollow, and that was pretty much as scary as it got this Halloween (unless you include the truly frightening amount of gin the bartender at The Player's Club poured into our cocktails). My Major Domo and I hit as many events as we reasonably could this weekend, and you can read about our adventures here. We watched a Phantasmagorical magic lantern show, and then because seemingly me and my Major Domo control the world, three days later we saw Terry Borton, the magic lanternist we had just seen perform, on TCM's excellent documentary Moguls & Movie Stars! We are total outliers! On actual Halloween we inadvertently walked right into the Williamsburg Halloween parade as we were on our way to DM Theatrics production of Plan 9 From Outer Space. All delightful, but not exactly scary.

Mr. Harrison was an awfully unusual teacher. He was a former police officer who won the lottery and became a grade school teacher, just because he wanted to. He loved horror and magic and history and dressing up. I think, unlike my brother, I was often pretty lucky in the teachers I wound up with. He used to dress up as a wizard and perform magic tricks. He let our class hang out in our classroom during lunch and play poker. He let me write a paper on Queen Elizabeth I from the POV of a fly on her wall (literally). Sadly, he died of a heart attack two thirds of the way through the school year. To be honest, I have no memory of who replaced him (this was when all my teachers were dying of heart attacks - something like three in one year).

I also decided to celebrate this Halloween season by reading the wonderful Octavia E. Butler's last novel, Fledgling. It was an interesting take on the vampire mythos, as unconventional as possible. The terror in it came from the deep malignancy of racism and hatred, not from blood sucking fiends. She also brings up a bunch of disquieting questions about relationships and free will that are never resolved - as they shouldn't be, as with any real question, there are no satisfying answers. The vampires in her book live in voluntary symbiotic relationships with humans, from whom they must feed, in order to live. The vampires have some kind of venom which, over time, binds the human to the vampire. So, if the human is separated from his (or her) vampire they will die. If something happens to the vampire's human, they experience terrible, crippling grief. Each vampire needs several humans in order to survive, so they form little de facto families. Reading this book in conjunction with Butler's earlier book, Kindred, is fascinating, as it's the best novel about slavery in America I've ever read. He writing about this strange, unequal symbiotic relationship is riveting.

Now, as the season of horror ends, I'm moving on and reading Helter Skelter. It never ends.