I haven't updated this thing in, oh, forever. But I think I'm going to start again. My home computer is acting wacky at the moment, so updates may be sporadic, but I feel that I'm losing intelligence each day I'm out of school (and it's been almost two years now). If I can keep myself mentally active, I think I'll feel better about everything. Hopefully I can make it happen.
I'm writing reviews for California Literary Review--about one a week. My editor is talking about getting me into the Online Film Critics' Society as soon as I have 50 reviews. Maybe if I can pull that off, I can make this a part of my life for real. A girl can hope.
In early June, my friend Peter passed away at the age of 38. He was a critic at the local NPR affiliate, and helped me get my foot in the door to start writing reviews for them. The last thing he said to me was, "Now you can say you're a film critic for NPR." You wouldn't believe how warm and fuzzy that made me feel--but I was in a terrible mood that day, and I think it showed. I wish I could've thanked him more sincerely and given him a hug. I'd like to think he chose me as a protege because he enjoyed my writing, and that he'd be happy I'm still doing it. Whenever I write about a movie, I can't help wondering what he'd say about it. It's hard, and I feel bad that I wasn't a better friend to him. Lots of things have happened in the last year that have made me a little crazy. No one should ever have to bury his or her child, that's all I will say.
On a cinematic note, my tastes have been changing a little recently. My interest in rape-revenge movies hasn't waned much, but in the last few years, I've found myself feeling more queasy about the subject matter than I used to. Another area of horror which has piqued my interest is related to rape-revenge, but doesn't deal with sexual assault of that variety. I'm really interested in the distrust of female sexuality and genitalia, and of children and childbirth. (I wonder what this switch means about my "maturing sensibilities." It used to all be about violent sex, and now it's all about babies? Ha, yeah, no.)
Horror film is notorious for its blatant misogyny. Aficionados (and haters) will note that the genre is rife with sexist portrayals of women. The "cinematic gaze" about which Laura Mulvey writes is at its very epitome in the horror genre. Women are maimed, tortured, gutted, raped, abused, and violated. They are, in some ways, redeemed in Carol Clover's Final Girl, but even Halloween's Laurie and Alien's Ripley have been picked to pieces by critics for their masculinity. In horror film, females are relegated to the position of victim, and when they can return the killer's gaze, they are deemed too masculine, their femininity obscured by their ability to retaliate.
I am female. My heroes are females who love horror film in the same fashion I do; there aren't many. It's a difficult genre for a lot of women to endure, let alone enjoy. As far as I'm concerned, it's a genre that's more than worth examining. Historically, horror film is a an outlet for societal anxiety. It's a brilliant purging of aggression, fear, and hatred.
Firstly, perhaps I should preface this with the fact that I recently read David J. Skal's The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, and am currently in the middle of Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth. The two are entwined in some very odd ways; The Beauty Myth posits that women are under immense pressure from outside influences to be "beautiful," and that we should strive to feel good about ourselves and see through the pornographic advertising, skinny models/actresses, and ageism. In the midst of this book, I took the opportunity to finally watch Three Extremes. Fruit Chan directed the first short film of the three, entitled "Dumplings." The protagonist, Mrs. Li, is so obsessed with regaining her youth (and winning back her husband's affections) that she starts eating dumplings made of human fetuses. When she becomes pregnant, she home-aborts and eats her own offspring. It's horrendous and grotesque on many levels. All three films are worth watching. Takashi Miike, who made "Box," the third short, is also responsible for the banned Masters of Horror "Imprint," which made me feel sick to my stomach...and also deals with duality and dead fetuses). The sad part about "Dumplings" is that it's very nearly believable, considering the lengths to which people--mostly women--go to stay "looking young."
The Monster Show chronicles horror film from silent-era vampires and wolfmen to 80s slashers and the Alien movies (it was an amazing read...I felt like stealing it from the library. My copy had an awesome Edward Gorey illustration on the front--and is apparently no longer available!). The section that dealt with child-birth-fear movies (Village of the Damned, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, The Brood) really interested me. I've always felt strangely toward that subgenre. I think in those films a cultural anxiety emerges--fear of youth, and fear of women, whose ability to give birth inherently gives us power. In The Beauty Myth, Wolf suggests that patriarchal society finds women threatening (and must constantly tear us down with, among other things, impossible standards of beauty) because of our ability to have babies, because we can have multiple orgasms, and because we are "insatiable."
For awhile, birth-and-children movies took a kind of break, but they're coming back with a vengeance. The new movie Orphan, and an older one (also starring Vera Farmiga, interestingly) called Joshua--which is basically a spooky retelling of The Omen and Rosemary's Baby, are very much about women's issues. Fear of your own child is something I imagine all mothers have to deal with at some point (I could be wrong). But culturally women are expected to have this unending, enduring, uncompromising, fierce love for their children; we tend to look down upon mothers who shirk their offspring. As in Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, mothers who fear their children or rebel against the patriarchy tend to meet gruesome ends. The same goes for Farmiga in Joshua (and I'm guessing in Orphan, but I haven't seen it yet).
I'm entirely fascinated with horror movies that place women in positions of power on either end of the spectrum. There's the interesting phenomenon of Carol Clover's Final Girl (Nancy in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Ripley in the Alien movies, Laurie in Halloween, the list goes on and on), in whom masculine traits are often instilled in order to assure survival--and who is very nearly always a virgin. But then there are a few sneaky movies that put women in positions of villainous, murderous power of their own accord. Suspiria, of course, is one of my favorites, and is set in a women's ballet school. Cattiness, bickering, and immaturity prevail as the few-and-far-between males in the film seek to control the females--but the final battle is between women, and women only.
The Descent is another recent horror movie I really adored--not only because of its claustrophobic cinematography and amazing lighting, but because the hero and the villain are both women. Strong, powerful, feminine women. Sure, tension arises between two characters because of a man, but he has basically no screen time. The film is really about the friendships and sisterhoods of this small group of brave, intelligent women. (It could easily be argued that they're punished for their boldness--how dare a group of women go into a cave without men? Of course they would all die. I don't subscribe to this theory, though.) They're shortly releasing a sequel, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'll see it.
Another film that pits women against each other in the most basic sense is the iffy video-game-based Silent Hill (which I'm almost ashamed to admit I liked--possibly because I don't get scared of movies, but playing the game alone in the dark scared the bejesus out of me). Silent Hill's screenwriter (Roger Avary, also responsible for Rules of Attraction) sent in his original all-female script and was told he had to add a male character for the audience's sake. And, frankly, the father figure in the movie was entirely unnecessary and detracted from the film, if you ask me.
The French movie Inside (one of Peter's recommendations) put me in such a state of "wtf" that I couldn't say anything for three minutes after finishing it. It was incredibly spooky, and the cinematography was beautiful. Once again, this gruesome, sick battle takes place between two women, and it deals with their abilities (or lack thereof) to procreate. As do, in fact, all the films listed above. Men have absolutely nothing to do with the story--except to provide a few extra good deaths.
I get this feeling that as a horror film fan, movie critic (and, I suppose, amateur scholar), I should be excited for Jennifer's Body. It was written and directed by women, which is all well and good. It pits females against each other, which is fine. But the second, longer trailer of the film seems to indicate that Jennifer is attacked by men and has to seek revenge against them for their sexual-deviant ways. In the process, she has to deal with her friendship with her best friend, Needy, which may be the more interesting aspect of the film.
My biggest problem with all this is that I have absolutely zero respect for Megan Fox. She strikes me as nothing more than a sorority girl with a dirty mouth and fake body parts. I tire of her incessant need to tell the world she's crazy, bisexual, or hot. I tire of her ass and boobs being prominently featured in her films--and did I mention that I tried to write a review for Transformers 2 that ended up being 900 words describing what an utter waste it was? Yeah, she didn't help.
I can hardly stand to see the trailers that emphasize this crazy makeout session between Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfriend, and although I like Adam Brody a lot, I'm just not excited for this movie. It doesn't placate me that Diablo Cody's writing just doesn't feel real to me. It's cute and quirky (I liked Juno just like the rest of the world, and I enjoyed "The United States of Tara" for a bit before falling out of it), but it just never feels like reality. That combined with Megan Fox is what takes away for me. I am sure the movie will be notable and quotable and that Fox will draw in the male audiences they want. But I can't feel anything else toward it except annoyance. Maybe it's the addition of this year's "hottest woman" to draw in teenage boys with hard-ons. I can't take seriously a movie that pits women against each other solely for men's pleasure. Ah-ha!
I'm now reading a review that gives the reasons why you should like the movie on my favorite feminist/gossip site, jezebel.com. They mention the two things I am concerned about and recommend seeing it--especially if you're prone to being the sidekick (ahem). Well, I'll probably see it. I don't think I'll pay for it. I've been assigned to write a review on The Informant! tonight, so we'll see how that goes.