Ladies to Love

Thanks to this essay (read it, it’s hilarious), I found myself watching Teen Wolf  in the wee hours of this morning.  I’m only sort of embarrassed to admit that because even though it was pretty much what you’d expect from MTV (melodramatic music, twinks with disturbingly few facial expressions, lots of bare skin), there was one serious bright spot: her name is Holland Roden, she’s a 25-year-old TV actress, and I’m nursing a serious crush.  I mean, just look at her:


Not only is she an (okay, allegedly) natural redhead, but the girl is rocking some seriously sexy curves.  She’s smart too: she first came to L.A. to study molecular biology at UCLA but, be still my heart, graduated with a major in women’s studies.  I’ve checked out some of her interviews and she seems like an intelligent, thoughtful, and genuinely grounded individual.  As with any Hollywood/celebrity culture output, I try to take them with a grain of salt, but regardless, I love that someone is putting out messages like these (I was going to post some quotes from that one, but realized I would end up quoting the entire thing, so I’ll leave it for people to read on their own and just say I strongly encourage you to do so).

I like her character too.  She may be “the popular girl” dating the lacrosse captain, but she’s great at science and math, and my introduction to her was a conversation in which she reminded a friend to have safe sex.  In and out of character, she seems like my kind of woman.

Ratings in David Tennant “oh yes”s: show 2/5, lady 5/5

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Homeland: I’ll be Watching You

I know this is really, really belated, given that the episode in question has already aired, but I think this trailer is just brilliant.  The choice of music is just exquisite: the lyrics, the way it builds.  It’s a perfect expression of the show itself, Carrie and Brody in particular, but all of it really.  I haven’t watched the season premier yet, but now I can’t wait another moment.

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

White Like Me

I’m reading the most amazing, exciting book about white privilege and being antiracist.  At first I was somewhat disappointed in it because it seemed like it was just privilege 101, but once I got past that and into the discussion of how whites can fight racism it really grabbed me.  My mind started racing in the best possible way.

For instance, I’ve long seen how men and boys define themselves as not-women and not-girls, and I’ve seen how this limits them as they cut themselves off and deny themselves anything perceived as feminine, be it therapy or close same-sex friendships or playing in the school orchestra or making art.  I’ve never thought to apply that to other systems though, other privileged groups.  Yet here is this book, explaining how whites do the exact same thing, and its just as sad and limiting to be not-black (or not-asian, etc.) as it is to be not-female!

Mirrors by Eduardo Galeano

A history of the world according to the lost, the silenced, the forgotten, the oppressed: women, Muslims, Jews, people of color, LGBT folks, the colonized and the impoverished.  Stories that may or may not be factually correct but are nonetheless true.  History told as it was lived: fluid, messy, complicated, and often cruel.

Shame

Disgrace.  Humiliation.  Indignity.  Degradation.  Never has a movie been more aptly named than Shame.  In a sentence, the film documents one man’s compulsive, tormented search for connection.  I’ve been looking forward to it ever since I saw Hunger and fell into complete awe of Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender.  Now I’ve seen it twice in the three days since it came out in theaters three days ago and my awe has only grown.  Both times the force of it left me staggering, not the way Hunger did, but somehow in a manner equally depressing and if possible more disconcerting.  Still, there is no mistaking whose work it is.  The way McQueen uses the sound of words unspoken, a kind of blank, heavy silence only punctuated by explosions of rage and despair; despite the divergent settings, it’s the same in both.  And the settings are vastly different, not just by default either.  Hunger is all concrete walls and industrial gray-greens, dark spaces and bright white hospital sheets, whereas in Shame everything sparkles, towering skyscrapers reach for the heavens and rivers dip down to depthes unknown.  It’s a New York City movie, the kind where the city functions as almost a character in itself, the sort of film that could not be set anywhere else.  There have been several very different promotional posters released, but this one is the best in my opinion:

Image

It speaks to the unvarying presence of glass in the film, windows and screens, invisible barriers that give the illusion of openness but nevertheless are solid and impenetrable.  Their presence is no accident.

It’s the perfect metaphor for Brandon, the main character, who lives his life in such a state of profound isolation that he doesn’t conciously feel the ache of his own loneliness.  He’s like the anorexic whose been hungry for so long that she doesn’t even feel it anymore, her body has given up asking (begging, pleading) for nourishment, except what he’s starved for is connection.  In this 21st century world obsessed with replacing connection with consumption, it’s easy to see and to use addiction as a metaphor, and such comparisons are especially tempting with sex addiction. Aren’t all men sex addicts? someone invariably quips when the topic arises.  Well no, they’re not, and Shame commendably resists the urge to claim otherwise.  Brandon isn’t a stand-in for Every Man, he’s not American society distilled into a single personality, and to reduce him to that would be to do him and us a disservice.  This movie is no morality tale, no grand statement on the state of the human condition.  It’s something more complicated and in some ways difficult: a character study, no more and no less.

Sissy, Brandon’s sister, is his other half, the flipside of his coin, the physical embodiment of all the neediness and desperation for contact, for connection, he is disgusted and revolted by in himself.  She begs to be loved, almost literally at times, by Brandon and anyone else who falls into her orbit.  Brandon alternately cares for her, letting her stay with him, making sure she has money and giving her his own awkward form of advice, and erupts into fury at her.  “I don’t know why you’re so angry with me,” she tells him, but to me it felt clear enough.  When he rages at her, calls her disgusting and pathetically dependent, the projection is hopelessly transparent.

It’s never clear what industry Brandon’s in, but my best guess from the few hints given is marketing.  With that in mind, it’s hard not to compare him to another character, one who, in his own words, “more or less redefined promiscuity.”  But while Brian Kinney of Queer as Folk does his best to fuck, drink and drug the pain away, flirts with suicide, and proclaims to one and all that he “doesn’t believe in love,” his declarations never really ring true.  Even he doesn’t truly seem to buy what he’s selling.  Brandon, on the other hand, believes his own story with heartbreaking intensity and sincerity.  He seems to honestly think that sex is his salvation and that connection is a fairy-tale for suckers, and he feels betrayed and humiliated by his own desire for meaningful human contact.  The slightest crack in his façade sends him reeling into a whirlwind of rage, self-destruction and loathing, played out through a mad scramble for sexual energy in any possible form and mindless encounters with every warm body he can get his hands on, and though his partners are invariably beautiful and he is undeniably gorgeous, there is absolutely nothing sexy about the acts, not even a little.

Hunger

Who decides that 1am is a good time to start a movie about imprisoned IRA members embarking on a fatal hunger strike? That would be me.  Up until a few days ago, I’d never heard of Hunger (the story of Bobby Sands, the first of ten men to die during a 1981 hunger strike protesting the treatment of IRA members in the Maze prison and demanding they be classified as political prisoners) but once I had I was deeply intrigued, hence my decision to sacrifice a night’s sleep.  It wasn’t just watching the film that prevented me from getting a reasonable eight hours though; there was no way I was going right to bed afterward.  It felt as though images from it had been seared into my frontal lobes.  In fact, it still feels that way.  Every shot is so beautiful, so artfully composed, each one poetry, and yet their content is stomach-turning, brutally harsh and raw.  I don’t think I’ve seen anything that’s affected me this way, on this level, since I first saw Mysterious Skin.  That has a similarly explicit, unflinching take on violence, or at least one scene does.  In Hunger however, its the whole film that’s like that.  ‘Seen’ is definitely the right word too: except for one scene, it has hardly any dialogue, which is just as well since it was a real struggle for me to decipher the heavier Irish accents.  Moreover, it’s the right artistic choice.  This isn’t a movie about words; its about when words fail; when people are so ground down and silenced for so long that the only way they can express themselves is through their very flesh.  When everything else is gone, has been taken, when even the most sacred words are only so much smoke and ash (literally: the prisoners roll cigarettes using torn out pages of the Bible).

The film begins in the first months of 1981.  The first scenes are of the morning routine of a guard: he is shown shaving and washing his hands, laying out and dressing in perfectly folded clothing, eating with near fanatical neatness and delicacy, an unstained white napkin on his lap.  The only part of him that is not perfectly civilized and gentile are his knuckles: bloodied, scabbed and bruised, they give lie to his careful routine.  In contrast, the imprisoned IRA members (only men are shown, but women were participating as well) have been on a four and a half year “blanket and no wash” protest, meaning they not only refuse to clean themselves but also to wear the prison-issued clothes (political prisoners were allowed to wear their own clothes), to cut their hair and beards, or to use toilets.  We enter their story through the eyes of a new arrival at Maze.  It’s clear from the start that he knows what he is in for: his first words are a refusal to wear the prison uniform.  An administrator marks him down as non-compliant, then, without further ado, the new prisoner strips, removing not only his clothes but his markings of civilization.  Naked save for a blanket around his waist, he’s led to the cell he’ll be sharing with another IRA member.  Every surface in it is coated with smeared excrement.  Masticated food is piled in a corner.  His cellmate is huddled on the floor, wrapped in a blanket, his face almost completely obscured by hair and beard.  In the past I’ve been puzzled by the “no wash” protest; it didn’t seem like a very good way to induce sympathy and support, more likely, I thought, to alienate and disgust outsiders.  It was only upon actually seeing these images that I began to understand their implicit accusation. Look what you have done to us, they say. You have treated us like animals, taken from us the most basic elements of our humanity. Look what you have created.

It is when the two stories converge, the guard and the new prisoner, in an explosion of violent brutality, that this question truly becomes apparent: who here has really lost their humanity? Who is the animal and who is the civilized one? The guard, in his pressed uniform, shined shoes and neatly trimmed hair, dragging prisoners by the hair and bringing his baton down over and over on naked skin? Or the prisoner, naked and hairy, covered in his own bodily excretions, kicking and screaming wordlessly in fury over the treatment of his fellows and his homeland as he is beaten and violated?  Is it the trappings of modern life that make a man civilized, or is it his beliefs and commitment to his values that make him human?  In the end Bobby Sands and his compatriots manage to subjugate the basic need for sustenance, the hunger shared by humans and animals alike, to their beliefs.  Does that make them the most human of all?  Is the issue complicated by the violence these men committed, sanctioned or condoned, the ostensible reason they were  incarcerated in the first place?

These questions are played out on the bodies of the film’s subjects.  Indeed, I don’t know that I’ve seen another film where the body is so central, certainly not the male body.  I know I’ve never seen so much bare skin without the slightest, subtlest whiff of sexuality present.  Even things that initially appear sexual – an imprisoned man and his girlfriend kissing in the visiting room, a visiting wife with her hand buried beneath her skirt – turn out to be deceptive.  In reality, the man is passing a note, folded to the size of a tooth, to his girlfriend via his tongue and the wife is retrieving a smuggled-in radio to give to her husband.  Hunger for food isn’t the only bodily appetite being subjugated to the cause.  These are men and women who have devoted their physical selves to their ideals, who have come to literally embody their beliefs.  Bobby Sands, it could be argued, was literally sustained by his (he lives for 66 days without food, much longer than I’d believed was possible).  It was both enthralling and terrifying to watch, almost impossible at times, but I made myself.  If these men could live it, I thought, the least I could do was bear witness to their story.  They deserve to be known and seen and remembered.  The questions the film poses deserve to be asked and considered, must be, no matter how difficult and grueling.  The beauty of the cinematography makes what it depicts that much more difficult to watch.  The carefully composed shots invite a cold objectivity, for the viewer to step back and admire the contrast of black and tan and red without acknowledging the forms they take, a guards baton and bare flesh and spilled blood.  It’s a tempting invitation, especially toward the end when the camera lingers closely and clinically on Bobby Sands’ deteriorating body.  The contrast of the gorgeous shots and the sheer ugliness of their content is shocking and unrelenting.  I can’t say I was surprised to see them in my dreams.

“I’m clear of the reasons…I’m clear of all the repercussions.  But I will act, and I will not stand by and do nothing.  Putting my life on the line, it’s not just the only thing I can do.  It’s the right thing.” – Bobby Sands as written by Steve McQueen