Saturday, April 14, 2007

Shelliana Update

We did finally get a hold of a copy of Gothic at Seattle’s amazing Scarecrow Video. Holy Crap! This movie knocked my socks off. It was a like a ninety minute pornographic haunted house ride, thinly (but accurately) veiled as a literary costume drama. It starred Gabriel Byrne, Natasha Richardson and Julian Sands, which is so hot. This movie is made for well-read stoners (whoever they are)…I only wish I had been drinking Absinthe when I watched this. Next time.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Prepare for Glory! The feminist fangirl reviews the 300!

So, I adore Frank Miller. He is an innovator, a brilliant artist and a great storyteller. Miller’s world is highly a stylized and codified one, and when I read one of his books, I have come to expect certain things about the story I am being told. The ladies that Frank gives us are generally well muscled, well endowed, and often unclothed specimens, but I’ve always considered his mode to be tongue-in-cheek, and accepted it for what it was.

Miller tells stories in which women are often the objects, but rarely the subjects, and yet the actions of his protagonists are always, in one way or another, dictated by his women. Miller’s 300 is a story about men striving hopelessly to protect their lands and wives from pillage and rape, and the film does a competent job of bringing this to life, without really adding anything of value to the translation. The entire enterprise felt a bit joyless…perhaps because it lacked the charisma and depth which the stellar cast of Sin City brought to the screen.

So forgive me for not being delighted that the makers of the film version of The 300 chose to tack on a subplot following the homefront tribulations of Queen Gorgo, (played by Lena Heady.) Heady was extremely toned for the role and looked great in a series of costumes apparently constructed from belts and bedsheets. (After a montage depicting the training regimen required of Spartan men and boys, but no equivalent explanation for the physical perfection the women, I couldn’t help but wonder where Gorgo was hiding her Stairmaster in the royal compound). Heady’s Gorgo stoically endures a rape, the inevitability of the death of her husband and her own pending estrangement with her son. When she stabs her smarmy attacker on the floor of the forum, many people in the theatre where I was watching the film cheered and applauded; but why? What about this robotic woman could they possibly have identified with?

Ultimately the “home-front” subplot somehow left me feeling both cheated and pandered to. It added a stale second dimension to a plot that was already stretched wafer-thin by the feature-film format. This was one story that I felt was best left in the capable hands of the boys club that created it.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Random Thought About "Heroes"...

“Heroes” is a great show. Of course, most of the powers and maybe even a few of the plotlines are lifted wholesale from The X-Men…anyone who tries to tell you different is just too blinded by their own geek zeal to admit the truth. On the other hand, "Heroes" is freshly delivered to your T.V. set every Monday night, and the X-Men franchise is not. Therefore “Heroes” rules. The end.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sugar Rush

The new cycle of America’s Next Top Model premiered last Wednesday, amidst criticism that the honor granted to past winners was, in fact, meaningless, and that contestants on the show tend to fail to find the success that the title promises.

Why then do I, and educated and self-respecting woman, love this show so much? Is it because of Tyra Bank’s unintentionally hilarious narcissism? The Jays’ caustic bitchiness? Nigel Barker’s withering criticisms, delivered in his oh-so-sexy accent? No. Perhaps it is just because the show is on right before Lost? Nope. The answer is much simpler than that.

ANTM is eye candy in its most unadulterated form. For one hour pretty, pretty, girls prance around a pretty house, dress up in pretty clothes, take pretty pictures, and get in stupid arguments with each other while making mascara-stained declarations in the ‘confessional booth’ about ‘how badly they want this.’ At the end of the hour, one girl is declared not pretty enough, and is sent home.

What’s not to love? The principal of eye candy applies equally to a stupid show like ANTM and a smartly executed flick like Sophia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” (which I also adored). High culture, low culture; it’s all culture baby. So let them eat cake…just don’t come knocking on the bathroom door afterwards.


Friday, March 02, 2007

A Heads Up for Seattle Literary Types

As I was perusing the Seattle Public Library’s website today, I realized that it is once again time for “Seattle Reads.” Is it possible that it has been nearly a year since I blogged about Marjane Stratapi? Amazing but true. Anyway, this year’s book is The Namesake, and I couldn’t be more psyched about it. The Interpreter of Maladies was incredible, and I can’t wait to read Jhumpa Lahiri’s second book and hear her speak. Lahiri will be in Seattle May 14-15.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Bride

Has anyone seen a crazy-ass Frankenstein flick called “The Bride”? Cameron and I watched it last night, and its pretty wacky, but interesting. This movie, I shit you not, stars Sting as doctor Frankenstein, Clancy Brown as the monster, and Jennifer Beals as “Eva” the bride to be of the monster. Throw in a wise midget with an accent, and you’ve got one heady brew.

Basically, Dr. Frankenstein attempts, per the request of his original monster, to create a bride for him out of reanimated girl-parts. He doesn’t count on the fact that #1-The Bride will have a instantaneous fear reaction to the uncouth firstborn, causing a major ruckus which leaves his workshop in ashes, his monster hightailing it to Budapest with the afore mentioned little person, and the Bride alone with him in his castle. #2-his second creation will be a vast improvement on his first, and that he will develop a full 19th century hard-on for it.

Faced with this predicament, Dr. Frankenstein decides to mold his lovely homunculus into the “perfect woman”; beautiful, intelligent, athletic, spirited, cultured, well mannered, articulate, not to mention independent and a free thinker. Not much to live up to eh? So, when Dr. F is eventually revealed for the maniacal control-freak/rapist that he really is, and the MONSTER turns out to have heart of gold, you can pretty much guess which one Eva is going to punt off into the Venetian sunset with.

At first, I wrote this movie off as a quirky “Bride of Frankenstein” remake with a few boobs and circus freaks, (along with a dash of pseudo-feminism), stirred in for good measure. Then, in one pivotal scene, Doctor Frankenstein (here called “Charles”…Victor is the monster’s name. Must’ve been a copyright thing,) misquotes from Shelly’s “Prometheus Unbound”, attributing it to Keats. Eva, his protégé, corrects him proving once and for all that she has surpassed her creator/mentor in intellect. For any viewer who has had a survey course in the Romantics (thanks again Prof. Skarda!) this is a pretty “meta” moment.

It got me thinking. If the makers of this film had more than a passing interest in telling the story of Romantic literature itself, then perhaps this film could be read as a veiled retelling of Mary Shelley’s early life.

Like Eva, Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was motherless almost from birth. She was raised in a tyrannical household with a repressive stepmother and a father that she adored with a devotion that bordered on both the fanatical and the sexual. When young Mary’s secret liaisons with Percy Shelly became know to her father, he had a complete meltdown. Apparently Godwin expected his daughter to be both a forward thinking feminist genius (like her mother) and Daddy’s Little Princess. A bit hypocritical for a committed anarchist if you ask me, but there you have it. Mary finally eloped with Percy to warmer climes...and uh, their marriage was annulled a of couple times, but that’s another story…

Speaking of which, the next Shelly themed film of the 80’s that I’d like to see is “Gothic”, about time that the Shelleys, Byron, and their doctor spent at that Swiss villa. Netflix doesn’t have it though…thoughts?


Monday, July 03, 2006

The Feminist Fangirl In: “Escape from Persepolisopolis”

This past spring, the Seattle Public Library system sponsored a program called “Seattle Reads Persepolis,” which culminated in several appearances by the author, Marjane Satrapi. Earlier this month, I attended a question and answer session with the graphic novelist.

Of course, I had previously read “Persepolis,” but it was by sheer coincidence that, a few days before the reading, I ran across a back issue of the ‘New Yorker’, in which appeared an article by Peter Schjeldahl. This article consisted of a very odd attempt to explain and justify the existence of the graphic novel to an imagined readership of middle-aged white men.

While I won’t go on at length about the content of the article, I will note that any information about the graphic novel contained therein should be taken with a grain of salt, because the author labeled it an art form related, yet superior to the comic book, and (with this definition in mind) identified those at the forefront of the genre (Spiegelman, Clowes, Crumb, and Ware,) while excluding most of MY favorites,( i.e. those who actually seek to bridge the divide between comics and graphic novels, including Moore and Miller.

Chris Ware in particular was singled out in grandiose terms (something to the effect of “simultaneously the T.S Elliot and the Picasso of the modern graphic novel.”) Upon reading this, I responded with a slow, unbelieving “riiiiiiiight.”

Anyway, Schjeldahl had this to say about Satrapi:

“The best first-person graphic novel to date, “Persepolis” (2003), and the second-best, “Persepolis 2” (2004, both Pantheon), are by a woman, Marjane Satrapi. They suggest a number of rules for the form: have a compelling life, remember everything, tell it straight, and be very brave…. Drawn in an inky and crude visual style that is as direct as a slap, the books track her imaginings and her passions, which are wonderfully responsive, though usually inadequate to the realities of the situation...Satrapi’s unforced empathy contrasts with the self-pitying tendencies that are common to first-person comics written by men.”

In the hours before the lecture, I began formulating the questions that had been raised by these brash statements, and picturing myself posing them to Satrapi: How did she feel when the American critical establishment labeled her style ‘crude’? Was it an unfair burden to call her the greatest living autobiographical graphic novelist, particularly when this praise came attached to the idea that the quality of her work was somehow a product of her ‘femaleness’, or else her ‘eastern-ness’ which left her less open to the attacks of solipsism suffered by our garden variety western/male/comic book artist/geek? And what of the assumption about the inherent truth of her narrative, the ‘tell it straight?’ Isn’t all memoir essentially half fiction? If the memoir is political in nature, does the assumption of accuracy need to hold if it is to be considered legitimate?

As it turned out, I asked no questions, because I realized as soon as the Q and A session began, that it would be an excise in futility. I should have realized that Ms. Satrapi’s limited command of English (She is fluent in several other languages, including French and Farsi), would negate any discussion in that language of such subtleties.

I was also not prepared for the general stupidity level of the audience, which was complete with the kind of liberal twits who would goad Satrapi into making disparaging remarks about President Bush, and then treat her to thunderous applause,

In spite of this, I did enjoy myself at the event, mainly because of Satrapi’s remarkable humor and wit, which transcends language, and is conveyed mainly through her voice modulations and facial expressions, in much the same way that it is in her comics.

I came away with the feeling that the majority of the people who attended Satrapi’s lecture fell into the same camp as the man who penned that article in the ‘New Yorker’. Satrapi writes (and of course, draws) in a genre that is marginalized by the critical mainstream, even as it is consumed in mass quantities by the American public. But Satrapi, with her already marginalized (in the American imagination) identity, becomes (perversely) for these people the most legitimate of an illegitimate group of artists.

I must say, that perhaps it is this doubly outlawed status, along with Satrapi’s commanding personal presence and unique identity, that renders her appealing to me as well. Indeed, this combination of factors lends the autobiographical character that she creates an almost super-heroine-like quality. On the other hand, any comparisons to Superman (all untenable homelands notwithstanding) would land me squarely in the realm of uncomprehending white male criticism, and so I will restrain myself.

The full insanity of Schjeldahl’s article is available at