Archive

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

In Storage 24 No-One Actually Screams

Image

Apart from a highly amusing scene involving a cute stuffed dog and some fireworks, Storage 24 is not a particularly good movie.  It’s the kind of unremarkable movie that you probably won’t go and see and, regardless of whether its spread of reviews is slightly below or above average (currently mostly poor), it’ll never get the marketing behind it to find an audience.  And no-one will particularly be missing out.

What intrigued me about this mostly cliched monster movie was that, despite the obviousness of the setup – people get locked in a storage locker, a random monster kills some of them and they try and escape – and notable lack of any interesting themes, story lines or visual flourishes, it still managed to break the mould of the traditional schlock horror in a couple of interesting ways.  Firstly, the main character was a black male who was not remotely stereotyped in any way, shape or form.  Played by Noel Clarke, better known as Mickey from Dr.Who, his character Charlie is very much a continuation of Clarke’s work on that show, since he’s notable only for being an average Joe in every way possible.  He’s the kind of black guy I might actually happen to meet and know rather than the socially and economically deprived problem seen in The Wire.  *shock*

The point is, for once, there’s no point.  Clarke just happens to be a good actor for the role. (I like him.  He has charisma)

Even more irrelevant is the female lead Shelley, a character with little screen presence who remained mostly unnoticed by me until she spectacularly failed to scream.  After sticking a knife into a monster, running away and holing herself up into an elevator, Antonia Campbell-Hughes plays her character as realistically tense and nervous without opening her mouth in the way I’d come to expect she would at that point.  It was a relatively successful scene and none the worse for the silence.

Both of these points are very minor and it’s not like we haven’t seen characters of these kinds in genre movies before.  British horror cinema has in fairly recent years done a good job of portraying strong female leads in quality movies like The Descent or Triangle, but this instance stuck out to me because it wasn’t self consciously about women (and the movie wasn’t self-consciously about black people as was last years highly praised “Attack the Block”).  I began to wonder if after a number of years of strong directors – from Ridley Scott to Tarantino, to Joss Whedon – making the point that women are far too strong and far too interesting as people in their own right to be routinely relegated to the scream-queen, that the message had finally started to  filter through and is starting to be applied to regular genre cinema?

– Spoiler –

Another nice, unusual, touch occurred as the movie ended.  Three of the cast survived and two of them happened to be women.  One of those women, Shelley, had been morally promiscuous enough to cheat on Charlie with his best friend, and then to leave him upset after their 5 year relationship.  Shelley didn’t jump back into Charlie’s arms after a “manly rescue” of her, she simply offered him a lift home, which he refused.  This was another nice nod towards the idea that women have a complex emotional and sexual life and are no more to blame for the tough choices in life than men are.  Shelley’s behaviour towards Charlie wasn’t amazing but she acknowledged the fault and the couple began to move on.  In this movie, for once, she didn’t have to die for being a slut.

-End Spoiler –

On a more negative note, this is an independent British cinema release and not a mainstream US production.  These attitudes filtering through to smaller movies is not necessarily indicative of a wider change and attitudes towards Black people have never beenm quite as hostile here as they have been in the States.  Regardless, it was encouraging.

Advertisements

In the Mood for Tony Leung, naturally. And other HK classics.

Sometimes I feel like I’m stagnating.  Nothing feels fresh or new and every new movie or piece of pop culture is the same as the last.  Whilst I continue to enjoy my constant headbutting with movies and literature I come away with the feeling that I’ve not challenged myself in any meaningful way.  Whilst internet communities at large will have you believe that movie-watching is purely about “having fun”, I also like to think that there’s a positive purpose to it that involves pushing the envelopes of our understanding and bettering ourselves as people.

What I’m trying to say is that I need a new project and I’ve been struggling to find something that isn’t either overtly intellectual or too trashy, since both become a little tiring if overindulged.  Today it dawned on me that for all my bluster about watching “foreign movies” I’ve slipped away from exploring new types of film in favour of catching up on Modern Hollywood classics.  Having watched and admired the duo of Come Drink With Me and Golden Swallow these last two days I felt at home with the culturally unfamiliar again.  I came across an excellent list of 100 Greatest Hong Kong movies from Timeout and was shocked at how many I hadn’t even heard of, letalone watched.  Sure, I’ve seen Once Upon A Time in China and The Killer and  In the Mood For Love and so on, but not a lot of the movies that never received arthouse attention in the west.  Westerners have a tendency to be faddy about Eastern cinema, clinging onto the genre staples and discarding the non-popular, just as we do with our own movies. It also occurred to me that I’ve dipped in and out of Bollywood the last few years but never made an effort to watch the classic staples of Bollywood cinema, so I’m going to do that too.  Totalfilm have published what I understand is a very flawed list of 50 greats, but I chose this one to watch through because it does at least dare to highlight movies from 1950-2010.  I’ll brush up on the others when I’m done.  There aren’t a lot of good Bollywood movie lists out there, though there’s a good looking book “100 Bollywood Films by Rachel Dwyer” that should help.

I’m excited by this 150 movie project because it’s going to mean a significant reduction in the amount of Western movies that I watch over the next couple of years (I’ll still be watching new releases at the cinema and I have a rom-com thing going on right now, too anyway).  It’s also going to be a challenge to get hold of some of the films and the chase is just a little bit fun too!  It’s not a feminism related movie project and I’m staggeringly not qualified to talk about the role of women in Chinese or Indian society and wouldn’t dare to.   I will attempt to update my progress and throw out some recommendations when I encounter some good stuff though!

Categories: Movies Tags: , , ,

Vampyros Lesbos: A Whole New Level of Film Snobbery?

May 17, 2012 2 comments

Sexploitrashorror!

I found this quote relating to the status of Jess Franco’s (reasonably) well known Euro-arthouse sexploitation flick, Vampyros Lesbos, buried on an IMDB message board:

This is a movie that film snobs will claim to like because of it’s “substance” Bull crap. This movie is just an attempt at titalation[sic] that falls flat on it’s face.”

It’s an interesting movie to watch because I was consciously aware of my own attitudes towards it as I was watching, given that I’m a male in a male-oriented society who enjoys gazing on pretty naked women a lot more than he probably should.. It’s probably as inevitable that any movie buff is going to eventually run into the work of Jesus Franco at some point as s/he is Russ Meyer, but equally as unlikely that the casual film viewer is going to encounter it unless – as I did when I was 16/17 – they happen to watch snippets on a late-night cable channel, inevitably getting bored when the realities of a title as promisingly titillating as “Vampyros Lesbos” can’t compare to the wondrous imagery it conjures within the imagination (pornography, soft or hardcore rarely can). Softcore sexploitation movies exist on the fringes of movie appreciation, some critics unfairly dismissing them as hollow and trashy, others overpraising them as beautiful, artistic and masterful. The above quote is a little strange since I’m not sure that there’s a cult of film snobbery around Franco’s work that’s remotely equivalent to Welles or Hitchcock and frankly I’ve never personally spoken to another film buff who rated Vampyros Lesbos as one of their favourite movies (as a contrast, Russ Meyer often gets a nod). Franco and Europeon Sexploitation movies do have a reasonable body of written work devoted to them now and interest is growing all the time as genre movies – beyond Hitchcock – become acceptable as art, but it remains a comparatively niche interest. Notably Quentin Tarantino is often cited as a Jess Franco fan and it’s not difficult to see why his movies appeal to his sensibilities.

It’s certainly true that Vampyros Lesbos does set out to titillate the viewer, so in that sense this quote is correct, but the writer also dismisses out of hand the idea that sexual titillation or titillating movies can be artistic or worthwhile on any level. It’s a sad fact that most movies featuring a level of eroticism tend to stoop to the lowest common denominator, descending to the depths of dull, routine, uninteresting film-making in order to satisfy the base desires of the market it wishes to exploit.(not that different from Hollywood then!) It’s very rare that I’ve bothered or been able to watch through a work of pornography in its entirety, even the more rated examples tend to be cinematic driftwood, and yet I didn’t find myself bored at all by Vampyros Lesbos, so it must have been doing something right to justify its position as a movie with some kind of substance beyond the titillating surface gloss. It’s probably not a “great” movie in the traditional sense of the word, it’s scrappy, messy, over-exuberant, a little silly and almost entirely without narrative sense or tension. It’s these faults that lead those looking for titillation only to think it a stupid movie because it’s a compelling central narrative that most casual movie fans are looking for. If anything, any attempt to watch Vampyros Lesbos should be made in the spirit of watching a David Lynch movie, only it doesn’t remotely come close to capturing the sense or spirit of Lynch’s twisted, bizarre dream-logic worlds.(Not that a movie made years before Eraserhead, from another culture, would be trying to, of course). But there’s a compelling consistency about the themes and imagery used in the movie that tie what we’re seeing together, and scenes of lesbian eroticism make sense within the context of the film, they’re not just thrown out there as the central focus of the viewing experience. They’re just a part of it.

Franco’s image of lesbianism in the movie ultimately falls within traditional boundaries . “lesbianism is titillating for men, but a little bit intimidating in reality” The central figure, the Countess Nadine – a lesbian who has turned from men, loathing them all because a man raped her – is a threat to the patriarchal society in which, lureing away Linda from her otherwise loving boyfriend with promises of lesbian lust and sexual abandonment. Ultimately her allure is rejected, she is killed and the threat contained, the danger of lesbianism rejected. I’ve always found it strange how men can both fantasise about and be afraid of lesbian love and this film clearly encapsulates this very classically masculine dilemma (which, isn’t to say that many women aren’t threatened by lesbianism either, or titillated by it). Yet, within the bounds of this framework, Franco still manages to question our assumptions towards what we’re seeing, driving the movie beyond the bounds of pornography, titillation and misogyny into interesting explorative areas.

The most intriguing – and erotic – moment in the movie is actually a reprise of a sequence that opens the movie. Repeating a scene that the viewer has already seen is in itself an unusual structural device, particularly within a trashy sexploitation flick, and so it’s quite clear that Franco’s intentions with this particular moment go beyond the expected and the predictable. The Vampire countess of the piece also happens to be a part-time strip-show dancer (of course! No, it’s never really explained!) and as the movie opens we see her dancing erotically with her partner, a static, lifeless model we wouldn’t believe real until she eventually moves, responding to the erotic caresses of the Countess Nadine. The intent of the opening scene is not, as it initially seems, just to show skin to the audience, but also for the audience to understand her erotic allure that Nadine has for Linda – a member of the audience – and why she is compelled to visit her on her island in ways that go beyond the classic Dracula “estate management” plot. Soledad Miranda’s performance is erotically alluring and the balance between stripshow and live sex show intriguingly maintained.

When the routine is repeated later in the film it initially feels gratuitous but it actually allow for the layers of complexity to be peeled back and gives the viewer an opportunity to understand the importance of this scene. One cannot but watch a scene such as this without thinking of Laura Mulvey’s arguments concerning the male gaze. That the sequence opens with Soledad Miranda studying her gaze in a mirror before writhing around in front of it seems particularly relevant:

 “A male movie star’s glamorous characteristics are thus not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror. The character in the story can make things happen and control events better than the subject/spectator, just as the image in the mirror was more in control of motor coordination. In contrast to woman as icon, the active male figure (the ego ideal of the identification process) demands a three-dimensional space corresponding to that of the mirror-recognition in which the alienated subject internalised his own representation of this imaginary existence. He is a figure in a landscape. Here the function of film is to reproduce as accurately as possible the so-called natural conditions of human perception. Camera technology (as exemplified by deep focus in particular) and camera movements (determined by the action of the protagonist), combined with invisible editing (demanded by realism) all tend to blur the limits of screen space. The male protagonist is free to command the stage, a stage of spatial illusion in which he articulates the look and creates the action.”1

Stop gazing at yourself in the mirror, you should be gazing at your audience…

Again, Vampyros Lesbos was made before Mulvey wrote this article, but it’s striking how cleverly this sequence questions and reconstructs Mulvey’s psychoanalytic assumptions regarding the male gaze in cinema. Certainly the gaze of the camera in this movie is that of the male and it is squarely on the female throughout, and yet, whilst the narrative of the movie conforms to that male gaze regarding lesbianism this repeated scene also asks us to question the veracity of that very gaze by having Nadine self-consciously partake in her own gaze upon herself and to ultimately show her control of it. Thus, there are several levels of gaze within this scene. The audience of the movie watching the sex-show who cannot but be hyper-aware that this scene is staged for them and not the second level, the audience within the movie who are actually watching the live sex-show (whom the camera highlights by intermittently cuts back and forth to). The rhythmic, enticing soundtrack (now considered “retro, but actually quite sultry and superb) the lighting and camera angles all markedly point out the impossibility of this scene being nearly as erotic in the flesh as it is edited through the eyes of a camera lens. Finally, there’s Nadine herself consciously watching herself in her own show. It’s the existence of this level that questions the motivations of those other viewers.

If the mirror highlights her own self-consciousness, her awareness of both her own sexuality and her allure for the multiple audiences watching her, the other trappings of the show are designed to mock their expectations. As Nadine undresses she places her clothes back onto the naked doll-like figure in front of her, highlighting the female status as sexual plaything. An obvious symbol, the doll-girl is a helpless, ineffectual part of the show there to be used as seen fit by both her partner – now, as a sexually aware female, in a position of power – and also as a piece of lesbian titillation for her audience. The big twist reveal as the sequence is re-played is that after initially kissing and caressing the girl for her audiences, Nadine lays her down helpless and rips out her throat for all to see. The audience clap politely as they would any show. The movie audience responses probably range from joy at the kill to frustration that there’ll be no lesbian sex, having been aroused by the eroticism of the dance. It’s an amazing twist, the performer, the gazed-upon , is thoroughly in control of the gaze, undermining and frustrating their expectations.

The movie is not this intelligent throughout, but it shows a level of self-awareness and more importantly an imagination and interest in the potential of cinema way beyond a casual viewer’s expectations regarding softcore titillation, beyond the natural assumptions made by the male gaze itself. I did like the film because of its substance. If it’s only sporadically intelligent, at its worst it is thoroughly well made. With sparse dialogue and haunting imagery, the movie is driven by its compelling soundtrack and a beguiling performance from lead actress Soledad Miranda, and its a perfect example of why I often seek out the unusual, the sordid and movies that are made on the fringes of popular culture. It’s also a fantastic example of how female representations in cinema can surprise you in the most unlikely places and in the most unlikely ways.

1Mulvey, Laura. “ Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/display/MarkTribe/Visual+Pleasure+and+Narrative+Cinema (accessed May 2012), 1975

Batman Returns and Fairytale Feminism : Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman Is No Sex Kitten.

Batman Returns is one of my favourite Hollywood Blockbusters. This unusual fact usually surfaces amidst conversations about “favourite comic book movies” (on and offline) during which Christopher Nolan’s recent Dark Knight efforts garner continual praise to the detriment of all else. I usually bring it up because us movie-buffs like to come across all quirky, different and smart. Generally, I find that people struggle to comprehend why I would prefer this 90s Tim Burton curio; a movie made in an age when budgets were comparatively low and the appeal of comic book franchises misunderstood by producers who would rather have been making action movies whether ever increasing explosive potential. In terms of marketability, one could argue that the Hollywood machine has improved itself tenfold in the intervening decades and it’s easy to see why Nolan’s Batman is a more appealing prospect to the casual moviegoer, delivering a much slicker, glossier portayal of the Dark Knight that’s – on the surface at least – edgier and full of the requisite action spectacle and oversized fireballs. Maybe I’m just being belligerent about this one but, personally, nothing about Nolan’s vision excites me, from the modern-day urban-grit makeover, to the facile 24 style anti-terrorist plots, to the uninspired flatly staged action scenes. According to most Batfans, Nolan’s is the best comic-book adaptation of all time, yet I can find nothing in these movies that is fascinated by its comic book sources and the films simply read to me as an uninspired extension of the Reaganite action movie, although it suffers by comparison from a lack of earnestness or gleefulness.

Batman Returns, on the other hand is a rare instance of a Hollywood Blockbuster that’s not even remotely interested in playing to type or delivering on a plate the straightforward good versus evil confrontation that would undoubtedly have been expected of it. Whereas his original, successful, Batman blockbuster had been almost entirely about Batman the hero, Batman the young boy who had to contend with and ultimately avenge his father’s death and – despite some nice touches – remains fairly sluggish, uninspired viewing, Batman Returns successfully veers off into a completely different and unexpected direction. In his own sequel Batman has to play second fiddle to not 1 but 3 other main characters each vying for centre stage. A frequent complaint of the movie I hear is that Batman is nothing but a sideshow in his own film; viewers wanted a movie about Batman and they wanted to see Batman being a hero and cool, after all we go to the movies to identify with the hero, right? In my eyes this turns out to be the movie’s major strength. Batman as a hero might be identifiable, but I don’t find him inherently all that interesting. It’s the possibilities of storytelling within his psychotically crazy universe that are interesting. Burton is clever enough to realise this and in writing Batman’s character as just ¼ of the story he’s able to give the audience a much more complex cast of villainy with a more interesting set of motivations than “they’re crazy” or “they’re a terrorist”, and more importantly he can create the space to allow that cast of villains to interact with and play off of one another. However, it’s important to note that this is not a character piece. To delve too intricately into the subconscious of heroes and villains who wear costumes, invent outlandish gadgets and conjure up nefarious schemes would be a terrible category mistake. One of Nolan’s big faux-pas is to misunderstand Batman entirely, trying to psychoanalyse him and re-contextualise him as a real world style hero, when in actual fact he’s a fantasy character who is best used representationally. For all its clever character interplay, Batman Returns sees its characters as symbols rather Freudian nightmares.

From the outset the movie signals its intent to subvert viewer expectation. Its fairytale beginnings – in which the baby Penguin is abandoned by his parents for being a grotesque, the credits rolling whilst his crib floats downstream and into the sewers where he’ll grow up – quickly give way to contrasting scenes of Max Shreck’s corporate villainy, a stagy, contrived affair that in any other film would simply be the cliched “capitalism gone bad” plotline if it weren’t for the fact that Burton uses its narrative drama to offset his other quasi-tragic-melodramtic villany, to set-up the themes of corporate patriarchy that dominate the movie, and to give Catwoman concrete motivation throughout and particularly in the climactic scene. By the time Shreck sends Selina Kyle to her first death we should realise that this movie is juggling ideas that normal blockbusters can’t manage to embody. The Penguin’s fairytale grotesquerie (I’m also tempted to read the Penguin as fallen aristocracy attempting to reclaim power), Shreck’s capitalist greed and Catwoman’s anti-patriarchal revenge narrative, three profoundly different and conflicting tropes existing side by side and vying for attention. It’s a unique and fascinating set-up since it creates a very real sense of inherent instability and chaos in a very fairytale-like surreal way, that stands in delightfully for real world chaos. Batman as hero is needed to step in, not to overcome any particular villain’s nefarious plans – the most we get there is Shreck’s doomed attempt to suck power out of Gotham with his new power plant -but to create some sense of order out of the chaos that’s created by these three confused villains attempting to exist in the same space. Of course, Batman himself is a member of the corporate patriarchy, and so, rather than seeing this as a story in which the hero will swoop in and save the day, one has to genuinely wonder if things will work out well. The movie doesn’t close with feelings of euphoria at Batman saving the day (there’s no “Gotham’s Knight” rhetoric beating us over the head), or even sadness at the tragedy of it all. Rather, the film ends with a sense of “WTF just happened?” that’s rarely replicated in blockbusters or American films in general. One is prompted not to leave the cinema enthused that Batman saved the day, or identifying with him as a great hero. One is led to ponder on his place and role amidst the chaos. I’m also prompted to think that this is why the film is still not a fan favourite.

Central to understanding the nature of the chaos within the movie is correctly understanding the role of Catwoman. Interpretations and discussions of Michelle Pfeiffer’s superb portrayal of the character tend to highlight her sexiness and guys tend to note her attractiveness as one of the high points of the film. It’s easy to read Catwoman as a straightforward symbol of “negative femininity” and her actions brought on by a rampant libido. In other words, she’s a sexed-up villainess who is there for the boys. This rather flat misinterpretation seems to have been allowed to stand as the movie faded from consciousness and became one of the less admired entries in Tim Burton’s filmography Certainly the tight black costume, the whip and the sexy demeanour all highlight that part of Selina Kyle’s character, but to read her in such a way ignores both the above context and the meaning behind her many brilliant scenes in the film.

In some ways Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal is simply iconic. Or at least it had every right to be. In one scene half way through the movie, the Catwoman signals her entrance onto the Gotham stage by terrorising a department store . “I don’t know whether to open fire or fall in love,” the overtly misogynist guards quip before being swiftly dealt with and shown the door. Following which she emerges into the street, somersaulting triumphantly into the presence of Batman and The Penguin, and mutters “miaow” before a devastating explosion brings the place down. Unlike the Joker in Nolan’s Batman, Catwoman isn’t simply out to cause chaos because she’s a random terrorist who maliciously hates the system. Catwoman’s mission may be ill-advised but it’s imbued with a certain logic; to disrupt the patriarchy that never gave her a chance. Catwoman is killed three times throughout the movie (prior to her final showdown with Shreck), each time by one of the main representative members of the patriarchy within the film.

Initially Selina Kyle is killed by Shreck.  Before that she’s belittled by Shreck after she attempts to offer a suggestion at a board meeting “I’m afraid we haven’t properly housebroken Miss Kyle. In the plus column though, she makes a helluva cup of coffee”. The film couldn’t signal more clearly its negative views regarding the traditional relationship between the typical male corporate executive and the lowly female secretary. There are quite pointedly no other strong women present either. When Shreck finally pushes Selina out of a window and to her death it’s an obvious signal that this type of oppression is intended by people like him to follow women to their grave. Another interesting moment occurs when Selina arrives home and plays her answer machine messages. She’s shown as a struggling woman trying to make a career for herself in the city and her boyfriend breaks up with her via an answering machine “Dr.Shaw says I need to be my own person and not an appendage”. A cruel joke given that Selina clearly needs emotional support and another signifier that men find it all to easy to belittle women in this world When Shreck kills Kyle – because she wanted to be part of the patriarchy – he ignites within her the desire and the ability to do something about it, but she never really grasps exactly what it is she ought to be doing and it becomes embodied in rage, frustration and a petty desire for revenge. By the end of the movie Catwoman has made it her primary goal to kill Shreck, whose macabre version of the glass ceiling she sees as primarily responsible for her inability to succeed in life.

However, Catwoman is also symbolically killed by Batman and Penguin and she certainly harbours no love for either. During the rooftop fight scene in which they first meet as enemies a brief exchange highlights the male/feminine discourse going on in the movie. Catwoman mocks Batman as he kicks her down “how could you, I’m a woman” and gets a rather undignified, typically masculine response “I’m sorry, I, I ….” Unimpressed she kicks him in the stomach and throws him over a ledge “As I was saying, I’m a woman and can’t be taken for granted.” She goes on to lose the fight and Batman rescues her from falling. It’s undoubtedly this moment that builds on a brief exchange earlier in the film, that fuels Catwoman’s personal rage towards Batman since she stabs him in the stomach as a reward. The protection of women by men has dominated Hollywood blockbusters throughout their history, but which few – even now – are prepared to tackle head-on. In Batman Returns, however, when Catwoman saves a woman from being mugged/raped, rather than graciously accepting the woman’s thanks she chastises her with an extraordinary speech. “You make it so easy don’t you, always waiting for some Batman to save you. I am Catwoman, hear me roar.” The girl looks understandably confused and distressed. Having been rescued by Batman earlier in the movie whilst simply still Selina Kyle, both these moments help us to get a picture of Catwoman’s own neuroses. Selina Kyle is am oppressed woman and Batman the hero, who saves helpless women, is part of that system of oppression and as Catwoman Kyle is beginning to understand that buying into the myth of this fairy tale hero is part of the reason she is unable to act and to take existential control over her own life. When Batman kills Catwoman at the end of the rooftop scene it embodies his failure – or the inappropriateness – of his becoming the chivalrous knight and protecting her.

Notions that Catwoman is an unbridled, uncomplicated sexpot have to be discarded when considering her scenes with the Penguin. Catwoman forms an uneasy alliance with Penguin – a character who is shown to represent unchecked masculine lust at numerous points throughout the film – in order to destroy Batman, but she’s not remotely interested in his grotesque schemes to garner power and status. She abhors wanton murder and she also abhors the wanton lust that he represents. During the scene in which the two meet up in Penguin’s sleeping quarters, she’s not only disgusted by his sexual advances but also more than capable of keeping them in check by both physically and emotionally threatening him. This leads to frustration and envy on the Penguin’s part and is the reason that he, also, ultimately “kills” her. Penguin kills the Catwoman because he literally can’t have her.

The terrific climax of the movie sees all three plot-lines coming to a head. The Penguin captures Max Shreck and releases his penguin bombs on the city in an act of revenge, since he’s realised that his “kind” will never be accepted or given political power. He simply can’t talk the talk that Shreck can (“Santa Claus, perhaps not, I’m just some poor Shmo who got lucky …” says Shreck to an enraptured audience). Catwoman meanwhile has realised that forming covert alliances with Penguin or Bruce Wayne is destined to failure and focuses her remaining energies on killing Shreck. Ultimately, Shreck’s Capitalist power-plays (involving manipulating Penguin and killing Kyle) have destabilised Gotham City to the point that not even the villains of the show can exist within the chaos that they’ve created, their only way out being their own suicide and the destruction of the orders that are repressing them. It’s Batman’s job to restore order, but he does a pretty terrible job at it. Hoping to send Shreck to prison and appease Catwoman’s feminine rage through appealing to her better nature. In the climactic scene he delivers a weighty speech and removes his mask revealing his “real” patriarchal capitalist alter-ego Bruce Wayne “Why are you doing this? Let’s just take him to the police, then we can go home …together. Selina don’t you see, we’re the same, split right down the centre” The Hollywood audience in us all expects Catwoman to somehow relent. Bruce Wayne seems reasonable. And Kyle is not ultimately a villain, and the fairy-tale ending would see her and Bruce Wayne living together happily ever after. Batman Returns, however, denies us the ending that we want or expect to see. Selina Realises that just because they’re both split down the middle, her and Batman are not “the same” Batman’s neuroses are brought on by his own personal trauma and the failures of his benevolent capitalism, Catwoman’s by the constant trauma of of the male oppression typified by those things. Batman’s persona is partly the cause. Her retort is bitter, but brilliant

Bruce, I would love to live with you in your castle forever just like in a fairytale…. I just couldn’t live with myself, so don’t pretend this is a happy ending.” After which she goes on to kill Shreck and herself. Batman’s heroism or naivety doesn’t save the situation, even though the situation has temporarily resolved itself. The closing scene, however, provides a little hope. Batman, noticing that Catwoman may be alive with one life left, asks Alfred to stop the car so that he can investigate. Michael Keaton, probably the best character actor to have played Bruce Wayne, looks contemplative as he speaks his closing line “goodwill to all men … and women”. Has he learned something?

It’s a shame that Burton never returned to the Batman franchise. I have a fondness for Schumacher’s vibrant, colourful, playful outings, but they lack the intelligence or daring of Burton’s masterpiece. Nolan’s Batman cannot satisfy in the same way. Nolan’s fanbase seem to think that because there’s terror and chaos in Nolan’s Gotham that the movie is a dark and edgy affair. Nothing could be further from the truth since, like most Hollywood movies, it seeks to put that chaos away into a box and to wrap it up in traditional and comforting types (the writing for women in Nolan’s Batman movies, for instance is particularly atrocious). Burton’s Batman Returns is a rare example of a Hollywood blockbuster attempting to push the audience to its limits and to break the mould of what characters should and shouldn’t represent. As Whedon’s Avengers has just hit the big screen, looking conventional and dull by comparison – disappointingly so by Joss Whedon’s standards – watching Batman Returns is a timely reminder of what one can achieve in this medium, if one dares.


Meta-Slash-Feminist Filmmaking : Cabin in the Woods has Lots of Gore, Boobs and Even More Intelligence

April 20, 2012 4 comments

*major spoilers*

When Tarantino was conceiving the Grindhouse project his initial idea was to write and direct a quickie slasher movie as a love-letter to movies that have influenced him over the years. His obvious recent shift in ideology and love of reconceptualising genre movies to make them politically palatable meant that ultimately he couldn’t see a way to direct a slasher that wasn’t demeaning to women and ended up completely rehashing the project into something completely different, albeit still containing slasher-esque elements.

Demmit, she didn’t get nekkid.

Joss Whedon1, another horror fanatic who has also made a name for himself overturning genre conventions and is mostly famous for being the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, perhaps the feminist genre icon for my generation, has since decided to tackle this seemingly impossible beast and has himself created a modern slasher movie with a meta textual element which serves to undercut and criticise traditional attitudes towards the slasher genre. Whedon is often referred to glibly as a postmodernist, but his work is generally nothing like Tarantino’s, a director who could – referring to Kill Bill, at least – more meaningfully wear that label. Cabin In the Woods is actually, mostly, a very traditional film in look and feel and very rarely does it try and undercut our expectations whilst we’re watching it. The premise is, in fact, laid bare from the very start as corporate types are shown very clearly to be manipulating a bunch of teenagers into a deserted cabin scenario and subsequently sending a bunch of slasher-monsters (redneck zombies, as it happens, though anyone who has seen the film knows it could as easily have been a merman!) to dispatch them in pretty gruesome ways. The corporation are ultimately doing this to avert the end of the world (naturally!) but they’re shown to be a sadistic unpleasant lot, running a book on what kind of monster will be dispatched and delighting in the scenes of death and misery that they’ve apparently become accustomed to over the years. In other words, they stand in for the viewer. 

The clever thing about this premise is that – unlike scream which just glibly reels off the rules of a slasher – it allows us, the viewers to watch a traditional slasher move through a lens which questions what’s happening as it occurs. Why are the teenagers always horny? Why do they do stupid things? Why can’t they ever escape? It’s because the movie has a director and he’s willing it to be that way. By uncovering this artifice throughout the movie, Whedon is also uncovering how sinister this set of rules is. As it happens, teenagers aren’t always horny. Sometimes they want to study. Sometimes they act sensibly, Sometimes they’re not virgins and that’s Ok and so on and so on. By showing a bunch of teenagers who are normal Whedon is also showing that the directors and viewers of American movies want to believe a bunch of stuff about teenagers that is blatantly stereotyping them in quite sinister ways. As neat as this artifice is, for me at least it ran the risk of creating a one-note didactic movie that stated the obvious to anyone who has ever seriously had a discussion about slasher movies. In that sense I may not be the target audience since 15 year olds who frequent the current round of slasher movies will be being drip fed the same slasher tropes as those who initially saw the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies so it’s an important message to get across in a fairly direct way. Regardless, I was still concerned from the beginning that the movie revealed its gameplan too overtly to be such a successful artistic statement as, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a successful deconstruction of teen, vampire and superhero stories. True enough, on a narrative level the movie is rarely surprising but as it progressed I realised that it was a roaring success anyway on the level of being a wonderful modern feminist text and in that it’s simply bucketloads of fun; in the way that Buffy is bucketloads of fun.

What intrigued me about the feminism of Cabin in the Woods is that it rarely seeks to be overtly feminist in the way that either Buffy or Death Proof are so desperate to be. There’s no female hero in this movie. If anything the female lead, Dana, is a fairly flawed character. She screams a bit, doesn’t always take control and in a final moment of weakness tries to murder one of the main characters. She’s gratuitously shown in her underwear for a cheap gag. Whedon does a very good job of making us feel, in some respects that we’re watching a traditional slasher. Yet, beyond the overtly highlighted meta-text the movie makes lovely little signals to highlight the patriarchal machinations that have always dominated the movie industry. One nice moment sees Holden uncovering a two-way mirror into Dana’s bedroom, giving him the opportunity to spy on Dana. He wrestles with his conscience as she unbuttons her shirt revealing her bra. We, the audience, realise that we’d kinda like him to go through with it (why else are we watching a slasher other than to see boobs right?) and just after he takes it too far, he alerts her to what’s happening and ultimately agrees to switch rooms. He’s not an arse, apparently. Following this, Dana in turn begins to spy on Holden and faces the same dilemma. Again, she refuses and covers up the mirror. What’s fascinating about this scenario is not just the fact that Holden is a “modern man” about it, but that Whedon shows Dana as sexually independent enough to need to have to make the same decision. Other examples include the patriarchal leering over Jules’ breasts. The boob shot we get is overtly gratuitous and naturally the audience enjoys it. The response of “score” from Hadley, watching on, makes us feel kinda pathetic. Finally Amy Acker’s character, Lin (would it be Joss Whedon without the presence of Amy Acker anymore??) underused perhaps, but as such she makes a wonderful feminine contrast to the two seedy guys running the corporate show. She still goes along with it, she’s still “evil” in the parameters of the movie, but she’s humane and decent with it and her presence serves as a reminder that the patriarchy are still dominating these kinds of shows and that women are quietly trying, but mostly failing, to change attitudes behind the scenes.

Amy Acker? In a Joss Whedon production. Surely not? The film’s main flaw is she doesn’t get to have a 1-1 smackdown with Summer Glau. Oh well, I can always rewatch Dollhouse…

There’s a lot to the Cabin In the Woods and heaps to like about it. I don’t even have space here (or a blu-ray to replay the movie) to delve into the glorious game-changing finale in which expectations are overhauled, the audiences bloodlust is truly satiated and Whedon entertains in ways that Whedon does best. It’s never overtly surprising as a movie but it is gloriously satisfying and certainly one of the best genre love-letter movies I’ve seen outside of Tarantino. On a purely formal level it’s a wonderful movie that’s beautifully paced, surprising and well put together. The balance between horror and comedy, so tough to get right, is pitch perfect and I found myself laughing and squealing in almost equal measures, sometimes – particularly in the climactic monster mash – at the same time. No scenario outstays its welcome and each moves seamlessly into the next. By the time Dana and Marty light up a joint to bring on the end of the world, in the film’s final scene, I was ready to light up and bring it on with them. It was a stupid, funny, poignant and intelligent moment and the perfect end to a crazy, brilliant movie.

After the relative failure of Dollhouse (A show that was sporadically brilliant, but pulled prematurely and artistically never able to stretch its legs) and the falling through of the Wonder Woman project my concerns that a Whedon project would never again be as relevant in the industry as when he created Buffy (and to an extent, Firefly/Serenity) have been laid to rest. As a fan of Whedon, feminism and genre subversion I was delighted that this movie lived up to the expectations I always have for a new Joss Whedon project. What’s more, with the critical lauding the film is getting it seems clear that this is going to be an important and defining moment in slasher movie history.

I haven’t even mentioned how fucking great Fran Kranz was.  Or the zombie arm.  Or the Merman.

1 Drew Goddard did, of course, direct this movie which was co-wrote and produced by Joss Whedon. I’m making a horrible assumption that Joss Whedon’s input into this film was pretty large. It feels like a Joss Whedon movie. I’m sure this a huge unfairness to Drew Goddard who has done some stellar work on Buffy, but I’m not going to continually write Goddard/Whedon but continue to refer to this as a “Whedon” movie. Equal credit must certainly be given to Drew Goddard for this, however.

Categories: Movies Tags: , , , ,

My Film Snobbery : Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Time-Out Top 100 List

March 30, 2012 3 comments

Image

It’s been about 8 years since I made the decision that I wanted to try and be a film buff, and that as part of this I would make an asserted effort to watch through The Time Out Critics Top 100 Greatest Movies.  Today I finally watched the last movie I had left on the list, Tarkovsky’s “Mirror” and it feels like an end of an era for me.  I’m thrilled at the completion of something that turned out to be, for  a multitude of reasons,  much harder and lengthier than I’d originally anticipated.  To mark this momentous occasion I thought I’d briefly share something about what watching through the list has meant to me and how it relates to my appreciation for film in general.

Pretty much everyone that I know loves watching film and most people I speak to consider themselves to be some kind of a “film buff/ film fan”.  Everybody seems to think that they, personally, have the best taste in film.  These days I find this attitude to be more than a little tiring and it makes for very frustrating conversations as I repeatedly get chastised for my eccentric taste.  People rarely take the time to understand why I might like or dislike something; rather, they play the subjectivity card and go away thinking that I’m all talk and stupidity, at best saying what I do mostly for controversy and effect.  It’s annoying because I have generally thought through my opinions on movies and generally don’t say things that aren’t backed up in some way.

Watching film is one of my main hobbies.  There are few areas in life that one would claim to have knowledge or understanding of a subject they’ve not sought to gain any in whether it’s something complex like Medicine, skilled like Car Mechanics, Academic like History, or a hobby such as birdwatching or knitting.  I don’t and never will consider myself to be some kind of expert in movies (my breadth of reading on the subject is appalling) or the last word in what constitutes “good taste” but since it’s a hobby, I have an arrogant view that I’ve seen an understood more about movies than someone who enjoys the occasional action film or rom-com with their girlfriend.   At some point I began to recognise that if one is going to speak in any meaningful way about what constitutes a good or a bad movie and why, one probably needs to have seen and understood a lot of movies that are generally considered to be “good movies”.  The majority of people I talk to about film and film taste have seen very few of the movies on this list, and when, by chance, they happen to have seen the odd one (generally 2001, or Singin’ in the Rain or Citizen Kane) it’s by chance and with no consideration when watching it that it is “considered” to be great or why.  Worse, I’ve had multiple conversations over the years wth people regarding Citizen Kane’s status as “the greatest movie of all time” whereby I have been informed that the movie is “boring” and that these people who call it great don’t know what they’re talking about or just happen to be boring people.  The conversation eventually swings back yet again to the ultimate subjectivity of taste, the greatest refuge of the ignorant who would rather indulge his or her own whims than grapple with the idea that, even if some of these movies aren’t as amazing as the hype has led us to believe, they’ve been called “great” over the years for a reason by people who have made it their life to either make films or to endeavour to understand them, how they are made and why they might be thought compelling. (Some people, at this point, might be compelled to wax lyrical over how these great movies enlighten us on the nature of the human condition.  I’d rather say that they’re simply “intelligent and thought provoking” in one way or another)

Image

I don’t expect everybody to enjoy film in the same way that I do, or really care all that much if they get their kicks from watching a Michael Bay or Paul WS Anderson suckfest, but I do find conversations regarding the subjectivity of taste to be circular and dull.  Yes, ultimately I do believe that taste in movies is “subjective” but only within a context of film understanding  and an appreciation as to their place cultural significance.  In other words, one cannot simply watch diet of mainstream Hollywood movies and then assert that “Godzilla” is a good movie because they enjoyed it, but that “Citizen Kane” is a bad movie because they found it boring and turned it off after 20 minutes. (this is a real opinion)  This is not taste; this is wilful blindness to the potential of film as an art form.  If you can’t find one interesting thing to say about Citizen Kane, you clearly don’t like film.

I decided that, at the very least, I would develop an understanding and appreciation of what is considered to be great in film, partly because I had some friends who were film enthusiasts and film students (and have been very enthusiastic and inspirational over the years)  I never expected to like film half as much as I do now.  Before undertaking this project I’d watched a lot of Hollywood dreck, from American Ninja and Steven Segal, to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Armageddon and I’d generally enjoyed it all.  I’d watched Godard’s Breathless and Fellini’s 8 ½ and not understood a word of them, and I’d equally been quite indifferent to Citizen Kane.  I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter.  In other words, like everyone in the world, I enjoyed watching movies and talking about movies, but I had no conception that movies were really, really amazing until I watched through this list.  As such I’d say that it’s one of the best projects I ever undertook.  I now can’t survive without a steady diet of arthouse, European, HK, Bollywood  and subtitled film alongside silent, Classic Hollywood and modern indie and mainstream movies.  And I can’t really understand how anyone else can either.  I’m always thinking about what film I want to watch next and overwhelmed by the thought that I can’t watch them all.

Other film-buff wannabes, in my opinion, tend to go down the wrong route when they start similar projects.  The AFI Top Hundred list, the IMDB top 250 or some list of Empire’s Greatest Movies are all too enticing routes to go down, and they’re attractive to people because they offer so much that is  familiar.  Spielberg, Scorcese, Coppola and many other big Hollywood movies always feature prominently with only the occasional off the beaten track pick as well as some Hitchcock and Citizen Kane.  The IMDB list is filled out by what is popular with punters rather than what’s good and that’s a huge flaw (The Shawshank Redemption is currently no.1, a shockingly appalling pick by any standards.   I ultimately chose this Time Out list because, firstly, the TimeOut film guide is an excellent and well-considered resource, more informative than any other of its kind and secondly, because I didn’t actually recognise most of the movies that were on it.  It wasn’t a list incorporating E.T, Raiders, Shawshank, Terminator 2, Die Hard Back to the Future and other childhood nostalgia favourites, it was a list of movies that would most likely be alien to me, demanding and confusing.  It was a list of movies that would make me work to understand them (whereas most Hollywood movies seek to alleviate you from doing that work) and most importantly, it was a list that would hopefully open my eyes to a world of cinematic styles that I was completely unfamiliar with.

To be honest, it hasn’t been an easy journey.  I haven’t loved a lot a lot of the movies.  I’ve passionately hated a good few of them (None moreso though Douglas Sirk’s dull, reactionary melodrama “All That heaven Allows”) and others I find just plain dull.  I still don’t like 2001: A Space Odyssey.  But at least I’ve sat down and asked myself why I don’t like 2001.  I’ve taken it apart and looked at how the film works on a technical and narrative level, and that was fun.  At least I know that abstract, esoteric movies like The Colour of Pomegranates aren’t for me.  At least I could theoretically engage with someone in a conversation about the importance of Robert Bresson’s cinema or why Satyajit Rayis considered to be an important figure in Indian film.    At least I’ve learned something interesting about my own taste.  It’s also been a difficult, slow journey because some of these films have been so hard to find.  Greed, Napoleon, The Colour of Pomegranates, Earth, all took me years to track down; but that in itself has led me to question why such “greats” are unavailable now (and to lament the unavailability of the full cut of Greed, which would undoubtedly a magnificent thing to see.)  It’s been quite exciting to finally find them and only disappointing in the sense that they could never be as great as I’d have liked, having hunted them out for years purely because they were on the list.

Image

Yet, there have been so few movies that I’ve actively disliked and so many that I’ve loved and have gone on to become my very favourite movies.  I won’t forget first watching Kurosawa’s Ran, Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy, Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West, Melville’s Le Samourai, Resnais’ Last Year in Marienbad, Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Blade Runner, Seven Samourai, Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Taxi Driver, Pierrot le Fou, Blue Velvet, The Third Man and so on and so on.    I’ve learned that I love Humphrey Bogart, Anna Karina, Marilyn Monroe, Toshiro Mifune, Robert De Niro, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin and Juliette Binoche.  I’ve appreciated a range of cultural perspectives, discovered that film styles have changed across time and place and I’ve found that a shot held for 5 minutes can be more thrilling than one that changes every 5 seconds.  I’ve found that stories can be immediate and they can also be esoteric.  There’s a thrill in an idea being in your face, but it’s also fun to not understand, but to contemplate.  The greatness of a film can hinge on a great acting performance (Marlon Brando, anyone) or terrible actors can be used as icons for presenting great ideas (John Wayne, anyone?)  Films can be linear, but they can also make no sense.  Some are political treatises, some commentaries on narrative.  Jean-Luc Godard exists in his own fragmented, politicised universe and that makes him wonderful.  Kubrick channels all the pessimism and cynicism of our universe and that makes him wonderful.    Hitchcock seems to completely reflect our universe through mainstream movies and that makes him wonderful.  I’ve learned that a beautiful shot can speak 100 words of dialogue, but also that 100 words of well-written dialogue can say as much as an apparently beautiful shot.  I learned that the final shot of 400 Blows says more to me than five years worth of Hollywood Blockbusters.

Most of all I learned that sharing a great movie with a loved one is the most precious experience you can have.

All of these movies put such a huge smile on my face in ways that modern mainstream movies had failed to do for years and I finally realised that our cinematic past was every bit as rich and exciting as our literary past.

Image

Yet, it’s amazing how unpopular liking foreign and art house film can make you.  Accusations of snobbery at the hobby abound, and people really don’t like you to say that you feel your favourite film is better than theirs when they’ve never even heard of yours, it’s in black and white, or it has subtitles.  In fact I generally dread being asked what films I like or what my favourite movie is.  I’ve never seen it as snobbery though, I see it as passion and passions should really be shared.  It’s not snobbery to want to tell people that these films are great and that if they watched them or knew something about them and understood them, then maybe they’d find them great too.  It’s not snobbery to say that film can be about more than a cheap thrill or a CGI fix and that there’s as much pleasure in trusting a movie to reward you if you’re patient, think about it and let a director tell a different kind of story in a different way to what you’re used to.  The magic of cinema for me is that you never know what you’re going to dig up next, not digging up yet more of the same.  I love finding movies that are new and exciting.

I have intellectual issues with the idea of canonicity and “greatest films” lists and I do believe in the subjectivity of film taste and that movies should ultimately be understood in the context in which they were made.  But I still had a fantastic time exploring the supposedly “greatest movies ever made” and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that anyone else do the same and to go on and seek out more unusual films from more cinemas than just modern Hollywood.

Categories: Movies

Brief Thoughts: A Lifestyle Too Extreme – Glee’s Rocky Horror is Censorsational

May 31, 2011 1 comment

Brief thoughts on the horror of watching Glee’s Rocky Horror.

I remember watching The Rocky Horror Show when I was around 13/14 and simply having no reaction at all to what I’d seen. it seems wholly possible to me now that my brain simply deleted parts of the movie that it couldn’t process leaving behind a few good memories of the Time Warp, Meatloaf and Susan Sarandon in her underwear. In hindsight I’m surprised that I handled the thing so well and surprised that my parents allowed the experience. Despite English suburbia not being the most progressive place to grow up I’m grateful my background allowed for it.

I didn’t see the film again until I was 25. I fell in love with it’s vibrancy and the sheer joy in the material, despite what I initially read to be a wildly confused subtext regarding gender and sexuality. The problem was – or so I initially reasoned – if Rocky Horror is basically a comedic riff, or love letter to old sci fi B movies, and if it following the same conventions as those old B-movies. Frankenfurter, loveable transvestite though he is, is still the bad guy and Riff-Raff ultimately kills him off after he’s corrupted the heroes Brad and Janet by introducing them to a world of “deviant” sexualities (including crossdressing, bisexuality and orgies). In other words, I felt the film still fell into the queer evil guy trope. However, there’s something about the movie and its creator Richard O Brien – who has himself struggled to come to terms with his own gender identity and now identifies as third sex- that suggests the movie’s narrative is as joyfully subversive as it’s meant to be on the outside, and its only after repeat viewings that I’ve come to appreciate the fact that audience response and reaction to the film (and even moreso the stage show) is paradoxically as defining facet of its textual identity as the actual text itself.

Yes, America finds this offensive.

Audiences are notorious for participating in the experience of Rocky Horror, from dressing up in overtly sexual costumes that break down gender boundaries, to yelling out obscenities the entire way through; after a slow start the film became the biggest movie of all time on the cult midnight movies circuit and the Show has become a phenomenal success. This experience would hardly have been possible had the narrative lent itself to the obvious conclusions of my initial reading. Rather than become the cult, queer classic that it has, Rocky Horror would be the best friend of the conservative wing. It’s a very strange phenomenon but there’s something so powerful about Tim Curry’s entrance and something so cinematically unusual about seeing him strut his stuff in corset and suspenders with such confidence (and lack of prejudice) that despite the fact that, as an audience we know that Brad and Janet are the hero figures, our empathy switches straight to the villain. Any viewer with queer sympathies instantly wants this man to succeed (and “wants” him aswell, I imagine), since he’s so exciting and so honest, whereas Brad and Janet seem so plain, dull and annoying. As Brad and Janet fall under his spell during the course of the movie it’s pretty easy to agree that they’re better off for having discovered a new lifestyle. When Riff Raff shoots him, singing the words “your mission is a failure, your lifestyle’s too extreme” the captivated audience can only agree that the rest of the world probably isn’t ready for this, and that’s why he had to die.

Glee’s tribute to Rocky Horror goes a long way towards proving the point that, 30 years after it was made, Rocky Horror still encourages lifestyles that are too extreme for American audiences who will no doubt cite its “adult themes” as reason to keep it from primetime TV. Not a reason that ever kept Jack Bauer’s insane right wing violence and extreme behaviour off of our screens, but then again, that wasn’t liberal-sexual behaviour. It’s in-fact quite hard to see what prompted the decision of Glee’s creators to even tackle the show, since they clearly knew that censors would come down on them so harshly. During the show there’s a lot of talk about censorship and cuts and Sue Sylvester joyfullfully condemning the Glee club’s production of the show, but ultimately the schizophrenic episode sees Will Schuester agreeing that it was a terrible and inappropriate idea. There’s heaps of embrassment surrounding the production of the show, in particular adult/student interaction and students stripping down to their underwear, and none of it is made up for by a multitude of speeches about “being part of a community of outsiders” or repeated soundbytes about the importance of artistic expression. The problem is, the show tries to complain about this on the one hand but takes away from it on the other by conforming too wilfully to some of the most outrageous censorship I think I’ve seen. This takes place on two fronts that are both silent and aggressive.

Not quite the same….somehow.

Silently) What’s strange is that Kurt, the openly gay character who deals with issues surrounding his sexuality every week is muzzled during the Rocky Horror production. Frankenfurter is, of course, clearly bisexual and one can only assume from this that showing a camp gay character is Ok providing he’s quite clearly camp (and not infectious), but showing something on air that seemingly promotes bisexuality i.e. having sex without conforming to a well known stereotype is seen as very dangerous. The episode sidesteps this by not even discussing the sexuality of the piece, merely mentioning once or twice that it has “adult themes”. Those that don’t know would just presume it’s the fact that there’s a bit of nudity.

Aggressively) Frankenfurter’s now very famous entrance number “Sweet Transvestite” is sung by Mercedes, who happens to be a girl. Not a male transvestite. The director throws the audience who might care a quick bone by way of a reaction shot of extreme horror from Will when this decision apparently goes through over his head. It’s not nearly enough though and what should have been the highlight of the episode becomes a thoroughly conservative and boring rendition of the song without joy or abandon, and even has lyrics like “transexual” replaced by “sensational”. Amber Riley sings very well but this is the worst piece of miscasting since….forever, and I felt acutely embarrassed watching it.

Even though the episode wasn’t all terrible, I’ve never appreciated Glee less. I forget what a dull, normative world TV can be sometimes but it’s doubly sad when shows that I look towards to push boundaries, like Glee, come crashing down under the thumb of censorship like everything else.

%d bloggers like this: