Monday, November 28, 2011

LA's One Story

The other night I had a really weird dream that I was watching Tom Petty videos on Youtube and in doing so learned that he had been making music since the early 1900s. Like, since 1908ish. Inspired by my dream and wanting to reassure myself that Tom Petty was not the 150-year-old inventor of Youtube, I looked up some Tom Petty videos, and while watching this one, "Into the Great Wide Open," I was reminded of how it can seem that Los Angeles only has one story: the famewhore cautionary tale.

Johnny Depp, the weird Mad Hatter all comes together.

And if reality TV and its casualties are any indication, it's not a tale we're absorbing on a personal scale. Hollywood keeps screaming, "Don't come here! Do you have any idea what will happen to your humanity? The things you'll do? I mean, sure, the drugs and money and fame are great at first. And the sex and the mansions... But seriously, don't!" I mean, does anyone get to stay happy for long in LA? Outside of the characters of Clueless?

Norma is perfectly happy, thank you.

But the cautionary tales don't stop anyone. No one believes that they're going to be the next plastic surgery laughingstock or wind up a bitter and forgotten former star or commit a crime no amount of re-imagining can erase. I'd like to think that I, a mousey, jaded, boringly square NorCal girl would be "above it all," but if I moved there, I still might end up blonde, coked-up, and DD in a few months.

This is just a misogynistic stereotype, right? Right?

Of course, the rise and fall of a person by their ambition is a classic story, and one not limited to LA by any means. Johnny Depp's young rocker in the above Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers video could have just as easily been (with few costume and set changes) Lucien from Balzac's novel Lost Illusions. Fellini's La Dolce Vita reminds us why "paparazzi" is an Italian word. And just as this story isn't limited to LA, LA isn't limited to this one story. There's plenty going on in the city and surrounding areas (I assume - again, NorCal girl here) that doesn't have to do with the crushed dreams of (mostly white) wannabe stars. However, the quest for fame and fortune is as quintessentially Hollywood as it is quintessentially human. And since this quest in Hollywood has its own brands of glamor and danger, it's especially alluring. But just because it's a story that's already been told doesn't mean writers can't retell it their own way. And damn, no one does it like Lynch.

No one.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bad Bromance

Loving the newest Hark! A Vagrant comic from Kate Beaton. It is all about that most epic and homoerotic of relationships that has captured the fancies of ancient Greeks and modern fangirls alike: the hero and his arch-nemesis. In this case, it's a pirate and dashing naval officer. Adorbz!

And there are so many great bromance/frenemies (brenemies?) out there, ranging from pretty-much-BFFs to what-subtext-I'm-going-to-kill-you: Sherlock Holmes & Professor Moriarty. Jean Valjean & Inspector Javert. Professor X & Magneto. Batman & Joker. Peter Pan & Captain Hook. Johnny Weir & Evan Lysacek. Black Spy & White Spy. In the ladies' corner, I can really only think of Elphaba and Glinda off the top of my head, though I'd love to see more. 

 Don't worry, Moriarty. Fangirls will draw you sexxxy, unlike buzzkill Sidney Paget here..

There's something very reassuring about these long-lasting fictional relationships. They need each other. Batman can only use his advanced weaponry to harass citizens about parking tickets for so long before he looks like a jackass. Heroes can be timelessly earnest (and a bit boring), while villains can bring on the subversiveness. There's that opposites attract, two-sides-of-the-same-coin allure. Plus, simply by hanging out together (if "eternal war" equals "hanging out") for so long, there's a sort of camaraderie. After this many damn years, Ash might as well be a groomsman in James and Jessie's wedding if they decide to make it legal. Even if we can't imagine all insurance company executives or Syrian riot police suddenly turning good, we can imagine a truce between a few fictional people we've come to love, and that gives us the warm fuzzies.

Speaking of friendship, the film adaptation of Shakespeare's obsessed-enemies-turned-allies play Coriolanus is coming out in January (and you can read the LOL version here). The trailer makes it look like Vladimir Putin/Fidel Castro slash fanfiction starring Voldemort as Coriolanus and the "this is Spartaaaaa!!!" guy as Aufidius. Will it be good? It seems hopeful so far (and the movie's modern twist is certainly timely, with all the unrest going on across nations), but really, I will watch just about any Shakespeare adaptation anyway.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Notre-Dame of Paris: Don't Be Intellectual, Disabled, or Female in the Middle-Ages

To my friends and family who heroically put up with me while I was reading Notre-Dame de Paris Notre Dame of Paris The Hunchback of Notre Dame: my apologies. I know rambling paragraphs in the vein of "guess what just happened in the book I'm reading" are rarely as interesting to the recipient as they are to the sender. But damn, this is a good read.

 Also sorry to the security guards at the Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris. I know I looked way too excited, but this is first edition, baby!

It's also a terrible Disney movie. Not that it's a bad movie, per se, read Victor Hugo's book and wonder how Disney decided it was a basis for a Disney movie. Out of all the "happily ever after" Disney edits, this one might be the most infamous. And with good reason. I mean, it's not even remotely the same story. The chronological beginning of the novel (which is not in the Disney movie) almost has Disney tear-jearker potential: two people (a serious Sorbonne student and an older small-town prostitute - omg meetcute?) whose lives have been defined by loneliness and tragedy suddenly wind up as single parents and find that adorable babies bring them joy they never thought possible. C'mon, you can see that heartwarming trailer! Except that then everything goes wrong and everybody dies (when Claude Frollo, the student, and La Chantefleurie, the prostitute who is Esmeralda's mother, do finally cross paths in the novel, it's in the midst of a heart-wrenching mess of misplaced hatred and parental despair).

Frollo (who gets to sing a pretty kick-ass song in the Disney movie but does no such thing here) is the central character for a lot of the book. He's a kid with Ebenezer Scrooge-levels of studiousness, sent away to boarding school. His teachers actually think he'd make an excellent doctor or surgeon (wtf did being a surgeon in 15th Century Europe entail?), but when he adopts his orphaned baby brother Jehan, he decides to stick with his parents' goal of him joining the clergy because he feels it would mean a better life for the child. Shortly after this, he decides to also adopt the deformed toddler in the church's free baby bin whom a crowd is planning to burn alive. At this point, Frollo 1) knows how to read, 2) has adopted a disabled kid, and 3) has ruined the city's baby-murder pastime, so he is not terribly popular with the people.

"I'll take it!"

For a while, things go pretty well. Frollo teaches Quasimodo (which apparently once had religious meaning but now just means "you ugly") to read and also lets him run around Notre Dame like it's a freakin' playground (probably while on his cell phone ignoring the glares of everyone around him). Later he gets Quasimodo the bell-ringer job and sends the now fratboyish Jehan to school. Then he becomes obsessed with alchemy and sex, has multiple mental breakdowns, and everybody dies, except the goat. The end.

Oh man, the goat. I totally assumed Djali, Esmeralda's goat sidekick character, was a Disney invention. But she's not! She is actually quite important! Esmeralda loves her pet goat and brings her everywhere, even to the hotel room where she's gonna have sex with Phoebus (except they don't get to have sex, because this book could be subtitled "No One Gets to Have Sex with Esmeralda"). When Esmeralda's sorta-husband Gringoire (long story, and no, it's not consummated because...see above) has a choice between saving Esmeralda or saving the goat, he goes with the goat.

Which would you choose?

Basically, if there were ever a group of characters who required the intervention of stereotypical Sassy Gay Friend, this is it. He could counsel Frollo on sex-positive thinking and feminism (and maybe suggest some meds), Esmeralda on respecting boundaries with the dickish guy you're obsessed with, Quasimodo on self-confidence, and Jehan on not being a drunken douchebag.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg of this book! I haven't even touched on Hugo's "okay, now let me tell you what Frollo meant about the printing press's effects on architecture!" essays. But architecture certainly looms over (haha!) this story. The stunning cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris is both sanctuary and prison for the three main outcasts. It's where they can be their science-experimenting/disabled/witchcraft-accused selves but is also, especially for Frollo and Quasimodo, extremely isolating. But, if you were a science-experimenting/disabled/witchcraft-accused person in the 1400s, what choice other than isolation did you have? For Quasimodo, a twenty-year-old both ridiculed and threatened by a public he cannot communicate with, Notre-Dame is both a (at one point, literally) fortress and, with its bells, his only non-violent means of expressing himself. Hugo writes, "the first time he clung unthinkingly to the rope in the towers, and hung there, and set the bell in motion, the effect on Claude, his adoptive father, was of a child whose tongue has been set free and who has begun to talk."

Photos mine, artwork public domain from Victor Hugo Central.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

OMG A Midsummer Night's Dream

 As part of Edward Nickelson's quest to put all of Shakespeare in LOLspeak, I've been poring over the lolified text of one of my favorite plays, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Going over each line of the play and wondering whether "gentleman" should be changed to "gentlecat" or "gentlekitteh" has been a fun way to revisit this piece, which has been revisited by others many, many times before.

In 1999, the Pfeiffer/Kline/Everett/Tucci/that lawyer from TV version of A Midsummer Night's Dream came out. I saw it in the theater with my little sister and my grandma. It was a matinee, so the audience was mostly old people. Behind me was an elderly woman on an oxygen tank who sounded seconds away from hyperventilation whenever half-naked Rupert Everett, as Oberon, came on. At the time it was weird, but hey, get it, gurl!

I loved the movie. I had loved the play since seeing it performed outdoors somewhere years earlier, and I enjoyed how this film captured that lush outdoorsyness that A Midsummer Night's Dream offers (and I think this is part of why this play is such a Shakespeare in the Park favorite). A few years ago, though, I went on an adaptation spree and revisited this take. Mostly I was annoyed at how much of the text was cut, which I hadn't noticed before (or at least not before I became that annoying, "OMG they cut those lines" person). So...sure, it's a bit shortened and stiff, but it's still gorgeous to look at and there are apt performances by Kline, Tucci, Everett, and Pfeiffer. And that lady on the oxygen was right: Everett's looking good.

Other adaptions I've encountered. Some recommended, some not:

Most Wow That Was The 60s I Guess: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968)
Judi Dench is mostly naked in blue body paint. Blonde Helen Mirren is Hermia and very brunette Diana Riggs is Helena. Puck is moments away from an OD.

Most Not Quite Baby Bear Levels of Just Right But Still A Good Time: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1981)
Puck's still tripping, but he has more chemistry with Oberon this time, even when (especially when?) Oberon is drowning him in what appears to be a shallowly buried kiddie pool. Helen Mirren, graduating from the Hermia role, makes a stately but joyful Titania. The fairies in Titania's train are all kids. Are they good actors? Nope, but they're cute, and you can totally imagine Titania and Bottom adopting them all and making it work Brangelina style.

Most Oh Look Woody Allen Is Having Sex With Hot Women Again: A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
So this isn't truly an adaptation, but it's a movie that's loosely inspired by the play, and it manages to capture the original's fun, sexy, breezy mood. I bring this up because of the next entry.

Most No Amount of Ecstasy on Earth Could Make This Less Horrific: A Midsummer Night's Rave
Have you ever been like, "Hey, we should make the ultimate rave movie" but also "Hey, what if we like made a Shakespeare movie but like you think anyone's done that?" And then you kinda start a rave-themed Midsummer Night's Dream (which actually makes sense!), except that you get writer's block and mostly recycle the rave-based screenplay you wrote in middle school and recently found under your childhood bed and end up just tossing a few of the play's names and lines in randomly? Yeah.

Demetrius falling for Helena while druggedly jumping around to techno could have been awesome. Could have.


Here is a blog I am starting. Will anyone read it? I dunno. Maybe only I will (hi, me!), but I decided to make one anyways, because 1) I am a writer and you're supposed to do this because what stands out more than an aspiring writer with a blog?, and 2) I have so many feelings. About art, about books, about cities, about frogs. So, so many feelings. And I like to write about them! Well...if that doesn't have "zeitgeist" written all over it, what does?