Something That Makes Me Smile

A Beginner’s Guide to Sherlock Fandom

Here that, Supernatural and Teen Wolf and Inception and Thor and Suits and now Skyfall and…?  This is why I avoid you on the internet. And even though I enjoyed you, X-Men and The Avengers? It’s getting a little boring.

Rating in David Tennant “oh yes”s: 4/5

The Living End

That was fun, or something like it.  A boy-version of Thelma and Louise, but with HIV and actual (as opposed to implied) sex.  This was the third movie I’ve seen directed by Gregg Araki and it feels like a link between the other two, The Doom Generation and Mysterious Skin.  I saw the later first and when I saw the former I could hardly believe they were spearheaded (not just directed, but produced, filmed and written/adapted) by the same person.  Mysterious Skin is tender, ethereal and heartbreaking; The Doom Generation over-the-top, in-your-face and decadently raw.  This one though, it’s got elements of both.  The camp, apocalyptic nihilism of The Doom Generation and the ruined, desecrated beauty of Mysterious Skin.  Part of the that beauty, though not nearly all of it, is in the two leads, who’re almost too picture-perfect at times.  It’s easy enough to see that Araki started off making porn, even though this movie’s actually fairly cautious, despite all its jagged edges, about actually showing skin.  What it does show glows; at times the sex scenes seem like they’re part of a different film altogether.  They don’t seem to belong in the story of a love triangle between a film critic who learns early on that he’s HIV positive, a mad drifter first seen spray-painting “fuck the world” across a parking lot and who is positve as well, and a gun; or, if you prefer, between a lost boy, a mad man, and death.  It’s not exactly subtle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It felt strange to me, watching this movie from nearly 20 years after-the-fact (it came out in 1993).  In some ways the world it inhabits is utterly foreign, in the way it always is in old movies (who was it who said the past is a different country?).  The markings of culture are all so topical and transient: the bands, the fashion, the conspiracy theories, the chest hair. Chest hair, and on a gay guy! When was the last time you saw that onscreen?  Yet in some ways this particular past-world is distinct, a bizarre and unlikely time, unique in its contours, limits and boundaries: it was after the discovery of HIV and the invention of the first antibody tests but before any treatment existed.  A time when deciding whether to get tested was a more complex, multi-faceted and personal choice, and coming up positive meant existing in a kind of limbo, not knowing if death was just around the next corner or years away.  That kind of uncertainty could (and will) drive a person to the edge of madness, and that’s where this film takes place.  That edge undergirds the entire story in the form of sheer energy, a ragged rage and raw fury that pulses and throbs with increasing urgency beneath every scene.  It starts when the film critic’s doctor tells him he’s tested positive, and his best medical advice is basically “good luck,” and it builds from there until the film climaxes in what might be the most epic threesome in cinematic history.

It’s hard to put a word like “good” or “bad” to a movie like this.  Honestly it seems beside the point, and almost insulting besides to try and fit it into that kind of paradigm.  It’s a movie to see more than once, to dwell on, and to let stew in the back of your mind and the pit of your stomach.  It’s dense and tightly-packed as a seed in early spring, near-bursting with life, and I think its worth it to plant it in your gut and see what grows.  Or explodes.

Wild Flag

Lately they’re all I’ve been listening to.  I’ve had the tracks “Electric Band”, “Romance”, and “Future Crimes” pretty much on constant repeat.  The best way I can think to describe them is a combination of Patti Smith, The Clash, and Green Day, which is also, incidentally, how I would probably describe my dream band.  Strong, catchy melodies, smart lyrics,  dance-able but with an intimate knowledge of rocking out.  The fact that they’re all female is just icing.  So yeah, they’re amazing. Check ’em out.

“I Dreamt the Snow was Burning” by Antonio Skarmeta

Is that not the best title you’ve ever heard? I’m just totally enchanted by it, even more so now that I know where it comes from: a Chilean folk song. If you’re interested, you can listen to it @http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IStkuzilAQ.  I haven’t been able to find the full lyrics, but the section the title comes from goes:

I dreamed the snow was burning,

I dreamed the fire froze over,

And dreaming impossible things,

I dreamed you were my lover

So it’s not only a beautiful turn of phrase, but also fitting, because ultimately this is a book about impossible dreams.  For Arturo, the closest there is to a main character, that dream is to become a famous footballer and lose his virginity (he manages one out of two, but it isn’t as he’d hoped).  For those around him, and the author himself, the dream in question is a democratic Chile, ruled by and for her people, a place where workers own the means of production and community centers are full of blistering political arguments. The book takes place in the last days of democracy in Chile, before the military seized control in what I’m guessing was the early 70’s based on the football references. (Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Chile beyond the fact that it was briefly democratic before turning fascist under a military dictator who turned the national football stadium into a prison camp/torture center).  The last days of life in Chile, a poet might say; that’s certainly the way it comes across.  At the risk of sounding cheaply sentimental, all these beautiful people, full of hope but hardly naive, arguing over Lenin and Socialism, boisterous as a spring day and believers, every one.  Yet a shadow looms, of course it does, in the form of Arturo’s humiliation in the match of his career, taking place at none other than the previously-mentioned national stadium.  When he makes “contact with the ball, bringing it to earth with a blow of his boot which to many sounded like a corpse being thrown into a grave,” it’s foreshadowing at its most chilling.  So I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the novel ends with the roar of tanks and the spit-fire of machine guns, doors kicked in and new martyrs with slogans half-spoken on their lips, the-people-united-can-never-be-defeated, an awful ruckus of shattering like I’m sure I’ve never heard, and then, in the end, silence.

“Whip Smart” by Melissa Febos

Finishing a book can feel like losing a friend.  This one certainly did, though I didn’t start off expecting it to do so.  Early on I took it as sensationalistic, pornographic popcorn. It is about a professional dominatrix after all, and there was a certain amount of salacious exposition.  Then it started making me really uncomfortable; all that kinky sex with no feeling behind it, shrouded in shame and revulsion.  All those women going through the motions and all those men digging ever-deeper into the taboo, trying to find something that would cut deep enough to bleed.  None of the trust and mutual care that I’ve always seen as the heart of BDSM.  Not even any shared or compatible desires.  In the scenes described, the women who were ostensibly doing the dominating were in actuality no more important than the handcuffs or any of the other props.  It was honestly nauseating and I almost gave up on the book.

I want to emphasize that it wasn’t the kinks that bothered me.  It wasn’t the idea that New York City bankers and stockbrokers have some truly bizarre fantasies and turn-ons.  That was hardly a surprise.  What made me squirm was the lack of emotional involvement, on both sides.  Where I come from mentally, culturally, intellectually and sexually, BDSM play is an emotional interaction as much as a physical one.  It’s about trust and respect and showing care for another person, accepting them with all their quirks and flaws and needs, even if only for the duration of the session (I once read it described as “sugar coating for trust,” an apt description if I’ve ever heard one).  That’s what I like, the give-and-take, the primacy of negotiation, the compassion and empathy required to seek out another person’s empty places and try and fill them as best you can.  It’s not that I think BDSM should only happen in the context of committed romantic relationships.  It’s not even that I have a problem with the idea of exchanging money for BDSM sex; but I do think that it should take place in a context of mutual respect and care.  I guess what it comes down to is that, while I don’t mind the idea of someone being paid to play, I hate the idea that that is the only reason they are doing it.  As for the other side, the person paying to top or be topped, I find the idea of them treating the session like a candy bar purchased from a vending machine abhorent.  At its most simplistic and basic, this is the same problem encountered by service sector employees and consumers in all industries.  It’s the reason a meal cooked by a loved one tastes better than one purchased in a restaurant, why handmade crafts cost more and service sector employees are told by their bosses to smile no matter what.

But people who sell BDSM experiences do something a whole lot more intimate than people who wait tables.  Good BDSM, as I define it, requires vulnerability from all participants, and that’s not going to happen if one person is watching the clock and the other is worried about getting their money’s worth.  And if it’s not good, the next natural question is, is it safe? Maybe, maybe not. Physically it might be, but emotionally? Febos finds that once she quits drugs, once she’s no longer using heroin and/or cocaine to get through her session, they become nearly impossible.  Without a chemical buffer between herself and the emotional barrenness between her clients and herself, the work becomes intolerable.  Upon reading it, I could hardly get over how much sense that makes. Of course being truly present during her sessions was devastating and nearly traumatic.  No wonder she was shooting speed-balls in the employee bathroom.

Eventually, the book turns into a straight addiction/recovery memoir, which at first I was prepared to be bored by (if you’ve read one, you’ve read ’em all), but then…I don’t know, there’s just a truth to it, a clear beauty or a beautiful clarity to the level of insight and self-awareness present.  Febos ability to articulate the minutia, the minute-by-minute changes and tiny but life-changing epiphanies that make up a recovery was a pleasure to read.  Finishing something is always satisfying, but I’m going to miss this one.